Much like Ryan Taylor, Joel Grant is another fairly long-serving Green who will not be retained by Plymouth Argyle next season. But as with Taylor, Grant’s departure should in no way detract from the successes he’s had across his three years with the club.
Grant ditched Exeter City for the greener pastures of Home Park in the summer 2017 transfer window. This followed Argyle leaving their rivals behind in securing automatic promotion, whilst the Grecians faltered in the play-off final. Three years later, Grant has turned out 85 times for the Pilgrims, scoring 15 times and assisting a further four. The numbers aren’t exactly eye-watering, but it’s hard to see Grant’s time at Argyle as anything other than a quiet success.
2017/18: A feeble opening
Grant’s start at Argyle was hardly swashbuckling. Whilst he did spend the majority of his time on the pitch, demonstrating his versatility across all three positions in Argyle’s attacking line, he had to wait until mid-October before his first goal contribution. But it was a vital one; Grant got on the end of Graham Carey’s superb pass to fire home against AFC Wimbledon. It secured a 1-0 win, just the second victory of Argyle’s campaign.
In truth, the feeble start to Grant’s season was mirrored by the diabolical start to Argyle’s in general. The former Jamaica international was finding his feet – he netted within a minute against Rochdale a week after his Wimbledon goal – but Argyle were still languishing in the League One doldrums. It took a tactical rethink from manager Derek Adams to turn the tide, and Grant wasn’t a part of his refined 4-3-2-1 system.
The swanky new style, devastatingly effective once deployed, made Grant a bit-part player for the second half of the season. Between the start of January and mid-April 2018, he didn’t start a single game, and spent just 62 minutes on the field through substitute appearances. Injuries to others forced him back into the side, and he did manage to score two important goals at the business end of the campaign against Rochdale and Rotherham, as Argyle almost completed the most remarkable of season turnarounds. But the play-offs were just out of reach.
It wasn’t the stunning start Grant would have hoped for, but he did manage six goals, certainly not a bad haul considering his sporadic appearances. Perhaps more importantly, however, his goals were enough to secure Argyle eight points. Only once, against Gillingham on the final day, did he score in a losing effort. He was certainly showing all the hallmarks of being a big-game player.
2018/19: Evolution and injury
As a whole, Argyle’s 2018/19 campaign was shambolic, ending in a totally unnecessary relegation. In relative terms, however, the first half of the season was by far Grant’s most successful time at the club.
Having fallen slightly out of favour at the end of the previous campaign, Grant started Argyle’s second season back in League One on the bench. However, a poor start led to Adams entering a state of panic, as he abandoned the style that served Argyle so well in the previous year. He switched to what he knew best – a 4-2-3-1 style – and when results didn’t improve, uncertainty and frenzied rotation were commonplace.
This meant that, by the law of averages, Grant was eventually given a chance in the first team. It’s testament to his form that, in those circumstances, he managed to impress and keep his place in the side. From mid-October 2018 right up until Christmas, he started 11 games in succession, scoring four goals which earned Argyle three additional points. He also netted one of the goals of the season that Argyle fans will be forgiven for forgetting – a late consolation in a 5-1 mauling by Luton.
The most striking part of Grant’s development was the change in his style of play. Whilst he was deployed as a left winger, right winger and centre forward in first campaign, he didn’t look absolutely comfortable anywhere. Very much a traditional winger at first, he wasn’t able to adapt to an inside forward role as Carey and Ruben Lameiras did so successfully. That changed in 2018/19, as Grant demonstrated a desire to get more involved in goalmouth action, and the results were tangible.
In a cruel twist of fate, injury hit just after Christmas, and he didn’t play again for the remainder of the campaign. It’s hard to argue that Argyle would have survived had Grant stayed fit. After all, his injury coincided with player of the year Lameiras getting an extended run in the team. Regardless, it was heavily frustrating that his best spell in Green had been abruptly cut short.
2019/10: Mixed League Two bag
Adams was binned off and replaced by Ryan Lowe before Argyle’s first campaign back in League Two, and the new manager had very different ideas about how football should be played. He knew exactly what he wanted, and for the players it was a necessarily ruthless case of ‘adapt or leave’.
At the start of the season, Grant certainly did adapt, and impressed Lowe enough to start as one of two strikers on opening day away at Crewe. The end result? An assist and a superbly taken goal as Argyle ran riot and won 3-0.
Injury again stopped him building any momentum on that flying start, but it was only minor this time, and Grant was back in the starting lineup by the start of October. He scored three league goals in 11 days – one each against Swindon, Carlisle and Leyton Orient – and it looked as though he was ready to hit the ground running once more. Alas, Grant didn’t score again for the Greens.
In fact, the main problem he encountered was indeed the necessity to find the net. Halfway through the season, Argyle were regularly out-creating their opponents, but results were not matching the performance levels. Chances being wasted were a key factor; it’s no coincidence that Argyle’s results picked up when the more clinical Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie arrived on the scene. By comparison, Grant hardly got a look-in before the season was suspended.
In the end, the season back in League Two was very much a mixed bag for Grant. Lowe clearly saw the makings of a great player in him, and at times he was able to repay that faith. However, it never felt as though it was quite enough, and with Argyle moving up a level next season, it didn’t come as a huge shock when he was released.
Reflections and the future
One wonders whether a younger player would have been given another deal, and a chance to improve and impress next year. Grant, however, will be 33 by the end of August. At the very least, he has reached his peak, and it’s probably for the best for his short-term playing prospects that he finds another club.
However, looking back over his three years in Green, Grant will have more successes he can recall than many former Pilgrims. Any transfer to a direct rival is risky for a player. It was a no-brainer for Grant to make it, of course. He always knew that he was joining a bigger club at a higher level right on his doorstep. In doing so, however, he knew he was likely to be cutting his ties with his previous employers for life. He had to make sure he made a success of it.
Overall, he did. His time at Argyle is now at an end, but he will be remembered as a player who successfully crossed the Devon divide and endeared himself to the Green Army. Both parties have been keen to wish the other the very best for the future. That speaks volumes.