Ratings: Torquay 0 Plymouth Argyle 3

Plymouth Argyle completed their pre season preparations ahead of their League One opener away to Rotherham United next weekend, with a comfortable 3-0 win over Devon rivals Torquay United.

Goals from Niall Ennis and Panutche Camara just before half time were complimented by a Ryan Hardie strike as the game reached the latter stages. These goals were enough to see off the National League outfit, in a very professional performance from the greens.

So, how did the players fare and what can it tell us about how Argyle may look to lineup in Yorkshire next Saturday?

Callum Burton, GK – 5

Burton was able to get some much needed minutes under his belt, starting ahead of number one Michael Cooper this time out.

After completing a move from newly promoted Cambridge United earlier in the window, Burton was able to register appearances against local sides Plymouth Parkway and Saltash United and League Two side Bristol Rovers, before injury seemed to keep him out of the next three games at Home Park against Championship opposition.

In truth, Burton’s performance was adequate. He did not have a lot to do, as Argyle managed to control most of the game in his time on the pitch.

The few times his handling was tested he coped with it well, but ultimately it was all routine work for Burton. That would indicate an average score of 6 – largely untested but no outstanding mistakes.

Where Burton does get marked down for though is his distribution which for most of the afternoon apart from a few short passes seemed rushed and inaccurate, even under minimal pressure.

Now, whilst that judgement could be viewed as harsh, I feel that Lowe’s preferred style requires his defence and goalkeeper to start attacks by attempting to play through the press.

If Burton wants to seriously challenge Michael Cooper at points this season, the technical side of his game may need to be more refined.

Ollie Tomlinson, RCB – 6

No complaints can be made about the performance of Tomlinson this afternoon, he fitted in well to the defensive unit and did well to snuff out any danger.

He may have been forgiven for some shows of inexperience, particularly against more experienced physical players, with a direct style but he stood up to the challenge with relative ease.

Dan Scarr, CB – 6

Much like Tomlinson, Scarr dealt with what he was asked to and continued to showcase his ability as shown over pre season. He iis strong in the air and makes the right decisions defensively. This might seem like something you expect a defender to do. But, after conceding so many needless goals through lack of experience and positional awareness in the back line last season, the performances of Scarr since his arrival at Argyle seem like a breath of fresh air.

Macaulay Gillesphey, CB – 8

The most impressive of the defenders, this was an excellent performance from Gillesphey, who was good in the air despite being the shortest of the back three and displayed real intent and accuracy with the ball at his feet. He was continually finding pockets of space for his midfielders to receive on the turn. If pre season is anything to go by, Gillesphey’s progressive passing looks like it could be a real asset to Argyle this season.

Adam Randell, DM – 9 MOTM

Randell continues to excel in every game I see him play, growing in confidence every time. On his return to the club where he became a fans favourite last season, Randell was calm, composed and positive on the ball, offering himself constantly and even pulling out the odd piece of skill to get away from his marker.

That might be a part of his game that we come to expect over the next 9 months, but you would be forgiven for thinking that his defensive ability might come in to question at times this season as a result of inexperience and the open system that Argyle play.

Now, whilst it still might, today Randell and fellow midfielder Panutche Camara did an excellent job at shutting down any potential attacks with good high pressing and snappy tackles.

Based on pre season, I really think Randell could push fellow midfielder Jordan Houghton all the way for that single pivot role. All being well, looks to have a really exciting season ahead of him.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

It was a. typically solid performance from Edwards. The skipper was fine defensively and some really good thrusting runs going forward. The captain once again looks like he could play an important part in any success Argyle do have this season. Overall, a pretty quiet performance from Edwards on Saturday Afternoon though where he didn’t quite impose himself on the game.

Panutche Camara, CM – 8

A strong performance from Camara in this one. At his best, there don’t seem many players around this level that can stop him. He combined the aforementioned tenacious pressing and tackling in tandem with Adam Randell, with strong running to break away from the Torquay midfield, and, whilst unremarkable, his passing seemed to pick out the right options.

He also did well to get in the box to finish after a shot from Luke Jephcott was pushed out by Torquay keeper Halstead for Argyle’s second just before halftime.

If Camara can manage to combine his best attributes more consistently as shown today, this season he could prove to be a real force in the midfield this season.

Ryan Broom, CM – 8

An exciting first appearance from Broom after he was confirmed to have joined on a season long loan from Peterborough on Tuesday.

Broom seemed to gel pretty well with his new teammates and seemed hungry to make an impression on his new boss, with runs forward and some good switches of play in particular. Furthermore, he was unlucky not to put Argyle in front midway through the first half with a shot that whistled over the bar.

Capable of playing in either a CM or RWB role, I am looking forward to seeing more of what Broom can offer in the coming weeks.

It is also worth noting that strong performances from Broom could provide some stiff competition for fellow attacking midfielder Danny Mayor, which seems to be something that Mayor has often lacked since his arrival at the club.

Ryan Law, LWB – 5

Law has had some bright cameos, particularly going forward in this pre season but today he was sloppy, particularly in the early stages when he gave the ball away in quick succession in the defensive third.

He did make some good runs forward, but his end product was often lacking and he failed to make much of an impact on the game.

Luke Jephcott , ST – 5

This seems to be a reoccurring theme when talking about the performances of Jephcott over recent months. He was again largely ineffective (although his shot did lead to the second goal) and failed to really cause any threat to the Torquay defence.  After a first full season in professional football ended in 18 goals last year ended with 20 games without scoring, Jephcott seems currently devoid of any confidence, understandable given his current run of form and just one open play goal in pre season – against Plymouth Parkway.

It would be wrong not to be slightly concerned about Jephcott’s form, but I do feel he is currently trying to make up for his lack of goals by getting involved in other areas of the game, which negates his one trait which separates him from others at the club – first time finishes in the box.

If he can get back to remembering what he is best at, I feel that we could very quickly forget about this period of form.

Niall Ennis, ST – 8

Another bright performance from Ennis who was willing to hold the ball up and also is able to run at the defence, causing confusion.

This was demonstrated with the opening goal on forty two minutes, when he was able to pick the ball up and run across the Torquay defence before unleashing a terrific shot into the bottom left corner.

Along with fellow striker Ryan Hardie, Ennis has had a really good pre season, whilst, like Hardie often lacking the finish to go with his overall performance. If he can begin to take more of the chances that come his way I don’t see why Ennis can’t at least reach the ten goal mark this season.

Substitutes

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

Came on with half an hour to go for Callum Burton, and was required to make some more saves as the game drew to a close, as legs tired and substitutions disrupted the flow of the game.

Every shot that Cooper faced he held onto well, but he did for the second time in a week miss a punch from a cross, last week it resulted in a penalty and this week a bit of a goalmouth scramble. Not too much of a concern but it will be something that Cooper will need to tighten up on going into the season.

James Wilson, CB n\a

Came on for the last 20 minutes in and played in the middle of defence, nothing much of note to say but no dramas and helped the young duo of Brandon Pursall and Ethan Mitchell settle in for the last ten minutes.

Brandon Pursall, CB n\a

As stated above Pursall came on alongside fellow academy product Ethan Mitchell for the last ten minutes, nothing much to note.

Ethan Mitchell, CB n/a

Same as above.

Jordan Houghton, DM – 6

Houghton came on with just under 25 minutes to go, some good passes and some sloppy ones, no dramas but no stand out moments either.

Now maybe i’m forgetting some moments, given the excellence of starting DM Adam Randell, but whilst many people would’ve expected Houghton to start the season when he came in, due to Randall’s performances over pre season I think it is far from a certainty that Houghton starts on Saturday.

Brendan Galloway, LWB – 6

Came on at the same time as Houghton, Galloway has played in both the left sided centre back role and wing back role this pre season and has defended adequately in both.

Same today – good in defence, didn’t offer too much going forward.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Danny mayor was his usual just above average when he came on, when he squared them up torquay’s defenders could barely touch him and had two shots, one that bent over the bar and another coming when he went past most of the team on a brilliant solo run and carried it into the box, before taking the shot a bit too late to allow the goalkeeper to make the save.

Now whilst that might sound like all positives, which they are for most players, we know Mayor can do that but it is almost always the end product which lets him down.

Finley Craske, RWB – n\a

I’m not going to give Craske a rating just because he spent under 15 minutes on the pitch. But I was pleased with what I saw, he was direct in his running and this meant he got down the byline a couple of times, including for the third goal in which he was the assister.  Craske did really well to get down the right before fizzing a low cross into Ryan Hardie, before the striker took a touch, turned and finished into the bottom corner.  Promising cameo.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Came on at 57 minutes, and made an impact. These are the kind of games that best suit Hardie, when legs are tiring and he is able to get at the defence and run in behind them. Got his goal as mentioned above which was well taken – Could’ve had one more wen through at the end but took to many touches and the chance was snuffed out.

Like Ennis, overall Hardie has had a positive pre season often without a goal to show for it, but if any of the three senior strikers could start taking chances more consistently, it could see Argyle fly up the table.

For me, performances over pre season put Hardie and Ennis in prime position to start against Rotherham.

Rhys Shirley, ST n\a

Shirley was a bright spark when coming on, despite only being on for the last ten minutes, Shirley provided some excitement, with nice turns away from his marker and eagerness to get shots off.

I still think being so young and with work to do on the physical side of the game, a loan would benefit Shirley this season. That said, if pre season is anything to go on on there are definitely reasons to be hopeful about the striker.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Bristol City 1

Bristol City edged out Plymouth Argyle in another well contested pre-season friendly against strong opposition.

For the third consecutive game, Argyle lost by a single goal to near-full strengh Championship opposition, which is a promising sign, though a win against Torquay feels required after the Pilgrims have thus far squandered opportunities to get the right results that their performances have deserved against professional opponents.

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

Difficult performance to grade for Cooper. Passing was as composed and accurate as you could expect. Gave away the penalty, showing his inexperience to plough through the back of O’Dowda but not claim the ball, only to then save Chris Martin’s poor effort, the first penalty he’s saved in nine attempts. Had few other shots to save and had no chance with the only goal of the game. Not that City didn’t have chances, just that Palmer, Martin and Weiman wasted some great openings.

Cooper wasn’t totally error prone himself last season, and will need to iron out those silly mistakes to avoid costing Argyle needless goals in the season ahead.

James Wilson, CB – 7

Read the game very well at times, closing passing lanes and blocking off space. Strong in the air alongside his fellow centre-backs, a welcome sight after the last season.

Most impressive was how he fared up against O’Dowda, a fast, dangerous winger. Yet, he more than held his own, impressively using his experience to ease him out on occasion when you’d expect the difference in speed to tell. However, he switched off when he fouled O’Dowda but the referee somehow waved play on while both players involved waited for the whistle, allowing the winger to get up and set up a huge chance for Ciry to kill the game off. In Wilson’s defence, he did receive a stray elbow as O’Dowda went down that gave him a nose bleed.

Dan Scarr, CB – 8

Experience isn’t always the answer, but Argyle’s defence was crying out for it after last season and Scarr, together with other signings, look like they’re going to leave Argyle with a far stronger foundation at the back.

The mark of a good defender is to go unnoticed as much as possible: they read the game and make deal with danger quickly and efficiently before it becomes too threatening. Thus far, Scarr has largely ticked those boxes despite facing some tough opposition. That Scarr is not the fastest but has been able to beat quicker players to the ball when teams are on the counter speaks to the way he reads passes.

Likewise, Scarr is clearly not the best passer, but has remained calm and composed when under pressure and avoided making any clangers  – that I can recall – despite some strong pressure on him. Equally, he’s clearly a far better passer than Walsall fans give him credit for.

Brendan Galloway, CB – 6

A couple of great defensive moments, as he stuck close to Wieman early on and make the first opening of the game significantly harder than it otherwise would have been. Similarly, he provided excellent covering, racing back to prevent a City second on the counter, intercepting as O’Dowda tried to put Wieman clean-through, though the question could be asked – why wasn’t he there in the first place?

However, he was beaten by Wieman to create a brilliant chance for Martin – though that could be expected of a player who will be rusty, given he’s barely started any professional games over the past four seasons.

Looked comfortable dribbling the ball forwards when space opened up, but less so when the press was put on him. On first viewing, his passing possibly the worst of the four CBs we’ve seen (still no sight of James Bolton), though maybe he doesn’t have the confidence to attempt passes he could otherwise make.

Jordan Houghton, DM – 7

Set the tempo nicely, though should have done more in the first fifteen as Bristol City dominated the ball. After that, he and Mayor in particular teamed up to hold possession, take the sting out of City and give Argyle the platform to create chances of their own.

Two things in particular impressed me: first, Houghton’s willingness to break the lines and burst forward through the middle, which we almost never saw last season and rarely in 2019/20. Second, he knows when to not get involved. Always demanding the ball makes him an easier target to close down Argyle’s passing route out of defence. Allowing the ball to pass him by at times as City crowded the centre of the pitch with their four attackers allowed Mayor to pick up the ball either in space or with no protection behind the next line of players, or for the wide centre-backs to carry the ball forward themselves.

Poked in and won the ball back here and there, but overall Argyle’s centre of midfield remains a big problem area defensively and Bristol City created some openings, by making space to run through it with simple pass and move. As the deepest player, doubts will lead to questions about whether he is secure enough defensively if that occurs during the season.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

Nearly turned the ball home, but the cross was just too far behind him and he struck it wide on his left foot from a signature late surge into the box to meet a Grant cross. Similarly, he had the last effort of the game after Shirley went down in the area, but his snapshot through the crowd was too close to Bentley, who saved well.

Overall, pretty quiet and didn’t deliver any dangerous crosses, unlike his brilliant ball against Swansea for Ennis to waste.

Panutche Camara CM – 7

Pressed superbly in spells, though didn’t turn over possession as effectively as he has in previous matches. Tidy but quiet in possession and failed to offer any late runs into the box of quality, which he should have been aiming to deliver given some of the crossing opportunities for Grant on the left.

Needs to find another gear sometimes,

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Created Argyle’s best chance of the game, dropping his shoulder in signature Mayor style to beat two midfielders, driving at the centre of defence rather than at a full-back, before reading Jephcott’s late dart inside and playing a perfectly weighted pass to put him through. If only he had the finish.

Like the rest of the team, seemed timid, or overawed, or inferior during the first 15 minutes as City dominated. Yet, for the next ten Argyle’s midfield asserted themselves and began to create chances. The final twenty were more balanced, but Mayor was the creative spark more than any other player, and deserved an assist from the game.

Still needs to learn that ALWAYS SLOWING DOWN THE ATTACK is not a benefit. Sure, he’s maybe better set to deliver a cross instead of playing it first time on his left foot, but guess what? The number of players defending the opposition box has doubled in that time and you’re going to end up passing backwards. Infuritating.

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

Delivered some good crosses, most notably the one that fell just behind Edwards. Set-piece delivery wasn’t as good as it should have been. Defended competently and played some lovely passes inside that kept attacks moving, but it was a relatively quiet game for Grant otherwise.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

Desperately needs to work on his shooting on the run. Go back and look at his goals for Argyle: he’s almost never sprinting with the ball at his feet. The big chances he’s had when on the run – the first ones that spring to mind for me are Bristol Rovers away, Doncaster away, Swansea a week back and tonight – never seem to find the net.

Here, he was largely anonymous. He was dominated in the air when Argyle went long and a bit sloppy in possession when the ball came to his feet, but came to life with that dart inside Rob Atkinson to be put through by Mayor, only to waste the biggest chance of the first half.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

For most of the game, he worked hard but saw little of the ball. Ran the channels as well as you’d expect him to, but a tough game with no chances falling to him – until Ennis slipped him in behind on the angle and he drilled an excellent left footed shot towards the top corner, but Bentley parried away. Argyle’s best shot of the match, but it still came to nothing.

Not that it was Hardie’s fault tonight, but over pre-season he has been the biggest waster of chances, along with Jephcott and Ennis. Surely at least one of them has to find their scoring boots and start finishing these chances, else Argyle’s season is not going to start well at all.

Substitutes

Macaulay Gillesphey, CB – 7

More willing to take a risk with the ball than Galloway, including some nice switches of the play. Defended tidily and looks to be a good member of the trio at the back along with Scarr and Wilson. Personally, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start the season first choice, but if he makes sloppy mistakes – as he did against Rovers – then the door is definitely open for Galloway to come in.

Niall Ennis, ST – 8

Instant impact off the bench, injecting the energy that Jephcott struggled to offer and knitted together Argyle’s midfield and attack, particularly on the counter. Started or ended almost every chance Argyle had in the final half hour.

Had a deflected shot that nearly spun in, burst beyond the defence, cut inside and shot at Bentley, hit one from range that was parried away and nearly got in behind right at the very last. Created the chance for Hardie and almost put him in behind five minutes prior. Was dangerous every time he got the ball and if Argyle were to score, it seemed as though was going to involve Ennis in some way.

Staked his claim to start away at Rotherham.

Adam Randell, DM – 6

Randell has done no harm to his chances of raking up the minutes during the coming season after another good display in pre-season against another near-full strength Championship side.

Unlike Houghton, Randell displays that extra level of fearlessness so often associated with youth. Houghton can be more passive in possession and take fewer risks; no such cautiousness from Randell! A graduate of the school of Mayor, he’ll drop to receive the ball, spin, and try to get things going whenever he can. Excellent range of passing, even if a couple were just out today.

Shame about the two, poor set-piece deliveres right at the end as Argyle chased an equaliser, but I won’t be surprised when he gets an extended run ahead of Houghton in defensive midfield during the coming season, I’m increasingly sure it’s going to happen. Maybe even in centre midfield.

Rhys Shirley, ST – n/a

Wasted a chance in behind by running it too close to the defender, though won a coner that Randell wasted. Should have won a penalty I think – looked to be clipped as he poked the ball to Edwards as the ball bounced around the box from a set-piece.

Ryan Law, LWB – n/a

Came on but had nothing to do, save a nice pass inside to Randell. Only had a few minutes at the end.

Player Ratings: Bristol Rovers 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

Plymouth Argyle drew 1-1 away to Bristol Rovers in their first serious pre-season test. The game was somewhat reminiscent of last season: Argyle were clearly on top in the first half, wasted chances to build a two-goal lead, conceded early in the second half following a defensive error and looked the weaker side the longer the match went on.

Of course, the endless flow of substitutes ruined the second half from an entertainment perspective and demonstrated the need for further signings to bolster the squad’s depth, but there were plenty of positive signs to come out of the first hour.

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

Ultimately, the young keeper did not have a lot to do in a first half that the Greens largely dominated. However, on the rare occasions he was called upon, he dealt with his challenges well.

He plucked a couple of crosses out of the air with consummate ease and did very well in a testing situation towards the end of the half. A long ball was lofted forwards out of the Rovers defence and the home striker looked to be in a position to go one v one but Cooper calmly came out of his area and headed the ball to a teammate.

He will be disappointed that his run of facing penalties without saving one (now 0/8) in an Argyle shirt has continued but he can hardly be blamed for that in isolation.

James Wilson, CB – 7

Wilson looked solid defensively for the most part, though there were moments when Rovers attackers snuck in behind him. By and large, his pressing was good and showed an instinct to win the ball that was lacking from certain defenders particuarly at the back end of last season.

The biggest concern coming out of the game was Wilson’s passing. An over-powered backpass to Cooper in the first half meant he wasn’t able to clear properly, a couple of poor passes from his teammates put him under pressure a few times in the second half and he did not look totally when they happened. Those moments are going to come during the season and Wilson will need to polish up his ball control and awareness to prevent turnovers in dangerous positions that could prove costly.

Dan Scarr, CB – 7

Strong start for Scarr, who was dominant in the air and mopped up most that came his way. It would be unfair to call his first half duels with Ayunga a contest – there was only one winner, and that pattern largely continued in the second half, wave for one moment when he lost balance and was shrugged off by Langlais.

It’s clear that Scarr isn’t that quick, but he was just able to anticipate the danger on each occasion that a quick forward looked primed to break in behind – that or it was mopped up by a teammate.

For all the talk by Walsall fans that Scarr can’t pass, the early signs are promising. The back-three as a unit sometimes got too cocky in the second half and ran the risk of giving away possession, but Scarr’s passing was good overall. As time passes, it should hopefully continue to improve.

Macauley Gillesphie, CB – 6

It was a very good first half for the new defender who built positive momentum from an imposing performance at Saltash in midweek. He won headers well and looked comfortable carrying the ball out from the back.

One moment of madness however, put a dampener on his display. A needless push in the back to a Rovers striker on the border of the penalty area, just two minutes after the interval, gave them the spot kick they needed to get a draw. Let’s hope we can just put it down to a lack of freshness.

Jordan Houghton, DM – 7

Had he made it into the second half, Houghton would have probably been an 8, but his impact was reduced sinec he didn’t even make it to half-time. After a slow first fifteen minutes in which he demand the ball from the defence and failed to play the quarterback role, missing three out of three long passes, he took control of the game.

Changing tack and playing a short-passing game, he found space in the middle of the pitch, called for possession and slid nice passes through the midfield press to release the likes of Mayor and Grant. Dominated the midfield from then until his injury.

His defending, the big question mark arond Houghton, was good enough, though Rovers players twice skipped past him. He’ll have to stand up to tougher tests against better players and teams, and if Houghton and Randell are Lowe’s two options at DM, then that’s an almighty gamble that might not pay off.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

Worked hard off the ball but was rarely on it. As was the case last season, while Mayor and Grant ran the show on the left, Edwards and Camara created fewer openings but looked more solid defensively. That’s pretty much all that can be said, given how quiet Argyle’s right flank was.

Panutche Camara, CM – 6

Camara continues to be a player that offers more off the ball than on it. His attacking movement almost saw him get on the end of a couple of crosses from the left wing, his pressing off the ball almost saw him steal the ball and run clean through, and his defensive work supported Wilson and Edwards.

However, when he had the ball, Rovers almost always had players behind it and so Camara almost always opted for the sideways or backwards pass. He remains a player who probably shouldn’t start in games that Argyle are expecting to see the vast majority of the ball, as Conor Grant or Adam Randell could probably do a better job unlocking those defenses. That does mean that he’s quite likely to stand out in the upcoming matches against Championship opposition.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Mayor’s trademark drop of the shoulder was on display once again. However, once again, no goals or assists. It’s harsh, I know. He does a lot for the team, he gets us further up the pitch than we otherwise would be, but every game against a side like Rovers that he doesn’t score or assist against is a reminder that, with his wonderful talents, he can do so much more.

Superb challenge charging back to prevent a Rovers counter-attack, though that’s all I can remember of him from the second half before he was subbed.

Conor Grant, LWB – 7

Combined wonderfully with Mayor at times in the first half and delivered some good crosses, but nothing exceptional. Best cross found Ennis somehow – what was going on with the defending?! – unmarked at the backpost, eight yards out, but he headed wide with the aid of a deflection (on first glance, looked to me like it was going wide anyway).

Switched seamlessly into centre-mid after Mayor went off and almost made space for a trademark long-range screamer with minutes left, but couldn’t get it out of his feet properly.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

Weird rating for Jephcott, who was only inthe game twice before he was substituted. He won the penalty after being budled over as he attempted to control a long ball by Wilson right on the edge of the area, then scored expertly. And he picked up a loose ball to perfeclty thread it through for Hardie’s one-on-one.

Otherwise, he rarely saw the ball and – worryingly continuing a trend from the second half of last season – got on the end of no passes into the box despite plenty of Argyle territory and pressure. It’s not that the chances weren’t there, just that Jephcott was never in the right place to receive any. That needs to change.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 5

Movement: excellent. Finishing: poor. That’s probably generous.

Hardie had all the chances – as in, apart from the penalty, every chance before he was substituted fell to him. Two headers, both of which he didn’t get enough on, a snapshot too close to the keeper, a terribly executed lob when one-on-one, a cross-cum-shot that found neither the target nor a teammate. He should have scored at least one. He could have had a hattrick on the right day.

On a positive note, Hardie sometimes struggled to get in the right positions last season, but this time he was making perfectly timed surges into the right position. Now he just needs an apprenticeship at the Paul Wotton school of finishing in Truro that so clearly worked for Jephcott.

Substitutes

Adam Randell, DM – 8 (38 for Houghton)

In the unusual position of being forced on shortly before half time due to Jordan Houghton’s injury, Randell adapted well to a testing situation. At first, he looked a little wobbly defensively, not quite dropping into the right places as well as Houghton had before him.

That said, let’s not let it take away from a very promising performance from the Plymstock Pirlo [editor’s note, grow up] on the whole. He would often attempt brave incisive passes, some of which cut through the Rovers defence and nearly created goalscoring opportunities, but for a slight lack of composure on behalf of some of the strikers.

He was always open to receiving the ball and recycling it across the field with a short pass where necessary and his defensive work vastly improved as the game went on. One late interception on the edge of the penalty area could have been particularly vital. Overall, he showed himself to be a strong contender for the season to come.

Niall Ennis, ST – 6 (54 for Jephcott)

Ennis was another player who had an up and down game. The general standard of play got worse when he was on the field, but that was more due to the ebb and flow being disrupted by substitutions more so than any errors on his part.

On the rare occasions Argyle did threaten, his dynamic movement pulled defenders out of position and he looked the most likely to cause problems.

However, we can’t get away from that miss. He really should have won Argyle the game late on when he had a header unmarked and in a great position from a Conor Grant corner but unfortunately he wasn’t able to direct the ball on target. He scores a lot of goals, all things considered, but his finishing can still let him down at times.

Callum Burton, GK – 6 (62 for Cooper)

Burton came on for Cooper part way through the second half and, like his goalkeeping counterpart, did also not come in for a lot of testing.

He had to save one serious effort and did so very well, beating away a sharp, low shot that would surely have won Rovers the game. His one wobble came moments later, coming a long way off his line for a free kick that he did not connect to. Thankfully, nor did the incoming striker. Otherwise, the game would have been won with its final real moment.

The only other thing worth noting is Burton’s passing, which was a noticeable drop off from Cooper and contributed to Argyle’s poorer second half, in which they struggled to get on the ball as much as before.

Brendan Galloway, CB – (66 for Gillesphey)

A mixed bag from Argyle’s trialist who showed the Green Army that they some reasons to be excited, whilst also demonstrating reasons to remain grounded. After being introduced, he looked more than a little sluggish. Perhaps this is to be expected from a player who has had only five competitive starts in as many years.

That said, he did grow into the game as it went on, making some good interceptions to stop home attacks. He also showed some good overlapping runs down the left wing. If he isn’t needed at centre-back, you’d think he’d be eminently capable of covering the wing-back position

Rhys Shirley, ST – 6 (75 for Hardie)

Argyle fans were excited to see what this youngster could do after a very promising cameo at Saltash the other night. Alas, despite some promising runs and good touches, he did not find himself with the same space to be able to exploit against professional league defenders.

That said, he made some runs into the right areas and displayed good game awareness, even if it did not quite pay off for him with the ball at his feet.

Ryan Law, LWB – 6 (69 for Mayor)

Law came on for Danny Mayor halfway through the second half, forcing Conor Grant inside into the central midfield spot. Whilst the young substitute was defensively competent, it’s tough to argue we didn’t lose a little bit of the crossing threat from wide areas that Grant provided.

Law seemed a little too keen to impose himself on the central areas and less keen to offer a regular outlet out wide. That said, he made no obvious errors and helped see the game out as a draw.

Ollie Tomlinson, CB – n/a (84 for Scarr)

Tomlinson came into the side with just a few minutes to go and whilst not directly attributable to any error, will perhaps be disappointed that Rovers’ best two chances occurred with him on the pitch. Perhaps the vocal voice of Dan Scarr was missed?

Finley Craske, RWB – n/a (84 for Edwards)

Alongside Tomlinson, Craske came on with minutes to go and didn’t really have much of a chance to stamp an impression on the game. A couple of touches of the ball in congested areas are not sufficient evidence from which to draw conclusions. However, it’s worth noting that he looks considerably stronger than he did during his brief run outs for Argyle last year, which should increase his chances of being successful with the club in the long-run.

Player Ratings: Blackpool 2 Plymouth Argyle 2

Plymouth Argyle followed up their pressure-relieving win over Bristol Rovers last weekend, with a well earned 2-2 draw against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. In the first half, which Argyle mostly dominated, they found themselves good value for their half-time lead after striker Ryan Hardie’ s twelve minute strike. Sloppiness in the second half allowed the home side to take the lead, first through attacking midfielder Sully Kaikai and then 16 goal top scorer Jerry Yates from the penalty spot after a foul from Argyle left back Adam Lewis. The Greens were able to stay in the game though, and were rewarded for their persistence as the clock moved into added time when captain Joe Edwards popped up with a well placed left footed volley to salvage a point.

It’s been a while but here are your player ratings!

Michael Cooper – 6

Despite conceding two goals it was a relatively uneventful afternoon for Cooper with the first half in particular leaving him with little to do in terms of goal-mouth action as Argyle dictated most of the play. The only real save of note in the first half coming from a well struck shot from outside the box by Blackpool midfielder Grant Ward. Cooper did well to push the effort behind but nonetheless was one that you would have expected him to save.

The goals were more as a result of defensive errors from others, although the harshest of critics could say he might have been able to hold on to Kaikai’s shot which led to the first goal. The second is self-explanatory and you are often left in hope rather than expectation from the penalty spot as the player steps up to face your goal-keeper.

Joe Edwards – 8 MOTM

Another excellent performance from Argyle’s captain, of which there have been many this season. Edwards seems to excel in whatever position he plays, this afternoon it was at right-back, where he started the previous game and he once again showed great positional sense, also influencing Argyle’s attack going forward with some typical thrusting runs in to the opposition half. Now in a slightly more withdrawn role than when at wing-back, he is less able to get crosses into the box, but was still able to give Argyle an extra attacking option going forward and ultimately used his well timed runs into the box to get a result for Argyle this afternoon.

His well placed volley was his seventh goal of the season and I think there is evidence to say that Edwards is up there with some of the best finishers at the club. He has been Mr Reliable for Argyle this season and should he carry on his form until the end of the season, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be considered in the club’s player of the season awards.

Sam Woods – 6

Woods deputised for the suspended Jerome Opoku after his two game ban against Bristol Rovers for his tenth yellow card of the season. Woods looked much more assured in the back four as his last start saw him sent off in the middle of a back three against Northampton Town. Defensively Woods was good regularly stepping out to take the ball off  Blackpool front man Jerry Yates and won most of the aerial duels that he faced. Although at times he looked a bit less comfortable with the ball at his feet, there can’t be too many complaints with his performance.

Will Aimson – 7

A relatively solid performance from Aimson today, as along with Woods, he dealt with much of the balls that came his way, often drawing pressure towards the ball before releasing into more space for the midfielders. There could be question marks with how he dealt with the second goal for Blackpool but sometimes one error leads to another.

Ultimately though, he gets an extra point over Woods for the way he managed to soldier on through an injury in the final ten minutes of the game, with only eighteen-year-old apprentice Ollie Tomlinson on the bench, manager Ryan Lowe seemed reluctant to take Aimson off despite him visibly limping. It would have been easy for Blackpool to target Aimson’s side as they looked to close up the game, but no harm was done and Argyle came away with a point.

Adam Lewis – 4

A disappointing display from the on-loan Liverpool left-back, particularly after responding to a set back against Ipswich the previous week with both assists for  Argyle’s win over Bristol Rovers last weekend. Lewis had some decent moments going forward but ultimately his crosses came to no avail and when asked to defend, he often seemed to show his inexperience, particularly in the lead up to the penalty where he invited the Blackpool player to go down after a hand in the back. He could also have done better for their first, totally missing the header in the build-up.

Conor Grant – 8

Grant looked typically assured on the ball today and offered extra protection in mid-field along with fellow defensive midfielder Tyrese Fornah. Grant also continues to impress for Argyle this season when asked to play a number of different positions. His crosses from the left are consistently put in an area which causes problems for opposition defences and it was his cross which led to Argyle’s equaliser and Grant’s tenth assist of the season.

Tyrese Fornah – 7

A good performance from Fornah this afternoon and he looked much more confident when having the aforementioned protection of a second defensive  midfielder. in the first half he seemed to get Argyle on the front foot with forward passes into midfield and did well at cutting the ball out before it got to the Tangerines’ frontmen. He was instrumental in the first goal as he completed a beautifully weighted ball to set Ryan Hardie in behind. The second half saw him, along with much of the team become less influential in the game, but that doesn’t take away from a solid performance.

Panutche Camara – 6

A quiet game by Camara’s standards as there wasn’t much space for the midfielder to get in behind. he typically pressed well and won the ball back for his side but when asked to find a final ball into the strikers, it was often lacking.

Danny Mayor – 6

Along with Camara, Mayor had a quiet game and was unusually scarcely involved in Argyle’s attacks. Now in a new 4-2-2-2 formation, it seems as though the talented midfielder is being asked to hold his width a bit more, leading to him having less of a free role in hand, becoming less involved in attack. This is not a criticism, but a rather an observation, as Argyle look to experiment with formations.

Niall Ennis – 7

Ennis continued to be a nuisance for opposition defences this afternoon and he was unlucky not to have put the Greens one nil up after his turn and shot bounced off Glenn Maxwell’s left-hand post. That was his only major chance of note, but he was able to continually stretch the defence with runs down the channel and good link-up play.

Ryan Hardie – 8

Hardie paired up well with Ennis this afternoon, coming in for top scorer Luke Jephcott after his involvement with the Wales under 21 side on Friday afternoon. Much like Ennis, Hardie troubled his former employers with typical runs down the channel and in behind and he was rewarded for his efforts in the twelfth minute when he latched on to Fornah’s pass before attempting to lob the keeper. The ball bounced loose and after Ennis had hit the post, Hardie was there to slot in the rebound. a bright performance from Hardie, who after a few weeks away from the starting eleven, would have hoped to stake a claim for a starting spot.

Substitutes :

Byron Moore – 5

Moore replaced Panutche Camara for the final twenty minutes of the game, on the right side of attacking midfield, before being switched to a more orthodox left wing position as Argyle pushed for an equaliser in the final minutes of the game.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember Moore getting on the ball too much in either position and he struggled to make an impact.

Luke Jephcott N\A

Jephcott was given most of the afternoon off after featuring for an hour for his country on Friday afternoon, for that reason I think it would be unfair to give Jephcott a concrete rating.

The Welshman, came on in the 84th minute for Adam Lewis in a formation change which saw Argyle go to 4-3-3 with Jephcott as the central striker. In truth, I also can’t remember Jephcott having too much of the ball in his time on the pitch.

Klaidi Lolos – N\A

In a week where manager Ryan Lowe has talked about giving opportunities to the likes of Lolos and on loan Torquay left back Ryan Law in the end of season run in, in order to give academy graduates a chance to earn a contract ahead of next season, Lolos came on and took his opportunity (albeit limited) pretty well.

I can’t give him a rating, as he only came on for the final minute of normal time but Lolos won a few flick ons and in general put himself about well, as argyle pushed on for an equaliser.

As cameos go this went pretty well for the former Greek under 19 international.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra energy helps Argyle win Lincoln epic

Have you calmed down yet? I know I haven’t. Plymouth Argyle spent their Saturday afternoon in the sun locking horns with high-flying Lincoln City, and came away with a stunning 4-3 victory. Joe Edwards’ stoppage time winner drew the loudest celebration from myself and many others since we were confined to watching on iFollow, and whilst I’ve always missed going to Home Park during the crisis, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the sense of absence quite so much as this weekend.

Argyle’s encounter with the Imps was the sort of game the phrase “rollercoaster of emotions” was invented for. The Greens made a flying start when Kelland Watts’ centre forward instincts saw him net the opener, before Danny Mayor finally, after all these months, turned one of his mazing runs into a goal for himself. Then, we had the all too familiar collapse. Conor McGrandles got one back before Jorge Grant converted twice from the penalty spot, one after an awful tackle from Watts, and the other after an awful dive from Grant himself.

But it was Argyle who had the last laugh. One of the late goals was debatably given to Conor Grant, the other undoubtedly struck by Edwards, as Argyle fought hard right up to the final whistle to secure a dramatic win.

Extra energy pays dividends

Lincoln’s first and only change of the game came after 86 minutes, when captain Jorge Grant picked up a freak injury after appearing to be struck on the ankle by the ball. By that stage, Argyle had already made their five allotted substitutions, with Panutche Camara, Sam Woods, Luke Jephcott, Ben Reeves and Klaidi Lolos all introduced. It led to a disparity in energy levels as the game drew to a close, with one side fresh and chasing a winner, and the other looking exhausted having already put plenty of effort into turning the game around.

The differences are obvious when comparing the last 15 minutes of the game with the first 75. Of the ten shots Argyle had across the piece on Saturday, four came within the final quarter of an hour. Lincoln had an aerial duel success of 77% on the 75 minute mark, but saw that drop to 60% in the final 15 as the physical nature of them took its toll. A similar story can be seen in their pass success, which dropped from 77% to 70% across the same period, suggesting some more panicked long balls from some tired legs.

They aren’t huge drop-offs, but in a game as close as this one any decrease in performance is likely to make a significant difference. That’s exactly what we saw. Argyle brought their top scorer off the bench alongside a hungry young striker in Lolos and a remarkable physical specimen in Camara. Lincoln had nothing until there were only four minutes remaining, and even that was enforced. Even though they couldn’t be spurred on by a crowd, Argyle had enough energy in the closing stages to roll their opponents over.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a major difference overall, but Lincoln boss Michael Appleton may look back on his use of substitutions on Saturday as a point of regret.

Camara and Edwards impress

The conditions created in the game were perfect for two of Argyle’s stars of the season to shine. Panutche Camara and Joe Edwards would probably be the two Pilgrims you’d consider to have the highest work rate amongst the squad, based on this season’s evidence at least. And they were just the players Argyle needed to step up to the plate on Saturday. Did they? You bet.

Camara left his mark in exactly the way you’d expect: his running, his dribbling, and his ability to win back the ball. If the Lincoln defence weren’t tired before they had Camara running at the heart of them, they certainly were after. He was as effervescent as we’ve come to expect, and if we’re willing to give Argyle’s equaliser to Conor Grant, Camara would come away with the two assists that his general play deserved. The fact he was able to make such an impact after starting on the bench just makes his performance even sweeter.

Joe Edwards, meanwhile, demonstrated exactly what Argyle had been missing during his recent absence from the side. Take Argyle’s equaliser as an example. Even if we’re deciding not to award him the goal, the fact he even managed to get to the front post from his wing back position to meet the original cross was superb. Then, of course, he set himself up beautifully to score a dramatic winner in injury time, making an impact after the 90-minute mark despite just coming back from injury. Splendid. Is there any better candidate for the captain’s armband in the Argyle side at present than him?

For months now Argyle have lacked the character and ability to turn things around when they go sour. They’ve often entered into a state of panic, causing irreparable damage to their chances in certain games. On Saturday we saw the polar opposite, with both Camara and Edwards making telling contributions. It warmed the heart.

Is this what we were promised with Lowe?

When Ryan Lowe was appointed, one game that stuck out from his Bury reign was a 4-3 win over Milton Keynes. Lowe’s Shakers found themselves 3-1 down with 20 minutes to play, but managed to secure a dramatic turnaround victory in in injury time. Whilst we’ve had some dramatic games during Lowe’s reign at Argyle – a few 3-2s this season have done nothing for my heart – a late win from behind had been something we’d lacked. Until this weekend.

Saturday’s performance wasn’t perfect. I was feeling particularly glum when Lincoln’s third was tucked away, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. But the way Argyle came roaring back was tremendous, and being able to win games like this will do wonders for the players’ confidence. It seems to me that this is indeed what we were promised when Lowe joined, and as frustrating as it can be at times, it makes for an engrossing watch when done right. One suspects this game may be one we look back on with joy for years to come.

Of course, it’s a crying shame nobody was there to witness Saturday’s events live. But if this is what we have to look forward to next season, sign me up straight away.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln 3

Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln City 3. I’m going to say that again, Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln City 3.

What a game. Attacking flair, defensive incompetence, excellent finishes and wasted opportunities for even more. Argyle rushed into a two goal lead as Lincoln’s increasingly leaky defence struck again, before another Lincoln trademark – soft penalties – turned the tide. Jorge Grant converted twice in three minutes to give them a 3-2 lead (8 of his 11 goals this season have been penalties).

Argyle came again, and Conor Grant’s floated shot was probably drifting in before it was glanced in by what looked like a Lincoln defender. Mayor saw a potential winner brilliantly blocked before Joe Edwards scored a brilliant winner to somehow seal all three points.

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

Honestly, I don’t know where to start with these ratings. Cooper made a huge impact on the game with a great 1-v-1 save against Johnson at 3-3 which would have won it for Lincoln. I seem to recall a few other good saves but, honestly, so much happened that I can’t remember exactly.

This is obviously Cooper’s first season as a starting ‘keeper and he’s doing a good job, but for him to become Championship level improve he’s going to have to save a few more chances like Lincoln’s first goal. That’s not one he should save, but it’s one he could save. Top ‘keepers tend to keep a few more of those out of the back of their net, like Palmer did last season (but not today).

Will Aimson, CB – 5

Aimson made some vital interventions, denying a 2-v-1 at 3-3 to prevent Lincoln. However, when he did make those blocks he seemed to find him in the right place through luck rather than anticipation, as a result of Lincoln’s fantastic attacking movement. Aimson’s efforts to race back for Hopper’s 1-v-1 might have also cut off the opportunity for him to square it for a tap-in.

However, there were lots of sloppy moments, not least when he gave the ball away in Argyle’s box without realising the pressure he was under with seconds remaining. The ball was scrambled clear, but that could have been costly. Ultimately, he was part of a defence that just did not know how to deal with Lincoln’s attack.

Jerome Opoku, CB – 5

That game was such a blur that I can’t remember the specifics of why I’ve given Opoku five. It’s partly because of Argyle’s general inability to keep Lincoln’s attack at bay. There was a quite visible lack of coordination and leadership in defence, throughout the game. The first goal was a classic example of this, look at the positions players ended up in: I think Watts was in RCM, Edwards in CDM, Fornah LCM, Grant RWB and Mayor god-knows where.

This is just part of the long-running trend of Argyle lacking defensive structure as a team, and Ryan Lowe needing to find answers to questions he doesn’t seem to often ask himself about defending. But it was brutally exposed by Lincoln.

Kelland Watts, CB – 5

Watts gave Argyle the lead with a good right-footed finish after Lincoln showed off their inner Argyle by failing to properly re-organise after seeing off the initial set-piece. He then made a vital back-heeled back-post clearance as Lincoln came surging forward minutes later.

Yet, Watts was one of the players dragged out of position for Lincoln’s first goal. Had he been in position instead of chasing shadows, he’d have made a simple block and the shot never would have reached the goal. Watts then ran across an attacker to give Lincoln their first penatly of the afternoon.

I know this defence makes mistakes, but does anyone ever factor in how bad Argyle’s midfield is at protecting them? Conor Grant hardly covered himself in glory while doing nothing to prevent Johnson bursting into the box.

Tyrese Fornah, DM – 5

Fornah again showed that just how good he can be at receiving the ball and distributing it. I just wish he had the confidence to drive into wide-open space when it’s presented to him. On that topic, why do Argyle always have to go wide? Do they not know that driving into the box from the centre is actually more dangerous than crossing from the wing?

Fornah made some important defensive interventions but also was caught out by Lincoln’s quick counters. When he made two fouls inside fifteen minutes and had already been booked, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to finisht the game, only a question of who would send him off the pitch.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7, player of the match

Until Edwards won the game, it was difficult to know who was going to be player of the match. But then he won the ball back in the 90th minute, gave it to Camara, received it back on the edge of the area, flicked it up and burried the volley in the bottom corner to give Argyle a victory that seemed so unlikely fifteen minutes earlier.

Edwards was hardly at his best throughout the game. He, like everyone, struggled immensely to contain Lincoln, though at least his wing seemed to be more secure than the left, down which the Imps ran riot. As Lincoln tired, Edwards – brilliantly supported by half-time substitute Panutche Camara – found his second wind. Argyle drove forward down the right into the space on offer throughout the final portion of the game. Edwards nearly flicked in Grant’s goal and was close to finishing off two rebounded shots, but it wouldn’t quite sit for him. Then, it was his moment.

Conor Grant, CM – 7

Like most, Grant was a real mixed bag. Started well, but his passing range was a bit off. Then he delivered a great cross that was cleared to Watts for his opener. Then he was barely in the game for an hour. Grant moved to defensive midfield after Fornah was pre-emtively removed by Lowe at half-time, but struggled defensively as Lincoln finally made good on their threat to draw level and then take the lead.

Then his soft-effort somehow found the back of the net. Argyle had got back on the front foot, but it was a tame shot from an awkward position that somehow squirmed in past two defenders. Grant, like virtually every player, had highs and lows throughout this rollercoaster of a game.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

HE SCORED! HE ACTUALLY SCORED! Done a massive favour by ex-Pilgrim Alex Palmer (who has had an awful few weeks, go look at the goals he’s let in recently), who possibly didn’t expect the shot given he’s played with Mayor before and knows that most of the time he’ll dribble the ball to the corner flag rather than let fly. As if to prove the point, Mayor actually did that a few minutes earlier, turning down a chance to shoot just outside the six-yard box and ended up being dispossessed on the left wing.

Mayor nearly won the game too, seeing his effort brilliantly blocked after a neat lay-off by Lolos. Sandwiching these two highs were an hour of largely poor defending – one awful moment when he just stopped running, allowing a 1-v-1 that Cooper saved at his near post – and an inability to get his foot on the ball. When he did, he often had no outlet and was pressed by at least three red shirts.

Adam Lewis, LWB – 5

Struggled defensively and lacked coordination with Mayor. Surprised to see him take an early free-kick from what I would define as Conor Grant territory; even more surprised that Grant wasn’t stood over any of the set-pieces at all…

Energetic, but lacking an understanding of the game at points. Lincoln drew him in and exposed the space behind him consistently in the first half. Not too surprising to see him withdrawn and Grant moved to wing-back as Argyle chased the game.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Surprisingly returned to the starting line-up at the expense of top scorer Luke Jephcott and he justified his place in the team. Worked hard, linked the play and got into dangerous positions. The only thing missing, as it has been most of the season, was the goal.

He had a great opportunity after the ball broke for him 1-v-1, but he declined the first-time finish (lifting it over Palmer) and tried to take it around him. He got the ball around him, but his shot was easily blocked from a narrow angle.

Niall Ennis, ST – 5

Ennis struggled to get in the game after Lincoln took control in the first half. I can understand what Lowe was trying to achieve in going with two, fast strikers and an attempt to out-counter Lincoln, but Ennis struggled once Argyle started lumping it under pressure.

Would have benefited from Lowe switching to 3-4-1-2 and putting Mayor in the hole. That would have offered an out-ball on the counter rather than just clearing it downfield, and had a player to pick up loose balls in midfield rather than letting them fall to a red shirt.

Substitutes

Panutche Camara, CM – 7

Camara made very little impact in the first half hour after coming on. Lincoln dominated the ball and Argyle provided no threat at all. Yet, in the last 15-20 minutes, Camara came to life. He pressed, won the ball back, and used his fresh legs to drive forward on the counter. His first assist for Grant was little more than recycling possession, but his cut-back for Edwards was smart and well executed, unlike his earlier waste of a counter attack.

Just as Ennis changed the game off the bench against promotion changing Portsmouth, Camara had a similar impact here.

Sam Woods, CB – 6

Woods came on after Opoku couldn’t finish the game following a knock he picked up in the first half. He showed a smart reading of the game to win the ball back and benefitted from tired Lincoln legs being unable to stretch the game as much as before. Nevertheless, Lincoln continued to create chances and could have won the game before Argyle snatched it.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 6

Jephcott tried hard but struggled to get into the game for the most part. No chances fell to him and Camara wasted the best chance for him to get a shot off in the box. Surprising ommission from the starting eleven.

Argyle forced to hold on despite dominating Gillingham

Plymouth Argyle’s first game of 2021 was slightly odd. The stats would, pretty fairly, suggest that the Greens dominated the game. But look at any highlights package and you’ll notice it was their opponents Gillingham who had the better chances across the 90 minutes. Still, Argyle managed to get themselves a victory that could prove to be particularly crucial, especially after the 3-2 defeat against Oxford in midweek.

Ultimately, Argyle did well to play to their strengths to get their noses in front, particularly the prodigious Luke Jephcott. His goal on Saturday was his 14th in all competitions this season and, as we discussed in the aftermath of Argyle’s draw with Charlton, it feels as though he’s far from done.

Things at the other end felt a little more concerning, but Argyle clung on for the three points that make their position in League One seem a lot safer than it did three days ago.

Argyle’s strengths seal the deal

After the final whistle on Saturday, I remarked that this was a case of Argyle “winning ugly.” Looking back, I’d probably revise that claim slightly. Granted, it wasn’t the most fluent Argyle performance of all time, but they still played well (and, importantly, better than their opponents). Winning ugly is a label that can probably be put on a few games from last season; the 1-0 wins on away trips to Forest Green and Cheltenham, for instance.

Still, those two games and the win over Gillingham do all share one thing in common. In each fixture, Argyle played to their strengths to gain the advantage before holding on under pressure. Against Forest Green, Argyle worked a corner routine to allow Sarcevic to burst into the area and shoot, which he always loved. And at Cheltenham, Argyle used Zak Rudden’s movement in the penalty area to full effect. Rudden was never the best finisher, but that was negated on this occasion by his work to get into a position from which missing would be a near-impossibility. Don’t laugh.

On Saturday, Argyle’s main strengths came to the fore again to craft a lovely goal. Quite rightly, the spotlight has been thrust upon Jephcott’s finish; a wonderful first-time effort on his weaker foot into the corner of the net. But to get into that position, Joe Edwards’ energy worked the ball superbly from the right, allowing him to find fellow wing-back Conor Grant in space. From there, Grant’s cross was delicious, finding the perfect target in the penalty area. And so a goal was scored using Edwards’ energy, Grant’s technical ability and Jephcott’s finishing. In other words, it was perfectly crafted.

In truth, the Lowe philosophy was evident in Argyle’s play through much of the game. Playing out from the back was paramount, with Argyle’s back three all in the top five in terms of completed passes on the day. The other two occupants of that top five? Goalkeeper Mike Cooper and playmaker Danny Mayor. Argyle dominated the ball to the extent that Kelland Watts, with 77 passes, completed almost double the amount of Gills’ top passer Kyle Dempsey (41).

That domination of possession, surely ingrained into the psyche of each Argyle player by now, allowed the Greens to create chances at a greater rate than their opponents. One shot dragged wide by Edwards in the first half saw both Aimson and Watts involved in the build-up. And had Mayor put a smidgen more weight on a pass in the second half, Panutche Camara would have had the opportunity to finish a gorgeous team move. On another day, Argyle may have added more goals to reward their silky play.

Set-pieces still a worry

In the main, Argyle did have the better of the game, and created more chances across the 90 minutes. However, as discussed, the Greens didn’t have everything their own way, with some of the better-quality chances falling to Gillingham. Frustratingly, many of the problems leading to those chances were of Argyle’s own making.

Once again, set pieces proved to be Argyle’s Achilles heel. Gillingham will be kicking themselves that they didn’t take one of their big openings from such situations to steal a scarcely deserved point. Take a second half free kick, for example, when Connor Ogilvie was left completely unmarked at the back post before managing to divert his header over the bar from around four yards. Or a later corner which Cooper came for, completely missed, and Watts somehow managed to turn round his own post.

As we’ve so often seen in the past, Argyle were their own worst enemy at times. Cooper himself failed to cover himself in glory, looking notably shaky dealing with crosses all afternoon. Admittedly, my judgement of Cooper’s performance probably comes down entirely to his part in Matty Willock heading over in stoppage time. If Cooper did get a hand to the cross, it’s a match-winning save. If not, it’s a glaring error that almost costs Argyle the game. I wasn’t able to find a touch, but I’ve been told he did get a crucial fingertip on the cross. As a Cooper fan, I’m more than happy to believe it.

After Argyle’s defeat to Bristol Rovers last month, I wondered exactly what went on in training. Lowe gave us that insight after the Gillingham win, mentioning that they had prepared for corners, free kicks and long throws in the build-up. As promising as that is, it didn’t seem to help this weekend. Maybe that’s something to do with the fact that Argyle don’t have any attacking players that aren’t called Frank Nouble who can pose a regular aerial challenge during those drills.

We’ve mentioned that on another day Argyle would have scored a few more. Equally, on another day they may have lost the points due to their shoddy set-piece defending. Luckily it didn’t matter on this occasion, but the issue still needs fixing.

Player of the Month: November 2020

Plymouth Argyle’s promotion hopes took a hit in November as the team picked up 4 points from 12 in a tough run. Fleetwood battered Argyle’s poor defence, Peterborough threatened to do the same, while Pompey created little but still managed to score twice and take a point from Home Park.

However, there was positive news in the FA Cup as Luke Jephcott netted two goals and Mike Cooper kept two clean sheets as Argyle saw off two off the strongest possible sides at this stage by knocking out rotated Charlton and Lincoln sides.

All in all then, a positive month, but one that Argyle will need to build on in December to prevent the play-offs from slipping out of reach, while the club is still without an away win – or clean sheet – in the league.

Player of the Month: Joe Edwards (11.86)

Joe Edwards continued his strong end to October with a solid November to net the player of the month award. After struggling to break into the team following Byron Moore’s return from injury, it seemed as though Edwards was set for a long period on the bench twiddling his thumbs. Then, with George Cooper’s covid-enforced absence, he returned to the team at right wing-back with Moore switching to the left and it’s all clicked into place.

His surging runs infield from the wing have been a hallmark of his performances, starting with his goal against Swindon and ending with an outstanding display against Lincoln in which he was the beating heart of Argyle’s attacking play, receiving scores of 9 from every rater.

At the other end, Edwards has paired well with Will Aimson to make the right wing the more defensively solid flank of the defence. His work-rate has been particularly impressive, driving up the wing in possession and flying back down the other end when the ball is lost. A well earned award.

2. Luke Jephcott (10.38)

With five goals in the month, including two winners in the FA Cup, Luke Jephcott unsurprisingly takes second place. After injury interrupted Jepchott’s start to the season, appearing in only two of the first seven games (excluding the EFL Trophy, of course), the Welshman has finally reached the level of fitness required to make himself a mainstay in the team.

He has 8 goals from as many starts, a remarkable goal-scoring rate that he surely can’t keep up for the entire season, can he? It’s not just the rate of goals, it’s the technique involved: his awareness of space, timing of runs, understanding of his teammates play, and the calm, clinical nature with which he is finishing chances. If Argyle had another striker even half as composed as Jephcott, they might be in the top 4! Just think how many big chances have been missed by Telford, Nouble and Hardie!

Given Argyle seem to struggle unless they get the first goal, Jephcott’s early strikes against Swindon, Charlton and Lincoln all set them on the path to victory, making his goals all the more important.

If he keeps up his current form, he’s surely a favourite for player of the month in December.

3. Michael Cooper (10.12)

For a player with only two league clean sheets, Cooper is still ranking highly in our player rankings tracker (at the time of writing, he’s the third-highest ranked player and looks like he’s going to move back into second in a game or two). This is partly because there has been heavy rotation throughout the season, yet Cooper has been an ever-present along with Danny Mayor and Kelland Watts.

Cooper finished 4th in the September and October player of the month results, but finishes third here. He put in good performances against Portsmouth and Peterborough, regardless of results, but his two best performances were against Lincoln and Charlton. Cooper spilled a couple of shots against Lincoln, both of which could (should?) have ended up in the back of the net, but otherwise he was solid, and made two good saves to keep out Charlton in first round.

An awful performance against Fleetwood sandwiched these games, but comparatively Cooper was one of those who received a higher rating than some of the players around him.

4. Ryan Hardie (9.70)

Ryan Hardie had a stop-start month to match his stop-start season, but makes the player of the month top five for two reasons: his superb, double-assist performance against Swindon Town and his comparatively better performance against Fleetwood, as he was one of few to come out of that game with a respectable score. It was hardly the greatest month for Hardie, but surrounded by bad performances and consistent rotation, he makes the top five.

5. Panutche Camara (9.21)

Like Hardie, Camara did not have a great month (he actually received a score of 1 from one of the raters for his efforts against Fleetwood, when he was substituted after 11 minutes. His average rating for that game was less than 2, so not much better. That performance aside he had an above-average month, putting in hard-working performances against Swindon, Charlton and Lincoln. Given the nature of the game, it was odd that Camara didn’t start against Peterborough, regardless of his performance against Fleetwood on the weekend. That seemed like a game for him, but Lowe thought otherwise. Perhaps he wasn’t in the right mental state.

Previous winners:

September 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Danny Mayor (11.61)
  2. Will Aimson (10.31)
  3. Conor Grant (9.86)
October 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Kelland Watts (11.20)
  2. Danny Mayor (10.56)
  3. Joe Edwards (10.26)

How we calculate the score

Each player receives a match rating from 1-10 and one player from each match receives a man of the match bonus. Players who played fewer than 15 minutes of a match do not receive a match rating unless they made a significant impact. The players are scored by a variety of individuals who have witnessed every match this season.

The scores are aggregated and weighted against the number of appearances, before the man of the match bonus is added. In this way, we are ranking the impact of a player across the season. The more often they have played and the better they have performed, the more of an impact they have made on the team’s season, and therefore the higher they rank.

The formula also adds weight to higher scores. A player who gets 6s and 7s every week would average out at the same rating as a player who got a 9 one week and a 4 the next. Yet, that 9 rating implies a player made a match-winning impact and that should be rewarded. So, players who score higher ratings receive higher scores, even if their average rating is the same as a player who gets consistent middling-scores.

This way of ranking players enables us to be more impartial when speaking of the impact made by each player across a season, as it significantly reduces:

  • recency bias (players who hit a spell of form often have their season-wide impact overstated because of their recent performances).
  • statistical bias (players with lots of goals or assists relative to their position tend to be rated above those whose performance levels have been consistently superior but are not involved in goal-scoring, often because it is hard to visualise a player’s impact across a season without resorting to these stats. It explains why attackers, or defenders involved in a high-number of goals, predominantly receive most recognition throughout a season – we’re looking at you, Garth Crooks).
  • conformation bias (fans who favour some players tend to fixate on their positive performances while neglecting to factor in their bad performances when ranking them across a season).

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Rochdale 4

Plymouth Argyle went down to a shocking 4-0 defeat at home to Rochdale, ending the unbeaten run in dramatic fashion. After no losses at Home Park since New Year’s Day, this was some way to start. The game was virtually beyond us by half-time, going in three down. The second half was a bit better but not notably so. Whilst we did create some chances, we were brutally picked apart on the counter and made a catalogue of ridiculous individual errors in defence.

Starting XI

Mike Cooper – GK, 3

It was once again a disapointing evening for Argyle’s young keeper who seems to be fast estabishing himself as a player of feast of famine. He didn’t do a LOT wrong. If we’re being charitable, we could even say that he did well for the first goal, forcing Beasley to a tight angle following the initial defensive mix-up. That said, he really didn’t do a long right either. His kicking was unmemorable and I can’t actually remember a save he made. Most of the time, his hands were only on the ball to pick it out of the net.

This is before we mention his decision to inexplicably play tiki-taka football with Byron Moore on the edge of his own penalty area, leading to the fourth goal. Moore was dispossessed but it was a ridiculous pass by Cooper to go short in the situation. Moore had a man on him and could have done nothing other than, at best, boot the ball out of play.

Scott Wootton – RCB, 3

Truth be told, there was a time that I was willing to cut Wootton some slack tonight. Argyle were 2-0 down after some kamikaze defending contributed to both goals. But of all of them, Wootton was probably least culpable. He also did produce a couple of excellent blocks to prevent the scoreline looking even uglier.

Then, and there’s no way of making this sound better, he saw the ball heading into the bottom corner and just…let it go in. Let me repeat: he just watched the ball go into the goal. Despite having the means to deal with it comfortably he decided, and I need to drill this in because it still shocks me, to watch the ball nestle into the bottom corner while thinking “yep, this is fine.” Honestly, he was an active hinderance to defending the danger. Had he not been there, at least he wouldn’t have distracted his own goalkeeper.

Cue a half time substitution, and another clanger to add to the collection.

Niall Canavan – CB, 2

Contrary to popular belief, playing to the whistle isn’t the first thing kids are taught when they start playing football. But yes, by the time they become highly paid professionals, they should be aware that you can’t just stop playing whenever you feel like it. Niall Canavan, inexplicably, failed at that very objective against Rochdale.

Was the ball out of play for the visitors’ second goal? Maybe. The perspective from every camera Argyle had in operation made it impossible to tell. But Canavan assuming it was going to be called was scandalous. He wasn’t the only man at fault in the omnishambles that followed, but had he decided not to suddenly have the night off, the issue would have been stopped at source.

As an advocate for Canavan starting up until this game, this was not a night to remember for me or the Irishman.

Kelland Watts – LCB, 4

Uhh. Not a memorable night for the Newcastle loanee, which I have quickly discovered is a running theme. He was completely caught out for the first goal when he tried to play the offside trap and failed miserably, and his defending for the fourth (I still can’t believe I’m writing that after a home game against Rochdale) left a fair bit to be desired.

What really grated in this one though was his profligacy going forward. Honestly, how many times did he give the ball away during his time on the field. Well, I could probably look it up and find out, but after watching 90 minutes of that I don’t have the will to look up the stats just yet. But it was a lot, is my point.

Against a side as good on the counter as Rochdale, with a defence as hapless as Argyle’s, that was suicide.

Tyrese Fornah – DCM, 3

Tyrese Fornah seems absolutely fine on the ball. Perhaps that’s what makes Lowe like him so much. We saw as much with Jerome Opoku starting in the centre of defence to start attacks. However, much like we’ve seen with Opoku, Fornah is failing in his primary role in this system: defending.

In his position, and particularly against good counter attacking sides, Fornah needs to be the player cutting out attacks and stopping the simple passing avenues for the opposition. Against Rochdale, he almost seemed to do the opposite. He was so weak in the tackle when attempting to stop the first, and on many occasions he was nowhere to be seen for the second balls he ought to be eager to mop up.

I’m happy to be proved wrong in the coming weeks, but if Argyle are looking for this season’s Josh Grant behind the midfield, Fornah isn’t the man.

Joe Edwards – RWB, 7. Player of the Match

I can only assume Lowe recognised the game was already lost at half time, and he wanted to trial something new. Because bringing off Joe Edwards at half time when he was the only attacking threat Argyle possessed for the first 45 minutes would be mesmerically stupid otherwise.

Much like Saturday, Argyle looked most dangerous down the right in the absence of Danny Mayor. Edwards was a key cog in that, and almost set up Luke Jephcott for an equaliser soon after the game restarted after the first half injury delay. It goes without saying that this wasn’t as good as his Lincoln performance, particularly in defence, but he still stood out amongst the dirge in the first half.

I sincerely hope Lowe was just giving his right wing back a rest for the second half.

Conor Grant – RCM, 7

Grant, alongside Edwards, is the only other player to come out of this omnishambles with any credit. He was quiet in the first half and missed a half-decent chance for what would have been 1-2, fairly early in the second half. That said, he did really grow into the game as it went on. His best spell, curiously, was when he was moved into the wing-back role just after half-time.

He got up and down the line well in this position, ensuring that Argyle’s left hand side was secure. As well as this, he did also deliver some decent crosses into the box. Unfortunately, nobody had their finishing boots on to get on the end of them.

Ben Reeves – LCM, 4

Picture the scene: Argyle kick off the second half needing an Istanbul-style comeback to save the game. Within two minutes of the restart, the ball falls to Ben Reeves on the volley on the edge of the box, just days after he scored a screamer in similar circumstances against Lincoln. Once again he catches the ball on his left foot and sends it…wide. It just wasn’t to be for Reeves tonight.

He was far from the worst player in Green, and his second half performance was enough for me to consider bumping his rating up a little. However, his overall influence (or lack of) was a little problematic. The lack of Mayor in the middle has left a huge creativity void, and thus far Reeves hasn’t been able to fill it. Edwards has been great in the last two games, but he shouldn’t need to be Argyle’s main source of attacks.

Perhaps Reeves will be better alongside Mayor. Will we find out one day?

George Cooper – LWB, 5

George Cooper, with a 5, escapes as one of Argyle’s better players on the day by virtue of not having played much of the game. Yep, that’s how bad it was.

It has been notable in the last couple of games how much he struggles without Danny Mayor alongside him, but we can’t really pass much judgement on that from tonight’s showing. He may have been playing injured from the start – who knows? Hopefully both will be back soon an we’ll be able to see Argyle’s attack at its fluent best.

Frank Nouble – ST, 4

Nouble gets a 4, but it’s certainly closer to a 3 than a 5. In the first half he was very quiet, generally failing to get involved in any of Argyle’s admittedly limited attacking moves. And in the second, when he was involved, he was annoyingly wasteful. He squandered a couple of headers that could have put Argyle back in with a shout, and was barely involved in the creative side of the game.

Credit has to go to him for putting his body about, and still trying to develop openings for his side with his physicality. He was certainly better in the air than he was against Fleetwood last week, for instance. However, that’s hardly an achievement, and tonight certainly wasn’t his game.

Luke Jephcott – ST, 5

Jephcott is an excellent young striker who, all being well, will be hugely beneficial to Argyle’s promotion chances or Argyle’s bank balance one of these days. Maybe both. That said, it wasn’t his day today. He was busy and energetic, like he always did. He got into deadly positions through electric movement, like he always does.

Where he did unusually let himself down was his finishing. Argyle’s best two chances of the game both fell to him at close range. The first one was tapped against the post and the second he couldn’t get a good connection on. You’d usually expect him to finish one or both of those chances. Today, it wasn’t to be.

Substitutes

Byron Moore – LWB/RWB, 4

Moore came on for Cooper, and despite a good run of performances when he was rushed to LWB of part of Argyle’s COVID inspired reshuffle, he was pretty awful today. He replaced the injured Cooper and immediately managed to make a bad situation worse, offering next to no end product. One well delivered cross onto the head of Nouble was the one exception to the rule.

He also has to take a lot of blame for the catastrophe of the fourth goal. Yes, Mike Cooper played him into trouble, but Moore should have put his foot through the ball to clear it. Instead, he too tried to be too cute in his own penalty area and was dispossessed.

Will Aimson – RCB, 4

Aimson came on at half-time for Scott Wootton and, whilst there was some merit in sending a message to the dreadful defence, he was pretty anonymous. He didn’t do loads wrong but his passing was aimless.

He probably would be a five out of ten but he totally missed a chance to clear the ball before the fourth goal, after the Cooper/Watts fiasco. Not good but he’ll still probably return to the team for the Ipswich game, if only by default.

Jerome Opoku – CB, 6

Opoku was the best of the five Argyle centre-backs to play today and he still didn’t play especially well. He’s closer to a 5 than a 7. He didn’t do anything outstanding and there are some questions to be asked about his passing out from the back.

But, he didn’t look like he was playing with a blindfold on and he didn’t make any errors that led directly to goals. That at least is a step above the others.

Ryan Hardie – ST, 4.

I’m getting a bit numb with Hardie at the moment. Usually this season he works very hard, gets in good scoring chances but just can’t find the net. Today, he got in one semi decent area but that was about it and he spent much of the game anonymous, not really making any clear runs or effort to get the ball.

Is it time to ask the question? How long does his blip in form continue to be called a blip? How long before we question if perhaps last season was the blip after all? He needs improvement and he needs it soon. The worry is that nobody can score without Jephcott.

Panutche Camara – CM, 5

Well…he came on, he ran a lot. That’s about it. Certainly none of it appeared to be to great effect. Camara is a good player for us but on days like this, you just have to accept that nearly everyone has had an off day. He missed a good chance for what would have surely been a totally worthless consolation goal in stoppage time. The best you can say is that he got into good positions.

Joe Edwards key to victory over Lincoln

After a tough week in the league, Plymouth Argyle returned to winning ways in fine style with a 2-0 win over Lincoln in the FA Cup. The result was well deserved on balance, particularly after a strong second half performance. It puts the Greens into the third round of the competition for the first time since 2017, when a couple of games against Liverpool provided some unexpected January flavour. Who knows what joys await in the third round draw this year?

Many Argyle players came out of the encounter with their heads held high after their respective solid displays. However, there’s one we ought to focus on following his sterling showing not only against Lincoln, but in many matches across recent weeks. Many, including myself, were not entirely enthused by the prospect of Joe Edwards being Argyle’s first choice on the right for the first season back in League One. But that feeling has been truly quashed in the face of his recent performances.

In truth, Edwards himself has come on in leaps and bounds, and now seems to be the perfect choice for the position in Ryan Lowe’s preferred system.

All the attributes in attack

Remember last season when we suggested that Antoni Sarcevic would be an ideal fit on the right side for Argyle under Lowe? I still reckon that would’ve worked, but it didn’t matter in the end. Argyle were promoted, and Sarcevic won the player of the year award from a more central position.

Anyway, the arguments in favour of Sarcevic playing at wing back were down to the attributes we all became accustomed to from the Mancunian. Namely, his energy and pressing gave us all confidence that he could get up and down the pitch quickly when required, and his dribbling and forward runs made him the perfect threat for running onto through balls from Argyle’s creative hub in the middle. We never got to see it in action, but do you know who was able to demonstrate those skills from that position this weekend? Joe Edwards.

The 30-year-old has been a man reborn in recent weeks. Against Lincoln he was able to drive his team forward on the ball, pick out a pass incisively, and regularly offer an option out wide. And Argyle needed that sort of player. Without the talented Danny Mayor in the middle, Lowe’s side had a little less creativity coming from the central areas, and needed to find another way of troubling a solid Lincoln side. Edwards was the key.

And it surely showed in his output. To my horror, there are no websites that keep stats on FA Cup games to the extent we see for league games, but I have no doubt his distance covered and key passing stats would reflect very kindly. And whilst he wasn’t able to notch an assist, he came very close on a few occasions, particularly with a cross that narrowly evaded fellow wing back George Cooper at the back post.

We know Edwards has attacking qualities – the way he left a Bradford defender on the floor last season is a particularly potent memory. But honestly? I didn’t expect him to be as good going forward as he has been this year. It’s been a blast.

Body on the line

Call me out for stating the obvious, but it’s the ability to contribute in both attack and defence that makes a player so valuable in a fluid system such as Lowe’s. We’ve already discussed the benefits of Edwards going forward, but on Saturday he was also able to demonstrate his qualities at the back to help Argyle see out the win.

One particular incident stands out. With Argyle already 2 goals to the good, Lincoln started to throw men forward in a desperate attempt to get themselves back into the game. They almost managed it too – after working the ball well on the right, the Imps played the ball into the middle and seemed to be one-on-one with Mike Cooper. That was, of course, before a flying block from Edwards right in the middle of the box prevented a near-certain goal.

Argyle finally cleared their lines when Panutche Camara blocked the follow-up. And there you have an example of two players willing to put their bodies on the line for the cause. Camara’s cameo was superb, and the fact that Edwards was even in the middle of the box to cut out the attack was remarkable. It was exactly the sort of energy and commitment that Argyle needed under such pressure.

Another perhaps understated aspect of Edwards’ game is his leadership. He captains the side in Gary Sawyer’s absence for a reason – you’ll very often find him gesticulating and guiding players into position with the opposition on the attack, particularly helpful if you’re looking to blunt attacks on Argyle’s right side. He, alongside the excellent Niall Canavan on return, ensured that Argyle’s back line looked enormously more solid than some of their recent displays; Fleetwood, for instance.

A key presence in attack and defence? You don’t need me to tell you that’s not too bad.

Fitting in perfectly

What seems to make Edwards such a good fit for Lowe is that he strikes the perfect balance for the wing back role. In the past, we’ve seen Joe Riley deployed on the right, who simply didn’t have the attacking qualities to be successful. And on the other side, whilst George Cooper is an excellent player, and he has improved in the area somewhat, he still leaves a little to be desired defensively. Edwards, meanwhile, has the lot.

He’s a player enjoying his best spell in an Argyle shirt, at the highest level yet. And he’s rapidly becoming a key cog in Lowe’s Argyle machine. With the way he fits perfectly into his position, it’s not hard to see why.