Lessons Learned from Exeter
- Matty Kennedy is a hell of a player. With your regular columnist having missed the Cambridge match, this was the first chance I had to see the Cardiff loanee in action. Most Cardiff fans on social media spoke very highly of him and reports from the Cambridge victory were mostly positive.
After that performance, I can certainly see why he comes so highly billed. He put in a fantastic performance against Exeter in which his electric movement off the ball was equal only to his caressing of the ball and fantastic distribution. He got perfectly in behind their high defensive line for Argyle’s opener and played a near replica through ball in to Ryan Taylor who did likewise for the second.
He ran at defenders with guile and intent, getting past them on a regular basis and linking the play smartly with others when he did not. He really could be the difference between a squeaky bum end of season and a comfortable promotion.
- So is Antoni Sarcevic. A theme developing here. Admittedly, I did see him in the second half at Yeovil but a 20 minute cameo where the whole team was playing badly and he wasn’t yet match fit is hardly any time to judge him on.
Against Exeter, he put in a fantastic performance where he was central to our passing football going forward. He mostly stayed in the ACM role where he would pick up the ball and sharply get it out to the wide areas, where we would led Carey or Kennedy (see above) run into space. It wasn’t just passing where Sarcevic excelled, however. His pressing game was surprisingly effective, harrying and forcing Exeter defenders into mistakes and even on one occasion going in to win a loose ball with a sliding tackle. That kind of stamina could be as useful to us as his technique.
- So is Ryan Taylor. I’ve written before about how I rate Garita somewhat higher than the average Argyle fan. Although he doesn’t have the guile or the graceful movement of Spencer, his technical flick-ons and raw strength/pace are a sight to behold.
With this guy however, we genuinely seem to have got someone who combines the best aspects of both Spencer and Garita. The intelligence of the former and the energy of the latter. He doesn’t look like he’s built all too strongly either- he appears lankier and thinner than the strapping Spencer or the muscled Garita but he showed far more strength in practise than this may lead you to expect. His ability to pick up a long ball, shrug off a defender and hold it up before the one of the three attacking midfielders run from back was up there with any target man in recent memory of playing for Argyle. That’s not to mention the poacher’s finish for Argyle’s second goal, exposing the high line of Exeter.
- Argyle are playing the ball out from the back whenever possible. It’s been interesting to see how our style has changed somewhat over the course of the season. The main narrative of difference between our style and play last season and this is the notion that this season we are far more physical and direct. And by and large, this is true. We have a taller team than last season and a stronger one. We’re more likely to use long balls as opposed to the short-distance, high-tempo passing that we witnessed last season.
One of the really positive aspects of our play since the Christmas period though is the way we seem to have incorporated the good bits from this season and last. We’ve still got a lot more strength at winning aerial duels and we aren’t averse to a targeted long ball but we’ve brought back more of the ambitious passing play to go alongside it. This was evident today. On many occasions where Exeter were pressing us in our 18 yard box, rather than panicking and hoofing it clear, we would remain composed and play our way into a better position before moving the ball up the pitch. Long may it continue…as long as it works.
- This year is looking like finally being the one. Other results went our away as well as a fantastic performance and convincing win against our rivals. I wrote after the Yeovil game about my fears for our mental strength. Two ground-out wins against Cambridge and Exeter have done a lot to ally that with resilient defending when needed accompanying the impressive attacking play.
With that and the fact that no team can really put a run of games together at the current time, you get the feeling we’re nearly there. Of course, this isn’t the time for complacency. Yes, there’s a long way to go yet. But with the new signings, our good response to losing Purrington and the unconvincing form of most others in the pack (and the fact we now have a bigger points gap than at any other point this season or last) promotion now feels close enough to taste.