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?

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.

Frustration as Cambridge shut out Argyle

I have to be honest: I wasn’t particularly enthused by the idea of watching Plymouth Argyle vs Cambridge back for some analysis. If any of this piece seems illegible at times, you can put it down to the numerous naps I effortlessly slipped into whilst re-tuning in to the 90 minutes. This was something I was particularly susceptible to whenever Argyle approached the final third with the ball.

OK, that may be slightly overstating it. However, it was indeed an afternoon of frustration for all members of the Green Army. Cambridge came to Home Park with a heavily defensive mindset, despite winning four games on the bounce, including against the likes of Colchester and Bradford, before Saturday’s fixture. Argyle couldn’t break their opponents down, and if anything, it was the visitors who could perhaps have had a stronger case for feeling they should have won the game.

When Ryan Lowe arrived at Home Park last summer, many supporters were bullish about the idea that his attacking style of play would force opposing sides to make specific plans to deal with Argyle. Well, Cambridge took up that challenge, and have now prevented the Greens from scoring for 180 minutes this season.

Cambridge happy to sit back

Mark Bonner and his side clearly made the journey to Devon with the objective of defending. It’s not the first time we’ve seen visiting sides make their performance at the back the main priority this season. Even in recent weeks, the likes of Newport and Mansfield have been content to soak up pressure and attempt to hit Argyle on the counter attack, to varying degrees of success.

However, Cambridge were even more defensive than those aforementioned opponents. Rather than looking to spring into action as soon as they won the ball back, they were happy to cautiously try to build attacks of their own, most notably down the right utilising the likes of Idris El Mizouni, Leon Davies and Paul Lewis. It meant that whenever Argyle found themselves on the ball, Cambridge were hardly poised and ready to launch into an attack of their own at a moment’s notice. Quite the opposite.

This only served to make them even harder to break down. And Argyle’s misery in that sense was compounded by the fact that creativity amongst the players on the field was at a premium.

Danny Mayor was the only generally accepted ‘playmaker’ on the field, and whilst his link-up play with Callum McFadzean and Gary Sawyer was good (not exemplary, as we saw in the early stages of the season, but still good), it was unfair to expect him to unlock the door on his own. On the other side of the midfield were Antoni Sarcevic and Joe Edwards, both players who have more than played a part for Argyle this season, but this didn’t appear to be a game for them.

In that sense, Argyle were desperately missing George Cooper. With a series of wasted crosses and a seemingly toothless level of creativity plaguing Argyle, Cooper could well have been the difference between the two sides on the day. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but if Cooper was in need of a rest, perhaps this should have come in a game against a more aggressive side, where McFadzean’s greater defensive abilities would have been more relevant.

We’ll never know if Argyle would have broken through had Cooper started. But without him, they were never able to carve out a gilt-edged chance to do so. With that in mind, this was very much an opportunity missed.

Argyle threatened at the other end

I mentioned previously that Cambridge could well argue that they, if anyone, had a stronger case for saying they deserved to win the game. That mainly centres around one key incident as the first half drew to a close.

A fairly innocuous looking ball over the top from Davies looked as if it was going to be easily dealt with by Niall Canavan. However, after the ball bounced, it became an awkward one to deal with, and Canavan was therefore inviting pressure from Paul Mullin. Mullin beat Canavan to the ball, and got goalside of him to set up a one-on-one with Palmer. At this point, Canavan brought him down from behind.

It’s astounding that referee Will Finnie failed to give a penalty, and if he did, he’d have surely sent Canavan off. After all, it’s hardly as if pushing his man over from behind could be seen as a ‘genuine attempt to play the ball’. It could be argued that things evened themselves out, particularly after Tyreeq Bakinson was tumbled over in the area late on. But had Finnie got the initial decision correct, there’s every chance Argyle would have been a goal down as well as a man down, and it’s unlikely we’d have even reached the stage of pushing for a late winner.

Canavan was hardly alone in making a potentially game-changing error of judgement. In the second half, Antoni Sarcevic tried to dribble out from the back when there were plenty of easier passing options available. Argyle’s top goalscorer lost the ball, and was very fortunate to see El Mizouni’s resulting striker ruled out (correctly) for offside.

Did Cambridge deserve to win on the balance of play? No. But these incidents exemplified how, despite seemingly finding themselves in control, Argyle never really felt comfortable across the encounter.

Still in the hunt

It was hard not to feel frustrated after a goalless draw in those circumstances. A snooze fest for much of the 90 minutes, the rare glimpses of chances were not taken, and in the end it felt as though Argyle could have played for another hour without breaking down the Cambridge defence.

With that frustration, it’s easy to become disheartened, and feel as though a season of disappointment is in the offing. But that needn’t necessarily be true. Argyle’s promotion hopes are still very much in their own hands, and on paper the Greens’ run-in looks slightly kinder than the respective fixtures of the teams around them. There’s still every chance we could find ourselves celebrating deliriously at the end of April.

A bit of good fortune, combined with an added dose of quality in the final third, will see the Greens go a long way.

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.

Player Ratings: Bristol Rovers 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

Plymouth Argyle are in the hat for tomorrow’s FA Cup third round draw following a dramatic tie against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium. Antoni Sarcevic’s late penalty miss – after his earlier equaliser from the spot – will see Rovers return to Home Park for the second time this season (the third if you include the pre-season friendly match) later this month.

On the whole, it was a good performance from Argyle who were marginally the better side over the game. In truth, a draw was a fair result and both keepers were tested heavily. The draw for the third round will be awaited eagerly by both sets of fans.

Alex Palmer, GK – 9, player of the match

Palmer was tested a few times in the closing stages of the game, when both sides had the chance to win the tie, most notably as he made a fantastic save to deny Rovers at the death while the score was still 1-1. Throughout, his cross collection was assured and his distribution – an area that have been worse in recent weeks – was back up to its top level.

Scott Wootton, CB – 7

Another largely solid game from the centre-back who has reinvented himself as one of Argyle’s most consistent players over the last couple of months. His heading was good once more and only a few panicky decisions with the ball at his feet cost him a higher rating.

Niall Canavan, CB – 8

There were a couple of occasions where Canavan showed a hint of losing his man in a game that was an enthralling end-to-end battle for much of it.

By and large though, he dealt with the tests well. His dominance in the air was as strong as it always is and he started counter attacks well with his assured passing out of defence.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

Another consistent performance from Sawyer, who has continued to astound many supporters who wrote him off after an admittedly dire showing last season (that includes me, the idiot!).

He was solid and kept his shape well against some troublesome attacks. Overall, an impressive performance against his old club. One weak area is that he didn’t show to overlap and support his wing back in the same way that he often does (and as Wootton did on the other wing).

Josh Grant, DM – 7

Another impressive display, indicating his long term future clearly lies at defensive midfield. He showed his previous knack of tackling hard when required but often swooping in with grace to recover a loose ball and prevent a tackle from being necessary.

He seemed to push a good 10/15 yards higher up the pitch today in some of the attacking phases of the game as well, aided in part by a very defensive Rovers line-up, adding a new element to his game. The only downside to his performance today is that one or two tackles strayed too far into the reckless category, earning a yellow card.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

Edwards has put in some very impressive displays at wing-back recently but today wasn’t really one. He didn’t really show often enough for the overlap and more attacks seemed to go down his side defensively. He should keep his place in the side but he was the weakest link today.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

Another hustling and bustling performance from the midfielder. Some of his ball use wasn’t great but he covered a great deal of ground and was best when he was able to drop his shoulder and drive forward with the ball.

He deserves bonus points for a successful first penalty but loses them a few minutes later. His second penalty was dreadful: soft, central, an a good height for the ‘keeper to save it. He’s lucky to not drop a point for that miss, though Argyle may well pay if a lucrative third round clash is the price to pay.

Danny Mayor, CM – 8

Yet again with Mayor you still feel there’s a bit more to come. There were a couple of occasions where he held onto the ball for a fraction too long and you just didn’t sense he quite believed in himself to drive forward, though maybe this is due to the more direct style that Lowe has shifted to recently.

On occasions where he did, though, he looked nothing short of dynamite. He won the penalty for our equalising goal, adding to the long list of goals that he has been at least tangentially involved in.

If he just stats to do this a little bit more, the territorial style could still prove fertile ground for him in spite of the deviation from the style that saw him thrive last season. A very good performance from our best attacking threat on the day, it’s just a shame there have been fewer of those for a while now.

Callum McFadzean, LWB – 7

He had to unfortunately go off after carrying an injury but whilst he was on the pitch, he once again offered the perfect outlet for one-twos with Mayor down the left wing.

He held the ball up when needed and drove at defenders, though he could probably have done with more support from Gary Sawyer. Another pleasing aspect of what was generally a pretty good performance.

Byron Moore, ST – 7

Byron Moore continues to do everything you’d want from a striker in Ryan Lowe’s formation except score consistently.

In every other regard, he’s got it all. He’s strong, agile and battles well to win the ball. He knows when to drop out wide to help the wing backs and he knows when to make killer runs through the middle. He demonstrated that perfectly today getting in a great position to score the winner, only to be felled and win a penalty that Sarcevic wasted.

Joel Grant, ST – 5

It’s a funny thing, but Grant’s great run of goal-scoring in October may have slightly distracted from the fact that his general play wasn’t really the greatest. Whilst we’ve seen a lot worse in the role this season alone, Joel Grant once again put in a quiet performance.

He was often beaten for aerial and ground duels and didn’t do a lot with the ball when he did have it. I’d bring Telford in next week.

Substitutes

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

He had some teething problems in adapting to the wing back role, after having not played out wide for the Greens in over a year. That said, he did adapt as the game went on and began to develop good chemistry with Mayor off the ball. If McFadzean isn’t fit for the next game against Cambridge, he’s probably prime candidate to start, though that is harsh on George Cooper.

Dominic Telford, ST – 7

A typical energetic performance from the striker who, as he did against Bradford, made a hugely positive impact in Argyle’s favour when he came onto the pitch.

It’s seriously impressive how well he holds the ball up and links others into play for such a short player, not to mention his excellent forward pass to set Moore one vs one for the second penalty. A victim of Lowe’s hesitation to change a winning team, even if a tweak here or there could improve things further; he should start at Cambridge.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2 Bradford 1

Plymouth Argyle completed a perfect November with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Bradford City. The Bantams were sitting 3rd in League Two prior to the game, but came up short at Home Park, with the Greens’ first half performance just about enough to secure the victory.

Alex Palmer – 6

It was a nothing game really for the West Bromwich Albion loanee. He didn’t have any major saves to make, and didn’t make any major errors leading to chances like his opposite number. A six feels like it’ll do for him. His kicking was a little off, with a few either going out of play or scuffed towards the opposition. He’s also racking up the bookings like confetti, with another for running down the clock today following his yellow for the same reason against Forest Green last week.

Scott Wootton – 7

It wasn’t necessarily the performance of a colossus from Wootton, like we saw last week against Forest Green, but it didn’t need to be. Wootton did what he had to today; let’s not forget, Argyle were playing against a Bradford side flying high in the league and looking for their tenth win of the season. Wootton did well to limit their chances, and offered a calming influence to the defence as a whole. Who’d have thought we’d be saying that before the season started?

Niall Canavan – 6

Whilst the Irishman wasn’t necessarily perfect today, he certainly did enough of what we’ve become familiar with to impress. Generally, he seemed to be his comfortable self in the air, although some of his headers did make their way back into the danger area, keeping Argyle under the cosh on occasions. A little unlucky to concede an own goal, but luckily it didn’t cost his side in the end.

Gary Sawyer – 7

Argyle’s captain has always been considered a ‘solid 7/10’ player since he made his way back to Home Park back in 2015. Last season, he struggled at left back to live up to that consistency, but this year he’s certainly showing signs of making that left centre back position his own. With three, he made more tackles than any other player in green, and is a solid piece of the defensive jigsaw on current form.

Josh Grant – 6

An interesting one. Sure, Josh has seemed like a player reborn in recent weeks since his switch in position to defensive midfield. And whilst he didn’t do too much wrong there this afternoon, he didn’t quite reach the heights of his performances at Bolton and Forest Green in recent weeks. He seemed to return to his old shaky self in the air on occasions, and whilst he wasn’t totally overpowered, the 21-year-old still needs to work on bits and pieces of his game.

Joe Edwards – 7

Edwards’ performance today was showered with plenty of notable moments, both good and bad. I’d still maintain that he offers more to this side in a defensive midfield role, but with Josh Grant impressing we’ll probably have to wait a while before we see him there again. Edwards took his goal very well, effectively starting and finishing the move himself after pressing Bantams ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell into a poor clearance. That being said, only Palmer and Canavan had lower pass completion rates than Edwards out of the Argyle starting XI. A seven will have to suffice.

Antoni Sarcevic – 8, player of the match

Effervescent would be the word I’d use to describe Sarcevic’s performance today. He was all over the place, regularly troubling the visitors’ defence with his powerful dribbling. In truth, it was a quintessential Sarcevic performance, despite Lowe’s system perhaps not lending itself to that. He was superb in setting up the opening goal, and whilst he did lose possession more than anybody else on the field (7 times), that’s perhaps an indication of just how involved he was.

Danny Mayor – 8

Sometimes with Mayor, I fear we’re reaching the stage where a lot of his positive influence is lost because it’s simply expected, in the similar manner to what we saw with Graham Carey last season. Not to the same level, I should say, but the signs are there. Mayor has still completed more dribbles of anybody in League Two, and his pass completion rate today was a stupendous 93%, wiping the floor with anybody else on the field.

Callum McFadzean – 7

There wasn’t really anything ‘new’ to mention about McFadzean’s performance. Rather, there was plenty on show that we’ve become used to over the last few months. He linked up well with Mayor, of course, and got into a few good positions in behind the defence. His end product was perhaps lacking today, but he was still a vital part of the Argyle attack.

Joel Grant – 7

Plenty of nice touches on show, and whilst the goals may have dried up a little in recent weeks, he’s still been able to demonstrate what a danger he is to opposition defences. He was marvellous in setting up the second goal, combining beautifully with Edwards after Argyle turned over possession in the final third. The only concern may be that he was a little quiet in certain areas; he only managed to get one shot away, which isn’t exactly perfect for a Ryan Lowe striker.

Byron Moore – 7

See above. Byron Moore’s overall performance was very similar to that of his strike partner, with the only difference being that he did manage to find the net with his early effort. It got Argyle off to the perfect start, and whilst Moore too was a little quiet on occasions, it was hardly a bad performance by any means.

Dom Telford – 7

Arrived on the field with twenty minutes to go, and did what he needed to do. He really is surprisingly good at holding up the ball, considering his stature. A run in the team from the start surely beckons as he continues to build his fitness.

Ryan Taylor – 6

Came on very late, and in truth did very little.

Player Ratings: Forest Green 0 Plymouth Argyle 1

A hard fought win for Plymouth Argyle saw the Greens defeat table toppers Forest Green Rovers and climb back into the top-half.

The game was not without an aspect of fortune: the hosts missing a guilt edged chance in the second after Antoni Sarcevic’s deflected opener. By and large though, it was a well managed counter attacking win and a good rearguard effort restricting the hosts to few chances

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

In truth, Palmer wasn’t tested many times in terms of shot stopping. It was an Argyle rear-guard display that led to only one clear shot at goal for the hosts.

Palmer was largely solid with cross collection and distribution albeit there were a couple of shots spilled that could have done with better handling

Scott Wootton, CB – 8, player of the match

A commanding performance from the centre back, who takes the award for his second week in a row. His heading, often a weak area, was dominant and his use of the ball was clever more often than not.

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

Not a flawless performance, with what looked like a couple of lapses in concentration but he did enough to make up for it. He showed his typical composure on the ball and won more headers than he lost.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

A testing afternoon for Sawyer as Forest Green looked to play it down their right side a lot, especially in the second half. He was turned on a couple of occasions but generally rose to the challenge well, letting little past him.

Josh Grant, DM – 7

A tale of two halves for Grant. His second half performance wasn’t bad by any means but there were occasions when he sat a bit too deep and invited the hosts onto the defence.

However, his first half performance was sublime. He picked up numerous loose balls and fed the ball through well to our attacking midfielders. He’s made the defensive midfield role his own for now.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Another solid performance from Edwards in the wing-back role. He hardly let anything past his from a defensive standpoint.

He doesn’t offer as much as McFadzean going forward but he did well in a testing situation when he was moved to LWB after an injury to McFadzean

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

Like Josh Grant, an excellent and industrious first half display from the Mancunian who topped it off with a fantastic goal as well as some good runs. He was much less involved in the second half and didn’t take care of the ball as well as he might have done.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

Mayor started the game like a rocket, often showing for the ball. He was also involved in a good set piece routine with Sarcevic that led to the goal. He did quieten down though after that point and whilst not bad, was a little wasteful with the ball in places.

Callum McFadzean, LWB – 7

He was only on for a half due to an injury which will perhaps concern Argyle fans. His half was good though, make no mistake. He linked up well with Mayor and Moore as well as offering defensive solidity.

Byron Moore, ST – 7

A lot of what he does will resonate well with Argyle fans. He chases and harries defenders and can seemingly do so all day long. As well as his lungs appearing to be made of steel, he also showed good use of the ball in the game and interlinked nicely with Sarcevic,

Joel Grant, ST – 5

A somewhat disappointing display in which lots of effort and energy didn’t really translate to end product. He wasn’t all bad but a lot of passes went awry and he didn’t get in many good scoring positions either. He may be feeling slight pressure for his spot now Telford is fit.

Substitutes

Joe Riley, RWB – 6

He was only on for 23 minutes, replacing McFadzean before seemingly recurring his own injury. He didn’t really get forward much but did the job at the back.

Dominic Telford, ST – 7

Telford did a lot of good in the time he was on. We seem to say this every time he plays but he does a ridiculous amount in the air for someone as short as he is. Good energy and passing too.

Ryan Taylor, ST – NA

He did what we brought him in to do: hold up the ball and see the game out. Box ticked.

Player Ratings: Bolton 0 Plymouth Argyle 1

Plymouth Argyle beat higher level opposition in the FA Cup for the first time since 1999 as they dispatched Bolton Wanderers with a clinical 1-0 away performance. Callum McFadzean scored his fifth goal of the season, making him the team’s joint highest goalscorer.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

A seventh clean sheet of the season for Palmer means that he has kept more than either Matt Macey or Kyle Letheren managed last year, though this was not his best performance of all time. However, that was mostly because he was rather untested all game.

Indeed, the he was more threatened when he had the ball in hand. Right at the end of the first half, he let Bolton in on goal after trying to buy a free kick by playing a ball off Murphy, who was too close, but the referee chose not to award the foul. He was a little bit questionable from crosses but generally solid otherwise.

Scott Wootton, CB – 9, player of the match

Best player on the pitch as his constant efforts to block Bolton’s route to goal paid dividends. Similar to his showing against Chelsea U21 in the EFL Trophy, he made numerous tackles and blocks, playing a vital part in a great defensive effort.

Not that the centre-back should merely be judged on his defending. Once again, he looked quite comfortable going forward, and nearly sealed the game with a goal of his own, but for his shot to narrowly miss the target.

Niall Canavan, CB – 8

A typically good and solid performance from the big centre-back. Canavan won everything that he had to in the air, against two physical strikers no less, and provided more impressive long passes out of defence.

His reading of the game was cool and composed as he barely let a thing past him all game. Another positive display from a man who has justifiably established himself as part of our best back three.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

Sawyer was beaten a few times in the first-half but improved as the game went on. He did seem to be targeted by Bolton who often targeted Argyle’s left-wing: they often played through him and that was the side they usually went down when they got in behind.

Having said that, Sawyer largely dealt with the danger well enough. Not as much of a stand-out performance as his defensive partners, but reliable once more.

Josh Grant, DM – 8

Continued where he left off after a short cameo in defensive midfield in the EFL Trophy eleven days ago. That performance was actually quite promising, so it wasn’t all too surprising when he put in a solid effort across 90 minutes today. He was out of his depth against Exeter, but reminded everyone that one game does not define a player.

His composure and ability to nick in and pick up loose balls was excellent today: his calm and measured distribution was also fine under pressure. The only question-mark over his performance was a potential penalty call against Grant following what would have been a harsh hand-ball.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

As far as I am concerned, right wing-back is not Edwards’ best position, and it showed again today. Yet, he was always offering himself going forward and causing problems. Defensively, his positioning was not always the best, but it was a good performance overall.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

This was in many ways a typical Sarcevic performance. His vision and creativity was good today, attempting a fair few ambitious passes. He didn’t quite pull all of them off, with his passing being a little mediocre, but he did everything else well.

His high levels energy combined with his disciplined work rate were crucial for seeing out the win.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Not always involved but incisive when he was. As per usual, he caused problems and finally picked up another (deserved) assist, his first since August, after seeing chance after chance wasted for months now. Had it not been for a very good Remi Matthews save, he also would have had his second goal of the season.

As always, his link-up play with McFadzean was very good, leading to the first goal and nearly another for Joel Grant. A welcome return to the team for him after being dropped as a result of suspension.

Callum McFadzean, LWB – 8

As a player with only four goals in his entire professional career before arriving in Plymouth – and his infamous record of being virtually the only player not to score for Bury last season – McFadzean now has five goals in green!

He clearly enjoys playing with his partner in crime, Mayor, and the two linked up for yet another goal this season. McFadzean caused problems when involved, and could have had two but hit a shot first time when it might have been better to take a touch.

Joel Grant, ST – 7

In a rich vein of form at the moment and almost had fifth goal in six, only for him to be denied very well by ex-Pilgrims stopper Remi Matthews. He also laid off a nice pass for Mayor to bend an effort towards the corner, only for Matthews to get a claw the ball away again.

Off the ball, he worked tirelessly to press the men in white, and offered an option almost all the time. Hardworking and effective, he’s fully established himself as a first-choice striker for the moment.

Byron Moore, ST – 8

Like Grant, Moore worked hard off the ball as you would expect. Both are physical players, capable of competing in their air despite their stature, but most importantly they’re quick across the pitch and that allows them to press and chase the opposition defence.

Moore should have scored in this one too, having cut out a back-pass to run clean through, only for Matthews to deny a 1-v-1, as he did many-a-time for Argyle during his 2018 loan spell. Otherwise, the main difference between these two strikers was that Moore made more intelligent runs and looked more dangerous.

Substitutes

Billy Clarke, ST – 7

A late substitute for Joel Grant to help the team continue to press from the front foot after Joel Grant started to look tired. His fresh legs were valuable in that regard, but he was also a composed presence on the ball when he received it.

Plymouth Argyle’s bane: conceding from headers

Nothing particularly new to see here. Plymouth Argyle are in League Two and the team is conceding a large share of their goals from headers. De ja vu? Yep, pretty much. Such is the fate of teams who fall within the grasp of the league’s devilish clutches, facing the likes of Newport, Grimsby, Port Vale, Salford and Cheltenham.

Building teams to be structured in defence, able to strike a long-ball downfield to a target man, and capable of converting crossing opportunities into goals is a staple for many teams in the bottom division. It is one of the chief threats that Argyle will have to navigate should they wish to win promotion and regain League One status.

Thus far, the club has not done a good job. Only two sides in the top half have conceded more goals than the 13th placed Pilgrims, and nearly half of those are linked to losing headers.

The scale of the problem

Just under half of all the league goals conceded (8/20) have been directly related to losing headers, leading to eight points being dropped. Were Argyle to have taken just half of those points, they would be positioned seventh and within three points of the automatic promotion places.

  • Newport (A), 1-0 – headed goal following a cross
  • Salford (H), 0-1 – headed goal from a set-piece
  • Salford (H), 1-2 – headed goal following a cross
  • Oldham (H), 2-2 – headed goal from a set-piece
  • Port Vale (A), 1-0 – headed goal from a set-piece
  • Cheltenham (H), 1-0 – headed goal following a cross
  • Scunthorpe (H), 2-2 – goal following headed flick-on
  • Exeter (A), 2-0 – headed goal from a set-piece

But that doesn’t fully demonstrate the scale of the problem, as that number could be considerably higher. Just a brief glance back across Argyle’s campaign reveals another nine goals that could have been conceded.

Expand to see the examples

Crewe contrived to miss a string of chances against Argyle. Lowery’s was first, his effort from ten yards after a poorly cleared corner went just wide. Then, Argyle failed to clear a cross twice, with Paul Green eventually deflecting a shot into Palmer’s arms. Next, Porter broke away from Wootton but couldn’t reach the cross with his diving header, which would have directed the ball towards the bottom-corner.

Shortly after, Finney failed to get the final touch on a cross at the front-post:

Newport could have scored twice before they did, after three minutes of non-stop set-pieces:

Additionally, Port Vale had a header from a set-piece cleared off the line:

Against Cheltenham, Luke Varney and Gavin Reilly both missed chances from back-post crosses. Varney’s touch was too heavy after Josh Grant misjudged the flight of a cross, allowing Palmer to prevent a 1-v-1, while Reilly’s header after out-jumping Sawyer came back off the crossbar.

Finally, Carlisle hit the crossbar from just four-yards following a corner. With Argyle leading 1-0 and struggling to exert much control of the game or create chances, this was a game-changing moment. Whereas they, like Oldham and Salford, could have stolen a point at Home Park, they hit the bar instead:

If you really want to push it, Exeter’s third goal on Saturday came from a long ball too. Argyle pressed down the right, leading to a clearance to the half-way line. Josh Grant lost the header and just seven seconds later Randell Williams was running clean-through to score Exeter’s third.

 

Having considered the best-case scenario – Argyle conceding fewer goals from headers and gaining more points – you should also talk about the worst-case scenario. That would include Carlisle scoring and defending for a point, or Crewe converting one of their numerous chances and dragging themselves back into the game, also potentially earning a point.

Were one of those the case, then the gap between Plymouth Argyle and the play-offs would be six, nine to the top three and ten to the top. Ultimately, defending headers is the single biggest defensive issue for Plymouth Argyle right now, possibly the biggest individual issue full-stop.

The main culprits

On the face of things, you’d look at Niall Canavan being the main player at fault. Three goals – Newport, Oldham and Port Vale – came as a result of the Irishman losing headers from crosses.

It’s worth noting that, though it appears Canavan lost his man against Salford, it was actually Sawyer who was marking Jake Beesley, whereas Niall Canavan was marking 1.90m Louis Maynard, as he was all night. The angle on match-day moments actually shows this:

Josh Grant is culpable for at least two more – Cheltenham’s first and, more recently, Exeter’s second. There is debate about who to blame for the goal Scunthorpe scored to steal a point: should Josh Grant win the header or was he pinned down while Will Aimson backed away from challenging for the header, both allowing the flick-on and being unable to intercept it? 50-50 at least.

Then you have Sawyer culpable for one, and Riley for a further one (both Salford). The only defender to not be culpable for a headed goal being conceded is – amazingly – Scott Wootton. So, he’s the best at defending crosses? Not by a long shot. In fact, Scott Wootton has the worst record when it comes to winning headers from set-pieces, he’s just been incredibly lucky to not concede from one yet.

Defensive set-piece headers Aerial success (%) Aerial won Aerial lost
Niall Canavan 57% 8 6
Will Aimson 40% 2 3
Gary Sawyer 36% 4 7
Josh Grant 25% 2 6
Scott Wootton 13% 2 14

Note, Aimson’s smaller sample size reduces the reliability of his aerial (%) score.

Wootton has lost six headers from set-pieces inside his own six-yard area this season (Colchester, Salford, Reading, Bristol Rovers, Carlisle and Leyton Orient), more than the rest of his centre-back colleagues combined (5). Quite how none of them have led to goals is spectacular, and a fluke of fortune.

Not a tl;dr kind of person? Expand to see why Wootton's heading data might be skewed

You might not be aware, but according to Sofascore and WhoScored, Scott Wootton’s aerial duel success (55%) is now the second highest at the club, only behind NIall Canavan. Will Aimson is third, narrowly ahead of Gary Sawyer.

This conflicts with the stats that I record, as I have a different definition of what constitutes an aerial duel. The definition used by official data firms is much more strict to ensure accuracy. Since many different individuals across a season will view and record the data for these firms, they need to provide a set definition of what is and isn’t an aerial duel. The more open it is to interpretation, the less consistent it will be.

What I believe this means is that they miss a number of potential situations which should be considered as aerial duels. Many of these look more one-sided that they are, because players assert themselves and prevent their opponent from jumping, or have no need to jump themselves. Additionally, my data includes all competitions, not just league matches,

So, contrary to official data, I record Wootton’s aerial duel success as a similar 52%, Sawyer as 56%, Aimson as 61% and Canavan as 73%.

However, there is more to look at. Just because a player has a higher aerial duel success rate, it does not mean they are better in the air. If Wootton/Sawyer was challenging Jermaine Defoe, and Aimson Peter Crouth, the rate would hardly be a fair reflection, would it?

In League Two, the central striker tends to be the main aerial threat, and they challenge the central of the three centre-backs. So far this season, that has meant Aimson and Canavan. Therefore, using all the data available, I looked at the direct aerial opponents, and calculated the average (average of all the players) and relative (weighting the averages relative to the number of aerial duels contested each game) height and aerial success.

In short, the relative aerial success of an opponent challenging Wootton is 29%, compared to 39% for Canavan and 41% for Aimson.

Avg. height Avg. aerial % Relative height Relative aerial %
Canavan 185.6 38.3 184.9 39.2
Wootton 181.7 31.1 181.2 28.7
Aimson 182.9 42.0 182.7 41.0
Sawyer 180.7 36.0 181.1 38.3
Grant 179.5 32.0 180.8 35.3

Put another way, that suggests that the players Wootton is competing against are significantly weaker in the air than those Aimson, Canavan and Sawyer are competing against.

It is seriously worth stressing that this method is at least somewhat flawed because it assumes that all headers were against the direct opponent (for example, Charlie Kirk, the left-winger, against Crewe) rather than a range of different players. However, it is a method that should give a rough idea of the ways in which the overall aerial success rate can be skewed by who a centre-back is competing against.

Sorry for the tangent, but thank you for indulging it. You have just earned yourself brownie points which have no real world value.

 

A system designed to fail

What that means is that, when defending set-pieces this season, Argyle’s centre-backs lose exactly two-thirds of the headers they contest. No wonder nearly half the goals are linked to headers!

Add in Joe Riley and Callum McFadzean and that increases, albeit marginally, from 66.7% to 68.5%. Just to sum that up once again, for every three set-pieces that an Argyle defender challenges for, they lose two.

This is reinforced by comparing the total aerial success of all the defenders in League Two. Compared to their competitors in the league, Argyle’s defenders rank 26th (Canavan), 67th (Aimson) and 68th (Sawyer).

16 teams have a player with a better aerial duel success rate than Argyle’s best player (Canavan), while 13 have at least one player in their team with a success rate over 70%. Argyle have none.

Overall, Argyle are the 9th worst team in the league for winning aerial duels.

Expand to see the data

All of this data has been retrieved from sofascore.com.

Players have been excluded if they average fewer than three headers won per-90 minutes, as these players tend to be full-backs or players competing for headers with weaker opponents. Players must have made a minimum of five appearances. Only league data, does not include cup matches.

Therefore, Scott Wootton (55%) and Josh Grant (36%) are excluded.

# Player Team Aerial success %
1 Nugent Stevenage 90
2 Howkins Newport 87
3 Burgess Salford 79
4 Legge Port Vale 75
5 Goode Northampton 75
6 McGahey Scunthorpe 75
7 Piergianni Salford 74
8 Rawson Forest 73
9 Nolan Crewe 73
10 Perch Scunthorpe 73
11 Sweeney Mansfield 72
12 Raglan Cheltenham 71
13 O’Brien Newport 71
14 Smith Port Vale 71
15 Tunnifliffe Crawley 70
16 Scarr Walsall 70
17 O’Connor Bradford 70
18 Lancashire Crewe 70
19 Kelleher Macclesfied 70
20 Cuthbert Stevenage 70
21 McArdle Scunthorpe 69
22 Taft Cambridge 69
23 Wharton Northampton 68
24 Martin Exeter 68
25 Clarke Walsall 68
26 Canavan ARGYLE 66
27 Conroy Swindon 66
28 Innis Newport 65
29 Dallison Crawley 65
30 Happe Orient 65
31 Richards-Everton Bradford 65
32 Mellish Carlisle 65
33 Butler Scunthorpe 64
34 Prosser Colchester 64
35 Martin Northampton 64
36 Ekipeta Orient 64
37 Greaves Cheltenham 64
38 Horsfall Macclesfied 64
39 Norman Walsall 63
40 Parkes Exeter 63
41 Waterfall Grimsby 63
42 Wheater Oldham 63
43 Sweeney Exeter 63
44 Coulson Orient 63
45 Eastman Colchester 63
46 Ohman Grimsby 63
47 Iacovitti Oldham 62
48 Baudry Swindon 62
49 Knight-Percival Carlisle 62
50 Ntlhe Scunthorpe 61
51 Hamer Oldham 60
52 O’Connor Bradford 60
53 Pond Salford 60
54 Jules Walsall 59
55 Preston Mansfield 58
56 Old Morecambe 58
57 Kitching Forest 58
58 Vassell Macclesfied 58
59 Turnbull Northampton 58
60 Webster Carlisle 57
61 Lavelle Morecambe 57
62 Mills Forest 57
63 Iredale Carlisle 57
64 Ward Cambridge 56
65 Watts Stevenage 55
66 Crookes Port Vale 54
67 Aimson ARGYLE 53
68 Sawyer ARGYLE 51

 

Is there a solution?

Kind of. One of the big concerns going into this season was that Lowe did not have enough players who were dominant in the air. Last season, as well as Aimson, he could call upon Adam Thomson, Eoghan O’Connell, Chris Stokes, and Scott Wharton. Compare that group to Canavan, Wootton, Sawyer and Josh Grant. The former are collectively much more dominant aerially.

Still, Canavan is clearly the best of the bunch when it comes to winning headers, and logic suggests that Will Aimson is second behind him (see expandable content above about why Wootton’s aerial success data may be skewed). Yet, these two are yet to set foot on a football pitch together in over 2,000 minutes of football this season. Correcting this seems the obvious way to reduce the flow of header related goals.

Aimson’s inclusion also ought to increase the number of goals scored at the other end too. Despite his very limited game-time, he already has two goals, plus one chalked off against Cheltenham, and came very close to scoring against Crawley – twice.

There is a seemingly easy way to accommodate both in the team. Aimson almost exclusively played at right centre-back last season, allowing Canavan to continue in the middle. Given that Aimson played nearly all of the tie against Chelsea U21 in this position, that might be where Lowe is going with this, but even if it is, he’s more than taken his time to realise.


 

From Lowe-ball to long-ball: territory, not possession, is king