It’s no secret that Plymouth Argyle’s start to the 2018-19 season has been a complete travesty. This season’s failures have mirrored those from the start last term, with the only real difference being that, this time last year, Argyle did at the very least have one league win on the board. The current situation is a stark contrast to the way the Greens ended last season, falling just short of the play-offs after exhibiting title winning form between the months of January and April. Argyle now haven’t won in the league since the end of April, and the momentum generated by that run has been well and truly lost.
In that sense, Argyle can point to many similarities between themselves and fellow League One strugglers Shrewsbury Town, who finally became the 23rd side to taste victory in the division last Saturday following a 2-0 home triumph over Southend United. Their start also completely juxtaposes their showing last time around, as they missed out on promotion to The Championship by the narrowest of margins following defeat at Wembley in the play-off final. The source of Town’s problems is fairly easy to identify – club manager Paul Hurst left for Ipswich Town following the Wembley loss, before stars of last season Toto Nsiala and Jon Nolan followed their boss to Portman Road. Thus, before the weekend at least, the side have been playing very much like a team reeling from squad decimation over the summer, on top of the standard play-off hangover.
Argyle, meanwhile have also been playing games with an appearance that suggests the players met each other for the first time five minutes before kick-off. Outsiders, therefore, may assume that key players from last year’s surprisingly successful season have been poached from Home Park, with greater status and wages offered elsewhere. In defence, they would be correct, with Sonny Bradley and Oscar Threlkeld departing for Luton Town and Waasland-Beveren respectively, and Zak Vyner returning to Bristol City following the expiry of his loan spell. However, Argyle currently have problems at both ends of the field, and keeping members of their attack was considered one of the club’s big successes in the transfer window. The superb midfield triumvirate of David Fox, Jamie Ness and Antoni Sarcevic remain at Argyle, alongside the excellent tripartite attack of Graham Carey, Ruben Lameiras and Ryan Taylor. So why have the team been playing like strangers when going forward this season?
Put simply, it’s very difficult to lie the blame at the door of anybody other than manager Derek Adams. Granted, fitness issues have been at play, but the aforementioned front six have not played together once this season. Adams has instead consistently preferred the likes of Conor Grant in midfield and Freddie Ladapo up front ahead of his tried and tested personnel. Without meaning any disrespect to those particular players (they have after all both impressed in their own ways this season), neither they nor any other of Adams’ replacements have reached anywhere near the heights last season’s front six managed at the start of this calendar year. Adams has, however, continued to overlook them, and even when at least his previously successful front three have been on the field together, Carey and Lameiras have been played wider than would be preferable, limiting the effectiveness of both themselves and target man Taylor.
So why does Argyle’s manager insist on persevering with what appear from the outside to be glaring tactical inadequacies? Whilst it’s difficult to get in the man’s head at the best of times, could this be Adams’ desire to prove his critics wrong coming to the fore? He has almost been famed at Home Park for reinvigorating the careers of players written off by fellow managers, and with his stubborn nature, anybody criticising his chosen style will almost seem like a challenging statement rather than a legitimate criticism. Should this be the case, we should perhaps be fearful, although not overly so. Adams may be stubborn, but he isn’t stupid, and if things get even more desperate he will surely consider making some alterations. After all, the successes of last season were born out of Adams straying away from his previous 4-2-3-1 system to the formation we’ve longed for recently.
However, with Jamie Ness missing the weekend’s late defeat at Charlton, and Ryan Taylor appearing to be a slightly longer term absentee, we’ll have to wait a little longer for Adams to have the opportunity to come to his senses. And with Argyle’s record of reporting the severity of injuries in recent years, who knows how long it will be until all six of the key players will be available for selection simultaneously? Nonetheless, with the majority of Argyle’s wildly successful attacking force still at the club, fit and eligible for selection, it seems criminal for most of them to be routinely overlooked with Argyle languishing at the bottom of the League One table.
I would love for Argyle to be successful with the current setup, and for me to fall into the long line of critics proved wrong by Derek Adams over the years. I will not, however, be holding my breath.