Plymouth Argyle 2 Norwich U21 3: Player Ratings

Plymouth Argyle were well beaten by Norwich City u21s in the EFL Trophy, who should have scored at least 4 but could have had as many as 7. They wasted chance after chance on the counter as Argyle’s midfield was missing in action defensively, leaving the back three hopelessly exposed.

Given Argyle’s record in the competition, that should see the club exit at the group stage once more. That’s either a good thing if you’re against the competition, but a negative given how much money the tournament can bring in if you reach the later rounds.

Sidenote: am I a bit grumpy because I foolishly spent £10 to watch that – yes. So maybe take the ratings with a pinch of salt because I might have been too negative. Then again, Norwich absolutely could have scored seven.

Jack Ruddy, GK – 5

Positives: Ruddy saved two one-on-one (or was it three, I really lost count), and punched the ball well enough. He was unlucky with the first goal too, as he did well to get out to the ball first, only to see the rebound fall to a yellow shirt forty yards from goal, who scored.

Now to the negatives: distribution, average short, bad long. Far too many went straight out of play, or to an opponent in Argyle’s half. He couldn’t have done any more to keep goals out. Should also be noted that Norwich’s finishing was poor, as opposed to Ruddy’s saving being excellent.

Ollie Tomlinson, CB – 5

Tomlinson struggled like all the defenders, but it was a common theme that the defence wasn’t as much to blame as the midfield. Time after time, Argyle’s midfield was MIA, allowing Norwich’s midfielders all the time and space in the world to play the ball past Argyle’s back-line and send them through on goal. The defence were hung out to dry, but they’ll get all the negative headlines.

Niall Canavan, CB – 4

Read above for the abbreviated notes, but Canavan was still rusty anyway. His long passing was not as good as it should have been and his positioning should have been better, particularly for the third. He barely stuck his leg out to block a cross that was well within his reach.

He should have been a vocal leader in the defence to help them deal with the pressure caused by the midfield’s failings, but he was too often bypassed and the defence did not perform like a unit. Then again, what can you do when you’ve got 45 yards to defend against three faster players and nobody helping?

Gary Sawyer, CB – 4

Read above. Sawyer was arguably the worst of the lot, because when he got close to Norwich’s dangerous attackers they twice turned him to run clean through, only to waste the finish. Then again, he saved two goals, one with a last-ditch interception, then with enough pressure at the back post to prevent a tap-in.

Sadly, that led to an apparent shoulder injury which saw him leave the pitch on a stretcher, which was a dreadful way for him to mark his first appearance since February. Good luck with the recovery, Gary.

Byron Moore, RWB – 4

Hopefully Moore was not fully fit – which would be vindicated by him not finishing the game – because he was bad here. Outperformed by his opposite wing-back, Law, he was rarely in the game, far too often played backwards, offered little going forward, wasted his only good crossing opportunity when he had two players to pick out.

Panutche Camara, CM – 5

Cumbersome. Sometimes it felt like it took him four touches to get moving when he received the ball. By the time he had his head up he was often moving backwards. Barring a brief five minute period at the end of the first half, he was barely in the game.

He was awful at marking space. He has showed in pre-season that he is good pressing on the front foot but, when played in defensive midfield, struggled to play on the back-foot. His starting position, defensively, was awful, his pressure on the ball as a result was ill-timed. Norwich passed the ball around him (and the rest of the midfield) with consummate ease. Argyle needed a leader defensively. He should have stepped up as the senior player alongside Randell and Lolos in midfield. He didn’t. The entire team defended as individuals, and that’s suicide.

Quite frankly, Argyle should have changed tack to push Camara further forward, with Randell becoming the sole defensive midfielder. When he pushed up, for five minutes before half-time, he was unplayable and drove the team forward. But we saw next to none of that throughout the game. This position was not for him.

He should have been watching Lewis Macleod more closely on Saturday. Macleod lead the defensive press superbly, as a unit. He dominated the space. If Lowe sticks with this formation then he will probably have a good view to learn this position, watching from the bench. Conor Grant, commentating on this game, must be sleeping easy knowing his position is safe at the moment.

Adam Randell, CM – 6, Player of the Match

Randell was class on the ball. The best player on the pitch today for me, though I can see why some would pick Lolos (more on that later). His passing was excellent, breaking defensive lines. Argyle looked so blunt when they tried to play through Norwich and only really posed a threat when pressing and counter-attacking. All apart of Randell.

He was the only one who looked like he could break the team down from open play, but he suffered in a confused team alongside Camara who didn’t know whether he was coming or going, behind Lolos who did a poor job as the creator in the team, and inside the wing-backs who were isolated by the formation.

As mentioned though, he and Camara were awful defensively, and that was why Norwich won. Partly tactical – in my opinion the system should have been changed to 3-1-4-2 – but the duo failed to execute what Argyle did so well against a top range of attacking players versus QPR.

Ryan Law, LWB – 6

Law was by far the more dangerous wing-back, but like Moore suffered because the central midfielders were too deep and Lolos too narrow. It meant that he was virtually always isolated and doubled-up on, leaving them with two options: cross early and deep or pass backwards.

He persevered more than Moore though, breaking inside from the wing and crossing dangerously. He assisted the second – albeit with a deflected cross – and he deserved that for his attacking efforts. Yet, he was caught up-field often by Norwich’s swift counter-attacks.

Klaidi Lolos, AM – 6

Lolos won the penalty and scored the goal but there’s a reason he took three-times more shots than Telford, Hardie and Jephcott combined, He also took more touches in the box than all three combined. The lack of service to the strikers was largely because another striker was playing in attacking midfield: Lolos.

Lolos’ possession play was poor, as was his counter pressing in the first half. He look sharp when on the ball in dangerous positions, and it’s not his fault that he was played out of position, but too many of Argyle’s attacks broke down because of a sloppy pass or clumsy touch, more of those coming from Lolos than any other. He was also a bit lucky to win the penalty too, outfoxing Norwich’s left-back with a poor touch that ricocheted around before he was able to scramble to the ball first.

Lolos was classy, but he’s not an attacking midfielder. He loses points for being an issue with the performance of the team, but if it were only on individual performance alone he’d possibly be man of the match.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 6

Jephcott worked hard but was one of many victims of a system that was not that well thought out. Saw little of the ball and toiled but the creativity was not there. What can you do as a striker if nobody is creating for you?

Dom Telford, ST – 6

Telford positioned himself well throughout the game and deserved the goal just based on his positioning in the box. It was ironic that, after taking up good goalscoring positions all night, it had to be a deflected cross the finally found him. His header was good, drawing Argyle level.

Before then he nearly created the equaliser, beating a player only to see his cross narrowly cut out before arriving at Jephcott’s feet for a tap-in, and he looked sharp all night in spite of the lack of service.

However, when finding himself 2-v-1 with Jephcott in support, he opted to shoot from 20 yards with a defender close by rather than playing the pass. I’ve nothing wrong with him being more selfish and getting back to being a goalscorer, but that was obviously not the right decision.

Substitutes

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

Barely touched the ball; did he even get a touch in the opposition box? If you’re wondering why, read above.

Brandon Pursall, CB – n/a

Came on for Sawyer after his injury, somehow survived the Norwich onslaught to avoid conceding a fourth or more.

Joe Edwards, RWB – n/a

Late substitute for Moore, pressed well while on the pitch. Should keep his position against Blackpool.

Player ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2 Forest Green 1

Plymouth Argyle just have a week to go until they step back onto the pitch for their first competitive match since March. In the final warm-up before then, Ryan Lowe’s men managed to overcome League Two opponents Forest Green Rovers in a well contested 2-1 win.

For the first time in five and half months, here are your Argyle Life player ratings:

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

A relatively assured performance from the young custodian, who marshaled his posts well for the most part – an overall theme for the defence this afternoon.

He did have one shaky moment towards the end of the first half when a long ball found Aaron Collins behind the defence. Cooper’s hesitation in committing, as well as his misjudgment in the bounce of the ball, allowed Collins to poke the ball over his head but fortunately it landed just past the post. This is a mistake that can be accepted in pre-season, but will be something that Cooper will have to improve on as the season goes along.

Apart from that minor lapse in concentration Cooper was solid for the rest of the afternoon, claiming crosses and making blocks when necessary, and he could do very little about the strike which brought Forest Green level five minutes after half time from 20 yards out. His distribution was also a big plus: always looking for the short option but knowing when to put his foot through the ball.

Will Aimson – 6

It was like watching a new signing. Despite being at the club for over a year, Aimson hardly featured at all last season. For me, it was the first time i’d seen him since a 2-2 draw with Scunthorpe United, in which he impressively scored both goals.

He impressed for the most part, contributing well to the defensive unit that limited Forest Green to very few clear cut opportunities, despite having much of the ball in the first half.

There is a slight question mark over his role in the goal. He and MacLeod should have communicated clearly to Grant that he needed to press the ball rather than block the passing lane. Defending is about playing as a unit and communication is vital to that. That being said, Grant was the more obviously player at fault, caught in two minds over whether to sit or press.

Scott Wootton, CB – 7

Good performance from the Liverpudlian, who started the day as captain and looked very comfortable at receiving the ball short from Michael Cooper, before bringing the ball into midfield and laying it off.

After seeing the team sheet, I was initially surprised to see Wootton start over fellow centre back Niall Canavan, particularly in the centre of the back three, a position the Canavan seemed to make his own after last season in League Two.

After starting over Canavan in the friendly against Championship opponents Middlesbrough, Wootton might just start to fancy his chances of being one of the first names on the teamsheet come September 12 against Blackpool. He certainly didn’t put a foot wrong this afternoon.

Kelland Watts, CB – 7

A good first impression from the young man who seemed to be the aggressor in defence, often stepping into midfield trying to win the ball. On occasion Watts tried to offer himself as the overlapping centre-back attributed to a Ryan Lowe system, but he did not receive the ball. Yet, he showed good recovery speed when tracking back, putting in a superb block to deny a Forest Green opener after a ball was cut back into the area.

It is also worth noting that Watts was unfazed on the ball, something very valuable to Argyle’s set up, though he saw less of it than his other defensive colleagues.

Lewis MacLeod, DM – 7

MacLeod is an exciting new addition to the Argyle squad ahead of this season, taking over from the duties of Tyreeq Bakinson, Joe Edwards and Josh Grant from defensive midfield last season.

Despite starting off the game relatively slowly, losing possession to allow a Forest Green counter, MacLeod played the ball around neatly and put in some good challenges to win the ball back off his opponents. His best moment came when he broke up a Forest Green attack, launching the counter which led to the first goal scored by Ryan Hardie.

Byron Moore, RWB – 4

4 might be harsh here, but Moore was one of the poorer performers this afternoon. He looked a yard behind the pace of his usual self, not getting into many promising positions and when he did, the final ball lacked its usual quality.

Probably a result of pre-season rust given Moore missed last week’s game against Middlesborough and will need to get up to usual speed before the first league game of the season. His effort and application off the ball was up to his usual high standards however.

Conor Grant, CM – 4

It was a disappointing performance from Grant who struggled to get involved in the game and was wasteful with the ball when he did receive. Add to this the aforementioned hesitancy for the Forest Green goal, and it was not the display of a man desperate to start the season first choice. The pace of the game improved once Panutche Camara took his place in central midfield just after the hour mark.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

As usual Mayor caused some problems for the opposition in midfield, linking up well with the likes of Frank Nouble to create some good openings, but as has had happened a few times in his Argyle career his decision making let him down.

His biggest fault in this game was once again turning down the chance to shoot when he was the best placed player to fire at goal. Instead, he tried to lay the ball off the Ryan Hardie who was in a worse position. Someone needs to stop Mayor and tell him he is a top quality player and is allowed to score as well!

Calvin Miller, LWB – 5

Granted, this was my first time seeing Miller perform so it’s hard to be too harsh, but today he failed to give support to Mayor on the wing. Mayor needs an overlapping runner to best utilise the space he creates on the wing, but too often Miller was to slow to see the opportunity or get in position.

Once the second half started, Miller was seen getting forward a lot more but, much like his fellow wing back, his final ball let him down and it remains to be seen whether Miller will be offered a contract to stay in Devon with the opportunity to sign George Cooper presented to the club.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 8, player of the match

Hardie was his usual lively self, willing to press the defence relentlessly and causing problems for FGR’s back line. This is exactly what he did after being played in behind by Frank Nouble just before half-time. He teased his opponent, before cutting inside onto his weaker left-foot and unleashing an unstoppable shot into the corner, a quality of finish we have come to expect from him in a green shirt. One shot, one goal, one excellent performance.

Frank Nouble, ST – 6

Nouble’s performance was more mediocre than his strike partner. He linked up well with his team mates, sending Hardie away down the wing before the striker cut inside to finish as well as flicking Mayor into a shooting position. His footwork was impressive too. However, he was much more reluctant to press than his striking counterpart.

Substitutes:

Niall Canavan, CB – 6

Replaced Scott Wotton in the 64th minute and took the captain’s armband from the Liverpudlian. Played some calm but risky passing but otherwise did not make any contributions of note.

Panutche Camara, CM – 8

A stellar performance from the bench, injecting some much needed energy into the Argyle midfield. He took Grant’s place as he moved into the deeper role, with MacLeod getting a rest.

Camara was immediately seen pressing the ball carriers and made himself a nuisance for the Forest Green players and this was exactly how he created the winning goal. With Argyle losing possession, he launched a superbly timed counter-press to win the ball back in midfield and set Jephcott away instantly to lob the goalkeeper and net the winner

Dom Telford, ST – 4

Although he was on for as long as Camara, Telford struggled to affect the game, he couldn’t get hold of the ball and didn’t do very much to put himself in contention for the game’s ahead. Touch was off when he got close to goal. Needs a goal, any goal, just to get going again after an injury plagued first season.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 8

Jephcott put in the type of performance we saw from him at end of last season. After being called up to Wales’ under 21 side for the first time, he capped off his week with an instinctive finish, catching our Rovers ‘keeper Luke McGee – stuck in no-mans land – from near the half-way line to win the game for Argyle.

Ben Reeves, CM – 6

The trialist who played for Argyle this afternoon was confirmed after the match by manager Ryan Lowe to be former MK Dons and Charlton midfielder Ben Reeves, who came on in the 72nd minute for Danny Mayor.

Reeves looked assured in midfield and didn’t make any mistakes, whilst drawing a good save out of McGee after some good combination play from a corner. Reeves didn’t spend enough time on the pitch for me to give him a higher mark, but the early signs were promising to say the least.

Ryan Law – n/a

Although Law wasn’t on the pitch long enough to give him a fair rating, he did make some useful forays into the attacking third and putting in a good challenge to win the ball back for Argyle. The young man a good impression in his limited time on the pitch, and maybe gave himself a chance of starting against QPR next week.

Gary Sawyer – n/a

Late substitute, barely touched the ball.

Adam Randell – n/a

Ditto.

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.

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.

Player Ratings: Stevenage 1 Plymouth Argyle 2

Three more points away to Stevenage saw Plymouth Argyle climb back into the top three for the first time since August, with games in hand against their closest competition. However, this was far from the quality of performance we’ve seen in recent weeks. Like last week’s victory over Mansfield, this was a hard-fought victory with a large element of luck in favour of the Greens.

Ryan Lowe’s side was painfully average in the first half before taking the lead right at the beginning of the second. However, if there were VAR in League Two, the goal would have probably been ruled out for contact between Byron Moore’s hand and the ball. Stevenage pushed forward and hit the bar before Ryan Hardie’s third goal in 55 minutes of football gave Argyle a two-goal cushion. There was a slight panic when Stevenage pulled a goal back, but Argyle hung on to breach the automatic promotion places.

Alex Palmer, GK – 6

There was not much action for Palmer throughout the game as Stevenage failed to create many openings. A relatively routine diving save saw him guide the ball away from goal and any red-shirted players in the first half, but that was as tough as it got in a first-half that could be accurately described as “peak League-Two football”. In the second he had a bit more to do, with a few crosses pulled out of the sky as Argyle had to defend their slender lead.

A shakey save saw him punch a powerful shot hit onto his own bar, and he was left with no chance when Carter headed in off the far-post from six-yards. There were also a few errant kicks to boot. All in all, quite average, like most of his teammates.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Lots of long balls attempted, lots of long balls failed. More than any player, Wootton was at the heart of Argyle’s failed approach in the first half. Overall, 25 times, he picked up the ball and hit it long, 17 times he did not find his target, making for a dull afternoon. Very dull. His biggest crime in this sense was that he kept hitting the ball too wide, or not putting enough bend on his pass, making it harder for the ever-willing runners of Jephcott and Moore to do anything with his passes.

Throw in his interception in the first half that inadvertently created Stevenage’s only opening of the first half, and a few questionable moments defensively, and it wasn’t his finest game.

Niall Canavan, CB – 5

For the majority of the game, Canavan was an average performer. He did a good enough job against a difficult target-man, mostly winning his headers or ensuring the flick-on did not reach a teammate. When faced with a dangerous counter-attack in the first half, he also positioned himself perfectly to cut out a dangerous cross.

However, it was he who lost his header in the middle of the box as Stevenage fought their way back into the game, and he wasn’t at his most effective as he – along with the rest of the back three – looked vulnerable in the final third of the match. Were Argyle facing a team of greater quality (by my count, Stevenage wasted at least three counter-attacking opportunities by passing or running the ball out of play for a throw-in under relatively little pressure), they would have likely dropped points.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 6

It looked like Sawyer’s game would be over within minutes of kick-off when he went down holding his head after making a good interception, but he picked himself up to complete the full 90-minutes. Like his centre-back comrades, he didn’t look altogether comfortable this afternoon and was bailed out by Canavan’s defensive header when caught too central, allowing a counter-attack down his wing.

The captain made a good block at the end as Stevenage continued to threaten to steal a point and block Argyle’s path to the top three. He also continued to show a better quality of build-up down his wing than Wootton and Edwards on the right, though that probably comes with playing an entire career as a full-back.

Josh Grant, DM – 7

The highlight of the first half was watching Grant gallop forty-yards across the pitch and make a monstrous sliding tackle to kill a counter-attack stone dead. That was actually the highlight of Grant’s match too, as he was pretty quiet on the ball, only completing 14 passes despite Argyle having 58% possession and 63% in the first half. This was in line with the rest of his midfield partners, as the trio failed to offer much control or creativity throughout.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

A quiet game for Edwards, who was hardly involved in an attacking sense yet not entirely convincing in defence. He could have done better to get a touch when attacking an inviting Cooper cross in the opening minutes (although it was at the opposite end of the pitch, so not easy to tell), and fired a good shot across the face of goal in the second. However, this was largely a continuation of the season-long trend in which Argyle’s attacking threat mostly comes down the left. Just compare his touch-map with that of Cooper on the left, to see how much deeper he receives the ball.

In fact, from left wing-back, George Cooper and Callum McFadzean have been involved 16 goals (6 goals and 10 assists) while Edwards, Joe Riley and Byron Moore have added just 5 from the right, with the only assist being Moore’s deflected cross against Stevenage at Home Park.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

Mostly quiet, like the rest of the midfield, but came to life shortly after the goal, and then again in the closing stages as space opened up beyond Stevenage’s midfield. For the majority of the game, he saw little of the ball and had few opportunities to run into space, so his passing was mostly short and square.

When Moore put Argyle in front, Stevenage were prompted to push higher up the pitch, giving him the space he so loves to exploit. There were a few breaks forward here and there, but he failed to make an impact until the final quarter of the game. Palmer booted the ball downfield, Jephcott lost the header but Sarcevic intelligently knocked the ball beyond the defence for super-sub Hardie to chase, putting him through to grab the all-important second goal.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CM – 4

With Danny Mayor dropped to the bench – injury? experimenting? transfer on the cards? – Bakinson was pushed forward into centre-mid and Josh Grant returned in his customary defensive-midfield slot. And did it work? No. Not that I blame Lowe; I actually suggested the same change after the victory against Mansfield last week (not as something I want, but something that might work). It still might work as well: one game away from home on a bit of a bobbly pitch against a resolute Stevenage doesn’t mean this one should be written off immediately.

However, this was a bad game from Bakinson, who failed to stamp his authority on the game and gave the ball away far too often for a player of his class. Four might be harsh, but it reflects the early expectations on him and how he failed to meet them.

George Cooper, LWB – 7

The left-boot of Plymouth Argyle strikes again. This time, an expert diagonal in-behind Stevenage’s back-four set Moore away and he was able to do the rest. That makes it 1 goal and 9 assists in his last 13 league appearances for the club as part of an incredible run which has transformed the club’s season.

Overall, Cooper sponsored by Argyle Life was hardly on top form today, but it usually only takes one swish of his wand of a left foot (cliche klaxon) to make a difference and so it proved again today.

Byron Moore, ST – 8, player of the match

Five goals for the season for Moore now, as well as three assists, and he made the big impact here with the opening goal that changed the game and forced Stevenage to come out. Very well taken it was too: a strong, left-footed volley into the bottom corner as he was closed down the the ‘keeper. Not an easy technique, but one that was very well executed.

It was not his only meaningful impact, as in the first half he charged back to deny a Stevenage counter-attack, flicking the ball back to Palmer to prevent a one-on-one.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 6

A quiet game for Jephcott, who had no service this week, like last week. Lots of willing running, but long balls in-behind that left him little chance. He almost turned one of those into a chance, squaring for Moore in-front of goal, but it was pulled back for a push.

Substitutes

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Three in three, nay three in 55 minutes. Argyle have their own Erling Haaland on their hands at the moment; another Manchester United target missed? Maybe it’s time to worry about Blackpool recalling him from his loan spell!

In all seriousness, who honestly expected this when Hardie was announced? Who was the last player to score in each of his first three games for Plymouth Argyle? His speed on the counter is frightening.

Joel Grant, ST – n/a

Barely on the pitch long enough to make an impact, though he did have time to perform the worst attempt to hold the ball in the corner of the pitch I’ve ever seen. Having managed to get beyond the defenders, he just needed to jog ten yards to the flag. Instead, he turned, tried to pass the ball back to Moore (why?!) only for it to go straight out of play for a throw-in (facepalm). Thirty-seconds later, Stevenage were in Argyle’s box.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 3 Mansfield 1

Plymouth Argyle weathered an early storm – nay, hurricane – to emerge unscathed and eventually claim all three points against a very wasteful Mansfield Town. The Stags missed three huge chances and could have gone into half-time at least 4-0 to the good, only for Niall Canavan’s header to tip the game in the Pilgrim’s favour.

A clumsy challenge on Joe Edwards allowed Antoni Sarcevic to double the lead, before Andy Cook’s excellent, opportunistic finish made a game of it. Ryan Hardie scored his second goal in two substitute appearances to put the game to bed, as the chase for an automatic promotion place continued.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

Had it not been for Palmer, Argyle would have gone into half-time at least one goal down if not more. He made a selection of good saves during the early onslaught, preventing the Stag’s from getting their antlers in front. He was first called into action instantly from kick-off, and went on to prevent what appeared to be certain-goals on more than one occasion.

Despite the catalogue of impressive saves, the youngster did make a few mistakes. The first, a wayward goal-kick resulted in a dangerous attack which could have been fatal if the Stag’s frontline were all singing from the same hymn sheet. Next on the agenda was a dubious decision from referee Trevor Kettle which saw Palmer get away with what appeared to be a penalty. To conclude, an awkward strike from Andy Cook found itself rebounding into the goal as Palmer failed to judge the flight of the ball, although this was admittedly a very awkward strike.

Yet, without his first-half interventions, it would have been a very different game, one that Argyle probably would not have won.

Scott Wootton, CB – 6

Although Wootton’s performance came with a sense of solidity, we did see the occasional phantom presence of the previous Wootton return. A few suspect clearances resulted in possession changing hands but bar that he was resolute. The firepower of the Stag’s frontline was always going to be a problem, but Wootton and co applied themselves superbly and dealt with the necessary danger with differing levels of ease.

Niall Canavan, CB – 8, player of the match

A stellar performance from the Irishman was integral to the acquisition of all three points. Canavan’s aerial presence was vital in a game in which the midfield struggled in the air. The defender also added to his goal scoring tally as he expertly notched a far-post header pass Stag’s goalkeeper, Bobby Olejnk. At the time this was very much against the run of play and the goal subsequently acted as a building block for the Pilgrim’s to work off.

The goal wasn’t his only game-changing intervention, as he parked himself superbly on the goal line in order to deny what was a certain goal when the score was 1-0. If Mansfield drew level, the course of the game could have been very different. He may have been part of the defence that struggled to contain a dangerous front three, but he more than made up for that.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

With little to note regarding Sawyer’s performance, it echoes the quiet consistency of his work, which he went about with little to no bother at all. Although the first-half saw a few hairy moments where his lack of pace was exposed, he adapted quickly. Despite the defensive struggles in the first half, much of this was down to a mobile attack and a midfield struggles rather than Sawyer individually.

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 7

Bakinson continued from where he left off on his Home Park debut. He screened the defence well for the most part, though there were more lapses than there should have been, such as when he allowed Nicky Maynard through on goal in the first half.

The youngster also offered a great range of passing to supplement the quality of the team, calmly distributing the ball under pressure. However, he lacked urgency and gave the ball away in a sloppy manner on a few occasions, offering Mansfield’s dangerous trio the opportunity to counter-attack. Yet, these are minor criticisms, as Bakinson truly hit the ground running as well as the woodwork, twice!

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Once again there is little to note regarding Edwards’ performance but the quite nature of his afternoon simply demonstrates the ease he found in nullifying the threat that came his way. On the offensive front Edwards is improving his attacking qualities week-on-week with his delivery becoming particularly dangerous.

Additionally, and subsequently the reason why he finds himself with a 7 and not a 6, it was he who won the penalty that put Argyle in total control. A very clever performance from the former Walsall man and perhaps a dark-horse avoiding the spotlight at the moment.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

A slow start from the people’s captain saw Argyle struggle to get a grasp on proceedings early on. However, once the Argyle number 7 found his groove the Greens looked more convincing in the middle of the park. The first half saw Argyle struggle to reclaim possession but the second half was a different story, with Sarcevic competing for 50-50s more frequently. His performance was capped off with an expertly dispatched penalty midway through the second half.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

Another quiet performance for the Argyle number 10 as we failed to see the playmaker make a large impact on the game. Although we saw glimpses of his creative self, there was an almost reserved attitude as he collected the ball on occasions. Mayor still offered the same ball retention skills throughout, helping quieten Mansfield’s rampant attack, but he does need to show more – as he himself surely knows.

George Cooper, LWB – 8

A vital component in all things creative, George Cooper finished the day with yet another assist to his name. The Argyle Life sponsored player demonstrated his finesse with a superb set piece which found the head of Niall Canavan. Equally useful in the defensive department too, the Peterborough loanee is really starting to acclimatise to life at wing-back.

His creative output has been a gift to the Argyle frontline as his wand of a left foot has frequently caused chaos in the opposition’s penalty area.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 5

The new glistening Grandstand overshadowed the homecoming of new prodigy Luke Jephcott as he struggled to make the same impact he had in the past two weeks. Although we saw little in the terms of goal-scoring potential this afternoon we did see glimpses of some very neat hold up play as well as a few nice interchanges.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

A particularly quiet performance from the Argyle front man saw the forward see little in terms of goal scoring opportunities but like Jepchott he demonstrated some neat hold up play alongside a collection of tidy passes.

Substitutes

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Two games, two goals. Hardie marked his Home Park debut with another goal as he chased a long ball down the line and subsequently squeezed it into the bottom right hand corner. A neat performance which was capped with a goal saw Hardie stake another claim for him to be implemented in the starting eleven against Stevenage.

Josh Grant, DM – 7

Grant was introduced midway through the second half in order to sure up the midfield and protect Argyle against the aerial battles they were loosing. The second half substitution of Andy Cook was causing problems and the introduction of the recently resigned Grant helped nullify his threat.

Joel Grant, ST – n/a

A late substitute.