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…

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

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….

Release or Retain 2019: Part 1

Ahead of the publication of Plymouth Argyle’s retained list, editors Nick, Sam and Adam debated who should be retained, who should be released and who should be transfer listed.

Joe Riley

Sam: Retain. The right back had an underwhelming start to his career but impressed a lot more when he came back into the side in March.

Adam: For League Two level he is absolutely fine, and his ability to play as a full back or wing back makes him a useful player to have around. Retain.

Nick: Riley suffered from injuries but is above League Two level, as he showed with Bury last time he was in the division. Retain.

Gary Sawyer

Adam: Release. It pains me to say it but performance levels have dropped. He hasn’t been helped by the team setup, but Smith-Brown is ready to take over in the left back position.

Nick: Depends on his wage demands. Could be a cheap, solid squad player and leader at the very least. Retain.

Sam: Release. He has been a fine servant for the club but when a player’s legs start to go as his have, there’s no turning back.

Yann Songo’o

Nick: Cheap, versatile player, suited to a league that is more physical. Could be very useful in the division below. Retain.

Sam: Without Derek Adams overusing him by playing him in central midfield every game, we could have a good League Two centre-back on our hands who can cover midfield. Retain.

Adam: Retain. But like Sam, I dearly hope the next manager uses him more effectively than Adams.

Ryan Edwards

Sam: Retain. He showed how good he can be with his fine form from August to January last season and given a fully fit pre-season he could excel in League Two.

Adam: Retain if we can. He’s made a few mistakes, but who hasn’t? His aerial ability makes him a fine addition to any League Two squad.

Nick: Expect he’s probably off. Above League Two level and apparently there is interest. Absolutely should keep him if we can. Retain.

Jamie Ness

Adam: We know he’s already gone. I’d have retained him if wages weren’t an issue, but his injury record left a lot to be desired.

Nick: Ness has already admitted he’s gone and maybe that’s for the best. Too injury prone, higher wage and the right time for a new player. Release.

Sam: It was the correct decision to release him. He’d have been well above league two level but unable to stay fit for an entire season. Release.

Antoni Sarcevic

Nick: We’re pretty certain he’s under contract, unless there is some release clause. Very handy player in League Two. Retain.

Sam: Absolutely Retain. He was superb for this level with Fleetwood and has something to offer in both CM and AM against limited opponents.

Adam: Retain. His pressing from midfield could be vital against the more defensive sides at League Two level.

David Fox

Sam: Release. As I said regarding Sawyer, he is a great servant to the club but his performance levels have dropped off hugely and another season could ruin his legacy.

Adam: He’s been a great servant but to get the best out of him the midfield needs to be set up in a very specific way. There are other players who can do what Fox does. Release.

Nick: Keep him if we can. He’s one of the few quality players in possession of the ball. Likely to leave, not worth breaking the budget for, but not worth releasing without trying.

Ryan Taylor

Adam: We assume he’s under contract and there’s no reason not to keep it it is that way. Since signing Taylor, the team has consistently scored more goals when he has started. Retain.

Nick: Taylor is a must keep. Great option for any team in League Two given his aerial abilities. A manager should not be afraid to make him their leading striker. Retain.

Sam: Taylor was chronically underused last season but in truth didn’t seem fit on most occasions when he did play – but with a full pre season he deserves a chance in a division that he’s too good for when fit and firing. Retain.

Graham Carey

Nick: We’re at big risk of losing our two best players this summer. Carey is more likely to stay than the other, and would massively benefit any attempt at immediate promotion – retain.

Sam: Whilst I agree it’s likely he will depart, we should make every effort to avoid that happening as he’s far too good for league two level. Retain.

Adam: Absolute no brainer. It’s unlikely, but do all we can to retain.

Ruben Lameiras

Sam: The other one of our two best players is younger and even less likely to stay but again we should at least try. He’d tear the basement apart if on-form. Retain.

Adam: Same again. Try to retain, as impossible as it looks.

Nick: I’m not holding out one iota of hope that he stays, but the clubs should still do what they can to keep him – retain.

Player Ratings: Accrington 5 Plymouth Argyle 1

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

Starting XI:

Matt Macey – 2

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

Oscar Threlkeld – 3

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

Ryan Edwards – 4

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

Lloyd Jones -3

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

Gary Sawyer – 1

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

Yann Songo’o -4

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

David Fox – 3

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

Antoni Sarcevic – 3

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

Jamie Ness – 5 (Man of the Match)

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

Graham Carey – 4

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

Ryan Taylor – 3

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

Substitutes:

Freddie Ladapo – 4

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

Ruben Lameiras – 4

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

Alex Fletcher – N/A

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

Match Analysis: Plymouth Argyle 0 Barnsley 3

For the second time across the Easter weekend, Plymouth Argyle conceded three goals in a crucial game. After the defeat to Gillingham on Good Friday, Barnsley played the Greens off the Home Park pitch on Monday, walking away with a 3-0 victory. It could so easily have been more.

Argyle were torn apart in the opening half-hour against the Tykes. When Alex Mowatt’s well placed free kick found the top corner of Kyle Letheren’s net after 28 minutes, the visitors had already developed the three goal lead they would maintain until the final whistle. It invoked memories of a Barnsley visit to Home Park in 2009, when a Ryan Shotton goal put the Yorkshire side 4-1 up after half an hour. Luckily, a deluge spared Argyle’s blushes on that occasion. In the Easter Monday sun, however, an abandonment was never likely.

With Barnsley starting the game in second position, a defeat was to be expected. However, the manner of it left a lot to be desired.

Lineup pain

For the first time all season, Freddie Ladapo would not feature in a league game for Plymouth Argyle. The striker, 18 goals to his name this year, was completely left out of the matchday squad. Was he injured? Did he “rule himself out” of contention? The answer may well be different depending on who you ask.

Regardless, this left Argyle with a golden opportunity. We know Derek Adams has considered Ladapo to be undroppable this season – the aforementioned fact that he had featured in every league game this season (starting 41 and appearing twice as a substitute) is testament to this. In Friday’s 3-1 defeat at Gillingham, Argyle kept their hosts quiet in midfield but didn’t have an attacking platform created for them by their centre forward. However, with Ladapo seemingly the only enforced change from that game, Adams was effectively forced to play Ryan Taylor. Had that been the only change, Argyle’s best front six, so successful last season, would have lined up together for the first time all season.

However, rather than just slotting Taylor in, Adams made two further changes. The first was understandable as Oscar Threlkeld came back into the squad and straight into the first team in place of Ashley Smith-Brown. Smith-Brown struggled against Gillingham – he picked up a booking and ought to have done better with Gills’ first two goals, particularly the second. With Threlkeld presumably back to full fitness, it made sense to bring him into the side.

Had that been all, the lineup would certainly have been justifiable. However, Adams opted to make one more change. In midfield, a rare area of defensive strength for Argyle against Gillingham, Yann Songo’o came in for Jamie Ness. It facilitated a change of formation to 4-2-3-1. This was baffling for a number of reasons.

First of all, Argyle came into this game having kept an opposition midfield quiet away from home – the two Gillingham goals that turned the game around came from crosses. Against Barnsley, a team with 74 league goals this season prior to kick off, Argyle needed to do all they could to make themselves defensively sound. This change did the opposite.

In addition, it was all the more confusing when more sensible choices were available to Adams. As we’ve discussed, Oscar Threlkeld, a player the manager himself said was brought in to play in midfield, was available. Smith-Brown may not have played well on Friday, but giving him another chance would have been a far less substantial risk than using Fox and Songo’o as a midfield two.

Argyle had found themselves snookered by their own manager even before the game had kicked off. From there, the likelihood of Argyle picking up any points, already rather slim, had lessened. It was clear that any kind of positive result would be achieved by Argyle riding their luck defensively.

A shambolic start

It was always likely to be a backs to the wall job for Plymouth Argyle. Players putting their bodies on the line would be necessary. Around 14 minutes into the game, Ryan Edwards put in a couple of big challenges in quick succession to get the crowd going. And just as the noise was building, just as optimism was starting to build a little, Barnsley scored.

 

It wasn’t a great goal to concede. Barnsley goalkeeper and captain Adam Davies rolled the ball out to Jordan Williams and he, under no pressure at all, had all the time in the world to pick out a long ball. That one crossfield ball was enough to bypass the entirety of Argyle’s defensive setup, and within seconds the ball was in the back of the net. Whilst it wasn’t pretty, there were at least some mitigating factors for Argyle.

Barnsley’s play in creating the goal was superb. Williams may have had plenty of time to play his long ball, but it was pinpoint. Besides, you cannot expect Argyle to press their opponents across every blade of grass. Goalscorer Cauley Woodrow, meanwhile, demonstrated exactly why he now has 18 goals for the Tykes this season, chesting down expertly finishing with aplomb. Movement fantastic; finishing sublime. The hallmark of a promotion side.

Whilst we can say Barnsley executed a plan superbly for the first goal, they really didn’t have to work hard for the second.

 

If the first goal was disappointing, the second was a complete mess. There is a lot to unpack, not all of which features on the highlight. The move started when Gary Sawyer gave the ball straight to Alex Mowatt on Argyle’s left. Argyle were in trouble as soon as Barnsley got men forward quickly. Mowatt passed the ball straight through Fox and Songo’o, both of whom were jogging back into position, and suddenly Argyle had an urgent problem to deal with.

Woodrow received the ball from that Mowatt pass, and with the Argyle midfield cut out of the equation, Ryan Edwards was forced to press Woodrow. This meant Lloyd Jones was forced to come across to cover the potential pass to Mamadou Thiam. Gary Sawyer was subsequently dragged across to tightly mark Mike Bahre, previously Jones’ man. When Woodrow played the ball out wide to Dani Pinillos, Thiam made a run behind Oscar Threlkeld, making things difficult for the recalled Argyle right back. In the middle, Edwards was tracking Thiam’s run, Sawyer was still covering Bahre in a central position, and Jones was marking nobody.

The key issue was on Argyle’s left. Gary Sawyer, who did of course start this chain of events by giving the ball away, found himself in an impossible position at the back post. He was unable to cover both Bahre and Jacob Brown, the man he would usually be tasked with marking. He did the right thing in covering the player in the centre of the box, but when Pinillos played a cross to the back post, it made a one-on-one inevitable. Despite a despairing challenge from Sawyer, it all came down to whether Brown could beat Kyle Letheren. Many have failed to do so this season – Brown didn’t.

Argyle were two goals down after just 20 minutes. Both goals demonstrated how proficient Barnsley were in attack, and how deficient Argyle were in defence, particularly the midfield two. The last thing the Pilgrims needed at that point was a moment of magic from their opponents to compound their misery. Step up: Alex Mowatt.

 

This was a superb free kick – not only because of the placement in the top corner, but because of the curl and power that was on the ball. The ball was always swerving away from Letheren, and the Argyle goalkeeper barely stood a chance. Argyle had a tall wall in place – Taylor, Edwards and Songo’o were all included. But Mowatt got the ball up and down with apparent effortless ease.

It was the culmination of a shambolic half of football for Plymouth Argyle. They were 3-0 down at home within half an hour, and the game had already effectively been lost. All the while, Barnsley demonstrated an unerring ease in their control of the ball from midfield. Fox and Songo’o were made to look like a non-league paring facing up against Premier League regulars. Argyle’s objective from that point on was to try to salvage some honour, and prevent a damaging defeat from becoming a complete humiliation.

No easing off

Keeping the scoreline respectable is sometimes a lot easier said than done. When Charlton took at 2-0 lead at Home Park earlier this month, Argyle had the advantage of having their best midfield trio on the pitch in their favourite positions. This in turn led to Charlton taking a defensive approach, knowing they could keep Argyle quiet by man-to-man marking in midfield, made possible by the visitors’ diamond shape. This style made it almost certain that they would secure the win, but made a third Addicks goal unlikely.

On Monday, however, things were different. As we’ve discussed, Argyle did not line up with their best midfield in place. When Adams failed to make any half time changes (he actually waited until the 80th minute to make any changes at all), Barnsley knew they could cut straight through the middle of Argyle just as they did in the first half. With that in mind, there was no easing off from the visitors. After all, goal difference may be an important factor for both sides at the end of the season.

Barnsley had many chances to add more goals in an already dominant performance. They were only stopped from doing so by Letheren, Argyle’s man of the match in the absence of any other candidates. He first made a flying save to deny Behre…

 

…and followed that up by getting down low to keep out a shot from Cameron McGeehan.

 

To their credit, Argyle didn’t stop trying either, despite the hopelessness of the situation. Take a look at the second Letheren save again, for instance. At the start of the highlight, Barnsley had the ball on the right. Songo’o, a player Argyle fans would universally agree gives his all in games, can be seen in the centre. Antoni Sarcevic, meanwhile, was in a much more advanced position as the counter attack began. However, at the end of the highlight, Songo’o was nowhere to be seen having barely tracked back at all, whilst Sarcevic nipped in ahead of Mowatt having sprinted into a defensive position to prevent an easy tap-in.

I should add that this isn’t in any way a dig at Songo’o’s effort. As I’ve said, we’d all agree that no matter what our opinions are on Songo’o and his footballing abilities, he always seems happy to try. However, to suggest that he is putting in 100% effort when none of his teammates are is simply wrong. Argyle lost this game for two reasons: poor tactics and strong opposition. A perceived lack of effort was simply a fallacy.

Final verdict

Argyle were never likely to win this game. The fact they lost it shouldn’t come as a surprise. And indeed, as was mentioned in the analysis of the Gillingham game, we’re at the stage of the season where performances matter less and results matter more. Argyle were abject, but whether they lost 3-0 or 1-0, they’d have been on the same number of points. To put this dire showing out of their minds, that’s how Argyle’s players need to mentally approach their remaining fixtures.

A good performance would of course increase the chances of a victory at Accrington on Saturday. To achieve that, changes will be needed. However, just as a good performance doesn’t guarantee a good result, a bad performance doesn’t guarantee a bad result. At this stage, we’d all take an incredibly fortunate win for the Greens as the season reaches its climax.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Barnsley 3

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

Starting XI:

Kyle Letheren – 6 (Man of the Match)

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

Oscar Threlkeld – 4

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

Ryan Edwards – 2

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

Lloyd Jones – 5

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

Gary Sawyer – 2

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

Yann Songo’o – 5

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

David Fox – 3

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

Graham Carey – 5

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

Antoni Sarcevic – 5

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

Ruben Lameiras – 6

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

Ryan Taylor – 5

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

Substitutes:

Alex Fletcher – N/A

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

Paul Anderson – N/A

Did he even touch the ball?

Jamie Ness – N/A

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

Player Ratings: Gillingham 3 Plymouth Argyle 1

A dreadful couple of minutes in the Kent sunshine turned a potentially resolute rear-guard performance into a bitterly disappointing – and maybe disastrous – defeat for Plymouth Argyle as they succumbed to Gillingham.

Kyle Letheren – 6

Letheren had some bright moments – he made a couple of strong charges off his line to clean up some Gillingham’s attacks. However, his distribution was below average, though that appears to be about average for Argyle’s goalkeepers this season…

He could have done more to prevent the equaliser by attacking the cross to get it away, but could not be expected to do any more with any of Gillingham’s finishes. Rushed his clearance on his weaker foot late in the game which put Canavan under pressure and led to their break-away third to kill the game.

Ashley Smith-Brown – 5

Smith-Brown put in a good defensive performance in the first half, but was caught out twice in the second half for both of Gillingham’s first two goals before he was pulled from the pitch by Adams. First, he allowed Charles-Cook to get ahead of him to chest the ball into the back of the net – not that it would have been an easy situation to deal with even if he was correctly positioned, such was the quality of the cross. Then, he lost track of Byrne from a corner, who powered home the header.

Ryan Edwards – 8 (Man of the Match)

It seems odd to award man of the match to a defender in a side that conceded three goals, but it would be unfair to apportion collective responsibility and reduce Edwards’ rating for three goals he had little to do with. Otherwise, he stood up to the challenge and dealt particularly well with the threat of Eaves in the first half.

His worst moment came when he blazed over the bar from six yards with Argyle’s best chance of the second-half after an excellent piece of composure to cut inside Max Ehmer and into space. Minutes later – Gillingham led. What a pivotal moment that could be this season. However, Edwards put in an otherwise strong individual performance, and cannot be blamed for any of the goals. Best individual in green and white on the day.

Lloyd Jones – 7

Jones did a decent job on his debut. He was composed in possession and made a few good tackles. When moved to an unorthodox right-back position, he even did a decent job, though he failed to cut back a presentable opportunity, finding none of his teammates.

His biggest problem came when dealing with the movement of GIllingham’s strikers. On a number of occasions he was dragged out of position into the left-flank. In the first half, this forced Edwards to cover him on a couple of occasions and left Eaves against Smith-Brown at the back post. In the second, it happened less but did occur during Gillingham’s equaliser. Had he been in position, he would have likely intercepted the cross and prevented the goal.

Gary Sawyer – 5

Not a particularly bad performance by Sawyer, but he was beaten on a couple of occasions and failed to direct Jones around the pitch in the way a proper captain should. Had he been more commanding, perhaps Jones wouldn’t have been drawn out of position as he was. Sawyer also offered little going forward, despite the space available on the flanks.

David Fox – 6

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Fox found his influence marginalised as a result of being man-marked throughout the game. One of the major drawbacks of so many sides opting to field diamond formations (Gillingham, Luton, Charlton, Bristol Rovers) is that he has received much more attention by the opposition this season. On similar occasions last season, Argyle had an out-ball in Ryan Taylor, but not so much this time around.

Yet, while Fox was limited in possession, he was part of a strong midfield effort, alongside Sarcevic, Ness and Carey, to deny Gillingham’s diamond territory and the space to create chances. That earns him a six overall.

Antoni Sarcevic – 6

Like his fellow midfielders, Sarcevic did a good job of denying Gillingham’s diamond throughout. While they kept the door closed – through the central avenues anyway – they were ineffective going forwards. Like Fox – and Ness – this was mostly because he was directly man-marked, though Sarcevic’s limited passing repetoire certainly didn’t help. A couple of bursts forward helped him break Gillingham’s midfield line, but his teammates failed to take advantage of these moments.

Jamie Ness – 5

For Ness, read Fox and Sarcevic. Good defensively – as part of a unit – but lacking going forward, largely due to man-marking. The difference between Ness and the others was that he gave the ball away far more often, and sometimes under far less pressure. His passing was certainly off. Not out of the question that he wasn’t fully match-fit, which raises questions about his position in the team on Monday.

Ruben Lameiras – 4

Lameiras was Argyle’s worst player on the day as he failed to make any form of impact for the vast majority of the game. The Portuguese was starved of service due to Ladapo’s poor play as the target-man and the inability of the midfield to exert much control of possesion, When he did receive the ball, he was not as sharp as usual. Currently Argyle’s player of the season – per our Argyle Life player rankings – he’ll need to be back to his best for the final games of the season.

Graham Carey – 5

Carey struggled like Lameiras, but his outstanding tackle on Mark Byrne in the first half set Ladapo away to open the scoring. To be honest, that one moment was the difference between himself and Lameiras. Otherwise, he lacked service and was poor in possession.

Freddie Ladapo – 5

Ladapo finished brilliantly to give Argyle the lead, but my word he had a very poor game (I heard many others around me use far worse adjectives than that). With Argyle’s midfield trio man-marked, the onus was on Ladapo to act as a focal point, yet he was continually dispossessed throughout the match. Unfortunately, this was just the latest in a long list of poor away performances by Ladapo. Minus his goal, he would have been lucky to score higher than three. Yes, he scored, but otherwise he was a major hindrance on the team. There’s a reason why Argyle struggle so much to create chances on the road; he’s a bigger part of it than some would care to admit.

Player Rankings: Matchday 42

From now until the end of the season, we will be publishing our Plymouth Argyle player rankings, made up of aggregated player ratings from every game of 2018/19.

How we calculate the score

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

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

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

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

The scores with four games to go

With just four games to go, it should come as no surprise to any of you that the man currently topping our player rankings (see the full results below) and therefore winning Argyle Life’s player of the season award is none other than Ruben Lameiras. If we stay up, it will be almost entirely due to our great run of form in early 2019 and Lameiras was critical in that run, as well as providing solidly good performances for most of the season. it may have taken Adams months – and injury to Joel Grant – to finally introduce Lameiras into the time for a prolonged spell, but once there he has thrived.

In second resides Graham Carey, Lameiras’ partner in crime. Seeing the Irishman in second may come as a shock to many since common wisdom generally dictates him as having had a bad season. However, in truth it is only bad by the high standards that Carey has already set of himself. His performances over the season have still been of a pretty good and of a far more consistent standard than many of his teammates. He is Argyle’s highest assister by a distance and has created more goal-scoring chances than any other player in green and white, He is still overwhelmingly a net positive influence on the team.

A player overlooked by many, Niall Canavan, sits in third. Some may question the logic of a defender being so high in a team whose defensive inadequacies have been shown up so often this season, but Canavan himself isn’t the main flaw. A few awful games aside, he has largely produced solid performances from centre-back and has played the vast majority of games (post Christmas at least) and he has thus been one of the higher contributors to the team overall. Indeed, it may shock people to learn that no other outfielder has earned a higher rate of points-per-game than Canavan, having been crucial to Argyle’s runs of form in October and January.

Just missing out on a podium place are Antoni Sarcevic, Ryan Edwards and David Fox. Here, we move onto the players whose average performances have not actually been strong enough to breach the top three. Sarcevic, mostly playing from an attacking midfield position that has limited him, has not achieved the same levels of performances that he did in 2017/18. Edwards had a (for very understandable reasons) underwhelming first half of the season, before kicking on since his return over Christmas. David Fox has been a little mediocre all season. He’s repeatedly been exposed defensively in a 4-2-3-1 and thus has recorded lower average ratings throughout 2018/19. Yet, all three have clocked enough game-time and delivered consistent enough performances to merit their strong rankings.

A controversial ranking in 7th is Freddie Ladapo, but to understand this you must refer to the earlier point about statistical bias. There have been a lot of games where he has got goals, undoubtedly. Yet, throughout the season there have been many – if not more – games in which his poor performances in other areas have severely held the team back. As such, his goals are the only thing that even get him into the top seven. Indeed, when Ladapo fails to score, he frequently fails to achieve an above average match rating. Should Ladapo be able to add interplay to his game then he would be a shoo-in for Player of the Year. Alas, he is hardly even registering among the debate at the moment.

Next we come to the mid-ranking players. Matt Macey and Yann Songo’o have a lot of games under their belts, which pulls them up the rankings. However, their mixed bag of performances drags them down towards those who have missed significant portions of the season. Both have had plenty of games (in recent times especially) in which individual errors have dragged their match ratings below average.

Gary Sawyer is also lower than some may anticipate. He’s got a good few games under his belt (bar his Autumn injury, he has played almost universally) but a series of mediocre performances hint that his legs are on the way out. Similarly in this bracket, Jamie Ness joins Ashley-Smith Brown and the two Grants (Joel and Connor) in players whose limited run of games (mostly due to injury) mean that their good performances do not propel them as high up the list as they would otherwise reach.

Kyle Letheren rapidly climbed the table until he lost his place due to injury, but has dropped below the likes of Riley, Taylor and Ness since then. Letheren did put in a few excellent individual performances, but had many more average performances than fans tend to remember. His average rating does exceed that of Macey’s, but his restricted game-time leaves him in a position from which he cannot overtake his rival for the #1 shirt.

The bottom five mostly consists of players who have both played infrequently AND been unspectacular when they have played. The one exception here is Oscar Threlkeld who has played very few games but been mostly above averge. As seen by the below table, he is climbing the ladder and should expect to climb into the top fifteen by the season’s end.

Plymouth Argyle’s player rankings

Rank
Player
Score
Movement
1. Ruben LAMEIRAS 24.31
2. Graham CAREY  23.93
3. Niall CANAVAN 22.20
4. Antoni SARCEVIC 22.11
5. Ryan EDWARDS 21.74
6. David FOX 21.58
7. Freddie LADAPO 21.51
8. Matt MACEY  21.50
9. Yann SONGO’O 20.85
10. Ashley SMITH-BROWN 20.48
11. Gary SAWYER 19.13 ⇑ (+1)
12. Jamie NESS 18.99 ⇓ (-1)
13. Joel GRANT 17.52
14. Ryan TAYLOR 17.36
15. Joe RILEY  15.31
16. Kyle LETHEREN 15.21
17. Tafari MOORE 14.99
18. Conor GRANT 14.51
19. Oscar THRELKELD 12.86 ⇑ (+1)
20. Stuart O’KEEFE 12.39 ⇓ (-1)
21. Peter GRANT 12.32 ⇓ (-1)
22. Scott WOOTTON 11.71
23. Gregg WYLDE 9.40
23. Lloyd JONES 6.00 ⇑ (+1)

So, how will the table look after matchday 46? Graham Carey would need to do something special to overhaul Lameiras at this stage but stranger things have happened. Meanwhile, Sarcevic or Edwards could nab themselves a podium place and maybe, just maybe, Paul Anderson may play long enough to actually get a ranking.

Match Analysis: Doncaster 2 Plymouth Argyle 0

Plymouth Argyle just cannot drag themselves out of relegation trouble. Following Saturday’s abject 2-0 defeat away at Doncaster, Derek Adams’ side find themselves just three points and three places above the relegation zone. With just four games left to play, it really is squeaky bum time now as the Greens look to avoid the drop.

Saturday’s performance was not good. There’s no real positive spin we can put on that. Argyle were second best all over the field for the vast majority of the game, particularly in the first half. Their hosts had a 2-0 lead at half time, ought to have led by more, and Argyle never really looked like getting back into the game as it drew to a close.

Doncaster’s two goals can be looked at in isolation, but as always, we’ll prioritise the pattern of the play to see if there is anything we can notice as a trend. It is this, above anything else, that Argyle will need to look at in trying to avoid defeat against Gillingham on Good Friday.

Lack of midfield control

An injury to Jamie Ness meant Adams was forced to make a change to the side that battled well but ultimately lost at home to Charlton last weekend. However, the decision to bring in Yann Songo’o was a confusing one. It led to Argyle deploying the same shape as the one they did when Doncaster visited Home Park in September. That game, you may recall, was one the visitors completely dominated. The defensive midfield duo of Songo’o and David Fox were caught out of position on numerous occasions – their defensive frailties were exposed, and Grant McCann’s side took full advantage in scoring three goals. Only a late firebolt from Graham Carey made the scoreline look respectable for Argyle.

Things got doubly worse for Argyle just before the game got under way. All week, the focus from Doncaster’s point of view appeared to be on John Marquis, with rumours that the hosts’ 23-goal top scorer was likely to miss the game due to a concussion. However, whilst the forward was undoubtedly a big miss, another piece of Doncaster team news meant more. In midfield, Liverpool loanee Herbie Kane was back in the side following an absence of four games. Kane’s playmaking abilities have been instrumental for Rovers all season, and he was one of the key factors in the 3-2 win Doncaster picked up at Home Park. Having him lining up in midfield against Fox and Songo’o almost felt unfair.

Therefore, when the teams were announced for Saturday’s game, the natural fear was that we’d see a repeat of those proceedings from September. Unfortunately, that turned out to be exactly what happened. Argyle lacked any sort of midfield control or presence, and this had repercussions all over the field. Whenever Doncaster had the ball, they were able to manoeuvre a slow Argyle midfield around almost at will. This resulted in spaces becoming available for the creative talents in the hosts’ side to exploit.

Doncaster’s midfield, particularly through the superb Kane, played in a way that demonstrated exactly why Argyle’s midfield selection was a disaster. As they showed seven months ago, having a duo of Songo’o and Fox just does not work. Dribbling at Fox was an effective method of attack for Doncaster, the 35-year-old almost looking scared to tackle. As for Songo’o, dribbling at him remains an option, although we know he’s got booming tackles in his locker, but Doncaster were one of many teams to show how easy it is to pass around the Cameroonian. Songo’o in midfield regularly shows the mobility of a centre back being played out of position. Imagine. The formation disadvantaged both players, with major repercussions.

We’ll take an example of the first goal to demonstrate the frailties further – not necessarily the moment it went in, but events leading to it. Doncaster eventually broke through following pressure building after a series of corners. The play leading up to those corner kicks demonstrated how Doncaster ran rings around Argyle all game. The set piece swarm began when Ryan Edwards was forced to head an inviting cross over his own bar. In getting to this situation, Kieran Sadlier and James Coppinger put Argyle’s defence and midfield under pressure. Sadlier took it upon himself to dribble at David Fox and expose his defensive frailties. Fox didn’t even attempt a tackle, and a simple pass out wide put Argyle under immense pressure on the left.

Argyle didn’t have full control of the ball again after that until it ended up in the back of their net. This is why it is so important to spot these issues and stamp them out – upon rewatching the game, I remarked to a friend that Argyle’s midfield was woefully weak and left them exposed all over the field. He dismissed this as irrelevant, pointing out the fact that both the goals came from set piece situations rather than open play. However, as I hope has been demonstrated, these set piece situations were a direct result of Argyle’s poor play off the ball. And regardless, it would be a worry even if those Doncaster goals didn’t go in. Other teams may be a little more ruthless if the same problems pop up for Argyle, and it’s important – we’re in a relegation battle, after all. Besides, let’s not forget that Doncaster wasted two one-versus-one opportunities and a host of other presentable chances. The fact that their goals ultimately came from set-pieces was besides the point.

I faced ridicule when I described this as a “sorry excuse for a midfield” a few weeks ago. But I stand by this comment. On this evidence, it is the one most likely to keep Argyle in relegation trouble. It’s no coincidence that the performance improved when Argyle hauled Songo’o off and switched to a midfield diamond at the interval. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

Goals and mistakes

As we’ve discussed, it was in midfield that Argyle came unstuck at the weekend. But much of the criticism fell on the defence and goalkeeper. Whilst it may have been a tad harsh – they weren’t exactly the primary reasons why Argyle lost the game at the weekend – it must be said that on occasions, Argyle’s back five don’t help themselves. It is, after all, easier to criticise a player when they make glaring errors.

Argyle cut out many of the defensive errors that had been plaguing them all season when they kicked off 2019 with an excellent winning run. This wasn’t without exception – Ryan Edwards, for instance, was guilty of two howlers against Rochdale which on another day could have cost Argyle valuable points. However, having a settled back four did at least seem to see those errors limited to a minimum. In recent weeks, however, individual mistakes have begun to trouble Argyle again, and Saturday was no exception.

Edwards again was at fault just moments into the game. Before Doncaster did eventually go ahead, Leeds loanee Mallik Wilks hit the outside of the post with a header from a deep Coppinger cross. This spell of play stemmed from Edwards misjudging the flight of the ball near the touchline. He ended up flinging a boot at it, and sent the ball directly up into the air on the volley. Coppinger took it down, and from there Argyle’s defence were out of position and ill-equipped to stop the cross coming in. It set the tone.

Not long after, the first goal did arrive. As we’ve discussed, this came following a sustained spell of pressure involving numerous set pieces. Let’s take a look at the goal itself.

 

There is plenty to unpack here, none of which reflects Argyle in a positive light. For a start, this came from a situation where Argyle appeared to have dealt with the imminent threat, something which isn’t shown in the highlight. A corner was dangerously swung in, but Songo’o headed the ball away well. It eventually fell to Freddie Ladapo on the edge of the penalty area. However, he seemed to get it caught under his feet, and he eventually lost it on Argyle’s left. This is where the highlight begins on the video.

From there, Argyle’s frailties defensively were laid bare. David Fox was the main culprit – his initial clearance was very poor, and his attempted tackle on Tommy Rowe was weak at best. If any more evidence was needed to demonstrate Fox’s defensive weaknesses, this was a prime example. Rowe had no problem firing the ball into the top corner, and Argyle were chasing the game after just seven minutes.

The errors continued as the first half went on. This poor piece of play from Songo’o in midfield led to another chance for the home side.

 

Argyle got away with that one, but Doncaster were soon two goals to the good. A free kick on the stroke of half time from Danny Andrew effectively put the game to bed. Some fans blamed Matt Macey for the goal, arguing that the goalkeeper shouldn’t have been beaten by the long-range effort at his near post.

 

Andrew hit it well and found the bottom corner, a difficult shot to save – like Chaplin’s free-kick into the top corner that Letheren conceded from back in January. Hit hard, low and away from him, Macey struggled to get to the shot – that he may have expected to be crossed in, given the position it was taken from. This was far from a mistake, but question can be asked for the fourth game in a row as to how much better he could have done to save the shot. For the fourth game in a row, a side has scored a goal that comes closer to could have saved then should have saved. There is not shame in conceding these goals, however to have conceded all four is a worry.

Another problem Macey faces, and perhaps one of the reasons he isn’t exactly endearing himself to supporters, is that he doesn’t even seem to be attempting saves from these good shots. On Saturday, as soon as Andrew’s shot beat the wall, Macey seemed to simply accept that it was hitting the net. He’s now failed to dive for shots resulting in goals against Doncaster, Bristol Rovers and twice against Blackpool. With fans desperate to see some effort, it’s not a good look. There’s also a credible analytical point to be made here – if this happens once it’s forgivable, but now it’s happened regularly, it’s not a stretch to say he may have saved at least one of those efforts had he tried to.

Is all this a factor in deciding that Macey isn’t good enough and Letheren should immediately be brought back in? Not really. That’s a debate that’s already been had. However, to get the supporters on his side and pick up some vital points at the business end of the season, Macey could do with a solid performance on Good Friday – should he be given the opportunity to do so.

Final verdict

Argyle set up in a way that made them likely to lose the game. Individual mistakes across the pitch confirmed that they would lose the game. It wasn’t a good day.

Derek Adams was understandably furious after the game, and hinted that changes would be made for the next fixture. That is encouraging, but I’ll keep my expectations in check for now. The right changes could see Argyle jump towards survival. The wrong changes could see them fall into even deeper trouble.