Match Analysis: Plymouth Argyle 3 Scunthorpe 2

Never has a victory been so poorly received at Home Park. Plymouth Argyle went into Saturday’s encounter with Scunthorpe knowing that only a win would do. They knew if they got that win, the odds of staying in League One would be in their favour. And they got that win. And it still wasn’t enough. Argyle hearts were broken over 250 miles away from Home Park in the end, as a late Southend goal against Sunderland lifted them above the Greens. It was a heart-breaking end to a highly disappointing season, as Argyle were relegated back to League Two.

Argyle and Scunthorpe’s game itself wasn’t exactly high on quality, with the sort of defensive mistakes and scrappy goals one would expect from a game between relegation rivals. But Argyle’s best players delivered at key moments. They showed why, as a squad, they were better man-for-man than their opponents. There was, of course, more than the average dose of controversy in the game. For Argyle, it was a glorious failure. Their visitors were relegated in disgrace.

State of play

Following Derek Adams’ sacking last week, Kevin Nancekivell was left in charge of the first team for this crunch clash. As expected though, Argyle’s former first team coach had no real surprises in store with his team selection. He stuck with Adams’ preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, with the tried and found wanting midfield duo of Yann Songo’o and David Fox retained.

Up front, however, there was better news. Ruben Lameiras was recalled to the side after inexplicably being left on the bench for the first half against Accrington last week. He was, as expected, part of an attacking trio with Graham Carey and Freddie Ladapo. Whilst Argyle’s creative duo are known to work better when Ryan Taylor is in the central striker role alongside Ladapo, having Argyle’s top scorer in place for this game wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. As evidence from the season suggested, this was always the sort of game he was likely to score in. And so it proved.

This game was also perhaps a demonstration of how consistency in team selection isn’t necessarily a good thing. Indeed, aside from an enforced change to the goalkeeper, this was exactly the same team that was played off the pitch by Barnsley just two weeks ago. Derek Adams’ refusal to play his best team all season was damning, but his inability to prepare to fight threats from specific opponents was also part of his, and Argyle’s, downfall.

We knew from experience that this Argyle lineup was easy for a good team to pick apart. Luckily, Scunthorpe did not fall into this category. It meant that neither side were able to take control of the game for any significant period of time. The ‘legitimate’ goals, when they arrived, could either be described as good finishes, defensive errors, or a mixture of the two.

Defensive errors

The opening goal was a complete mess. If Argyle conceded it, many questions would justifiably be asked about the defending.

 

First of all, Ladapo really ought to have given Argyle the lead before the ball eventually hit the net, somehow fluffing his lines from four yards when a deflected cross was missed in the air by the Scunthorpe defence. From there the ball fell to Ryan Edwards, and he would surely have been awarded a penalty had the ball not gone in as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson took him down from behind. Sarcevic then hit a shot against Borthwick-Jackson, on the ground at that point, and from there it’s very difficult on replay to see how the ball looped up to hit the bar, but it did. It led to a battle between Lloyd Jones and Lee Novak effectively on the goalline. Novak strangely decided to go for the ball with his foot rather than his head, and with Jones powering in, it was no contest.

This was a horrendous goal for the visitors to concede. It wasn’t a situation where they had numerous opportunities to ‘clear’ the ball, but getting into situation as they did was nonetheless avoidable. With defending like that, it’s no surprise that Scunthorpe have struggled to pick up points in recent weeks.

That being said, Argyle weren’t exactly squeaky clean with their defending either. On 42 minutes, Kyle Wootton scored for Scunthorpe to get his side back in the game.

 

Again, this was an example of how not to defend. When Josh Morris crossed the ball from this situation, the defence were overloaded and outnumbered at the back post. Fox had tracked across to prevent Morris from being played in behind Sawyer, while Songo’o was walking around the penalty area as though a spectator had encroached on the pitch. With the penalty-box overloaded, Scunthorpe eventually forced the ball in the net.

Matthew Lund was allowed an overhead kick unchallenged in the middle of the box (Songo’o still stationary). From there, Scunthorpe were able to force the ball in from the goalmouth scramble, despite a great initial save from Macey to deny Novak. It was a goal that, with better defensive protection from the midfield, would have been totally avoidable.

We can say the same of so many goals Argyle conceded this year.

Good finishing

In all honesty, Argyle’s second goal of the afternoon could easily have been placed in the previous section.

 

Oscar Threlkeld powered into a header to get the move going, and from there Graham Carey attempted a hopeful ball over the top. It’s another one the Scunthorpe defence ought to have dealt with, but again they made a mess of it. Rory McArdle’s attempted header was frankly painful, and once he miscontrolled the ball he was always likely to come out second best when pressed by Sarcevic. It was more abject defending in a game littered with errors.

However, whilst we can condemn the visitors’ leakiness at the back, praise must go to Ladapo for finishing the chance when it came his way. It was a chance he wouldn’t have expected to develop, but once it did, the 26-year-old had the presence of mind to loop the ball over Jak Alnwick and into the back of the net. It’s the sort of finish we’ve become so used to seeing from Ladapo this year, and continued his record of bizarre inconsistency. He missed a sitter in the build up to the opener, something we’ve seen a lot this year, and then pulled out a superb finish later in the game. It was Ladapo’s 19th goal of the season – in second half stoppage time he would be the width of a post away from a 20th.

Ladapo’s goal wasn’t the only excellent finish we saw on Saturday. Argyle’s eventual winner came via a thunderous strike from Carey.

 

Particularly when the angle of the strike is considered, this was a superb finish from the Irishman. He was the one player Argyle wanted on the ball in this situation – with any other player in Argyle’s side, a shot from there would be surprising. With Carey, however, there was always a chance he’d catch it sweetly on his left foot and hit the net. It’s why keeping hold of him, however unlikely, would be so important for Argyle’s quest to make an immediate return from League Two.

It wasn’t even the only goal of that style Carey has scored this season.

 

This was another season-long trend we saw demonstrated in one game on Saturday. Argyle have been poor defensively throughout the campaign, but have generally won games in which they have managed to take half-chances that come their way.

The equaliser

We can’t end this piece without a look at what must surely be one of the most disgraceful acts of football Home Park has ever witnessed.

 

Argyle were incensed when Scunthorpe scored their second goal. They had every right to be. Argyle goalkeeper Macey had clearly been injured, and rolled the ball out of play. Only, that was the plan. Josh Morris kept the ball in and looped the ball over the stricken Macey and into the net. Despite the situation bearing a striking resemblance to Leeds’ goal against Aston Villa last week, when Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa allowed Villa to score an uncontested goal directly afterwards, Scunthorpe refused to do the same.

Recently, Scunthorpe released a statement trying to explain this shameful conduct. In it, they first stated that manager Andy Dawson was disadvantaged by “not seeing exactly what happened” which is clearly ridiculous – if the manager has spent the season missing goals no wonder Scunthorpe were relegated. Dawson also said he fell victim to “not knowing the full circumstances with the goalkeeper [Macey]”. This is either another incredible act of ignorance – Macey signalled four times that he was injured and hardly rolled the ball out to the sideline for no reason – or simply a lie.

Dawson mentioned in the statement that he apologised to Argyle caretaker manager Kevin Nancekivell after the game, which seems very odd considering at the time he “didn’t see exactly what went on” and “didn’t know the full circumstances” with Macey. Why the sudden need to apologise when it turned out Scunthorpe lost the game anyway?

Perhaps the biggest farce in the statement, however, was the reference to all of this being in the “heat of the moment”. If we are being incredibly kind to Scunthorpe, we could argue that they believed Macey was not injured and simply wasting time, and in that sense perhaps Morris was justified in refusing to let the ball go out of play. Even in that unlikely circumstance, why on earth did Scunthorpe claim they still didn’t know what was happening with Macey when he had to be carried off the field? It took many minutes for play to finally restart, so why in that time did nobody of a Scunthorpe persuasion think they ought to be dealing with the situation differently? Why has it only taken until now? The truth is, this was hardly a “heat of the moment” incident. It was a calculated decision to deliberately play in an unsportsmanlike manner.

Ultimately, this statement has all the hallmarks of a team and manager caught playing in an unfair way – or cheating, to be direct about it – and trying to save face. Macey is not to blame for the goal. The referee is not to blame for the goal. Blame lies entirely with Josh Morris and Scunthorpe United. None of the excuses in their statement justify their actions.

Thank goodness it wasn’t as a result of that goal that Argyle went down.

Final verdict

So, there we have it. After six years trying to escape the EFL’s basement division, Argyle are back there again after just two. League One was a rollercoaster ride, with the Greens starting both seasons terribly, and nearly recovering to achieve an unthinkable promotion in one of them.

Unfortunately, Argyle hadn’t done enough to turn their 2018/19 campaign around before this remarkable encounter at Home Park. But the Pilgrims are in a much better position than when they were last relegated to League Two, and will be back. And games with Scunthorpe next season may well have an added edge.

Player Ratings: Accrington 5 Plymouth Argyle 1

Plymouth Argyle went down 5-1 to Accrington at the weekend. The game to seal Derek Adams’ fate as Argyle manager was a truly miserable affair, with nobody covering themselves in glory either individually or as a team.

Starting XI:

Matt Macey – 2

The only reason his score is not even lower is the fact that it was such an awful surface to play on. However, it was the same pitch for both teams and that doesn’t excuse the continued atrocious run of kicks and non-existent command of area and poor positioning for the goals. Letheren or Cooper must start against Scunthorpe.

Oscar Threlkeld – 3

Whilst there were at least two goals for which he could have done better, he was a little let down for being left two on one on a couple of occasions. He still deserves a low rating as his attacking play was non-existent and was often forced back out of position, even if he wasn’t dribbled past during the game.

Ryan Edwards – 4

He was not uniquely at fault for any of the goals but his performance was still stodgy, often losing his man and slowing the pace of the game down with his attempts to play the ball out of defence. That said he was far from the worst offender.

Lloyd Jones -3

The loanee left far too much space for Accrington attackers to run into as well as badly directing headers and demonstrating a lack of communication with his fellow defenders. Winning a fair few headers is what prevents a lower score.

Gary Sawyer – 1

Sawyer has been a fantastic servant to the club but this game more than any other demonstrated why he needs to be put out to pasture. His lack of pace is painful to watch and he was bypassed time and time again without any redeeming features.

Yann Songo’o -4

The usual story for the number 4. Lots of enthusiasm without so much quality. He got his foot in and got dirty but didn’t do much to protect his defence or create anything serious going forward.

David Fox – 3

It’s becoming a common trend, sadly. Whilst he is capable of decent enough performances in his best position, in a 4-2-3-1 he is next to useless these days. Teams pour through our midfield like the opening of the Red Sea and even his passing was once again far from its best

Antoni Sarcevic – 3

As mentioned last week, he is so clearly and obviously playing with an injury that it’s become painful to witness. He can have touched the ball no more than a handful of times in the entire game after a bright first twenty minutes. Thereafter, he was anonymous.

Jamie Ness – 5 (Man of the Match)

A very lively first twenty minutes aside, his head seemed to completely drop after we went 1-0 down and he did little of any note thereafter. The midfielder was subbed off at half time accordingly. The fact he goes down as Argyle’s best player on the day says it all.

Graham Carey – 4

It’s very rare that a performance as subpar as his can be considered one of the better ones, but that says more about the other players on the pitch. He at least tried to create a few good things in the second half and showed some energy in closing down which is more than many did.

Ryan Taylor – 3

Like Sarcevic, he’s another one who tends to run as through his boots are dipped in treacle at the moment. Whilst not helped by poor refereeing, his touch was too heavy throughout and he didn’t make any kind of positive run forward.

Substitutes:

Freddie Ladapo – 4

Perhaps with a point to prove, Ladapo was one of the lesser offenders when he did come off the bench. The end product was still marginal and his hold up was poor, but he showed himself for an out ball which is more than most did barring Carey and Lameiras.

Ruben Lameiras – 4

The Portuguese came on at the same time as Ladapo and truthfully put in a similar display. A bit more spark and energy than we saw from the first half players, but a lot of heavy touches and balls overran saw a largely fruitless display.

Alex Fletcher – N/A

The young striker came on and showed lots of promise with no little enthusiasm and some good passing play but was not on for long enough to earn a rating.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Barnsley 3

A 3-0 loss to promotion-chasing visitors Barnsley saw Plymouth Argyle staring down the barrel of the relegation gun. A very poor performance led to a scoreline which flattered us more than them – it could easily have been more.

Starting XI:

Kyle Letheren – 6 (Man of the Match)

The Welsh goalkeeper won the award for Argyle’s player in the game but in truth that says far more about his fellow performers than him. He did make a lot of saves, two of which were very good but his kicking was patchy and he didn’t show much in the way of commanding his area. He was peppered with a number of shots (mostly due to his incompetent outfielders) and that he kept the margin to 3 gives him a 6/10.

Oscar Threlkeld – 4

Since coming back into the team, Threlkeld has generally been one of the more encouraging players in what has been a pretty poor two months for the side. There cannot, however, be much positive to be said about his display in this game. He looked nervy and full of errors. As well as this, his marking wasn’t up to its usual high standards.

Ryan Edwards – 2

Edwards is another player who has had a largely good second half of the season and you can see why other clubs are reportedly interested in him. But this performance was shocking. He was outpaced time after time by Cauley Woodrow and he made a lot of errors on the ball. Not a game he’ll want to remember for many reasons.

Lloyd Jones – 5

His performance (like most of the times he’s played this season) was not amazing but he did show a little more than his defensive partner, particularly winning balls in the air. He did however notably lose track of the ball for Barnsley’s second goal and his passing wasn’t anything special throughout with his decision making still also needing work.

Gary Sawyer – 2

Argyle’s captain has served well for a number of years but it is probably fair to say that his legs are now on the way out. He too was done for pace by the Barnsley wide men on a number of occasions and, as has been a trend this season, he offered next to nothing going forward. It’s a stark contrast to last season when he looked solid in defence and attack.

Yann Songo’o – 5

Social Media was flooded with comments in the aftermath of the game arguing that Songo’o is certainly one of the best tryers in a team that currently looks like it can’t buy a win. Well, that Yann Songo’o is a tryer may be true, but trying in itself isn’t enough when many of his raw attributes and decisions are as bad as his are. The Cameroonian had two very good moments (one dribble and one pass) with the ball at his feet but a lot of mispasses and a lot of space left behind him due to defensive naivety. Improved, but better is needed.

David Fox – 3

Another very poor performance from a great servant to the club, bringing sadness to those of us who recall his magisterial performances in the centre of the park over his first two seasons with Argyle. Part of the decline is due to not being used in his best position but there’s also been an aspect of physical decline. He doesn’t appear as sharp on the ball as he once was, and his defensive frailties when played out of his best position can allow opposing teams to cut through the Argyle midfield like a hot knife through butter.

Graham Carey – 5

Whilst Carey was once again not terrible, he was yet again just that little bit below average. He tried to make a lot of things happen and he got frustrated when there was no reward. His defensive work wasn’t as good as it could’ve been with not a lot of tracking back and there were a lot of times where you felt he wasn’t really in the game.

Antoni Sarcevic – 5

He tried very hard but very rarely have we seen a man more obviously playing through an injury as he currently is. Whilst he attempted to cover a lot of ground, his lack of pace and mobility rendered him unable to do so and he often killed momentum with the first touch that seemed to indicate that he had just dipped his boots in a bucket of treacle.

Ruben Lameiras – 6

Like Carey, he could justifiably be criticised for not getting involved or tracking back enough but frankly the guy is probably frustrated from having to carry the rest of the side on his back for most of the season. He gets a higher mark because he was involved in a few more decent passing moves even if his defensive contribution was equally poor.

Ryan Taylor – 5

Ok, mea culpa. I’ve been calling for Taylor to start all season but when he finally did get a role as the lone striker his performance was far below any expected standard. The balls we played to him didn’t help but his touch was still heavy and his movement (even accounting for injuries) was non-existent. Given a full pre-season he could become the player we once knew and loved, but his display against Barnsley wasn’t anything like that.

Substitutes:

Alex Fletcher – N/A

Subbed on with ten minutes to go, he showed a lot of energy and industry with mixed results.

Paul Anderson – N/A

Did he even touch the ball?

Jamie Ness – N/A

In the ten minutes he was on, he didn’t get into the game in any meaningful way.

Player Ratings: Doncaster 2 Plymouth Argyle 0

Plymouth Argyle slipped nearer to the League One relegation zone after a 2-0 loss to Doncaster. Argyle are now winless in five and goalless in two.

Starting XI

Matt Macey – 5

The club’s official Twitter account described Macey as having had a good game in a first half tweet. Whilst football is of course a game of opinions, I feel this one was a little generous to the Arsenal loanee. It’s true that he made some good saves – He tipped a low shot around the post that looked destined for the corner and made one very good reflex stop in the second half. However, he should have done better for Donny’s second goal, getting down far too late. Furthermore, his distribution was as poor to average as it often is, as was his general command of his area. Ryan Edwards was seen lamenting his communication on more than one occasion.

Oscar Threlkeld – 6

Argyle’s other loanee (though he’s too familiar to seem it) had a game which very much summed up his fourth spell at Home Park. Was he fantastic? Was he his very best? No, he was not. What he was also far from however, is the main reason why we lost the game. He didn’t let much beat him or get down his side but nor did he shine in getting down the line and assisting from an attacking perspective.

Ryan Edwards – 4

I’m far from a believer in the line that the defence has been the main problem this season, focusing more on the shortcomings of the midfield and the goalkeeping side of things.  But, whilst Edwards has generally been a solid and reliable force since Christmas this was far from the case at the Keepmoat. His passing was incredibly sloppy and he suffered many lapses in concentration where he let his man run away from him. Even headers, usually a specialist area for the number five, did not go his way as much as they should.

Niall Canavan – 5

The Irishman was the better of the two centre halves but it wasn’t the calm and composed performance that we’re used to seeing from him. He had one painstaking moment where James Coppinger slipped to the floor but he was able get back up and regain control of the ball before a startled Canavan (who was marking him touch tight) was truly able to respond to the situation. As isolated incident maybe, but it was rather symptomatic of the lackadaisical nature of his defending that gifted Doncaster a good few chances. In truth, they should have scored more than two throughout the game,

Gary Sawyer – 4

His shortcomings may have been a little overshadowed by the mistakes of others, but one of the more under-appreciated reasons behind Argyle’s poor season is that of the sad decline of Gary Sawyer. Whilst pace was never his forte, he often made up for it with his sharpness of mind and determination to get forward and to overlap in spite of his limitations. This season and in the game against Doncaster especially, he has declined to the point where it’s just not possible for him to keep up to the pace of League One football. He was dribbled past a good few times and didn’t stop many crosses.

Yann Songo’o – 3

His efforts and hearty spirit may be beloved by the Green Army but this game (like so many others) demonstrated why Songo’o is simply not good enough for League One level (at least as anything other than a reserve). His passing was as poor as it always is, highlighted especially by the occasion when he passed the ball gently ten yards to the feet of an opposition player when he was in acres of space. His defensive attributes (usually more passable) were also below par, often being dribbled past. Being booked so early in the game was perhaps stopping him from going into tackles with his usual thrust,

David Fox – 3

If Sawyer needs to be put out to pasture, Fox is sadly another one dangerously approaching that status. Like his counterpart Songo’o, Fox was not only bad at his usual areas of weakness but also in the areas where he usually excels. He was dribbled past time after time and never mind losing 50-50s, he was losing physical duels that were 70-30 in his favour. His passing was also bad, very rarely finding the intended player. Doncaster won the midfield battle and therefore won the game. He was better in the second half when we changed to a diamond but not enough to redeem his performance.

Graham Carey – 5

The conventional wisdom that Carey has had a poor season should not be subscribed too, but what is beyond question is that he isn’t the same player of his first three seasons. Far too often in this game, the problems that have been on display all season were there for everyone to see. He showed inarguable signs of promise when he got on the ball but he didn’t make himself an outlet and proactively chase his way into the game like he is capable of doing. His defensive work has also taken a nosedive, offering inadequate protection to full-backs at times.

Antoni Sarcevic – 6

If we hadn’t already been told that Sarcevic is carrying an injury, it would have become apparent from the way he’s been playing. He’s hardly playing terribly – unlike many players in this dysfunctional side, he’s keeping a good shape and making better decisions with the ball when he finds it as his feet. That’s something at least. However, he’s also clearly unfit (as he has been for much of his time here). He looks like he’s run a marathon at an early stage in the game and his pressing (a staple of last season’s success) is limited if not non existent.

Ruben Lameiras – 7

Not the perfect game from Argyle’s diminutive number eleven – he did fade as the match went on, but the best out of our creative midfielders and the one who looked most likely to create something. He was the only one willing to run at Doncaster’s defenders and a couple of good passes to Ladapo were wasted by the striker. Make no mistake, if Argyle stay up this season, he will be the main man to thank.

Freddie Ladapo – 6

It is painstaking how much Ladapo is clearly trying to play the target man role that Argyle need to bring the best out of Carey and Lameiras, but he just isn’t set up for doing so. His energy and efforts in the game are beyond question and he had some moments of technical excellence too, with one or two decent passes. Yet, the amount of times he jumped too early for headers, got outmuscled by a centre-back and had the ball bounce off his feet like a pinball are too many to count.

Substitutes

Ryan Taylor – 7 (Man of the Match)

To the surprise of few, Argyle were a lot better when Ryan Taylor was bought onto the pitch. It is a refreshing tonic to finally see (albeit in brief glimpses) a player who is capable of winning headers, chest downs, holding up the ball and actually distributing it to another player effectively. He may not score a great many goals himself but the team create many more effective chances when he is playing. He NEEDS to start on Good Friday.

Lloyd Jones – N/A

Subbed on for Canavan with the latter seemingly carrying a knock, Jones (once again) didn’t have much time to settle into the game.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Charlton 2

A disappointing result to open April for the Pilgrims against Charlton; a game where Plymouth Argyle had plenty of opportunities to get a result but ultimately fell short once again, an all too familiar scene this season.

Starting XI

Matt Macey – 5

A relatively quiet afternoon from the young Gunner as he only faced 3 shots on target throughout the game, but as the score line reflects that was enough to turn over the relatively lacklustre Pilgrims. A disappointing show of technical distribution throughout the game saw the ball lost upon numerous occasions. Combining with this was the frequent kicking towards Addicks centre half Nabby Sarr, standing at 6ft 4”, this was always going to result in a turnover in possession and certainly contributed to the lack of time spent attacking during the second half.

Oscar Threlkeld – 6

A professional performance from the former Bolton right back on Saturday as he was relatively solid in dealing with the majority of the Charlton attacks. However, a lapse in concentration in the sencond half, as Charlton danger man Johnny Williams waltzed his way down the line and with some mesmerizing footwork which left Threlkeld fearing to put a foot in, resulted in a cross that was met by the boot of Niall Canavan, and subsequently the net.

Ryan Edwards – 5

A poor afternoon from the Scouse centre half as he was left in the dust of familiar face Lyle Taylor upon numerous occasions. Regularly a thorn in Argyle’s side, the ex-Wimbledon striker took advantage of the relatively sluggish Ryan Edwards in order to score the opening goal. Sloppy marking saw Taylor lose his marker before heading the ball home from close range under little pressure. Despite this mistake, Edwards does continue to look a strong asset and has improved since his Home Park debut against Charlton at the beginning of last season.

Niall Canavan – 5

The Argyle number 14 had a similarly difficult afternoon as his centre half partner had endured. The tricky combination of Aribo, Taylor and Williams was a difficult one to cope with and resulted in the former Scunthorpe man struggling to deal with the quick flowing football that was offered by the technical trident. Ended up offerning nothing of vital importance in either penalty area.

Gary Sawyer – 4

An unusually shaky performance from the Argyle skipper as he was clearly identified as a weak point by Lee Bowyer’s men. Lyle Taylor tactically placed himself on the Argyle number three in the attempt to utilize his speed and height against the veteran full-back. This tactical decision proved fruitful for the visitors as Sawyer struggled to handle the tricky forward and was given the run around in a relatively disappointing afternoon for the Pilgrims.

Antoni Sarcevic – 5

A fitness doubt before kick off but medically passed fit was Mancunian midfielder Antoni Sarceivc. Unusually, however, he was quiet throughout. Despite being full of energy throughout the rest of the season the former Shrewsbury man was appeared timid. A second half substitution for forward Ryan Taylor saw the midfielder’s afternoon cut short. Questions must be asked whether or not Sarcevic was fully match fit or whether he was included due to his vital importance to this Argyle team.

David Fox – 6

Lee Bowyer was one of the first ever managers to publicly speak about the importance of David Fox with the Plymouth Argyle team. The victory the Addicks achieved last season was down to the fact that they prevented the ball from getting to the former Norwich man. A similar tactic was deployed on Saturday afternoon as Fox was left with little time on the ball as well as his options being limited due to the well positioned marking of the Charlton midfield. Saturday’s performance from the Argyle number 8 was restricted severely by the setup of the London side which inevitably resulted in the Greens struggling to get a grip on the game. Not necessarily the fault of Fox but more of a downfall of the tactics deployed on the day.

Jamie Ness – 7 (Man of the Match)

A rare bright light within a relatively dull afternoon at Home Park was Scottish midfielder Jamie Ness. A high work ethic combined with the superb blocking of cross field balls resulted in Ness picking up today’s man of the match award. He frequently found himself at the heart of the majority of Argyle attacks, and he did just as well when breaking down a significant amount of Charlton attacks. Despite his superb performance, the system deployed by the London side once again restricted the freedom iof the former Scunphorpe man.

Ruben Lamerias – 6

A Jekyll and Hyde like performance from the Portuguese winger as he ran havoc during the first 45 but remained a lot less effective throughout the final half. Subject to consistent fouling throughout the first half resulted in numerous fans left scratching their heads at how Charlton remained with 11 men. However, Lamerias did entice a rash challenge within the penalty area which was subsequently awarded with a penalty in which was squandered by Argyle talisman Graham Carey. A less positive second half resulted in the visitors coping with the tricky feet of the Lisbon-born winger as little clear cut opportunities were created throughout the second half.

Freddie Ladapo – 5

A frustrating afternoon from Ladapo as he was left with little to no chances. A first half chance after the penalty miss was left begging as well as a second half curling effort from outside of the box which soared into the Devonport End, but bar these two opportunities there was little to shout about for the former Crystal Palace forward. Another talking point would be the limited aerial prowess of the forward. Charlton’s towering centre halves proved to cause problems for Argyle as their target man centred play was unable to be utilized due to this aerial dominance.

Graham Carey – 6

A quiet afternoon seems to be a frequent pattern which has been enforced in todays report and Graham Carey is a player who fills into this category as well. A superbly saved penalty during the first half was the most involved the Irish talisman was during Saturday afternoon’s encounter. An ever so consistent dead ball situation in Carey was expected to dispatch from 12 yards but an unusually poor penalty was saved by the feet of the Charlton stopper. Not a lot else to be mentioned for the number 10’s performance apart from a few pot shots from range.

Substitutes

Ryan Taylor – 5

A brief showing of the Argyle number 9 showed little effectiveness as his skills were not utilized to the greatest extent. Introduced in order to help make the ball stick in the final third, he was ultimately met with a similar problem to which Ladapo encountered earlier on. The towering centre halves prevented the reliable striker from being able to get the ball down and distribute effectively. Not an awful appearance from the Rotherham-born striker, but the consistent theme of a quiet performance is present here once again.

Lloyd Jones – 6

Not a lot to show for the Luton loanee’s performance and little talk about, but this must suggest that despite not being notably busy he must of gone about his business in a very tidy manner.

Alex Fletcher – 6

A late introudciton for the Newton Abbot born striker saw little impact. A late strike on target during the dying minutes and some confident hold up play was about all Fletcher had time for in his short cameo. Not a bad performance by any means.

Match Analysis: Sunderland 2 Plymouth Argyle 0

Plymouth Argyle’s season suffered a setback at the weekend with a 2-0 loss away at Sunderland. The defeat, not entirely unexpected given the respective sides’ squads and league positions, dented Argyle’s recent run – the Pilgrims had previously lost just once in the entirety of 2019. Four points above the relegation zone, Argyle are still in a much better position than many would have expected at this time of year. Nonetheless, this game served as a reminder that Argyle aren’t out of the woods just yet.

Looking back, Argyle’s performance at the Stadium of Light wasn’t a bad one. Given the circumstances, it was just about the best way Derek Adams could have set up his side. The game ended up being very similar to the reverse fixture at Home Park in November. Argyle weren’t bad, and had they had a bit more luck, or a few more decisions in their favour, they may have come away with something. In the end, however, their opponents proved to be just too good.

There were two distinct periods of the game. The first, before any goal had been scored. And the second, after Sunderland took the lead and the Greens were forced to chase the game.

Phase 1: containing the hosts

Due to Sunderland’s strength in attack, and Argyle’s depleted midfield – Antoni Sarcevic suspended, Jamie Ness and Conor Grant still not match fit – Derek Adams had little option but to try and set up in a defensive manner. In this regard, he was clever in the way he lined up his side. Threlkeld came in as Sarcevic’s replacement, but the change wasn’t like-for-like. Rather, Threlkeld sat in a slightly deeper position than Sarcevic would, putting him alongside Yann Songo’o. In turn, this duo sat ahead of David Fox, with the pair expected to protect the 35-year-old from a defensive standpoint.

In that regard, things worked. The formation may not have contained the same personnel as last season’s 4-3-2-1, but it had the same shape. Threlkeld proved beyond all doubt that he was fit and ready to play with good energy and awareness in his role. Songo’o, meanwhile, was clearly put in place to attempt to stop attacks before they were developed. Even though he was dribbled past as much as one would expect, this didn’t matter as much as it perhaps would normally. Argyle tended to have enough men behind the ball for every time that Songo’o was caught out-of-position.

With all this in mind, things were going fine for Argyle during the first half-hour. However, the problem with setting up to defend is that concentration is paramount. Any lapse in this concentration can blow the game plan wide open in an instant. Unfortunately, this is how Argyle came unstuck:

 

This was during a time in which Sunderland were just gaining the upper hand in the match.Regretfully, Graham Carey received the ball to the left of his own penalty area after an overhit cross, failed to sufficiently control it as he was trying to generate the space to clear the ball and had it taken away from him.

This caused panic in the Argyle defence, and understandably so. After all, not many defences are set up to deal with the ball suddenly being won by the opposition in the final third. From that position, Morgan had no issue putting a dangerous ball across the Argyle box. Niall Canavan did well to deal with it initially, but could only divert the ball towards Lee Cattermole, who stormed away from Songo’o – who was positioned weirdly on the edge of the box – five yards further up-field that he out to have been. Quite how Cattermole stole a march on Songo’o – and this was far from the only time the Cameroonian allowed this to happen – we’ll never know. What we do know is that he scored only his second goal at the Stadium of Light in his entire career.

This was problematic for Argyle. Not only did it harm them on the scoreboard, it also caused them psychological pain. From a position of relative comfort at 0-0, they were given an unwelcome reminder that their setup, made to contain Sunderland, could be breached. Sunderland truly did have the upper hand in proceedings at this stage, and ought to have killed the game off. That they didn’t owed much to Argyle custodian Kyle Letheren. The 31-year-old made some key saves, including a superb stop from point-blank range to deny Will Grigg, as Argyle went in at halt time just the one goal down.

 

Argyle needed a goal to get themselves back on level terms. However, their main method of attack in the first half was, well, there wasn’t one really. Argyle managed one shot all half, and that came from thirty-yards. Adams’ initial setup worked to an extent, but once Sunderland broke through something had to change. To the Argyle manager’s credit, it did in the second half.

Phase 2: Chasing a goal

From lining up with a 4-3-2-1 formation for the first 45 minutes, Adams switched to his more favoured 4-2-3-1 for the second period. However, quite surprisingly, this move involved no substitutions. Instead, Carey moved into the attacking midfield position, and Threlkeld was deployed on the right wing. A surprising move indeed, but perhaps not a complete shock given his successes going forward from right back last season.

The initial impact of the changes was good. Granted, Argyle were not suddenly creating chances at will, as we’d all have liked. However, they were at least threatening in an attacking sense. That sort of impetus had been sorely lacking in the first 45 minutes. Whether this can be related to Threlkeld’s positioning on the right wing is debatable. I’d perhaps suggest that having Graham Carey in a much more centralised position gave the Greens a more substantial attacking outlet than having Threlkeld pushed up into an advanced wide area. Nonetheless, Argyle’s system enabled them to transition the ball forward in a far more effective manner than it had previously in the game.

However, Argyle were ultimately found wanting in the same key area they have been for the majority of the season: chance creation. For all their greater threat, Argyle were not able to develop any big chances for their best finishers across the half. That they went closest initially through a long-range drive from Ashley Smith-Brown speaks volumes. Then came another opportunity for Argyle which didn’t come to fruition, and perhaps did not show Threlkeld in an entirely positive light.

 

Threlkeld, in fact, had two opportunities to do better. First of all, we can see from the highlight that he started with the ball in a good position and was then required to put it across. He did first have to deal with the challenge of Burnley loanee Jimmy Dunne. Whilst Dunne did put in a superb tackle in on Threlkeld, he shouldn’t really have had the chance to do so. It did, however, mean that the opportunity to play a troubling ball into a dangerous area had gone. This was perhaps an example demonstrating exactly what Threlkeld was on the day: a good full back expected to have the feet of a winger in critical situations.

Threlkeld had another chance to make something happen after a Yann Songo’o shot was pushed away by Jon McLaughlin, but he seemed to panic a little. He ended up hitting the ball first time but could only find the side netting. The most frustrating element of this situation comes with the fact that a square ball to Freddie Ladapo was available. Unfortunately, Threlkeld wasn’t composed enough to spot this opening, albeit it should be mentioned that he was charging onto the ball and Ladapo was only in the corner of his eye. He only had time for one touch, and arguably shooting was the right option in that scenario.

The game-killing goal

Before we conclude, let’s have a quick look at the goal George Honeyman scored to seal the deal for the hosts.

 

This came seven minutes after Matt Macey came on to replace the injured Letheren. Many couldn’t help but notice the correlation between Macey’s introduction and Sunderland’s second goal. So, could it be said that Macey should have done better in these circumstances? Not really.

First of all, let’s remember a very important fact: correlation does not equal causation. Just because Macey came on and a goal was quickly scored, it doesn’t mean Macey was to blame for that eventuality. At face value, it doesn’t even mean it was a factor. Honeyman hit the ball hard and low to Macey’s right as the keeper was moving left along his line to follow the cross. It was past him within a couple of hundredths of a second, not enough time to reverse his momentum and get close to the shot.

Would Letheren have saved this effort? He did save a similar effort by Grigg in the first half, but that was struck at him while he was stationary in the centre of his goal. He did show good reflexes to keep it out, but it was an easier effort to save – though still difficult. Like Macey, it is unlikely that he would have had the time reverse his momentum to get to the shot. I do hope Letheren recovers quickly. The Welshman appears to be at the peak of his career, and his last opportunity to have a run in the first team at Argyle was cruelly cut short by injury last season. If that happens again, it would be a shame on a personal level.

However, I don’t believe Argyle will experience a sudden downturn should Letheren be ruled out for a while. Much is sensationalised by supporters, but Macey is a capable goalkeeper. I’d like to think we wouldn’t notice too much of a difference if he had to take over the goalkeeping duties during the weeks ahead. Having said that, Argyle face Luton next and it would not be at all surprising if they were to put more than three goals in the back of Argyle’s net, regardless of the goalkeeper.

Final verdict

For the second time this season, Argyle have lost 2-0 to Sunderland. However, on both occasions, the Greens may be well within their rights to believe they deserved a little more. Unfortunately, composure cost Argyle this weekend, at both ends of the field.

The result is of course not ideal, particularly with the bottom half of League One tightening up. With a clash with league leaders Luton Town to come, an unexpected point here would have been very welcome. However, we needn’t worry just yet. Even if some changes are enforced between now and the end of the season, Argyle are still in a good position to beat the drop.

Player Ratings: Sunderland vs Plymouth Argyle

This weekend, Plymouth Argyle’s unbeaten run came to an end with a disappointing 2-0 loss at Sunderland.

Kyle Letheren: 8 MOTM

Before being forced off with an unfortunate injury, Letheren continued his impressive run of form in the team. He made some excellent saves when needed including a one-vs-one effort in the first half. His kicking and decision making, generally his two weaker attributes were competent enough to earn him a high rating alongside the stops which kept the greens in the game.

Ashley Smith-Brown: 7

The right-back is another player who has been on well improved form going into the game and he kept it up with an impressive individual performance, in spite of the loss. He mostly held the defensive line very well and let next to nothing get down his side. Perhaps a slight cautiousness going forward prevented him from gaining a higher rating but he has certainly done well enough to keep his place in the side for the foreseeable future.

Ryan Edwards: 7

Another good performance was had from Argyle’s ‘steady Eddie’ who in truth was one of the players to thank for ensuring Sunderland only scored the two goals. It seems perverse to give so many defenders high ratings in a game where we conceded two goals and multiple chances but it was more down to lack of protection from the midfield than defensive inadequacy. Edwards’ marking and distribution was fine as well as his winning of headers and making saving challenges when he had to. Not perfect, but good.

Niall Canavan: 8

He generally had a pretty similar game to Edwards, but gets a higher rating due to being kept busier. Often in the first half, the left central midfield position was left unoccupied due to poor positioning by Yann Songo’o. This led to Sunderland generally targeting the left rather than the right and often forcing Canavan out to help Gary Sawyer. He kept composed in difficult circumstances and played the ball out fairly well.

Gary Sawyer: 7

The full-back didn’t appear at first glance to have a good first half, at all. On further inspection however, a large part of this could be put down to the aforementioned lack of midfield protection. The second half change of shape enabled Argyle’s veteran to have a much better 45 minutes. His overlapping runs of seasons before (rarely seen this year) made a comeback and he really should have scored in the second half but for what looked like a pretty blatant handball to deny him a goal.

David Fox: 4

In truth, it was not really the best game for the midfield man whose lack of pace and energy was exposed on countless occasions. He was often not able to keep up with Sunderland’s midfield runners, allowing a fair few chances to be created. His passing, usually his redeeming feature if all else fails, was also fast from its best, though this could be partly down to lack of movement ahead of him.

Yann Songo’o: 3

Whilst Fox was poor, he was not the most culpable on the pitch for lack of defensive acumen leading to chances conceded. Songo’o, full of passion and energy as always, was exposed positionally time and time again in the first half, and allowed Lee Cattermole of all people to twice get a run on him into the box. He was consistently 5 to 10 yards higher up the pitch than his midfield partner Oscar Threlkeld, as well as being arguably too central. This left a gaping hole down whichever side of the pitch he was on at the time which Sunderland often exploited in the first-half. His distribution was as below par as ever.

Oscar Threlkeld: 5

In the first half he was largely off the pace, though not helped by Songo’o’s wanderings. He picked up a little in the second half when he was moved out right in a 4-2-3-1 formation but even then he was imperfect. His decision making was often flawed and he missed two good chances to score a goal within a 30 second period. He can perhaps be cut some slack due to the length of his spell without a start, but it was far from a perfect performance.

Graham Carey: 6

Carey was at fault for the first goal, primarily, after a serious bout of what can only reasonably be described as ‘faffing around with it’ in his own penalty area resulted in the ball being given away before being set up for Lee Cattermole. He flattered to deceive for much of. The first half, but did improve in the second during Argyle’s hot spell.

Ruben Lameiras: 6

The Portugese attacker had a surprisingly similar game to his Irish counterpart, actually. He too made an error in his own box, underhitting a backpass to Kyle Letheren that also put Argyle in serious danger. He too brightened up in the second half, showing more signs that he might create something from his ’native’ central attacking midfield position, but ultimately the end product was not quite there.

Freddie Ladapo: 4

Ladapo certainly is a player who can tear the lower reaches of League One apart in games when Argyle are on the front foot, with his searing pace and intelligent runs into space. However, in games like this, when an ability to hold the ball up was needed, he was more a liability than an asset. His first touch with that of a pinball and he rarely gave the Sunderland defenders much of a physical competition, meaning the ball often went straight back to us whenever we tried a long pass out of defence.

Ryan Taylor: 5

For all the criticism of Ladapo, Taylor was the game was in theory more suited to was not a whole lot better. He won the odd header but did not link play together like the Taylor of old. However, this wasn’t helped by the unusual 4-2-2-2 formation that Argyle switched to which was suboptimal due to the lack of runners available to get onto the end of his flick ons.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 5 Rochdale 1

After last week’s stalemate at Valley Parade, Sky Bet League One action returned to Home Park as Plymouth Argyle hosted a struggling Rochdale side managed by former Pilgrim Keith Hill. Dale failed to cause the Pilgrims a lot of problems as the home side breezed past the lacklustre visitors, who finished the game with ten men.

Kyle Letheren – 6

The Welsh giant has been a great pillar during Plymouth Argyle’s recent resurgence to the middle of the table and he continued this vein of form this afternoon with a collection of good saves. The former York City man did not leave Home Park with a clean sheet but that was not due to his wrong-doing. A very brave performance from Argyle’s number 21 as he closed down onrushing attackers whilst enduring multiple hits in the process. That being said, he did enjoy a relatively quiet afternoon, with his defence dealing with the majority of threats before they even neared the penalty area.

Ashley Smith-Brown – 8

A new-found beacon of confidence within the Greens’ back line, the Mancunian born full-back continued to impress down the right flank. Defensively solid throughout, Smith-Brown continued to frustrate the Rochdale front line as he correctly positioned himself on numerous occasions. Arguably the most exciting part about the young fullback’s game is his ability to overlap and cause damage in the opposition’s half. Technically very gifted on either foot, Argyle’s number 23 lashed in a handful of dangerous crosses which often resulted in a corner. A relatively sound performance was topped off by a superb curling effort from just outside the right-hand side of the box which nestled into the top left-hand corner.

Ryan Edwards – 6

The former Morecambe man is at the peak of his form whilst in an Argyle shirt – this continued with another stellar performance against Dale. A moment of madness in the early stages of the second half is what prevented him from having the perfect performance as he sold a back pass short to goalkeeper Kyle Letheren and Rochdale forward Matt Done capitalised. However, retribution was served mid-way through the second half when Edwards pounced upon a loose ball in the Dale penalty area and directed it into the bottom left hand corner, much to the disgust of the Rochdale players.

Niall Canavan – 8

The Leeds born centre half produced another faultless performance for the Pilgrims yesterday afternoon. He professionally went about his business whilst even getting in the heads of Dale winger Stephen Dooley which resulted in his withdrawal at halftime. Dooley felt he had been tripped by the Irish centre half, clearly frustrated by his sides performance he retaliated by sprinting towards Canavan and shoulder barging him in the back, out of site of the referee but clearly not Keith Hill. A very solid performance by the assertive centre half and it seems that we have finally found the centre back partnership that we were all crying out for at the start of the season.

Gary Sawyer – 7

A solid game for Sawyer with little to do as Dale failed to create any chances that we would describe as clear-cut. In a similar vein to Smith-Brown, Sawyer excelled in providing assistance to the front line as a handful of his technically perfect crosses provided great bother for the Rochdale back line. Excellent positioning at all times resulted in the Argyle captain nearly gathering his first goal of the season as he collected a cross at the far post. He did everything right only to be met by the ever so present Andy Lonergan.

Yann Songo’o – 7

A surprisingly astute performance from the Cameroonian as he lacked any sort of large-scale blunder. Technically, the former Ross County man is improving his passing game week after week as he continues to find passes that you would not expect from the number 4. His ability to control the ball is also grandly improving as upon numerous occasions he performed some great touches after the ball came plummeting down from the sky. Lameiras-esque you could say. Defensively a very quiet afternoon but Songo’o was ever present in the air which contributed to the nulling of the attacking force provided by Rochdale.

David Fox – 8

A very good afternoon from the Argyle number 8 as he continued to show his class with a string of pinpoint long-distance passes. An excellent challenge midway through the first half halted any chance of an immediate resurgence from the opposition and with Fox surprisingly dominant in the air the Dale game-plan was scuppered. The former Norwich man continued to find himself with acres of space in which he was able to inflict the most damage with. Many managers in the past have talked about if you stop Fox you stop Argyle and Keith Hill clearly didn’t get the message – Fox was allowed to roam free relatively unchallenged and pick out his intended targets with great ease.

Antoni Sarcevic – 7

Another stellar performance from the Mancunian engine as he continued to assert himself in the Argyle midfield as a box to box midfielder with an ability to charge forward with the ball at his feet. A singular negative to the number seven’s performance came when he accumulated his 10th yellow card of the season, which sees him ineligible for the trip to Sunderland and the home fixture against high flyers Luton Town. Aside from this, his performance was almost faultless yesterday afternoon, and he will surely be missed in the coming weeks.

Graham Carey – 8

The Irish talisman is beginning to rediscover his confidence after his set-piece against Portsmouth. The number 10 is finally back to his normal self, trying ludicrous things and upon numerous occasions taking on long range strikes which are always troubling for the opposition goalkeeper. An assist for the goal to Ryan Edwards was all that Carey had to put to his name in terms of statistics yesterday, but he was much more than that with an excellent defensive shift as well as making numerous defence splitting balls. A thoroughly good afternoons work by the former Ross County man.

Rubén Lamerias – 9 Man of the Match

An outstanding performance by the Portuguese trickster as he continued to cause absolute havoc for the opposition’s defence with his quick footwork and a superb eye for a defence splitting pass. He came away with three assists to his name – quadrupling his tally for the season – as he contributed to the goals for Ladapo, Threlkeld and Smith-Brown. Keeping hold of the dangerous winger must be top of the priority list for Adams as we come to the close of this season.

Freddie Ladapo – 9

Back amongst the goals, and both relatively self-created. The first an excellent strike on the turn away from a defender which nestled itself in the top left-hand corner of the goal. The second a one-on-one which was created after a defensive blunder capitalised upon by Ladapo with great calmness. If this was early on in the season, I can’t help but think he may have squandered this chance, which shows just how far he has progressed during this season.

Oscar Threlkeld – 7

Four minutes into yet another debut at Home Park, Threlkeld found himself on the scoresheet with a super strike from just outside the area. A possible candidate to fill in for Sarcevic over the next couple of weeks, particularly after yesterday’s showing. He appears to be fit again and put in an adequate performance against a relatively lifeless Rochdale side. By the time of his introduction there was little to no attacking threat from Dale, so he was not overly challenged in that regard. Nonetheless, a good performance from the Argyle fan favourite.

Lloyd Jones – 6

A late introduction for the Plymouth-born centre half saw him left completely unchallenged, but it is always good to get the backup players some minutes.

Paul Anderson – 6

Anderson received a good reception from the Green Army this afternoon as he made his debut as an 88th minute substitute for star man Graham Carey. Little time on the ball saw Anderson with little way to show off his ability but some good movement and a good work rate were good signs from the new signing.

Lessons Learned: Bradford 0 Plymouth Argyle 0

Both Plymouth Argyle and Bradford drew a blank at Valley Parade as the two sides shared the spoils. The 0-0 draw maintains the five point gap between the sides, with the hosts sitting in 23rd and Argyle up in 15th.

Midfield remains a concern

Bradford have been troubled all season, that much is clear. Their position of 23rd in the League One table speaks for itself. Looking at their squad alone, one may be surprised at City’s struggles during this campaign. Indeed, Argyle Life’s Ultimate Season Preview itself stated that the Bantams were “too good to go down”. The reason for such a prediction was that Bradford have plenty of players on their books who are capable of performing superbly at this level when used correctly.

However, the players who fit into that category have not been used correctly. At all. Bradford’s struggles this season generally stem from the fact that the system they have been utilising has not suited the players involved in it. Eoin Doyle, for instance, is a high-quality League One striker, but using him as a lone target man is always going to be an uphill battle. This should have been music to Derek Adams’ ears, and he should have known that a well set up Argyle side would have been able to come away from Yorkshire with all three points comfortably. Indeed, Edwards and Canavan won a combined 31/37 aerial duels this weekend.

However, whilst perhaps not to the same extent as their hosts, Argyle had system issues of their own at the weekend, and they have been the same ones that have plagued them for much of the season. The setup of the midfield meant that they were unable to manoeuvre Bradford’s players out of position as many teams have been able to this season. This meant that chance creation became very difficult, and Argyle had to rely on set pieces and half chances as a means of breaking through, which they could not.

Results may have taken an upturn this calendar year, but fail to correct the midfield flaws and Argyle may see gaping opportunities like Saturday’s encounter slip away.

Threlkeld is available

It took a while for us to finally see fan favourite Threlkeld line up in an Argyle shirt once more since his January loan move from Waasland-Beveren. However, the long wait finally ended at Valley Parade, and the 25-year-old took no time to remind us of what we were missing. Threlkeld slotted in at right back and it was like he had never been away, and members of the Green Army who saw him must surely be encouraged and excited about what he may be able to produce across the remainder of the season.

Whilst Threlkeld played at right back on Saturday, replacing the booked Ashley Smith-Brown, Adams stated in the media that he was brought in mainly to play in midfield. For many, the fact he hasn’t played there yet led to questions considering Argyle’s midfield struggles this season. This led some Argyle supporters to conclude that he can’t have been fit, a fair assumption considering his lack of game time in Belgium since August.

However, yesterday appears to have shown us that this is no longer the case. With Threlkeld available again, Adams’ excuses for lining up with a sorry excuse of a midfield are dwindling by the minute. Threlkeld simply must start against Rochdale next week if he is indeed fully fit.

Don’t underestimate Letheren

Many Argyle supporters have pointed to the inclusion of Kyle Letheren in the Argyle goal as direct evidence of his importance. This has been with particular reference the results since his introduction to the side at the end of December. Others, meanwhile, have been critical of the 31-year-old Welshman, stating that whilst he has been in place for the upturn in form, this is coincidental rather than consequential. These supporters do not believe Letheren is anything like a long-term solution to Argyle’s goalkeeping conundrum.

I have always considered myself to be a member of the latter group, and this remains the case. However, it would be churlish of me not to praise his display on Saturday afternoon. His performance was one of the most, if not the most important factor in Argyle escaping with a point. His save from Eoin Doyle’s header was fantastic, not only because he kept it out, but also because he pushed the ball away from the danger area.

I don’t think Letheren is a good goalkeeper for League One level – for me he isn’t nearly good enough when dealing with crosses to earn that description. However, his shot stopping is not something we should underestimate. He is perhaps the best at the club with regards to this particular attribute. Knowing there is a goalkeeper in place who can make these sorts of saves must give some sort of confidence to the defence.

Argyle can grind points out

At the start of the season, Argyle were criticised for their ability to collapse on a far too regular basis. It appeared that Adams’ side had no idea of how to win points when the chips were down. Indeed, Argyle picked up just one point from a losing position in their 18 league games up to December.

Whilst Argyle didn’t pick up their point from a losing position at the weekend, it was nonetheless refreshing to see that they were able to escape with a point they perhaps did not deserve. Argyle were under the cosh for much of the second half, particularly in the closing stages. This required some important organisation and ability to make crucial tackles, and this is exactly what Argyle delivered. Particularly through centre backs Ryan Edwards and Niall Canavan, the Greens put their bodies on the line. Both made vital interventions at key moments to repel anything the hosts tried to throw at them.

Ideally, these interventions would not be required. However, it gives everyone confidence to know there is a defensive pairing in place who can protect the goal. A far cry indeed from Argyle’s early season struggles.

Player Ratings: Bradford 0 Plymouth Argyle 0

Both Plymouth Argyle and Bradford drew a blank at Valley Parade as the two sides shared the spoils. The 0-0 draw maintains the five point gap between the sides, with the hosts sitting in 23rd and Argyle up in 15th.

Kyle Letheren – 8 Man of the Match

The keeper showed an assured performance in the game, making an excellent one-on-one save from Eoin Doyle when he looked certain to put the hosts into the lead. In addition to this, his kicking, a weak area in his game usually, was much more accurate than normal.

Ashley Smith-Brown – 6

The right back started the game brightly. He provided a good option for a ball out wide in the first half, and stuck well to his man when Bradford had the ball. His positional play slipped in the second half, as did his use of the ball.

Ryan Edwards – 7

Edwards has never been the best distributor of the ball, but he was certainly effective today at the core aspects of defending. His aerial ability was as efficient as ever and he put in some crucial blocks and tackles when it mattered most.

Niall Canavan – 7

Not perhaps his finest game for Argyle with some shaky distribution at times. However, his flaws were extinguished in the dying embers of the game when he made a superb block to prevent what looked for all the world to be an inevitable winning goal for Bradford.

Gary Sawyer – 5

In spite of being part of a defence that kept a clean sheet again, Sawyer’s personal form is a cause for concern. Whilst he was never an athletic player, he seems to have lost even more pace and agility this season leading to a lack of success when up against wingers and wide forwards. His distribution was also largely inaccurate at Valley Parade.

Yann Songo’o – 4

Another poor performance from Yann Songo’o during a game in which Argyle were unable to gain control over the midfield. Whilst there were some good tackles from the Cameroonian, too much went through the centre of the park on the whole for him to have had a good game.

David Fox – 5

Argyle’s languid playmaker had a mixed bag of a game, as he has so many times over the past year. His passing was composed and useful for helping Argyle gain control, but his lack of mobility and defensive acumen was exploited by the hosts. As often occurs, the veteran was good for chance creation but not for chance prevention.

Antoni Sarcevic – 6

A funny game from Argyle’s number seven. When he was involved, he did some good things such as picking the ball from the feet of Bradford midfielders and pressing to allow other players into play. However, there were also large spells where he was quiet and ineffectual. Perhaps he’s not yet up to full fitness?

Graham Carey – 6

A reasonable enough game from the Irish talisman but one that was far from replicating the magic of last week against Portsmouth. During Argyle’s only good spell of the game (minutes 30 to 45) he was at the heart of much of the play, but otherwise he was undeniably quiet.

Ruben Lameiras – 5

As has been the case in a few recent games, Lameiras tried a lot but not much of it came off. However, he’s certainly worth persevering with for those occasions when he pulls out a moment of pure magic such as the winning goal at Peterborough.

Freddie Ladapo – 3

Ladapo is a player who somewhat divides the fanbase but even his biggest supporters surely cannot argue with the fact that he had a poor game at Valley Parade. He had the first touch of a pinball machine and tended to jump for headers with enough time spare to make a cup of tea before the ball landed. On the occasions where he did have the ball at his feet, he was wasteful.

Ryan Taylor – 6

He was certainly an improvement on Ladapo but it certainly wasn’t the vintage Ryan Taylor of 2017/18 form either. He won some headers and linked up play but perhaps is not playing with a certain level of fitness or freshness. I’d still try starting him.

Oscar Threlkeld – 7

It took us so long to finally see the return of the ponytailed talisman signing to the first team, but it was refreshing to see his fearless approach to the team from full back once again. He burst down the line with aplomb and delivered some good crosses whilst on the pitch.