Following Saturday’s horror show 3-0 defeat to South Coast rivals Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle took their winless run to six games this season as they remain bottom of League One and now boast the divisions worst goal difference to boot.
It reflects a similarly torrid start to last season for Derek Adams’ side who won just once in their opening ten league matches as they struggled to score goals whilst ill discipline cost Argyle both points and a settled starting line-up. Red cards haven’t been the issue this season but rather penalties with the side conceding five in their opening eight games in all competitions.
Conceding two late goals to Championship side Millwall and subsequently crashing out of the Carabao Cup in midweek would not have been ideal preparation for the trip to Fratton Park and if that was not bad enough, the team selection against Portsmouth seemingly wreaked of hoping to snatch a 1-0 win with five central and defensive midfielders selected as Adams sacrificed wide options for a tightly packed middle of the park. The missing trio of influential midfielders David Fox, Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras were sorely missed with Argyle struggling for ideas whenever they got the ball out of their own third with no player seemingly willing to orchestrate play and run at the opposition. With the introduction of the latter two at half-time the Pilgrims looked to be a more competent side but sadly that wasn’t reflected in the scoreline with Pompey adding another two goals after the break to eventually win 3-0.
Carey and Lameiras proved to be invaluable last season contributing 42 goals (20G, 22A) in a combined 76 league appearances. Their partnership with forward Ryan Taylor proved pivotal to Argyle’s ascent up the table between October and April from relegation certainties to play-off challengers. Whilst Freddie Ladapo has proved himself useful and will undoubtedly be interchangeable with Taylor throughout the season, Carey and Lameiras will have to be regular fixtures in the side if the Greens are to impress. Their overlapping and switchable style makes them a nightmare for defences and proves why on their day they are two of League One’s best players.
The post-match inquest raised a lot of interesting points, primarily the lack of stability this season in the side. Its been no secret that central defence has been the primary issue with new signings Scott Wootton and Niall Canavan struggling to impress with neither included against Portsmouth and left-back Gary Sawyer partnering Ryan Edwards instead. This has shown that the likes of Zak Vyner and Sonny Bradley haven’t been adequately replaced.
Just three players have started all six league matches – goalkeeper Matt Macey, left-back Ashley Smith-Brown and midfielder Conor Grant which goes to show that Adams is still yet to discover his favoured starting line-up. Ultimately this has been a massive factor in the 11 goals that have been conceded in the previous three games alone against Peterbrough, Millwall and Portsmouth respectively. The Scot needs to adopt a favoured back four and ultimately stick with them because the longer this indecisiveness goes on continues, the longer results will continue to suffer as a result of it. Smith-Brown appears to be the only favoured option so far featuring at left-back with Tafari Moore more deserving of a place at right-back at the expense of the error-prone Joe Riley. Top scorer Ryan Edwards will likely prove to be the first choice centre back with the likes of Wootton, Canavan, Grant and Sawyer perhaps fighting it out for that last spot. However, it is important to remember that the entire back five is different to that which ended last season.
The issue with team selection goes all the way back to pre-season and just how poor the standard of opposition was. With respect to the likes of Bideford and Helston, Argyle needed more regular matches against higher ranked sides. Indeed the only Football League side they faced was Yeovil in which the League Two side inflicted a 5-1 defeat without really ever leaving first gear. Sterner tests were needed against Premier League and Championship outfits in order to really test the quality of the 11 new signings that were brought in – the majority of these also arrived before the first pre-season match against Plymouth Parkway on July 7. Instead what we have seen is a juggling of players and formations as Adams now plays catch up to see how effective his squad can be at League One level. Since the beginning of the season, summer signings Peter Grant and Calum Dyson haven’t even featured.
After the Portsmouth defeat it was revealed by club captain Gary Sawyer that the players had held clear the air talks, much in a similar style to that of last season when the players locked themselves in the changing room following a 2-1 defeat to Fleetwood was their ninth in 12 matches. Following the inquest the side lost just seven times in their next 34 games. Another away trip beckons next Saturday with Bristol Rovers the next opponents. Also struggling, the encounter could well be a tightly fought affair, but also provides a great opportunity to pick up that all-important first three points of the season.