Player Ratings: Blackpool 2 Plymouth Argyle 2

Plymouth Argyle followed up their pressure-relieving win over Bristol Rovers last weekend, with a well earned 2-2 draw against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. In the first half, which Argyle mostly dominated, they found themselves good value for their half-time lead after striker Ryan Hardie’ s twelve minute strike. Sloppiness in the second half allowed the home side to take the lead, first through attacking midfielder Sully Kaikai and then 16 goal top scorer Jerry Yates from the penalty spot after a foul from Argyle left back Adam Lewis. The Greens were able to stay in the game though, and were rewarded for their persistence as the clock moved into added time when captain Joe Edwards popped up with a well placed left footed volley to salvage a point.

It’s been a while but here are your player ratings!

Michael Cooper – 6

Despite conceding two goals it was a relatively uneventful afternoon for Cooper with the first half in particular leaving him with little to do in terms of goal-mouth action as Argyle dictated most of the play. The only real save of note in the first half coming from a well struck shot from outside the box by Blackpool midfielder Grant Ward. Cooper did well to push the effort behind but nonetheless was one that you would have expected him to save.

The goals were more as a result of defensive errors from others, although the harshest of critics could say he might have been able to hold on to Kaikai’s shot which led to the first goal. The second is self-explanatory and you are often left in hope rather than expectation from the penalty spot as the player steps up to face your goal-keeper.

Joe Edwards – 8 MOTM

Another excellent performance from Argyle’s captain, of which there have been many this season. Edwards seems to excel in whatever position he plays, this afternoon it was at right-back, where he started the previous game and he once again showed great positional sense, also influencing Argyle’s attack going forward with some typical thrusting runs in to the opposition half. Now in a slightly more withdrawn role than when at wing-back, he is less able to get crosses into the box, but was still able to give Argyle an extra attacking option going forward and ultimately used his well timed runs into the box to get a result for Argyle this afternoon.

His well placed volley was his seventh goal of the season and I think there is evidence to say that Edwards is up there with some of the best finishers at the club. He has been Mr Reliable for Argyle this season and should he carry on his form until the end of the season, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be considered in the club’s player of the season awards.

Sam Woods – 6

Woods deputised for the suspended Jerome Opoku after his two game ban against Bristol Rovers for his tenth yellow card of the season. Woods looked much more assured in the back four as his last start saw him sent off in the middle of a back three against Northampton Town. Defensively Woods was good regularly stepping out to take the ball off  Blackpool front man Jerry Yates and won most of the aerial duels that he faced. Although at times he looked a bit less comfortable with the ball at his feet, there can’t be too many complaints with his performance.

Will Aimson – 7

A relatively solid performance from Aimson today, as along with Woods, he dealt with much of the balls that came his way, often drawing pressure towards the ball before releasing into more space for the midfielders. There could be question marks with how he dealt with the second goal for Blackpool but sometimes one error leads to another.

Ultimately though, he gets an extra point over Woods for the way he managed to soldier on through an injury in the final ten minutes of the game, with only eighteen-year-old apprentice Ollie Tomlinson on the bench, manager Ryan Lowe seemed reluctant to take Aimson off despite him visibly limping. It would have been easy for Blackpool to target Aimson’s side as they looked to close up the game, but no harm was done and Argyle came away with a point.

Adam Lewis – 4

A disappointing display from the on-loan Liverpool left-back, particularly after responding to a set back against Ipswich the previous week with both assists for  Argyle’s win over Bristol Rovers last weekend. Lewis had some decent moments going forward but ultimately his crosses came to no avail and when asked to defend, he often seemed to show his inexperience, particularly in the lead up to the penalty where he invited the Blackpool player to go down after a hand in the back. He could also have done better for their first, totally missing the header in the build-up.

Conor Grant – 8

Grant looked typically assured on the ball today and offered extra protection in mid-field along with fellow defensive midfielder Tyrese Fornah. Grant also continues to impress for Argyle this season when asked to play a number of different positions. His crosses from the left are consistently put in an area which causes problems for opposition defences and it was his cross which led to Argyle’s equaliser and Grant’s tenth assist of the season.

Tyrese Fornah – 7

A good performance from Fornah this afternoon and he looked much more confident when having the aforementioned protection of a second defensive  midfielder. in the first half he seemed to get Argyle on the front foot with forward passes into midfield and did well at cutting the ball out before it got to the Tangerines’ frontmen. He was instrumental in the first goal as he completed a beautifully weighted ball to set Ryan Hardie in behind. The second half saw him, along with much of the team become less influential in the game, but that doesn’t take away from a solid performance.

Panutche Camara – 6

A quiet game by Camara’s standards as there wasn’t much space for the midfielder to get in behind. he typically pressed well and won the ball back for his side but when asked to find a final ball into the strikers, it was often lacking.

Danny Mayor – 6

Along with Camara, Mayor had a quiet game and was unusually scarcely involved in Argyle’s attacks. Now in a new 4-2-2-2 formation, it seems as though the talented midfielder is being asked to hold his width a bit more, leading to him having less of a free role in hand, becoming less involved in attack. This is not a criticism, but a rather an observation, as Argyle look to experiment with formations.

Niall Ennis – 7

Ennis continued to be a nuisance for opposition defences this afternoon and he was unlucky not to have put the Greens one nil up after his turn and shot bounced off Glenn Maxwell’s left-hand post. That was his only major chance of note, but he was able to continually stretch the defence with runs down the channel and good link-up play.

Ryan Hardie – 8

Hardie paired up well with Ennis this afternoon, coming in for top scorer Luke Jephcott after his involvement with the Wales under 21 side on Friday afternoon. Much like Ennis, Hardie troubled his former employers with typical runs down the channel and in behind and he was rewarded for his efforts in the twelfth minute when he latched on to Fornah’s pass before attempting to lob the keeper. The ball bounced loose and after Ennis had hit the post, Hardie was there to slot in the rebound. a bright performance from Hardie, who after a few weeks away from the starting eleven, would have hoped to stake a claim for a starting spot.

Substitutes :

Byron Moore – 5

Moore replaced Panutche Camara for the final twenty minutes of the game, on the right side of attacking midfield, before being switched to a more orthodox left wing position as Argyle pushed for an equaliser in the final minutes of the game.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember Moore getting on the ball too much in either position and he struggled to make an impact.

Luke Jephcott N\A

Jephcott was given most of the afternoon off after featuring for an hour for his country on Friday afternoon, for that reason I think it would be unfair to give Jephcott a concrete rating.

The Welshman, came on in the 84th minute for Adam Lewis in a formation change which saw Argyle go to 4-3-3 with Jephcott as the central striker. In truth, I also can’t remember Jephcott having too much of the ball in his time on the pitch.

Klaidi Lolos – N\A

In a week where manager Ryan Lowe has talked about giving opportunities to the likes of Lolos and on loan Torquay left back Ryan Law in the end of season run in, in order to give academy graduates a chance to earn a contract ahead of next season, Lolos came on and took his opportunity (albeit limited) pretty well.

I can’t give him a rating, as he only came on for the final minute of normal time but Lolos won a few flick ons and in general put himself about well, as argyle pushed on for an equaliser.

As cameos go this went pretty well for the former Greek under 19 international.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln 3

Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln City 3. I’m going to say that again, Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln City 3.

What a game. Attacking flair, defensive incompetence, excellent finishes and wasted opportunities for even more. Argyle rushed into a two goal lead as Lincoln’s increasingly leaky defence struck again, before another Lincoln trademark – soft penalties – turned the tide. Jorge Grant converted twice in three minutes to give them a 3-2 lead (8 of his 11 goals this season have been penalties).

Argyle came again, and Conor Grant’s floated shot was probably drifting in before it was glanced in by what looked like a Lincoln defender. Mayor saw a potential winner brilliantly blocked before Joe Edwards scored a brilliant winner to somehow seal all three points.

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

Honestly, I don’t know where to start with these ratings. Cooper made a huge impact on the game with a great 1-v-1 save against Johnson at 3-3 which would have won it for Lincoln. I seem to recall a few other good saves but, honestly, so much happened that I can’t remember exactly.

This is obviously Cooper’s first season as a starting ‘keeper and he’s doing a good job, but for him to become Championship level improve he’s going to have to save a few more chances like Lincoln’s first goal. That’s not one he should save, but it’s one he could save. Top ‘keepers tend to keep a few more of those out of the back of their net, like Palmer did last season (but not today).

Will Aimson, CB – 5

Aimson made some vital interventions, denying a 2-v-1 at 3-3 to prevent Lincoln. However, when he did make those blocks he seemed to find him in the right place through luck rather than anticipation, as a result of Lincoln’s fantastic attacking movement. Aimson’s efforts to race back for Hopper’s 1-v-1 might have also cut off the opportunity for him to square it for a tap-in.

However, there were lots of sloppy moments, not least when he gave the ball away in Argyle’s box without realising the pressure he was under with seconds remaining. The ball was scrambled clear, but that could have been costly. Ultimately, he was part of a defence that just did not know how to deal with Lincoln’s attack.

Jerome Opoku, CB – 5

That game was such a blur that I can’t remember the specifics of why I’ve given Opoku five. It’s partly because of Argyle’s general inability to keep Lincoln’s attack at bay. There was a quite visible lack of coordination and leadership in defence, throughout the game. The first goal was a classic example of this, look at the positions players ended up in: I think Watts was in RCM, Edwards in CDM, Fornah LCM, Grant RWB and Mayor god-knows where.

This is just part of the long-running trend of Argyle lacking defensive structure as a team, and Ryan Lowe needing to find answers to questions he doesn’t seem to often ask himself about defending. But it was brutally exposed by Lincoln.

Kelland Watts, CB – 5

Watts gave Argyle the lead with a good right-footed finish after Lincoln showed off their inner Argyle by failing to properly re-organise after seeing off the initial set-piece. He then made a vital back-heeled back-post clearance as Lincoln came surging forward minutes later.

Yet, Watts was one of the players dragged out of position for Lincoln’s first goal. Had he been in position instead of chasing shadows, he’d have made a simple block and the shot never would have reached the goal. Watts then ran across an attacker to give Lincoln their first penatly of the afternoon.

I know this defence makes mistakes, but does anyone ever factor in how bad Argyle’s midfield is at protecting them? Conor Grant hardly covered himself in glory while doing nothing to prevent Johnson bursting into the box.

Tyrese Fornah, DM – 5

Fornah again showed that just how good he can be at receiving the ball and distributing it. I just wish he had the confidence to drive into wide-open space when it’s presented to him. On that topic, why do Argyle always have to go wide? Do they not know that driving into the box from the centre is actually more dangerous than crossing from the wing?

Fornah made some important defensive interventions but also was caught out by Lincoln’s quick counters. When he made two fouls inside fifteen minutes and had already been booked, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to finisht the game, only a question of who would send him off the pitch.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7, player of the match

Until Edwards won the game, it was difficult to know who was going to be player of the match. But then he won the ball back in the 90th minute, gave it to Camara, received it back on the edge of the area, flicked it up and burried the volley in the bottom corner to give Argyle a victory that seemed so unlikely fifteen minutes earlier.

Edwards was hardly at his best throughout the game. He, like everyone, struggled immensely to contain Lincoln, though at least his wing seemed to be more secure than the left, down which the Imps ran riot. As Lincoln tired, Edwards – brilliantly supported by half-time substitute Panutche Camara – found his second wind. Argyle drove forward down the right into the space on offer throughout the final portion of the game. Edwards nearly flicked in Grant’s goal and was close to finishing off two rebounded shots, but it wouldn’t quite sit for him. Then, it was his moment.

Conor Grant, CM – 7

Like most, Grant was a real mixed bag. Started well, but his passing range was a bit off. Then he delivered a great cross that was cleared to Watts for his opener. Then he was barely in the game for an hour. Grant moved to defensive midfield after Fornah was pre-emtively removed by Lowe at half-time, but struggled defensively as Lincoln finally made good on their threat to draw level and then take the lead.

Then his soft-effort somehow found the back of the net. Argyle had got back on the front foot, but it was a tame shot from an awkward position that somehow squirmed in past two defenders. Grant, like virtually every player, had highs and lows throughout this rollercoaster of a game.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

HE SCORED! HE ACTUALLY SCORED! Done a massive favour by ex-Pilgrim Alex Palmer (who has had an awful few weeks, go look at the goals he’s let in recently), who possibly didn’t expect the shot given he’s played with Mayor before and knows that most of the time he’ll dribble the ball to the corner flag rather than let fly. As if to prove the point, Mayor actually did that a few minutes earlier, turning down a chance to shoot just outside the six-yard box and ended up being dispossessed on the left wing.

Mayor nearly won the game too, seeing his effort brilliantly blocked after a neat lay-off by Lolos. Sandwiching these two highs were an hour of largely poor defending – one awful moment when he just stopped running, allowing a 1-v-1 that Cooper saved at his near post – and an inability to get his foot on the ball. When he did, he often had no outlet and was pressed by at least three red shirts.

Adam Lewis, LWB – 5

Struggled defensively and lacked coordination with Mayor. Surprised to see him take an early free-kick from what I would define as Conor Grant territory; even more surprised that Grant wasn’t stood over any of the set-pieces at all…

Energetic, but lacking an understanding of the game at points. Lincoln drew him in and exposed the space behind him consistently in the first half. Not too surprising to see him withdrawn and Grant moved to wing-back as Argyle chased the game.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Surprisingly returned to the starting line-up at the expense of top scorer Luke Jephcott and he justified his place in the team. Worked hard, linked the play and got into dangerous positions. The only thing missing, as it has been most of the season, was the goal.

He had a great opportunity after the ball broke for him 1-v-1, but he declined the first-time finish (lifting it over Palmer) and tried to take it around him. He got the ball around him, but his shot was easily blocked from a narrow angle.

Niall Ennis, ST – 5

Ennis struggled to get in the game after Lincoln took control in the first half. I can understand what Lowe was trying to achieve in going with two, fast strikers and an attempt to out-counter Lincoln, but Ennis struggled once Argyle started lumping it under pressure.

Would have benefited from Lowe switching to 3-4-1-2 and putting Mayor in the hole. That would have offered an out-ball on the counter rather than just clearing it downfield, and had a player to pick up loose balls in midfield rather than letting them fall to a red shirt.

Substitutes

Panutche Camara, CM – 7

Camara made very little impact in the first half hour after coming on. Lincoln dominated the ball and Argyle provided no threat at all. Yet, in the last 15-20 minutes, Camara came to life. He pressed, won the ball back, and used his fresh legs to drive forward on the counter. His first assist for Grant was little more than recycling possession, but his cut-back for Edwards was smart and well executed, unlike his earlier waste of a counter attack.

Just as Ennis changed the game off the bench against promotion changing Portsmouth, Camara had a similar impact here.

Sam Woods, CB – 6

Woods came on after Opoku couldn’t finish the game following a knock he picked up in the first half. He showed a smart reading of the game to win the ball back and benefitted from tired Lincoln legs being unable to stretch the game as much as before. Nevertheless, Lincoln continued to create chances and could have won the game before Argyle snatched it.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 6

Jephcott tried hard but struggled to get into the game for the most part. No chances fell to him and Camara wasted the best chance for him to get a shot off in the box. Surprising ommission from the starting eleven.

Player Ratings: Portsmouth 2 Plymouth Argyle 2

Plymouth Argyle threw away two points by conceding twice in two minutes, with just three minutes remaining, having survived the storm, battered but unblemished on the scoresheet.

Argyle started the match well, but from the fifteenth minute Pompey were dominant, pressing Argyle back into theif defensive third and laying siege from set-pieces. The hosts failed to take advantage of those chances and were punished by the super-sub Niall Ennis, who had a huge hand in both of Jephcott’s goals.

Kell Watts’ clanger let Pompey back into the match and a free header moments later threw away two points in what would have been a bit of a smash and grab. Yet, Argyle went to Fratton Park and took points off promotion hopefuls, meaning 8/12 points taken from the past four away games, a significant improvement.

Michael Cooper, GK – 5

Suicidal passing at the back – not that he was the only one – helped Pompey dominate the first half. Pompey crossed the ball into the box 28 times, yet Cooper recorded no high claims and only one punch (though I could have sworn he made two). At a time when Argyle badly needed him to come and claim the ball to kill the chain of set-pieces. For a reminder of what this looks like, go back and watch Alex Palmer last season.

Cooper made one great save after another suicidal pass – Camara this time – and held on well after Marquis headed right after him from a matter of yards. He surely can’t be blamed for either goal, not to say he couldn’t have saved them but such a close-range header left him with little chance.

Will Aimson, CB – 6

Aimson started shakily but grew into the game and gave Watts a masterclass in how to deal with Curtis when he came on: don’t fall over. Now that Aimson has the right studs, he’s not falling over again, which is nice. Made a big block right before Jephcott’s second.

Aimson struggled under the high-ball from set-pieces, a factor that would be more emphasised in his score if Pompey had taken advantage of this. Once again though, he held up his wing under pressure and even carried the ball forward as Argyle started to grow into the game. Four blocks and seven clearances helped Argyle survive the Pompey siege.

Jerome Opoku, CB – 6

He, like many on the pitch, seemed half-asleep at times in the first half, taking precious seconds to react to Pompey’s swift counter-attacks. However, his recovery speed made up for this and his defending of the near post was largely strong throughout the game.

Threw his body on the line to help deny Portsmouth, but struggled in the air, both in open play and set-pieces. One area he has to work on is being dominant when he goes to win a header. His aerial duel success is now below 50%, the worst of all Argyle’s defenders and he only wins 1.4 headers per-90, less than half Canavan’s 3.4 from the centre of defence. No wonder Argyle struggle from crosses. Argyle survived Pompey’s set-piece barrage in the first half because they failed to hit the target with their headers, not because Argyle defended them well.

Kelland Watts, CB – 4

Watts was on for a 7 having started the game very well, made a goalline clearence in the first half and largely read the game well against the tricky Harness. Then he did that. Shocking defending allowed Curtis in and Pompey to get back in the game. That would be worthy of being dropped, if there were anyone to drop him for. And if he were not Lowe’s favourite (for some reason, Watts is the only player to have never been dropped, despite a raft of mistakes throughout the season that has seen every other CB lose their place in the team).

It was then Watts and/or Opoku who failed to clear the next cross into the box, which was headed home by James Bolton. I won’t lay blame here, because I honestly can’t remember exactly who should have won the header, but it was in the left-of-centre zone. Can’t be allowing free headers from that distance at any stage in a game.

Tyrese Fornah, DM – 4

Is Fornah alergic to the football? At best, he doesn’t show for the ball. At worst, he blocks players from passing or dribbling into space and helps opposition teams press the team. To be honest, I’m absolutely sick of Fornah’s utter inability to take advantage of his obvious passing and dribbling skill. Please, can someone teach him to:

  1. drop into space that opens a pass for a teammate;
  2. receive the ball facing forwards, not backwards;
  3. run into the $*%£ing space rather than always shying away from it.

Or, when Argyle are camped around the edge of their opponent’s area, show for a shot? Rather than standing in the way but declining to take the ball. The contrast between Ben Reeves and Fornah is stark.

Defensively, Fornah was awful in the first half. A non-presence when defending set-pieces, which is all the more shocking when he was marking Sean Raggett. SEAN RAGGETT. One of their primary threats from set-pieces. Fornah is surprisingly good at winning headers… in open play. Why ask Aimson to mark space and Fornah to mark Raggett. Swap that around, obviously.

Fornah ended strongly, winning the ball back more in the last fifteen minutes than he did in the rest of the game, but that didn’t mask the fact that he was the weak link in possession and aided Pompey’s play in the first half rather than disrupting it. Based on recent performances, has little chance of keeping his place in the team if Lewis Macleod is ever fit again.

Byron Moore, RWB – 5

Disappointing return to the team. Defensively fine, but a no-show in attack. Had so many chances to attack Charlie Daniels, who obviously doesn’t have the speed to keep up. 20 touches in the final third, but only two in the box. Only attempted four crosses, none successful. No shots. Only one dribble attempted, not completed. Edwards will hardly be worried about competition for his place based on that.

Panutche Camara, CM – 7

Suicidal first-half pass aside, he was quiet for the most part. Stuck out on the wing and unable to make anything happen alongside Moore. Dug in and won the ball, as always, to try and counter Pompey’s pressure.

However, it was the final 20 minutes when Camara came to life. His pressing won the ball back and his shot rebounded to Jephcott as Argyle snatched the lead against the run of play and from then on he looked dangerous on the counter, gliding past Pompey players as spaces opened up. Not his best performance, but he made the difference in what should have been the winning goal.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

Calm as ever in possession and most of Argyle’s best moments in the first hour (well, fifteen minutes) came down the left. Unable to get in the game for the next hour as Pompey dominated, though did deliver the cross for Aimson to head right at the goalkeeper from 12 yards.

Turned down all chances to shoot, even when spaces opened up for him to cut inside and bend the ball to the back-post. This at a time when Argyle looked unlike laying a glove on their opponents.

Worked hard in defence, but he needs to work smarter. You can see he was a winger before becoming a midfielder in his awareness of defensive space. The back-three take a lot of stick, sometimes deserved, but they get so little protection from the midfield three ahead of them at times.

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

Brilliant first ten minutes, followed by the most mediocre eighty. Whenever Mayor worked hard to generate space for Grant, he just threw the ball into the middle first-time, which was meat and drink to Pompey’s centre-backs. Still, at least he did something to try and effect the game, unlike his opposite wing-back.

Largely anonymous for most of the game. Unsurprisingly offered little in the shape of defending set-pieces. Could have topped the cross from going into the box for the second, if we’re being picky.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

SHOOT MAN. JUST $*%£ING SHOOT. Can someone just take him to the training ground and just cross balls into him all afternoon? Shock him or something every time he takes more than one touch before shooting. Why does Jephcott score more than Hardie? Well he shoots. Of his 25 goals for Argyle, Jephcott has only required more than one touch to score on three occasions. Even then, he only needed two touches.

When Argyle’s best chance of the match falls to Hardie? He takes four touches, given the defender and keeper all the time in the world to compose themselves, others to close in, and block the shot. SHOCK.

Hardie was fine otherwise, denied a potential opener by a fantastic block by Raggett. However, his place is now under major threat from Niall Ennis. Perhaps a scoring streak might prevent that from happening. Which, of course, will require he SHOOTS.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 8

Jephcott wasn’t in the game at all. And then he was. Potentially a lesson as to why substituting your leading goalscorer even when he’s not in the game is a dangerous move.

In the first hour, he had no touches in the box and made three passes, one of which was the kick-off. In the last half-hour, he had four touches in the area, two goals, a blocked shot and his cut-back for Hardie.

With his double he stretched his lead at the top of the goalscoring charts, two ahead of Clarke-Harris, scoring a goal every 97 minutes. He recorded a quarter-century of goals for the club and only ten players have netted more this decade.

Although, surely Jephcott was offside for his opening goal, right? I presume I’m missing something, or maybe that was the linesman.

Substitutes

Niall Ennis, ST – 9, player of the match

Stealing the best player award is Niall Ennis, who was one of two Argyle players to change the game (the only one to change it for the better, mind you). It may have gone unnoticed, but in the build up to the first goal it was Ennis’ pressing on Marquis that prevented a Pompey counter and set up the opportunity for Camara to win the ball back. Then, a brilliant piece of skill to get away from his man and cross for Camara, whose shot rebounded to Jephcott for the opener.

After, as the cameraman zoomed in on Charlie Daniels after Will Aimson blocked his close-range shot, Ennis streaked away from Pompey’s defence before squaring for a Jephcott tap-in. Brilliant play off the bench by Ennis for the second time in a week, already paying off his transfer fee. I’m usually hesitant to give such high ratings to substitutes, but he earned this one.

Adam Lewis, LWB – n/a

I usually don’t bother with the late substitutes because they do little, but a shout-out to him for throwing his hat in the ring for worst defensive clearance of the season. He’s not going to beat Byron Moore’s effort at Fleetwood, but sterling work. $*%£ me.

Player of the Month: December 2020

After a dark beginning to December, light finally emerged in the week before Christmas Day. Argyle’s worst month this season saw four consecutive defeats after capitulations against Ipswich, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers, followed by an identity crisis against Crewe as Ryan Lowe turned to a back-four to start a game for the first time in his tenure as manager of Plymouth Argyle.

Thankfully, a hard-earned victory over MK Dons finally broke a six-match run of defeats and saw Argyle victorious in League One for the first time since Swindon on the 3rd November.

A 2-2 draw away at Charlton followed, meaning Argyle are still without a win or a clean sheet away from home in the league, and the month closed with another disappointing defeat, this time to Oxford, after a promising start to the match.

Player of the Month: Luke Jephcott (10.79)

It will come as little surprise to anyone that the player of the month was Luke Jephcott, the man who scored five of the seven goals for Argyle in December. Jephcott has come a long – long – way since he was loaned out to Southern League Truro City. Yet, at the age of 20, he still has even further to go before he can become the best player he possibly can, but his finishing is so impressive that it would be a real coup for Argyle to keep him next season, assuming he doesn’t leave for another club in January.

Despite his ridiculous goal scoring rate, Jephcott is still far from the complete package at this level, and may yet struggle if he moves to another team that cannot provide chances for him at the rate that Lowe’s Argyle have. Yet, the flip-side of that coin is that Argyle will struggle if they lose Jephcott, since a whole raft of players (other than Jephcott) have conspired to miss as many goals as possible in spite of the chances created for them. December was, of course, another reminder of just how valuable the Welshman is to this team. Creating chances means nothing if the ball doesn’t actually go into the back of the net.

Jephcott doesn’t always get the highest ratings, mostly because his style of play is largely geared towards getting on the end of attacking moves.That’s not to say that all Jephcott can do is finish – far from it. No, it is merely a reflection that 17 of his 20 goals in 2020 have been from a first-touch finish, while the other three were with a second touch, all of which came inside the box at an average distance of 5.7 yards from goal. It’s not for nothing that nearly a fifth (18%) of Jephcott’s completed passes this season have been kick-offs. Or that he has recorded no assists in 2020 (and no big chances created), compared to a combined 16 among his strike partners.

Yet, there can be no doubt that he is deserving of player of the month in December, after coming second in November, when he once again carried the goal-scoring burden for Ryan Lowe, possibly saving his job in the process.

To put his remarkable 2020 in context, Jephcott is the first Plymouth Argyle player since Reuben Reid (2014) to score 20 goals in a calendar year. Reid scored 22 at a rate of one every 193 minutes, Jephcott scored 20 at a rate of one every 116 minutes. However, Reid played a full, regulation season. Jephcott lost 9 games (potentially 12 had Argyle ended up in the play-offs) due to the curtailment of the 2019/20 season, and an anywhere between 3-7 games because of the late start to the 2020/21 season.

If you’re a betting man (unless you’re an addict, in which case seek help), you’d surely want to put your money on Jephcott to receive a senior call up to Wales’ national team at some point in his career. He started the last year in the Southern Football League Premier South, and ended it as the second highest scorer in League One. And as the player of the month, of course.

2. Will Aimson (10.57)

Aimson might be a surprise appearance at second, notably because he has deservedly earned a nickname as Bambi ever since he developed a habit of slipping over at least once per game starting with the 2-2 draw with Portsmouth. Fortunately (for Aimson and us) these slips haven’t led to immediate catastrophe and I hope that he can put it behind him in the near year (given how ridiculous it is).

Leaving that aside, Aimson ended the month poorly by giving away a needless penalty against Oxford. Regardless of the fact he got the ball, he went through the back of the player and had no need to make the tackle at that point. Yet, prior to the walls caving in on him during the final minutes of the month, he was otherwise solid. Mostly excellent against Charlton, particularly when red shirts started to find cracks in Argyle’s midfield, he was similarly solid against MK Dons to prevent any frights late on to secure Argyle’s first win since Swindon. Even against Crewe, another bad night for Argyle, he himself was impressive, at least relative to the rest of the team, and put in one of his personal best passing displays of the season. Of course, Aimson was largely spared the humiliation of the Rochdale debacle after starting from the bench.

That’s not to forget his highlight of the month, galloping back to make a superb last-ditch tackle to thwart a 1-v-1 and help Argyle to a much needed (and deserved) victory against Ipswich… oh wait I just remembered how that ended. Alas, as the PM might say.

3. Conor Grant (10.10)

With news that George Cooper is going to be injured for some time, it’s a good thing that Conor Grant has emerged as an able back-up since he was first injured against Crewe. Though he maybe does not provide the same quality as Cooper does (or maybe that should say as Cooper can, given he hasn’t hit top form yet this season), he certainly offers a similar quality of crossing from the left wing, leading to the opening goal against Ipswich and more recently the opening goal against Gillingham (though that does not count to this given it took place in January.

Grant has plenty to learn about this new role, particularly defensively, but it’s been a good enough start thus far and it’s been wonderful to see him finally blossom in a green shirt. The biggest question for him will be whether he can keep Byron Moore out of wing-back, particularly given the success of his relationship with Danny Mayor in that position back in late October and early November.

4. Joe Edwards (10.05)

Player of the month in November, Joe Edwards continue to impress from wing-back and keep Byron Moore out of the team. Though Edwards offered less in attacking during December than he has since winning his place back in the team, he still offers powerful, direct running infield from the wing, while helping to guard the right-flank of the defence when without the ball. During a month of defensive howlers, he’s largely done that job well, though more cracks have been emerging than since he broke into the team and its possible that he needs a rest, given how much running he seems to get through when on the pitch.

Edwards’ highlight of the month of course came from setting up Ryan Hardie’s much-needed winning goal against MK Dons, powering past static defenders with another direct run in from the wing and crossing for the finish. In a game in which Argyle were overly cautious and created little, he provided the inspiration that finally got three points back on the board.

5. Ryan Hardie (9.83)

Ryan Hardie has finally returned to something like his best form, and what a relief it is. Sure, he started the month slowly, but the winning goal against MK Dons was a predatory finish, the likes we haven’t seen enough of. Following that, he provided two assists for Luke Jephcott away to Charlton and then a third assist – and fourth goal involvement in three games – as Panutche Camara scored his first league goal for Argyle against Oxford.

Hardie also created another big chance for Jephcott away to Bristol Rovers, but Hardie himself missed three great chances in that game, overshadowing his otherwise good performance and leaving him with an average score of 4. Playing well means nothing if you, as a striker, miss a hat-full of chances yourself.

Last, an honourable mention to Camara, who does not feature in this list since we only cover the top five, but he finished sixth by 0.13 points and was of course voted player of the month by readers of Plymouth Live. Like Hardie, he finished the month strongly and it was great to see him get off the mark in the league. Hopefully this will translate into even more attacking output from him in the coming months.

Previous winners:

September 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Danny Mayor (11.61)
  2. Will Aimson (10.31)
  3. Conor Grant (9.86)
October 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Kelland Watts (11.20)
  2. Danny Mayor (10.56)
  3. Joe Edwards (10.26)
November 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Joe Edwards (11.86)
  2. Luke Jephcott (10.38)
  3. Michael Cooper (10.12)

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.

The formula also adds weight to higher scores. A player who gets 6s and 7s every week would average out at the same rating as a player who got a 9 one week and a 4 the next. Yet, that 9 rating implies a player made a match-winning impact and that should be rewarded. So, players who score higher ratings receive higher scores, even if their average rating is the same as a player who gets consistent middling-scores.

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 – we’re looking at you, Garth Crooks).
  • conformation bias (fans who favour some players tend to fixate on their positive performances while neglecting to factor in their bad performances when ranking them across a season).

Argyle forced to hold on despite dominating Gillingham

Plymouth Argyle’s first game of 2021 was slightly odd. The stats would, pretty fairly, suggest that the Greens dominated the game. But look at any highlights package and you’ll notice it was their opponents Gillingham who had the better chances across the 90 minutes. Still, Argyle managed to get themselves a victory that could prove to be particularly crucial, especially after the 3-2 defeat against Oxford in midweek.

Ultimately, Argyle did well to play to their strengths to get their noses in front, particularly the prodigious Luke Jephcott. His goal on Saturday was his 14th in all competitions this season and, as we discussed in the aftermath of Argyle’s draw with Charlton, it feels as though he’s far from done.

Things at the other end felt a little more concerning, but Argyle clung on for the three points that make their position in League One seem a lot safer than it did three days ago.

Argyle’s strengths seal the deal

After the final whistle on Saturday, I remarked that this was a case of Argyle “winning ugly.” Looking back, I’d probably revise that claim slightly. Granted, it wasn’t the most fluent Argyle performance of all time, but they still played well (and, importantly, better than their opponents). Winning ugly is a label that can probably be put on a few games from last season; the 1-0 wins on away trips to Forest Green and Cheltenham, for instance.

Still, those two games and the win over Gillingham do all share one thing in common. In each fixture, Argyle played to their strengths to gain the advantage before holding on under pressure. Against Forest Green, Argyle worked a corner routine to allow Sarcevic to burst into the area and shoot, which he always loved. And at Cheltenham, Argyle used Zak Rudden’s movement in the penalty area to full effect. Rudden was never the best finisher, but that was negated on this occasion by his work to get into a position from which missing would be a near-impossibility. Don’t laugh.

On Saturday, Argyle’s main strengths came to the fore again to craft a lovely goal. Quite rightly, the spotlight has been thrust upon Jephcott’s finish; a wonderful first-time effort on his weaker foot into the corner of the net. But to get into that position, Joe Edwards’ energy worked the ball superbly from the right, allowing him to find fellow wing-back Conor Grant in space. From there, Grant’s cross was delicious, finding the perfect target in the penalty area. And so a goal was scored using Edwards’ energy, Grant’s technical ability and Jephcott’s finishing. In other words, it was perfectly crafted.

In truth, the Lowe philosophy was evident in Argyle’s play through much of the game. Playing out from the back was paramount, with Argyle’s back three all in the top five in terms of completed passes on the day. The other two occupants of that top five? Goalkeeper Mike Cooper and playmaker Danny Mayor. Argyle dominated the ball to the extent that Kelland Watts, with 77 passes, completed almost double the amount of Gills’ top passer Kyle Dempsey (41).

That domination of possession, surely ingrained into the psyche of each Argyle player by now, allowed the Greens to create chances at a greater rate than their opponents. One shot dragged wide by Edwards in the first half saw both Aimson and Watts involved in the build-up. And had Mayor put a smidgen more weight on a pass in the second half, Panutche Camara would have had the opportunity to finish a gorgeous team move. On another day, Argyle may have added more goals to reward their silky play.

Set-pieces still a worry

In the main, Argyle did have the better of the game, and created more chances across the 90 minutes. However, as discussed, the Greens didn’t have everything their own way, with some of the better-quality chances falling to Gillingham. Frustratingly, many of the problems leading to those chances were of Argyle’s own making.

Once again, set pieces proved to be Argyle’s Achilles heel. Gillingham will be kicking themselves that they didn’t take one of their big openings from such situations to steal a scarcely deserved point. Take a second half free kick, for example, when Connor Ogilvie was left completely unmarked at the back post before managing to divert his header over the bar from around four yards. Or a later corner which Cooper came for, completely missed, and Watts somehow managed to turn round his own post.

As we’ve so often seen in the past, Argyle were their own worst enemy at times. Cooper himself failed to cover himself in glory, looking notably shaky dealing with crosses all afternoon. Admittedly, my judgement of Cooper’s performance probably comes down entirely to his part in Matty Willock heading over in stoppage time. If Cooper did get a hand to the cross, it’s a match-winning save. If not, it’s a glaring error that almost costs Argyle the game. I wasn’t able to find a touch, but I’ve been told he did get a crucial fingertip on the cross. As a Cooper fan, I’m more than happy to believe it.

After Argyle’s defeat to Bristol Rovers last month, I wondered exactly what went on in training. Lowe gave us that insight after the Gillingham win, mentioning that they had prepared for corners, free kicks and long throws in the build-up. As promising as that is, it didn’t seem to help this weekend. Maybe that’s something to do with the fact that Argyle don’t have any attacking players that aren’t called Frank Nouble who can pose a regular aerial challenge during those drills.

We’ve mentioned that on another day Argyle would have scored a few more. Equally, on another day they may have lost the points due to their shoddy set-piece defending. Luckily it didn’t matter on this occasion, but the issue still needs fixing.

2020/21 Progress Report – Cooper, Aimson, Mayor & Jephcott

We aren’t quite at the half-way mark of the season just yet, but with Argyle’s last game before Christmas having being played, Kevin McCallister appearing pretty much everywhere and some festive spare time on my hands that should almost certainly be spent on wrapping presents, I thought it was about time to look back on some of the targets I had for existing Argyle players at the start of the season.

For anyone that wants to read the full post, you can find it here, but in summary, the targets are summarised below. As you’ll see, these relate to four players that were with the club during our League Two campaign. They were:

  • Michael Cooper: Keep 12 clean sheets in League One.
  • Will Aimson: Make 40 appearances in all competitions.
  • Danny Mayor: Score 10 in all competitions.
  • Luke Jephcott: End the season as Argyle’s top scorer.

So, how are the boys getting on…

Michael Cooper – Keep 12 clean sheets in League One.

On the face of it, Michael Cooper is perhaps a little behind where I’d have liked him to have been at this stage of the season. At the time of writing, he has three clean sheets from 18 games, whilst perhaps quite interestingly, Alex Palmer, Argyle’s number one last term, tops the League One clean sheet table with ten in the same amount of matches.

With that being said, I think Cooper can be fairly happy with his performances to date. Argyle have just ended a six-game losing streak in the league, of which none of the defensive outfield players in covered themselves in much glory. In fact, there hasn’t been a single centre back throughout the campaign to date that hasn’t contributed to Argyle’s long list of individual errors leading to goals. To say Cooper has lacked protection, would be fair.

And yet despite this, I think many could argue that Cooper has taken to professional football pretty well. By no means has it been perfect, and yes, he has at times been at fault from some of the goals Argyle have conceded, but on the whole, he has looked fairly solid and impressed. His strongest skill emerging in the first half of the season appears to be his distribution, and with the growing trend of ball-playing ‘sweeper-keepers’ in English football ever-growing, this should hold Argyle in good stead. He’s quick to pass the ball, not afraid to play a direct, albeit riskier pass into midfield and has launched Argyle attacks from his 18-yard box.

What’s more, when it comes to hitting that target of 12 clean sheets, it’s well within reach. With another 28 games to play, I’m fairly confident he’ll be able to keep a further nine, in what would mark an impressive debut season for the young goalkeeper.

Will Aimson – Make 40 appearances in all competitions.

Prior to this season, Will Aimson had had a pretty torrid time as a Plymouth Argyle player. Whilst he’d looked like a fairly solid centre back when he had played, his time at the club had largely been marred by injury. In fact, by the time he did start the season this year, such was the delay as a result of his injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, that Will Aimson had missed almost a year of football.

This season however, it’s a different story entirely, with Aimson having already played 19 times for the club, and avoiding a spell on the physio’s table. What’s more, despite the somewhat questionable run of the recent form mentioned above, Aimson arguably fared the best. He wasn’t without his faults, but there’s a general consensus amongst the Argyle faithful that he’s been Argyle’s most solid centre back in this year’s campaign. If his form continues, and his injuries remain firmly in the past, I highly suspect Aimson will break past 40 appearances and with some ease too.

Danny Mayor – Score 10 goals in all competitions.

Oh Danny boy… In short, Danny Mayor hasn’t scored since I wrote the original piece. Yes, he’s only scored one goal this season, and that was on the opening day in the EFL Cup. Not great Danny…

Now, I don’t want to incite the Green Army here. Danny Mayor is an extremely popular player and with good reason. He’s clearly a very gifted individual. As I said last time, I believe him to be Argyle’s most talented player and that for me is still the case. However, I can’t help but feel there’s something lacking from his game, and that’s largely his direct influence on the scoreline. It’s been suggested that he’s our best-paid player and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure he has the influence on games one might expect to go with that tag, especially given his relatively attacking position on the field.

Personally, I don’t think we’ll see this target met this season and whilst that’s not to say Danny Mayor can’t have a good season, or indeed an influential role in a positive one for Argyle, it would be in no doubt a disappointment. The Danny Mayor debate will rage on I’m sure, but in the second half of the season he has to be a better decision-maker for me. We’ve seen glimpses of it so far, and the danger he can cause when he gets his head up and decides to pass quickly rather than run down a dead-end of three defenders, but he doesn’t do it enough. Add this to his game, and not only could he prove me wrong and hit 10 goals, he could single-handedly move Argyle up positions in the table. Dare I say it, he’s arguably the only player in the squad with this potential bar Luke Jephcott. Talking of which…

Luke Jephcott – End the season as Argyle’s top scorer.

Wow. What a year this lad has had. Incredible. In terms of the target, I might as well rule it over already, although in truth, I could have done that weeks ago. The young striker has 10 goals to his name, whilst his closest competitors Conor Grant and Joe Edwards have three each. Fellow strike partner from last season, and for parts this term too, Ryan Hardie has two and looks unlikely to catch up, especially given Jephcott’s goal conversion rate of 42%.

At the start of the season, I added to Jephcott’s piece that with a bit of luck he could give Wales manager Ryan Giggs something to think about ahead of the delayed EURO 2020 competition in June and on his current trajectory, I think he’s on course to do just that. Ryan Giggs has shown a tendency to give young players a chance, and with Jephcott hunting down a 20 goal season, which is well within reach I might add, there’s an outside chance he might get the call up in my opinion.

When Argyle last sent a player to a major tournament, Rory Fallon played for the undefeated All Whites, in a World Cup campaign that saw New Zealand draw 1- 1 with the then defending champions Italy. This summer, who should Wales be facing in their final group game. Well of course, it’s the Italians and if you ask me, it’s written in the stars. Go on Jephers!

 

Argyle’s issues laid bare once more

Well, here we go again.

You’ll have to forgive my tendency to resemble a broken record during these times. I’d love to be able to explore some new topics in these pieces, but we are beginning to see the same patterns repeated over and over again. Plymouth Argyle have now lost five league games in a row, and after around ten minutes against Bristol Rovers it seemed inevitable that the dire run was set to continue.

Admittedly, that may seem like a little overreaction. Saturday’s 3-0 defeat was far from Argyle’s worst performance of the season, though the displays against Fleetwood and Rochdale don’t exactly make that a major achievement. Indeed, had Luke Jephcott taken his one big chance as he so often does, and Ryan Hardie managed to stick one of his many opportunities into the net, we may have bene telling a very different story. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

And in truth, it wasn’t Argyle’s attack that was the problem on Saturday. When you concede three goals, you can never expect to win games with regularity. When those goals are terrible ones to concede, the problems clearly run even deeper than once thought. That’s was the case with Argyle on Saturday, and it means big questions hang over the squad. In truth, they have for quite a few weeks.

What exactly happens in training?

All three of Rovers’ goals could be considered “straight from the training ground” efforts. Each one of them came from a set piece, and they were all totally avoidable from an Argyle point of view. It does lead one to wonder what defensive work actually takes place in Argyle’s training sessions.

Let’s take the two goals from corners as an example. On both occasions, Argyle decided to exclusively use man-to-man marking in the penalty area. Now that mightn’t seem like an inherently bad thing until you consider the responsibilities it puts on the players. One-on-one, Argyle’s defenders had to be experts at winning aerial battles to make the method of defending effective. Put simply, they’re not.

The first goal is a prime example. As soon as Alfie Kilgour got the run on Jerome Opoku, he more or less had a free header on the Argyle goal. I remarked at the time that Opoku didn’t cover himself in glory, and I maintain this is true, but he was hardly helped by the system. Had there been an element of zonal marking, another player may have been able to steal a march and win the ball, or at least put a little more pressure on Kilgour’s header. Setting up to defend the corner the way Argyle did was simply asking for trouble.

A lack of zonal marking also contributed to Rovers’ second goal, for different reasons. This time, the first ball was only partially cleared, and Luke McCormick (heh) swept up the pieces to double the hosts’ advantage. And it was always likely to be a Rovers player who got to the ball first. With man-to-man marking deployed Argyle’s defenders, understandably, would have been focusing on their designated attackers, allowing all of Rovers’ players to watch the ball and react quickest. Unsurprisingly, they did. Had somebody been in that zone to clear, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Zonal marking isn’t a magic bullet – far from it. In fact, most teams opt for a hybrid approach, incorporating aspects of both man marking and zonal marking to deal with set pieces. Such an approach would have aided Argyle immensely on Saturday. Can we trust Ryan Lowe, a former striker and famously attacking coach, to implement this on the training ground? I’m beginning to wonder.

Where is the protection?

Take the best defence in the world, and they’ll still find life difficult if they have to defend with no midfield protection for 90 minutes. That difficulty will be exemplified if they have to defend as a back three rather than a back four. Argyle’s defence, it’s fair to say, isn’t the best in the world, so the lack of midfield protection being provided currently is a serious concern.

Tyrese Fornah is the main culprit here, but again he’s not helped by the system Lowe deploys. As the “1” in the 3-1-4-2, much of the defensive responsibility, particularly when the opposition launch a counter, rests on his shoulders. He doesn’t seem cut out for it at all. He regularly finds himself ten or fifteen yards further upfield that necessary, and that results in acres of space being left behind him. We saw Fleetwood, for example, take advantage of that very early on, and Rovers again were given far too much of the pitch to operate in without pressure this weekend.

Fornah seems to be suffering the same way we saw Yann Songo’o suffer in 2018/19. Neither are bad players in their own right – Fornah picked out a superb pass on his weaker foot in the second half to demonstrate his ability on the ball – but neither have been played to their strengths for large portions of their time at Home Park. It’s seen the same pattern emerge on both occasions: a complete lack of protection for an already shaky defence.

Argyle’s defence isn’t great. The protection afforded to them is inadequate. The results? Obvious.

How big are the issues?

I don’t want to overreact. Argyle have shown across this season that they have the tools to compete. This is an awful run of form, of course, but that doesn’t mean Argyle have suddenly become a bad side. There are issues that need resolving, and I’m very happy to concede that. But it’s not as if Argyle aren’t capable of doing just that, and still making a success of this campaign.

Still, the leadership void at the back needs resolving, and it may well take until the January transfer window before that issue can be put to bed. But the defence could still be improved by bringing in those most competent in the air, with Niall Canavan a prime candidate. I note that Argyle’s best back three (in my view at least) of Kelland Watts, Will Aimson and Canavan were again not given a chance together this weekend.

Argyle should be able to solve the midfield issue straight away. Lewis MacLeod being back to full fitness will be a great help, and providing he is at 100% he really ought to start against Crewe on Tuesday night in Fornah’s position. But if not, Lowe can still make things work with Fornah in the side. Giving him a partner by subtly changing to a 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-3 would give Argyle’s the double benefit of solidifying the midfield whilst retaining Lowe’s preferred back three, minimising the upheaval in the process.

But the issues, whilst solvable, are serious. It certainly feels as though how he responds to this run will be the making of Lowe. Derek Adams failed to solve Argyle’s problems two years ago, despite having the tools to do so, and it ultimately cost the Greens their place in League One, and Adams his job. Lowe will need to learn from his predecessor’s mistakes to ensure his time at Argyle doesn’t follow a similar trajectory.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Rochdale 4

Plymouth Argyle went down to a shocking 4-0 defeat at home to Rochdale, ending the unbeaten run in dramatic fashion. After no losses at Home Park since New Year’s Day, this was some way to start. The game was virtually beyond us by half-time, going in three down. The second half was a bit better but not notably so. Whilst we did create some chances, we were brutally picked apart on the counter and made a catalogue of ridiculous individual errors in defence.

Starting XI

Mike Cooper – GK, 3

It was once again a disapointing evening for Argyle’s young keeper who seems to be fast estabishing himself as a player of feast of famine. He didn’t do a LOT wrong. If we’re being charitable, we could even say that he did well for the first goal, forcing Beasley to a tight angle following the initial defensive mix-up. That said, he really didn’t do a long right either. His kicking was unmemorable and I can’t actually remember a save he made. Most of the time, his hands were only on the ball to pick it out of the net.

This is before we mention his decision to inexplicably play tiki-taka football with Byron Moore on the edge of his own penalty area, leading to the fourth goal. Moore was dispossessed but it was a ridiculous pass by Cooper to go short in the situation. Moore had a man on him and could have done nothing other than, at best, boot the ball out of play.

Scott Wootton – RCB, 3

Truth be told, there was a time that I was willing to cut Wootton some slack tonight. Argyle were 2-0 down after some kamikaze defending contributed to both goals. But of all of them, Wootton was probably least culpable. He also did produce a couple of excellent blocks to prevent the scoreline looking even uglier.

Then, and there’s no way of making this sound better, he saw the ball heading into the bottom corner and just…let it go in. Let me repeat: he just watched the ball go into the goal. Despite having the means to deal with it comfortably he decided, and I need to drill this in because it still shocks me, to watch the ball nestle into the bottom corner while thinking “yep, this is fine.” Honestly, he was an active hinderance to defending the danger. Had he not been there, at least he wouldn’t have distracted his own goalkeeper.

Cue a half time substitution, and another clanger to add to the collection.

Niall Canavan – CB, 2

Contrary to popular belief, playing to the whistle isn’t the first thing kids are taught when they start playing football. But yes, by the time they become highly paid professionals, they should be aware that you can’t just stop playing whenever you feel like it. Niall Canavan, inexplicably, failed at that very objective against Rochdale.

Was the ball out of play for the visitors’ second goal? Maybe. The perspective from every camera Argyle had in operation made it impossible to tell. But Canavan assuming it was going to be called was scandalous. He wasn’t the only man at fault in the omnishambles that followed, but had he decided not to suddenly have the night off, the issue would have been stopped at source.

As an advocate for Canavan starting up until this game, this was not a night to remember for me or the Irishman.

Kelland Watts – LCB, 4

Uhh. Not a memorable night for the Newcastle loanee, which I have quickly discovered is a running theme. He was completely caught out for the first goal when he tried to play the offside trap and failed miserably, and his defending for the fourth (I still can’t believe I’m writing that after a home game against Rochdale) left a fair bit to be desired.

What really grated in this one though was his profligacy going forward. Honestly, how many times did he give the ball away during his time on the field. Well, I could probably look it up and find out, but after watching 90 minutes of that I don’t have the will to look up the stats just yet. But it was a lot, is my point.

Against a side as good on the counter as Rochdale, with a defence as hapless as Argyle’s, that was suicide.

Tyrese Fornah – DCM, 3

Tyrese Fornah seems absolutely fine on the ball. Perhaps that’s what makes Lowe like him so much. We saw as much with Jerome Opoku starting in the centre of defence to start attacks. However, much like we’ve seen with Opoku, Fornah is failing in his primary role in this system: defending.

In his position, and particularly against good counter attacking sides, Fornah needs to be the player cutting out attacks and stopping the simple passing avenues for the opposition. Against Rochdale, he almost seemed to do the opposite. He was so weak in the tackle when attempting to stop the first, and on many occasions he was nowhere to be seen for the second balls he ought to be eager to mop up.

I’m happy to be proved wrong in the coming weeks, but if Argyle are looking for this season’s Josh Grant behind the midfield, Fornah isn’t the man.

Joe Edwards – RWB, 7. Player of the Match

I can only assume Lowe recognised the game was already lost at half time, and he wanted to trial something new. Because bringing off Joe Edwards at half time when he was the only attacking threat Argyle possessed for the first 45 minutes would be mesmerically stupid otherwise.

Much like Saturday, Argyle looked most dangerous down the right in the absence of Danny Mayor. Edwards was a key cog in that, and almost set up Luke Jephcott for an equaliser soon after the game restarted after the first half injury delay. It goes without saying that this wasn’t as good as his Lincoln performance, particularly in defence, but he still stood out amongst the dirge in the first half.

I sincerely hope Lowe was just giving his right wing back a rest for the second half.

Conor Grant – RCM, 7

Grant, alongside Edwards, is the only other player to come out of this omnishambles with any credit. He was quiet in the first half and missed a half-decent chance for what would have been 1-2, fairly early in the second half. That said, he did really grow into the game as it went on. His best spell, curiously, was when he was moved into the wing-back role just after half-time.

He got up and down the line well in this position, ensuring that Argyle’s left hand side was secure. As well as this, he did also deliver some decent crosses into the box. Unfortunately, nobody had their finishing boots on to get on the end of them.

Ben Reeves – LCM, 4

Picture the scene: Argyle kick off the second half needing an Istanbul-style comeback to save the game. Within two minutes of the restart, the ball falls to Ben Reeves on the volley on the edge of the box, just days after he scored a screamer in similar circumstances against Lincoln. Once again he catches the ball on his left foot and sends it…wide. It just wasn’t to be for Reeves tonight.

He was far from the worst player in Green, and his second half performance was enough for me to consider bumping his rating up a little. However, his overall influence (or lack of) was a little problematic. The lack of Mayor in the middle has left a huge creativity void, and thus far Reeves hasn’t been able to fill it. Edwards has been great in the last two games, but he shouldn’t need to be Argyle’s main source of attacks.

Perhaps Reeves will be better alongside Mayor. Will we find out one day?

George Cooper – LWB, 5

George Cooper, with a 5, escapes as one of Argyle’s better players on the day by virtue of not having played much of the game. Yep, that’s how bad it was.

It has been notable in the last couple of games how much he struggles without Danny Mayor alongside him, but we can’t really pass much judgement on that from tonight’s showing. He may have been playing injured from the start – who knows? Hopefully both will be back soon an we’ll be able to see Argyle’s attack at its fluent best.

Frank Nouble – ST, 4

Nouble gets a 4, but it’s certainly closer to a 3 than a 5. In the first half he was very quiet, generally failing to get involved in any of Argyle’s admittedly limited attacking moves. And in the second, when he was involved, he was annoyingly wasteful. He squandered a couple of headers that could have put Argyle back in with a shout, and was barely involved in the creative side of the game.

Credit has to go to him for putting his body about, and still trying to develop openings for his side with his physicality. He was certainly better in the air than he was against Fleetwood last week, for instance. However, that’s hardly an achievement, and tonight certainly wasn’t his game.

Luke Jephcott – ST, 5

Jephcott is an excellent young striker who, all being well, will be hugely beneficial to Argyle’s promotion chances or Argyle’s bank balance one of these days. Maybe both. That said, it wasn’t his day today. He was busy and energetic, like he always did. He got into deadly positions through electric movement, like he always does.

Where he did unusually let himself down was his finishing. Argyle’s best two chances of the game both fell to him at close range. The first one was tapped against the post and the second he couldn’t get a good connection on. You’d usually expect him to finish one or both of those chances. Today, it wasn’t to be.

Substitutes

Byron Moore – LWB/RWB, 4

Moore came on for Cooper, and despite a good run of performances when he was rushed to LWB of part of Argyle’s COVID inspired reshuffle, he was pretty awful today. He replaced the injured Cooper and immediately managed to make a bad situation worse, offering next to no end product. One well delivered cross onto the head of Nouble was the one exception to the rule.

He also has to take a lot of blame for the catastrophe of the fourth goal. Yes, Mike Cooper played him into trouble, but Moore should have put his foot through the ball to clear it. Instead, he too tried to be too cute in his own penalty area and was dispossessed.

Will Aimson – RCB, 4

Aimson came on at half-time for Scott Wootton and, whilst there was some merit in sending a message to the dreadful defence, he was pretty anonymous. He didn’t do loads wrong but his passing was aimless.

He probably would be a five out of ten but he totally missed a chance to clear the ball before the fourth goal, after the Cooper/Watts fiasco. Not good but he’ll still probably return to the team for the Ipswich game, if only by default.

Jerome Opoku – CB, 6

Opoku was the best of the five Argyle centre-backs to play today and he still didn’t play especially well. He’s closer to a 5 than a 7. He didn’t do anything outstanding and there are some questions to be asked about his passing out from the back.

But, he didn’t look like he was playing with a blindfold on and he didn’t make any errors that led directly to goals. That at least is a step above the others.

Ryan Hardie – ST, 4.

I’m getting a bit numb with Hardie at the moment. Usually this season he works very hard, gets in good scoring chances but just can’t find the net. Today, he got in one semi decent area but that was about it and he spent much of the game anonymous, not really making any clear runs or effort to get the ball.

Is it time to ask the question? How long does his blip in form continue to be called a blip? How long before we question if perhaps last season was the blip after all? He needs improvement and he needs it soon. The worry is that nobody can score without Jephcott.

Panutche Camara – CM, 5

Well…he came on, he ran a lot. That’s about it. Certainly none of it appeared to be to great effect. Camara is a good player for us but on days like this, you just have to accept that nearly everyone has had an off day. He missed a good chance for what would have surely been a totally worthless consolation goal in stoppage time. The best you can say is that he got into good positions.

Argyle engulfed by perfect Fleetwood storm

It’s been a while since we experienced the emotions that only a diabolical Argyle away performance can provide. The Greens are yet to win away from Home Park in the league this season, but they’ve often looked good in some of those games despite the results. Think about the first halves against Wigan and Lincoln, the second period against Hull, or the attacking talent on show against Wimbledon.

This, however, was not one of those occasions. Plymouth Argyle’s 5-1 defeat at Fleetwood was just as abysmal as the scoreline suggests. A shambles at the back was combined with a dreadful toothlessness in attack to deliver a most horrific performance. Indeed, it’s probably on par with last season’s trip to Exeter as one of the worst displays since Ryan Lowe took charge at Argyle.

And the manager himself wasn’t blameless – far from it. Lowe’s setup doomed Argyle to defeat right from the start, as all of the issues that have harmed the Greens this season came to the fore in one dismal afternoon.

Set up to fail

Lowe and Argyle’s scouting team really ought to have had a grasp on Fleetwood’s style of play. All season, they’ve been experts at turning over possession and setting up to attack teams on the counter. It’s baffling, therefore, that Lowe’s team selection seemed to play directly into the hosts’ hands.

Argyle ultimately had far too many holes in their spine for the requirements of the fixture. In lining up with Conor Grant in the deep midfield position, they didn’t provide themselves with the defensive solidity and covering required against a team so dangerous when turning over possession. It’s no surprise that Lowe switched things up after just ten minutes, brining on Tyrese Fornah for Panutche Camara, and pushing Grant further upfield. Though as it turns out, it was already too late.

Argyle’s problems were compounded by a leadership void at the back – where have we seen that before? This is perhaps a harsher criticism to throw in Lowe’s direction. After all, Kelland Watts, Will Aimson and Jerome Opoku have been working well together in recent weeks, with the latter scoring his first goal for the club against Portsmouth on Monday. But it was never likely to work here.

With Opoku in the centre of defence, Argyle had no vocal leadership coming from such an important position. He resembled a lost sheep at times, so often caught out of position and not vocal enough to get Watts and Aimson to cover. It all goes back to the idea of selections based on opponents. Opoku is a useful player to have when Argyle are likely to dominate possession; he completed 100% of his passes over 90 minutes against Swindon as Argyle built brilliantly from the back. But Fleetwood away was never going to be his game.

All of this was the perfect setup for Fleetwood to overrun Argyle. The Greens have struggled against the high press all season, and that’s exactly how their hosts tried to hurt them from the first whistle. Argyle coped at first, perhaps unsurprisingly given all the technical players in defensive positions, but it would never last. And as soon as Fleetwood did win it high up the pitch, after four minutes from Camara’s error, they scored. It was always likely to be the way.

It was a problem entirely of Argyle’s own making, and completely foreseeable. The Greens had 59.5% of possession in the first half, with 364 touches to their opponents’ 271. They completed 221 passes in that time, which was 93 more than Fleetwood. But who had the better chances? Fleetwood were more than happy to let Argyle have the ball, press smartly, and tear Lowe’s side apart on the counter.

Straight from kick off, a massacre ensued.

Mistakes still prevalent

Two of Argyle’s major flaws this season have been dealing with the high press and scattered individual errors. We’ve touched on the first, but that’s not a feature of every game. After all, not every side sets up to press from the start – look at Northampton. However, the rate of individual errors has a constant, significant worry.

In truth, the Greens have been partial to the occasional blunder all season. From the first away day at Wimbledon when Aimson dallied on the ball, right up to the draw against Portsmouth on Monday when Watts and Fornah had their own brain fades. Argyle have been plagued by cock-ups, and nothing demonstrated that better than those 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon.

We’ve already touched on Camara’s error for the first, but Argyle made sure they weren’t done there. The second goal in particular saw a catalogue of errors, with Opoku caught in no-mans land defending against nobody in particular, and Mike Cooper letting slip what ought to have been a comfortable take at Callum Camps’ feet. Cooper also slipped to make Wes Burns’ finish easier for the third, but that was more unfortunate than idiotic, and the danger really ought to have been dealt with before Burns went clean through.

We’re not done. Fleetwood’s fourth goal also saw an old problem come to the fore, with Scott Wootton and Frank Nouble beaten so easily in the air. But the fifth was possibly the worst of the lot. Byron Moore, under no pressure at the back post, cleared the ball straight into the path of Camps to slam the ball home. It was honestly the perfect assist, similar to Fornah’s error against Portsmouth but somehow worse in execution. Had it not been so tragic, it would’ve been hilarious.

It’s such a frustrating issue that keeps rearing its ugly head. These players aren’t terrible. In fact, they’ve all shown across their time at Argyle that they have a lot to offer. But if the silly mistakes aren’t cut out, these results will happen.

Reaction needed

Even in games where Argyle’s defence has looked shaky this season, the attack has always looked a threat, but even that was lacking on Saturday. The choice of personnel may have had a role in that too, particularly the persistence with Frank Nouble, who had no shots, won only 17% of his aerial battles and completed just 8 passes across the 90 minutes.

I could go on a little more with Argyle’s toothlessness on Saturday, but I’ve already wasted enough of your time. So instead, I’ll simply say that a reaction to this display is desperately needed. And soon.

Ryan Lowe’s record of having never lost two league games in a row at Argyle is under serious threat. The 5-1 defeat is a big mental setback, and a trip to Peterborough could hardly be coming at a worse time – they’ll be after a reaction too after they relinquished their lead at the top of League One following defeat to Blackpool at the weekend. There’s also the question of selection. One presumes Hardie and Jephcott will be straight back in, but who plays in defence? Canavan for Opoku would be the obvious choice, but the former’s red card on Saturday and subsequent suspension was the cherry on top of a particularly unpalatable cake.

It’ll no doubt be tough, but dealing with adversity has been a staple of Argyle under Lowe. They’ve demonstrated their bouncebackability in the past, and whilst Saturday was awful, the promise of better days to come is enough to keep us enthused.

Player of the Month: October 2020

Another month down and so far, so good.

Plymouth Argyle sit just a point outside the play offs having picked up 10 points from 18 during the month, finishing with an impressive home victory over a strong Doncaster Rovers. However, October was the month in which covid hit the squad, with Will Aimson, Scott Wootton, Niall Canavan, Conor Grant and George Cooper all missing games due to the need to self-isolate.

With that in mind, Argyle’s month looks all the more impressive, and a number of players stood out for their consistent performances.

Player of the Month: Kelland Watts (11.20)

Kell Watts becomes the second player to win our player of the month award this season after a strong September. He was awarded the man of the match award by at least one of our raters in four of the six league games, recording an average rating of less than 7 only once during that time.

His last minute winner against Northampton delivered all three points and secure Argyle’s first back-to-back wins since their return to League One. Meanwhile, in the absence of Niall Canavan and Scott Wootton, the two players to have started in the middle of the back three this season, he stood up and put in a decent performance against table-topping Lincoln City.

Watts had a slow start in September and did not even rank in the top ten players despite starting every game, but he has continued to improve week-on-week since the start of the season. Now hitting his stride on the left of the back-three, he has done impressively well bringing the ball forward but has been equally strong in defence, showing an understanding of defending space that belies his lack of experience.

The main area Watts needs to improve is his strength and aerial presence. While he suits a back-three, he is in a delicate position in which he is not a left-back, may not yet be good enough in centre-back as a back-four. As a player, he’ll need to ensure that he is focusing on those areas so he does not limit his options in future seasons.

2. Danny Mayor (10.56)

Player of the month for August, Mayor takes a (not-so-close) second this month.

Like Watts, Mayor was an example of consistent performance levels throughout the month. Though Argyle returned a strong points total, it was by no means a month full of free-flowing, high-quality performances. Instead, there were lots of players who missed games – either being rotated or missing out through enforced absence. Thus, those who performed consistently rather than blowing hot and cold ranked ranked higher.

He was consistently above average during the month without reaching his best levels, though he came close to that against Swindon, including that beautiful shoulder drop against Doncaster to create the opening goal:

That was his best performance, an in an important game against a tough side who look to be in the play-off race this season. He also created the best chance against Lincoln on a night when Argyle were very blunt in attack. All in all, a strong start to 2020/21 for Argyle’s highest paid player.

3. Joe Edwards (10.26)

Edwards started the season strongly, with a goal against QPR in the League Cup and an assist(-ish) for Conor Grant away to Wimbledon, but since Byron Moore’s return from injury he was relegated to the bench, only returning away to Wigan as a result of George Cooper’s need to self-isolate.

Edwards was fine that day as Argyle lacked creativity, but put in an outstanding performance against Doncaster that may well cement his place back in the team. He netted the all-important second goal as Rovers were threatening to turn the game on its head and put in an excellent defensive effort while offering a threat on the ball when Argyle had the chance to counter attack.

It was that performance more than any other that shot Edwards up into third for the month, despite starting only the final two games of the month.

4. Michael Cooper (10.24)

For Cooper, see the entries for Watts and Mayor. Cooper was yet another who had a solid but unspectacular month, keeping one clean sheet from the six. That will be disappointing for Cooper, both because of the quality of opposition and the relative control Argyle exhibited throughout a couple of games, notably Northampton and Wigan, only for brief periods of pressure to translate into goals.

In a normal month, Cooper probably wouldn’t make the top five based on his performances, but because of the disruption to team selection he was able to take advantage of playing every minute and avoiding any bad performances.

5. Will Aimson (9.24)

Yep. Same again really. Aimson started five of the six and put in no bad performances, but equally no strong ones. His best performance was Doncaster, but overall he was quite average and made the top five for the same reason as Cooper. Like Edwards, Aimson started the season very well with dominant performances against QPR and Blackpool, but dropped off and had an awful game against Wimbledon before losing his place because of a positive covid test.

Previous winners:

September 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Danny Mayor (11.61)
  2. Will Aimson (10.31)
  3. Conor Grant (9.86)

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.

The formula also adds weight to higher scores. A player who gets 6s and 7s every week would average out at the same rating as a player who got a 9 one week and a 4 the next. Yet, that 9 rating implies a player made a match-winning impact and that should be rewarded. So, players who score higher ratings receive higher scores, even if their average rating is the same as a player who gets consistent middling-scores.

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 – we’re looking at you, Garth Crooks).
  • conformation bias (fans who favour some players tend to fixate on their positive performances while neglecting to factor in their bad performances when ranking them across a season).