Who should be named Argyle’s Player of the Season?

We are in a most uncertain time, both in football and in society as a whole. One thing we do however know, following a League Two vote last week, is that Plymouth Argyle’s season is officially over. Promotion to League One looks likely, but that is yet to be absolutely confirmed. In the meantime, five of our writers have assessed the candidates for Player of the Season and made some compelling arguments for each.

Enjoy, and let us know on social media who you’d give the award.

Frazer Lloyd-Davies: Antoni Sarcevic

Argyle have all but been promoted, and in most other promotion winning seasons I’d have struggled to pick my Player of the Year. Yet as we know, this season is a little different. Not only has COVID-19 seen League Two finish with Argyle playing just 37 of their 46 fixtures, but for me at least, one player has stood head and shoulders above the rest

Let me introduce: The Manchester Messi – Mr. Antoni Sarcevic.

Sarcevic ends the season as top goal scorer with 11 goals in 37 games. He’s second only to George Cooper in terms of assists with a total of eight. The long and short of it is he’s directly contributed to more goals than any other Argyle player this season, but anyone that’s watched Sarce this year will tell you he’s been much more than just stats.

Argyle had a relatively slow start to the season, and in fairness Sarcevic sometimes struggled. He could look out of place as he tried to adapt to Ryan Lowe’s slow, methodical approach play, which benefitted more technical players such as Danny Mayor. But with a change in emphasis came a change in fortunes. As Argyle shifted to a more direct style of play, Sarcevic started to flourish. The shackles were taken off.

From the centre of midfield, he was able to drive Argyle forward, leading from the middle. He’s a nuisance to play against, strong and physical with fitness few in the division can match. As often as Sarcevic would press forward, he’d track back too. He’d quickly become the personification of Ryan Lowe’s Argyle, a team that above anything else worked hard for one another and left nothing on the pitch.

At this stage I’m wary I might be suggesting Sarcevic is little more than a workhorse. Whilst I’m in no doubt he works as hard as anyone on the pitch, there’s been more to his game than purely effort. With an emphasis on pushing forward, Sarce often showed his ability to work his way out of tight spots, and whilst not blessed with an abundance of pace, he could frequently beat a man. He was no stranger to something spectacular either. I’ll let the video do the talking…

 

With all this being said, as well as Sarcevic has played this season, it’s the person he is off the pitch that makes him my favourite to be crowned Player of the Year. I’m going to steer slightly wide of the ‘People’s Captain’ tag he’s been affectionately given by some fans. Whilst I’m certain no disrespect is meant; I think it’s a little unfair on club captain Gary Sawyer who has made 297 appearances for the club. Nonetheless, I can see why some say it and I’m in little doubt he’ll one day follow in Sawyer’s footsteps.

As well as personifying Argyle on the pitch, he has come to personify Argyle off it. I’m immensely proud of supporting a club that plays the role it does within our community. Argyle support people from all walks of life regardless of whether they are football fans, and in what has been difficult times for many, Sarcevic has done the same. Not only has he checked in with elderly neighbours and helped those who need it during this pandemic, as of last week he’d also helped raise over £10,000 for our local NHS trust.

Some might ask what does all of this have to do with an end of season award, but for me, it’s everything.

When a player pulls on the Argyle shirt, they represent our city, and this season no player has done that better than Antoni Sarcevic. For me, he’s without doubt Player of the Year.

Sam Down: Niall Canavan

When the season began in August, in the days where Corona was nothing more than one more item to remember getting a round in at the beer garden, one player who seemed like his Argyle career was headed for the dumping ground was Niall Canavan. A regular participant in Argyle’s awful defence last season, many fans hoped he’d be quietly replaced by a safe favourite of Lowe’s from his Bury era and quietly put out to pasture.

The early months of the season didn’t exactly help his case. He did play in our successful first month of the season, with no shortage of clean sheets, but then went on to have a bad September which saw him dropped from the side. He lost a header to big David Wheater in our frustrating 2-2 draw at home to Oldham and completely lost his man the next week away to Port Vale. At this point, Argyle’s start to the season did not look convincing and Canavan’s himself really wasn’t anything to write home about.

He was, inevitably, dropped from the side around this time but found his way back in as a result of Will Aimson’s prolonged injury. At this point, Argyle’s excellent run of form from October to March began and Canavan was an ever-present in the team. One big exception (that day in Exeter) aside, he has been a colossus since his return. His dominance in the air has been matched by his composure and decision making. His communication too has markedly improved, allowing him to be handed the captain’s armband in the season’s dying embers with injuries ravaging the side.

More than that – he’s gone from a player out of fashion with all bar a few niche supporters to actually being something of a cult hero. His moment of crowning glory is surely his primal roar into the camera that followed his late goal from a set piece that won us the game at home to Stevenage in the final fixture of 2019. At that moment, ‘Big Naz’ became loved by the Argyle fans rather than just appreciated.

It’s also worth looking at his importance to the side from a statistical point of view and here he truly shows that he is the most valued member of the defence. He has won a very impressive 69% of his aerial duals, his strength in the air is clearly benefiting the side to an enormous degree. For context, Scott Wootton has won only 58% and Gary Sawyer just 54%. Clearly, the two on Canavan’s right and left side have had good seasons in their own right but it’s the man in the middle who has truly made our back three system tick with an eye-catching 13 clean sheets from 28 games.

He also had the occasional knack for a brilliant pass. His pure passing accuracy isn’t as good as some others, as some passes can go a little awry when done too ambitiously. Yet, Canavan at his best is a player who can start passing moves from the back by cutting through the midfield into a man in some space who will begin an attack on the opposition goal. Yes there have been a few brainfarts but by and large, nobody has combined defensive solidity with the ‘Loweball’ vision quite like this chap.

He’s done all this as well suffering from a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. Surely news that would have knocked anyone for six, his late in life diagnosis and natural concern for his son may have explained why his form slightly dipped last season during our relegation from League One. Canavan admitted that it took a while to get his rhythm and confidence back, but boy has he delivered since.

Is he likely to win player of the season? Ultimately not. There are a lot of other contenders who have stolen more headlines going forward. Where he does absolutely deserve to be, however, is in the conversation. All credit to him and let’s hope the retained list sees him putting pen to paper on a new deal to remain a Green.

Nick Saunders Smith: George Cooper

Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t actually think Cooper would win the Player of the Year award. Sarcevic’s impact off the field has inspired new levels of devotion from the fans that he had not experienced before this season, while his inspired efforts to raise money for the NHS have demonstrated exactly why he’s been dubbed “the people’s captain” by some.

Despite Sarcevic’s efforts – he was one of the best players, if not the best, between October and January – I think that there has been one player who has had an even greater impact on Argyle’s promotion hopes: that player is George Cooper.

Sadly, it is quite likely that we have seen Cooper (sponsored by Argyle Life no less) play his last game at Home Park. What a game it was too: two goals and one assist saw Argyle open up a three-point gap in third place and almost guarantee promotion to League One now that the season is set to be decided on points-per-game.

Cooper’s stats are remarkable. Initially blocked from getting into the team by Callum McFadzean, he finally broke into it off the bench at Swindon Town, when he created the equaliser for Joel Grant in his short period on the pitch. From that point, he’s assisted 12 goals and scored a further three.

Despite starting just over half of the league campaign, only Randell Williams (2 more assists from 10 more starts than Cooper) and Charlie Kick (2 more assists from 11 more starts) have exceeded him for assists. Had we played on until the end of the season, he would have almost certainly overtaken them and even surpassed Graham Carey’s record for a single season.

The opening goal is such a valuable commodity in any football match. Argyle have failed to win only one game this season in which they have scored first (the home loss to Swindon Town), but only won one game in which the opposition have scored first (the vital 2-1 victory against Crewe).

Given that, Cooper’s remarkable statistics take on even more valuable status in the success of our season. He has scored or assisted nine opening goals, leading to eight victories. This is not to mention his highly influential role in the opening goals in victories against Leyton Orient and Cheltenham Town. No other player has been anywhere near this involved in breaking the deadlock, nor has any other created as many big chances, while only Danny Mayor has completed more key passes than Cooper.

For context, the only player to be this influential in a recent season was Graham Carey: he scored or assisted 15 of Argyle’s 23 opening goals in 2016/17 – from these games Argyle gathered 75% of their points on the way to promotion.

Cooper may have only been involved for half the season, but his impact on Argyle’s promotion aspirations have been greater than any other player.

That, above any other factor, is why he deserves to win the Player of the Year award.

Luke Folland: Alex Palmer

Alex Palmer signed from Championship club West Bromwich Albion on a season-long loan deal at the start of the campaign. He arrived with little relatively experience and an air of mystery surrounding his ability. Before the season commenced, discussion was rife as to whether the position between the sticks was going to be taken by either Palmer or young counterpart Mike Cooper. Palmer claimed the spot for the first outing versus Crewe Alexandra and put in a stellar, arguably match-winning performance.

After this performance Palmer only went from strength to strength. His shot stopping ability was certainly not to be ignored, and his ability to prevail when one-on-one saved Argyle on numerous occasions during the season. Games such as Mansfield Town’s visit to Home Park saw Argyle outplayed, and realistically should have been impossible for us to win. But Palmer stood strong and almost won the game single-handily. He did this with regularity.

After the prior season’s debacle, with Matt Macey and Kyle Letheren competing to be the least worst between the sticks, Alex Palmer has been a breath of fresh air and plays in with the confidence of a player far more experienced than himself. His organization of the back line is impressive and most certainly an incredible improvement on the year prior.

This is one of the key aspects that converts Palmer from quality goalkeeper to genuine Player of the Year contender. Need I remind you of last season’s horror show with regards to defensive organisation? Palmer has helped change that dramatically.

As I conclude my argument for Alex Palmer, I also wish to state how he has spent all season between the sticks and has stayed fit throughout. He’s had no signs of injuries or suspensions to his name, making him a truly reliable choice as Argyle’s custodian.

After all, we all know that if you chop and change the line-up regularly, things become messy quickly. Just look back on the tale of the Argyle goalkeeper curse only a few years ago. Palmer’s regular involvement has acted as a reliable basis upon which to build the rest of the side, and indeed the season.

Not only has Palmer been superb individually he has also enabled others to excel via this strong building block he provides. Hopefully we see him again, but it would be fitting to see him go out with the Player of the Year award.

Best of the rest: Louis Killick

Danny Mayor

Mayor may not have set League Two alight as he had done in previous campaigns, but he was certainly integral to the Pilgrims’ success this season. The end product wasn’t as consistent as many would have hoped, but Mayor was key to the excellent football played at points this season.

Mayor’s talent has been clear to see, frequently working well in the build-up to chances, and he’s always been a constant threat with his willingness to take on and beat players. When he broke free of many opponents’ double marking and was able to get on the ball, Mayor was able to produce some highlight reel worthy moments, including a fantastic piece of skill in order to set up Joe Edwards’s second goal away to Crawley. However, Mayor’s standout moment from this season was his glorious finish against Salford early in the season, drifting in off the left before calmly sending the ball into the far corner.

Luke Jephcott

I was happy to eat my words regarding Luke Jephcott this year as he began a hugely successful run beginning in the new year. Whilst proving near ineffectual on the wing in the previous campaign, Jephcott’s move to a central role did wonders for the Argyle academy graduate. Recording seven goals in thirteen league appearances, including two braces in his first two appearances against Scunthorpe and Carlisle, Jephcott contributed hugely to Argyles successful league campaign.

Lowe identified Jephcott’s proficiency in a central position and gave him a chance which he took in his stride. Having a former striker as a coach seems to have helped the youngster progress, as he is showing some true talent in both finishing and positioning, two essential elements of the central role. Highlighting the dramatic improvement his second campaign for the club, Jephcott won the League Two Young Player of the Month award for January after scoring five in five for the month.

Ryan Hardie

Most players would hate the of title of ‘super sub’, but Ryan Hardie seems to have thrived in that role. With five of his seven goals for the Pilgrims coming in substitute appearances, Hardie has been a vital part of Argyle’s end of season success. Joining the club on loan from Blackpool, Hardie’s electric pace allowed him to make an instant impact, scoring three goals in his first three games, playing just 55 minutes outside of additional time.

His highlight of the season was a crucial injury time winner against Salford in February to seal three essential points for the Pilgrims. Hardie used his pace to capitalise on some poor positioning from the Salford defence, beat several players as he raced towards goal, and turned the ball into the far corner, sending the travelling support into a frenzy of hysterics.

Byron Moore

Byron Moore has proved hugely important to the system that Ryan Lowe has ingrained at Argyle. Aside from his six league goals, Moore’s versatility has been a useful tool at Lowe’s disposal. Moore’s ability to play as both a striker and a wing-back, sometimes both within the same match, has given Lowe a lot of options, with the gaffer having publicly praised his former Bury signing on several occasions.

Five of Moore’s six league goals came in wins, with the other in a draw, proving his ability to come up with the goods when necessary. His highlight of the season came early in the new year, getting on the end of an excellent George Cooper diagonal and thumping a well-timed volley in the bottom corner for the second goal in a 3-1 away win against Scunthorpe.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 3 Grimsby 0

Three goals, three points and back in the top three, some night eh? Overall, it was comfortable for Argyle, who could have won 6-0 given the three efforts that hit the woodwork.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

Rarely tested on a night that Argyle dominated from the moment they took the lead. Made a couple of saves from shots he would have been expected to stop, with his biggest test coming from a close-range header that he was down quickly to parry away. The only question for him tonight was whether he could have pushed rebounds into safer areas, but that is a small query.

Passing out from the back was good too. As confidence grew following the early goals, he and Canavan were more inclined to take a risk or two and play through the lines without causing problems for themselves.

Scott Wootton, CB – 7

It largely went unnoticed, but it was Wootton’s tackle on the edge of the box which set Bakinson away to stroll past Grimsby’s exposed midfield and play an excellent pass right through the middle of their defence to set Hardie away for the second. It wasn’t his only smart intervention, often getting his timing spot on to turnover possession and get Argyle running in the opposite direction. Composed, controlled and effective.

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

A good night for Canavan as he mopped up most of the balls that reached him. Strong in the air to cut off Grimsby’s direct route to goal, good in possession and broke Grimsby’s press with passes under pressure (although his long passes were far more miss than hit).

His biggest question mark was when he tried to play an offside trap, only to allow Green to run through. However, the striker was wide and Canavan recovered well to cut his route to goal off and slow the attack as they saw the danger off.

Callum McFadzean, CB – 5

So, sooo, close to giving away a penalty at 0-0. Taken on, one-versus-one, in his own area, he was beaten and fell over eight yards from goal, but somehow managed to get his body in the way of the ball and not handle it. This was a hugely fortunate moment, as he could have easily made contact and was not in control at that moment. For the second time in a handful of starts at centre-back, he was very fortunate to not give away a penalty inside the opening 15 minutes.

McFadzean didn’t have a bad game, it’s more that I think five justifies the fact he was the weakest link in the defence on a night that was comfortable for his other defenders and was made the most sloppy mistakes in giving the ball away in his own half.

Bryon Moore, RWB – 6

Quiet. Not helped by the change in formation that saw Bakinson and Grant spend most of the game playing together in defensive midfield. That saw Mayor lost in central-attacking midfield and the two wing-backs isolated. George Cooper coped just fine, given he could swing in a cross from his own half and still have a decent change at finding its target, but Moore clearly needed more support, which he didn’t get.

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 8

In a three-way race for man of the match with Cooper and Ryan Hardie, he misses out because he went off the boil in the second half and lost possession in his own half on more than two occasions, a habit he really needs to break.

Superb late run into the box for the opening goal – so superb that he almost seemed offside given how dumbfounded Grimsby’s defenders were at how much space he was in. Then, an outstanding, inch-perfect, forty-yard through-pass that bisected Grimsby’s centre-backs and put Hardie away to go around the ‘keeper and double the lead.

Conor Grant, DM – 6

First, the negatives. Grant was suspect defensively for most of the night. At the beginning, he was regularly out of position as Clarke and Whitehouse found the pocked of space behind him and threatened. The night got easier for him as Argyle dominated the end of the first-half and then the pace of the game collapsed in the second, but in a game that was competitive past the 40th minute he would have been under the microscope more and will need to do better.

For the positives, a great driving run on the counter in the first five minutes saw him present Hardie with an early sight of goal, he was oh-so-close to scoring a wonderful goal from 30 yards – great save – and he played a smart cross into the box that Canavan flicked on before the third goal (very hard to tell who actually scored it).

George Cooper, LWB – 8, player of the match

In the end, I chose Cooper as the player of the match because of the sheer volume of chances he created. Why on earth was he dropped in the first place? His assists may have dried up in the four game stretch between Colchester and Macclesfield, but it wasn’t for the lack of crossing. He could have had two assists against Salford and Macclesfield apiece had finishing not been lacking.

Here, he could have had a hattrick of assists. There was the brilliant ball in for the opening goal – a cross that singularly picks out a runner into the box, perfectly matching his stride – is virtually indefensible. In the second he cut back for Hardie to tap in, only for him to mistime his effort and put it into the ‘keeper’s arms, and then you can pick one of three other crosses that found the dangerous area in the box, only for nobody to attack the cross.

Cooper wasn’t as good defensively as he had been before he was dropped, but that was mostly when he pushed up high, meaning that any player who got around him still had to travel fifty-yards to goal. When defending the edge of his box, he continued to show an every growing understanding of where to be, when to stick a foot in, and how to anticipate the path of the ball. It’s becoming a bit of an urban legend that Cooper is a liability defensively (and yes, I know, he’ll commit a defensive howler against Macclesfield).

Danny Mayor, AM – 6

Pushed forward into an attacking-midfield role, but it didn’t work. Argyle play too many of their passes out to the wing-backs and long to the strikers, meaning that he was just never near the ball. He had to drop deep to get possession, but then his only pass was wide, long or backwards, which is not what he wants to do.

He was involved at times, but when Argyle could have won 6-0, you don’t want to hear that the attacking midfielder wasn’t that involved. His best moment came when he very nearly picked an excellent through-ball to set Edwards away in the box, but it was narrowly intercepted. It was also his shot that rebounded to Edwards for his miss-of-the-season contender (not that he has a chance in that competition, Zak Rudden has had the entire top-three locked up since November).

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

Was it his goal? All the television angles are inconclusive – before anyone says they definitely saw it cross the line, the replays are thus far from angles that prevent you from knowing for certain. Nevertheless, it was given and he now has more non-penalty goals than any other player at the club this season!

Worked but it mostly didn’t come off for him as it did for Hardie. His only other chance came after he was superbly played through by his strike-partner, but his first-time volley crashed against the crossbar from ten-yards.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 9 player of the match

Scratch that, I’ve watched the highlights since I started writing this and have now decided that Hardie was the best player sorry George. I mean, let’s start with his goal. Bakinson gets a lot of credit, but it was Hardie who was alive to the potential and put himself exactly where he needed to be to get away, on the inside shoulder of the defender for the ball through the middle when so many of Argyle’s strikers would have been peeling away for a ball into the channel. From there, he ran it at great speed but also under great control to get away from the defence – which is not as easy as it looks, a foot race is very different when one person is also dribbling a football – and finished it expertly.

Before then, he showed great technique to control a rebound on the angle and crash a half-volley against the post to nearly make it 1-0, as well as finding the back of the net after Bakinson opened the scoring, only for it to be ruled out by an accidental hand-ball as he was controlling it. It should be noted that the ‘keeper might have stopped with the whistle, and so could have saved the shot if he tried.

He put away the third, playing on when others around him stopped, but that has now been given to Jephcott (though it might rightfully be his) then spurned his semi-hattrick chance when Cooper’s cut-back met him perfectly, only for Hardie to be unable to open his boot up more and play it into the far corner. Finally, the key-factor in him overtaking Cooper, was his perfect ball over the top to put Jephcott away. An outstanding pass to render both the centre-backs completely useless.

A hattrick and an assist was not that far away on what was probably his best performance for the club to-date.

Substitutes

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

What? How did he miss it? Three yards, goalkeeper on the floor, tap in? Aaaaaaand he hit the post. Jeez. Showed good movement to be nearly put clean-through by Mayor, only for a good interception to spoil the fun.

Ryan Taylor, ST – n/a

Back from injury, needed minutes, the game was dead, so how long did he get? About eight of them. Including stoppage time, Argyle were out of sight with 51 minutes to go, so why couldn’t he come on earlier? He literally touched the ball twice, what a wasted opportunity.

Dominic Telford, ST – n/a

See above, except four minutes and one touch. Lowe’s only mistake on the night. Can there be anything more frustrating as a striker to be brought on like that?

Pitch and players contribute to Bradford defeat

This isn’t a game that will live long in the memory for the quality of football on show. But as a spectacle, it’s possibly one of the most fascinating games we’ve been able to witness this season.

Plymouth Argyle travelled to Bradford to play on an absolute bog of a pitch. They went a goal down, had a man sent off, went two goals down, had another man sent off, and somehow scored with nine men on the field. Argyle lost the game, but there are numerous lessons we are able to learn from the encounter.

The only problem? It’s incredibly unlikely we’ll see a game played in similar circumstances again.

Argyle take their time to adapt

Storm Jorge had already put the game in doubt with a deluge the night before, and at 10:30 on the day of the game a pitch inspection looked as though it may force the Green Army to turn back early. Inexplicably, referee Carl Boyeson decided to wait two-and-a-half hours before making a decision, but finally, just before 1, we had confirmation that the game would go ahead.

But that’s not to say conditions were perfect for the game. As we know, quite the opposite was true. Snow hit Valley Parade as the game approached, and the section of the pitch in front of the travelling support barely had any turf on it at all. It did lead to some comedic incidents of officials and coaches slipping over (we all saw you, Jimmy Dickinson), but it hardly gave anybody confidence that conditions were conducive to a good game of football.

And yet, initially at least, that’s exactly what Argyle tried to play. In the first half, it was still the Greens’ intention to play the ball out from the back, usually through some short distribution from Alex Palmer, before either working the ball to Danny Mayor or launching the ball into a channel for the strikers to run onto. Similar indeed to what we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, but on a pitch that just did not allow that to happen.

We saw in the very early stages just how the pitch was making this game a real lottery. A long Bradford ball looked as though it was harmlessly working its way out for an Argyle throw, but got stuck in the mud. Not only did it allow Clayton Donaldson a run at the Argyle goal, it also delivered a sign that winning this particular lottery, or taking the pitch out of the equation, would be the key to winning. Argyle picked that up far too late.

Ryan Lowe changed things at half time. Ryan Taylor and Ryan Hardie became the new strikeforce, and Argyle switched to playing the ball long at the first instance. Not Lowe’s ideal style of play, but needs must. Argyle had some joy with this setup – Taylor was always best placed to bring down those long balls, and Hardie could run onto them if they were played a little further forward. It wasn’t perfect. It was never going to be. But Argyle at least got themselves onto an even keel.

If Lowe had been keener to adapt before the game, who knows how it would have progressed?

Old problems come to the fore

One particularly notable aspect of Saturday’s game was the return of old problems into Argyle’s play. Issues that we thought were one, two, or even three years old came to the fore and plagued Argyle throughout the encounter, and contributed to the highly disappointing defeat.

Take Scott Wootton, for instance. Whilst last season was a horror show for the ex-Manchester United man, this season he’s undoubtedly improved. Granted, the system has helped him, but he’s certainly been ‘alright’ enough as the season has gone on, rather than his former…inadequate self. His aerial ability has always been a worry, however, and it reared its ugly head again on Saturday afternoon.

Defending an early corner that was whipped in to the back post, Wootton was well positioned to challenge and deal with the danger. But he got his technique all wrong. Badly. So much so he still had a foot on the ground as Ben Richards-Everton towered above him to head home. That came after just six minutes, making it a disastrous start with an old issue at source.

And let’s not ignore the discipline. Argyle’s start to life back in League One in 2017 was riddled with indiscipline, with the Greens picking entering October with as many red cards as they had points (5). Things have never been as bad since then, but some indiscipline has been creeping in, and it reached a crescendo on Saturday.

First, Gary Sawyer, just returning from a suspension after receiving his marching orders against Newport a month ago, went in hard on Dylan Connolly. It wasn’t an obvious red card challenge, one you could perhaps describe as ‘one-and-a-half yellow cards’, but Boyeson’s decision was understandable. Then, as the game drew to a close, Antoni Sarcevic was shown a second yellow card for a forceful challenge on the same player, reducing Argyle to nine. That they managed to score and push their opponents right up to the final whistle from that stage was remarkable.

This in itself poses a problem for Argyle going forward. With two games to come this week, they will be without two players whose influence has been key this season in Sawyer and Sarcevic. Both will have their suspensions compounded by the concern that they have both been sent off for the second time this season. Argyle’s indiscipline surely won’t reach 2017/18 levels, but they could do without shooting themselves in the foot.

It’s one of a few old problems in the squad that Lowe will have to carefully consider in the coming weeks.

Player Ratings: Bradford 2 Plymouth Argyle 1

It was a truly bizarre game of two halves for Argyle who found themselves 2-0 down and a man light at half-time before a much improved showing after the interval.

It took going down to 9 men however for Argyle to finally claw their way back into the match with Ryan Hardie slotting the ball through O’Donnell’s legs late on. The second half was a much more spirited showing than the first but Argyle were caught a lot more on the counter and in truth could have lost by more.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

It’s always going to be difficult to rate a goalkeeper fairly in a game like this. His distribution was nothing short of awful throughout, frequently shanking the ball out of play or straight to opposition players. You can possibly say the atrocious surface can’t have helped that but it’s worth noting O’Donnell was a lot more accurate in this regard.

However, the reason he gets his reasonable mark is due to the very good use of his hands. He collected most high balls very well despite a lot of pressure from tall Bradford attackers. He also made two great one vs one saves to keep Argyle in with a sniff at the start of the second half

Scott Wootton, CB – 4

After a good season generally, this game was straight out of the 2019/20 playbook from the centre back. He lost a header for Bradford’s opener from a corner, something that has almost happened more than once in the last few months already before Argyle’s luck finally expired.

His passing also showed infuriating streaks of aimlessness, often panicking himself into long hoods down the pitch with almost nobody in sight to aim for. He wasn’t helped by the lack of midfield protection after ten men but he was still far from impressive.

Niall Canavan, CB – 6

A stoic performance from the big centre back who wasn’t entirely his most impressive self but he did reasonably well given the fact that Argyle were totally outnumbered for most of the game. He was capable enough in the air and held his position well throughout. He was more flawed in his attacking game, twice squandering the opportunity to get big headers onto set pieces that could have changed the course of the game.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 4

Arrrrggh! Does that about sum it up? It’s becoming a bit of a concern that Sawyer, after never having had a straight red card in his career until this year, has now had two in his last four games. A horrendous tackle, albeit one Connolly made a bit of a meal of.

He was playing largely pretty well until the mistimed and overzealous tackle but he really needs to take a moment of calm whenever he next steps onto the pitch. The rush of blood to the head was probably enough to ensure the three points for the hosts and he’ll now miss the next four games. It’s a shame too because he was largely marking his man well and passing the ball with accuracy before the red mist descended.

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 7

Bakinson’s Argyle career began with a bang but soon declined following a string of patchy displays. It was a relief to see the loanee back to something approaching his best today as he was key to Argyle’s offensive action in the second half. He passed and moved with the ball well and was only subbed to allow a more natural striker in the shape of Dom Telford.

You could argue he didn’t guard his back four in the second half but clearly he wasn’t meant to. Argyle played 15 yards higher up across the pitch in a high risk and high reward strategy when defence wasn’t top of the agenda.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

Edwards has an unfortunate knack of being a man without a position in Ryan Lowe’s system. He isn’t a good enough crosser of the ball for this role and often he slowed down our play in the first half by being a good five or ten yards deeper than he should have been. He didn’t do anything disastrous but it’s hard to conclude he wasn’t the biggest blockage to our attack and he was rightly hooked at half time. Notably, he was one of four captains for Argyle in the game. Can anyone recall when that last happened?

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

Like Sawyer, it’s hard to rate Sarcevic because he was definitely having a pretty good game up until the sending off. He was probably on an 8 up to that moment and the red card lost him man of the match.

A midfield general, the Mancunian did the heel-snapping, heavy-pressing work that he’s best at to recover possession for Argyle and was perfectly capable with his distribution too. His red card was a little more contentious than Sawyer’s but he still gave the referee a tough decision to make and he’ll now miss two games

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

As has been said with so many players so far, Mayor is a tough player to rate in this game, albeit him for a different reason than most. He was probably one of the better players in Argyle’s compared (if a little flaccid) first half display, building good passing triangles with McFadzean and Sawyer to gain Argyle territory.

In the second half, when moved to left wing back he was very poor. He offered little defensive protection and wasn’t able to do what he does best which is cut onto his right foot and run towards the centre of the back. It would have been wiser to take him off for George Cooper who is wasted on the bench.

Callum McFadzean, LWB – 3

A terrible performance from the left sided utility player which was probably his worst for the club to date. The one good thing that can be said is he made himself available in the first half for passes from Mayor but his end product was virtually non existent. He was slow on the ball and very rarely put in anything approaching a successful cross.

When moved to left-centre-back, he was, if anything, even worse. He was beaten one vs one twice to allow good Bradford chances.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

A largely good display from the young striker who, a couple of wayward passes aside was among Argyle’s best performers in the first half. He was unlucky to be subbed and in truth only was because Lowe was clearly going for a more direct partnership. He held up the ball well against much bigger defenders and by and large distributed the ball well.

Byron Moore, ST – 7

One of the few players to perform consistently well in the first half and the second, Moore was unlucky to be on the losing side in the game. In a first half was Argyle were slow and stodgy off the ball, he was one of a few to constantly make himself available. He was a good outlet on the wing in the second half and took men on with much more efficiency than Mayor on the other side. He didn’t quite have the moment of magic he was threatening to but largely, a solid display.

Substitutes

Ryan Taylor, ST – 7

Taylor is surely in the twilight of his Argyle career with his inability to stay fit and his unsuitedness to Lowe’s preferred style but (to mix my metaphors slightly) he showed signs of an Indian Summer in today’s game.

In a second half where Argyle decided to go more direct, he was the perfect outlet in winning balls as well as bringing them down well. He may not have directly created a goal but he did the job he was bought on to do.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7, player of the match

Hardie was one of a few players who stood out in the second half and the fact that he got a goal with 9 men on the pitch is probably enough of a tiebreak to make him man of the match. He and Taylor is a bit of an archaic partnership but it was an effective one for the circumstances.

Hardie is a joy to watch for his rapid bursts of pace that can often turn defenders into frightened gazelles. He’s not so effective from the start but his electric energy makes him a master of chaos from the bench. He was far from bad with the ball either, dribbling with great aptitude. He was sometimes a little too hesitant with the end product which is why he’s only a 7.

Dominic Telford, ST – n/a

Bought on with Argyle chasing the game, he didn’t have quite enough to nick an unlikely point.

Player Ratings: Macclesfield 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

Plymouth Argyle failed to seize their opportunity to move into the top three – or even top with a 5-0 win – as they were held by an excellent performance by Macclesfield. Town will be gutted to have only taken one point from the game, given they wasted two one-on-ones and had a couple of strong efforts repelled by Alex Palmer within the first fifteen minutes.

That period of pressure passed and Argyle were on-top for virtually the remainder of the half, only for Bakinson – on as a sub for the injured Grant – to miscontrol in midfield and launch a Macclesfield counter from which they converted their third one-on-one. It should be noted that Bakinson fell victim to a very heavy pitch that was cut up all over the place, but still.

Argyle gained the upper hand but rarely looked threatening in the box, until a cross fell for Hardie in the middle of a scramble and he was eventually tripped, with Sarcevic scoring the rebound of his own penalty.

Alex Palmer, GK – 8, player of the match

No doubt about who was the best player for Argyle tonight – Macclesfield would have been out of sight had it not been for Palmer’s first-half efforts. Within fifteen minutes he had already kept the score at 0-0 twice, the second showing he was more alert than any of his teammates when responding to a cross going back into the box after a set-piece was initially cleared.

Palmer was very close to saving the third such chance just past the half-hour, only for the ball to squirm in following a swift counter. His steady hands were key to Argyle taking a point and avoiding a dent to our goal difference, which could be equally as important given how tight the current top-four is.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Scott Wootton, Niall Canavan and Gary Sawyer against a quick, direct attack – need I say more? Playing the same style as Salford did in the second half last week, they ran clear of their slower, less mobile markers time and time again, with all three largely powerless to stop it. The only respite came when Macclesfield backed off to protect their goal, allowing Argyle lengthy periods of often sterile possession.

Niall Canavan, CB – 4

See above. The only extra mark down for Canavan was that he could have done a bit better to prevent the first one-on-one – he applied pressure but not enough to put the striker off from finding the bottom corner, save for Palmer – and almost certainly looked to fall asleep for the second, allowing a routine header back into the box to send Nathan Cameron clean through.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 5

Yep, same again. Fast striker, slow centre-back. Sawyer’s main savior was that Town targeted Argyle’s right more than the left, so he looked less culpable than the others.

In a nightmarish flashback to earlier in the season, he resumed set-piece duties for the 94th minute free-kick that offered Argyle the chance to win the game – his first set-piece since Port Vale? – but didn’t it was headed away by the second man, not falling within five yards of a green shirt. The ball returned to him, but rather than attempting to force in the cross he played it backwards, with the ball eventually ending up all the way back at Palmer’s feet, and the full-time whistle was blown. This shouldn’t define his night at all, but come on…

Josh Grant, DM – 6

Substituted injured for Bakinson with half-an-hour played. Decent opening but nothing special, offering nothing in particular to protect the defence from the speed of Macclesfield’s attack, but then there wasn’t much he could do. Misplaced a pass or two as yet another victim of the rutted pitch.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

Edwards toiled as usual on the right, and we saw again some good play out down the right – a more direct style than Mayor and his wing-back partner often prefer, but recently an effective one – but he and Sarcevic were largely quiet in a creative sense. No crosses attempted, only the one shot (a left-foot half-volley that went wide). Withdrawn to move Moore out wide and add Hardie to the fire-power up front.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 5

Five might seem like a low rating for the player in fine-form and the one who scored the all-important equaliser, but in truth today was not a good game for him. The worst midfielder in possession by some distance, lost possession with two of every five touches – worst in the team – created nothing, wasted Argyle’s best opening of the second half with a dreadful cross that sailed over the crossbar, and missed a penalty. Lucky for him, the rebound fell right where he needed it too.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m not a fan of his penalty technique – using your laces leads to less control over the placement of the shot – and he’s now missed two of seven. Maybe this is just a personal preference thing, but I’m just not that confident when he steps up to take them.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

Close to a seven for Mayor, who faded a bit and couldn’t quite find the final pass. Adapted quite well to the pitch, or at least better than most, and benefited by often taking up a position to receive the ball in the corners, where the turf was more even. Got in-behind once and was set to square it, only for it to bobble up to shin-height and bounce away from him at the crucial moment.

Very, very close to getting the opening goal too. His finish was perfect, if a little scuffed, into the bottom corner, only for the linesman’s flag to go up; the ball had fractionally rolled out of play before Jephcott could cut it back from the by-line.

George Cooper, LWB – 6

First things first, Cooper’s defending has come so far this season. It’s still far from perfect, but his positioning, awareness of the players around him, anticipation, and the timing of his interventions have all improved. A big hat-tip to him on that front, because it was a glaring weakness that McFadzean mostly did not have.

His movement off the ball isn’t quite what McFadzean’s is – you can see Mayor getting in position to attack the full-back, but Cooper isn’t fully on the same wavelength – but his crossing is outstanding. Once again, he could well have had at least one assist. Sarcevic only just failed to connect with a perfect right-footed cross, and there were others into dangerous areas that nobody anticipated.

Byron Moore, ST – 5

Struggled in the game, as did all the strikers. For the most part, they were either struggling to win their aerial duels as Argyle were fully penned in during the opening twenty minutes, struggling to control balls that were bobbling towards them while harassed by Macclesfield’s defenders, or surrounded and isolated when they had the ball in advanced positions.

Moore was okay when he moved out to the wing, but offered no more than Edwards. Crossing was poor when he found himself in position.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 5

Struggled, like the others, due to the pitch, the pressure, and Macclesfield’s spot-on tactics. Did a decent job of linking up play but nothing special as he toiled again without receiving any chances – his only shot came from outside the box.

Substitutes

Tyreeq Bakinson, CM – 4

Misplaced more passes than he should have, even though he had a high pass-completion rate. He kept possession ticking over, but for the most part that was Macclesfield’s plan as they sat very deep to defend their lead – consequently, he had acres of space to orchestrate things. There were some nice forward passes that cut through a line of pressure, it should be noted – I fear some are about to overreact to Bakinson’s display like they did when he showed early promise.

Bakinson’s sin, however, was that he was the one to give the ball away for the goal. With Argyle not fully reset following an attacking set-piece, he had the ball under control only to misjudge the pace (or lack thereof) of the pitch and allowed himself to be robbed. From there, Macclesfield sprung the counter, running 3-v-2 and scoring. With Argyle having rode the wave of pressure at the start and begun to take control of the game, it was a sucker punch that possibly cost the team all three points.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

The super-striker super-sub failed to score off the bench once more, but he did win the penalty that gained his team a point. Demonstrated maturity to not snatch at the shot when there were enough legs in the way to block it, and saw a reward as a slight trip brought him down.

Dominic Telford, ST – n/a

Came on late as Ryan Lowe shook things up to chase an equaliser. It was a bit of an unorthodox position that Telford took-up, looking most commonly like an attacking midfielder in the hole. It didn’t really work – unsurprising, given he’s a striker, on his first appearance back from his latest injury and playing on a pitch that was torn to pieces through the middle.

Still, great to see him fit once more. He could lay a claim to being the most naturally talented of all the strikers Argyle have available, if only he could keep himself fit! Restricted to only nine starts this season, with injury striking every time he gets into full-flow (Walsall, Cheltenham, Swindon), each time around the half-hour mark. Hopefully, he’s finally past it now.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2 Crewe 1

One of the biggest games of the season so far was won by Plymouth Argyle in a crunch top of the table clash at Home Park. A tight first half saw Argyle edge it but it was the visitors who came out in the ascendency after the break, taking the lead with an unstoppable striker from Harry Pickering. Argyle persisted and equalised soon after thanks to Luke Jephcott’s great header. The greens then won a penalty for a foul on Danny Mayor which Antoni Sarcevic converted with nerves of steel.

Alex Palmer – GK, 6

It was a bit of a funny game from Palmer today. His distribution will no doubt continue to take a bit of criticism as it often has over the past few games and not without good reason. A large number of his attempted passes failed to find the intended target with a not unreasonable amount going out for throw ins. However, the conditions in the game cannot be ignored. The ball was skidding and sliding around due to intense winds and heavy rain, hard for any player to play in and for a keeper even worse.

Overall, he managed the conditions well, saving what he needed to and proving his usual, assured command of area. However, he could have managed the backpass a bit better that allowed Chris Porter a (seemingly unmissable) open goal. He seemed to go for it and then change his mind, without the benefits of either clearing the ball or guarding the goal.

Scott Wootton- RCB, 6

Wootton has still had a much better season than a lot of Argyle fans have expected but it would be fair to say his performances have trended downwards slightly in recent weeks. He defended fairly well today but still had a few issues with high balls, struggled more than others on the surface and didn’t ever really get into any consistent pattern with his distrubtuion. Balls cleared down his side had a tendency to come back more often that not. A capable enough display but a return to form we saw in November and early December would be very much welcome.

Niall Canavan- CB, 8

Another fantastic game at the back from the man who is probably Antoni Sarcevic’s closest rival for the player of the season award. Canavan was a colossus in the air as he always is and excelled himself in his calmness playing out from the back. Defensive creativity is hard at the best of times but on a day where the pitch was cutting up left, right and centre, this was doubly the case. The big Yorkshireman has had a real renaissance this season and he always keeps his head when those around him are losing theirs. His tackling was also brilliant, emphasising the importance of good timing.

Callum McFadzean – LCB, 6

This is an unusual role for McFadzean, make no mistake, Against Salford, he was Argyle’s ace card, often making unexpected runs from deep. A master of chaos for the home defence to contend with, he pulled them out of shape to our advantage. Today’s performance was very different. He didn’t run forward with or without the ball nearly as much, tending to stay as part of a solid defensive line.

He was mostly capable enough in the air and on the floor but he made two big bloopers that nearly cost Argyle goals. It was his weak backpass that resulted in that comical Chris Porter miss and he was unlucky not to concede a penalty in the first half when he caught a Crewe attacker in the box without getting the ball. Not his natural role and you’d expect to see Sawyer back in on Tuesday.

Josh Grant – DCM, 9 – Player of the Match

What a fantastic performance. The loanee was absolutely everywhere and has at least for now cemented this particular spot in the team. He won tackles with perfect timing when he needed to and his passing was exquisite. Far stronger away from centre-back, this was one of the finest individual displays from any player we’ve seen this season. He controlled a game that Argyle dominated and there was virtually nothing to fault.

Joe Edwards- RWB, 7

Edwards might not have the pace or thrills of Byron Moore at wing-back but he is growing into Mr Consistency for Argyle and he built on this reputation today with another solid display. He protects Scott Wootton superbly defensively, severely restricting the attacks which come down Argyle’s right side. He isn’t quite so good going forward but he showed positive indications here today, linking up nicely with Antoni Sarcevic for spells.

Antoni Sarcevic- RCM, 9

On almost any other day, Sarcevic would have easily claimed man of the match from this one. As it is, he only just makes third due to two other spectacular performances. But lets not undermine just how good the Mancunian was in this game. He’s been famed this season for his energy, bursting around the pitch and picking up countless loose balls and turning the balance of play in Argyle’s favour. He did all of this today and more, moving the ball forward rapidly. Let’s not forget a perfectly placed penalty, blasted into the cortner of the goal at speed. A near flawless display.

Danny Mayor- LCM, 8

Danny Mayor needed a big performance and he certainly got one today. It was his best creative display in a good while and, as seen with Sarcevic, he mucked in defensively too. He had one absolutely spectacular moment where a stunning through ball and a bit of interchange saw him running towards goal in the Crewe penalty box before he was hacked down for a penalty.

Even generally, he carried and moved the ball a lot better than we’ve seen in the past few weeks and it’s good to see him get another assist to his name. Whilst he still needs to add some goals, this was a big step in the right direction.

George Cooper- LWB, 5

It just wasn’t really his game. That’s all there is to be said really. Paul Sturrock, back in the day, would have described this game as one for the ‘blood and snotters’. By that he meant the players who prioritise a tireless work rate and physical energy above their technical attributes and for all Cooper’s many strengths, this isn’t really what he is. He had some moments of promise, with a couple of very good crosses but by and large he was anonymous and will be hoping for a better surface next week to showcase his talents.

Byron Moore- ST, 8

Not since Oscar Threlkeld in the 16/17 season has there been a player who I’ve wanted to clone quite so much as Byron Moore. Taking aside the ethical implications, his versatility makes him worth his weight in gold for Argyle. He started the game brilliantly up front. His chemistry with Luke Jephcott develops game on game. Together, they’ve developed a near psychic understanding of when to make runs and when to hold back.

Moore battled well in the air and got some excellent flick ons. When needed, he moved out to left-wing-back and supported the defence very well there. Let’s give some credit to him too for a superb cross for Argyle’s equalising goal at a time where we really needed a tough of magic from somewhere.

Luke Jephcott- ST, 9

Josh Grant won man of the match by an absolute whisker, with an absolutely majestic performance from the 20 year old youngster coming extremely close to beating him. Jephcott was superb in every department, proving to sceptics that he’s about far more than just goals. Not that his goals don’t justify a place in the team by themselves, having got an impressive 6 from just 6 starts.

Here though, Jephcott’s real strength was in his maturity. He was up against a huge centre-back and proved every bit is equal, winning headers and physical duels that he had no right to win, as well as floating in the air for an inch perfect header to convert Moore’s excellent cross.

Substitutes

Tyreeq Bakinson- DCM, 7

Grant was moved to centre-back to allow the loanee to come in in DCM and he made a good case for a return to the starting team with his best performance we’ve seen in a while. He shielded the defence well as well as starting good counter-attacks on more than one occasion.

Ryan Hardie- ST,  N/A

Moved on to allow Byron Moore to move to wing-back, Hardie for the first time managed to come off the bench without scoring! He did come close though with a scuffed effort at the end nearly creeping under William Jääskeläinen in goal. He didn’t get on the ball a lot but looked lively when he did

Joel Grant- ST, N/A

Brought on late, Joel barely touched the ball but held it up quite well when he did as Argyle saw out the game in the corner flag.

Player Ratings: Salford 2 Plymouth Argyle 3

For the sixth time this season, Plymouth Argyle found themselves locked at 2-2 in League Two. However, away at Salford, they bucked the trend, scoring a 92nd minute winner to steal all three points.

Ryan Hardie scored a memorable late solo-goal to win the game, his forth in just four substitute appearances following a run of no goals in three starts. Prior to that Antoni Sarcevic stole the show, delivering an inch-perfect cross for Byron Moore to open the scoring before scoring a screamer to make it 2-1 just as Salford seemed to be turning the game around.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

It was a game of two-halves for Palmer and Plymouth Argyle’s defence on the whole. In the first half, led superbly by Niall Canavan, Salford barely threatened. In the second, they scored two and could have had three more. So, while Palmer was quiet initially and could have done better to prevent James Wilson’s first from squirming in, he did also deny Wilson a hattrick to put Salford ahead not once but twice.

Scott Wootton, CB – 6

Neat and tidy for the most part, but like the rest of the defence he looked uncomfortable when Salford started to put together wave after wave of attacks, which culminated in a string of good chances for Argyle’s opposition to win the game, far more than Argyle probably deserved to on the balance of the whole match.

Wootton’s highlight was an expertly timed intervention to block Adam Rooney from converting an excellent right-wing cross by Ashley Hunter right in-front of goal. However, he also failed to pick up Rooney later on when the big-striker completely failed to connect from five yards to make the score 1-1 and was perhaps drawn out to the wing too-easily when Salford scored their second equaliser, distorting Argyle’s defensive shape so much that Bakinson was left marking danger-man Wilson.

Niall Canavan, CB – 6

Canavan enjoyed a dominant opening hour as he helped keep Salford’s dangerous (and very expensive) front four at bay. That was, until ex-Man United player James Wilson came on… Canavan’s evening can be easily split into BW and AW, that is before-Wilson and after-Wilson. Before, Canavan was around an 8 and well in contention to be named the best performer in green. After Wilson’s arrival, things changed almost immediately.

Wilson beat Canavan to the ball to equaliser a first time and failed to intercept the cross for the second equaliser. Then, Wilson easily ran beyond the Irishman, only for Salford’s pitch to conspire against him and bounce the ball behind his run, putting him off and making Palmer’s double-save decidedly less tricky. Finally, he was exposed to a 2-on-1 by some lackluster midfield play, with Wilson going clean-through again, only for Palmer to thwart his would-be-winner.

Callum McFadzean, CB – 6

Starting with the positives, McFadzean was very much Argyle’s ace in the hole during the first half. The benefit of having an unmarked winger starting at left-back is that they can maraud forward virtually unmarked and create space for others. We saw this with the opening goal – it was he that made the initial break – his near-assist for Byron Moore, when he found himself in his common position beyond the defence, fed by Danny Mayor, and when he drove forward and was unfortunate to see a last-ditch interception prevent Moore running clean-through.

However, defensively there were big question-marks. He positioned himself far too often as a left-back rather than a left-centre back, creating big problems for his fellow defenders. Just take Rooney’s missed chance in the second-half, caused by McFadzean’s poor positioning dragging Canavan out of position and opening the space for the cross into Rooney. Had Canavan not been sucked out of the centre, he would have easily intercepted the cross.

Additionally, he should have been marking Wilson for the second equaliser, as Sawyer would have, rather than Bakinson. Instead he was focused on Hunter, the winger, who should not have been his man. It’s not entirely surprising that this was the case, given he is a wing-back by trade, but this is no doubt worrying going into another big game against Crewe on Saturday.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CDM – 5

Despite some rave reviews, Bakinson still has many areas of improvement left in his game, and defensively they were on show tonight. One of his biggest problems is a relative lack of defensive awareness, that is an ability to sense the danger before it appears. Instead, he’s far more comfortable tracking a player and getting up-close, which means he can be susceptible to following a runner. That tends to open up space behind Sarcevic and Mayor for opponents to charge into, and Salford regularly took advantage of that.

Joe Edwards and Josh Grant are far more comfortable when patiently occupying space, holding their nerve and block passing lanes. So, while Bakinson gets up in players faces and turns the ball over more often, he can do so at the expense of opening big gaps to be exploited. That’s not to mention that Bakinson was (albeit expertly) shrugged off by Wilson to level the scores and was at fault (along with Sarcevic) when he allowed Canavan to be exposed 2-on-1, leading to Palmer’s 1-v-1 save to deny Wilson a hattrick. Oh, and he struggled in the air, winning 2 of 9 headers.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Edwards was hardly that good tonight, but the game just appeared to suit him better. Despite facing some very dangerous opponents, he was resolute defensively and largely held-up his flank during the waves of second-half Salford attacks. He and Sarcevic also interchanged nicely on a bumpy pitch that suited their more direct style than more the intricate passing of Mayor and Cooper on the opposite flank.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8, player of the match

He wasn’t the match-winner but he deserved to be. Firstly, that cross was perfect for Byron Moore to score the opener – as a striker you could hardly ask for a better delivery. Then, to top that, he scored a goal of the season contender, striking on the outside of his right-boot through a crowd of players into the top corner from 20 yards.

I’d love to say that it helped to swing the momentum, as Salford had been building up pressure before getting their equaliser only for Sarcevic to burst the bubble, but they equalised within minutes and then should have gone in-front, so, yeah…

Nevertheless, the Manchester Messi (come on, grow up people) Sarcevic was a constant source of drive and energy in an attack badly lacking it on a bad pitch that was compounded by terrible weather conditions. It was always a game that would suit he and Edwards over Mayor and Cooper, and so it proved. Sarcevic took advantage of that and played a critical role in delivering three massive points towards the promotion push.

Danny Mayor, CM – 5

This was not a game for Mayor. The centre of the pitch was cut-up before the game even started and thus his passing and dribbling was never going to be at the level we know it can be. Worse, Salford lined up with two strong defensive midfielders tasked with closing him down quickly, denying him the time and space he likes to construct attacks (it didn’t work for Sarcevic though, who loves to take on a high-pressing midfield and bully his way into the space beyond).

Aside from that, Mayor was untidy, giving the ball away far too much. He looked at his best when he was able to work his way into the corners of the pitch where the turf was more even. He helped get McFadzean in behind in the first-half and dropped his shoulder wonderfully a few times from set-piece routines, though the cross didn’t come to anything.

George Cooper, LWB – 6

Cooper was largely anonymous throughout the game, spending less time in the opposition half than Joe Edwards (which is a very rare eventuality). However, he gets a 6 rather than a 5 because of two factors: first, he delivered three fantastic crosses, any one of which could have been scored. Antoni Sarcevic was probably the main guilty party for failing to convert one. Second, despite struggling a bit defensively, he did a decent job against a trio of very accomplished wingers.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

Almost a candidate for miss off the season when he failed to convert Sarcevic’s perfect cross from just three yards. Fortunately, his failed attempt at a shot actually trapped the ball under his feet, leaving opposing ‘keeper Letheren on his arse – as if he were facing a 55-yard shot against a teenage Southend debutant… – and allowing him to pivot and sneak the ball into the empty net.

Otherwise, Moore was quiet, strangled by Argyle’s lack of threat in the final third. There was lots of running but not much to show for his efforts, though he was twice nearly a beneficiary of McFadzean’s forays forward. Moved to wing-back after Cooper came off and Lowe chased a winner.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

Quiet. Very quiet actually. Only touched the ball fifteen times in his hour on the pitch. Like Moore, stifled by Salford’s deep defending in the first half and domination in the second. Unsurprisingly, won 0 of 5 aerial duels as Argyle were forced to play long balls toward him.

Substitutes

Joel Grant, ST – 6

Came on for Jephcott to provide fresh legs and help Argyle see out the lead after Sarcevic’s goal, only for Wilson to equalise within seconds. Struggled for involvement from then on, like the rest of Argyle’s strikers, though I am pleased to report that he has learned to hold the ball in the corner after his ridiculous antics against Stevenage last month.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Wow. Super-sub strikes again. Four substitute appearances, four goals. This one was something to behold: partly because of the amazing effort to run half the length of the pitch, batting away three defenders in the process, and score from a tight angle’ partly because of the dreadful effort Salford made to keep him out.

Particularly amusing was Touray’s attempt to wipe Hardie out from behind and give away a penalty when he was clearly not in the best goal-scoring position anyway. Other highlights include Letheren being beaten far too easily for the goal – it was a very tight angle and he barely seemed to react to the shot – and two dreadful attempts at a tackle on the half-way line by Burgess and O’Conoor.

Josh Grant, DM – n/a

On for a few minutes at the end with the score locked a 2-2, but once Hardie got the winner he did a job in helping Argyle see out their victory.

Argyle find yet another way to win against Newport

Plymouth Argyle are back into the automatic promotion places after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Newport County. It wasn’t exactly flawless from Argyle, and they had to dig deep on a number of occasions, particularly after Gary Sawyer’s red card with five minutes to play. But the Greens did enough to see the game out and secure a vital three points.

In truth, this game wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Derek Adams era. Argyle grabbed themselves an early lead but seemed to drop deeper and deeper as the game went on. The difference between this game and the latter days of the Adams reign was that Argyle did manage to hold on despite the late barrage on their goal. In doing so, they demonstrated yet another way of winning in what is proving to be a very fruitful season.

Argyle squeeze themselves ahead

Argyle battled their way to a 1-0 lead at half-time through a variety of solid defending, fortunate deflections and a superbly worked set-piece routine.

The opening goal really was beautifully crafted and gave those taking a staunch position against short corners plenty to think about. Argyle’s two main creative talents, George Cooper and Danny Mayor, stood over the ball. The latter fed it short to the former, before a clever one-two allowed Cooper to take the ball in his stride and launch a delicious cross to the back post. Tyreeq Bakinson was on the end of it, and he could hardly miss.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a goal crafted in a similar fashion this season. Take the winning goal away at Forest Green back in November as an example. Mayor received a short ball from, on this occasion, Antoni Sarcevic over the corner kick. Another clever one-two got the corner taker into a good position, and back then Sarcevic decided to go for goal. Via a deflection, he found the net himself.

It’s striking how much sides managed by Ryan Lowe, a manager who prides himself on fluid attacking football, can be so good at finding the back of the net with more primal methods. It’s not as if this is a new trend – Will Aimson and Adam Thompson in particular benefitted from set-piece opportunities at Bury last season.

Perhaps it’s an indication of how attacking football naturally leads to more set-pieces because it certainly wasn’t the only way in which Argyle looked threatening. A touch more power may have seen Luke Jephcott’s looping header beat Newport goalkeeper Tom King, and King was on hand again to stop Ryan Hardie’s drive from 25 yards finding the bottom corner.

Newport’s first-half rally

As a result of much of that, Argyle found themselves ahead at the interval. But focus on the attacks alone, and you may feel Argyle ought to have scored more than once. On the contrary, in fact, Newport were the side pushing hardest for the next goal as the half drew to a close.

First of all, Argyle were indebted to Niall Canavan’s defensive efforts, as his pressuring of Jamille Matt led to the ex-Argyle loanee rushing his shot and skewing it high and wide. Had Canavan not been present, Matt would surely have had a tap in. Soon after, the visitors crafted a clever set-piece of their own, this time from a free-kick. Robbie Willmott squared the ball to Padraig Amond who was desperately unlucky to see his shot deflect wide by a whisker with Palmer stranded on his line.

The resulting corner was another that the Argyle defence barely bundled wide. Lowe’s side was desperate for the half time whistle, and thankfully it came. They’d retained their slender advantage up to the interval; it was certainly hard-fought.

Seeing the game out

If Argyle narrowly edged the first half, and that point is very much up for debate, their visitors were the team in the ascendency as the game drew to a close. Indeed, plenty of nerves were shredded as Argyle tried to cling on to their priceless 1-0 lead.

Much of Newport’s pressure came down the right via Barnsley loanee Jordan Green. Clearly, Michael Flynn and his side had identified Cooper and Sawyer as a defensive weakness. It’s no surprise that Green was the victim of Sawyer’s red card challenge with five minutes to play. But whilst his pace and intelligent forward runs were impressive, Newport’s only real threat revolved around high balls into the box.

Alex Palmer was one of the stars of the show. Not only was he on hand in the first half to tip Joss Labadie’s deflected effort over the bar, but he also showed safe hands on many occasions across the second half to thwart dangerous situations before they could develop. Yes, there were some saves to speak of in the second half, but his aerial prowess was key. Newport played to their strengths and launched plenty of high balls into the area, both from conventional crosses and long throws. But Palmer was strong, brave, and claimed them when required.

Ultimately, Palmer’s actions were an example of just how much work Argyle had to do to grind out the win. It wasn’t pretty, and they had to contend with physical opponents with a numerical disadvantage. But they got their victory.

What a feeling it is to have a Plymouth Argyle side that can win in so many different ways.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2 Crawley 2

Plymouth Argyle fans will slice this one up depending on whether they’re a glass half-empty or half-full supporter. Those with a positive outlook will see this as a point gained on Exeter and Swindon, who both lost. Those with a negative outlook see the two points dropped, yet again against Crawley.

Alex Palmer, GK – 5

I have to say, this was a difficult rating to give. Palmer had some good moments across the game, and perhaps given time I’ll look back on this in retrospect and say that a 5 rating was possibly too harsh. There’s no doubt, however, that Palmer wasn’t at his best. He was perhaps unlucky with both goals – after all, they were scored from a combined distance of around a yard – but his distribution seemed laboured at times. A monumental mix-up with Niall Canavan also looked for a moment like it was going to lead to Crawley taking a 2-0 lead in calamitous fashion.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Not the best performance from Argyle’s number 5, you’d have to say. Crawley’s first goal was the second occasion this season that a clearance from Wootton has bounced directly off another player and fallen kindly for the opposition, after the Bristol Rovers palaver in the FA Cup. It looks unlucky, but you have to wonder how much poor technique may also be involved with it happening more than once. Seemed surprisingly weak in the tackle on occasions, which has been unlike him in recent months.

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

The Irishman is very quickly becoming the vital cog in Argyle’s defensive machine, if he isn’t already. His ability in the air is unrivalled in Argyle’s backline, as we saw again on Tuesday night. And whilst he isn’t required to bring the ball out from the back quite as much as his defensive teammates, his distribution is still more than good enough. He was desperately unlucky to have Wootton kick the ball against his backside for Crawley’s opener, but he was on hand early in the second half to clear as the ball again bobbled around Argyle’s goalmouth. A top, top defender for this level.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

Much more comfortable than Wootton on the opposite side of the defence. There’s not much more to say in this case other than the fact it was a quintessential Sawyer performance, and the mark of a man who has fully grown into his new role. He looked solid defensively as always, and linked up well with George Cooper on the left side to get Argyle into some attacking positions. The collective worry when he was down injured was palpable, but of course, he wasn’t leaving the field without a fight.

Josh Grant, DM – 8

Josh Grant is a player whose stock seems to be rising with every game he plays. No wonder Ryan Lowe was so keen to sign him permanently this month. He’s taking steps to make the defensive midfield position his own again despite the competition of Joe Edwards and Tyreeq Bakinson alongside him. Against Crawley, he made some booming tackles to get the crowd going, but also showed some finesse in his game, regularly mopping up and bringing Argyle forward again when they had lost the ball further upfield.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

There are games where Joe Edwards seems to thrive in the right wing back position. Take the reverse fixture against Tuesday’s opponents Crawley, for instance, where he was able to notch a couple of goals. However, he does occasionally show that he still is a central midfielder playing out of position. This was one of those performances. Most of the danger from the right across the game was from Antoni Sarcevic rather than Edwards, and Argyle looked much more threatening when Byron Moore took over the wing back position in the second half.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8 Player of the Match

Does the system suit Sarcevic more than any other player on the team? There’s certainly an argument to say that it does. Can that detract from the superb performances he’s been putting in every week? Not a chance. Against Crawley he was instrumental again, driving the team forward with his supreme dribbling, and putting the opposition defence under extreme pressure whenever he had the ball. Argyle’s first goal was all his own work. Some lovely skill got him in behind on the right, and he made no mistake with the resulting penalty after he was felled.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CM – 5

Whilst Josh Grant continues to shine in the defensive midfield position, Bakinson has been suffering since his move further upfield this week. From a deeper position, he was in prime position to cut out opposition attacks, whilst also having plenty of time on the ball. In the more advanced role, he’s bypassed a little easier, and seems to struggle to bring fluency to his play on the ball. That’s exactly what we saw against Crawley – this game effectively passed him by.

George Cooper, LWB – 7

Oddly, Cooper didn’t seem to stand out for the many in attendance on Tuesday evening. The most likely explanation for that is that the quality he brings is now seen as an expectation, rather than a bonus. Without wanting to put the two in the same bracket, Graham Carey suffered similar in his final season with the Greens. With Danny Mayor absent, Cooper was Argyle’s primary creative threat from the left, and still managed to put the Crawley defence under pressure with his crossing and dribbling. Not his best by any stretch, but he was still the man Argyle wanted on the ball.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

Not a bad performance from Moore by any means. This 6 rating is certainly closer to a 7 than a 5. It was the sort of game where everyone could see what he was trying to do in getting behind the defence, and his footballing brain was clearly tuned in. However, it didn’t quite come off for him whilst he was leading the line. Nonetheless, he made his mark when switching to right wing back, playing a gorgeous cross to set up Luke Jephcott’s fifth Argyle goal. That’ll do.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

Not a bad game from the Blackpool loanee by any means. You could certainly see what he was trying to do in an attempt to bring his undoubted pace into the game once more. However, previously he was facing tiring defenders when coming on as a fresh-legged substitute. It’s a lot harder to do the other way around, and as such he was a little less effective than he would have liked. Didn’t managed to get his fourth goal from his first four Argyle games, but his stock is still more than high enough for now. Just don’t mention that late chipped effort.

Substitutes

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

Came on with the game level with the hope of making an impact, and managed to bagged a late goal, incidentally his first professional strike at Home Park. Is there really much else to say? Jephcott is looking every inch like the goal poacher Argyle have been missing this season, and it’s such a shame that his headed finish on this occasion didn’t secure all three points.

Conor Grant, CM – n/a

Bringing him on did make at least some sense. As one of Argyle’s more creative talents, Conor Grant have hoped to have been able to make an impression against some tiring legs in the Crawley defence. But unlike Jephcott, he was unable to leave a mark on the game, and like many others, the final few minutes passed him by.

Joel Grant, ST – n/a

Came on late and, in his defence, didn’t really have a great deal of time to impact the game. Tried keeping the ball in the corner when Argyle were ahead, but when Crawley drew level, it never really looked like he would be the source of an Argyle breakthrough.

Argyle overcome Westley once more

Playing around 250 miles from home on an almost unreasonably cold January afternoon. Seeing Graham Westley in the opposing dugout. Be honest: you didn’t really expect this one to be pretty, did you?

Plymouth Argyle’s trip to Stevenage was a war of attrition at times; as much of a battle as you’re ever likely to see on a football field. The hosts made the game as physical as they could, and who can blame them? Westley is an odious character, of that there is no doubt. But his side sat bottom of the league, fighting for every possible point ahead of facing a high-flying Argyle size. Of course they were going to take advantage of every possible leveller they could muster.

Argyle won 2-1 in the end, something they were just about deserving of across the game. It wasn’t pretty, but the fact they eventually managed to overcome Westley-ball to secure all three points was all that mattered.

First half struggles

It was clear to see what Argyle were trying to do across the first 45 minutes, but much of it didn’t pay off.

A mixture of the familiar possession-based and territory-based styles was the order of the day. Argyle would look to hold onto the ball and move their opponents around, in the hope that this movement would create space for a long ball into that channel for one of the strikers to run on to. On the face of it, not necessarily a bad strategy at all.

Problematically, however, their opponents didn’t want to play ball. Whenever Argyle had the ball, Stevenage were happy to remain compact and let them retain possession. That was emphasised by how often Alex Palmer was able to roll the ball out to Gary Sawyer or Scott Wootton whenever he gained possession, and how much time the defence had on the ball once this occurred.

Stevenage, meanwhile, kept their shape well. This meant that whilst Argyle had no problem moving the ball around, they couldn’t move their opponents around with it. Their options were therefore limited to either using George Cooper as an outlet, who seemed isolated on the left without the presence of Danny Mayor, or playing a long ball to the strikers. Those strikers fought well, but they were never likely to win the ball cleanly against taller, more physical defenders. That would often lead to a second ball, which Stevenage were always likely to win.

It was that physical style that frustrated Argyle in the first period. They could hardly say they couldn’t see it coming. Indeed, Lowe said that Mayor missed out because if he played, “he would have got kicked left, right and centre.” In the first half, however, Argyle played right into Stevenage’s hands, and didn’t allow themselves to get a foothold in the game.

Persistence pays off

Through a combination of persistence, perhaps a little tiredness from their opponents and, it must be said, a lucky break from the referee, Argyle managed to break their opponents down in the second period and win the game.

Argyle were raring to go for the second half, whilst their opponents lumbered out of the dressing room to meet their opponents. Within three minutes the Greens had the ball in the net, with a long ball over the top finally paying off. George Cooper’s hopeful looking ball into space picked out Byron Moore. It was poorly defended, and Moore definitely used his hand in controlling the ball, but when he lashed the ball home and referee Sam Purkiss gave the goal, none of that mattered.

In normal circumstances, that would open the game up a little more, with the trailing side forced to attack more and leave more spaces for the leading side to potentially exploit on the counter. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Instead, Stevenage kept playing the long ball, kept up the level of physicality in battling for those long balls, and generally made things difficult for Argyle. Things were very stop-start from that point, both literally and figuratively after a second half floodlight failure led to just the 13 minutes of stoppage time.

Hardie shines again

Midway through the second half, after the aforementioned delay, Ryan Lowe turned to the bench and introduced Ryan Hardie once again. This was as part of a tactical reshuffle which saw George Cooper taken off, and man of the match Byron Moore relocated to the left side. It gave Hardie the chance to continue his goal-a-game goalscoring streak from the bench. He didn’t disappoint.

Within just two minutes, a superb header from Antoni Sarcevic found Hardie in space and in behind the Stevenage defence. From there, he showed excellent composure to round goalkeeper Paul Farman and complete the easiest of finishes into the empty net. He used his supreme pace to beat his man to the ball, and as soon as he was one-on-one, it was really no contest.

It’s not the first time Hardie has used his pace late in the game to great effect. Let’s not forget, his goal just a week ago was very similar, seeing him latch onto a ball over the top and slot beyond the goalkeeper. And it’s not just in goalscoring that he’s used this attribute to his advantage. Take one particular long ball late in the game, where he seemed to chase a lost cause into the opposite corner to win Argyle possession at a key point in the game.

There have been, unsurprisingly, calls for Hardie to start on the back of his superb performances from the bench. But Lowe will be in no rush to slot him in the side, not least because of the performances of Moore and Luke Jephcott across the last month. As we mentioned on the Green & White podcast last week, it’s important to remember that Hardie has looked pacey and energetic against tiring defenders late in the game. It’s a completely different ball game when facing them for 90 minutes from the start.

That’s not to say he couldn’t do it – he’d fit Argyle’s current system like a glove if he could. But for now, don’t be surprised to see Argyle unchanged, at least for tomorrow’s fixture with Crawley.