How should we feel?

It’s hard to put the events of the last few days into words, but let’s give it a go.

On Thursday night a man, for whom I could use more than a few terms that would not be considered appropriate for daytime reading, decided to bring terror to our streets. This lowlife scum killed five people, including a three-year-old girl, before turning the gun on himself, mercifully ensuring he didn’t steal any more of the world’s oxygen from the rest of us. Understandably, it left the city and region at large in a state of pure shock.

For many, the sight of streets they knew so well being involved in national coverage of such horrors was enough to rock them, understandably, to the core. My experience of the tragedy itself was limited to checking in on a few friends, and answering messages from concerned friends of my own. That was still enough to leave me shaken, but in truth my feelings of the night are irrelevant. I can’t begin to imagine the experiences of those who were in the vicinity of the events of Thursday, let alone those of the poor families and friends of those killed.

That brings us to yesterday. Plymouth Argyle’s home game against Gillingham was always going to feel a little different. It was, after all, the first game without any restrictions on the size of the Home Park crowd for over 500 days. But Thursday changed that feeling from one of anticipated jubilation to…well…something else entirely. It’s difficult to specify.

How exactly were we meant to feel?

In truth, that was likely to be different for everybody. Some would have seen the day as a good escape from the city’s harrowing headlines over recent days. I include myself in that group, but it would be totally understandable if some felt a sense of guilt at having so much fun, given the experiences of their fellow citizens this week. When the worst mass shooting on British soil in over a decade happens in a city as small as ours, can any reaction really be regarded as irrational?

The feeling at the ground was predictably different. Flags were at half mast, the player’s wore dedicated shirts for the warm up, and a minute’s silence before kick off was well observed. But honestly? The celebratory nature of being together didn’t feel as though it was lost. Plymouth and Argyle sent out a message on Saturday afternoon that they would not be cowed. That the acts of one stain on humanity would not define us. That the lives of Maxine, Lee, Sophie, Kate and Stephen were to be celebrated.

I’ve occasionally watched other tragedies play out in the media, such as the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, and seen how community spirit brought people together. I’ve wondered in the past whether a city like Plymouth would be able to deliver the same community spirit in the face of adversity. I need never question that again.

As for Argyle? Well, the game probably ended in exactly the manner the city had hoped. It wasn’t the most exciting encounter, but nobody cared about that once Luke Jephcott notched the Greens’ 89th-minute winner in front of the Devonport End. A last-minute winner from an academy graduate after the week we’ve had? I’m not a religious man, but it feels as though there was a sense of destiny.

There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn from this victory and Argyle’s promotion from League Two at the start of the pandemic. I remember writing at the time that the promotion was still worth celebrating despite the horrors we were experiencing, and I maintain that to be true. Similarly, the circumstances of Saturday’s win are still worth celebrating despite the appalling acts of the week prior. This may have been a Plymouth-specific tragedy rather than a worldwide one, but many of the points raised still apply.

In my previous article, I quoted Jurgen Klopp about the importance of football being put into perspective by worldwide events. This time I’ll take one from either Carlo Ancelotti or Pope John Paul II, depending on which corner of the internet you look. An easy mistake, I’m sure you’ll agree. “Out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important.” It remains true. If something seemingly so banal as a bag of air being kicked around a field can bring us joy in the toughest of times, we should embrace it.

12 August 2021 will always be remembered as a dark day in this city’s history. The dramatic win over Gillingham hasn’t healed the wounds from Thursday night – football doesn’t have that power. But maybe, just maybe, that healing process has found its beginning.

Crewe Alexandra Season Preview

Key player: Charlie Kirk

I feel like I write the season preview for Crewe every year, and every year I make the same joke about Charlie Kirk sharing a name with an American right-wing ‘activist’ with a tiny tiny face. Has the joke gotten old by now? I’ll let the editors decide. [editor’s note: no.]

Anyway, much like previous campaigns, Kirk remains vital to Crewe’s prospects. He made 53 appearances for the side in all competitions last season, involving himself in 16 goal contributions (7G, 9A). Only striker Mikael Mandron managed more. Argyle fans may also recall that Kirk scored a goal against the Greens in a 2-1 win for Crewe back in December. Others may have put it to the back of their minds to forget about Scott Wootton’s defending for the goal, which is probably the wiser option.

This may well prove to be a ‘shop window’ season for Kirk. He’s only ever played for Crewe, but his contract expires at the end of this year. Still only 23, a good start to the season could see clubs clamouring for his signature, looking to cut a deal before his contract runs down. Should his form see a dip, he may well be playing for his own contract before the season is out.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: David Artell

Artell comes across as a polarising character. The sort you’d love to have on your side, and could easily grow to hate if he represents a rival. A Luis Suarez type character, perhaps, without the appetite. With that in mind, then, it’s no surprise that the Crewe faithful have come to love their manager since he came into the role in 2017.

Well-travelled Artell played for a number of clubs across England and Wales, and also earned seven caps for Gibraltar having been born in Rotherham. Ah, the joys of dual-nationality rules. As a player he was always looking beyond the end of his career, gaining a degree in forensic biology and taking up a role as operations director at Crewe’s academy whilst still contracted a player at Bala Town. Considering the emphasis Crewe put on their youth squad, it seemed inevitable that a man as switched-on as Artell would work his way up to the top job, even if it did take three years.

Since his appointment, Crewe have made progress every season, culminating in a 12th-place finish in 2020-21. He’s only ever managed one side, and his stock is possibly the highest it’s ever been. In all honesty, Crewe have done well to retain his services for so long.

Rock: Tommie Hoban

It may seem odd listing a new player as a defensive rock so soon after joining. However, 27-year-old centre back Hoban has the potential to make a serious impression at Crewe.

In terms of his natural ability, Hoban ought to be playing well above League One level. He came through the academy at Arsenal, but it was with Watford that he initially burst onto the scene. He made 58 appearances for the Hornets in all, and combined with a loan spell at Blackburn he established himself as a reliable Championship option.

So why isn’t he there anymore? Injuries. He’s been incredibly unlucky in recent years, having his career placed into genuine danger with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Twice. That put an end to his Watford career, and he’s recently been working his way back to fitness with a sustained spell of football at Aberdeen in the second half of last season.

Signing Hoban is obviously a risk, but if the worst of his injuries is behind him, Crewe could well have a gem on their hands. And with a number of centre backs, including Omar Beckles, leaving the club this summer, they’ll need Hoban to stay fit and perform.

Key departure: Harry Pickering

Much of Crewe’s success this season could come down to how well they deal with the loss of Pickering. Officially, he’s not been a Crewe player since January, having left the Railwaymen for Blackburn in a deal believed to be worth an initial £650,000. However, Artell’s side took him back on loan for the remainder of the campaign, allowing them to defer the trouble of replacing him for a few more months.

That time has arrived now, and what a hole he’s left. He made a name for himself as an aggressive left back, and in recent years has demonstrated his ability to play on the left of midfield and at left centre back. His ability going forward is notable – Argyle fans may recall his wonderful strike in a game back in 2020 perhaps most remembered for Chris Porter’s comical miss. It will be fascinating to see how Crewe’s attack reshapes itself without Pickering as an outlet.

His value to the side was demonstrated by the awarding of Crewe’s captaincy for the second half of last season. He is a big loss, and Crewe supporters will have to hope they cope as well with Pickering’s departure as they did with Perry Ng’s move to Cardiff earlier this year.

Target: Top-half

Crewe’s 12th-place finish last year was their highest placing in the pyramid since their days in the Championship back in 2006. A real testament to the progress the club have made under Artell. That this happened under the shadow of events off the field, which saw chairman John Bowler leave the club, was even more remarkable.

Whether they can go one step further a make a serious promotion push is another matter. There are a number of big clubs who you suspect will be fighting it out at the top of League One, and whilst Crewe have made year-on-year progress under Artell, this could be the toughest step to take of the lot.

Without doubt they’ll give it a good go, but another finish in the top half of the third tier would still go down very nicely.

 

Previous: Cheltenham Town Next: Doncaster Rovers

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Fleetwood Town Season Preview

Key player: Callum Camps

Callum Camps has the ideal mix of having a wealth of League One experience whilst still being young enough to have the potential to go even further. Having been thrust into the Rochdale side as a youngster, Camps went on to make 240 appearances for the Spotland outfit, scoring 30 times from the centre of midfield. He also added a very handy 23 assists to his numbers during his time at the club.

Upon leaving Dale, Camps didn’t need to travel far to his new club, with Fleetwood offering him a two-year deal in the summer of 2020. And he made a flying start. Nobody in the Fleetwood side could better his 14 goal involvements (11G 3A) across the season, and he had the ability at his best to win games on his own.

Admittedly, the stats themselves may make Camps’ season look better than it really was. 10 of his 11 goals were scored by the end of November, and his numbers were helped by two braces in big wins against Bristol Rovers and, yep, Argyle. That woeful 5-1 reverse just can’t seem to escape my memory.

But even if the second half of his season didn’t match the first, Camps is undeniably talented. He offers more than just goals and assists and, still only 25, this has the potential to be a huge season for the Stockport-born player.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Simon Grayson

Simon Grayson, a man much more palatable to write about than Fleetwood’s previous manager, has been around the block a bit. Fleetwood are his seventh club in management; well, we can make that eight if we include the one game at Kendal Town he took charge of in place of the non-league side’s regular manager, Chris Humphrey, who was self-isolating.

Probably most remembered for fairly lengthy spells at Blackpool, Leeds and Preston, but he’s been much more nomadic in recent years. He failed to make it to a year in charge at Bradford, had a much shorter second spell at Blackpool, and starred for a few months in Netflix’s own social experiment ‘Sunderland AFC’. The 51-year-old will be hoping that his time at Fleetwood brings success over a sustained period of time.

And he’s off to a good start. Since joining the ranks at Highbury in January, the Cod Army have experienced a decent run of form. There have been a few dodgy results thrown in, such as a 5-2 loss at Burton and a 2-0 home defeat to relegated Swindon, but the good has outweighed the bad to date at least.

Stopper: Alex Cairns

Few players have made more of an impression at Fleetwood in recent years than goalkeeper Alex Cairns. Having joined from Rotherham in the summer of 2016, he’s gone on to make 196 appearances during his time at Highbury, with the promise of more to come. He was injured for a significant part of the first half of last season, but is back to full fitness now and ready to make an impression again.

It actually took Cairns a little while to find his feet in the game. He began his career at Leeds, but whilst he did manage to make one appearance for the first team at Elland Road, he spent much of his time there out on loan. Non-league Stalybridge Celtic was where he made many of his appearances, but he failed to make a single first team start after signing short-term permanent contracts with Chesterfield and Rotherham. His move to Fleetwood five years ago saw his career take off sharply.

If you recognise his name, it’s probably through numerous social media clips showing unbelievable saves he’s made across numerous games. And now 28, he’s adding a certain maturity to go with his eye-catching shot stopping. He’ll start the season as number one this season, and potentially for many more to come.

Key departure: Wes Burns

Fleetwood have a lot of attacking talent in Camps alone, but the departure of Wes Burns will certainly harm them. The right winger departs Highbury having scored an impressive 28 goals for the club in his 190 appearances primarily from the right wing. In the end, an undisclosed fee from Ipswich Town was considered too good to turn down.

26-year-old Burns started his career at Bristol City, with various loan spells (including one at Fleetwood) defining his time at Ashton Gate. Nonetheless, he still managed to make 54 appearances for the Robins before joining Fleetwood on a permanent deal in 2017. Indeed, his success there has seen him secure a move not necessarily up the Football League ladder, but to a much bigger club nonetheless.

Fleetwood have the talent to replace the creativity Burns provided. Whether they’re able to actually do so remains to be seen.

Target: Top half

Fleetwood escaped their Joey Barton era relatively unscathed (well, at least compared to Bristol Rovers), and are off to a relatively solid start under Grayson. With that in mind, they’ll have every reason to be casting their eyes to the business end of League One, rather than worrying too much about relegation.

However, one wonders whether they have the consistency to mount a real challenge for the top positions. Even when they’re in form, there’s a nagging doubt that a bad result isn’t too far around the corner. And, having never played higher than the third tier, a lack of experience may show during the latter stages of the season, even if Grayson’s appointment may negate that somewhat.

With Burns’ departure providing a challenge, a place in the top half may be the most realistic target for Fleetwood to aim for this season.

 

Previous: Doncaster Rovers Next: Gillingham

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Cheltenham Town Season Preview

Key player: Ben Tozer

“That’s a lazy choice,” I hear you exclaim in unison. “You’ve only chosen him because he was born in Plymouth and came through the Argyle academy.” And yes, whilst there is an obvious link to the Greens there, many other reasons jump to the fore to give Tozer every right to be named Cheltenham’s key player.

First of all, his tenacity is unrivalled. Tozer played every single minute in the league for the Robins last season, proving to be a vital cog in their promotion-winning machine. And whilst he’s in the team for his defending, he possesses a booming long throw that will threaten even the best defences at League One level. It’s a weapon that allowed him to notch 8 assists last season whilst playing at centre back.

Having enjoyed significant spells at the likes of Northampton and Newport since departing Argyle as a youngster, Tozer has now called Cheltenham his home for the last three years. He remains as vital as ever after promotion.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Michael Duff

Duff is probably one of the Football League’s hottest properties when it comes to the managerial department. Cheltenham became his first experience of the hotseat back in 2018, with the Robins offering him the job on the back of a spell coaching Burnley’s under 23 side. He’s barely looked back since.

After guiding his side to comfortable safety, Duff got to work in his first full season in charge. His Cheltenham team eventually finished fourth on points per game, often involved in a tight battle with Argyle themselves over the course of the curtailed campaign. They somehow contrived to miss out on the play-off final having held what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 lead over Northampton, but they didn’t let that impact the following campaign. After a wonderful season, a 4-1 win over Harrogate on the final day secured Cheltenham’s first ever EFL title, and promotion to League One.

Still in his first managerial role and relatively young for a manager at 43, Duff’s stock is very high. If he gets of to a good start this season, Cheltenham may well have a job holding on to him for the two remaining years of his contract.

Finisher: Alfie May

In truth, there aren’t many players in Cheltenham’s ranks who post serious numbers in terms of goals. They were successful last season in spreading goals throughout the side, with seven players notching at least five goals across the campaign. However, nobody scored more goals, or indeed posted the most goal contributions, than Alfie May.

May started his career at Millwall’s academy, but failed to make the grade. However, to his credit, he made a hugely successful career for himself in non-league, posting frankly obscene goalscoring numbers for Erith & Belvedere and later Hythe Town. Those performances earned him another chance at Football League level, with Doncaster making an approach for his services. He then moved to Cheltenham for an undisclosed fee in the 2020 winter transfer window.

As mentioned, nobody at the club bettered his 12-goal return last year. But he also managed to add six assists to his numbers, suggesting he was a key focal point of the Robins’ attack. It remains to be seen whether he can manage to play a similar role this season, but it would help his team enormously if he could.

Key signing: Owen Evans

Perhaps surprisingly, Cheltenham have experienced a relatively quiet transfer window. Duff is clearly very willing to give players who were present during the promotion campaign a shot at a higher level of football. They’ve only brought three players in, two of whom (Evans and Elliot Bond) have already spent time on loan with the Robins in the past. Bond’s time was cut short by a cruciate ligament injury, but there is enough pedigree around goalkeeper Evans to suggest he could be key to Cheltenham’s prospects this year.

Evans came through the ranks at Wigan, and was subject to plenty of loan moves early in his career. He’s worked his way up the levels during those loans, eventually experiencing League Two football with Macclesfield and, indeed, Cheltenham. He’s also picked up caps for Wales under 21s, and a permanent move to the Robins this summer presents the perfect opportunity to nail down a starting spot long-term. Still only 24, it would mark a natural step up in his career.

This section could easily be relisted as a key departure – Josh Griffiths was in goal for Cheltenham last term, and impressed. He made 50 appearances on loan from West Brom, but has joined up with Lincoln ahead of 2021-22 (coincidentally he’ll be replacing another West Brom loanee, Alex Palmer, between the sticks). It’s important for the side, therefore, that Evans lives up to his predecessor.

Target: Avoid relegation

It’s another choice that may appear relatively lazy. “Cheltenham have just been promoted so we’ll make their goal to avoid relegation” is pretty tired logic, and we know enough about League One to know that not every promoted side immediately goes back down. Far from it.

However, having just disparaged my own choice in the last paragraph, most Cheltenham fans would still gladly accept a 20th-place finish this season. There are a few clubs who could count themselves as potential dark horses, and considering their overachievement over recent years, Cheltenham have a fair case for counting themselves amongst them. But their primary target will be gathering enough points to avoid the drop before moving on to loftier targets.

Plus, if they do too well, Duff could be poached by a club higher up the pyramid. So that’s always worth keeping in mind.

 

Previous: Charlton Athletic Next: Crewe Alexandra

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Doncaster Rovers Season Preview

Key player: Fejiri Okenabirhie

Like last season, much of Doncaster’s attacking play may run through, and be to the benefit of, Fejiri Okenabirhie. He’s had to work hard to reach this point. Failing to make the grade at Arsenal, he joined the youth ranks at Stevenage and had various non-league loans at the likes of Farnborough and Royston Town. He eventually established himself as a Football League striker at Shrewsbury, before joining Doncaster for an undisclosed fee back in January 2020.

Last season he really came into his own. Nobody at the club managed more than his 18 goal contributions (14G, 4A) last season, and some Argyle fans may remember him scoring a consolation goal at Home Park back in October. He also missed a sitter in that game, so perhaps his finishing isn’t what it could be.

Still, he’s 25 now and perhaps beginning to reach his prime. If he hits the ground running this season, big things may await for the Hendon-born striker.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Richie Wellens

It’s been a rollercoaster few years for 41-year-old Wellens. Having retired from professional football in 2017, he swiftly took up a coaching position at Oldham, for who he had two spells as a player. It wasn’t long until he took up the manager’s role following John Sheridan’s umpteenth departure from the club. It wasn’t to be a successful tenure. In fact, Oldham’s subsequent relegation saw Wellens leave the club before a full year in the role.

He joined Swindon midway through the 2018-19 season, and despite starting with a 4-0 defeat, he managed to steer his side to a comfortable 13th-place finish. Better was still to come. Many Argyle fans will remember the promotion battle with Wellens’ Swindon in 2019-20. In the end, both sides went up, but it was the Robins who did so as champions on points per game at the end of a truncated season.

That high was followed by another low for Wellens. Given Swindon’s struggles away from the field, it was no surprise that he wanted to leave with his stock high. However, Salford proved to be a poor career move. He did manage to guide them to victory in the delayed EFL Trophy final – a title they held for a whole 24 hours as the 2020 and 2021 finals were held on back-to-back days – however with some indifferent league form he was dismissal just 139 days into the role.

He’ll be grateful to have been given another shot at League One with Doncaster, but the pressure will be on to deliver.

Creator: Tommy Rowe

Tommy Rowe was another player who featured in our list of potential free agent signings on the wing following his release from Bristol City this summer. In the end, however, he was always likely to jump at the chance to rejoin Doncaster. The 32-year-old, who made 144 appearances during his previous spell at the Keepmoat Stadium, brings with him the ability to play on either side of midfield whilst also being very capable at left back.

He’s generally operated as a winger since coming through the academy at Stockport, and made his biggest impression at Peterborough, making 199 appearances in all competitions. A move to Wolves proved a step too far, and he had loans at Scunthorpe and later Doncaster, who he would join permanently in 2016. He rejected a new deal to have another shot at the Championship in Bristol two years ago, but finds himself back in Doncaster ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

He’s been dropping further back into defence as the year has gone on, but he still has the ability to be a useful creative option, particularly at League One level.

Key signing: Ro-Shaun Williams

More talented players may exist on Doncaster’s list of incomings this summer than Ro-Shaun Williams. However, he could prove to hold the key to the side’s success this season due to the holes he has the potential to plug.
See, Rovers had a dismal end to the 2020-21 season, going from potential play-off contenders at one stage to being forced to settle for 14th place by the end of the season. Much of that was down to the defence.

Doncaster’s attack wasn’t necessarily bad in their run-in – even during an awful last twelve they still managed to average a goal every game. However, they were always left in the lurch by a defence that manage to keep two clean sheets in 15 as the season drew to a close.

Williams may provide the answers. Rovers already have Tom Anderson and Joe Wright, who were near ever-present in the heart of their defence last season. But adding 22-year-old Williams provides some much-needed competition whilst also offering an option at right back when required. He could be just what Wellens needs to get his side back on track.

Target: Top-half

Doncaster’s season is one of the harder ones to predict. In theory, Wellens looks a shrewd appointment, particularly given his successes at Swindon when they weren’t a mess off the field. However, it’s worth noting that Wellens has had difficulties succeeding away from the County Ground, and whilst Doncaster feels like an ideal fit, there is no guarantee of immediate success.

Losing Reece James to Blackpool is a blow, but Doncaster seem to have recruited well, bringing in the likes of Ben Close and Jordy Hiwula to go alongside Williams and Rowe. Add that to the talents of Okenabirhie, and Rovers may well feel internally they have a decent shot at aiming for the play-offs this year. Granted, they had a poor end to last season, but many of those games were played in empty stadiums with nothing on the line, and much has changed since then.

However, with some big clubs set to challenge at the top end of the league, a place in the top half may be a more realistic target. It’d still mark progress from last year, would be Wellens’ highest ever finish as a manager, and would give them a great platform to launch a real promotion assault in 2022-23.

 

Previous: Crewe Alexandra Next: Fleetwood Town

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Top 5: Fixtures to look out for

Plymouth Argyle’s fixtures for the 2021-22 season were released this morning. As always it’s had everybody looking at the key dates, mulling over the start of the season and planning their trips to certain away fixtures. We’ve picked out a few that are worth keeping an eye on over the coming months.

Plymouth Argyle v Gillingham – 14th August 2021

I know, it’s a pretty lazy choice this one, but surely the vast majority of the Green Army are already counting down the days to facing Gillingham at home.

On 7th March 2020, Argyle beat Macclesfield 3-0 at Home Park. Two goals from George Cooper and another from Ryan Hardie saw Argyle build a 3-point gap to local and promotion rivals Exeter City following their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Walsall. And yes, there were more than a few signs of something being slightly off with the world that week. But few could surely have predicted that the next chance for Argyle to play in front of a sold-out Home Park would be 526 days later.

That’s where we are now. Yes, there have been a few games with limited capacity in the last year, but this will feel like a true coming-together for Argyle fans. You’d say only a fool would make predictions regarding COVID, but all being well, the atmosphere against Gillingham should be absolutely electric.

Cheltenham Town v Plymouth Argyle – 26th December 2021

Looking for the nearest trip is always a must, but it’s not as easy as in recent years. Swindon and Bristol Rovers were relegated last term, and Exeter once again failed to earn promotion from League Two. And we don’t even have Forest Green to amble to this time around. Many might say that’s a blessing.

So, it’ll be the trip to Cheltenham that’ll see the Green Army take over another town this season. And it should be an interesting contest. The Robins will be playing in the third tier for the first time since 2009, but they’ll have momentum with them having won League Two last year, albeit with the fixture’s timing midway through the season threatening to mitigate the promotion bounce. Argyle will also have to deal with Cheltenham’s Plymouth-born captain Ben Tozer, who brings a terrifying long throw into the game.

It may not be the best clash on the pitch, but as a day out there may not be many better.

Sheffield Wednesday v Plymouth Argyle – 15th January 2022

What’s the point in looking at the teams coming down from the Championship if you can’t get excited about trips to some big grounds? That’s exactly what we’ve got here – an away day at Hillsborough dwarfs offerings of more regular visits to Rotherham and Wycombe.

This may also have a bearing on the pitch too. It’ll be the first time Argyle have faced the Owls since the 2010-11 season, which famously saw Peter Reid’s side do the double over their illustrious opponents in an ultimately doomed year. Half the entertainment of the 3-2 and 4-2 wins a decade ago may well send us home happy.

It’s hard to know how Wednesday will shape up this year. They’re not exactly in great shape, with a 12-point deduction for issues off the field ultimately consigning them to relegation. But a fair few teams on a downward spiral seem to use their time in League One to recover. Either way, this should be an exciting one to follow, and at a superb ground to visit.

Plymouth Argyle v Rotherham United – 26th February 2022

This one could well be key. Not only will Rotherham be tough opposition given their relegation from the Championship last season, but Argyle will come into the fixture off the back of two away games in a week. It’s therefore very possible that their performance over the eight-day period including the Rotherham game could be key to the prospects of Argyle’s season.

A week before the Rotherham fixture, Argyle will travel to Gillingham, before following that up with a tricky-looking midweek trip to newly promoted Cambridge. Following that up with Rotherham, who will surely be challenging at the right end of the table again given their yo-yo club status, makes this a tough run. It’s very possible Argyle could take 0 points from 9 and have their progress stunted. Alternatively, taking all 9 could prove to be a huge boost to their ambitions.

Argyle’s opening fixture against the Millers took the headlines. But it’s the reverse fixture that looks as though it could be more crucial.

Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland – 18th April 2022

Last season Argyle’s run-in was tough. The home games against high-flying Hull, Charlton and Sunderland led to three comprehensive defeats, and Argyle were not able to mitigate that with any strong showings away from home. Frankly, it’s a relief that Argyle managed to pick up all the points they needed to avoid relegation before the final six games.

Once again this season, Argyle will host the Black Cats late on in the campaign, and it’s set to be another tricky fixture to navigate. Sunderland will be looking to put their spell in League One to bed at the fourth time of asking, and could well have promotion on the line as they travel to Home Park. If Argyle have anything to play for late on in the season, they’ll need to be seriously up for this game.

Much like the Rotherham fixture, Argyle come into this one off the back of consecutive away trips, this time to Burton and Wycombe (or will that be Derby? We still don’t know). Therefore, a positive result against Sunderland could be key to the Greens’ ambitions.

Plymouth Argyle travel to Rotherham on opening day

Plymouth Argyle will open their 2021-22 League One campaign with a trip to Rotherham United.

The match is scheduled to be played on 7th August 2021, and will be the first meeting between the two sides since a dramatic 2-1 win for the Greens at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Overall, Argyle have a fairly mixed record against the Millers, with 28 wins, 25 defeats and 15 draws.

Other highlights of the fixture list include a trip to newly-promoted Cheltenham Town on Boxing Day, before consecutive home fixtures against Portsmouth and AFC Wimbledon take us into the New Year. Meanwhile, Argyle will end the season at Home Park for the first time in three years, with a fixture against Milton Keynes on 30th April 2022.

Argyle’s fixture list is yet to be 100% confirmed due to news from the EFL this morning concerning a potential points deduction for Derby County. The Rams have been fined £100,000 relating to “ongoing disciplinary proceedings,” but the EFL are still pushing for further punishment. If a points deduction is applied to last season, Derby will be relegated in place of Wycombe Wanderers.

As such, the EFL have published an interchangeable fixture list for both Derby and Wycombe, which can be reversed should Derby be placed into League One. Argyle are currently due to play Wycombe at home in November and away in April.

Top 10: Free Agents – Goalkeepers

Plymouth Argyle are starting to piece their squad together for the 2021-22 season. It’s therefore time for us to start looking at the free agents who may be available to sign during this summer transfer window.

Ryan Lowe’s side are currently short in goal. Not necessarily in terms of the first team; Mike Cooper had a highly encouraging first full season between the sticks last term. Rather, there is a lack of depth following Jack Ruddy’s departure and Luke McCormick being offered an alternate role at Home Park. Incomings therefore appear inevitable in this position. Here are 10 who Argyle may chase.

Jayson Leutwiler

Club: Huddersfield Town
Status: Released
Age: 32
Appearances: 18 (for Fleetwood Town)
Conceded: 14
Clean sheets: 7

Leutwiler’s name will be familiar to long-term followers of lower league football in England, and particularly to supporters of Shrewsbury Town. He was instrumental in Shrews’ promotion from League Two in 2015, with his side boasting the best defensive record in the division. He continued as Salop’s shot-stopper right up to 2017, where his performances earned him a move to Blackburn Rovers for an undisclosed fee.

Things, however, seemed to unravel from there. At Ewood Park he was backup to the impressive David Raya, who has since earned promotion to the Premier League with Brentford. Leutwiler was never likely to get a look-in, and short-lived spells at Fleetwood and Huddersfield have since followed with no real success.

Now 32, Leutwiler would seem to have an ideal level of experience to provide depth to Argyle’s books. But one wonders whether he’ll be after a starting berth this summer to reignite his career.

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Jordi van Stappershoef

Club: Bristol Rovers
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 13
Conceded: 19
Clean sheets: 4

This is one of the names on the list that just feels as though would make a lot of sense. We know Dutchman van Stappershoef has ability – he was arguably the star of the show in Bristol Rovers’ 3-0 win over Argyle in December last year. Add in the fact that he has already spent a couple of years providing backup in the Westcountry with Rovers, and you begin to suspect that the opportunity to stay in League One to do the same with Argyle would appeal to the 25-year-old.

van Stappershoef’s career has taken quite the turn to lead him to the south-west of England. Before his move to Bristol, his only club had been FC Volendam in the second division in the Netherlands. He turned out on a number of occasions for the first team and the reserve side before heading to Rovers. Manager at the time Graham Coughlan said his head of recruitment had “travelled to watch Jordi in action on a number of occasions.” We’ll take Cocko’s word for it.

Standing at 6 ft 6, van Stappershoef would be the ideal candidate for those who’d just like a big fella to provide some backup to Cooper.

 

Jack Bonham

Club: Gillingham
Status: Contract rejected
Age: 27
Appearances: 49
Conceded: 64
Clean sheets: 12

Here’s an option with some serious League One experience. Bonham has been at Gillingham since 2019, and was an almost ever-present for the Priestfield side last season, missing just a couple of games nearer to the start of the campaign after going off injured against Ipswich. Argyle fans may indeed recall him facing the Greens twice across the course of the campaign, conceding a winner to Luke Jephcott at Home Park before keeping a clean sheet on the final day.

Bonham’s career took a little while to take off. He spent a fair amount of time on the books at Brentford, and his first real run of football came on loan at non-league Arlesey Town in the 2013-14 season. In the last few years though, he’s really come into his own. Successful loan spells at Carlisle and Bristol Rovers (yep, it’s that Westcountry link again) followed, before his current spell in Kent.

Bonham has rejected a new deal at Gillingham this summer. Whether that’s down to dissatisfaction with the terms offered or ambitions to play elsewhere we simply don’t know. But he’d be a coup for Argyle in any case.

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Remi Matthews

Club: Sunderland
Status: Released
Age: 27
Appearances: 14
Conceded: 17
Clean sheets: 3

I feel like every time we mention goalkeepers and Plymouth Argyle, Remi Matthews always gets a mention. And here we are again. The now 27-year-old had a memorable spell at Home Park in the 2017-18 season as Derek Adams’ side came within a whisker of making the League One play-offs. Many speculated that Matthews may have been tempted into a return the following year, but it wasn’t to be.

In fact, the player’s career has been hit by a series of bad decisions since he turned out for the Greens. An ill-feted spell at Bolton was his next permanent move as he walked directly into a crisis club. In a truncated 2019-20 season, Matthews still managed to concede 76 goals as Wanderers were relegated from League Two. But even Jan Oblak would have found it a challenge to stop the goals leaking at Bolton that year.

He’s since been released from Sunderland having played a bit-part role last season. Considering his successes at Argyle three years ago, the opportunity to return to Home Park and reignite his career must be in the back of his mind.

 

Scott Flinders

Club: Cheltenham Town
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 35
Appearances: 6
Conceded: 6
Clean sheets: 2

Scott Flinders is your quintessential lower league goalkeeper. Making his debut in 2005 for Barnsley, he’s gone on to make a whopping 552 appearances in all competitions across the course of his career. Most will remember him for his days at Hartlepool United, where he made almost half of his total appearances in a six-year spell between 2009 and 2015.

More recently, he’s spent time at Cheltenham Town. He was first choice for the first couple of years he was at the club, but has dropped to the bench more recently after breaking his leg in early 2020. His playing time across Cheltenham’s promotion season last year was limited, with West Brom loanee Joshua Griffiths preferred. However, he has done enough to have been offered a new deal by the club for the forthcoming League One campaign.

There are a lot of parallels we can draw here with Luke McCormick. Granted, Flinders doesn’t have the same experience with Argyle, but he could still bring that sort of knowledge to Home Park despite having been offered a new deal to be backup at a newly promoted club in a similar region. You imagine Flinders would be a signing Ryan Lowe would like.

 

Adam Smith

Club: Forest Green Rovers
Status: Released
Age: 28
Appearances: 45 (on loan at Yeovil Town)
Conceded: 71
Clean sheets: 10

Smith’s career has been through numerous peaks and troughs so far, and he’s still yet to reach the age of 30. Highly rated at Leicester, his contract was terminated after the infamous sex-tape scandal in the summer of 2015. But he recovered excellently from the setback, joining Northampton and playing an important role in their stunning promotion the following season.

Since then, things have taken a downturn again. He had a reasonable spell at Bristol Rovers after departing Sixfields, but his place never felt nailed down. And whilst he’s been on the books of Forest Green since 2019, they appear to be holding him simply for the benefit of Yeovil. He’s had three loan spells at Huish Park in that time, including playing every minute of the Glovers’ National League campaign last season.

One suspects Yeovil may be interested in bringing him back permanently now his Forest Green deal has expired, but Argyle may interest the player. It’s not far, and would give him another chance outside of non-league even if it is as a backup option.

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Jamal Blackman

Club: Chelsea
Status: Released
Age: 27
Appearances: 28 (on loan at Rotherham United)
Conceded: 40
Clean sheets: 6

It’s scarcely believable, but Jamal Blackman’s contract at Chelsea has finally come to an end. I never thought I’d see the day.

The 27-year-old has been on the books at Stamford Bridge since 2006, but hasn’t made a single first team appearance for the club. Instead, he’s racked up 138 appearances across eight different loan spells, with his most notable stints coming at Wycombe, Sheffield United and most recently Rotherham. He even had a spell at Swedish side Ostersunds during Graham Potter’s spell in charge. He’s now finally looking for his next permanent contract.

It’s more likely than not that said contract will be in League One. He was indeed at Championship Rotherham last season, but he was far from ever-present, and the Millers were indeed relegated on the final day. If he is indeed heading to League One, why not Argyle?

 

Frank Fielding

Club: Millwall
Status: Released
Age: 33
Appearances: 2
Conceded: 3
Clean sheets: 1

Few will remember or care, but Frank Fielding does in fact have an England senior squad call-up to his name. It was for an international friendly against Hungary 11 years ago, during an injury crisis and he still didn’t play, but still, the fact is true. What many more will remember him for, however, is a lengthy spell at Bristol City between 2013 and 2019, where he made 181 appearances.

Whilst there’s another obvious regional link there, what may make Fielding more accessible to Argyle is his recent record. He moved to Millwall in the summer of 2019 and has suffered a torrid time. He was injured 43 minutes into his debut and didn’t play again for the rest of the season. In the most recent campaign, he was limited to just two FA Cup appearances before being released this summer.

Fielding’s stock has clearly fallen since his Bristol City days, and indeed his day sat on the bench for Fabio Capello’s England side. But he still has relevant experience, and would be an asset to Argyle and Lowe should he sign.

 

Sam Walker

Club: Reading
Status: Released
Age: 29
Appearances: 16 (2 on loan at Blackpool, 14 on loan at AFC Wimbledon)
Conceded: 29 (3 Blackpool, 26 Wimbledon)
Clean sheets: 2 (both Wimbledon)

Sam Walker is a player I am unashamed to say I first came across on Football Manager rather than by closely following his four-year stint at Colchester. I know, shoot me. But his career does have some merit to it outside of the pixelated reality of the virtual world.

He, like many others, started at Chelsea and was the subject of many loan moves. The last two of those loan spells came at Colchester, and indeed that move was made permanent in 2014. He made 213 appearances for the Us in all, and the club wanted to keep him after his four-year spell, but he ended up accepting an offer at Reading. That move has proved less successful – he’s appeared just 14 times in three years for the Royals and has more recently spent time on loan again at both Blackpool and Wimbledon.

His Reading contract is now up, and it appears unlikely that he’ll be offered another shot in the Championship. It’s likely that he’ll set his sights on League One, and Argyle may well be a destination that makes sense.

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Ryan Allsop

Club: Wycombe Wanderers
Status: Released
Age: 28
Appearances: 32
Conceded: 57
Clean sheets: 4

I surely can’t be the only one who always thinks of Peter Hartley when Ryan Allsop’s name pops up? It was after all his failure to deal with Graham Carey’s corner that allowed Hartley to bundle that play-off header home five years ago. Five years? God, I feel old.

Anyway, his career thankfully carries a little more depth than that moment. After a nomadic start, Allsop eventually spent a considerable time on the books of Bournemouth. However, he was far from a regular, and spent most of his time as a recognisable football league loanee. More recently, he’s spent a considerable part of the last three years on the deck playing for Wycombe, but his contract will not be renewed following the Chairboys’ relegation.

Wycombe was really the first settled home of Allsop’s career, and one suspects he’ll be looking to settle again with some regular playing time next season. With Cooper around, he may struggle for that at Home Park, but it remains that a team like Argyle are probably around his current level.

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Extra energy helps Argyle win Lincoln epic

Have you calmed down yet? I know I haven’t. Plymouth Argyle spent their Saturday afternoon in the sun locking horns with high-flying Lincoln City, and came away with a stunning 4-3 victory. Joe Edwards’ stoppage time winner drew the loudest celebration from myself and many others since we were confined to watching on iFollow, and whilst I’ve always missed going to Home Park during the crisis, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the sense of absence quite so much as this weekend.

Argyle’s encounter with the Imps was the sort of game the phrase “rollercoaster of emotions” was invented for. The Greens made a flying start when Kelland Watts’ centre forward instincts saw him net the opener, before Danny Mayor finally, after all these months, turned one of his mazing runs into a goal for himself. Then, we had the all too familiar collapse. Conor McGrandles got one back before Jorge Grant converted twice from the penalty spot, one after an awful tackle from Watts, and the other after an awful dive from Grant himself.

But it was Argyle who had the last laugh. One of the late goals was debatably given to Conor Grant, the other undoubtedly struck by Edwards, as Argyle fought hard right up to the final whistle to secure a dramatic win.

Extra energy pays dividends

Lincoln’s first and only change of the game came after 86 minutes, when captain Jorge Grant picked up a freak injury after appearing to be struck on the ankle by the ball. By that stage, Argyle had already made their five allotted substitutions, with Panutche Camara, Sam Woods, Luke Jephcott, Ben Reeves and Klaidi Lolos all introduced. It led to a disparity in energy levels as the game drew to a close, with one side fresh and chasing a winner, and the other looking exhausted having already put plenty of effort into turning the game around.

The differences are obvious when comparing the last 15 minutes of the game with the first 75. Of the ten shots Argyle had across the piece on Saturday, four came within the final quarter of an hour. Lincoln had an aerial duel success of 77% on the 75 minute mark, but saw that drop to 60% in the final 15 as the physical nature of them took its toll. A similar story can be seen in their pass success, which dropped from 77% to 70% across the same period, suggesting some more panicked long balls from some tired legs.

They aren’t huge drop-offs, but in a game as close as this one any decrease in performance is likely to make a significant difference. That’s exactly what we saw. Argyle brought their top scorer off the bench alongside a hungry young striker in Lolos and a remarkable physical specimen in Camara. Lincoln had nothing until there were only four minutes remaining, and even that was enforced. Even though they couldn’t be spurred on by a crowd, Argyle had enough energy in the closing stages to roll their opponents over.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a major difference overall, but Lincoln boss Michael Appleton may look back on his use of substitutions on Saturday as a point of regret.

Camara and Edwards impress

The conditions created in the game were perfect for two of Argyle’s stars of the season to shine. Panutche Camara and Joe Edwards would probably be the two Pilgrims you’d consider to have the highest work rate amongst the squad, based on this season’s evidence at least. And they were just the players Argyle needed to step up to the plate on Saturday. Did they? You bet.

Camara left his mark in exactly the way you’d expect: his running, his dribbling, and his ability to win back the ball. If the Lincoln defence weren’t tired before they had Camara running at the heart of them, they certainly were after. He was as effervescent as we’ve come to expect, and if we’re willing to give Argyle’s equaliser to Conor Grant, Camara would come away with the two assists that his general play deserved. The fact he was able to make such an impact after starting on the bench just makes his performance even sweeter.

Joe Edwards, meanwhile, demonstrated exactly what Argyle had been missing during his recent absence from the side. Take Argyle’s equaliser as an example. Even if we’re deciding not to award him the goal, the fact he even managed to get to the front post from his wing back position to meet the original cross was superb. Then, of course, he set himself up beautifully to score a dramatic winner in injury time, making an impact after the 90-minute mark despite just coming back from injury. Splendid. Is there any better candidate for the captain’s armband in the Argyle side at present than him?

For months now Argyle have lacked the character and ability to turn things around when they go sour. They’ve often entered into a state of panic, causing irreparable damage to their chances in certain games. On Saturday we saw the polar opposite, with both Camara and Edwards making telling contributions. It warmed the heart.

Is this what we were promised with Lowe?

When Ryan Lowe was appointed, one game that stuck out from his Bury reign was a 4-3 win over Milton Keynes. Lowe’s Shakers found themselves 3-1 down with 20 minutes to play, but managed to secure a dramatic turnaround victory in in injury time. Whilst we’ve had some dramatic games during Lowe’s reign at Argyle – a few 3-2s this season have done nothing for my heart – a late win from behind had been something we’d lacked. Until this weekend.

Saturday’s performance wasn’t perfect. I was feeling particularly glum when Lincoln’s third was tucked away, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. But the way Argyle came roaring back was tremendous, and being able to win games like this will do wonders for the players’ confidence. It seems to me that this is indeed what we were promised when Lowe joined, and as frustrating as it can be at times, it makes for an engrossing watch when done right. One suspects this game may be one we look back on with joy for years to come.

Of course, it’s a crying shame nobody was there to witness Saturday’s events live. But if this is what we have to look forward to next season, sign me up straight away.

Plymouth Argyle learn FA Cup fate

Plymouth Argyle will face Sheffield United in the fourth round of the FA Cup. The Pilgrims, making their first appearance at this stage of the competition for 13 years, were drawn as the away side, so the game will take place at Brammall Lane on the weekend of 23rd-24th January.

Former Liverpool and Tottenham striker Peter Crouch then conducted the draw for the fifth round, with both draws taking place consecutively to aid fixture planning during the continuing COVID-19 disruption. That saw Argyle or Sheffield United drawn at home to Millwall or Bristol City, meaning a potential clash with some recent League Cup opponents in round five should the Greens prevail against Chris Wilder’s side.

The tie against the Blades will be a repeat of the second-round encounter back in 2014/15. That saw Sheffield United win 3-0, but only after Reuben Reid missed a penalty with the sides deadlocked early in the second half. That was the last time the two sides locked horns, with the previous meeting in the league seeing the Blades beat Argyle 4-3 in an entertaining clash in 2010. Argyle have a fairly mixed record against Sheffield United overall, winning 15, drawing 10 and losing 21 of 46 total encounters.

Should Argyle progress beyond the next round, it’ll be their best run in the competition since 2007. That year, Ian Holloway’s side made it all the way to the quarter finals before eventually being knocked out by Premier League Watford.