Sarcevic leaves Argyle; here’s to you, Antoni

After three-and-a-half years at the club, Plymouth Argyle midfielder and fan favourite Antoni Sarcevic has left after turning down a contract extension.

Manager Ryan Lowe has said Sarcevic cited his decision as a family one, wanting to move closer to his native Manchester. Whilst this decision may come as a surprise to some, most will surelyunderstand the decision by a player who has given so much to the green shirt of Argyle.

Sarcevic ends his time in Devon with two promotions, a relegation and an enthralling playoff push on his CV, and with that in mind, it would be rude not to look back on a player who has epitomised what it means to represent the club, and one that has given us so many fond memories.

Sarcevic joined Argyle in January 2017 after a frustrating six months at Shrewsbury Town in League One, making just twelve appearances before being released in the December. That transfer window also saw Ryan Taylor join from Oxford United, two astute acquisitions which saw both make an immediate impact – Sarcevic scored the only goal in a 0-1 away win at Cambridge United with a well placed header on his first start for the club.

Whilst Taylor’s impact could not be ignored with his superb hold up play, Sarcevic was quietly effective as he featured fifteen more times as Argyle were promoted in second place to League One.

The next season was much more of a mixed bag for Sarcevic as Argyle started the season off slowly. Sarcevic, for his part, played in a 0-4 home defeat to Scunthorpe United was sent off for a headbutt on Paddy Madden. After a 3-1 loss to Bradford city in December 2017, he didn’t feature in any of the next four games as Argyle won three and drew one of those.

Things took an upturn for Sarcevic and Argyle though as after being re-introduced into the starting lineup for the win over Walsall on New Years Day, Sarcevic started the next nine games in a run which saw Argyle win seven games, only losing to eventual champions Wigan Athletic. He played an integral role in the 4-3-2-1 system that Derek Adams deployed so successfully in the second half of the seaso, and it’s such a shame that injury hit at just the wrong time for the Mancunian.

The 2018/19 season needs little explaining (it has been covered many times already, and frankly I think it’s better if I leave it out for the entertainment purposes of this piece). To cut a long story short, Argyle were relegated back to League Two, in a season which was a negative one for more or less everybody, other than perhaps the likes of Freddie Ladapo and Ruben Lamieras.

Sarcevic made 37 appearances in the league, contributing three goals and four assists.

Whilst the numbers in isolation may not be eye watering, his work ethic in wanting to put things right after relegation, and most importantly stay put when he could’ve so easily have left, really cemented his place in the hearts of the Green Army. That is perhaps a tribute to the character of the man himself.

Speaking of character, Sarcevic responded excellently to question marks over his level of involvement in the side after Ryan Lowe’s appointment as manager last summer.

Initially, he was considered perhaps not technically refined enough to be a second number 8 in Lowe’s ball playing 3-4-1-2 system, even though he has obvious qualities.

Conversely, although no less effective in my opinion, it is the more technically gifted Danny Mayor, who has played the role of facilitator, whilst Sarcevic has used his strong running and tenacity to clinch the top of the Argyle scoring charts with 11 goals and 6 assists in all competitions, his best since a breakthrough 15 goal season at Fleetwood in the same division six years ago.

Within those eleven goals, it is the stunner at Salford and the curler that won the game at Forest Green that spring to mind, but perhaps most fittingly his final Home Park goal, in front of the fans that he had built such a connection with, a penalty in the 2-1 win over Crewe, is the one that ultimately clinched promotion.

131 appearances 20 goals 15 assists, one Antoni Sarcevic.

Joel Grant: Successfully crossing the Devon divide

Much like Ryan Taylor, Joel Grant is another fairly long-serving Green who will not be retained by Plymouth Argyle next season. But as with Taylor, Grant’s departure should in no way detract from the successes he’s had across his three years with the club.

Grant ditched Exeter City for the greener pastures of Home Park in the summer 2017 transfer window. This followed Argyle leaving their rivals behind in securing automatic promotion, whilst the Grecians faltered in the play-off final. Three years later, Grant has turned out 85 times for the Pilgrims, scoring 15 times and assisting a further four. The numbers aren’t exactly eye-watering, but it’s hard to see Grant’s time at Argyle as anything other than a quiet success.

2017/18: A feeble opening

Grant’s start at Argyle was hardly swashbuckling. Whilst he did spend the majority of his time on the pitch, demonstrating his versatility across all three positions in Argyle’s attacking line, he had to wait until mid-October before his first goal contribution. But it was a vital one; Grant got on the end of Graham Carey’s superb pass to fire home against AFC Wimbledon. It secured a 1-0 win, just the second victory of Argyle’s campaign.

 

In truth, the feeble start to Grant’s season was mirrored by the diabolical start to Argyle’s in general. The former Jamaica international was finding his feet – he netted within a minute against Rochdale a week after his Wimbledon goal – but Argyle were still languishing in the League One doldrums. It took a tactical rethink from manager Derek Adams to turn the tide, and Grant wasn’t a part of his refined 4-3-2-1 system.

The swanky new style, devastatingly effective once deployed, made Grant a bit-part player for the second half of the season. Between the start of January and mid-April 2018, he didn’t start a single game, and spent just 62 minutes on the field through substitute appearances. Injuries to others forced him back into the side, and he did manage to score two important goals at the business end of the campaign against Rochdale and Rotherham, as Argyle almost completed the most remarkable of season turnarounds. But the play-offs were just out of reach.

It wasn’t the stunning start Grant would have hoped for, but he did manage six goals, certainly not a bad haul considering his sporadic appearances. Perhaps more importantly, however, his goals were enough to secure Argyle eight points. Only once, against Gillingham on the final day, did he score in a losing effort. He was certainly showing all the hallmarks of being a big-game player.

2018/19: Evolution and injury

As a whole, Argyle’s 2018/19 campaign was shambolic, ending in a totally unnecessary relegation. In relative terms, however, the first half of the season was by far Grant’s most successful time at the club.

Having fallen slightly out of favour at the end of the previous campaign, Grant started Argyle’s second season back in League One on the bench. However, a poor start led to Adams entering a state of panic, as he abandoned the style that served Argyle so well in the previous year. He switched to what he knew best – a 4-2-3-1 style – and when results didn’t improve, uncertainty and frenzied rotation were commonplace.

This meant that, by the law of averages, Grant was eventually given a chance in the first team. It’s testament to his form that, in those circumstances, he managed to impress and keep his place in the side. From mid-October 2018 right up until Christmas, he started 11 games in succession, scoring four goals which earned Argyle three additional points. He also netted one of the goals of the season that Argyle fans will be forgiven for forgetting – a late consolation in a 5-1 mauling by Luton.

 

The most striking part of Grant’s development was the change in his style of play. Whilst he was deployed as a left winger, right winger and centre forward in first campaign, he didn’t look absolutely comfortable anywhere. Very much a traditional winger at first, he wasn’t able to adapt to an inside forward role as Carey and Ruben Lameiras did so successfully. That changed in 2018/19, as Grant demonstrated a desire to get more involved in goalmouth action, and the results were tangible.

In a cruel twist of fate, injury hit just after Christmas, and he didn’t play again for the remainder of the campaign. It’s hard to argue that Argyle would have survived had Grant stayed fit. After all, his injury coincided with player of the year Lameiras getting an extended run in the team. Regardless, it was heavily frustrating that his best spell in Green had been abruptly cut short.

2019/10: Mixed League Two bag

Adams was binned off and replaced by Ryan Lowe before Argyle’s first campaign back in League Two, and the new manager had very different ideas about how football should be played. He knew exactly what he wanted, and for the players it was a necessarily ruthless case of ‘adapt or leave’.

At the start of the season, Grant certainly did adapt, and impressed Lowe enough to start as one of two strikers on opening day away at Crewe. The end result? An assist and a superbly taken goal as Argyle ran riot and won 3-0.

 

Injury again stopped him building any momentum on that flying start, but it was only minor this time, and Grant was back in the starting lineup by the start of October. He scored three league goals in 11 days – one each against Swindon, Carlisle and Leyton Orient – and it looked as though he was ready to hit the ground running once more. Alas, Grant didn’t score again for the Greens.

In fact, the main problem he encountered was indeed the necessity to find the net. Halfway through the season, Argyle were regularly out-creating their opponents, but results were not matching the performance levels. Chances being wasted were a key factor; it’s no coincidence that Argyle’s results picked up when the more clinical Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie arrived on the scene. By comparison, Grant hardly got a look-in before the season was suspended.

In the end, the season back in League Two was very much a mixed bag for Grant. Lowe clearly saw the makings of a great player in him, and at times he was able to repay that faith. However, it never felt as though it was quite enough, and with Argyle moving up a level next season, it didn’t come as a huge shock when he was released.

Reflections and the future

One wonders whether a younger player would have been given another deal, and a chance to improve and impress next year. Grant, however, will be 33 by the end of August. At the very least, he has reached his peak, and it’s probably for the best for his short-term playing prospects that he finds another club.

However, looking back over his three years in Green, Grant will have more successes he can recall than many former Pilgrims. Any transfer to a direct rival is risky for a player. It was a no-brainer for Grant to make it, of course. He always knew that he was joining a bigger club at a higher level right on his doorstep. In doing so, however, he knew he was likely to be cutting his ties with his previous employers for life. He had to make sure he made a success of it.

Overall, he did. His time at Argyle is now at an end, but he will be remembered as a player who successfully crossed the Devon divide and endeared himself to the Green Army. Both parties have been keen to wish the other the very best for the future. That speaks volumes.

Once A Pilgrim: Farewell The Ginger Zlatan

After spending much of his career on the Home Park treatment table, Plymouth Argyle manager Ryan Lowe decided to not to offer forward Ryan Taylor a new deal along with five other Pilgrims ahead of their return to League One at the first attempt.

The ‘Ginger Zlatan’ as he was affectionately known by the Argyle faithful spent nearly three-and-a-half years in Devon, making 98 appearances in all competitions, scoring 13 times but spent much of his time at the club plagued by injuries. However, when fit and available, Taylor more than proved his worth and was an integral part of the side during Derek Adams’ tenure as manager.

The 32-year-old joined from Oxford United during the 2017 January transfer window and would go on to score four times in 18 appearances, most notably in a 3-0 win against Exeter, terrorising the Grecians defence all afternoon as the Pilgrims gained promotion to League One that season.

The following season was undoubtedly when the Green Army saw the best of the former Rotherham man. His return from a broken ankle, sustained in the opening day defeat to Peterborough, twinning with the emergence of winger Ruben Lameiras saw a massive upturn in form as Derek Adams’ side narrowly missed out on the play-offs.

The partnership with the aforementioned Lameiras and Graham Carey swiftly became one of the most feared attacking trios in League One. They registered 51 goals and assists between them that season with Taylor responsible for 10 of those (5G, 5A). Whilst hardly earth shattering, Adams hadn’t signed the 6ft 1in man with the intention of getting 20 goals a season out of him and never did, but rather for his hold-up play and passing abilities.

With the former Pompey player in the side, the Pilgrims lost just twice in 21 league games to Wigan and Charlton respectively whilst picking up very impressive wins against Blackburn, Rotherham and Peterborough in the process, all games in which he scored.

The latter part of Taylor’s career at Argyle is where his struggles began. Following his tremendous 2017/18 showing, he found himself down the pecking order when available as Adams favoured new signing Freddie Ladapo. During a season in which Ladapo would score 18 goals it was difficult to argue against his presence in the side. The former Crystal Palace man was a different sort of player, offering pace and standing on the last man rather the more traditional forward role that Taylor provided. This showed throughout the season with Ladapo proving to be that little bit more selfish in his play. In some ways, this benefited Argyle, but not necessarily the likes of Graham Carey who, unlike the previous season, wasn’t receiving as much of the ball in order to work his magic in the final third.

Taylor found himself reduced to an impact role which didn’t suit his playing style unless Argyle were looking to hold onto the lead as his physical attributes could often slow down play and frustrate opposition sides. Despite making a very respectable 33 League One appearances, 27 of those came from the bench as he failed to record a single goal or assist during a campaign in which Argyle failed to score in 16 of their 46 league games (34%).

With relegation to League Two confirmed that season and Ryan Lowe taking over the reins from Adams, Taylor was lauded with praise during pre-season with the Liverpudlian claiming he had a 20 goal forward on his hands. As we now know this estimation was some way off and was most likely a form of motivation for the player at the time. The Englishman started the season impressively, however. Taylor’s brace in a 3-0 win over Walsall in August was his first since October 2015 during Oxford’s 5-1 win over Stevenage. He added to his tally a few days later in the League Cup defeat to Reading. Sadly injury once again took over once more and when fully fit again, the impressive form of Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie limited him to cameo appearances from the bench.

In truth, Taylor is perhaps not what you would consider to be a ‘Ryan Lowe player’. The former Bury man prefers more of a Ladapo type of player in terms of pace, playing on the last man and positioning. This is particularly with creative and more technically gifted players like George Cooper and Danny Mayor in the side who can do all the hard work to get into the final third. This means unlike before, there isn’t such an impetus to play through the middle or hoof the ball up field. With such a poor injury record, coupled with promotion to League One, there’s very little surprise that Lowe didn’t want to take the risk. The space in the squad will allow a new signing to rival Dom Telford and Jephcott, should he sign a new deal to add some more competition for the upcoming campaign ahead.

All Argyle fans will wish him the best of luck for the future.

Argyle Revisited: Argyle 1 Pompey 0 2016

It’s going to be a while before we see Plymouth Argyle back at Home Park, so to fill the gap while we patiently wait for that moment we decided to revisit some of the most memorable matches of our lives, starting with Argyle’s play-off victory against Portsmouth in 2016.

If you have an Argyle story you’d like to share, please feel free to get in touch. Email contact@argyle.life to talk to us about joining us on the podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify and iTunes.

Of course this promotion would be worth celebrating

There are some who claim we shouldn’t even be thinking about football in these times. That’s complete nonsense.

The naysayers can regularly be split into two distinct groups. The first consists of standard keyboard warriors, defecating their diatribe over social media looking to goad a reaction from rival fans. It’s entirely self-motivated; isn’t it strange that we only ever hear “null and void is the only fair solution” from supporters of teams having poor seasons?

The second group, however, is the one worthy of our focus. From an Argyle perspective, there are a few saying the club’s impending promotion to League One isn’t worth celebrating, given the circumstances. Maybe they’ve been shamed into it, or perhaps they genuinely feel that, with everything going on, we shouldn’t be in a position to celebrate some relatively irrelevant success by a few men manoeuvring a bag of air around a field.

The more time one gives that thought, the sadder it becomes. Granted, it would be somewhat contemptible to claim that football ought to trump a global pandemic on our list of priorities. Indeed, despite Bill Shankly’s iconic quote, the beautiful game isn’t nearly as important to be considered a matter of life and death. But isn’t that always the case? Even in comparatively normal times, football is hardly higher on the priorities list than our health, and that of our friends and families.

In that sense, the attitude towards the game ought not to have changed, despite the admittedly extraordinary times we live in. To not celebrate promotion, therefore, would be to refuse to take joy from something that already wasn’t a matter of life and death, before many of us entered a considerably miserable period of our lives. If we do not grant ourselves the right to draw happiness from a game close to our hearts during this sombre time, when on Earth can we?

That’s the primary reason why any claim from Argyle supporters that we shouldn’t be celebrating promotion is a dagger to my heart. In such a bleak period, football supporters unquestionably need a good news story to bring them together. Heck, the human race needs a good news story to bring everyone together. Plymouth Argyle’s impending promotion is, for our community at least, a very good news story. To refuse to commemorate the occasion would be a disservice to the club, the staff, and ultimately ourselves.

There are plenty more practical reasons, aside from the emotional standpoint, as to why this promotion would be a worthy cause upon which to get slightly merry. Ryan Lowe arrived at Home Park with the sole aim of getting the club back up to League One at the first time of asking. He deserves enormous credit should the achievement be confirmed. And if it is, Argyle may well find themselves in an enviable position when compared to other clubs.

Since James Brent took the reigns in the boardroom around a decade ago, Argyle have lived relatively within their means. Save from a few major financial moves (such as the sacking of Derek Adams) and paying off historic debts, the club’s finances have remained relatively balanced, certainly so when compared to a number of direct rivals. Now Brent has moved on, Argyle have in Simon Hallett an owner willing to invest, but with wealth not necessarily connected to any businesses which could fall foul of the current crisis.

The end result? From an entirely cynical point of view, it could put Argyle in a superb situation. While many clubs will undoubtedly be battling merely for survival in the coming months, Argyle’s financial strategy and circumstances could see them emerge a much stronger force. That will be particularly true, of course, if promotion is confirmed. League One football, combined with relative financial security, will provide a substantially solid basis for tempting new players to the club. Who knows how successful Argyle will have been when we’re all permitted back into Home Park?

It’s simply one of many reasons why celebrating promotion is a necessity. As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp calmly articulated recently, “dealing with the crisis is the most important thing. But that doesn’t mean that certain things are of no importance at all just because they are less important.” As with so much over the past few months, Ryan Lowe’s mate is correct. Football can still be an aspect of life close to our hearts, no matter what.

Is this the way we wanted to win promotion? Of course not. But whilst the moment of euphoria in the ground where everything is confirmed will be taken away from us, all is not lost. Me? I’ve got time on my hands, a few cans chilled in the fridge, and my football club look like they are about to win promotion.

Given everything, things could be a whole lot worse.

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

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

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

Frazer Lloyd-Davies: Antoni Sarcevic

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Sam Down: Niall Canavan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Saunders Smith: George Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Folland: Alex Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the rest: Louis Killick

Danny Mayor

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

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

Luke Jephcott

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

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

Ryan Hardie

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

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

Byron Moore

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

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

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 3 Grimsby 0

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

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

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

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

Scott Wootton, CB – 7

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

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

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

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

Callum McFadzean, CB – 5

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

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

Bryon Moore, RWB – 6

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

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 8

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

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

Conor Grant, DM – 6

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

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

George Cooper, LWB – 8, player of the match

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

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

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

Danny Mayor, AM – 6

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

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

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

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

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

Ryan Hardie, ST – 9 player of the match

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

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

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

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

Substitutes

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

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

Ryan Taylor, ST – n/a

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

Dominic Telford, ST – n/a

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

Pitch and players contribute to Bradford defeat

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

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

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

Argyle take their time to adapt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old problems come to the fore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player Ratings: Bradford 2 Plymouth Argyle 1

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

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

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

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

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

Scott Wootton, CB – 4

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

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

Niall Canavan, CB – 6

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

Gary Sawyer, CB – 4

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

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

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 7

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

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

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

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

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

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

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

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

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

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

Callum McFadzean, LWB – 3

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

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

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

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

Byron Moore, ST – 7

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

Substitutes

Ryan Taylor, ST – 7

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

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

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7, player of the match

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

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

Dominic Telford, ST – n/a

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

Frustration as Cambridge shut out Argyle

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

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

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

Cambridge happy to sit back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Argyle threatened at the other end

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

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

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

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

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

Still in the hunt

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

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

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