Sarcevic leaves Argyle; here’s to you, Antoni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

131 appearances 20 goals 15 assists, one Antoni Sarcevic.

Story of the Season: 2017/18

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

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

Pre-season

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

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

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

August

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

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

 

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

September

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

October

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

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

 

 

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

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

November

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

 

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

 

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

December

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

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

 

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

 

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

January

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

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

 

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

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

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

February

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

 

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

 

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

March

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

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

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

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

April

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

May & end of season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

This is the boss then.

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

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

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

 

Not the start Ryan Lowe would be hoping for.

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

As for Carey. he’s playing upfront!

Also a couple games in midfield.

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

Or October.

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

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

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

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

As a striker..

This is bizarre.


November

Just the one league win in November. Oh dear.

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

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

It’s not pretty.


December

Some improvement in December.

As Ruben scores his first 2 goals of the season.

Lowe still lumps Carey up top.

9 goal contributions in 20 games.

But it just feels wrong.


January

The transfer window is open!

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

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

Will they get sold this January?

Because I’d want to leave after that January.

W I N L E S S

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

I think I’ve broken him.

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

He’s good for 35 you know.

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


February

Time is running out for Lowe-bot.

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

What a waste of a season.

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


March

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

Caretaker manager David Platt managed to beat Exeter.

What is this game?


April

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

And he plays Carey and Ruben in sensible positions.

But too little too late.

The season ends with a whimper.

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

Who knew.

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

10 goals, 6 assists.

Ruben got 6 goals and 7 assists.

So after one season, what have we learned.

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


5 months later…

Ruben Lamieras gets a big move to Leeds.

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

Oh, Football Manager.

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

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

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

 

Plymouth Argyle Top 50 – 2010-2019: 3rd – Ruben Lameiras

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

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

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

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

 


3: Ruben Lameiras

Years: 2017-19
Appearances: 82
Goals: 18
Assists: 19
Currently: FC Famalicao, Primeira Liga

From damp Tuesday nights in Shrewsbury to beating Sporting Lisbon in their own backyard, Rúben Lamerias has really taken the Portuguese top flight by storm after his spell at Plymouth Argyle. To all those in Plymouth, it really is no surprise.

The background

Lamerias arrived as part of the summer recruitment drive during Argyle’s first year returning to League One. The fact that he arrived from relegated Coventry City acted as a slight concern, as did his apparent lack of pedigree before signing on the dotted line at Home Park. A product of the Tottenham academy, a young Lamerias had little hope of breaking into the first team setup at White Hart Lane. As a result, he went on loan to Swedish side Åtvidabergs FF before departing Spurs in the search of a new home.

This new home did indeed prove to be Coventry, where he played 56 times. During his stay he won the Checkatrade Trophy, but did of course add a relegation to his CV. At that point, he jumped the seemingly sinking ship of Coventry over to the good ship Mayflower to join up with Derek Adams at Home Park. Before arriving at the club, he had just seven goals to his name in professional English football.

Humble beginnings

His first six months at Home Park at was relatively the same: unimpactful. We had seen a few signs that there was a player there in some cameo appearances – an assist against Peterborough on his debut helped, but that was about it. In truth, he was underutilised by Adams and regularly placed on the bench or in the stands. It made it impossible for Lamerias to make an impact in his early months as a Green.

Although we did see glimpses of his ability during his limited game time, the playmaker was crying out for a run in the team to gather momentum. Lamerias subsequently went on trial at fellow League One side Oldham Athletic, taking part in a behind closed doors game for the northern side. To everyone’s collective surprise, this acted as a turning point for Lamerias.

The playmaker made a return to the starting line-up the week after against, as luck would have it. Oldham. And guess what? He took the game by storm. His quick feet and ability to split a defence provided the Greens with a different weapon to their arsenal, as Lamerias and the Pilgrims cruised to victory. He kept his place in the side for the next game, assisting Gary Sawyer’s goal in a 1-0 victory over Milton Keynes. And so, the run began.

Turning the tables

Lameiras remained a regular and central figure to the starting eleven for the rest of the season, as the Pilgrims surged towards the play-off positions. His showboating style raised bums off seats as he continued to make defenders look silly, and he backed this up with a fair few fearsome strikes as he regularly found the back of the net.

Strikes against Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers instantly come to mind as Lamerias proved that his ability to do the unexpected was so vital to his game. The goal against Blackburn was sublime as he smashed the ball from the edge of the box into the roof of the net leaving the goalkeeper no chance. Perhaps if Messi, Ronaldo or a Premier League prima donna struck the ball so crisply, we’d have been talking about it for months.

Lamerias remained at Home Park the following season, and despite the Greens’ lacklustre performances, Lamerias continued to be the shining light in what was a dim and miserable year at Home Park. Reaching double figures on the goals tally, and providing a further nine assists, the Portuguesereally took the task at hand by the scruff of the neck and often looked like Argyle’s main threat throughout the season.

Eye-catching performances were frequent with a particular showing against his former side Coventry City really proving that he had what it takes to play at highest level. Finishing his Argyle career with a total of 17 goals in 75 appearences Lamerias left Home Park as a fan favourite. It’s a huge regret that Argyle’s mismanagement meant Lameiras had to gather another relegation on his CV, through no fault of his own.

Even more to come?

A tricky player with a catalogue of skills that Argos would be proud of, the winger frequently embarrassed defenders and made it look almost effortless. A fault of many tricksters is that they fail more than they succeed, and lack the required end product to ever truly be a major threat. With Lameiras, particularly at League One level, it almost seemed like the opposite was consistently true.

Rarely losing the ball and seeming to beat his man more often than not, Lamerias breezed past players like they weren’t even there with consummate ease. By the end of his time at Home Park, most of the questions being asked of him were regarding the frontman’s defensive efforts. But as we approached the end of Lamerias’ stay at Home Park, not only was it was clear to see that he wasn’t the primary man to blame for Argyle’s defensive struggles, it also became apparent that his defensive game and work rate had improved leaps and bounds.

One only need watch the games against Portsmouth and Coventry from last season to see the playmaker dart around the pitch closing the centre backs down regularly. With him becoming more and more influential as time went by, and his skills improving all the time, there was a real school of thought that Lameiras could soon play at a higher level. And so it proved.

With Argyle suffering from that relegation in 2018/19, Lamerias quite fairly turned down a contract offer to remain at Home Park in favour of a return to his native Portugal. This in the form of newly promoted top flight side Famalicão. Currently sitting fourth in the table, Lamerias and his teammates have truly adapted to life in the topflight superbly. All of those involved at Argyle cannot be surprised that he’s managed to reach such heights.

And could there be more to come? Who knows? He’s still only 25, and some may well argue his best days are yet to come. But regardless of where he ends up, he’ll always be remembered fondly at Home Park.

 


Plymouth Argyle Top 50 – 2010-2019: 4th – Gary Sawyer

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

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

Goalkeepers

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Probably better? Who knows…

 

Defenders

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Definitely weaker.

 

Midfielders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Weaker.

 

Attackers

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Maybe, but not much.

 


 

SP19: Plymouth Argyle’s Targets

Goodbye Ruben Lameiras

The final week of June has brought about the conclusion of Argyle’s senior player retentions, highlighted on Monday with the departure of 2018/2019 Player of the Season, Ruben Lameiras. Following an improved offer from the club, the Portuguese playmaker is heading home and has signed with top flight FC Famalicao.

The recently promoted side, situated a little north of Porto, have tied Lameiras down to a four year contract, beating off rumoured competition from a number of Championship clubs and an improved contract from the Pilgrims. This move follows the departure of fellow fan favourite Graham Carey, who also left for top flight football in mainland Europe.

Lameiras started his career in England at Tottenham, and following a loan spell to Swedish club Åtvidaberg, he moved to Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City in July 2015. Lameiras won the EFL Trophy in the 2016/2017 season with Coventry, featuring six times in the campaign and playing the full 90 in the final.

Following their relegation, Lameiras left Coventry in the summer of 2017 to join recently promoted Argyle. This window also saw the arrival of a number of recently departed Pilgrims including Jamie Ness and Ryan Edwards. However, during his first few months of that season, little did we know that Lameiras would become such an integral part of the team over the new two seasons.

Featuring on both flanks, and through the middle in a green shirt, Lameiras was best suited as an inside forward, forming a fantastic front three alongside Carey and Taylor. Lameiras’ skills revolved around his quick feet and his ability to drive at opponents. At his best, he was up there with the best in the division.

Lameiras scored league 17 goals in his time with the Pilgrims, while assisting another 18 in his 75 league appearances. His second season saw him contribute to 35% of all league goals scored by Argyle. There are some absolutely fantastic efforts in his catalogue and my pick of the bunch would be his final goal in this season’s home fixture against Oxford.

Lameiras seemed to start both of his seasons with the Pilgrims out of favour. Derek Adams opted for other players over Lameiras as Argyle began both of their League 1 campaigns poorly. Following Lameiras’ continued inclusion in the side around Christmas two years in a row, Argyle showed dramatic improvement  and made their way back up the table.

Lameiras would spearhead a charge up the table in the 2017/2018 season, after forming a deadly partnership with Argyle’s other talismanic forward Graham Carey. With the two inside-forwards flanking Ryan Taylor and backed by a competent midfield trio, Argyle turned a relegation-bound campaign into a play-off push. Memorably, Lameiras return to the side came with a good performance in a 4-1 win against Oldham: a club who he had just weeks before had a trial at when he was unfancied by Adams. His spying ability must have been just as good as his playing ability: the win kickstarted our excellent run.

Argyle almost exactly mirrored the start of the previous season in 2018/2019. Lameiras returned to regular football around the Christmas period once again and whilst there was an initial huge improvement, Argyle failed to maintain their League 1 status. This led to the departure of Ruben Lameiras, a player who would be playing well below his level if he continued with the Pilgrims into the fourth tier. He’d probably have been below his level had he even stayed in the third. Despite the teams poor showing, Lameiras excelled. The playmaker won the clubs Player of the Season award, while also receiving our own nod for the best player in green in the season just passed.

My own personal favourite Lameiras moment followed his goal against Wimbledon in the 2017/2018 home fixture. Lameiras would celebrate his finish by imitating a notable opposition player’s previous celebration, standing in front of of the Devonport End, arms crossed, the last laugh his to enjoy.

The loss of such a quality player is going to hurt, regardless of how little faith we really had in re-signing him. Despite only spending two years as a Pilgrim, Ruben Lameiras will go down as one of the most talented players in the post-administration era and I think I speak on behalf of the Green Army when I thank him for his service and wish him well in the rest of his career.

Once a green, always a green. If Graham Carey was the man to make Argyle fans realise football was beautiful again, Ruben Lameiras made us realise such beauty wasn’t restricted to one canvas alone. That they depart in the same summer symbolises a sad end of an era.

While I would rather see them in green shirts this season, I’m glad Ruben Lameiras and Graham Carey have taken their football overseas, as opposed to plying their trade elsewhere in England. I don’t think I could face seeing them lining up and firing in goals against us. Anyway, with no senior players left to re-sign, Ryan Lowe and the players returning for pre-season in a week, and no new signings at the time of writing, I expect it to be a busy seven days.

Plymouth Argyle Awards: 2018/2019

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

Player of the Season – Ruben Lameiras

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


Signing of the Season – Freddie Ladapo

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

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


Most Improved Player – Joel Grant

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

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

Joel Grant’s Tactical Evolution


Performance of the Season – Gillingham (H)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Top Ten: Goals of 2018/19


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

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

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


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

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

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


Celebration of the Season – Ladapo vs Millwall (A)

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

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


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

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

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


Comedic Moment of the Season – Tafari Moore vs Shrewsbury

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

Top Ten: Goals of 2018/19

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

10 – Freddie Ladapo vs Gillingham (H)

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

 

9 – Freddie Ladapo vs Wimbledon (H)

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

 

8 – Graham Carey vs Doncaster (H)

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

7 – Graham Carey vs Scunthorpe (H)

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

6 – Ruben Lameiras vs Doncaster (H)

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

 

5 – Freddie Ladapo vs Burton (H)

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

 

4 – Joel Grant vs Luton (A)

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

3 – Ruben Lameiras vs Oxford (H)

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

2 – Graham Carey vs Portsmouth (H)

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

 

1 – David Fox vs Wimbledon (A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under-performing attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focusing on Ladapo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PlayerBig chances
Carey9
Lameiras4
Sarcevic3
Taylor3
Ness2
Grant2
Diagouraga2
Other5

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

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

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

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

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

Marginalising Carey and Lameiras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a massive waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lower mid-table tactic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact on Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partners in crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blunted attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wasted season

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

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

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

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