Competition & Cooper

Cardboard cut-outs, iFollow and empty stadium echoes became a regular feature during the 2020/21 season. Fans were unable to celebrate with their heroes following promotion to League One the previous campaign and, bar a handful of matches at limited capacity were reduced to the dreary experience of your typical armchair fan. I think I speak for each one of us in saying that I’m glad that’s now over!

The goalkeeping situation at Plymouth Argyle was one that separated many during the season. Many considered it a proud moment as highly-rated goalkeeper and local boy Michael Cooper finally got his chance. Others however, grumbled about a lack of competition and experience between the sticks as the Pilgrims leaked 80 goals during their first season back in England’s third tier. The 21-year-old has made 57 appearances for the Pilgrims since coming on for the injured Kyle Letheren as a substitute against Blackburn in October 2017. However he had to bide his time behind the scenes, first under Derek Adams and then Ryan Lowe.

This season will undoubtedly have been a learning curve for Cooper. Despite being plunged into the deep end with no experience he managed to demonstrate why he had become so highly rated before his introduction to the first team. Whilst there were occasionally blips in his game, statistically he was amongst the best in the division. The 6ft 1in man boasted the most saves in League One (154). He finished ahead of Wigan’s Jamie Jones (136) and Charlton’s Ben Amos (130). The Englishman’s total of 3.35 saves per 90 minutes also sees him rank him as the best in the division.

It would be fair to say that Cooper lacked competition last season. The influence of veteran Luke McCormick behind the scenes may have proved invaluable, but neither he or Jack Ruddy were realistic starters. Ryan Lowe only tended to rest Cooper for EFL Trophy trophy games. Scrutiny often came calling, as you would expect in a defence as leaky as Argyle’s during the campaign. Summer signings Macauley Gillesphey, James Wilson and Dan Scarr provide, on paper at least, a much more experienced and reliable defence. This should allow Cooper the chance to prove himself not only at this level, but show that he is capable of bigger things in future. Cooper and striker Luke Jephcott demonstrate how the Argyle academy is beginning to make serious strides forward.

Cooper’s vocal skills and commanding of his area were often in question. He operated behind a back three that included the equally inexperienced Jerome Opoku and Kelland Watts alongside Will Aimson. There is no doubting that the Devon born stopper has areas of his game that need improving, and last season will have certainly highlighted those all the more with the addition of iFollow and replays to scrutinise every error. Undoubtedly the weak links within his game will be a primary focus during pre-season. With time, experience and patience, errors and negative traits will begin to fade from his game.

The signing of Callum Burton from Cambridge will provide timely competition after his surprise release from Mark Bonner’s side. The Englishman started 26 games as they finished runners-up to Cheltenham Town in League Two. The 24-year-old’s arrival makes sense in all aspects in terms of age, quality and experience. The former Hull man kept an impressive nine clean sheets in 27 appearances for the U’s last season, conceding just 32 goals. Injury to regular first choice Dimitar Mitov paved the way for Burton to establish himself. His first appearance of the season didn’t come until December. All these indicators suggest that Burton hasn’t arrived at Home Park to play second fiddle.

Ryan Lowe has previously stressed the importance of having two competitive goalkeepers in his squad. This is something that Argyle have often failed to do in previous seasons. Vincent Dorel, Robbert te Loeke and James Bittner are all recent examples of this, making just a handful of appearances between them. Lowe’s first season saw Cooper challenge loanee Alex Palmer for the number one jersey. Despite not making a league appearance that season, it was clear in Lowe’s mind that he was ready. Burton should fulfil the same role, pushing Cooper to ever-better levels.

Top 10: Free Agents – Wing Backs and Wingers

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.

The wing back/winger (depending on how you class them in this system) positions pose an interesting conundrum for Ryan Lowe. Across much of the last season, Argyle haven’t played with what you’d describe as “specialists” in those positions. Conor Grant is more natural as an attacking midfielder, and Joe Edwards was initially signed to play a holding role.

However, both took to the task very well, with Edwards in particular impressing on the right. With both signing new deals, and George Cooper hopefully returning for the new campaign, you’d be forgiven for thinking Argyle are settled in those areas.

That being said, Byron Moore’s departure has left a hole in terms of depth. Lowe will be looking to replace him, and may look to bring in a specialist or two. Here are some options available for free.

Jordan Graham

Club: Gillingham
Status: Contract rejected
Age: 26
Appearances: 44
Goals: 13
Assists: 9

There will be no lack of interested parties in Jordan Graham over the course of this summer. The 26-year-old has received interest from numerous Championship and League One sides following a season that saw the former Aston Villa man register 18 goal contributions (12G, 6A) Gillingham. The 26-year-old exploded onto the scene having only scored two senior goals prior and enduring loan spells with seven different clubs either side of a permanent stint at Wolves.

His pace allows him to make bursting runs down the wing at opponents with the skillset to either take the ball inside and shoot or create an opportunity with a cross from out wide. His 31% conversion rate in front of goal twinned with 77% passing accuracy make for very impressive reading for a player in his position. Whilst his defensive output isn’t necessarily the best, he could well be utilised as a forward option primarily which would certainly suit both his and Lowe’s heavy attacking philosophy.

 

Viv Solomon-Otabor

Club: Wigan Athletic
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 25
Appearances: 31
Goals: 2
Assists: 4

If you were told Argyle were about to sign a player once contracted to CSKA Sofia, you’d probably get very excited.

Viv Solomon-Otabor joined the Bulgarian giants in the same summer as Graham Carey but had a less successful time in Eastern Europe. His contract was cancelled for financial reasons on the onset of the pandemic, returning to England to play last season with Wigan Athletic.

The winger, naturally right-footed but capable of playing on either side, was in the top 10 for successful one-on-one dribbles in League One last season. This eclipses Argyle’s current dribble king, Danny Mayor.

He doesn’t have an obvious position in Ryan Lowe’s preferred system. Much like George Cooper, Solomon-Otabor would have to make the transition from an attacking winger to a wing-back who can influence the game in both boxes. His pace and dribbling ability would make him an exciting wildcard in this position – the club could do worse than giving him a look.

 

Randell Williams

Club: Exeter City
Status: Contract rejected
Age: 24
Appearances: 31
Goals: 4
Assists: 2

While Adam Randell was making an impression on loan at Torquay last season, a few miles up the A380 fans of Exeter City were impressed with his namesake.

Randell Williams spent time at Tottenham, Crystal Palace and Watford in his youth, but he had to leave London to get his first taste of senior football. The Grecians signed the raw 22-year-old in 2018 – 76 impressive performances later and they think he’s likely to move to greener pastures.

Named Exeter’s player of the season in 2020 after notching up 5 goals and 14 assists from the wing, he spent most of 2020/21 injured or struggling to recover his best form. Matt Taylor, Exeter’s manager, singled out Williams’ off-the-ball movement as his most dangerous attribute.

It is unlikely Williams will make the move across Devon. He is being linked with Championship clubs like Preston and Hull. Rumours are that he would prefer a move closer to London. He is likely to find a more appealing proposition than a League One club even further away from the capital than Exeter.

But cut out all of the rumours, and a move up a league to a local club would make sense on face value. And it would be a lovely signing to rub in the noses of Argyle’s geographical rivals. Think Joel Grant x100.

 

Josh Bowler

Club: Everton
Status: Released
Age: 22
Appearances: 0
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

A youngster released by a club from Merseyside? You’d expect Lowe to be all over this one. And, standard cliches aside, Argyle could do a lot worse than making a move for Bowler.

He was a little nomadic in his junior career before eventually settling at QPR. He did actually make his senior debut for the club in 2017, in a classic “give the kids a go on the final day of the season” move. But whilst he only turned out the once, he’d done enough in his junior career to earn a move to Everton.

He continued to impress at youth level, and also spent a season on loan in the Championship with Hull City in 2019-20. But the Tigers were relegated that year, and Bowler has more recently spent a season back playing football at junior level. You have to wonder whether his progress may have been stunted slightly by those developments.

Nonetheless, he’s only 22 and very talented. Lowe will no doubt be well aware of the player, and signing him could prove to be an astute move.

 

Tommy Rowe

Club: Bristol City
Status: Released
Age: 32
Appearances: 36
Goals: 1
Assists: 2

To say I was absolutely bamboozled when I saw that Rowe was knocking on the door of the ripe old age of 33 would be an understatement, but that isn’t to say the former Bristol City man doesn’t have anything left to offer. Rowe made 31 appearances in what was a dismal season of transition for the Robins. However, despite the lacklustre season Rowe would bring some experience to the Argyle wide-areas and act as a useful utility man who can operate both centrally and out-wide.

Rowe made 60 appearances during his time at Ashton Gate, but it was his time with both Peterborough and Doncaster where he experienced his most success. Rowe was captain of Posh during a season in the Championship and also a part of the Doncaster team that impressed in the League 1 play-offs a few years back, only to fall short to the eventual winners Charlton Athletic.

Rowe would arrive at Home Park with experience and plenty of it; this is certainly destined to a useful asset if Lowe does consider bolstering his options at left wing-back.

 

Sullay Kaikai

Club: Blackpool
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 40
Goals: 7
Assists: 8

So good they named him twice, Kaikai would appear to tick a lot of boxes as Argyle search to add depth to the wide areas.

The London-born winger has been called up for the Sierra Leone national side and in truth was probably a victim of Blackpool’s promotion to some extent. He had a successful spell with them, able to play out wide or as a number ten and would surely have been retained had they been planning for League One football.

As it is, however, he was released and would surely be a valuable acquisition for an upwardly mobile League One side. He is right footed primarily but can play on either side. Lowe tends to prefer players on their natural side as wing backs so we’d probably see him challenging Joe Edwards assuming we stick to a 3-5-2.

That said, if we choose to switch back to a 4-2-2-2 again, he could be very handy out left. Kaikai is also a highly skilful player and would be likely to wow the Home Park faithful with at least one moment of real magic if he were to sign.

 

Amari’i Bell

Club: Blackburn Rovers
Status: Released
Age: 27
Appearances: 22
Goals: 2
Assists: 1

Certainly one of the more ambitious names on this list, Amari’i Bell has clocked up an impressive 87 appearances in the Championship since joining Blackburn from Fleetwood in January 2018. Despite this, the 27-year-old has never quite managed to cement his place in the Rovers side. With the permanent signing of Crewe’s Harry Pickering as well as the imminent arrival of Barry Douglas, Bell’s opportunities would look to be limited once more at Ewood Park.

The former Birmingham man was recently called up to the Jamaica national side for the first time this year and made his debut against the USA in March and recently featured in the Raggae Boyz’s 1-1 draw with Serbia.

With an abundance of both pace and power, the 5ft 11in man would provide a natural wing-back option alongside the likes of George Cooper and Conor Grant, both of whom are naturally midfielders. At Championship level, Bell’s offensive output has often suffered registering just three goals and four assists in 99 appearances. A step down looks likely in order to recapture the impressive form that saw him provide 16 goal contributions in 73 appearances before Rovers spent £300,000 on his services.

 

Anthony Forde

Club: Oxford United
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 24
Appearances: 44
Goals: 1
Assists: 5

Forde would appear to be a reasonable coup for Argyle should he sign, but it’s far from unrealistic. He’s been offered a new deal by Oxford, and given their success of recent years you may expect him to sign. However, whilst making 44 appearances across the season may make him seem relatively ever-present, 20 of those appearances were from the bench. He was also subbed off nine times, meaning he only completed 90 minutes 15 times across the campaign.

Forde would bring two useful attributes: experience and versatility. He’s got good knowledge of League One from his time at Oxford alongside previous spells at Walsall and Rotherham. And he could slot into many positions. He’d probably be ideal as a right wing back in Lowe’s system, but could easily deputise in central midfield if required.

Perhaps he’s too similar to Joe Edwards to start regularly at Home Park. But as a player in his own right, Forde has a lot of desirable attributes.

 

Kazenga LuaLua

Club: Luton Town
Status: Released
Age: 30
Appearances: 28
Goals: 2
Assists: 2

Kazenga LuaLua is probably one of the more recognisable names on this list, and not just because of the Premier League exploits of older brother Lomana. He’s probably best remembered for a long spell at Brighton, in which he made 183 appearances in all competitions for the Seagulls. Sadly for LuaLua, his decline at Brighton coincided with their promotion to the Premier League, and he never got a chance with them at the highest level.

More recently, he’s had a reasonable spell at Luton. He notched 11 goal involvements (2G/9A) as the Hatters were promoted from League One, and has had a regular smattering of appearances ever since. However, he’s never really been able to nail down a place in the team, and his release at the end of his most recent contract comes with little surprise.

Now 30, one suspects League One may be his next home. And if Lowe wants a serious attacking threat patrolling the left flank, LuaLua may be the man for the job.

 

Josh Morris

Club: Fleetwood Town
Status: Released
Age: 29
Appearances: 31
Goals: 2
Assists: 6

The man who scored a goal that might be described as ‘the most unsporting in Home Park’s history’ is unlikely to be a natural candidate to endear himself to the Green Army. And that’s the reason why it probably won’t happen, all else being equal. Yet, once you get past the initial acrimony, he could be a handy signing for us.

He’s another one who ticks the ‘versatility’ box, able to cover a space in either the back or middle three, as well as his natural position of left wing back.

He likes to take set pieces and whip crosses into the box, both of which are attributes Ryan Lowe will want. We often look to move the ball out wide and with the recent arrival of some big centre backs, it can be deduced that corners and free kicks are likely also both be regular sources of goals next season.

We didn’t get many in 21/22 but that wasn’t for want of trying, with a lot of good deliveries. Morris would add another name to our list of capable crossers.

That said, he was released by struggling Fleetwood with question marks over his defending, so he’d probably start as back-up for now.

 


Top 10: Free Agents – Centre Backs

Preview: Plymouth Argyle v MK Dons

Both Plymouth Argyle and MK Dons will be feeling the pressure heading into Saturday’s League One encounter at Home Park. The Pilgrims have lost six matches in a row for the first time since 2011. Meanwhile, despite coming to Devon in better form, Russell Martin’s side have only won four of their 18 league matches this season following Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Peterborough.  

 

Match Stats 

This will be the fifth meeting between the two sides. Argyle have won three whilst MK Dons picked up their only win when the two sides last met at Home Park in 2017.  

MK Dons have lost their final game before Christmas in each of the last six seasons. Their last win was when they beat Oldham 7-0 in 2014. 

Argyle have conceded two or more goals in seven of their last eight League One matches. 

 

Line-Up 

Defender Daniel Harvie will be suspended after picking up his fifth red card of the season against Peterborough on Tuesday night. 

Russell Martin has no fresh injury concerns. The trio of Jay Bird, Louis Thompson and Jordan Houghton are all long-term absentees. 

Predicted Line-Up (3-5-2)

Fisher 

O’Hora, Keogh, Lewington 

Williams, Sørenson, Kasumu, Fraser, Sorinola 

Jerome, Morris 

 

Style of Play 

Playing in a 3-5-2 formation, Russell Martin’s side play a style of football that sees them convincingly dominate possession, averaging 60.5% from their 18 games which is by far the highest in the division. This, twinned with their 83% passing accuracy means that they are incredibly difficult to dispossess. This is achieved through an aggressive pressing of their opponents and playing short, direct passes. Unlike a number of sides, they don’t rely on pacey wingers in order to create chances but instead look to play through the middle.  

Attacking midfielder Scott Fraser is vastly important to the Dons’ style of play. The 25-year-old has scored or assisted seven of his side’s 20 league goals this season. The higher defensive workrate of fellow midfielders David Kasumu and Lasse Sørenson allow him to stay forward, thus lowering his own defensive responsibilities so he can focus driving the side forward when they regain the ball. Playing for fellow League One side Burton last season, Fraser managed a very impressive 11 assists but has only managed just one so far this campaign. His goal tally (five) has already been surpassed but in a side that heavily dominate possession, it has often been the fault of the finishers that his influence on the side this season hasn’t been better rewarded 

A surprise summer signing, 34-year-old Cameron Jerome returned to England following two seasons with Turkish outfit, Göztepe. The forward already has five goals and an assist to his name in 14 appearances this season. Having lost much of the blistering pace that made him so potent earlier in his career, the former Derby man now relies on his physicality and the ability to hold up the ball. The veteran often uses these abilities to sit on the shoulder of the last defender, looking to receive a through ball, most often supplied by teammate Scott Fraser. The duo’s effectiveness in doing so is another reason why Dons often like to keep the ball centrally. 

Carlton Morris partners Jerome in the 3-5-2 formation. The 25-year-old rejoined the club on-loan from Championship side Norwich at the beginning of the season. Similar in many ways to his strike partner, Morris possesses more pace and his physical nature allows him to make long runs with the ball. An excellent example of this was in MK’s 2-1 defeat to Accrington at the beginning of December which saw him pick up the ball in his own half before running through and slotting the ball in. Not a prolific goalscorer by any means, his performances this season have begun to attract interest from bigger clubs and Russell Martin’s side could face a fight to keep hold of the loanee beyond January. It is likely that he will pose a strong threat to Argyle in the same way Bristol Rovers’ Ben Hanlan did a fortnight ago.  

 

 

Weaknesses 

Scoring goals has been MK Dons’ weak point so far this season. Whilst heavily dominating possession in almost all of their games, Russell Martin’s side have only scored 20 goals in 18 games. Whilst their record of 23 goals conceded is nothing to be ashamed of, only Wimbledon (27) are above them in the table and have conceded more. The suggestion has been that whilst their play is often easy on the eye, it doesn’t count for much if the club aren’t picking up the right results. 

Prediction (1-1) 

Possession orientated but wasteful in front of goal is a description that is fair of both teams heading into this bottom end of the table encounter. It’s unclear exactly how Argyle will set up after their change of formation and the abandonment of Ryan Lowe’s beloved 3-1-4-2 formation against Crewe during the week. The unpredictability should work in Dons’ favour however who have both a settled system and a much more settled side. In recent weeks the Pilgrims have faltered against equally out of form sides such as Ipswich and Bristol Rovers. However, in front of a Home Park crowd and much pressure, a draw is likely to stop the rot, at least for now.  

Preview: Bristol Rovers v Plymouth Argyle

Both Plymouth Argyle and Bristol Rovers come into Saturday’s encounter at the Memorial Stadium knowing that three points could potentially change the trajectory of their season. Rovers bounced back from seven matches without a win whilst Argyle’s capitulation saw them go down to ten men and blow their 1-0 lead against high-flying Ipswich Town as two quick fire goals saw the Tractor Boys secure all three points.

 

Match Stats

Bristol Rovers have won just once in seven League One matches at home this season, losing the last four in a row. 

19th placed Rovers are just three points and four positions below Argyle in the table. 

Ryan Lowe’s side have failed to win away at the Memorial Stadium in their last six attempts. Their last win there came on Boxing Day, 2011 as Ashley Hemmings last-gasp winner saw Argyle come from two goals down to win 3-2. 

Argyle have lost their last four games in a row, conceding 12 goals in the process.  

Line-Up 

Rovers will look to field an unchanged side after last weekend’s 4-2 win over AFC Wimbledon. 

Goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola looks set to continue in goal for Paul Tisdale’s side. The Finland international was substituted during the 2-1 win over League Two side Leyton Orient in the Papa John’s Trophy during midweek.  

Forward James Daly is expected to be absent. The former Crystal Palace man hasn’t featured since the 6-0 FA Cup win over Darlington a few weeks ago. 

 

Predicted Line-Up (4-3-1-2) 

Jaakkola 

Ehmer, Kilgour, Baldwin, Leahy 

Westbrooke, Upson, Grant 

Oztumer 

Hanlan, Nicholson 

 

 

Style of Play 

Having started the season playing in a 3-5-2 formation, Rovers have switched to a more compact 4-3-1-2 under the watch of new manager Paul Tisdale. The former Exeter City boss picked up his first win at the fourth attempt against Wimbledon last weekend following two losses and a draw since his appointment in November. 

Perhaps uncharacteristically of many League One sides, Tisdale’s side like to play without a tall, physically opposing forward. Instead, in Sam Nicholson and Brandon Hanlon, they have two shorter, yet very pacey forwards at their disposal. The duo scored all four against Wimbledon last weekend, doubling their combined tally for the season to eight goals. Whilst Hanlan is a natural forward, Nicholson is typically a winger. This often reflects in his play, drifting out wide and making runs at opponents as Rovers break forward and counter their opponents.

Hanlan, the club’s top scorer in League One this season, combines his abundance of pace with an equal amount of strength, allowing him to play on the shoulder of opposition defenders, able to receive the ball and make bursting runs at goal. His positional awareness twinned with these attributes is exactly why the former Gillingham man has scored exactly a third of Rovers’ league goals so far this season.  

Attacking midfielder Erhun Oztumer is the sides primary creative outlet. The former Walsall man has slowly been bedded into the Rovers side since joining on-loan from fellow League One side Charlton in mid-October. Although his impact so far has been far from his usual standards, the 29-year-old has impressed in the recent cup games, scoring in a 6-0 win over Darlington in the FA Cup as well as providing his first league assist last weekend against Wimbledon. Whilst very agile due to his lack of height, a physical approach against the former Bolton man will make it difficult for him to work his magic. 

23-year-old Zain Westbrooke joined from Championship side Coventry City after gaining promotion with them from League One last season. The central midfielder made 22 appearances for the Sky Blues, scoring four goals and assisting a further two. So far this season, The Englishman is the only Rovers player to register more than one assist (two). The former Brentford man is strong on the ball and will look to link the defence and attack with his long driving runs through the middle. Westbrooke is also versatile, being able to play anywhere across the midfield having been utilised in central, defensive and right midfield positions last campaign. The defensive nature of fellow midfielders Josh Grant and Ed Upson allows Westbrooke to aid the attack. 

Weaknesses 

Last weekend’s showing against Wimbledon was effectively a one-off in terms of performances for Rovers this season. Tisdale’s side have only averaged one goal per game from their 15 League One games.  Only bottom of the table Wigan (11) have scored fewer. Aside from forward trio Nicholson, Hanlan and Daly, only Luke Leahy (two), Josh Grant and Jack Baldwin (one each) have contributed. 

 

Prediction (2-2) 

 

Argyle have lost their last four in a row whilst Rovers have lost their last four home games in a row at the Memorial Stadium. Neither seem to be able to keep a clean sheet either so it feels as though, going on current form, a score draw could be on the cards. Without key man Danny Mayor, there will be a creative void in the Argyle side so the responsibility will be on Welsh forward Luke Jephcott once again to deliver. In a season that has had its ups and downs, the academy graduate has been one of the few constant shining lights in the side. Paul Tisdale appears to be instilling belief in Rovers side, already optimistic after a positive summer recruitment drive and will be keen to get one over on Argyle having spent so many years managing their arch rivals.  

Preview: Plymouth Argyle v Ipswich

Plymouth Argyle and Ipswich Town head into Saturday’s League One clash at Home Park with both managers beginning to feel the pressure after disappointing runs of form.  

Argyle have lost their last three on the spin in League One, last winning 4-2 against Swindon at the beginning of November. Meanwhile, a much more toxic situation is unfolding for Town manager Paul Lambert, whose side have failed to score in their last three. Despite their fifth placed position, the former Aston Villa manager is a deeply unpopular figure with fans with many calling for his departure regardless of whether the club gain promotion this season.  

Pre-Match Stats 

This will be the first meeting between the sides since March, 2010 when Argyle came out 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Joe Mason. 

The Pilgrims have only lost once at Home Park in the league this season. Meanwhile, Ipswich have only won two of their seven games away from Portman Road. 

Ipswich have gone almost five hours without a goal in League One after back-to-back defeats against Hull and Charlton before Tuesday’s goalless draw against Oxford.  

After eight games at Home Park, Plymouth Argyle were the last League One side to lose their unbeaten home record following their 4-0 loss against Rochdale.  

Line-Up 

Midfielder Andre Dozzell will miss out due to suspension. The 21-year-old picked up his fifth yellow cards of the season during Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Oxford. 

Influential winger Gwion Edwards looks set to remain on the sidelines. The Welshman hasn’t appeared since their 3-2 FA Cup defeat to Portsmouth in early November. 

Forward James Norwood is also absent, adding to a list of nearly a dozen players who are not at Paul Lambert’s disposal for the trip to Devon. 

Toto Nsiala (hamstring) and Brett McGavin (illness) have trained during the week and should be back in contention. 

 

Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3) 

Cornell 

Chambers, Nsiala, Woolfenden, Ward  

Lankester, McGavin, Nolan  

Dobra, Hawkins, Bennetts 

  

Style of Play 

Playing in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, Paul Lambert’s side play possession-based football, refraining from playing long balls and instead looking to play out from the back where possible. This style has proven to be effective with Town ranking third in League One both in terms of average possession (53.4%) and passing accuracy (77.9%). Such statistics are relatively pointless if such domination isn’t reflected in results. Whilst the Suffolk side are without a goal in their last three games, the mass injury disruption within the playing squad is likely the cause rather than the style of football itself.  

Much of Town’s creative play comes through winger Gwion Edwards, as Ipswich look to stretch their opposition. The 27-year-old has been in sterling form this season recording five goals and three assists in just 11 League One appearances. The Welshman’s absence in recent weeks has been telling with just two goals scored in the five games he has missed.  

In Edwards’ absence, the baton of responsibility is likely to fall to Borussia Monchengladbach loanee Keanan Bennetts. The 21-year-old has returned to England to gain experience after making just one substitute appearance for the German outfit. The Englishman has impressed when on the pitch but has been used sparingly by manager Lambert, making 11 appearances, with eight of those coming from the bench.

Often interchanging between the two flanks, Town’s expansive style of play should ensure that he and fellow winger Armando Dobra see plenty of the ball. Their pace and involvement in the game will prove crucial in manoeuvring through an Argyle defence that has shown itself to be rather leaky in recent weeks.  An agile yet powerful winger, Bennetts likes to use his pace to beat opponents out wide before cutting inside the area, either to create a chance for himself to shoot or square the ball to a teammate.

22-year-old forward Aaron Drinan made his first start since the opening day of the season against Oxford on Tuesday. The Irishman has been competing with Oli Hawkins since returning from an injury sustained back in September. An all-rounder, possessing some pace, his most recognisable attribute is his physicality which helps with his all round hold-up play. He often comes deep in order to receive the ball and looks to play the ball out wide before making long sprints into the final third to try and get on the end of crosses.

With the absence of so many players, midfielder Jon Nolan will be the anchor, providing experience in a young side lacking regular minutes. The 28-year-old was just one of four players over the age of 22 to start against Oxford on Tuesday night. With an impressive range of passing, the former Shrewsbury man boasts the best accuracy percentage at the club this season with 86.8%. Nolan links the play between the midfield and the attack whilst also having an eye for goal himself. In his 14 appearances in all competitions, he has netted four goals, two of those coming in the league.  

Weaknesses 

Much of Town’s season has been disrupted by injuries to key players. This has affected results in recent weeks, and after an impressive start to the season Lambert’s side have begun to falter. Three wins in 11 games in all competitions makes for poor reading. Just seven points and 10 places currently separate the two sides.  

Goals have often been hard to come by as a result with Lambert’s side scoring just 19 goals from their 15 League One games. This is the same total as 22nd placed Burton Albion whilst their 15 goals conceded is the same as second bottom Shrewsbury Town. Against an Argyle side that have the third worst defensive record in the division (25 conceded), they will see this fixture as the perfect opportunity to gain some much needed confidence.

Prediction (2-1 Argyle) 

Despite impressing in the FA Cup against Lincoln, keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win, Argyle’s defensive frailties returned against Rochdale on Tuesday night. The 4-0 drubbing was a timely reminder that January will be an important time for the Pilgrims. The potential return of Danny Mayor could prove vital against a depleted and inexperienced but still decent Ipswich side. The Tractor Boys will be under as much pressure as their opponents to deliver after Paul Lambert was given the dreaded vote of confidence on Thursday.  The amount of uncertainty around the visitors twinned with Argyle’s impressive home form this season makes it the ideal fixture in which to end their slump.

Preview: Plymouth Argyle v Northampton

After both gaining promotion to League One, Northampton and Plymouth Argyle have experienced very different starts to the season. The Cobblers are winless in three games, failing to score in each of those matches. Meanwhile, Ryan Lowe’s side have lost just once, convincingly dispatching Burton Albion 2-0 last Saturday.

Line-Up

Forward Danny Rose looks set to make his first appearance on the road. The 26-year-old arrives at the club from League Two side Mansfield, making his debut in last weekend’s defeat to Peterborough.

Defender Luka Racic was rested against Peterborough but should return to the side to face Argyle. The 21-year-old has only recently returned from a long-term injury.

Midfielder Scott Pollock remains unavailable. The 19-year-old is yet to feature this season due to a groin injury.

 

 

Predicted Line-Up (3-4-3)

Arnold

Racic, Bolger, Horsfall

Adams, Watson, Missilou, Mills

Hoskins, Smith, Rose

 

Style of Play

Playing in a 3-4-3 formation, Keith Curle’s side look to stretch their opponents by keeping the ball out wide and hitting them on the counter attack. They often look to play the long ball, utilising the impressive passing abilities of Nicky Adams and Joseph Mills on the wing as well as Ryan Watson in midfield. This predictably means that during games that they have a lower rate of possession. The Cobblers currently average 44.9%, ranking them 22nd in League One which means they often have to be clinical when they do generate chances.

Despite scoring a respectable 54 goals last season, Curle’s side lacked a out-and-out goalscorer as midfielder Sam Hoskins and 32-year-old Andy Williams top scored with eight apiece. Forward duo Joe Nuttall (loan) and Danny Rose have joined from Blackpool and Mansfield respectively. Whilst Nuttall’s record is questionable, Rose has notched double-digit goals in three of his last four seasons in League Two for the Stags. However, at just 5ft 6in the 26-year-old isn’t a target man which means that it is likely he will be moved out to the left wing rather than played in his natural position.

At a colossal 6ft 5in, the Cobblers utilise forward Harry Smith as a targetman. Whilst not the out-and-out goalscorer that Northampton are craving, his hold-up play proves vital to the way in which the side operates. His robust frame makes him effective at holding the ball up as well as a threat from incoming crosses and set pieces. Curle’s side will look to use his skillset to their advantage against an Argyle side that have proven themselves to be vulnerable from set plays this season.

Playmaker Nicky Adams has often been used as a right defensive midfielder. The 33-year-old recorded an impressive 12 assists last season, being the only Northampton player to feature in all 37 fixtures in League Two. The former Bury man is vital to how his side play, effectively playing a sitting role. His range of passing, particularly long balls, forces opposition sides to sit deeper in order to combat his influence. On the other side, wing-back Joseph Mills looks to reduce the creative responsibilities of Adams. The 30-year-old recorded an impressive seven goals and six assists for Forest Green in League Two last season. Whilst not the best when it comes to tackling, the former Reading man possesses an impressive range of passing as well as providing a threat from set pieces with his excellent aerial abilities.

Playing with two central midfielders, Christopher Missolou and Ryan Watson are tasked with helping to transition play from defence to attack. Watson provides the physical presence and is impressive in the air. Missolou, a summer signing from League Two side Oldham, is better with the ball at his feet, often looking to make runs and get the ball out wide to the likes of Adams and Mills. Both have been found to lack discipline so far this season, picking up five yellow cards between them. This is something that is likely to be targeted by opponents should it continue.

Star Player

Nicky Adams is the standout player for Northampton and was the linchpin for their promotion from League Two last season. The 33-year-old returned to action from injury for last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Peterborough in a season where Curle’s side have found themselves regularly disrupted by absences. He proved instrumental during his side’s Play-Off run, inspiring their comeback in the semi-finals as well as their dominant performance against Exeter City in the final.

The Welshman’s creative presence, even from what is often a more disciplined holding role has been phenomenal, recording 52 appearances in his last five seasons.  For what the veteran lacks in pace and physicality, he certainly makes up for with his vision and passing ability. Adams’ 16 assists in all competitions ranked him amongst the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Mathias Pereira as the highest assist provider in the EFL.

 

Weaknesses

Northampton’s defence played a massive part in their ascent to the Play-Off positions last season. They kept 15 clean sheets, the highest number in League Two. Predictably this attracted much interest in the summer with Charlie Goode joining Championship side Brentford. Fellow defender Scott Wharton returned to parent club Blackburn where he has stayed over the summer.  Trio Cian Bolger, Luka Racic (on-loan) and Fraser Horsfall have arrived from Fleetwood, Brentford and Macclesfield respectively but will take time to gel. The Cobblers have conceded nine goals in five games this season. Only Burton (13) and Blackpool (10) have conceded more.

Possession and passing accuracy have proven to be a problem for Curle’s side this season. Their long ball style means that they see less of the ball and play riskier passes, which will cost them against possession orientated sides like Argyle. Their average possession (44.9%), twinned with their pass accuracy (51.7%) can be attributed largely as to why they have struggled in recent weeks, failing to score in their last three matches in League One.

 

Prediction: Plymouth Argyle 2-1 Northampton

Northampton are likely to come into the game short of confidence, much in the same way that Burton did last weekend. Their style of play will ensure that Argyle are likely to see the majority of possession which will allow them plenty of chances, doubtless we will look to control the game on home turf. The Cobblers are likely to target George Cooper in the same way that they did in last season’s 3-1 victory in Northampton. However, it was clear from that meeting that Sam Hopkins was central to their play, having a hand in all three of their goals. Should Argyle nullify the threat on the right, they will be confident of making it back-to-back victories for the first time this season.

Preview: Plymouth Argyle v Burton

Both Burton and Plymouth Argyle come into Saturday’s fixture at Home Park looking to bounce back from defeat. Albion have lost their last three games in all competitions by a 4-2 scoreline, whilst Argyle were defeated 1-0 by an impressive Hull side.

Line-Up

Youngsters Ciaran Gilligan and Owen Gallagher will  make way for Ryan Edwards and Steven Lawless following the 4-2 midweek defeat to Cambridge in the EFL Trophy

Summer signing and winger Steven Lawless will return for the Brewers after being placed in self isolation.

Defender Michael Bostwick, forward Luke Varney and veteran Neal Eardley all missed the midweek defeat and are all 50/50 ahead of the trip to Devon.

 

 

Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3)

Garrett

Eardley, Brayford, Wallace, Daniel

Edwards, Quinn, Powell

Lawless, Hemmings, Akins

 

Style of Play

Playing in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, Jake Buxton’s side possess one of the more experienced squads in League One. Like Argyle, games involving Burton this season haven’t been lacking goals. Their eight matches in all competitions  have seen a whopping 36 goals, with the Brewers scoring 14 and conceding 22.

The departure of attacking midfielder Scott Fraser will sting greatly for Burton this season, especially considering the lack of recruitment in that position over the summer. Grimsby’s Charles Verman has been brought in but has only started one of their opening four games. Buxton’s side sacrifice some pace out wide for players with physicality who won’t be muscled off the ball easily. The likes of Lucas Akins and Steven Lawless are often effective in this sense coming up against more modern less physical full-backs. Akins, unlike Lawless effectively doubles up as a second forward at times and has proven to be an effective goalscorer. Four goals already this season has set him up nicely to beat last season’s tally of 10 goals with relative ease. Without the likes of Fraser and Boyce, his contribution this season will be vital.

29-year-old Kane Hemmings replaces last season’s top scorer, Liam Boyce. The former Dundee man plays as a target man, scoring 10 times in 25 times for the aforementioned Scottish side last season. Like wingers, Akins and Lawless, Hemmings is more physical than he is  pacey, looking to get in the faces of opposition defenders and cause problems from set pieces. Like former Argyle forward Ryan Taylor, the 6ft 1in man is at the forefront of attacking plays, often being utilised for his valuable holding up skills. In a side that lacks pace, this allows Burton to be effective playing the long ball, progressing up the pitch rapidly with Hemmings able to then look out wide for options and then get himself into the penalty area looking for an incoming cross.

Midfielder Ryan Edwards is the engine, playing as a box-to-box midfielder. The Australian contributed to 10 goals last season (5G, 5A) whilst forward Lucas Akins was the only outfield player to feature in more minutes. The 26-year-old plays either side of Joe Powell and Stephen Quinn in their three man midfield. Quinn operates as a tough-tackling defensive midfielder who sits just in front of the back four. The former Hull man links the defence and the attack but can often be reckless. This led to the 34-year-old receiving 10 yellow cards and one red last season. Only fellow midfielder John-Joe O’Toole (11Y, 2R) showed poorer discipline in the Brewers squad. Powell is the more attack minded of the three, being best utilised just behind the front three. He likes to dribble with the ball, transitioning Burton from defence to attack, whilst he is also useful taking set pieces.

Star Player (Lucas Akins)

The 31-year-old has enjoyed the most prolific spell of his career at the Pirelli Stadium, registering 85 goal contributions (60G, 25A) since joining from Stevenage in 2014. Incredibly, the former Huddersfield man missed just eight minutes in League One last season, all of which came on the opening day of the season, coming off as a 82nd minute substitute against Ipswich. Only departed midfielder Scott Fraser (16) contributed to more goals than the veteran (13).

Whilst possessing some pace, Akins is primarily a physical player. Unlike a lot of wingers, he isn’t shrugged off the ball or dispossessed as often. This makes him an effective player not only from set pieces due to his height (6ft 1in), but also when Burton are attempting to slow down play to see out games. Primarily a winger, he can play anywhere across the front line, playing on either wing, attacking midfield and as a forward which allows him to fill in where needed.

 

Weaknesses

The Brewers struggled to put a consistent results together last season and have been slow out of the starting blocks this campaign. However, they only lost consecutive games once all season which proved pivotal to their near Play-Off miss. Burton have already equalled this feat in consecutive 4-2 defeats against Swindon and Portsmouth in League One. The likes of Scott Fraser and Liam Boyce were massive departures during the summer. Should they fail to find consistency in the way they did last season, they could find themselves at the wrong side of the table.

As previously mentioned, Burton’s leaky defence has been a concern. The Staffordshire side have conceded 22 goals in eight games. They have conceded four in each of their last three matches against Swindon, Portsmouth and Cambridge respectively. Whilst there has been no trouble scoring, it’s clear that their gung-ho approach isn’t working. With a lot of quality in League One this season, it could be a long campaign for the Brewers if they fail to address their frailties.

Prediction (3-1 Argyle)

Despite an improved performance last week, Ryan Lowe’s side failed to score for the first time this season against Hull. They will come up against a Burton side that have similarly shipped goals at poor rate this campaign and with forward Ryan Hardie needing to break his goalscoring duck, the Pilgrims will need to be at the top of their game. Buxton’s side possess quality however and the likes of Akins will be keen to punish an Argyle defence that is still unsure of its best combination. All the signs point to a high scoring game and with injuries also a factor, I can see Argyle just about edging this one.

Preview: Hull v Plymouth Argyle

Hull City are looking to win their opening four Football League matches of a season for only the second time against Plymouth Argyle this weekend. The Tigers last did so in 1948-49 when they went on to win the Third Division North title. Both the Tigers and Argyle remain unbeaten after three games ahead of the match at the KCOM Stadium. The Pilgrims drew 1-1 with Shrewsbury last weekend whilst Grant McCann’s side beat newly promoted Northampton 2-0.

Line-Up

Hull look set to receive a massive boost with the return of forward Tom Eaves. The former Yeovil man has been missing since early September after picking up an injury against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup.

Captain Richie Smallwood and winger Malik Wilks are both back in contention. The duo missed last weekend’s 2-0 win over Northampton.

Sheffield United loanee Regan Slater will be in the squad after joining the club during the week. The defensive midfielder spent last season on-loan at League Two side, Scunthorpe, making 15 appearances in all competitions.

 

Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3)

Ingram

Emmanuel, Burke, de Wijs, Elder

Docherty, Honeyman, Smallwood

Wilks, Eaves, Lewis-Potter

 

Style of Play

After a dreadful campaign that saw them finish bottom of the Championship, Grant McCann’s side have switched from a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation to a more attack minded 4-3-3 formation following relegation to League One. A key aspect of McCann’s recruitment drive has been not to necessarily spend heavily like Sunderland have but to instead build a squad of players with League One experience and most importantly, experience of getting out of the division. Despite this a large focus has been on implementing a younger, hungrier playing squad. Aside from midfielder Richie Smallwood (29), the Tigers’ eight other recruits are all 25 years old and under whilst nine of the 11 departures have been players over 25 years old.

Although primarily a forward, 19-year-old Keane Lewis-Potter joins Malik Wilks out wide either side of their striker whether that’s Josh Magennis who has primarily featured since the start of the season or Tom Eaves who is returning from injury. Similar to last season’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the 4-3-3 system that McCann deploys requires two quick, energetic wingers either side of a physical target man who is good in the air. Lewis-Potter and Wilks remain out wide rather than cutting inside in order to stretch opposition defences, something that will be effective against a side like Argyle with a back three. This allows George Honeyman the room to manoeuvre forward centrally, giving him more room in order to pick out a pass or drive forward at goal. In this sense, Hull are effectively playing in a 4-2-1-3 formation of sorts when on the attack.

Eaves and Magennis combined to score just nine goals last campaign in the Championship as the club found themselves heavily reliant on Jarred Bowen’s return of 22 goal contributions (16G, 6A) during the first-half of the season. The 22-year-old departed for Premier League side West Ham in January which greatly influenced their slump to the foot of the table. The trio of Wilks, Eaves and Magennis have all enjoyed prolific campaigns in League One during recent years, suggesting that this season, against lesser opposition they should recapture some form. Eaves will be remembered by most Football League fans for his prolific stint at Gillingham, scoring 38 goals during his two seasons at Priestfield. The height and physicality of the pair make Hull a danger from set pieces, especially with someone like George Honeyman sending the ball in.

One of the most important things that McCann has done post-season is the bolstering of the Tigers midfield which despite being tightly compact in a 4-2-3-1 formation was often lacking any real bite. The acquisitions of tough-tackling duo Greg Docherty (Rangers) and Richie Smallwood (Blackburn) will perfectly compliment the forward thinking nature of George Honeyman. The former Sunderland man has impressed heavily in the opening three games of the season, contributing to four of Hull’s five goals (1G, 3A). Docherty developed a reputation as a hard-working box-to-box midfielder who also had an eye for goal whilst on-loan at fellow League One side Shrewsbury during the 2018/19 campaign, scoring seven goals in 41 appearances. Smallwood operates as a holding midfielder in front of the back four with Docherty often slotting back in alongside him when Hull are being pressed or boxed in their own half by opposition.

 

Star Player (George Honeyman)

Midfielder George Honeyman has been quick out of the starting blocks for Hull this season and has already shown the qualities that will make him a key player for this campaign. Whilst it’s easy to focus on the talent of Malik Wilks, or the goalscoring prowess at this level of Tom Eaves, Honeyman has taken just three games to match his contribution from last season. With one goal and three assists to his name, the former Sunderland man has had a hand in all but one goal that the Tigers have scored this season in the league.

Honeyman struggled at times last season after making the step up to the Championship from the aforementioned Black Cats, making 42 appearances. The 26-year-old was one of the benefactors of Jarred Bowen’s move to West Ham, making 12 of his 21 Championship starts following his departure and will be tasked with being his side’s primary creative outlet this current season. With Smallwood and Docherty either side  of him, the former Gateshead loanee will have more of a licence to roam this season.

 

Weaknesses

Whilst this Hull side will be expected to reach the League One play-offs as a bare minimum, the glaring issue within the side is their poor pass completion rate. They currently rank 20th in the division with an average of just 65.8%. Whilst McCann’s side have yet to concede in their opening three games, failure to address this issue will cause them problems against bigger sides in the division and also teams, like Argyle who like to press high and dominate possession during games.

Prediction (2-1 Hull)

In terms of what Hull have at their disposal, it’s rather difficult to see past them winning this one. They might have had one of the easier starts to the season, playing Gillingham as well as two fellow promoted sides in Northampton and Crewe but nonetheless have remained solid and kept three clean sheets. They come up against a Plymouth Argyle side shipping goals and still unsure of their best defensive three combination. Will Aimson will be back for the Pilgrims whilst there could also be a first start for Fulham loanee Jerome Opoku. In order to get something from this Argyle will have to be at their most clinical and disciplined. On paper, Hull will be heavy favourites but with Ryan Lowe’s philosophy, Argyle will create plenty of chances, it’s just a case of whether or not they manage to take enough of them.

 

Preview: Plymouth Argyle v Shrewsbury

Both Plymouth Argyle and Shrewsbury will be looking to bounce back from disappointing results last weekend. Argyle remain undefeated after two games but will feel as though they should have beaten Wimbledon after their 4-4 draw whilst Shrewsbury are yet to win after a draw against Portsmouth and a 2-1 defeat to Northampton at home.

Line-Up

Midfielder Ollie Norburn looks set for a place on the bench against his former side. The 27-year-old has been missing in recent weeks due to a personal tragedy.

Huddersfield Town loanee Scott High will continue in the midfield. The 19-year-old has thoroughly impressed since joining the Shropshire club.

Right-back Ryan Sears and midfielder Dave Edwards remain injured and are unavailable for selection.

 

Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3)

Sarkic

Fossey, Pierre, Williams, Golbourne

Vela, High, Walker

Cummings, Clarke, Whalley

Style of Play

Despite deploying a highly successful 3-5-2 formation at former club Wrexham, manager Sam Ricketts has opted to switch to a more attacking minded 4-3-3 system this season. The 2019/20 campaign saw the Shrews score just 31 goals with only relegated Bolton (27) scoring fewer whilst conceding a respectful 42 goals in 35 games. The lack of an out-and-out goalscorer greatly affected their performances with the trio of Callum Lang, Jason Cummings and Daniel Udoh top scoring with just four goals apiece. Ricketts spent the summer bolstering his side’s attacking options with wingers Josh Daniels (Glenavon) and Shilow Tracey (Tottenham) as well as forward Rekiel Pyke (Rochdale) all arriving at New Meadow.

The Shrews like to play a possession based style of football, averaging 58.3% from their opening two matches, as opposed to 50% during last campaign. The switch in formation makes them less direct and able to build up play in a much more effective and timely manner. Central midfielder Josh Laurent will be a big miss after his summer move to Championship side Reading but the club will hope that 19-year-old Scott High will prove to be a worthy replacement. Winger Shaun Whalley is the primary target out wide, effective on the counter, looking to complete long dribbles down the wing in order to cut it back for the likes of Pyke and Cummings in the middle.

Whalley  often found himself playing in the unfamiliar role of centre forward or playing in just behind the main striker last season. Himself and new signing Josh Daniels will be tasked with being the Shrews primary creative outlets. The 33-year-old possesses a blistering amount of pace which is likely to cause many problems for an Argyle defence that has been shipping goals at an alarming rate this season. The former Luton man managed a poor return last season with just six goal contributions (2G, 4A) but has an impressive 72 goals and assists in nearly 200 appearances since joining the club in 2015. A season of stability could prove to be the difference for the veteran.

The shift in formation will allow also Cummings to move out wide on the right. The 25-year-old found himself in and out of the Salop starting line-up last season, and despite making just 13 starts was joint top scorer with four goals. The former Hibernian man showed exactly what he was capable of coming off the bench to score a brace in a memorable comeback against Liverpool in the FA Cup last season and with a bit more freedom to be creative out wide could get the chance to replicate such form on a more regular basis.

The Shrewsbury midfield three consists of Josh Vela, Scott High and Brad Walker. Whilst Vela and Walker are more defensively minded, Huddersfield Town loanee High has more of a licence to roam forward and has already scored twice for the club in cup matches against Middlesbrough and Newcastle U21’s. With an eye for goal from range he is allowed to venture forward whilst the likes of Vela and Walker sit in behind and cover the gap to prevent potential counter attacks. At 6ft 1in, Walker is the defensive powerhouse sitting just in front of the back four. Whilst not necessarily the best of tacklers, his physicality and effectiveness in the air allows him to bully his opponents. Vela sits in the middle of the park, often making driving runs with the ball towards the final third but unlike High, he has to be more disciplined in his offensive and defensive responsibilities.

Star Player (Jason Cummings)

Whilst it’s unlikely that Shrewsbury fans have seen the best of Jason Cummings, Saturday’s opponents Plymouth Argyle have seen exactly what the Scotsman is capable of when he is in form. The 25-year-old scored an impressive brace, giving the Argyle defence a torrid afternoon during a 5-1 win for Peterborough in the 2018/19 season. Such form saw him score more than 20 goals in three consecutive seasons with Hibernian between 2014-2017 which earned him a move to Championship side Nottingham Forest.

The former Rangers loanee has looked much more at home playing in a wide role in Ricketts’ system this season rather than last, scoring against Middleborough and Newcastle U21 in the cup competitions whilst following that up with an assist against Northampton last weekend. Whilst not quick by any means, Cummings is a more technical player who likes to run with the ball and create chances with a very impressive 80% pass successful rate. Unlike fellow winger Shaun Whalley however, he can also be more selfish with the ball often shooting from range with just 16 of his 45 shots from last season finding the target.

 

 

Weaknesses

Whilst Shrewsbury dominate possession in games, they have often struggled to convert this into meaningful chances and goals. This happened last season and as a result, Ricketts’ side only managed to score 31 goals. Whilst they have scored three goals on two occasions in the cup competitions against Middleborough and Newcastle U21’s respectively, they have only scored once in their opening two League One fixtures. Salop have recorded an impressive 58.3% average possession in these games, including almost 70% in their most recent league match against Northampton. Despite this however, they managed just five shots on target, the same as their opponents who spent significantly less time with the ball and lost the match 2-1. Whilst there’s no doubt that Shrewsbury have the players to dominate the possession, it seems that they’re lacking the creativity on the pitch to be effective with it.

Prediction (1-1)

Little can be expected other than a low scoring game where Shrewsbury are concerned with 14 of their last 15 League One away games producing fewer than three goals. Whilst Argyle aren’t struggling to score, they’re having a tough time keeping them out at the other end after conceding three goals in cup games against Norwich U21’s and Leyton Orient as well as four against Wimbledon last weekend. A more cautious approach should be expected from the Pilgrims who did excellently to defeat Blackpool 1-0 at Home Park on the opening day of the season. With neither side particularly secure it could prove to be a rather cagey affair.

Preview: Plymouth Argyle v Blackpool

Blackpool will be coming into Saturday’s League One curtain raiser at Home Park looking to start their season as they began their last campaign rather than how they finished it. Neil Critchley’s side won all three of their opening games last season and only suffered three defeats before mid-December. However they ended the campaign with just three wins in 10 matches. Argyle however will be looking for their first opening day win at this level since a 1-0 victory over Southampton in 2010. Their last two League One campaigns have gotten off to notoriously bad starts.

Line-Up

Manager Critchley looks set to hand league debuts to a number of new signings including forward Jerry Yates, who arrived from Championship side Rotherham this summer for an undisclosed fee.

Attacking midfield duo CJ Hamilton and Keshi Anderson should also be set to make their debuts for the club.

Left-back James Husband, however, looks set to miss the clash. The 26-year-old will probably be replaced by former Manchester United player Demetri Mitchell, who could play a competitive league match for the first time since February 2019.

 

Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1)

Maxwell

Turton, Nottingham, Ekpiteta, Mitchell

Ward, Robson, Anderson

Hamilton, Yates, Kaikai

 

Style of Play

Playing predominantly in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, it has been all change for Neil Critchley’s side over the summer as the former Liverpool U23 manager stamps his authority on the Seasiders’ squad. Fresh blood has been added to the side going forward with all of the club’s 11 new signings being under the age of 25. Despite such a high number of new signings, it’s important to note that the club has also seen 17 players move on.

The club lost top scorer Armand Gnanduillet, despite their best efforts to keep hold of the 15 goal forward. The Ivory Coast man has been replaced by Yates who scored 13 goals in 31 appearances for League Two Swindon on loan last season. The 23-year-old and Gnanduillet are completely different players, but this will be much down to manager Neil Critchley’s altering of how he wants the side to play. Rather than a physical, experienced side, the 41-year-old has opted for a younger, more energetic and technical approach which has been thoroughly demonstrated in the clubs signings this summer.

 

To say that Blackpool have a plethora of options going forward is something of an understatement. Yates is joined by fellow new signings Keshi Anderson (Swindon), CJ Hamilton (Mansfield) and Bez Lubala (Crawley). The quartet all plied their trade in League Two last season, and Critchley can also call on veteran Liam Feeney who assisted the most goals in League One last season (15). They all possess an abundance of pace and should prove to be a nightmare for defences this coming season.

Their versatility, particularly that of Lubala and Hamilton who can play anywhere across the midfield as well as up front, means that they will be effectively interchangeable. The latter in particular should benefit from this, having played in a Mansfield system tailored to Nicky Maynard last season, meaning Hamilton only had five goal contributions (2G, 3A) to show for his efforts from 33 League Two appearances.

The midfield three will see Keshi Anderson push forward whilst the likes of Ethan Robson and Grant Ward will play holding roles. Robson is a tough-tackling, no nonsense type of player who also likes to dribble the ball up the pitch and keep the ball on the floor, looking for a pass rather than trying to hoof the ball. This will suit the Blackpool style of play as they try and dominate possession rather than hit the ball long to a targetman like Gnanduillet or Delfouneso in the way that they did last season. Grant plays less centrally and likes to drift out to the right, often almost doubling up as a second right-winger when Blackpool look to overload the opposition final third. Whilst the other two are concrete in terms of their offensive and defensive roles, Grant is a bit more box-to-box and contributes at both ends of the pitch.

 

Star Player

Much will be expected of Sullay Kaikai after what has been a very stop-start career to date. Six different loan spells in as many years saw the Englishman leave Crystal Palace last year for Holland with NAC Breda. The tricky winger returned to the EFL last summer with the Seasiders after just a few months abroad.

The 25-year-old will be looking to make a real impact following a season largely disrupted by injury. The former Cambridge man recorded a respectable seven goals and assists in 22 League One appearances last season, and Blackpool’s form suffered considerably following his injury. The Seasiders won just three of their final 10 games of the season, for which Kaikai was absent from as they finished in mid-table.

A fairly pacey winger with trickery and an eye for a pass, Kaikai looks as though he will fit well into the philosophy that Neil Critchley is trying to implement at the club. With numerous attacking signings brought into the club this season, the Englishman will be hoping to recapture his form at Shrewsbury which saw him record 18 goal contributions in just 28 appearances at New Meadow.

 

Weaknesses

Whilst Blackpool have assembled a strong and competitive squad this season, there is absolutely no guarantee that Critchley’s side will hit the ground running. The Seasiders have already played twice this season, failing to score or concede in normal time, albeit in the EFL Trophy and League Cup against Barrow and Stoke respectively. The turnover at the club this summer has seen 11 new signings to date as well as 17 departures and that twinned with Critchley adopting a new playing style is going to take some time to gel. Once the players are on the same page there’s no doubt that they should be looking at the League One Play-Offs as a minimum. For Argyle, this is certainly the most convenient time they could be playing Blackpool.

Prediction (2-2)

Plymouth Argyle will come into the side without forward Ryan Hardie who is on-loan from the Seasiders. The Scot will be replaced by Frank Nouble who scored the winner in last weekend’s EFL Cup First Round tie with Championship side QPR. With the myriad of attacking talent at Blackpool’s disposal, Argyle will be thankful to be playing them whilst they are still attempting to gel. With both sides likely to be heavily attacking, it is likely that similar to the QPR game that there will be plenty of goals involved.

Whilst a cagey first-half is to be expected from the two sides, the second-half should see the game open up a lot more and Argyle have already shown that they have a lot of quality going forward as well. I expect this to end in a 2-2 draw.