Residents of Cornwall’s county town would have heard a loud hissing noise at about 9.30pm last night. That was the sound of the air being let out of the Plymouth Argyle balloon as the Pilgrims flopped to a 1-0 defeat against Truro City.
It’s debatable whether the Green Army will remember this result in a few months, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it was pretty embarrassing, especially in front of the biggest crowd that Treyew Road has seen for about four years. Losing to a team just relegated to the seventh tier, with a new manager (who was recently fired by Argyle) and with only seven contracted players on the books is not an ideal start to Ryan Lowe’s reign. And to make matters worse, it came just a week after Pilgrims fans were mocking Exeter City for only managing a draw on this same ground.
Pre-season friendlies are a necessary evil, but honestly I’ve never really enjoyed them. They’re kind of important / not important at the same time. You want a good run-in to the start of the season, but how meaningful a test is it when your team has 23 different players on the pitch over the course of the 90 minutes, as was the case with Argyle last night? And you can draw any conclusions you like from these games, as teams that have had terrible pre-seasons went on to win promotion, while others steamrollered all-comers in July only to get relegated the following May.
I would suggest that last night’s defeat was probably not a bad thing for Argyle at this point. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the short and long-term outlook for the club and personally I’m champing at the bit for the season to begin. But impressed as I am by everything that’s been happening both on and off the pitch at Home Park, in the last few days I was starting to get a bit queasy about the intensity of the Argyle love-in on social media and in the press. Managing expectations is key for a football team, but it felt like those expectations were being inflated to dangerous levels.
Of course, the club has no control over the bookies that have made Argyle one of the favourites for promotion. But I think a few people felt uncomfortable with some recent utterances, capped off by the Supporters’ Forum on Monday when the manager said that Ryan Taylor could bag 20 goals this season and that Danny Mayor is a better player than either Lameiras or Carey. Now we would all, of course, be absolutely delighted if both those statements prove to be true. But there’s an old saying about not making yourself a hostage to fortune. Ryan Lowe has so much goodwill from the fans at this point that there’s no need to risk the expectations that come with over-egging the pudding.
Because, let’s face it, he has only been at the club for just over a month and inherited a chronically underperforming relegation team from which two of the best players have departed. Not only does he have to recruit urgently, he’s also trying to introduce a new tactical approach to the players who remain at Home Park from last season. The stark facts are that with less than four weeks to go until the start of the season, only three new players have arrived so far.
Last night’s defeat may have been a useful reality check, a reminder of how much work remains to be done. Ryan Lowe is clearly very astute and I don’t believe for a minute that he thinks this squad is the finished article. This result will surely have confirmed that.
In terms of what we learned from the Pilgrim’s trip to Truro, the first message is that it will take time to adapt to the new system. Some of Argyle’s players from last season will fit in to the new system and some will not. In the first half, Joe Riley appeared to settle quickly into the wing back role, with two good early chances on goal, and Smith-Brown on the other flank made some impressive runs. Meanwhile, instructions had obviously been given to play the ball out from the back and starting ‘keeper Michael Cooper showed some impressive distribution abilities, particularly from the hand. Up front, Argyle were less convincing and there appeared to be a reluctance to shoot once the ball was worked close to the penalty area with the choice too often being another ball played out to the wings.
Secondly, there are key gaps to be filled in the squad. In a system playing three at the back, there’s no place for mistake-prone defenders. While Canavan was solid, unfortunately Scott Wootton fluffed his lines. Sidelined under Derek Adams, he had a chance to impress the new boss but fell flat on his face, gifting Truro the winning goal in the process. You have to feel for him, but the reality is that there’s probably a picture of him in the dictionary under the word ‘hapless’. I’m not a believer in fate, but you can’t help thinking it’s just not going to work for Wootton at Argyle. An additional centre back must be high on Lowe’s shopping list.
In midfield, it’s easy to see that Joe Edwards and Danny Mayor are both class acts, and if they are anything to go by, Ryan Lowe’s recruitment skills are top-notch (a niggling injury meant we didn’t get to see the other new signing, Will Aimson). Meanwhile, 18-year-old Adam Randell, who signed his first professional contract last month, put in an impressively mature performance in his 45 minutes on the pitch.
Up front, there’s work to be done. Ryan Taylor, the only established name, looked a bit rusty, though did produce a couple of strong pieces of hold-up play. Of the four other strikers who played a part – Fletcher, Jephcott, Dyson and Lolos – only the latter really impressed. Finding the right pairing in that part of the pitch has got to be a priority.
Speaking of Klaidi Lolos, it looks likely that he and Randell are the two youngsters that Ryan Lowe was talking about when he said, “We have got two 17-year-old boys who have impressed me and will be part of the first-team. We have got some gems that you are going to see this season.” He got their ages wrong by a year, but it’s hard to see who else he was talking about. Assuming it comes off, Lowe’s commitment to give the younger players a fair shot will go down well with the Green Army.
So there we have it. Not the ideal start but surely nothing to worry about under the circumstances. And unlike his predecessor by the end of his reign, the manager’s comment after the game that the result was irrelevant didn’t sound like a lame excuse. Ryan Lowe is clearly a man with a plan and what we’ve seen so far suggests he’s on track to execute it. It would be particularly foolish to bet against further quality signings in the coming days and weeks. Add to that the fact that the club as a whole is in a much better state overall than it has been for some time and there is plenty of reason for optimism. But the occasional reality check is always welcome.