Top 10: Free Agents – Attacking Midfielders

Across the last fortnight, Plymouth Argyle’s summer has sparked into life. We cast our eye over the free agents available to pick up during this transfer window.

In Ryan Lowe’s system, the central and attacking midfielders act as the creative hub. In Danny Mayor, Panutche Camara and Conor Grant, Argyle have a very good base in those positions to work with, but you can never have too much creativity in the squad. Here are ten available players who could hold the key to Argyle’s attacking success this year.

Kaylen Hinds

Club: Watford
Status: Released
Age: 22
Appearances: 1
Goals: 1
Assists: 0

Kaylen Hinds is a player whose career so far has been either feast or famine without much in between. Argyle could be the perfect middle ground for Hinds to thrive without finding himself either out of his depth or a flat track bully.

The promising youngster started his career at Arsenal where he hoped to make a name for himself. His professional debut was slightly less glamorous: a loan spell at Stevenage. Yet there’s no denying he impressed. He was part of their successful run of form at the back end of the 2016/17 season that saw them almost break into the promotion picture.

Big moves to Wolfsburg and then Watford followed, but he couldn’t get any kind of foothold in either of those teams. One slight concern could be homesickness, as his Wolfsberg contract was terminated due to a period of absenteeism. Still, an attacking midfielder who can also cover as a striker would be a valuable addition if he can get his head in the right place.

 

Alex Kiwomya

Club: Doncaster Rovers
Status: Released
Age: 24
Appearances: 9 (5 for Doncaster, 4 on loan at Crawley)
Goals: 0
Assists: 1 (for Doncaster)

Kiwomya started life at Rotherham United before he swapped life in South Yorkshire for South-West London in the form of Chelsea. The playmaker joined up with the infamous ‘loan army’ at Chelsea; he was dispatched on loan 3 times before making a permanent switch to Doncaster Rovers.

It was Kiwomya’s spell at Crewe Alexandra prior to his arrival in Doncaster that really caught the eye. Operating as a winger, Kiwomya was often able to demonstrate his terrifying pace and ability to glide past opposition players with ease. He scored 7 times during his spell with the Railwaymen.

He’s struggled a little more in recent years, but it’s the attributes mentioned previously which intrigue me. When I utter the phrase “glides past players like they’re not even there”, who does that remind you of? I hope you were thinking of Danny Mayor. Mayor was previously a winger before Lowe innovated his career by moving him to a more central position. Could Kiwomya adapt and provide the skills that Mayor does alongside the ball carrying ability of Antoni Sarcevic? The prospect of a ball carrier who is electric whilst on it certainly makes for an exciting concept.

 

Scott Fraser

Club: Burton Albion
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 41
Goals: 9
Assists: 14

Don’t be fooled – Fraser’s official status may well be “released” from Burton Albion, but that’s not necessarily at the will of the Brewers. In their official retained list, Fraser was listed in the “still talking to” section, but he appears to have been let go after a deal just couldn’t be agreed. That’s no surprise – across the last few weeks he’s been linked with a move to the likes of Sunderland, Barnsley and Hull.

It’s easy to see why there is so much interest in Fraser. Nobody in Burton’s squad notched more assists than the Scotsman this season, and only two scored more goals. At 25, he’s still unlikely to have reached his peak, and any League One club worth their salt would at least hold an interest in the player this summer.

With all that in mind, then, why would he choose Argyle? Well, that’s a very good question. One would suspect many other options would be closer to the top of his list. But there’s no doubt he’d be just perfect for Lowe’s system, and if the Argyle manager can convince him to buy into that project, the Greens may end up with a superb signing.

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Conor McAleny

Club: Fleetwood Town
Status: Released
Age: 27
Appearances: 22 (17 for Fleetwood, 5 on loan at Shrewsbury)
Goals: 3
Assists: 0

Conor McAleny is a player who will surely look back on his professional career with some regret. He made his Premier League debut against Arsenal aged nineteen and nearly scored in the game. Then, as with most young players, the loan spells kicked in. Injury knocked him back as he looked to make an impression with Brentford but eventually, five years after his debut, he settled at Wigan.

After a successful short loan spell with the Latics, he flourished at Oxford, scoring ten goals in 19 appearances. This attracted Fleetwood, who swooped for his permanent signature. Yet, McAleny never settled at Fleetwood, forever in and out of the team as he struggled to nail down minutes.

McAleny may not be a traditional attacking midfielder, but one thing that people often overlook is that a player should be matched to a position by their skillset, not their history in a position. Deft at dribbling, eye for a long-shot and sufficient at creating in the final third, there’s no reason he couldn’t be converted into an attacking midfield option under Lowe’s system, while bringing the versatility that could see him operate up front or on the wing too.

 

Ben Reeves

Club: Milton Keynes
Status: Released
Age: 28
Appearances: 19
Goals: 1
Assists: 1

Ben Reeves is a player who has been around the block a bit when it comes to the Football League and, like some others on these lists, actually made his football league debut against Argyle. A drab 0-0 draw with Dagenham in the Carl Fletcher era, to be precise, where Reeves was on loan from Southampton.

He has since paved his way bouncing between the Championship and League One, proving himself as an attacking midfielder for Milton Keynes in what was a reasonably successful spell for their club as they got promoted to the Championship.

Like Ryan Lowe, Karl Robinson is a manager who tries to get his teams to play the game ‘the right way’ so there’s every chance he could be a perfect fit for Argyle. Robinson also took Reeves to Charlton where he had a successful spell and once again got promoted out of this league.

Don’t be surprised to see him at Oxford but if Argyle could sneak in and sign him, he’d represent a real coup and is surely one of the more exciting names on this list. Having started as a left-back, there’s no reason that he couldn’t cover as a wing-back too.

 

 

Marcus Maddison

Club: Peterborough United
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 33 (26 for Peterborough, 7 on loan at Hull)
Goals: 11 (10 Peterborough, 1 Hull)
Assists: 8 (all Peterborough)

Maddison would be considered by many, including myself, as simply a distant dream that would be outside of the realms of possibility for Argyle.

First catching the eye at Gateshead, notching 13 goals in 34 appearances, Maddison was snapped up for an undisclosed fee by Peterborough He went on to make a real name for himself as a creative outlet who could make something out of nothing. Renowned for his long-range strikes, Maddison clearly has bags of ability, and you would be hard tasked to find someone who could fulfil this role better than him.

Despite this unquestionable pedigree, Maddison has recently about his frustration of life without a club. Although there is reported interest from Sunderland and Derby, his future is still shadowed by a cloud of doubt. Desperate, he has recently featured for Peterborough Sports during pre-season in a hope to maintain fitness and match sharpness in order to be ready whenever that phone goes. Peterborough Sports currently operate in the Southern League Premier Central at Step 3.

So, an immensely talented plyer who appears to long for the security of a professional contract. Could this pave way for Argyle to bring the Durham midfielder to Home Park? No, probably not. But let us cling on to hope.

 

Mohamed Maouche

Club: Oldham Athletic
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 27
Appearances: 35
Goals: 4
Assists: 4

A name that had been linked in passing to Plymouth Argyle already this summer, the skilful Frenchman would herald a welcome return to the French connection that was a feature of Home Park during the glory years under Paul Sturrock.

An aesthetic footballer, he has no issues operating in tight corners. Comfortable with being pressed, passing through teams in triangles and showing for the ball, Maouche understands space more than anything else on the pitch. The anthesis of his would-be predecessor Antoni Sarcevic; Maouche is a more beautiful player to watch, but less effective in the final third. This is something he’d need to address to step up to League One.

Should Lowe make him the final member of his midfield quartet alongside Camara, Mayor and Grant, Maouche would offer something different, making him a tactical delight depending on the opposition. Should Argyle wish to bring the ball out from the back against a high pressing opponent, Maouche could start deeper to feed his advanced midfielders. Or, if he is looking to control the middle third, his passing would do the trick ahead of Grant and Camara.

 

Jon Toral

Club: Hull City
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 16
Goals: 1
Assists: 3

Jon Toral is one of those who would be an ambitious signing, but not an impossible one by any means. Having spent three years with Hull City in the Championship, he’d certainly be a statement of intent as Argyle look to build for their first season back in League One.

Toral has quite the career at youth level. He came through Barcelona’s inimitable La Masia, before “doing a Cesc Fabregas” and ending up in the youth ranks at Arsenal. It was through loan spells that he really made his name – he had a successful time of it at Brentford and particularly Birmingham, and it appears they’d dearly like him back this summer.

He’s always seemed to be a Championship level player, and would be quite the coup for a side just promoted from League Two. But it would be foolish to rule anything out, particularly in the current circumstances. Toral may be back in Barcelona, but could he play in England once more? “I am open to anything. I am a free agent now so I am open to anything in the world,” he’s quoted as saying. Watch this space.

 

George Williams

Club: Forest Green Rovers
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 4
Goals: 1
Assists: 0

24-year-old George Williams would become the second member of Wales’ Euro 2016 squad to sign for Plymouth Argyle. Simon Church was the first – any Argyle fan would pray that Williams had more success at Home Park.

Williams’ career has stagnated a little since he reached the semi-finals in France four years ago. He was then a young prospect in Fulham’s academy, but played just 15 times for the club before he was released and moved west to sign for Forest Green Rovers.

After a successful first season with his new employers, he broke his leg three minutes into his second, playing just three more games before the shutdown enforced the season’s early curtailment.

A lack of composure in front of goal is maybe the reason this speedy attacker doesn’t have as many goals and assists as you’d expect of someone with his ability. His most obvious position in Lowe’s formation would as an advanced central midfielder, but he could also play up front, or be converted into a George Cooper style wing back.

 

Graham Carey

Club: CSKA Sofia
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 31
Appearances: 23
Goals: 1
Assists: 4

This is a player who is struggling to agree a new contract with CSKA Sofia, having played just 24 times for them. Could he move across the continent and adapt quickly to living in Plymouth, or the English style of play? Would the Argyle fans take to someone with his undoubted technical skills, even if he didn’t consistently produce?

Obviously, Graham Carey is not just any midfielder. Two-time Argyle player of the season, the Dubliner became the darling of the Home Park faithful. So good were his performances, that this very website named him as Argyle’s best player of the 2010s.

A return, while romantic, seems unlikely. Ryan Lowe boldly declared last summer that Danny Mayor was a better player than both Carey and Argyle’s other departed midfield schemer, Rúben Lameiras. While Mayor hasn’t shown the consistency to back up that statement yet, it is likely he will still be the first choice attacking midfielder for Lowe next season.

Carey is not an obvious fit alongside Mayor. Both operate in a similar number ten position, and Carey could not replace the zip our midfield will lose from the departed Antoni Sarcevic.

But still, it’s nice to dream.

 


Top 10: Free Agents – Wing Backs and Wingers

Story of the Season: 2017/18

It looks like we’ll be waiting quite a while to see Plymouth Argyle in action once more, and even longer before we’ll be permitted to enter the ground to see them. In these most uncertain times, a little nostalgia can go a long way. With no live action to report, we’re going to be taking a trip down memory lane and looking at some Argyle seasons gone by.

Today, we’ll start by looking at Argyle’s first season back in League One: 2017/18.

Pre-season

It was incredibly difficult not to be excited. After the best part of a decade in the doldrums, Plymouth Argyle were back. Progress had been slow, painfully slow at times. But that mattered no more; whatever happened over the next 12 months, the Greens would finish higher up the pyramid than the season prior. Rejoice.

With James Brent at the helm in the boardroom, promotion was hardly going to be met with a lavish spending spree. But manager Derek Adams had always been capable of working on a shoestring budget. Shrewd summer signings including Ryan Edwards, Jamie Ness and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair helped to bolster Argyle’s squad. Gregg Wylde returned, whilst Argyle also wrestled another winger, Joel Grant, away from Exeter City. Promotion had gone a long way to proving there had only ever been one team in Devon.

Another signing that summer came in the form of Portuguese playmaker Ruben Lameiras. Recently relegated with Coventry, he entered pre-season with a point to prove, and it showed. Argyle avoided defeat in all but one game (a 1-0 reverse to Cardiff City) and achieved a frankly unbelievable 0-0 draw with Dutch champions Feyenoord. It was time to go.

August

Glorious defeat met the opening day of the season – Argyle deserved more, but went down 2-1 away at Peterborough. Ryan Taylor’s injury during the game would prove to be a huge blow. A 5-0 defeat in the Carabao cup days later saw a far poorer performance, but Argyle resisted the urge to refund travelling supporters in the face of some laughable claims.

Luckily, the Green Army had just a few more days to wait before properly arriving on the League One scene. Jake Jervis netted both goals in a 2-0 victory over Charlton at Home Park which also saw this preposterous save from Luke McCormick. Surely there could be no doubt that he’d have a big part to play this season, right?

 

A draw away at Southend followed, leaving Argyle with four points from three games and in an optimal position to push on. Alas, the fun ended there. Argyle shipped four goals in a crushing home defeat by Scunthorpe, concluding the encounter with ten men following Antoni Sarcevic’s dismissal. That would become a running theme. Conor McGregor boxed Floyd Mayweather on the same day, and some of Argyle’s actions across the next month wouldn’t have looked out of place in the ring.

September

Kyle Letheren joined Argyle at the start of the month, but the excitement surrounding a new signing was hardly palpable. He was a third-choice goalkeeper – surely we’d never see him play.

On the pitch, defeats to Walsall and MK Dons, the latter of which saw Graham Carey sent off, left Argyle in the relegation places. That was nothing to worry about, right? We were at the stage of the season where any string of defeats would make the table look crummy, but there was still plenty of time to turn things around.

The situation, however, deteriorated rapidly. Defeat to Blackpool saw Edwards sent off, before a McCormick-inspired Argyle somehow escaped with a 0-0 draw following a torrid performance away at Bury. It was Argyle’s first point for just shy of a month, but those hoping it would spark a turnaround were sadly mistaken. Argyle were demolished 3-0 by Doncaster at Home Park, and Sonny Bradley decided he fancied punching an opponent. Red card. Again.

 

The last thing Argyle needed at this stage was a trip to a high-flying opponent. So of course, the impending trip to Wigan summed up Argyle’s predicament rather neatly. Remarkably, Letheren got his chance less than a month after signing, with McCormick and second choice Robbert te Loeke injured. He and Argyle played fairly well, but still went down 1-0.

Letheren remained between the sticks for a trip to Bristol Rovers the following weekend, as Argyle again found themselves behind. Red cards, however, were conspicuous in their absence until a two-footed challenge from Gary Miller put an end to the brief respite.

 

September saw six defeats in seven league games, and four times as many red cards as points. Torrid.

October

Argyle’s conveyer belt of defeats showed no sign of slowing as Fleetwood became the latest side to leave Home Park with all three points. However, frank dressing room exchange following it may have helped turn the side’s fortunes around. Alongside that, Argyle brought in experienced midfielder Toumani Diagouraga on a short-term deal. Could he really be expected to make a meaningful impact in such limited time?

Diagouraga’s signature conincided with Adams’ subtle switch from a 4-2-3-1 style to a 4-3-2-1, which would prove to be a masterstroke. Under pressure, Argyle followed up with consecutive 1-1 draws against Shrewsbury and Blackburn, both highly respectable results given the high-flying nature of the opponents. Both games saw Graham Carey (who else?) open the scoring for the Greens in incredible fashion.

 

 

The second half of the Blackburn fixture saw an injured Letheren replaced in goal by Argyle’s fourth custodian of the season, 18-year-old Mike Cooper. He put in a performance to be proud of, but that didn’t stop Argyle dipping into the emergency loan market for Norwich’s Remi Matthews. He started and kept goal admirably in a 1-0 victory away at Wimbledon, just Argyle’s second of the campaign, with Grant’s winning goal sparking joyous scenes. Matthews was kept on for another week as the Greens then picked up another point against Rochdale.

Argyle were still rooted to the bottom of the league, but the tanker was finally starting to turn.

November

A Graham Carey screamer helped Argyle defeat Grimsby in the FA Cup, but it’s the next league game that proved to be particularly memorable. Argyle, bottom of the league, travelled to promotion-challenging Bradford more in hope than expectation, but came away with a marvellous single-goal victory. Jervis scored the winner, but the highlight of the game was a second-half penalty save by Matthews, demonstrating exactly why he was rapidly becoming a fan favourite.

 

Sadly, the good times couldn’t last. After keeping their discipline for well over a month by this stage, Argyle saw Ryan Edwards dismissed after 14 minutes against Oxford, who romped to a 4-0 victory at Home Park. The Greens then experienced contrasting fortunes across the following days, comfortably defeating Northampton before going down 1-0 at Fratton Park against Portsmouth, this time via a Matthews error.

 

Argyle were at least improving on the field, but ended yet another month at the foot of League One.

December

The goalkeeping situation was now beyond parody. Matthews had picked up a knock, so Argyle played with a clearly unfit McCormick for an FA Cup tie away at Bradford. He had a shocker, and his side were dumped out following a 3-1 victory for the Bantams.

It led to Argyle lining up their seventh goalkeeper of the season (Will Mannion played against Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy). This time it was Kelle Roos on loan from Derby, who made his Argyle debut against fellow strugglers Gillingham. At the very end of a tense encounter, it was new boy Diagouraga who scored the winning goal to spark wild scenes around Home Park.

 

This time, Argyle were able to take momentum from their victory into the crucial festive period. Despite a gut-wrenching last-minute equaliser denying the Greens all three points against Rotherham, wins against Oldham (4-1) and MK Dons (1-0) certainly made Christmas feel merrier. Then, just before New Year’s Eve, Graham Carey got the party started early with this outrageous goal against Blackpool.

 

Frustratingly, Argyle let a two-goal lead slip in that game, and had to settle for a point. However, they were at least out of the relegation zone as 2018 arrived.

January

Remember when New Year celebrations were not tainted with a sense of terror and dread about what the next 12 months may bring? Me neither. But New Year’s Day in 2018 was at least a good one for Argyle. Ryan Taylor, finally back to full fitness after his injury on opening day, scored the only goal as the Greens saw of Walsall at Home Park to further strengthen their position.

A few days later, Argyle saw off Bury 3-0 at the same ground. A certain Ryan Lowe sent off for the visitors for a horror tackle on Matthews, who had returned for the rest of the season following Roos’ departure at the start of the transfer window. The Green Army would surely never welcome Mr Lowe back to the city.

 

That would prove to be Diagouraga’s final game for Argyle, and just one point followed from the next two games. First, Argyle drew 1-1 against Doncaster, when opposition manager Darren Ferguson called for a massacre of poor referees. It was certainly a novel approach.

Argyle then lost 3-1 at home to eventual title-winners Wigan. Defender Zak Vyner made his debut, but it was tinged with sadness. His introduction was only necessary because of Ryan Edwards’ testicular cancer diagnosis, which was announced in the build-up to the Wigan fixture. It put everything on the field into perspective.

Buoyed by a sense of togetherness following the shocking news, Argyle ended the month strongly. A 2-1 win over Oldham saw them knocking on the door of the top half – who could have predicted that just a couple of months prior?

February

February proved to be Argyle’s best month of the season. It opened up with a commanding victory over high-flying Blackburn, with Lameiras netting the opener, and Taylor finishing off one of the great counter-attacking moves of the campaign.

 

Argyle again faced a promotion-chasing side in their following fixture, visiting Shrewsbury. In a true test of character, the Greens recovered from a goal behind, having missed a penalty, to win the game. Vyner notched the decisive goal in front of a delirious away following. Three days later, Argyle completed a league double over Wimbledon by prevailing 4-2 in one of the best demonstrations of Derek Adams’ 4-3-2-1 system one is likely to find. David Fox, vital to the system, also chipped in with a cracker. The celebration wasn’t bad either.

 

The Wimbledon game was probably the best of the season – it had everything. And, when Argyle followed it up with consecutive 1-0 wins over Oxford and Bradford, Argyle fans were daring to dream of a wholly unexpected promotion challenge. After all, a 100% record across the month of February was always going to bring with it a wave of optimism.

March

Argyle went into March on the brink of the play-off places following six consecutive league wins. A 1-1 draw away at Fleetwood, which would have been seen as a fine result a few months prior, was met with disappointment. Luckily, Argyle followed this up with another win in another one of the games of the season. At home to Bristol Rovers on a snowy (!) St Patrick’s Day afternoon, the Greens fell behind twice and missed a penalty, but prevailed 3-2 following Carey’s winner with five minutes to play.

Disappointment followed, as Argyle were defeated for just the second time since the turn of the year away at Charlton. Lee Bowyer was experiencing his first game in management in the home dugout, and masterminded the Addicks to a 2-0 victory.

But Argyle didn’t let it impact their momentum, and followed up with one of their most dominant performances of the season against Southend on Good Friday. The Green Army were treated to some terrific football, and their side deservedly came away 4-0 winners.

Argyle were in the play-off positions, but there were some big fixtures in the run-in to come.

April

Argyle’s first game in April was a huge encounter with fellow play-off challengers Peterborough, now managed by odious pie enthusiast Steve Evans. Argyle were hit by an injury to Matthews, and Peterborough took the lead as league top-scorer Jack Marriott lobbed stand-in Letheren. Taylor equalised, and two Peterborough red cards followed, for Liam Shepherd and Stephen Taylor. With the game in its dying embers, Carey’s stoppage time winner from the penalty spot sent Home Park into hysterics. Evans approaching the referee in gammon-faced rage after the full-time whistle made the day even sweeter.

 

The news which followed, despite all the success of the recent months, will surely go down as the moment of the season. Shortly after the Peterborough victory, Ryan Edwards announced he had received the all clear from doctors regarding his cancer treatment. It would, of course, be a while before he was able to take to the field once more, but it was just another boost to bring everybody together at a time of great success for the club.

On the pitch, the Greens had propelled themselves to 5th place, but injuries were becoming a major issue. Even Paul Paton had to have the occasional run out. Matthews again sat out Argyle’s next fixture against Portsmouth, and was joined on the treatment table by Taylor, a key cog in the Derek Adams machine. The 0-0 draw spoke volumes of Argyle’s impotent attack on the day.

Matthews did return for Argyle’s game away at Northampton, but the squad was looking more threadbare by the day. Matthews performed well at Sixfields which, given the insipid performances elsewhere, probably stopped Argyle’s hosts scoring four or five.

Now having not scored in two games, Argyle’s play-off hopes were dwindling at the end of the month. Still without many key individuals, they played host to eventual play-off winners Rotherham at Home Park. Hopes, it’s fair to say, were not high, particularly when the Millers took the lead in the first half. But somehow, Argyle hung in there, equalised through Grant, and had the chance to win the game from the spot in stoppage time. Much like against Peterborough, Carey made no mistake.

 

May & end of season

Argyle’s play-off prospects hinged on two games in the final month of the season, both away from home. It did, however, become apparent that the Rotherham victory was papering over the cracks in Argyle’s crumbling squad. The Greens were defeated on both occasions, first by Scunthorpe who did make the play-offs, before being thrashed 5-2 by Gillingham on the final day. It meant Argyle finished seventh, just one place away from the play-offs.

There was no shame in that. Injuries meant that Argyle ran out of steam as the season drew to a close, but the fact they were even in the promotion picture was miraculous. For a first season back in League One, Plymouth Argyle had left their mark, and proved that they had all the tools to be a force in the upper echelons of the football league again.

All the more phenomenally, this came after an appalling start to the campaign where Argyle seemed to be relegation certainties up until Christmas. The turnaround, however, was magnificent. Argyle’s opponents gradually converted from “fellow strugglers” to “fellow challengers”. The Greens just had to consolidate the squad in the summer, and surely another promotion challenge would follow…

FM20 Experiment – What if Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras stayed?

With the current players currently exceeding for Ryan Lowe, there is no reason to look back to the past,

But if you are like me, you can’t help but wonder what Ryan Lowe could do this season if he had Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras at his disposal.

So we’ve turned to popular video game Football Manager 2020 to find out.


Here is GC10, back at the greens like he never left.

Both of them have a 1 year deal with the option of another year if the club trigger it.

This is the boss then.

Will be interesting to see if he adapts to having a really good winger and playmaker for this level or sticks to the 3-5-2.

I’ve seen him adapt in my Argyle Life playthrough that you can read here

If pre-season games are the go by, then he looks like he will be shoe-horning them into a 3-5-2…

 

Not the start Ryan Lowe would be hoping for.

Ruben is playing in the centre of midfield, which anyone can tell you is not his best position.

As for Carey. he’s playing upfront!

Also a couple games in midfield.

And September didn’t go better. 12th position.

Or October.

Graham Carey is still being put up front in a 3-5-2..

Whilst Ruben keeps out Danny Mayor and Antoni Sarcevic in the centre of midfield.

Where he has picked up 3 assists in 15 games. Not amazing.

Carey is doing slightly better with 5 goals and 2 assists in the first 15 games.

As a striker..

This is bizarre.


November

Just the one league win in November. Oh dear.

Ruben’s form hasn’t improved either, yet he still starts.

Here is how the rest of the squad are getting on. Carey has a little injury, but only managed one goal in November.

It’s not pretty.


December

Some improvement in December.

As Ruben scores his first 2 goals of the season.

Lowe still lumps Carey up top.

9 goal contributions in 20 games.

But it just feels wrong.


January

The transfer window is open!

I disabled the Summer transfer window just in case either of them got sold immediately and ruined the entire experiment.

But computer Lowe is doing his best to ruin things by shoe-horning them into a formation that does not suit their talents.

Will they get sold this January?

Because I’d want to leave after that January.

W I N L E S S

Ryan Lowe-bot will not budge on his favourite 3-5-2.

I think I’ve broken him.

Neither of them left, but Lowe-bot did sign some over 35 free transfers and some loannees.

He’s good for 35 you know.

But why on earth are you signing central midfielders when you have so many good ones, you idiot.


February

Time is running out for Lowe-bot.

Sack him Simon, just do it. It’s painful seeing him use Carey like this.

What a waste of a season.

( Shout out my boy Padraig Amond from the Argyle Life playthrough. 18 goals, see, good signing after all. )


March

Tuesday March 17th, the day this madness came to end.

Caretaker manager David Platt managed to beat Exeter.

What is this game?


April

Coughlan who, in this alternate reality, never went to Mansfield, was sacked by Rovers, and then becomes Argyle manager.

And he plays Carey and Ruben in sensible positions.

But too little too late.

The season ends with a whimper.

Ruben’s positions played. Play him on the wing and hey look, he actually plays well.

Who knew.

Carey’s best impression of a League Two striker actually wasn’t too bad.

10 goals, 6 assists.

Ruben got 6 goals and 7 assists.

So after one season, what have we learned.

A computer generated Ryan Lowe doesn’t have a plan B, Graham Carey scores goals where ever he plays and that just maybe, this was a whole waste of time.


5 months later…

Ruben Lamieras gets a big move to Leeds.

And Graham Coughlan uses that money on signing nobody I actually recognise on free transfers..

Oh, Football Manager.

I could simulate even further , but in my head I’d like to think that Graham Carey under Graham Coughlan’s management galvanises this young squad of nobodies all the way to the Championship and retires a legend.

And I’d rather the game not ruin that for me right now..

What other Football Manager experiments would you like me to try? Leave us your suggestions on social media.

 

Plymouth Argyle Top 50 – 2010-2019: 1st – Graham Carey

This past decade has seen players arrive at Home Park and demonstrate the potential to play top flight football – some of which have. Others have left a great impact on the club, as their actions have helped to positively change the club’s future. As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve reviewed the past ten years to pick out the top fifty Pilgrims to have donned our Green and White.

It’s important to note three things: first, this is not a competition of the best players; we have not judged players based purely on their skill, but also their impact. Jake Cole may not be the most able goalkeeper in Plymouth Argyle’s history, but he left a greater impact than most, as his performances were vital in avoiding relegation to the National League for two consecutive seasons. For that, he gets a ranking higher than that of Alex Palmer, who is a better keeper objectively speaking but has had a significantly smaller impact on the club.

Second, players have been judged according to their ability across all the time they were at the club, not just their peak. For example, Conor Hourihane in his first eighteen months wouldn’t get close to this list, but the Hourihane of the final five months before his departure would probably outrank all but a select few individuals in terms of ability. This has been factored into his ranking, instead of merely taking him at his peak.

Finally, this list is not perfect. It is notoriously difficult to rank players, let alone more than 200 of them across a ten year spell. To build this list, we spent hours debating, ranking and re-ranking lists of players until we arrived on a list that we were happy with. There will be players that you believe should be ranked higher, lower, or shouldn’t be on the list at all. You can’t please everyone. Please remember that while you’re complaining on social media having read this list. Otherwise, enjoy…

 


1: Graham Carey

Years: 2010, 2015-19
Appearances: 197
Goals: 49
Assists: 58
Currently: CSKA Sofia, Parva liga

Be honest. You didn’t really expect number one to be anyone else, did you?

Relatively unknown Irishman Graham Carey signed for Argyle in the summer of 2015 as one of the many players brought down south by new manager Derek Adams. His previous experience in England was a short loan spell at Huddersfield, and he’d spent most of his career north of the border at the likes of Celtic, St Mirren and Ross County.

The Green Army were happy to trust Adams’ judgement with this new signing – after all, the pair had worked together in Scotland prior to their arrival at Home Park. Some YouTube highlight reels, including a scorching strike for St Mirren, certainly excited many an Argyle fan. But honestly, who could have seen at the start of his time here that Carey would become one of those players we’d talk about for decades to come?

Too good for League Two

It became apparent incredibly quickly that Carey was far too good a player for the level at which he was playing. And opposition defenders knew it. A goal on his debut helped, but Carey’s early success was about more than his goalscoring. His opening ten games posted as many assists as they did goals, and it was often his dribbling and trickery that troubled defences, forcing them to double up on Carey and leave gaps elsewhere. Often, even that wasn’t enough.

By the start of 2016, it was obvious that Carey was the star of the side. His injury from November to January led to table-topping Argyle suddenly going on an alarming winless run. That’s no coincidence. It’s well documented that Argyle fell away in the second half of the season, but this was only once opposition sides had based their entire game plan on stopping Carey.

In the play-off final, for example, Wimbledon cut off the passing avenues to Carey, doubled up on Carey, and were willing to leave gaps elsewhere on the big Wembley pitch as long as they weren’t filled by Carey. The attitude was that stopping Carey stopped Argyle, and it wasn’t wrong. Truly, Argyle were a one-man team at times across the 2015/16 campaign.

Argyle could easily have suffered a hangover from that play-off final defeat, particularly following a string of departures after the final whistle at Wembley. But Argyle kept hold of the player who mattered most. In 2016/17 there were no injury layoffs – Carey started all 46 League Two games, scored 15 goals and notched 16 assists, and Argyle were ultimately promoted. Coincidence? Of course not.

Carey’s first two years at Argyle were littered with successes. Just ask the likes of Mansfield, Yeovil, Morecambe, Newport, Barnet, Wimbledon and Cambridge about his ability to strike a football. Factor in his plethora of assists, a catalogue of skills, and a couple of excellent appearances against Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy, and Carey was already turning out to be one of the Argyle heroes of our time.

Established as one of the greats

In the summer of 2017, there were once more questions over whether Carey would remain at Home Park for another year. His contract had expired, and there were unsurprisingly many sides from higher levels interested in his services. Why wouldn’t they be? But whilst it looked a foregone conclusion that he’d leave, Carey turned up at the end of June to sign on the dotted line and join pre-season training. It sent the Green Army barmy.

In truth, however, Argyle and Carey did experience their fair share of struggle at the start of their first campaign back in League One. By mid-October, the Irishman had scored just once (a consolation penalty away at Walsall), and served a three-game suspension for a red card picked up against Milton Keynes. But Argyle were to turn their season around, and who else but Carey would be at the forefront of it?

First of all, bottom of the league Argyle welcomed top of the league Shrewsbury to Home Park, where a mauling was anticipated. Yet Argyle got a battling point from the game, with Carey curling a gorgeous shot past visiting goalkeeper Dean Henderson in the process. Three days later Argyle fought for another point at promotion-chasing Blackburn, where Carey scored a terrific solo goal. Four days after that, Argyle finally picked up their second win of the season through Joel Grant’s winner at AFC Wimbledon. Who got the assist? Come on, you know where this is going by now.

When Argyle looked like they were in for a season of struggle, Carey grabbed each game by the scruff of the neck and brought his side into contention. In December, he was aided further by Adams’ decision to finally start playing Ruben Lameiras, meaning Carey had even more space to operate in. It had a devastating effect – he scored 11 goals and created 6 more after Christmas that season alone, hitting double figures in goals and assists for an astonishing third campaign in succession.

Add in his ability to take pressure penalties against the likes of Bristol Rovers, Peterborough and Rotherham, and you have a player who truly transformed Argyle’s season. If a further spot kick against Southend didn’t clip the crossbar, he’d have become only the second player to hit a hat-trick for Argyle this decade, after Reuben Reid.

Argyle weren’t promoted in the end, but if Carey did end up taking the club to the Championship, he certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place.

The so-called dip

According to some, Carey was poor in 2018/19. Despite Argyle’s relegation, those claims could hardly be further wide of the mark.

Now, there could be an argument that Carey performed below expectations – after all, he only managed to score six goals across the league campaign, far fewer than any previously at Argyle. But the only reason one could claim he was performing below expectations would be because the expectations were so high in the first place. When you rely on one man to win you a football match single-handedly, there’s a chance they won’t be able to every now and then.

In truth, Carey wasn’t even particularly lousy across the campaign. Had a new signing performed as he did, he’d have been lauded as a shining light in an otherwise dreary season. Carey suffered not due to his personal poor form, but due to Adams’ idiotic decision to stop building the team around his talents. Often having to start from deeper positions, whilst isolated by his teammates, and doubled up on by his opponents, Carey was up against it all year.

And yet, his goals managed to gain Argyle six points, his general play countless more, and he still managed 13 assists across the campaign. If anything, the fact he managed to be relatively successful in such adverse circumstances is testament to just how incredible he was.

Departing with our blessing

It’s never easy to see your best players depart, and it can lead to emotions running high. Reuben Reid, for instance, was one of Argyle’s finest between 2013 and 2015, but his legacy was severely tainted by his departure to Exeter a year later. Carl McHugh was another quality player to experience a messy divorce with Argyle, with the confusion surrounding his move to Motherwell generating a significant level of animosity that in some quarters remains today. The same cannot be said, however, for Carey.

After that aforementioned relegation in 2019, Carey was out of contract once more. Even the most optimistic of Argyle supporters didn’t expect the Irishman to stick around against the odds for a third time, and so it proved. 31-time Bulgarian champions CSKA Sofia announced the signing of Carey on 11th June 2019, and his adventure at Home Park was over.

Was there sadness? Absolutely. Desolation, indeed, in some quarters. But animosity? As if. The prevailing wisdom was that he’d earned the chance to play his football elsewhere, and he left with the blessing of the entire Green Army. He didn’t join a direct rival (unless Argyle intend on playing Europa League football any time soon), reportedly trebled his wages, and moved to a country with a lower cost of living. Nobody could honestly say they wouldn’t have made the same decision.

And that summed the attitudes towards Carey up. After four years of seeing a master craftsman at work, there was a mutual understanding that he was too good for the level Argyle were heading. But before his departure, we had the absolute pleasure of watching this mesmerising footballer week in, week out.

Truly, he was the best of the decade.

 


Plymouth Argyle Top 50 – 2010-2019: 2nd – Bradley Wright-Phillips

SP19: How does Plymouth Argyle’s squad compare to 2018/19?

In the opening article of our 2019 Season Preview, we compared this season’s Plymouth Argyle squad with that of 2018/19 to determine which is better.

Goalkeepers

It’s all change between the sticks at Argyle this season. Matt Macey and Kyle Letheren have left Home Park, with the former returning to Arsenal following his loan spell, and the latter signing for Salford after seemingly being dismissed by Ryan Lowe. The only constant between the two seasons is youngster Michael Cooper, but to use that as a direct comparison would be unfair.

Cooper barely played last season, and his talents were not given a fair assessment by Derek Adams. This season, however, he will compete for a spot in the first-team, and could yet prove he is better than both Macey and Letheren. The key to deciding whether Argyle’s goalkeeping options are healthier than they were last year, meanwhile, may well be down to Alex Palmer.

The young goalkeeper joined Argyle this summer on loan from West Bromwich Albion, and looks set to start the season after solid outings during the friendly matches. Whilst he has impressed so far, however, it’s important to note that Macey did the same at the start of last season, before tailing off as the campaign drew on.

In truth, it’s hard to decide right now whether either goalkeeper will act as an improvement on last season’s options. Combined, Palmer and Cooper have just two EFL league starts and two substitute appearances between them – how can we judge them? We’ll say things are about the same for now but, with Argyle’s two goalkeepers possessing a great deal of potential, that verdict could swiftly change in the coming weeks and months.

Verdict: Probably better? Who knows…

 

Defenders

It’s hard to make an argument that this season’s defence is stronger than last. Whilst the defence of 2018/19 faced plenty of ridicule – and it must be said they didn’t cover themselves in glory – some of the criticism aimed at them was unfair. Argyle’s midfield deserved more of the blame for leaving the defence exposed. Indeed, when a defence is busier, it is more likely to make mistakes and concede goals.

Whilst we can cut last season’s defence some slack, this season’s is likely to be just as busy. Perhaps even more so, considering the sheer amount of attacking players Argyle will have on the field. And it must be said, the defence don’t appear to be particularly well equipped to deal with that. Ryan Edwards and Yann Songo’o have left, and the only replacement at centre back so far has been Will Aimson, yet to play a minute so far during pre-season thanks to injury.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Argyle now play with three centre backs rather than two. This means that Argyle are likely to start the season with a back three consisting of Niall Canavan, an out of position Gary Sawyer and, shudderingly, Scott Wootton. If any of those three are injured at Crewe, first-year professional Mike Peck may have to come off the bench! Amazingly, Argyle have regressed from having the third worst defence in League One last season to probably an even worse one this time around…

Hopefully, Aimson will be fit to start very shortly, and one would also like to hope that another new defender will be through the door in the coming weeks. Otherwise, Argyle will be far weaker in the defensive area this coming season.

Verdict: Definitely weaker.

 

Midfielders

The midfield is perhaps the most difficult position to compare between last season and this. This is because its role is so different now compared to last season. Whilst previously Argyle have relied on the talents of inside forwards Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras to create chances, this time this role will be delegated to the attacking midfielders and wing-backs.

Perhaps the best way to compare the two midfields is to look at them in their component parts: the deeper lying players, the creative players, and the wide players.

Argyle are definitely stronger In the deeper lying position. Joe Edwards appears to have very quickly understood what he is required to do in the role of the “1” in Lowe’s 3-1-4-2. He already appears a much better fit than Songo’o or David Fox could ever have been. That being said, the strength in depth isn’t quite there. With the departures of Songo’o, Fox and Jamie Ness, Argyle will be required to call upon youngster Adam Randell if Edwards is unavailable. He may shine, but let’s be cautions not to overstate our expectations.

The creative players, meanwhile, are fascinating to compare. Of course, Carey and Lameiras were key players during their time at Argyle, or at least they ought to have been last season – they were ultimately hindered by Derek Adams’ 4-2-3-1. The thought of Carey and Lameiras playing in Lowe’s system is a salivating one, but alas it wasn’t to be. One thing we can at least say here, however, is that Argyle have at the very least looked to bring in replacements.

Danny Mayor is a major signing, and can be expected to be a focal point of many Argyle attacks this season. The other creative player looks set to be Conor Grant. Whilst he was at Argyle last season, he wasn’t really given a chance in this position, so his chance to make a mark on the side is now. It would be foolish to say at this time that Mayor and Grant can perform better than Carey and Lameiras, but at least the hole has been filled to some extent.

Jose Baxter has been brought in too and, provided Ryan Lowe doesn’t use Antoni Sarcevic or Joel Grant here regularly in these positions, the Greens could be set up well.

Finally, the wide men have changed significantly over the summer. Argyle rarely used conventional wingers last season, with Carey and Lameiras playing much more like inside forwards. There’s an argument that Argyle won’t be using conventional wingers this time around either, with traditional full backs Ashley Smith-Brown, Tafari Moore and Joe Riley all playing in the wide roles across pre-season.

However, it must be said that Argyle have looked better when conventional wingers have occupied these positions, most notably on the left where Callum McFadzean offers something new to Argyle this season. On the right, Riley appears to be in pole position to start, but the creative demands of the position appear to better suit Joel Grant or Sarcevic, neither of which have been tested there yet.

Overall, a direct comparison is very difficult in this key area of the field. Due to Carey and Lameiras’ influence, one could perhaps conclude that last season’s midfield was stronger. But the midfield is set up very differently this season, so only time will tell on that claim.

Verdict: Weaker.

 

Attackers

Perhaps the main conclusion to be made here is that Argyle’s attack appears to be stronger this season, at least in terms of squad depth, but one key departure has severely limited the extent to which the Greens have improved. Argyle’s forward options last season were Freddie Ladapo, Ryan Taylor and Alex Fletcher.

Taylor and Fletcher have remained at the club, but Ladapo has departed for Rotherham for a club-record fee for the Millers. This poses a problem for Argyle.

Whilst under Adams, Argyle would have benefitted more from Taylor playing the striker role, that is not the case under Lowe. In fact, Ladapo would have been the ideal striker to have in his 3-1-4-2. Whilst he does appear to be a big miss, Argyle have at least added some firepower.

Whilst the rumoured chase for Nicky Maynard did not come off, Dominic Telford and Byron Moore have come in from Bury. Furthermore, Joel Grant can do a job up front, and Klaidi Lolos has impressed playing there during pre-season. Add in Fletcher and Taylor, and Argyle have a few talented options for the forward positions this year.

However, those players will have to find the back of the net regularly to make up for Ladapo’s hypothetical goals tally. Whether they can do so will probably be the decisive factor in whether or not this season’s attack can be considered the better of the two.

Verdict: Maybe, but not much.

 


 

SP19: Plymouth Argyle’s Targets

Graham Carey – One of Argyle’s Greats

Yesterday, Argyle announced that Graham Carey had made the decision to reject an improved contract offer to remain with the club. After four seasons, his time at Home Park had come to an end. As the Ryan Lowe era began, so too ended one of the most impressive spells in an Argyle shirt. When he signed for the club four years earlier, who was to know what a player Argyle had on their books.

When Carey joined Argyle, he became Derek Adams’ fourth signing as manager. Gary Sawyer had returned to the club, whilst wingers Jake Jervis and Gregg Wylde had joined from Ross County and St Mirren respectively. After Jake Jervis, Carey became the second player to reunite with Adams at Argyle.

Prior to joining the club, his career would have largely gone unnoticed by many in England. As a youngster at Celtic, he was loaned to Bohemians in Ireland where he would win the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2009. Struggling to break into the team at Celtic Park he was sent on loan to St Mirren and Huddersfield, before leaving to rejoin St Mirren permanently in 2011.

With St Mirren he would win the Scottish League Cup, appearing as a late substitute in a 3 – 2 victory over Hearts, before again finding himself released and searching for a club. It was at this stage of his career that Carey was picked up by Derek Adams at Ross County, a transfer that would ultimately pave the way for Carey’s future move to Home Park.

Carey played predominantly as a wing back during his time in Scotland. Clues as to the success he was to later have at Argyle were certainly limited, but there were a few hints as to the player he would soon become.

He scored just eleven goals during his time in Scotland and just three times whilst playing for Huddersfield. However, he earned a reputation as a good striker of the ball having won the SPL Goal of the Season in the 2012/13 campaign with an effort struck from 35-yards. It wasn’t the first time he had grabbed the headlines for a long distant effort either.

He scored notable goals from free-kicks with both St Mirren and Huddersfield and it would be a reputation he’d continue to develop whilst at Home Park. His last set piece goal for the club earned Argyle a point against Portsmouth in February 2019.

When he joined the club, few Argyle fans would ever envisage the impact he’d have. In 197 appearances in all competitions he scored 49 goals and made 58 assists. Combined, he scored a goal, or made an assist, every 1.8 games. To put that into perspective Reuben Reid, Argyle’s other talisman of the post-admin era, scored 50 goals and made 15 assists in 165 appearances – a combined total of one every 2.5 appearances. Impressive in its own right, but still not close to that of Carey’s return.

Carey made his debut for Argyle in the first game of the 2015/16 season, in an away fixture against AFC Wimbledon, and made his mark by scoring the second goal in a 2 – 0 victory. Fellow summer signing Gregg Wylde would also get on the scoresheet. In his first seven league games for the club he’d score or get an assist in all but one, a 2 – 1 defeat at the hands of Portsmouth.

With a total of four goals and four assists during this opening period, Carey had Argyle fans hooked, with his most impressive performance coming at Home Park against Carlisle United.

Argyle opened the scoring just before half time, as Jake Jervis cut in from the left wing, and belted the ball into the top corner from just outside the box. At the time, Carey was on the floor, remonstrating with the referee for an apparent foul near the centre circle. He’d be involved somewhat more in the second half.

Shortly after the break Carey would assist Reuben Reid from a corner, before chasing the ball down and hassling the Danny Grainger a few minutes later. The defender slipped under pressure, allowing Carey to win the ball and score comfortably when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He’d then complete an impressive evening by again winning the ball back – this time in the middle of the pitch. Running towards goal he isolated the centre back, sliding a neat pass into the path of Jake Jervis who finished for his second goal of the game.

Carey had another impressive run of form at the end of the league campaign with three goals and six assists in the space of seven appearances, before making a 12 minute appearance in the final game of the season at home to Hartlepool. With Argyle having already made the Play Offs, the decision was made to rest Argyle’s star man from the start.

Argyle’s season and Carey’s first with the club would therefore end with the chance of promotion and his contribution wasn’t over yet. Having earned a 2 – 2 draw in the first leg of the Play-off Semi Final against Portsmouth, the return fixture was finely balanced. Heading into stoppage time, it looked like extra time was guaranteed before a Carey corner was headed home by defender Peter Hartley. Argyle had made the Play Off Final thanks to a 91st minute goal, which at the time was the most important in the post-admin era.

Unfortunately, it would be the last telling contribution of the season for Carey, as Argyle limped to a 2 – 0 Wembley defeat at the hands of Wimbledon, the very same team the season had started so positively against. Nonetheless, and despite the disappointment, Carey was voted Player of the Season and ended with a career high of 12 goals and 16 assists in all competitions. With a policy of one-year contracts enforced at the club, many thought that would be that, but in the following summer he and the club would agree to a contract extension, much to the delight of Argyle fans.

Carey’s second season would be an improvement on his first, in a campaign that saw Argyle promoted back to League One. Again, he provided the team with 16 assists across all competitions but increased his goal return to an impressive 15. In a particularly good run of form Carey created seven goals in six consecutive games whilst scoring four in the process. Argyle would win each of those games, with the exception of a draw at home to Portsmouth

If Plymouth Argyle fans needed any more reminders that one of Carey’s biggest assets was his ability from set pieces it came away at Mansfield Town that season, where Argyle won 2 – 0. In the space of five minutes, Carey had crossed a free-kick for Sonny Bradley to head home, before scoring one directly himself. It’s a weapon Argyle will surely miss in the season ahead if he isn’t replaced adequately.

Whilst the league campaign and subsequent promotion were of great achievement for both Carey and Argyle, the highlight of the season came at Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup. Having battled past Newport in the second round to record an extra-time replay victory, Argyle headed to Anfield to face Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. In a game that Argyle spent the majority of their time camped outside their 18 yard box, Carey’s most notable contribution was a defensive overhead kick, that covered the back of most national sports pages the next day. Argyle would hold onto a memorable 0 – 0 draw forcing a Home Park replay thanks to a fantastic defensive display that frustrated the five time European champions.

Unfortunately, a giant killing wasn’t to be, as Liverpool beat Argyle 1 – 0 in the replay in front of a sold out Home Park, but the memory of holding one of Europe’s greatest clubs to a solitary goal over 180 minutes will live long in the memory of the Argyle fans that witnessed it.

Despite more rumoured interest for the player, this time from the Championship, Carey signed another deal and remained at Argyle for his third season, which would arguably turn out to be his best for the club. Playing in the higher division of League One, and combined with Ruben Lameiras and Ryan Taylor, Carey would find the net 16 times whilst providing 13 assists. In three seasons, Carey had been directly involved in almost 90 goals – a feat any player, at any level would be proud of.

He linked up brilliantly with Lameiras and Taylor, and their form together saw Argyle almost sneak into the play offs late in the season. During one stretch during the second half of the year, Argyle lost just one in 12 games, with victories over the likes of Blackburn (2nd) Shrewsbury (3rd) and Peterborough (7th). Carey was at the centre of everything Argyle achieved that season and would win his second Player of the Year award having just missed out to defender Sonny Bradley in  the previous season.

The relationship that blossomed between the front three was perhaps best seen in a 4 – 0 home victory over Southend United. In front of 12,000 fans, Lameiras would score first from a Taylor assist. Lameiras would then assist Carey for the second, who would also score the third, before Lameiras would get a goal of his own late on. Argyle were flying, despite missing out on the play offs, and with Carey in contract, the 2018/19 season which would turn out to be Carey’s last for the club was lining up to be another impressive year for both player and club.

Unfortunately the optimism of the previous three seasons was short lived. Whilst Carey would again contribute valiantly with a combined total of 19 goals and assists in all competitions, he struggled to have the same impact on the team as in previous seasons. With Freddie Ladapo replacing Taylor in the front three, Carey saw less of the ball and was able to influence the game to a smaller degree.

Argyle struggled defensively too, conceding almost 100 goals across the entire season and inevitably they ended the season by being relegated back to League Two. Whilst Carey had not hit the heights he previously set, he still had an impressive season by most accounts. Memorable moments would also come at Home Park, such as when he scored a spectacular free-kick to earn a draw against Portsmouth, or when he set up Edwards and Canavan,  both from free-kicks, to earn a 2 – 1  victory over Walsall.

In the end, Carey’s departure from the club came as some surprise when it was announced a week after the arrival of new manager Ryan Lowe. Whilst many expected it was likely to happen with the player, now 30 and out of contract once again, it felt as if no one wanted to believe it were possible. Carey had lit up Home Park for four spectacular seasons and across promotion, play off disappointment and relegation. He had been the club’s talisman.

Carey had spent years running defences ragged in the green of Argyle and was known throughout the Football League as a player that could win a game in an instant with a moment of sheer brilliance. Finishing his Argyle career with 49 goals from midfield and over 50 assists in less than 200 appearances is nothing short of remarkable and a feat very few at Argyle are ever likely to match. With pastures new in Bulgaria awaiting him, Carey leaves Home Park not just as a legend but as one of the very best to have ever played for the club. His record speaks for itself.

However, what really makes Graham Carey special is the way he made Argyle fans feel. Even during disappointing defeats and moments of frustration, Carey had the ability to get fans of all ages on their feet. His stat line was impressive, but the joy he brought thousands every week even more so. He could turn players inside out, spray passes across impossible angles and score goals that you only dreamt of as a kid in the park.

The reason he will be remembered so fondly at Home Park is not just because of the numbers but because he reminded Argyle fans what football could be. He reminded Argyle fans that despite the depression of the administration period before him, that football could be beautiful. Argyle fans needed inspiration, they needed belief and in Graham Carey they found that.

When one day Graham Carey returns to Home Park, whether as a player or a fan, he’ll be welcomed back with open arms as one of our own and rightly so. Once a Green. Always a Green.

Plymouth Argyle Awards: 2018/2019

Despite the disappointing season for Plymouth Argyle, we here at Argyle Life would like to celebrate some of the high points of the 2018/19 campaign by handing out some Argyle Life Awards. We’ve discussed the candidates amongst ourselves, chosen our winners, and now join us as we look back fondly at the best (mostly) of the 2018/2019 season.

Player of the Season – Ruben Lameiras

We revealed our Argyle Life Player of the Season about three and a half weeks ago, and the Portuguese playmaker headed the list. Spearheading the charge up the table following his return to the side, Lameiras contributed to 49% of Argyle’s goals when he was on the pitch 34% overall, with 12 goals, and 9 assists.


Signing of the Season – Freddie Ladapo

There was little doubt in our minds about who the best signing of the summer was. Adam’s seemed to strike out on the majority of players who he brought to the club in the summer of 2018, and it may have contributed to his eventual departure. Freddie Ladapo was a clear exception.

While he struggled against most of the better teams of the division, and his weak hold-up and different style of play play limited Argyle’s attack over the course of the season, his individual performances helped him stand out ahead of any other signings.  With 18 league goals, and some dominating performances, Ladapo has proved to be a valuable pick up for the Pilgrims, and should excel in the fourth tier under Ryan Lowe.


Most Improved Player – Joel Grant

There were limited options to pick from when looking at a player who’d significantly improved from their previous Argyle campaign. The majority of players had either only joined us this season, or had regressed/plateaued compared to the previous season. However, one name did stand out among the rest, and that was Joel Grant.

Joel Grant, while unfortunately limited in his appearances due to a season ending injury sustained at Christmas time, was having a bright start to the season. He showed statistical improvements across the board, due in part to a change in play style, allowing him to drift inside more often. Hopefully should he resign with the club, he will continue this into the 2019/2020 season. For more on Joel Grants improvements, see the link below.

Joel Grant’s Tactical Evolution


Performance of the Season – Gillingham (H)

We’re hoping that we will have more performances to choose from next season. Some notable exclusions include the home fixtures against Rochdale and Fleetwood, however we’re giving performance of the season to the home game against Gillingham. A dominating display from the Pilgrims allowed them to collect maximum points in late October, launching the club into a spell of form and relieving pressure on Derek Adams and his team.

Two first half goals from Freddie Ladapo, including an excellent shot placed into the top-right corner of the goal, had Argyle up and cruising at half time. Freddie then turned creator to play in Lameiras for the third, and though Gillingham did manage to get one back shortly after with a long-range shot following a set-piece, Argyle saw the victory home.


Moment of the Season – Ryan Edwards’ Opening Goal vs Wallsall (A)

Given the result of the season, we think its rather fitting that the Moment of the Season came in the opening game. While Carey’s euphoric goal against Scunthorpe to give us the momentary belief that we were staying up on the final day, and Lameiras’ turnaround against Coventry were spectacular, some things are indeed bigger than football.

Ryan Edwards, who was robbed of a large part of last season due to his cancer diagnosis and treatment, returned to the team to open the campaign and banged in the opening goal to the delight of the travelling support. Following a well-taken Conor Grant free kick, Edwards broke free and buried a controlled volley past the Walsall keeper. With all the negativity surrounding the season, this is a memory we all look back on fondly, and we’re all glad to see that Ryan seems to have recovered well.


Goal of the Season – David Fox vs Wimbledon (A)

Argyle had less trouble scoring goals this season then keeping them out, and found the net with a number of crackers throughout the campaign. Some fantastic efforts included Carey’s free-kick against Portsmouth and, a personal favourite of mine, Lameiras’ incredible solo effort against Oxford. However, David Fox gets the nod from us.

I think Fox himself would probably admit he hasn’t struck many better than this. A clearance was lifted into the air by a Wimbledon player and knocked into the path of Fox by Gary Sawyer. The midfielder raced to the ball and lashed a looping effort to the right of the goal and over the scrambling keeper. A superb effort!

Top Ten: Goals of 2018/19


Assist of the Season – Graham Carey vs Wimbledon (H)

Graham Carey, usually the Pilgrims main source of goals in the last couple of seasons, turned creator this season, racking up 11 league assists; the best of which came for Freddie Ladapo’s winner against Wimbledon back in early October, earning him our Assist of the Season award.

Following a short Lameiras corner, Carey picked the ball up near the edge of play, a little inside the penalty area. He then proceeded to lift the ball effortlessly to the back post, and left it in on a plate for Ladapo to turn in the winner 15 minutes from time. The key behind this decision was just how effortless he made the goal for Ladapo; that is the mark of a perfect assist.


Save of the Season – Matt Macey vs Bristol Rovers (H)

While Matt Macey was the recipient of some criticism throughout the season, he did make some excellent saves. A worthwhile inclusion would be his double save against Scunthorpe’s during our trip to Glanford Park. While you could argue his first save was poor in parrying it straight to a Scunthorpe player, his second was an excellent reflex save to stop the follow-up.

However, we’re going to give Save of the Season to Macey’s effort against Bristol Rovers. An in-swinging cross was left by Songo’o during one of his weekly brain farts and met at the back post by Nicholls, but – instinctively – Macey leapt down low to stop the ball and get it away, only to get back up to his feet to see the follow-up effort sail over his crossbar. A superb piece of goalkeeping.


Celebration of the Season – Ladapo vs Millwall (A)

Ladapo has brought out some good celebrations in the form of dancing throughout the season. And since Carey’s celebrations and the crowd reactions after going 3-2 up on the final day were tainted by the final outcome so we’re going to go for one from Argyle’s leading scorer.

Following a great tackle by Jamie Ness, and a good drive from Ladapo, he wheeled away after coolly sliding the ball past the keeper and proceeded to show off some moves in front of the travelling support.


Miss of the Season – Stuart O’Keefe vs Oxford (A)

Stuart O’Keefe’s most notable contribution in a green shirt was a negative one. While a number of Ladapo misfires and some other candidates were considered, we decided to give the ‘award’ to the on-loan midfielder.

Ashley Smith-Brown, received the ball after an incisive pass and played in Ladapo. The ball was nicked away from him but it fell perfectly for O’Keefe, who only had the keeper to beat. He struck the ball with conviction, and missed by a long way. What’s funnier is that on the video, you can see the ball come down in the car park.


Comedic Moment of the Season – Tafari Moore vs Shrewsbury

Hahahahahahaha. Ahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahaha. Hahaha. [Inhales] haaaaa….

Top Ten: Goals of 2018/19

Plymouth Argyle may have been relegated, but there are a number of goals we can look back on fondly in a season of ultimate disappointment. We’ve taken a look at the top ten.

10 – Freddie Ladapo vs Gillingham (H)

Freddie Ladapo would end up with 19 goals for Argyle in all competitions across 2018/19. One of his best came early on when Gillingham visited Home Park. A decent Argyle move saw Ladapo receive the ball from Graham Carey, but he still had plenty to do. The striker worked the ball onto his right foot, gave himself some room, and curled it excellently into the top corner to give Argyle the lead. A superb, skilful finish.

 

9 – Freddie Ladapo vs Wimbledon (H)

This goal has Ladapo’s name on it, but it was all about Graham Carey. Argyle were locked in a stalemate with their relegation rivals deep into the second half when they won a corner. From there, Lameiras played the ball short to Carey, who swiftly turned and launched a delightful cross to the back post. The supreme technique on the cross meant the ball may have been going in anyway, but it didn’t matter. Ladapo was there to nod the ball home and secure Argyle’s first league win of the season.

 

8 – Graham Carey vs Doncaster (H)

This one was a superb finish. One may question whether Carey would have taken the shot on had there been more riding on it, though we suspect he would (more on that shortly). Regardless, however, nothing can be taken away from the quality of the strike. Deep into stoppage time and already 3-1 down, Carey decided to take matters into his own hands. The Irishman received a pass from Ladapo and slammed the ball past Marko Marosi from what appeared to be an impossible angle. Sadly, it was too late to turn the game around.

7 – Graham Carey vs Scunthorpe (H)

Would Carey have taken that shot on with more riding on it? We believe so. Our evidence? This goal. In a remarkably similar situation, Carey received the ball out wide following a pass, this time from Ruben Lameiras. With seemingly not a lot on, Carey slid in and pulled out another superb finish from the tightest of angles. We’ve ranked this goal higher than his Doncaster effort for its significance – but for a late Southend winner against Sunderland, Carey’s strike would have kept Argyle in League One.

6 – Ruben Lameiras vs Doncaster (H)

The second goal from this game to feature, Ruben Lameiras’ equaliser against Doncaster was his first goal of the season. He would of course go on to score many vital goals across the campaign. Here, he picked the ball up out wide with relatively little going on ahead of him. However, following a smart one-two with Ashley Smith-Brown, Lameiras caressed the ball first time into the top corner. Lameiras scored many similar looking goals across the campaign, but this was probably the pick of those.

 

5 – Freddie Ladapo vs Burton (H)

Ladapo’s opening goal against Burton perfectly demonstrated exactly what the striker is good at. After receiving a pass from Carey, Ladapo had the ball out wide, and had plenty to do. He troubled the visitors’ defence, quite simply, by running at them. After beating one man, Ladapo launched a delicious shot into the far corner of the net. He would score again later in the encounter, but poor set piece defending would see Argyle go down 3-2.

 

4 – Joel Grant vs Luton (A)

This goal often gets forgotten. It’s not hard to see why – Argyle were 5-0 down at the time, and members of the Green Army would be forgiven for wanting to wipe the entire game from memory. However, the goal in its own right was excellent. After picking the ball up from Ruben Lameiras, Joel Grant cut inside from the left and slammed it into the top corner from 25 yards. James Shea was left motionless. It was scant consolation for what had gone on beforehand, but it was nice.

3 – Ruben Lameiras vs Oxford (H)

Argyle started 2019 with a bang with a comprehensive win over Oxford. They were already two goals clear when Ruben Lameiras put the game beyond doubt with a superb solo effort. Picking the ball up on halfway, Lameiras ran at the Oxford defence and beat three men before steering a shot into the far corner. It was part of a superb run of goalscoring form for Lameiras which nearly kept Argyle alive.

2 – Graham Carey vs Portsmouth (H)

Going into February, Graham Carey had only scored two goals from direct free kicks in his Argyle career. Descriptions of him being a dead ball specialist, therefore, felt unusual. However, against dockyard rivals Portsmouth, Carey showed exactly what he has in his locker from such situations. Lining up around 25 yards from goal, Carey whipped the ball over the wall and out of the reach of Craig MacGillivray in the Portsmouth goal. It really was superbly done.

 

1 – David Fox vs Wimbledon (A)

We expect this will come as a surprise to very few people. As we’ve seen, Argyle scored a few stunners across the season, but none came close to David Fox’s effort on Boxing Day. Receiving the ball in the middle of the park from Gary Sawyer (this would be his only assist of the season), Fox punted the ball towards goal from all of 40 yards. It was so sweetly struck, it flew argover Tom King directly into the back of the net. A clear goal of the season winner, and it’s such a shame this goal is not why we remember this game.

2018/19 Review – Analysis: Shooting ourselves in the foot

While the first part of this trio of analysis articles focused on Plymouth Argyle’s botched midfield, and the latter will address the mentality behind committing so many defensive errors across a single season, this second part will focus on one of the most neglected factors behind Argyle’s relegation.

All season long, most have looked at Argyle’s attack: they’ve looked at Freddie Ladapo scoring and assisting 22 league goals, Ruben Lameiras 20 and Graham Carey 17. Antoni Sarcevic and Joel Grant chipped in for a combined 12 extra. Fans have looked at the goals for column in the table – which reads 54, the 12th highest in the league.

Conventional wisdom seems to dictate that the attack was not to blame for relegation. That they should be absolved, and not mentioned in the conversation. Even among Argyle Life writers, there has been fierce debate about the role of Ladapo up front and how much blame you can ascribe to the attacking unit.

Yet, to take such a line is wrong on two accounts: first, the attack certainly did have a role to play in the team’s failure to remain in the division as they contributed fewer goals than they should have; second, to take such a line is to act as though this side should not have had ambitions above staying in League One. This team could have done much more, and had quality far exceeding almost all of the bottom-half of the table.

Under-performing attack

Argyle fans may well point to their attack as doing a good job, yet Argyle scored two fewer league goals this season than last. That was in spite of the fact that Argyle played without a specialist, senior striker for a third of their league games last season, while Carey and Lameiras played a combined total of 805 minutes (or nine full matches) fewer.

For all the talk of the goal-scoring potential of a front three of Ladapo, Carey and Lameiras, in the games in which they started together they average 1.29 goals-per-game, compared to 1.94 with the Taylor-Carey-Lameiras attack last season.

Indeed, the best way to understand how Argyle’s attack failed this season is to compare it to the team of last season, the core of which remained and was available to Derek Adams throughout the season, yet was not afforded a single minute together.

From December 2017 to early April 2018, Argyle underwent a complete revival, climbing from the bottom of the table to the play-off places. This mini-season, which consisted of a period of roughly 16 to 20 matches, was not a run of form. It was brought about by a series of tactical improvements and only ended when the team was taken apart because of injuries.

You can debate when the mini-season started: Was it with the return of Taylor against Gillingham? The introduction of Lameiras against Oldham, with he and Carey playing as narrower, inside forwards instead of outright wingers? Fox returning to the deepest midfield position, Songo’o being dropped and Sarcevic being reintroduced against Walsall?

My interpretation of this mini-season stretches from the mid-point of the tactical chances (Oldham at home) to the victory against Peterborough. Argyle carried the core of that team – Fox, Sarcevic, Ness, Carey, Lameiras and Taylor – plus Sawyer, Edwards and even Threlkeld (from January) into 2018/19, but never sincerely attempted to reform it.

Instead, Adams removed the selfless Taylor for the goal-getting Ladapo and completely restructured his midfield. As a result, Argyle consistently struggled to break down teams and create chances. This season, the team failed to score in a third of matches. They also failed to score in a third of matches in which Ladapo, Carey and Lameiras all started. Furthermore, the team failed to score more than one goal in just under two thirds of all their matches last season, picking up just 14 points in those thirty games.

Distribution of goals per game 2018/19 Distribution of goals per game 2017/18 (mini-season)
16 – 0 goals
14 – 1 goal
9 – 2 goals
5 – 3 goals
1 – 4 goals
1 – 5 goals
1- 0 goals
7- 1 goal
5- 2 goals
1 – 3 goals
3- 4 goals

Plymouth Argyle may have had the potential to threaten teams in attack, but it rarely manifested. Instead, they developed a habit of scoring lots of goals in a occasional games, rather than consistently finding the back of the net across the season.

Argyle scored three against Gillingham, Bradford, Oxford, Southend and Scunthorpe, four against Scunthorpe (away) and five against Rochdale. Those combined 24 goals across seven games accounted for nearly half of the total goals scored this season. All of those sides were also involved in the relegation scrap in the final weeks of the season. Hardly the best attack in the league.

In truth, the attack was more dysfunctional than anything, and that is why it failed to score so regularly. Argyle’s goal return this season was not only diminished, but it also delivered fewer points because they were concentrated into a small number of high-scoring games.

Focusing on Ladapo

But that is just the big picture. Digging into the detail of why the team’s goal return was inferior to last season and why the team failed to score in a third of matches reveals how a change of style and emphasis in attack negatively impacted Carey, Lameiras and the entire midfield.

One one the biggest reasons behind this was Freddie Ladapo. It is important to note, this is not to say that Ladapo is a bad player; rather, his different abilities and approach compared to Ryan Taylor solicited a change in the way the entire team used the ball in attack.

As was identified all the way back in November, the reason that Ladapo scores goals at almost twice the rate of Taylor is that he takes shots more than twice as frequently. For all the talk of him being a better finisher, Taylor (18.2%) actually converted his shots at a significantly higher rate last season than Ladapo did this (14.4%).

Unlike his counterpart, Taylor is a player who can enable his teammates to build passages of attacking play. His style is focused around finding the likes of Carey and Lameiras in advanced attacking positions. Because of this, he records passes at a rate 50% higher than Ladapo, high risk passes at twice the rate and wins areal duels at three times the rate.

2018/19 Passes per-90 High-risk passes per-90 Aerial duels won Aerial duel (%)
Taylor 17.6 0.47 21.1 53.2%
Ladapo 12.0 0.21 7.49 29.9%

Meanwhile, Ladapo is the opposite. Instead of helping bring others into the game, he is focused on being the end point of attacks:

  • He took more shots from inside the box than any other player (101), as many as Carey and Lameiras combined (102).
  • He took more shots from inside the danger zone (65, inside the 18-yard box, within the width of the six-yard area) than any other player, and far more than Carey, Lameiras and Joel Grant combined (45).
  • He took more shots from inside the six-yard box than any other player (15), while Carey and Lameiras took none.
  • He was presented with more 1-v-1 or open goal opportunities (27) than Carey, Lameiras, Grant and Sarcevic combined (22).

The closer you get to goal, the more you see Ladapo eclipse Carey and Lameiras – Argyle’s two best players – in terms of chances; a total role reversal of 2017/18. Whereas big chances were evenly spread around the team during that mini-season…

PlayerBig chances
Carey9
Lameiras4
Sarcevic3
Taylor3
Ness2
Grant2
Diagouraga2
Other5

… they were hogged by Ladapo in the league this time around, with the rate at which Argyle created big chances dropping from 1.52 per-90 minutes to 0.90 this season. When you build your team around one goalscorer, instead of two creators, you’ll find that the team creates and scores less overall.

PlayerBig chances
Ladapo24
Carey5
J. Grant3
Sarcevic3
Lameiras2
Taylor1
O'Keefe1
Other5

From the 10th game of the season – the draw with Barnsley and coincidentally the first game of the season in which Ladapo started in a front three with Carey and Lameiras – the style started to take its form. The roles of Carey, Lameiras and the rest of the team were to primarily feed the best chances to one player.

MatchdayCareyLameirasLadapo
1000
2100
3100
4100
5100
6101
7101
8101
9101
10101
11103
12105
13105
14107
15108
16108
17108
18108
19109
201010
211012
221012
232112
242112
252112
262212
272215
282215
292215
302215
312215
322215
332215
342216
352216
362216
373218
383218
393219
404220
415221
425221
435222
445222
455222
465224

If you were to take out Carey’s three penalties, then he – like Lameiras – would have only received two big chances in the league all season long. Despite registering shockingly few minutes on the pitch with Taylor, half of these open play big-chances that the duo received were created when he was playing instead of Ladapo.

Marginalising Carey and Lameiras

This team was unbalanced. Chances went disproportionately towards Ladapo ahead of the entire team. That in itself isn’t a problem if it is the best way to set you team up. For example, if you have Reuben Reid supported by Lewis Alessandra and Jason Banton, of course you would want to focus as much of the play around Reid. That’s the best way to set your team up to secure results.

However, Adams didn’t have Alessandra and Banton. He had Carey and Lameiras, backed up by an able – and improving – Joel Grant. Last season, Argyle were so successful in attack because the team revolved around them. Adams was able to get them in possession by playing the ball out from the back via Fox, or direct via Taylor. Sarcevic and Ness provided willing runners to help them build up play.

The result of playing to his creators rather then his striker was that the chances were evenly spread around the team. It meant that the majority of the chances went to attacking midfielders – Carey and Lameiras playing off each other, or Grant – followed by the central midfielders who made late runs into the box.

Position2017/182018/19
Striker0.150.5
Attacking midfielder0.760.2
Central midfielder0.460.08

Instead, the striker went from a man whose responsibility was to occupy defenders and create the space for his teammates to the individual who was there to receive the majority of the chances and score the goals. That had drastic ramifications for the two creators behind him.

Both Carey and Lameiras went on to take fewer shots per-90 minutes inside the six-yard box (none all season, in fact) and danger zone, while taking more from outside the box, compared to the mini-season.

PositionCarey 2018Carey 2019Lameias 2018Lameiras 2019
6-yard area0.0500.060
Danger zone0.520.310.540.48
Outside the box1.461.520.421.61

Indeed, the drop in the quality of chances Carey and Lameiras received this season was stark. Incredibly stark.

PositionCarey 2018Carey 2019Lameias 2018Lameiras 2019
Big chances0.470.10.240.08
1-v-1 shots0.570.080.30.11
Goals0.470.120.360.31
Chances created1.040.760.950.74
Big chances created0.260.040.480.17
Assists0.420.270.360.25

Both Carey and Lameiras went from taking more than 20% of their shots from one-on-one positions – fully one fifth of their shots – to less than five percent. The main reason that Ruben Lameiras was the run-away player of the year was his ability to score so many goals from such disadvantageous positions. He scored well in excess of the total he should have, unlike Ladapo who missed too many big chances.

This can be represented visually by considering their touchmaps. This one, comparing the duo in the first half of last season’s 4-2 win against Wimbledon (white) to the same half in this season’s 1-0 victory demonstrates what happened. As you can see, their touches are concentrated further from goal and in deeper wider positions.

Without Fox pulling the strings from his central, deepest midfielder position – read about the impact of 4-2-3-1 for more on that – and with Taylor replaced with Ladapo, the role of Carey and Lameiras changed. The saw less of the ball in less dangerous areas, and had to work harder to create chances and score goals.

That’s why they had fewer big chances this season. That’s why they had fewer one-on-one opportunities. It’s why they created fewer chances and fewer big chances. Ultimately, it is why they scored and assisted at a much lower rate. Whereas last season the duo was involved in 1.61 goals per-90, this season it was 0.95. Scale it up, and you will find that is where Argyle lost their goals this season.

What a massive waste

After a season that was ruined by injury to Ryan Taylor, Derek Adams should have been licking his lips this time around. He successfully brought in not only a back-up to Taylor, but a player who could compliment him perfectly.

While Taylor’s measured approach was vital against mid-table and top teams, he now had a foil who could run riot against the lower quality sides and act as a more than adequate back-up during times of injury. His squad now had a key hole filled.

And yet, he got it all wrong. Sold by the attraction of a high-scoring attacker, he sacrificed the rest of his team to put Freddie Ladapo front and centre. And it didn’t work.

Adams had Carey at his peak and a Ruben Lameiras visibly improved on last season, in his defending, shooting and decision making. Only the very best sides in the division could rival their combined creativity and goal-scoring. Most Argyle fans really have failed to comprehend just how good Argyle’s team could have been this season.

Yet, Adams fluffed his lines. His formation was wrong and his continued insistence on trying to play to Ladapo while neglecting his star assets meant that his team scored considerably fewer goals than they should have. This was principally because Carey and Lameiras were simply unable to create chances at the same rate as last season, in particular high quality chances. That was why the rate of big chances for the entire team decreased so significantly this season.

In the end, Argyle nearly survived through a couple of spells of clinical finishing. As in any season, teams go through period in which their half-chances find the back of the net. Think October and January, months in which Argyle picked up more than half their wins and just under half their points. Otherwise, the team just did not create enough – and therefore score enough – to keep themselves up or challenge in any way for promotion,

Now, with at least one of Carey and Lameiras likely to leave, we will never be treated to watching those two gems of footballers play together in such a brilliant way as they did last season. No matter what you think in regards to Ladapo starting over Taylor, I think we can all agree that is a massive disappointment.

2018/19 Review – Analysis: The failure of 4-2-3-1

There were many reasons for Argyle’s failure last season, and many explanations put forward by all the commentators on the club over the past six- to twelve-months. Of those suggested, one of the most commonly cited is the chronic tactical failings caused by the man in charge: Derek Adams.

To some extend, this has now been overstated. Following his sacking, he became an even more obvious fall guy among many fans. However, if his role has been over-exaggerated, it is not by much. Despite having a stronger squad than last season, and arguably a top ten first-team when fully fit, he abjectly failed to translate that into results.

One of the main causes behind this was his decision to opt for the formation he has preferred over any other throughout his career: 4-2-3-1. If you want to write a the most basic analysis of what went wrong this season, this formation is a very good place to start.

A lower mid-table tactic

Argyle’s 4-2-3-1 was a mid-table formation. Projected across a full season, it would average between 1.2 and 1.3 points-per-game for a total of around 55-60 points. However, mostly because of Adams’ shocking tactical decisions in the first two months of the campaign, Argyle effectively started the season in October, with at least a five-point handicap, dragging that projected total down anywhere between 48-55. In the end, we finished on 50.

After he switched formation, it became quite obvious that the team would struggle to reach the point of safety if Adams persisted with that style for the rest of the season, as predicted back in December. Even after the brief surge in from that occurred in January, it was still very likely that the team was going to slip right back into the dogfight if Adams opted to retain the same formation. And so it transpired.

From the moment 4-2-3-1 was first used against Burton in October, Adams only deviated from it 11 times, never for more than three games in a row, using it for 22 league games and 26 in all competitions. Throughout that time, it raked in a total of 31 points, 1.41 per game.

Yes, that average is significantly above the rate predicted above, but that is because Adams started to avoid using the formation against the division’s best teams once he spotted some of it’s blatant tactical flaws. For matches against top-seven sides Peterborough, Sunderland, Luton and Charlton, Adams changed the formation. Had he instead used formation (and very likely lost), that average would be 1.19, back to the predicted rate.

Indeed, the formation was only successful against the League’s weakest teams: Gillingham, Scunthorpe, League Two Stevenage in the FA Cup, Rochdale, Oxford, Southend and Shrewsbury make up nine of the ten victories recorded with this formation.

All of those sides in Argyle’s division were firmly in the relegation battle come the final weeks of the season. The only respectable side Argyle defeated was Coventry, and even they conspired to miss three one-on-ones before conceding two sloppy goals to throw away victory.

You will also find that eight of those ten victories came at Home Park, but only two away. Let’s not forget, one of those away victories – Rochdale – featured a hilarious own-goal to hand Argyle a late win. Essentially, this formation was only effective against weak teams at home. That was always going to be a problem, especially after the awful start Argyle had.

The impact on Fox

4-2-3-1 was not a failure because it is an inferior formation. Adams used it to win promotion in 2017. Countless teams have used it to win leagues or cups. No. It was a failure because it did not suit the players and talent at Derek Adams’ disposal. A prime example is the impact it had on David Fox.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Fox is defensively weak. He’s aging, slow to accelerate with a low top-speed and weak in the air. As well as that, he is hardly a vocal leader on the pitch during defensive phases and doesn’t read the game as well when his team is without the ball. That’s not to add that his tackling is hardly his strong suit; Tommy Rowe, Andy Cook and Jonson Clarke-Harris, to name just three, all exploited this.

Therefore, one of the main benefits of the 4-3-2-1 formation used last season was the additional protection it granted him in the form of two central midfielders creating a defensive wall. Transitioning to 4-2-3-1 meant that Fox became part of that wall. He was no longer protected; he was the one doing the protecting.

So, whereas last season Fox recorded only 1.76 dispossessions per/90 in the 4-3-2-1 formation, with Sarcevic (6.88), Diagouraga (3.51) and Ness (3.19) doing the heavy lifting ahead of him, Fox’s defensive involvement has risen by 52.8% this season to 2.61. This increase was not driven by an improvement in his defensive qualities, but by Adams placing him in a position that required him to contribute more defensive work.

Were he a more competent defensive player he would have likely recorded dispossessions at an even higher rate, but since he was not he was also dribbled past 1.4 times for every tackle he made. Include this increase in the number of times he was dribbled past, and the increase in his defensive work is even more pronounced. If you’re looking for answers for why Argyle’s defence looked so much worse this season, then you should really start with the protection in front of them, or lack thereof.

And yet, that wasn’t the worst, impact on Fox: his passing influence was also reduced by the formation. Rather than operating as the deepest midfielder, with options all around him to receive the ball, he was starting slightly further up-field, making it harder for him to receive the ball from the defence. Meanwhile, he was also offset to the left or the right, preventing him from drifting to receive and pass the ball to either wing.

He influence over half of the pitch was marginalised while he saw his time in possession cut. The impact of this was to reduce the rate at which he completed passes from 42.9 per-90 to 35.2 compared to last season, with his passing accuracy also dropping from 78.2% to 72.5%.

Ultimately, opting to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation had a double negative impact on Fox: it exposed him – and therefore those around him – defensively; meanwhile, it also reduced his influence in possession, restricting Argyle’s control of possession.

Partners in crime

Fox wasn’t the only one impacted. Defensively, Argyle’s midfield was a shadow of its former 2017/18 self. Sarcevic’s rate of dispossessions dropped from 6.88 in a 4-3-2-1 last season to 4.61 in a 4-2-3-1 this season. Likewise, Songo’o’s dropped from 4.98 to 2.66. So, while Fox’s was called on to do extra defensive work, his teammates saw their impact in this area decrease too.

This was part of the trend of 2018/19. Last season, Adams shrewdly found a formation that accentuated the strengths of all of its components. In many ways, this season Adams scrapped that and elected to do the opposite.

The you have the attacking output of the midfield. Using the 4-3-2-1 formation last season, Argyle’s midfield contributed 14 goals and assists in 18 matches; this season, using 4-2-3-1, the team contributed 12 in 25, with Sarcevic accounting for nine of those. A significant decrease.

It’s actually quite easy to conceive why the system failed just by comparing midfield touchmaps. The following come from the first halves of recent matches against Charlton and Barnsley. In the former, Adams deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation, with Sarcevic (red) and Ness (yellow) protecting Fox (purple), while in the latter it was 4-2-3-1, with a double-pivot of Songo’o (orange) alongside Fox and Sarcevic in attacking midfield.

In the first example (attacking from right to left) you can see a clear structure to the midfield: Sarcevic and Ness right and left, while Fox drifts from left to right, front to back, to pick up and distribute the ball. Fox is consistently the deepest midfielder and benefits from the space generated by the two players ahead of him as well as their defensive protection.

Because of the formation (Charlton used a diamond and man marked Fox), he saw less of the ball, but was nevertheless insulated from attacks and still found space to get in possession and help put Charlton on the back-foot. Sarcevic and Ness both pushed forward to aid the team in attack.

Contrast this with the loss to Barnsley. Here, there was no structure. Were you not aware of which colour represented which player, could you successfully identify them? If you did not already know, could you honestly tell who was playing in which position?

There was no structure to how Fox and Songo’o played, it was like a free-for-all. This was reflected in their play in both attacking and defensive phases. Whereas Sarcevic and Ness recorded 25 touches in the final third (and ten inside the box) against Charlton, Sarcevic amasses no more touches against Barnsley – and just one in the box – despite playing in a more advanced position, while Fox and Songo’o made only one each.

This can be explained – in fact, I did so all the way back in October. From a central-midfield position (the first touchmap), Sarcevic was able to take advantage of his superb off the ball work, pressing opponents to win it back and making excellent runs into space to take advantage of the skill of Carey and Lameiras.

However, from an attacking-midfield position, Sarcevic spends more time running backwards. Instead of having forward passes to run on to, he more often receiving it to his feet and then has to carry it backwards. As noted, despite his more advanced position he had a more limited attacking impact against Barnsley.

So, the impact on Argyle’s midfield is clear. Using 4-2-3-1, Fox received less possession, despite his passing being his single greatest attribute, and was expected to do more defending. Sarcevic was pushed into a more advanced position without scoring or assisting at a significantly higher rate. Both he and Songo’o made fewer defensive interventions, offering less protection to their defence and increasing the burden on Fox. The midfield as a whole was involved in goals at a significantly lower rate and is less defensively secure.

Overall, this small tactical switch totally unbalanced what was last season a highly complimentary trio that was the beating heart of some of Argyle’s best performances.

Blunted attack

Then we come to the attack. Lots of people point to Argyle’s strong goal-scoring record this season to absolve them of blame, and indeed Carey, Lameiras and Ladapo were involved in a combined 49 goals throughout this season.

And yet, Argyle failed to score in just under a third of the games they started this formation in. For a team with such a good attack, and one which was rarely used against the League’s top sides, that’s a lot of games to not score in.

A big factor behind this was the formation, for three major reasons. First, the lack of midfield control repeatedly suffocated Carey and Lameiras of possession. Second, Sarcevic’s more advanced position meant that he frequently occupied their space in the final third without contributing much to chance creation. Third, the formation’s structure forced them to play wider and as individuals rather than a duo.

All three of these reasons can also be demonstrated in their touchmaps from the same Charlton and Barnsley matches referenced earlier. Against Charlton, using the 4-3-2-1 formation, they played as fluid inside forwards, like last season. Looking at their touchmap, you couldn’t tell whether Carey (black) or Lameiras (white) was playing predominantly from the left or the right.

Both used deeper or wider positions to receive the ball and interplayed with one another to create openings in central and advanced positions. With the aid of midfield that was bettering their opponents, they saw a lot of the ball and used it to create openings, most notably Argyle’s first-half penalty.

Contrast that with Barnsley. With this touchmap, it’s more than clear that Lameiras is starting from the left flank and Carey from the right. Both started from those positions against Charlton, not that you would have known it. As well as being more static and sticking to their flank, they also take fewer touches in central areas, in part because Sarcevic was occupying that space.

Most importantly, they take fewer touches and those touches are concentrated in deeper, wider positions, and this was mostly because of the midfield. With less control of the ball, they consistently have to take up these positions to receive it, often under more defensive pressure and fewer forward passing options available.

This was something that Adams and Argyle failed to seriously grasp throughout the season. Argyle’s attack was less fluid and vibrant due to this style. It came in patches rather than spells, and mostly relied on conversion of half-chances and long range shots. Consider 1-1 draw with Portsmouth.

Argyle created nothing that day, but scored from a 25-yard free-kick. The second best effort was a half-chance, taken first time by Ruben Lameiras from the corner of the box, that was deflected wide of the post.

Games like these summed Argyle up in an attacking sense. Less a unit, more a collection of individuals occasionally producing moments of quality to change matches. We saw the same against Coventry, Southend, Scunthorpe, Peterborough, Rochdale. The list just goes on and on.

Adams had five attackers of quality that brought different skills to the team: Carey, Lameiras, Ladapo, Ryan Taylor and Joel Grant. At no stage in the season did he mould them into a sum greater than their individual parts. Instead, he just repeatedly lined up Ladapo, Carey and Lameiras or Grant together and expected them to come up with something.

He was fortunate to have two players of such quality in Carey and Lamerias, plus Ladapo, that their individual firepower almost kept the team up. But, ultimately, his team scored fewer than they would have if used correctly. They could have achieved so much more.

A wasted season

This was an incredibly weak league. Anyone commenting or speculating that Argyle had a squad worthy of relegation clearly had little knowledge of squad strength throughout League One. Part of the reason we saw a relegation free-for-all was that the lack quality was on such par that everyone could beat everyone.

This was not a case of Argyle not being good enough to stay up. This was a case of chronic mismanagement. The Argyle of last season (from December until April, when injuries hit) would have steamrollered this division. This season, Argyle retained a team good enough to challenge for the play-offs at the very least. That squad was rarely used properly.

Instead, Adams fostered a habit of putting four very attacking players in offensive positions and expecting them to do something of their own accord. He sacrificed both attack and defence to deploy an inferior formation unsuccessfully. That was one of his biggest failings.

That he was blessed with the individual quality of Carey, Lameiras and Ladapo very nearly saved him. Yet, that was all it was. Argyle relied on moments of brilliance and fortune, rather than team cohesion to achieve success.