How should we feel?

It’s hard to put the events of the last few days into words, but let’s give it a go.

On Thursday night a man, for whom I could use more than a few terms that would not be considered appropriate for daytime reading, decided to bring terror to our streets. This lowlife scum killed five people, including a three-year-old girl, before turning the gun on himself, mercifully ensuring he didn’t steal any more of the world’s oxygen from the rest of us. Understandably, it left the city and region at large in a state of pure shock.

For many, the sight of streets they knew so well being involved in national coverage of such horrors was enough to rock them, understandably, to the core. My experience of the tragedy itself was limited to checking in on a few friends, and answering messages from concerned friends of my own. That was still enough to leave me shaken, but in truth my feelings of the night are irrelevant. I can’t begin to imagine the experiences of those who were in the vicinity of the events of Thursday, let alone those of the poor families and friends of those killed.

That brings us to yesterday. Plymouth Argyle’s home game against Gillingham was always going to feel a little different. It was, after all, the first game without any restrictions on the size of the Home Park crowd for over 500 days. But Thursday changed that feeling from one of anticipated jubilation to…well…something else entirely. It’s difficult to specify.

How exactly were we meant to feel?

In truth, that was likely to be different for everybody. Some would have seen the day as a good escape from the city’s harrowing headlines over recent days. I include myself in that group, but it would be totally understandable if some felt a sense of guilt at having so much fun, given the experiences of their fellow citizens this week. When the worst mass shooting on British soil in over a decade happens in a city as small as ours, can any reaction really be regarded as irrational?

The feeling at the ground was predictably different. Flags were at half mast, the player’s wore dedicated shirts for the warm up, and a minute’s silence before kick off was well observed. But honestly? The celebratory nature of being together didn’t feel as though it was lost. Plymouth and Argyle sent out a message on Saturday afternoon that they would not be cowed. That the acts of one stain on humanity would not define us. That the lives of Maxine, Lee, Sophie, Kate and Stephen were to be celebrated.

I’ve occasionally watched other tragedies play out in the media, such as the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, and seen how community spirit brought people together. I’ve wondered in the past whether a city like Plymouth would be able to deliver the same community spirit in the face of adversity. I need never question that again.

As for Argyle? Well, the game probably ended in exactly the manner the city had hoped. It wasn’t the most exciting encounter, but nobody cared about that once Luke Jephcott notched the Greens’ 89th-minute winner in front of the Devonport End. A last-minute winner from an academy graduate after the week we’ve had? I’m not a religious man, but it feels as though there was a sense of destiny.

There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn from this victory and Argyle’s promotion from League Two at the start of the pandemic. I remember writing at the time that the promotion was still worth celebrating despite the horrors we were experiencing, and I maintain that to be true. Similarly, the circumstances of Saturday’s win are still worth celebrating despite the appalling acts of the week prior. This may have been a Plymouth-specific tragedy rather than a worldwide one, but many of the points raised still apply.

In my previous article, I quoted Jurgen Klopp about the importance of football being put into perspective by worldwide events. This time I’ll take one from either Carlo Ancelotti or Pope John Paul II, depending on which corner of the internet you look. An easy mistake, I’m sure you’ll agree. “Out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important.” It remains true. If something seemingly so banal as a bag of air being kicked around a field can bring us joy in the toughest of times, we should embrace it.

12 August 2021 will always be remembered as a dark day in this city’s history. The dramatic win over Gillingham hasn’t healed the wounds from Thursday night – football doesn’t have that power. But maybe, just maybe, that healing process has found its beginning.

Plymouth Argyle Season Preview

Key player: Conor Grant

Now, truth is I was having difficulty deciding which Argyle player to pick for this section. Argyle seem to have a number of players particularly in midfield that are all capable of taking the creative prerogative, whether that be last years pick Danny Mayor or even talented midfielder George Cooper, who after spending most of last season out through injury will be hungry to make up for lost time this season. Even fellow midfielder Ryan Broom who joined in the week on loan from Peterborough United for the season, could have a big part to play this season.

Whilst mayor is the obvious choice for this one, his lack of assists and goals over the last two years, despite being a very useful player for the greens in attack make it difficult for me to select Mayor especially with all the other options in attacking areas available to pick from.

That is why I have gone for talented midfielder Conor Grant as my pick for key player this time out. When Grant joined from Everton in 2018 it was obvious he had the the ability to be a productive outlet for Argyle particularly with a brilliant left foot delivery, but ultimately it was always that Grant had a feeling of one of those ‘nearly but not quite’ players.

After some promising but unremarkable performances towards the curtailment of the 20/21 season, Grant was rewarded with a contract on the hope he could turn those promising performances into goals and assists.

Grant took the opportunity with both hands and had an excellent breakout season scoring 4 goals, which were all long range strikes. Contributing 12 assists, taking over the mantle from the injured George Cooper at LWB, with a series of dangerous deliveries on his left foot.

Both capable of creating from dead ball situations and in play, from central midfield and wing back, the hope will be once again that the 26 year old can once again be a key player for Argyle this season.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Ryan Lowe

This season appears to be a particularly important one for Lowe.  Before last year, Lowe had only really tasted success in his young managerial after getting promoted twice in two seasons from League Two with Bury and Argyle respectively, Lowe’s first taste at the helm in the third tier was indifferent to say the least.

After a dramatic last minute 4-3 win against eventual play off finalists Lincoln City at the end of February propelled Argyle up to 10th in the table, an inexperienced Argyle side recorded just 2 wins in the final fifteen matches leading to Lowe becoming impatient. Leading many fans to question, whether his fiercely attack minded minded 3-1-4-2 formation was the way forward, also bringing questions up surrounding whether Lowe was able to set up his teams in a way that stopped them conceding so many goals.

After the way in which last season ended Lowe will be hoping to put any lingering doubts to bed with some good early results and prompt signings which saw a completely new defensive unit acquired.

Creator: Danny Mayor

Yes, I know, I know.  After all my justification for not putting Danny Mayor as key player he now gets the title of creator.

Despite the frustrations surrounding Mayor in terms of statistical output when you put it next to a man of his obvious quality, the truth is Argyle’s system is set up to get the best out of Mayor, and if not always ended most of Argyle’s attacks are started by carries from deep from Mayor and he was still high up on the list for completed dribbles in League One last year.

There’s no denying he is often fundamental in the way the greens look to create chances, especially with the way he is able to go past players and if he is able to combine his skill with just a bit more end product this year ( 3 goals in two years for an attacking midfielder) I think Argyle could be in a good position to push further up the table.

Key transfer: Dan Scarr

Based on comments so far, you could’ve probably guessed that the Key transfer was going to be that of a defender, however that of Dan Scarr may have risen a few eyebrows. Particularly after the acquisitions of James Wilson and Macaulay Gillesphey for example, who were both player of the year at Ipswich Town and Australian A League side Brisbane Roar respectively, last season.

Despite Scarr comes off the back of a pretty lowly finish in League Two last season finishing 19th with Walsall, and not being given the greatest report by Saddlers fans on social media, all evidence so far shows that Scarr is exactly what Argyle have been missing.

For all of Argyle’s defensive mishaps last time out, what they were really missing for large spells, was a commander at the back both in the air and vocally and Scarr appears to bring both of those attributes.

As of March 2021 Scarr was eleventh in the list of second balls won in League Two for the season with 290 and third on the list for aerial duels won with 271, and recent evidence in pre season indicates he does what his job role suggests – defends and without any frills. It is worth noting he seems that he is able to do what he needs to do on the ball to fit into Lowe’s system, without being spectacular at it.

Most importantly Scarr has appeared to fill a huge void in the side, in a key area if they want to finish in a higher position this season.

Target: Top-half

Argyle’s target for this season is the same I set them for last, there were times last season when they did look like they could fulfill that target and Lowe also hinted a few times publically that top half might be the target.

Now with a new look and more experienced defence coupled with continued heavy chance creation, I think Argyle should be aiming for that again with possibly a more realistic shot at it.

 

Previous: Oxford United Next: Portsmouth

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Ratings: Torquay 0 Plymouth Argyle 3

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

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

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

Callum Burton, GK – 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ollie Tomlinson, RCB – 6

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

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

Dan Scarr, CB – 6

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

Macaulay Gillesphey, CB – 8

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

Adam Randell, DM – 9 MOTM

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

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

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

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

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

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

Panutche Camara, CM – 8

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

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

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

Ryan Broom, CM – 8

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

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

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

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

Ryan Law, LWB – 5

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

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

Luke Jephcott , ST – 5

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

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

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

Niall Ennis, ST – 8

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

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

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

Substitutes

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

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

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

James Wilson, CB n\a

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

Brandon Pursall, CB n\a

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

Ethan Mitchell, CB n/a

Same as above.

Jordan Houghton, DM – 6

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

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

Brendan Galloway, LWB – 6

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

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

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

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

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

Finley Craske, RWB – n\a

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

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

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

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

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

Rhys Shirley, ST n\a

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

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

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Bristol City 1

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

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

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

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

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

James Wilson, CB – 7

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

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

Dan Scarr, CB – 8

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

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

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

Brendan Galloway, CB – 6

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

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

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

Jordan Houghton, DM – 7

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

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

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

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

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

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

Panutche Camara CM – 7

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

Needs to find another gear sometimes,

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

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

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

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

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

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

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

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

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

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

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

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

Substitutes

Macaulay Gillesphey, CB – 7

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

Niall Ennis, ST – 8

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

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

Staked his claim to start away at Rotherham.

Adam Randell, DM – 6

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

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

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

Rhys Shirley, ST – n/a

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

Ryan Law, LWB – n/a

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

Player Ratings: Bristol Rovers 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

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

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

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

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

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

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

James Wilson, CB – 7

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

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

Dan Scarr, CB – 7

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

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

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

Macauley Gillesphie, CB – 6

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

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

Jordan Houghton, DM – 7

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

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

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

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

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

Panutche Camara, CM – 6

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

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

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

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

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

Conor Grant, LWB – 7

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

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

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

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

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

Ryan Hardie, ST – 5

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

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

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

Substitutes

Adam Randell, DM – 8 (38 for Houghton)

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

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

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

Niall Ennis, ST – 6 (54 for Jephcott)

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

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

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

Callum Burton, GK – 6 (62 for Cooper)

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

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

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

Brendan Galloway, CB – (66 for Gillesphey)

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

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

Rhys Shirley, ST – 6 (75 for Hardie)

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

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

Ryan Law, LWB – 6 (69 for Mayor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competition & Cooper

Cardboard cut-outs, iFollow and empty stadium echoes became a regular feature during the 2020/21 season. Fans were unable to celebrate with their heroes following promotion to League One the previous campaign and, bar a handful of matches at limited capacity were reduced to the dreary experience of your typical armchair fan. I think I speak for each one of us in saying that I’m glad that’s now over!

The goalkeeping situation at Plymouth Argyle was one that separated many during the season. Many considered it a proud moment as highly-rated goalkeeper and local boy Michael Cooper finally got his chance. Others however, grumbled about a lack of competition and experience between the sticks as the Pilgrims leaked 80 goals during their first season back in England’s third tier. The 21-year-old has made 57 appearances for the Pilgrims since coming on for the injured Kyle Letheren as a substitute against Blackburn in October 2017. However he had to bide his time behind the scenes, first under Derek Adams and then Ryan Lowe.

This season will undoubtedly have been a learning curve for Cooper. Despite being plunged into the deep end with no experience he managed to demonstrate why he had become so highly rated before his introduction to the first team. Whilst there were occasionally blips in his game, statistically he was amongst the best in the division. The 6ft 1in man boasted the most saves in League One (154). He finished ahead of Wigan’s Jamie Jones (136) and Charlton’s Ben Amos (130). The Englishman’s total of 3.35 saves per 90 minutes also sees him rank him as the best in the division.

It would be fair to say that Cooper lacked competition last season. The influence of veteran Luke McCormick behind the scenes may have proved invaluable, but neither he or Jack Ruddy were realistic starters. Ryan Lowe only tended to rest Cooper for EFL Trophy trophy games. Scrutiny often came calling, as you would expect in a defence as leaky as Argyle’s during the campaign. Summer signings Macauley Gillesphey, James Wilson and Dan Scarr provide, on paper at least, a much more experienced and reliable defence. This should allow Cooper the chance to prove himself not only at this level, but show that he is capable of bigger things in future. Cooper and striker Luke Jephcott demonstrate how the Argyle academy is beginning to make serious strides forward.

Cooper’s vocal skills and commanding of his area were often in question. He operated behind a back three that included the equally inexperienced Jerome Opoku and Kelland Watts alongside Will Aimson. There is no doubting that the Devon born stopper has areas of his game that need improving, and last season will have certainly highlighted those all the more with the addition of iFollow and replays to scrutinise every error. Undoubtedly the weak links within his game will be a primary focus during pre-season. With time, experience and patience, errors and negative traits will begin to fade from his game.

The signing of Callum Burton from Cambridge will provide timely competition after his surprise release from Mark Bonner’s side. The Englishman started 26 games as they finished runners-up to Cheltenham Town in League Two. The 24-year-old’s arrival makes sense in all aspects in terms of age, quality and experience. The former Hull man kept an impressive nine clean sheets in 27 appearances for the U’s last season, conceding just 32 goals. Injury to regular first choice Dimitar Mitov paved the way for Burton to establish himself. His first appearance of the season didn’t come until December. All these indicators suggest that Burton hasn’t arrived at Home Park to play second fiddle.

Ryan Lowe has previously stressed the importance of having two competitive goalkeepers in his squad. This is something that Argyle have often failed to do in previous seasons. Vincent Dorel, Robbert te Loeke and James Bittner are all recent examples of this, making just a handful of appearances between them. Lowe’s first season saw Cooper challenge loanee Alex Palmer for the number one jersey. Despite not making a league appearance that season, it was clear in Lowe’s mind that he was ready. Burton should fulfil the same role, pushing Cooper to ever-better levels.

Top 5: Fixtures to look out for

Plymouth Argyle’s fixtures for the 2021-22 season were released this morning. As always it’s had everybody looking at the key dates, mulling over the start of the season and planning their trips to certain away fixtures. We’ve picked out a few that are worth keeping an eye on over the coming months.

Plymouth Argyle v Gillingham – 14th August 2021

I know, it’s a pretty lazy choice this one, but surely the vast majority of the Green Army are already counting down the days to facing Gillingham at home.

On 7th March 2020, Argyle beat Macclesfield 3-0 at Home Park. Two goals from George Cooper and another from Ryan Hardie saw Argyle build a 3-point gap to local and promotion rivals Exeter City following their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Walsall. And yes, there were more than a few signs of something being slightly off with the world that week. But few could surely have predicted that the next chance for Argyle to play in front of a sold-out Home Park would be 526 days later.

That’s where we are now. Yes, there have been a few games with limited capacity in the last year, but this will feel like a true coming-together for Argyle fans. You’d say only a fool would make predictions regarding COVID, but all being well, the atmosphere against Gillingham should be absolutely electric.

Cheltenham Town v Plymouth Argyle – 26th December 2021

Looking for the nearest trip is always a must, but it’s not as easy as in recent years. Swindon and Bristol Rovers were relegated last term, and Exeter once again failed to earn promotion from League Two. And we don’t even have Forest Green to amble to this time around. Many might say that’s a blessing.

So, it’ll be the trip to Cheltenham that’ll see the Green Army take over another town this season. And it should be an interesting contest. The Robins will be playing in the third tier for the first time since 2009, but they’ll have momentum with them having won League Two last year, albeit with the fixture’s timing midway through the season threatening to mitigate the promotion bounce. Argyle will also have to deal with Cheltenham’s Plymouth-born captain Ben Tozer, who brings a terrifying long throw into the game.

It may not be the best clash on the pitch, but as a day out there may not be many better.

Sheffield Wednesday v Plymouth Argyle – 15th January 2022

What’s the point in looking at the teams coming down from the Championship if you can’t get excited about trips to some big grounds? That’s exactly what we’ve got here – an away day at Hillsborough dwarfs offerings of more regular visits to Rotherham and Wycombe.

This may also have a bearing on the pitch too. It’ll be the first time Argyle have faced the Owls since the 2010-11 season, which famously saw Peter Reid’s side do the double over their illustrious opponents in an ultimately doomed year. Half the entertainment of the 3-2 and 4-2 wins a decade ago may well send us home happy.

It’s hard to know how Wednesday will shape up this year. They’re not exactly in great shape, with a 12-point deduction for issues off the field ultimately consigning them to relegation. But a fair few teams on a downward spiral seem to use their time in League One to recover. Either way, this should be an exciting one to follow, and at a superb ground to visit.

Plymouth Argyle v Rotherham United – 26th February 2022

This one could well be key. Not only will Rotherham be tough opposition given their relegation from the Championship last season, but Argyle will come into the fixture off the back of two away games in a week. It’s therefore very possible that their performance over the eight-day period including the Rotherham game could be key to the prospects of Argyle’s season.

A week before the Rotherham fixture, Argyle will travel to Gillingham, before following that up with a tricky-looking midweek trip to newly promoted Cambridge. Following that up with Rotherham, who will surely be challenging at the right end of the table again given their yo-yo club status, makes this a tough run. It’s very possible Argyle could take 0 points from 9 and have their progress stunted. Alternatively, taking all 9 could prove to be a huge boost to their ambitions.

Argyle’s opening fixture against the Millers took the headlines. But it’s the reverse fixture that looks as though it could be more crucial.

Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland – 18th April 2022

Last season Argyle’s run-in was tough. The home games against high-flying Hull, Charlton and Sunderland led to three comprehensive defeats, and Argyle were not able to mitigate that with any strong showings away from home. Frankly, it’s a relief that Argyle managed to pick up all the points they needed to avoid relegation before the final six games.

Once again this season, Argyle will host the Black Cats late on in the campaign, and it’s set to be another tricky fixture to navigate. Sunderland will be looking to put their spell in League One to bed at the fourth time of asking, and could well have promotion on the line as they travel to Home Park. If Argyle have anything to play for late on in the season, they’ll need to be seriously up for this game.

Much like the Rotherham fixture, Argyle come into this one off the back of consecutive away trips, this time to Burton and Wycombe (or will that be Derby? We still don’t know). Therefore, a positive result against Sunderland could be key to the Greens’ ambitions.

Plymouth Argyle travel to Rotherham on opening day

Plymouth Argyle will open their 2021-22 League One campaign with a trip to Rotherham United.

The match is scheduled to be played on 7th August 2021, and will be the first meeting between the two sides since a dramatic 2-1 win for the Greens at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Overall, Argyle have a fairly mixed record against the Millers, with 28 wins, 25 defeats and 15 draws.

Other highlights of the fixture list include a trip to newly-promoted Cheltenham Town on Boxing Day, before consecutive home fixtures against Portsmouth and AFC Wimbledon take us into the New Year. Meanwhile, Argyle will end the season at Home Park for the first time in three years, with a fixture against Milton Keynes on 30th April 2022.

Argyle’s fixture list is yet to be 100% confirmed due to news from the EFL this morning concerning a potential points deduction for Derby County. The Rams have been fined £100,000 relating to “ongoing disciplinary proceedings,” but the EFL are still pushing for further punishment. If a points deduction is applied to last season, Derby will be relegated in place of Wycombe Wanderers.

As such, the EFL have published an interchangeable fixture list for both Derby and Wycombe, which can be reversed should Derby be placed into League One. Argyle are currently due to play Wycombe at home in November and away in April.

Top 10: Free Agents – Strikers

Plymouth Argyle are starting to piece their squad together for the 2021-22 season. It’s therefore time for us to start looking at the free agents who may be available to sign during this summer transfer window.

Ryan Lowe loves signing strikers, that much is clear. Even last season when reinforcements at the back seemed paramount, Lowe went and nabbed Niall Ennis from Wolves in the winter. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lowe, as we know, is an attack-minded coach, and Ennis has made what many would consider to be a positive start at Home Park.

So, whilst Argyle already have three strikers on their books, you’d expect more to be added before the transfer window draws to a close. Here are ten who will be available for free.

Paul Mullin

Club: Cambridge United
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 26
Appearances: 50
Goals: 33
Assists: 4

When Argyle fans logged onto Twitter the Sunday morning after the season ended, we were truly shocked to see reputed journalist Alan Nixon linking the Greens with a move for…wait for it, Paul Mullin. Nixon is no two-bit gossiper; his information is usually rock solid and he rarely makes a firm prediction that doesn’t turn out to be correct. This made it all the more staggering that Argyle’s interest was legit.

For one thing, many fans were wanting to prioritise a defender. Now we’ve signed three of them, adding a fourth top quality striker seems a much more exciting prospect. Mullin would certainly be that. He’s coming off not just the best seasons in his history but surely one of the best individual seasons in League Two history. He scored 32 league goals, the most any striker has ever netted since the competition rebranded in 2004.

Surely able to step up to the next level, he was held in such high regard by Cambridge than they even named one of their stands after him (albeit only until the end of the season). In truth, had Nixon not tweeted what he had, Mullin would probably fall into the ‘too good to be true’ category. As it is, Argyle have a sniff.

 

Nicky Maynard

Club: Mansfield Town
Status: Released
Age: 34
Appearances: 43 (21 for Mansfield, 22 on loan at Newport County
Goals: 7 (4 Mansfield, 3 Newport)
Assists: 2 (both Newport)

Another player with ties to Ryan Lowe at Bury, the 34-year-old managed 35 goals for Bury and Mansfield over two seasons prior to last season. The former Cardiff man struggled during the 2020/21 campaign with the Stags, scoring just three goals in 17 appearances as he was sent out on-loan to fellow League Two side Newport.

His form at the Exiles wasn’t too impressive either, netting two and assisting a further two in 19 appearances. The veteran did however score the decisive goal to take County to the Play-Off final; a 119th minute winner against Forest Green in the semi-final of the format.

An experienced forward, or even a young inexperienced forward with potential feels more likely for Argyle this summer due to wage restrictions and minutes expectations. As such, Maynard may fit the bill. Whilst by no means a brute or prolific in the air, Maynard is good with the ball at his feet, possessing pace and a poachers finish in his skillset. In a side like Argyle’s that create a lot of chances every game, it could take someone like him to make the difference off the bench next season.

 

Conor McAleny

Club: Oldham Athletic
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 28
Appearances: 46
Goals: 21
Assists: 1

Following largely uneventful spells with the likes Fleetwood and Kilmarnock, McAleny took like a duck to water to League Two last season, firing 19 goals in all competitions for Oldham. The former Everton man made a name for himself in the Football League following a loan spell at Oxford from the Toffees during the 2016/17 season, netting a blistering 10 goals in 14 starts, which included hat-tricks against Chesterfield and Bury.

The 28-year-old can play anywhere across the front line, primarily being suited to a role as a central forward or a second striker. His versatility could prove to be of real interest for Ryan Lowe who could use him in a variety of positions depending on opponents or match situation. Averaging just 10 passes per game, it’s likely that McAleny is more of a poacher sort of forward like Luke Jephcott rather than a target man who builds up play by holding the ball and playing it out wide.

With Oldham finishing a disappointing 18th in League Two last season, McAleny is likely to want another crack of the whip in League One and a club like Argyle would do well to gamble on a versatile player such as him showing such form on a consistent basis.

 

Sam Baldock

Club: Reading
Status: Released
Age: 32
Appearances: 23
Goals: 0
Assists: 2

If Argyle are looking to spend a reasonable amount of money on a striker this summer, they could do a lot worse than look at 32-year-old Sam Baldock. He’s been a stalwart of the English Football League for over a decade now, with a brief 5 games (with no goals) for Brighton being his only taste of Premier League experience.

In truth, his spells at both Brighton and Reading haven’t gone quite as well as he’d hoped since moving to the Championship in 2014. His best season by far was the Seagulls’ promotion season of 2016/17 when he got 11 goals from 31 games. Otherwise, and especially for Reading, he has failed to get many goals or really establish his place in the side.

League One level however is where he has historically been electric. The last time he was in this league he won the golden boot for title winners Bristol City as well as having had previously handy spells for Milton Keynes. There are questions to be asked about whether he can reach that same level 7 years later, but he’d certainly be at the very least a handy player to have on the books.

 

Kyle Vassell

Club: Rotherham United
Status: Released
Age: 28
Appearances: 40 (14 for Rotherham, 26 on loan at Fleetwood Town)
Goals: 4 (all Fleetwood)
Assists: 3 (1 Rotherham, 2 Fleetwood)

Proven League One operator Kyle Vassell would add an extra dimension to Argyle’s attack. While both Frank Nouble and Ryan Taylor were unsuccessful in Ryan Lowe’s system, Vassell can continue to provide a goal threat while offering greater creativity and passing during build-up phases.

Though not an out-and-out finisher, he would bring with him a keener finishing touch than previous strikers intended to aid Argyle’s build-up play. His strength and powerful dribbling would offer a different option to all the other strikers at the club.

Though another striker is not the primary target this summer, spending a bit extra on a player like Vassell could well pay off and help Argyle avoid another prolonged period of wasted chances during the upcoming season.

 

Max Biamou

Club: Coventry City
Status: Released
Age: 30
Appearances: 36
Goals: 6
Assists: 3

Biamou has been a fan-favourite for Coventry across the last four years. That’s probably down to his presence in the side coinciding with two promotions from League Two to the Championship – surely enough to put anybody in the supporters’ good books.

The admiration wasn’t necessarily down to his goalscoring, however. Across 116 appearances at Coventry since his move from Sutton United back in 2017, he’s scored 26 times. It’s not a woeful return, but it’s hardly prolific. Indeed, speak to Coventry fans and they’ll tell you he offers a good physical presence, perhaps suggesting he’d be a similar presence to the aforementioned Nouble should he sign on at Home Park.

That’s not to write him off – indeed, it was Lowe himself who signed Nouble, and an improved version in the form of Biamou may appeal. But it’s worth waiting on this one for now; you’d expect some of the more accomplished finishers on this list to be closer to the top of Argyle’s priorities.

 

Jerome Sinclair

Club: Watford
Status: Released
Age: 24
Appearances: 29 (2 for Watford, 27 on loan at CSKA Sofia)
Goals: 3 (all Sofia)
Assists: 0

Never has a player made his Liverpool debut at a younger age than Jerome Sinclair. Aged 16 years and six days when he came on against West Brom in a September 2012 League Cup tie, unfortunately he has never lived up to the hype surrounding him at a young age.

£4m was paid by Watford when they signed him from Liverpool four years later, but he only made nine appearances for the Hertfordshire outfit. Five loan spells rendered just six goals in total, with the last coming as a team-mate of Graham Carey at CSKA Sofia.

The Birmingham-born forward is a quick and powerful player who idolised Thierry Henry growing up. What he hasn’t added to his game to rival the great Frenchman is goals, scoring just once in 41 games over the last two seasons.

Sinclair could be an interesting addition to Argyle’s strong line-up of strikers. He would be unlikely to start, but if he rediscovers his early potential he could turn into a devastating player at League One level.

 

Jordy Hiwula

Club: Portsmouth
Status: Released
Age: 26
Appearances: 14
Goals: 3
Assists: 0

A year back, Hiwula would have seemed a statement signing for a newly promoted League One club. Yet, with new wage limits put in place, he struggled to find a club until after the season had started, signing for Portsmouth.

That summer, we also listed Hiwula in our list of free agent strikers, describing him as a player who needed “just one more good season to convince a Championship side to take him on” after scoring 46 goals at League One level at a rate of one every four appearances. Yet, Portsmouth only granted Hiwula a single league start as they struggled to fit him into the starting eleven behind their other favoured options.

As a result of what must be one of the worst seasons of his career, Hiwula’s stock is considerably lower than last summer. But players often go through these phases in their career only to bounce back after being written off. In the right system – one which Hiwula had thrived in with Fleetwood – he could be just the latest player to prove the old adage: form is temporary, class is permanent.

 

Amadou Bakayoko

Club: Coventry City
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 17
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

Not the first player on this list, or indeed in all of these lists, to impress for Coventry at League One level before not quite being able to cut it in the Championship. Sierra Leonean striker Bakayoko started his career at Walsall, but it was indeed with the Sky Blues that he really made his name, making 54 League One appearances in all as his side were promoted at the end of the truncated 2019-20 season.

This season has been much more of a challenge for the 25-year-old, mainly due to his inability to command a starting place. He made just 17 appearances in all competitions, 14 of which came from the bench. Additionally, he was subbed off in the other three, meaning he didn’t complete 90 minutes once across the entirety of the campaign.

Bakayoko hasn’t exactly been a prolific goalscorer across his career. However, you’d expect him to drop back down to League One next season, and being back in familiar surroundings could seriously benefit the player. There are worse options out there for Lowe.

 

Paul Smyth

Club: Queens Park Rangers
Status: Released
Age: 23
Appearances: 39 (4 for QPR, 14 on loan at Charlton Athletic, 21 on loan at Accrington Stanley)
Goals: 4 (1 Charlton, 3 Accrington)
Assists: 3 (2 Charlton, 1 Accrington)

Paul Smyth, not to be confused with Paul Tisdale’s favourite menswear brand, is a Northern Irish international striker, just released by QPR. While he never broke through at Loftus Road, he is returning from a successful loan spell at Accrington, who are said to be interested in bringing him back.

Smyth is not a typical lower-league striker. He’s not very quick, nor a physical presence, nor a natural goalscorer. A ‘second striker’ in the mould of Dennis Bergkamp, Smyth likes to drop off the front line and find spaces between the lines. From there, he can use his powerful shot to score himself, or play it to teammates in advanced positions.

That could be a good fit alongside our other strikers. Jephcott, Hardie and Ennis prefer to run off the shoulder and stretch the defence – that would leave space for a player like Smyth to do his thing. He could prove an interesting addition to the Argyle side.

 


Top 10: Free Agents – Attacking Midfielders