Final Whistle: A Transfer Window Assessment

With the January transfer window finally concluded there was certainly a deflated feeling amongst the Plymouth Argyle fan base as deadline day saw two departures and just the one incoming.

Additions wise, the club have brought in players in the key areas that they needed, most importantly in Remi Matthews who is with little doubt the best goalkeeper at the club currently. His heroics have earned Argyle points on numerous occasions this season and with the likely departure of Angus Gunn following his return to Manchester City at the end of the season, many Norwich fans are expecting Matthews to be their number one in the Championship next season.

Loanees Zak Vyner (defender) and Moses Masaki (midfielder) from Bristol City and West Ham are a different kettle of fish entirely with little known about what to expect from the pair. Vyner arrives with a good reputation from City manager Lee Johnson are Argyle once again utilise their connections with the Championship club after previously taking Joe Bryan, Bobby Reid and Paul Garita in recent seasons. Aside from the one appearance with City, he also featured 16 times for Accrington last season in League Two. We have seen little of the 20-year-old who has made just one appearance in the 3-1 loss against Wigan whilst missing the 2-1 victory over Oldham with illness. With fellow defender Ryan Edwards sadly being diagnosed with testicular cancer, it was vital that another central defender was brought in whilst Yann Songo’o can also deputise which provides depth in that position.

Masaki is yet to play a competitive league fixture but will be expected to slot in and has been described as a similar player to the departed Toumani Diagouraga. His lack of experience makes him a gamble with just Checkatrade and reserve team football on his CV at West Ham at 22-years-old. With other clubs bringing in more seasoned players and paying transfer fees it once again demonstrates Argyle’s frailties financially compared to other clubs in League One. Fellow Hammer and forward Toni Martinez was also a rumoured target during the window but it appeared that the Spaniard wasn’t keen on a move to Devon.

Adams finally got his man in Simon Church with the Welshman turning the club down earlier in the season in favour of fellow league side Scunthorpe. With gametime limited at Glanford Park he left upon the end of his short-term deal which allowed him a move to Home Park. With a poor goalscoring record he needs to kick-start his career once more and will no doubt play second fiddle to Ryan Taylor. With Church and the returning Alex Fletcher, the duo will provide back-up and options as the season winds to a close.

With the exception of midfielder Diagouraga very few could argue with the departures we have seen at Home Park over the last month. The former Leeds man proved to be a catalyst in Argyle’s upturn in form following his arrival in October and with his presence in the side, Derek Adams’ side lost just twice in the 15 league appearances he made, those being against Oxford and Portsmouth. The 30-year-old provided the no-nonsense style that the midfield sorely needed and as his confidence and fitness grew, so did Argyle’s as their goalscoring problems subsided  as the 4-1 win over Oldham and 3-0 win over Bury both showed. These were also games Diagouraga scored in and whilst many might criticise the club for only handing him a three month deal, it was clearly a deal that suited both parties at the time. The Frenchman was looking to regain fitness following failure to join another Championship/ high-end League One side following his release from Leeds and Argyle, rock bottom of the league needed a capable player who wouldn’t demand too high a wage. The deal provided Diagouraga with a chance to earn fitness and enhance his reputation whilst it gave the club a cheap gamble on a player who may or may not be the difference in our season.

Other departures made more sense, particularly with wide-man/ forward Jake Jervis. Although a loyal servant during his three years at the club it became clear that the former Birmingham man wasn’t the best fit for our squad in League One. Whilst a quality and reliable scorer in League Two last season it often looked at times as though this division was possibly a cut above him as well as our system not suiting his style. With his likely departure following the end of his current deal in the summer it made perfect sense to allow him to leave with both Walsall and his eventual buyers Luton meeting his £125,000 release clause. Whilst it was disappointing that no replacement was brought in, the likes of Joel Grant and Lionel Ainsworth can provide cover in his position and of course, Adams will likely be looking actively across the free agents market.

The likes of Gregg Wylde, Nathan Blissett and Jakub Sokolik were examples of dead wood in the squad with the former two failing to prove themselves in the division and struggling for game time, something that was evident in that fellow League One sides didn’t take a gamble in taking either one loan and why they have ended up in League Two with lowly Morecambe and non-league high-flyers Macclesfield Town respectively. Whilst Wylde has a slight chance of returning should be prove himself and recapture some form as his quality is there, but he needs to perform consistently , it certainly looks to be the end for Blissett. Sokolik was a different matter. He performed well following his arrival last season and provided a reliable partnership with Sonny Bradley at centre-back. It looked likely that he would be fighting it out with Edwards for a place in the starting line-up, but instead following a supposed falling out with Adams just himself regularly on the bench or not in the matchday squad at all. At the end it made sense for both parties to release the Czech from his contract so that he was able to find another club.

To summarise, it wasn’t a fantastic transfer window but it was by no means tragic either. There is still the chance of further additions being made via the free agents market and we are covered in virtually every position on the pitch. Whilst it looks as though we certainly won’t be pushing ahead for the play-offs, it certainly doesn’t look as though we should be fearing relegation either. A mid-table finish is on the cards and after a decade of either fighting for promotion or fighting off relegation, perhaps an average season is exactly what it needed to stabilise the club.

Lessons Learned: Doncaster v Plymouth Argyle

Argyle miss the calming influence of Toumani Diagouraga in midfield

Not a surprise really, but something that became even more evident following the game against Doncaster. One of the many good things about Diagouraga during his 15 match spell with the club is that he was absolutely a jack of all trades. His physical presence was one thing, tied with his perseverance over 90 minutes that made him so difficult for opposing sides to play against. His main benefits to the team however were his composure on the ball and ability to get out of tight spots as well as his tendency to pick excellent passes into space that allowed Argyle to get the ball forward.
Jamie Ness is by no means a bad player and he improved as the game went on- but there is no denying that he looked a bit on the rusty side. Some of his passes were either overhit or underhit and he was visibly struggling to keep up with the pace of the game from an early stage. He did get his second wind and gradually ease into it but he was no replacement for the imperial Diagouraga whose natural ability was only matched by his concentration and consistency. Argyle need to sign at least one more central midfielder.

Ruben Lameiras is still some way from the finished article for Argyle

Fans have been surprised and delighted alike by the Lazarus-esque rise from obscurity that Lameiras has had over the Christmas period. From looking on the verge of being shafted out of Home Park, he has came back into the team and done remarkably well, playing a part in lots of goal and creating an impressive 1.56 chances per 90 minutes on the field.
However, performances like yesterdays demonstrate that despite a good run of form and excellent stats, he has a lot of improvement to do before becoming one of our best players. Too often he did not track back, leaving his full-back exposed and his end product was fairly poor, with many attacks grinding to a halt as soon as the ball was played to Lameiras’ feet. His tendency to misplace his passes or try and take the ball too far saw him substituted not long into the second half and Argyle were the better for his replacement. Speaking of which…

Argyle need to use Lionel Ainsworth more often

There is only one player who has created more chances per 90 minutes than Lameiras (with an excellent 1.62) and that is Lionel Ainsworth. Ainsworth’s career at Argyle is a very peculiar one so far in that it has not in any way been ‘bad’ but it has most certainly been underwhelming. Derek Adams has only allowed him one start in the league (where he incidentally assisted the winning goal) and has been loathe to use him from the bench (bringing him just three times in eleven league matches since that Bradford game, one of those only for four minutes). However, Ainsworth’s excellent statistics indicate that he should be afforded more opportunities than he is currently getting.
Stats aren’t the only reason why he deserves more of a chance- the intangibles are also in his favour. His electric pace (impressively maintained now that he is the wrong side of 30) stretch defences and as such can force them into mistakes as well as gaining us those extra ten-twenty yards of territory up the pitch due to his blistering runs. Against Doncaster, he was employed in something of a free role behind Ryan Taylor and in front of the diamond midfield that we switched to for the second half. This worked very well as his movement constantly baffled the Doncaster defenders and he was able to get a lot of time on the ball, setting up Antoni Sarcevic for a good chance late on that was unfortunately well saved by the Doncaster Rovers keeper. Adams showed great tactical instincts to bring him on in such a role and should trust such instincts more often.

Derek Adams once again demonstrated he has plenty of tactical flexibility

An oft-repeated myth about the Argyle manager this season is that he has no flexibility and always stick to the same ‘one up front’ system. Whilst it is true that Argyle usually start with one up front, he has shown plenty of flexibility within that framework (both 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations getting a fair hearing this season) and yesterday was another example of how he is more than capable of making changes during games.
Argyle were being outplayed with three in midfield, with Doncaster’s diamond system being well-implemented and ensuring that they swallowed up the vast majority of the loose balls in midfield, as well as crowding Argyle out when they were in possession so as to ensure that their passing options were limited. Adams, to his credit, saw this and decided to match Doncaster up by going to a diamond system himself. This is not the first time this season that he has done this, doing the exact same with Southend’s 4-4-2 in August and Walsall’s 3-5-2 in September.

Gary Sawyer’s remarkable season has continued

For most of the past two seasons, Gary Sawyer has been Mr Solid. He would rarely have a bad game but rarely have a very good one either. He would offer solid positioning and would rarely make a howler- but he would also come up short against players of real quality and he would rarely be able to offer much in the way of overlapping when he got forward. You would perhaps expect a player of this ilk to struggle making the step up to League One, but Sawyer has continued to age like a fine wine, if anything looking better against more threatening opposition rather than worse.
This match was a fine example of his recent improvement- his ability to stand men up when up against tricky runs from out wide and rarely let them get through to cut inside (one mistake accepted) was excellent and demonstrated the sort of smart on-pitch judgement that he has shown all season (whereas in previous years he tended to back off a little rather than mark tightly enough to force a man back). He also continued to venture forward with regularity, which became even more important following Argyle’s switch to a diamond system as he became the main outlet for width on the left hand side. Argyle must hope his Indian Summer of a career continues.

Final Whistle: January Merry-Go-Round

It’s well and truly been a mixed seven days for the Plymouth Argyle Football Club with the January Transfer Window now open and dealings in full flow.

Following a comfortable 3-0 win over a very much lacklustre Bury side at the weekend, the Green Army were swiftly brought the unfortunate, yet expected news that midfielder Toumani Diagouraga would be set to leave the club following the completion of his three month deal with the club. There is no debate that the former Leeds United man had become somewhat of a fan favourite during his short stint in Devon whilst representing the invigorated Argyle side that have now lost just twice in their last 15 games since his debut in October.

The news that he wanted to be back up North with his young family was frustrating, yet perfectly understandable and will certainly leave a few fans worried of what the future holds and whether results will once again dwindle following his departure to Fleetwood Town. Unless Derek Adams signs a replacement before this weekend’s trip to Doncaster Rovers, it seems likely that Yann Songo’o will join David Fox and Antoni Sarcevic in midfield with Songo’o at the base and the other two pushing on slightly. The only argument against this would be how it would primarily affect Fox with the 34-year-old putting in some of his best performances for the club in recent weeks playing in that deeper role. Sarcevic impressed against Bury at the weekend and was rewarded with a goal but as we saw earlier in the season the three in this combination wasn’t always the best fit, although they now have better players in front of them to feed the ball to which wasn’t the case before.

The other possible set-up could see Graham Carey join the midfield, as he has a couple of times this season rather than his regular wide role. With Fox playing deep, this would given the Irishman more of a licence to roam as he usual. This eventuality would most likely see Jake Jervis and Ruben Lamerias out wide and for them to interchange throughout the game, as games such as Oldham and Bury have shown how effective it is having two creative players either side.

Hopefully such personnel will be added to over the course of the next few weeks with Adams stating that he would like another three or four players to add to his side.  A forward is likely to be high on the list of priorities with the Pilgrims already having loaned Alex Fletcher to non-league side Torquay United and Celtic’s Nadir Ciftci’s loan spell being ended early and the Turk instead now on his way to Motherwell. With fellow forward Nathan Blissett also rumoured to be a target of many other lower division sides including Wrexham, it will be very much exciting to see who comes through the Home Park door to help ease the burden on the likes of Ryan Taylor and Carey for goals. The club have been linked with a few forwards including Coventry City’s Marc McNulty, although it is highly unlikely the club would be willing to shell out a transfer fee on such an in-form player that would inevitably be the highest they’ve spent on a player for many years.

As far as transfer news goes there has been little to report other than the odd rumour flying about from social media outlets with Wigan’s Jack Bryne allegedly on Adams’ radar. The midfielder spent the first half of the season on-loan at fellow League One side Oldham, also registering four goals from 17 appearances. He appeared as his side went down 4-1 at Home Park in December, but despite the result looked a calm, composed figure on the ball and often frustrated Argyle and looked much like a player you would rather have playing for you rather than against. With Wigan already having added Hearts’ Jamie Walker this transfer window, Bryne’s stock at the DW Stadium looks lower than before.

Another position worth looking at this window would certainly be at centre-back with very little competition in the position. Ryan Edwards and Sonny Bradley have spent the season virtually unopposed in that position with Jakub Sokolik becoming a forgotten figure at Home Park. The Czech looks likely to move on in the summer if not the current window having made just two league appearances this season with the last coming in September. With Songo’o able to deputise in the position but primarily a defensive midfielder since joining the club it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get some quality and competition for places going to prevent any complacency heading into the second half of the season.

With a somewhat dull transfer window for Argyle fans so far, once can only assume that signings, rumours and deals are not far on the horizon.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle v Walsall

Remi Matthews – 7

Matthews had something of an uneventful return to Home Park, only being forced into action a couple times. Competently dealt with a number of Walsall half chances, showing good command of his area and did well to stay composed to stop Bakayoko’s headed effort from close range, arguably Walsall’s best attempt at goal all game.

Oscar Threlkeld – 7

Started brightly, providing width and speed down the right flank throughout the first half and majority of the second. Looked to tire towards the latter stages, maybe due to the Christmas fixture logjam, and gave the ball away cheaply a few times, but more than made up for it with a number of crucial blocks and clearances, as we’ve come to expect from Threlkeld, putting his body on the line as Argyle went backs to the wall in the closing stages.

Ryan Edwards – 7

A steady performance from Edwards, handling Walsall’s attacking threats rather comfortably, and going close with a headed effort early in the first half, the ball sailing narrowly over the bar.

Sonny Bradley – 6

Bradley didn’t exactly have a bad game, as (much as Edwards did), he handled the attacking players with some ease. However, a few misplaced passes in the wrong areas coupled with a couple of defensive mishaps, namely a clearance which went a little too close to Argyles goal for comfort, drops his rating here.

Gary Sawyer – 6

Sawyer had a little trouble dealing with the pace of Zeli Ismail, having been beaten on a number of occasions but these runs ended with very little production, as Sawyer defended well in all other aspects. Sawyer seemed to offer less of an attacking threat throughout this game than in prior performances but nevertheless had a relatively solid game.

David Fox – 8 – Man of the Match

A top performance from Fox, providing stellar levels of play on both sides of the ball, popping up with crucial tackles throughout the game, while showcasing great vision and passing, which we’ve come to expect from him by this point. A lot was made of Walsall attacker Erhum Oztumer before the game, but Fox stuck to him well and his effect on the game was diminished, a testament to the capabilities of Argyle’s midfield trio. He always leads by example and usually, when he plays well, the team follow suit.

Toumani Diagouraga – 7

While there is uncertainty surrounding his contract situation off the field, Diagouraga is certainly a force to be reckoned with on it. Ever so composed on the ball, did the simple things right against Walsall and is never afraid to get stuck in, challenging for the 50/50 balls. Pace and stamina seem to be issues for Diagouraga and although he makes up for it in plenty of other ways, these were rather evident over the Christmas period. Diagouraga is a crucial player and Argyle should do well the rest of the season if they can get him under contract in January.

Antoni Sarcevic – 7

Sarcevic returned to the starting lineup successfully, playing well going forward while staying alert defensively. Went very close with a deflected shot in the first half and made a number of crucial interceptions, turning the defence into attacking breakaways on numerous occasions. At risk of becoming rather underrated among the Argyle supporters, a fit and firing Sarcevic is an asset to the Argyle midfield.

Ruben Lameiras – 7

While the defensive deficiencies are rather obvious, Lameiras poses an attacking threat whenever he’s on the pitch. The end product is not always there with him but it is refreshing to have another player on the side who can run at players and beat them with some regularity. Gave the ball away cheaply a number of times and is prone to doing just a little too much, often running himself into trouble, but showcased what he can do by driving past multiple defenders on the way to laying it to Taylor for his goal.

Graham Carey – 8

Carey had a good game, troubling Walsall throughout. He went close from two free kicks, one in each half and attempted some outrageous long-range efforts which either worried or tested the opposing keeper. He did his part on the defensive end as well, making a number of well-timed tackles. Carey seems to be bursting with confidence at the moment, which can only mean good things for the team.

Ryan Taylor – 8

The record speaks for itself, Argyle are a better team when Taylor plays, and it’s obvious why. Took his goal very well, taking his time and not rushing it, holding it with his back to goal and shooting on the turn with a great finish into the bottom right-hand corner. Taylor’s hold up and link up play is fantastic, frequently winning headers and flick-ons and being able to hold onto the ball, bringing others into the attack. If Argyle had more players making runs off Taylor, gambling on the long balls, Taylor could rack up a lot more assists this season, while his goalscoring should likely continue should he stay fit.

Player Ratings: Blackpool v Plymouth Argyle

Remi Matthews – 7

Matthews was generally efficient on his return to Home Park and neither of the goals in the 2-2 draw can really be put down to him. The first was through a crowd of players when he was clearly unsighted, and for the second, once it has gone through the legs of Oscar Threlkeld, the ball is travelling at too rapid a pace for all but the highest level of goalkeeper to realistically save it. He generally showed a good command of area and good distribution throughout.

Oscar Threlkeld – 6

Threlkeld generally performed well throughout the game with good control of the ball under pressure as well as decision making that was greatly improved from his performance at Milton Keynes where he tended to overcommit too much. However, he tired by the end of the game and allowed Viv Solomon-Otabor to pick his spot (through his legs) rather than press early to attack the ball which resulted in Argyle losing three points right at the death.

Ryan Edwards – 7

Edwards was solid throughout, not at fault for either goal and his positional sense was rarely lacking. His distribution was generally good too, and he was one of the lesser culprits for merely clearing the ball up the pitch simply for it to be pinged straight back into the Argyle defensive area.

Sonny Bradley – 6

Like Edwards, he was a reliable presence defensively and rarely deviated from our good defensive shape. Where he was the weaker centre-back of the two is in his distribution. Some may say that the job of a centre-back is not to keep the ball – but when that ball keeps coming back too often from his own clearances (as is what happened in the second half) then that puts a mark against his performance.

Gary Sawyer – 5

Too often beaten for pace and trickery down the right-hand side, Sawyer did not have his best game at Bloomfield Road. Nor did he offer a great deal going forward. Perhaps a case of after the lord mayor’s show for the left-back following his monumental first goal at Milton Keynes on Boxing Day?

Yann Songo’o – 7. A largely sound game from the defensive central midfielder whose consistency this season after the unreliability and error-prone nature of last season’s Songo’o has been a joy to behold. Yann Songo’o has now replaced Durrell Berry as the benchmark for players who have shown a rapid and significant improvement during their time at Argyle.

David Fox – 6

This was undoubtedly a curates egg of a game for midfielder David Fox up against his former side. He did well what he always does well- keeping the ball in central midfield under pressure by slowing the game down just that fraction enough to frustrate opponents and picking out his teammates with a high level of accuracy. Where he failed is in the physical side of the game, not winning enough aerial or ground duals and losing energy midway through the second half. He also missed a chance that seemed easier to score at 2-1, heading against the post unmarked with the whole goal to aim for.

Diagouraga – 6

The talismanic midfielder kept the shape well in his new role as the most attacking of the central trio but you could tell that the exertions associated with the Christmas period were beginning to get to him more so than most players. He was not operating at peak fitness and seemed a little more sluggish than usual on the ball. Arguably, he should have been substituted rather than Ryan Taylor as the game drew to a close.

Ruben Lameiras – 5

An awkward one, this. The Portuguese attacker managed to score a goal (his first for the club) which automatically bumps his rating up slightly but had a poor game apart from this. Most of his other ventures into the Blackpool final third showed little end product. His defending also had a lot to answer for, frequently leaving his full-back exposed.

Graham Carey – 7 – MOTM

Carey tired towards the end (as they all did) but he was still Argyle’s best player with a very efficient performance notwithstanding a goal that will leave etched in the memories of all Argyle fans who witnessed it forevermore. The levels of skill and audacity combined that were required to take the shot on from such a tricky angle and to land it in the net were extraordinarily high. Too high for most players to meet- most players aren’t Graham Carey.

Ryan Taylor – 7

Another good performance up front from the big striker who has turned Argyle’s form around with what has been comfortably promotion-winning form since he has come back into the side. As long as he remains fit for a season, shrugging off defenders and linking up the play, surely Argyle will be fine this season. We suffered greatly when he was substituted, losing someone who had the ability to make the ball ‘stick’ up front meant it simply kept coming back to us resulting in the heartbreaking late goal.

 

Joel Grant – 7

Grant came on as a substitute for Ruben Lameiras and had an encouraging cameo, always looking to break forward and try to create an opportunity.

Jake Jervis – 6

Another mostly-accomplished performance off the bench from the wide forward, holding off defenders and working well with Taylor. However, he did fade once the latter was subbed off.

Antoni Sarcevic – 4

Sarcevic has been a good player for Argyle at times and still has a role to play with the club, but there can be no defending his cameo from the bench today. His distribution was ineffectual and looked languid at a time when Blackpool were piling on the pressure. Also, he completely scuffed his shot at a clear goal allowing it to be blocked by a home defender when their keeper was some way off his line.

Lessons Learned: MK Dons v Plymouth Argyle

Argyle do not need to rush to sign Remi Matthews when the January transfer window re-opens

Former Norwich loan goalkeeper Matthews who has won the attention of hundreds of Argyle fans on Twitter lately has been dropping countless hints that he will be returning to the club (at least on a loan basis) next month. Whilst he is an excellent option for the medium-term, the excellent form of current loanee Kelle Roos has shown that Argyle do not need to rush the deal through.

Roos’ form since coming to Argyle four matches ago has largely been excellent, bar one near-howler against Gillingham when he almost let the ball slip under his body. Since then, he has only conceded 3 goals in 360 minutes of football for the club. Furthermore, none of the goals he did concede were particularly as a result of goalkeeping errors. His good start at Argyle was made all the more undeniable by a good display in Milton Keynes where he made a couple of smart saves in addition to good command of his area and distribution as Argyle got the 1-0 win they needed to take them to 19th in League One.

It’s wrong to write off players too early

It cannot be argued that many amongst us, this writer included, had written off Ruben Lameiras as a lost cause until very recently, less than a week ago in fact. In the two games since he has been brought back into the starting eleven, however, the Portuguese midfielder has finally shown Argyle fans what made Derek Adams prioritise him as one of the summer signings to make upon our return to League One.

The versatile Lameiras cannot yet be said to be perfect- there were occasions in the game yesterday where his defensive discipline was found wanting, he did not always offer the necessary tracking back to protect his full-backs. However, he was better in this regard than in previous games and his attacking display was unrecognisable. He played a peach of a defence-splitting ball to play in Gary Sawyer for Argyle’s only goal of the game and in general he looked a danger with the ball at his feet, running at defenders, forcing them to backtrack and as such gaining Argyle those extra five to ten yards of territory that meant we did not need to sit deep for much of the second half. His close control is truly excellent and the place in the side is his to lose.

Argyle do not necessarily need a recognised attacking midfielder in the midfield three to improve our performances

. When Argyle’s upturn in form first began with the midfield trio of Songo’o, Fox, and Diagouraga, the wins were purely built on counter-attacking prowess. In the home games against Northampton and Gillingham, we had either Antoni Sarcevic or Graham Carey in the midfield (rather than Songo’o) to add more attacking balance to the midfield and as such had a greater level of control over both of those games.

However, the last two matches have shifted the paradigm yet again. Argyle reverted to the aforementioned midfield trio of late October/early November and have continued to not only grind out wins but play football to a good quality and entertain a lot more than they were previously doing. The lack of a recognised attacking midfielder has been mitigated by the wide players (Carey and Lameiras) cutting inside more regularly than Jervis or Grant tended to do as well as the ever-versatile Toumani Diagouraga showing that he can drive forward with the ball and press high rather than merely sit deep. He’s been a real find and Argyle fans will have the finest late Christmas present imaginable if he puts pen to paper on a new contract.

Oscar Threlkeld still needs to regain a bit of freshness upon his return to the team.

The return of Threlkeld has been eagerly awaited by Argyle fans all season, since he first picked up his injury in the Bristol City match in August and all the more so since his failed return to the side against Fleetwood in October. Threlkeld’s December return from injury appears at last to be a genuine one but he has not quite yet lived up to the standard of performance that Argyle fans may have hoped for, in spite of two excellent wins.

Certain signs of the old Threlkeld have undoubtedly been in place: for example, his energy, commitment and pace appear to be up the scratch. However, it seems some of his traditional weaknesses have been somewhat exemplified. For example, he too often overcommitted in a rush to get the ball, resulting in the MK attackers bypassing him and him having to be bailed out by the excellent Ryan Edwards. As well as this, he did not quite seem as keen as usual to overlap and support in the attack on the right side though he did do this on a couple of occasions. Argyle fans will be hoping the flaws are ironed out as he gets back into the groove of regular football as there is undoubtedly a very good player in there still .

Argyle have got their spirit back.

It is inarguably cliched and overused to attribute all defeats and victories to the curious intangible of ‘mentality’ alone. However, taken alongside other more tactical considerations, it still has a part to play. It is widely reported that Argyle’s players held an internal inquest into the dreadful start to the season after the Fleetwood game on October 7th. The difference in the (apparent) attitude of the players before and after that inquest has been truly staggering. Before it, Argyle’s heads dropped every time a goal went in and more often than not it would spell the end of our hopes of getting anything from the game. That’s not to mention the plethora of red cards that were obtained in that period. The general demeanour on the pitch was one of panic and unhappiness.

Since then, we have only had one (questionable) red card, no goals conceded in the first twenty minutes of any game (bar, again, a penalty from Edwards’ highly debatable red) and appear overall to be a side completely refreshed when it comes to determination and keeping composure on the pitch. The return of David Fox who is a strong talker and for all his lack of energy off the ball is the picture of composure on it could have a large part to play here. The improvement since the inquest has been born out statistically- Argyle have gained 6 wins, 4 draws and 2 defeats from the 12 league matches since it occurred.  Whatever is behind the improvement in mindset, it is a welcome change from the flakey Argyle side that began this campaign.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle v Oldham

Kelle Roos – 7

A good performance from the on-loan Derby County man, making some good saves and commanding his back four very well – did miss a cross in first half stoppage time which went unpunished, however.

Oscar Threlkeld – 6

Seemed off the pace of the game in the first half, which is understandable given it was the former Bolton mans’ first league start since the 7th of October; gradually grew into the game though and linked up well with others during the second half – particularly Lameiras down the right hand side.

Ryan Edwards – 8

Probably one of the best performances I’ve seen from Edwards in an Argyle shirt, he was assured, dominant and capped off his display with a pivotal and well-taken third goal. Impressive.

Sonny Bradley – 7

A typically good performance from Sonny, who seems to be forging a formidable partnership with goalscorer Ryan Edwards; Bradley won the majority of his headers and with the rest of the back four dealt with the second half aerial barrage from Oldham, after the introduction of Aaron Holloway, well.

Gary Sawyer – 8 (MOTM)

Like Edwards, this was probably one of the best performances I’ve seen from Sawyer this season as well. Argyle’s Mr. Reliable had to be patient but committed when dealing with Oldham’s right winger in the first half who could’ve had a lot of joy if it wasn’t for Sawyer restricting him; Sawyer was also very competent in his attacking play, linking up with others well down the left flank.

Yann Songo’o – 7

A standard display from Argyle’s number 4, who exhibited all of the sterling qualities which has seen him become a figurehead in Argyle’s recent revival in League One.

Toumani Diagouraga – 8

Sign him on. Diagouraga was once again superb for Argyle against Oldham, a performance which began with a very well-taken second goal in as many home games, and from there the former Leeds man contributed well at the other end of the pitch, as he helped nullify Oldham’s attacking threat, through the midfield, superbly.

David Fox – 7

Another strong performance from Fox, who played the game with his typical swagger and technical prowess, and played a stunning ball for Argyle’s second goal, before being substituted late on for youth debutant Cameron Sangster.

Ruben Lameiras – 8

. There has been much speculation regarding the future of Lameiras in recent weeks, with the tricky winger being pictured playing for Oldham Athletic, strangely enough, in a game against Derby; however Lameiras has reportedly said he wants to fight for a place at Argyle, and proved that in yesterday’s performance as his quick feet and low centre of gravity coming in off the wing caused Oldham all sorts of problems – definitely put his name in the selection hat.

Graham Carey – 8

We’ve come to expect brilliance from Carey, and his goal yesterday was nothing short of that – a stunning chip; the Irishman also assisted Argyle’s third with a well placed free kick before being substituted late on for Joel Grant.

Ryan Taylor – 7

The recent run of 7 points from 9 can be put down to many factors, including the return of Ryan Taylor to Argyle’s starting 11 – the striker proved his worth to the Greens yesterday, holding the ball up very well and bringing others into play, as well as assisting Argyle’s fourth goal which sealed the win.

Jake Jervis – 7

Perhaps a surprise absentee from the starting side, but nine seconds is all it took for Jervis to make his impact on the game from the bench, as he latched onto Ryan Taylor’s header with a well-timed finish to seal the game and ensure Argyle spend Christmas outside of the League One relegation zone.

Joel Grant – N/A

The former Exeter City winger was a late sub for Graham Carey as Adams looked to see out the game.

Cameron Sangster – N/A

A player held in very high regard by Derek Adams, Sangster made his long awaited professional debut yesterday, as a late replacement for David Fox.

Player Ratings – Rotherham v Plymouth Argyle

Player Ratings

Kelle Roos 7

With Rotherham reduced to 10 men in the opening stages of the second half, Roos was not troubled too much, however he made a few great saves in the first half of his second appearance for the greens having joined on an emergency loan from Derby County.

Gary Sawyer 6

Sawyer had a couple of chances to score his first goal for Argyle since 2009 with a shot which was comfortably saved and a deflected header. One improvement Saw

Ryan Edwards 6

The defence was solid throughout the game and once the sending off for the home side occurred Argyle were able to exploit the free space and used the ball very well.

Sonny Bradley 6

As we’ve seen time and time again, Bradley’s ariel threat caused Rotherham problems throughout the match with multiple free-kicks and corners going his way.

Aaron Taylor Sinclair 7

ATS really is improving game on game, against Rotherham he was very assured on the ball, he took care of his defensive responsibilities well. However, he was kept relatively quiet as Rotherham chose to attack down the other flank.

Toumani Diagouraga 8 (MOTM)

Diagouraga once again produced an excellent performance in the heart of midfield alongside Fox. The one improvement that has been noticeable in the last two games is that Argyle are playing the ball along the ground much more rather hoofing it from defence straight up to the striker. This style of play better suits the current squad..

David Fox 7

Fox once again was immense in midfield partnering up well with Diagouraga. He picked the ball up and distributed it well from the defensive players to the attacking ones. Fox may not get 9/10 ratings often but is consistently a 7/10 and rarely has a poor game.

Graham Carey 6

From the sending off Carey was able to create many chances from set pieces and open play and was able to run into the free space created by the missing Rotherham player. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is for him to speed up the play more. If they did this, there would have been more space and perhaps more goal scoring opportunities.

Jake Jervis 4

Jervis had one of his off games for the Pilgrims having notably been consistent throughout the season. The number 14 could not get into the game and was substituted by Adams with twenty minutes to go.

Ryan Taylor 7

On his second appearance since breaking his ankle in the season curtain-raiser against Peterborough, Taylor scored the opener in the game on Saturday. With his overall good performance, there is still improvement to be made in his fitness with Fletcher taking his place towards the end of the match. Taylor stated in his post-match interview that he was disappointed with his performance however he took his chance well for the goal which is what Argyle have been lacking upfront of late.

Joel Grant 6

Joel Grant played well on the wing however he got more into the game following the sending off. Paradoxically, the red meant Argyle needed pace down the wing to exploit the defensive weaknesses and he was nonetheless replaced with Gregg Wylde.

Lionel Ainsworth (for Jake Jervis) 6

Ainsworth played well after coming on for Jake Jervis and got another assist after delivering the ball to Taylor for the headed goal. Ainsworth had an assist against Bradford and now with another one at the weekend he must surely be giving Adams a selection dilemma.

Alex Fletcher (for Ryan Taylor) 4

Fletcher has been an un-used substitute for the last few games, and was introduced late on during the game, he didn’t get to show the travelling Argyle fans any of his attacking capabilities, however for Rotherhams equaliser his defence was questionable when he had a chance to clear the ball before it was put into Kelle Roos’ net.

Gregg Wylde (for Joel Grant) 4

Having spent the majority of the season on the bench Wylde adapted well to the pace of the game and looked to get hold of the ball whenever he could. With the January transfer window nearing all players who haven’t been in the starting 11 may be looking to attract the attention of another manager, Wylde may fall into this category.

Winners & Losers: Plymouth Argyle v Gillingham

Winner: Ryan Taylor

Taylor’s return to the starting line-up was welcomed by Argyle on Saturday as the team came out victorious, winning 2-1. Although Taylor did not get on the scoresheet himself, it was clear for all to see throughout the ninety minutes how the Greens have missed the tall striker and his hold up play ever since his injury against Peterborough with the season was less than half-an-hour old. Though Jake Jervis had done a good job playing as the lone striker in recent weeks, it was a welcome sight to see players finally starting in their best positions and gelling together as a team. What was so pleasing to witness was that Argyle played along the ground and did not revert to long ball tactics, which enabled them to keep possession for longer periods of time and for us fans to see what they’re capable of, something we haven’t seen much of so far. The improved passing play suited Taylor exceptionally well as he was able to hold the ball up and find to the oncoming Carey or Grant. Unsurprisingly, Taylor played a major role in the opening goal, flicking the ball into Grant’s path as he finished from close range.

Since arriving at Home Park, Ryan Taylor has been involved in a goal every 95.3 minutes – 5 goals; 7 assists; 3 second assists

Loser: Gary Sawyer

After the unfortunate news that Luke McCormick had suffered a reoccurrence of an ankle injury earlier in the week, it was time for Gary Sawyer to put on the captains armband once again, but going by his recent performances this was one of his off games. On a number of occasions, Sawyer overcommitted to 50/50 challenges and handed the opposition chances to deliver a cross into the box for their target-men Tom Eaves and Conor Wilkinson. Meanwhile, during the second half Gillingham were able to have too much fun down the right with, Sawyer caught watching his man and not the ball, though ultimately this didn’t end up leading to anything. With Threlkeld returning to fitness, this performance certainly puts Sawyer’s place in the starting line up at risk, and given Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s solid performances at left-back of late it, Adams will surely have a selection dilemma in the near future.

Winner: Kelle Roos

Roos became Argyle’s seventh goalkeeper of the season – a record for the Greens – joining on an emergency loan from Derby County on Friday and slotted straight into the team. Whilst Argyle controlled the majority of the game, Roos was called upon many times during the ninety minutes to keep the Gills out – in particular during added time – to ensure they finished the afternoon with all three points. At important junctures in the game, he made important interventions. Moments after Grant had put the Pilgrims, ahead Roos made a superb stop to deny former Pilgrim, and now Gillingham captain, Lee Martin after Sean Clare had made great progress down the Argyle right hand side. Then, after his one mistake of the game when Tom Eaves lobbed Roos to level the scores, it was great to see him put the disappointment of conceding behind him as he denied Gillingham another equaliser moments from full time.

Loser: Yann Songo’o

With Taylor coming straight back into the starting eleven, Songo’o was the player to be dropped to the bench. From his recent performances his name would normally have been first on the team sheet come 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, however, Argyle coped well in his absence and were largely solid defensively. Even though the players showed spirit to grind out a result, they were placed under huge amounts of pressure by Gillingham, which ultimately led to Songo’os introduction for the final fifteen minutes as the Pilgrims dropped deeper and deeper, hoping to see out their 1-0 lead. Whilst this did not go to plan, Argyle grinded out a result and took all three points to lift themselves off the bottom of League One and within three points of survival – signalling that Adams may consider Songo’o’s position as under threat.

In the league matches from Shrewsbury to Portsmouth, Songo’o has won more than twice as many duels (40) from midfield as David Fox (19) despite playing nearly half the number of minutes.

Winner: Toumani Diagouraga

Match-winner Toumani Diagouraga scored his first goal for Argyle and -based on his performances – it was thoroughly deserved. His frequent runs from box to box have been a feature of his play since his arrival at Home Park, but just as importantly he has brought with him experience of playing League One and Championship football, which was severely lacking. His excellent displays and leadership qualities have shone through and you wouldn’t realise he’d only been a member of the team for such a short time. What has really impressed the Green Army is his ability to hold off opposition players, glide past them and pick out a pass. When he loses the ball he is the first to win possession back – on a number of occasions today we saw this – and not to mention his cheeky flicks.

Player Ratings: Portsmouth v Plymouth Argyle

Remi MATTHEWS: 5

An uncharacteristic howler from the Norwich loanee who has impressed massively during his time at Home Park so far cost Argyle dearly. ‘Unfortunately’, when a goalkeeper makes a big mistake, it can sometimes cost the team a game rather more so than in other positions. Matthews’ error in dealing with a long ball ended up doing so here.

Gary SAWYER: 6

A standard performance from Sawyer, who coped with most things thrown at him with his typical style in his 200th game for Argyle. His solidity of performance was on show, demonstrating that whilst he may not always be the man to shine he is rarely the man to have a blooper.

Sonny BRADLEY: 6

Bradley’s rating would be higher if not for his involvement in Portsmouth’s goal, where he could have intervened in stopping Kal Naismith from poking home. Apart from that, Bradley coped well with Naismith who was relatively quiet for the majority of the match and was a figurehead for much of Argyle’s attacking threat towards the latter end of the match.

Yann SONGO’O: 6

A typically solid performance from Songo’o who, partnered with Bradley, coped well with a lot of what Portsmouth were able to throw at them.

Aaron TAYLOR-SINCLAIR: 8 – MAN OF THE MATCH

If you had told me in July that Aaron Taylor-Sinclair would be Plymouth Argyle’s best player in this fixture I’d have called you insane. His pre-season performances coupled with his horror show at Bristol City in the league cup did not bode well. However, that is exactly what he was: confident on the ball, extremely competent defensively, and was always looking for a way to progress play forward – a very good performance from the 26 year old.

David FOX: 6

An impressive first half performance from Fox, who read the game well and made a significant amount of Argyle’s interceptions. Typically of Fox however, in the second half he began to run out of steam, and ended up being overran by the impressive Danny Rose and later on Stuart O’Keefe in midfield.

Antoni SARCEVIC: 5

After a very good performance from Sarcevic on Tuesday, he was constantly off the pace at Fratton Park this afternoon. He looked very weak and bizarrely appeared to lack his normal technical ability. A particular example was a moment both he and Jervis participated in a game of head tennis during the first half, instead of one of them actually bringing the ball under control.

Toumani DIAGOURAGA: 7

It’s another 7 for Diagouraga, who played his typical well-rounded game. He is always very imposing physically, yet it should also be noted that he is clever on the ball and never shies away from chasing down an opposition player.

Graham CAREY: 6

Just like he was against Oxford last week, Carey was double marked today and was nullified well by Pompey left back Brandon Haunstrup and the impressive Jamal Lowe when he tracked back. Saying that, when given the freedom to attack Carey still always looked capable of producing something, before his perhaps controversial withdrawal for Ruben Lameiras towards the end of the game.

Joel GRANT: 5

A pretty poor showing from the Jamaican, who lacked the confidence to really take on and take the game to the Pompey defenders, always looking for the safe and often negative option, mainly to ATS. Having said that, he did link up well with Taylor-Sinclair on a few occasions on the left hand side during the first half.

Jake JERVIS: 5

Typically of Jervis, he huffed and puffed but couldn’t quite blow the house down. There was no lack of effort from the former Pompey man who always looked to try to get behind the Blues defensive line, but an inability to win many aerial duels, shortage of clever movement off the ball and a lack of support from elsewhere meant he was ineffective for a large amount of the afternoon.

Substitutes:

Ruben LAMEIRAS: 5

Replaced Carey with 15 minutes to go. Typically of Lameiras he drifted through the game and had a chance near the end where he could have shot but spent too long lining it up.

Nadir CIFTCI: 5

A first Argyle appearance in some time for the Turk after he replaced Joel Grant just after the hour mark. He didn’t do too much in terms of having a direct impact on the match, although he did have a chance in stoppage time that he ended up rushing and skewing into the hands of Luke McGee where he could have taken a touch and lined up a better effort.

Lionel AINSWORTH: N/A

A late substitute for Antoni Sarcevic, the diminutive winger having nothing but a brief cameo for the second game in a row.