Twice this week, Derek Adams has hinted at changes to his team ahead of this massive Easter weekend tie against Gillingham. Last Saturday, he said “we’ll have to make changes for next week”, and yesterday he said “we will freshen things up for this weekend”. Whether or not this is a bluff – or even a double bluff – there is one change that Argyle are screaming out for: Ryan Taylor needs to be introduced for at least the next three matches.

Away to Gillingham; home to Barnsley; away to Accrington. These are three games that may well define Argyle’s season and our number nine needs to lead the line, ahead of top scorer Freddie Ladapo.

Freddie Ladapo: flat-track bully

Ladapo has been a bit of a marmite man. The fanbase has been split for most of the season over whether his goals mean he is undroppable or his inability to hold up the ball and interplay with Lameiras and Carey is causing Argyle’s inconsistent goals tally and often sub-standard performances. It should also be said, there is certainly a wide middle ground between the two groups, and many rationales for starting the him.

However, even if you fall into the most ardent of pro-Ladapo camps, there is little reason to suggest that Argyle’s top scorer should start any of the next three matches, given his dreadful record away from home and against top opposition. With no goals against any of the top eight teams in League One – despite starting every single match against them – and just three away from home all season, the case for Ladapo starting makes little sense.

Ladapo’s goals* Teams positioned 1st-8th Teams positioned 9th-16th Teams positioned 17th-24th
Home 0 4 9
Away 0 3 0

*taken from the team’s league position prior to the match.

For a player whose starting appeal is his goal record ahead of anything else, this table makes for bleak reading. Barnsley may be taking on Argyle at Home Park, but they are not just a top eight team, but a a team that currently sits second. Meanwhile, the matches against Gillingham and Accrington take place away from home.

Ladapo’s inferior performances away from home aren’t especially difficult to fathom. Argyle tend to see more of the ball at Home Park as teams are more willing to sit deep and be compact, which allows Ladapo to complete more passes on average and at a significantly higher rate. More importantly, with more midfield possession, Carey and Lameiras can get into more advanced positions and create more shooting opportunities for Ladapo.

Passes per-90 (success %) Shots per-90  Big chances per-90 Aerial duel (%) Dribbles per-90
Home 12.6 (61.9%) 3.09 0.50 28.8% 1.23
Away 11.4 (48.3%) 1.89 0.38 30.6% 0.61

At home, Ladapo gets more possession in dangerous areas, enabling him to complete dribbles at a rate twice as high, as well as taking significantly more shots. Most importantly, he is on the end of big goal scoring chances at a significantly higher rate.

Pass success (success %) Shots per-90 Big chances per-90 Aerial duel (%) Dribbles per-90
Top 6 11.5 (58.0%) 2.71 0.30 30.1% 1.36
7th – 24th 12.1 (52.6%) 2.40 0.50 29.5% 0.73

Against top six opposition, Ladapo’s dynamic changes. He has a higher passing completion rate while winning roughly the same percentage of headers and completing a similar number of passes. He also competes more dribbles, partly because Argyle are often able to operate on the counter attack and exploit Ladapo’s acceleration and dribbling abilities. However, while he takes more shots, they are consistently from worse quality positions: either further from goal or under more defensive pressure.

Taylor is more suited to the coming games

Given that Ladapo is unlikely to score in any of these games, it seems an awfully big risk to start a player who so defines Argyle’s style of play in a way that is detrimental to the other attacking talents at Adams’ disposal. With less midfield possession in away matches, the onus is more often on Argyle’s attackers to create something using their individual skill. By operating more like a lone-wolf, Ladapo often isolates himself and his teammates instead of pulling them together in one attacking trio.

In five of the last six away games in which Ladapo has led the line alone, Argyle have failed to score, drawing five blanks and managing just nine shots on target (five fewer than they managed against Rochdale alone). It’s not especially difficult to see why. This season, Peter Grant is the only outfielder to have a lower passing accuracy than Ladapo. Meanwhile, no other outfielder completes passes at a lower rate than Argyle’s front-man. Derek Adams’ refusal to start his best midfield in their best formation has certainly hindered things – the only away game Argyle have scored in since January was the only one to see the return of the 4-3-2-1 formation – but Ladapo is also a primary factor in all of this.

By comparison, Ryan Taylor averages 50.4% more passes every game than Ladapo, completes high-risk passes twice as frequently, wins headers nearly three times as frequently and has an aerial duel success rate nearly twice as high. It is these attributes that helps him bring more out of his teammates – Carey and Lameiras especially – that makes him such an asset to the team. Last season, in games in which Argyle’s midfield were pegged back, Taylor often provided the glue that linked Argyle’s lethal attacking trio together.

Passes per-90 High-risk passes per-90 Aerial duels won Aerial duel (%)
Taylor 18.2 0.53 21.4 56.0%
Ladapo 12.1 0.22 7.70 30.3%

He may not be a goal-scorer like Ladapo, but his selfless approach enabled Carey and Lameiras to turn the entire team into a potential source of goals. Frustratingly, it has been apparent for a startlingly long time that, while Ladapo offers more of an individual goal threat than Taylor, he reduces the cohesion of the team and the potency of Carey and Lameiras.

Taylor is also more creative than his counterpart. Though he and Ladapo have created chances at a similar rate this season, Taylor’s rate has been depressed by constantly having to play a substitute role, mostly thrown into the game when Argyle are struggling to gain control of the ball or attempting to see out a result. If you compare Taylor last season to Ladapo this, he created chance and recorded assists at twice the rate.

All of this is without considering the fact that Taylor has spent almost exactly half of his game-time playing as a strike partner to Ladapo, even though Adams has already identified on a number of occasions that such a system doesn’t work. Of the nearly 600 minutes that the two have spent as partners in attack, Argyle have scored but two goals. You read that right: two. The two goals? Ryan Edwards’ consolation header against Peterborough and David Fox’s 40-yard strike against Wimbledon. That about sums up the potency of their attacking partnership.

Taylor’s impact on the team

When Taylor does lead the line as a lone striker, he spends an average of just 16.7 minutes on the pitch. Hardly enough time to make an impact on a regular basis. Often, the game is lost and he is merely left to compete for headers despite being surrounded by opposition players. It’s little wonder that a player who was formerly referred to as Argyle’s “Ginger Zlatan” has failed to register a single goal or assist this season.

Yet, when afforded a decent opportunity, he has showed an ability to revive the interlinking play that made the Taylor-Lameiras-Carey triumvirate so successful last season. When introduced against Accrington, he immediately played an important role as a target man in setting up Argyle’s best chance of the match for Lameiras:

Meanwhile, against Rochdale, it was his flick-on to Sarcevic that freed the midfielder to cross for Joel Grant to open the scoring. He was also involved when Carey broke free in the final moments of the match, only to fail to score:

Taylor-Lameiras-Carey: TLC

Amazingly, Taylor, Lameiras and Carey trio have only played 169 minutes as a front three this season, and only 63 minutes since the third game of the season. To put that in context, Gregg Wylde has played more minutes at left-back than TLC have together.

The effect of this has been stark: this season, compared to when TLC played together in 2017/18, both Carey and Lameiras are taking half as many shots from the danger zone (inside the box, within the width of the six-yard area). Lameiras has compensated for this by scoring more goals from outside the area and from wider positions, while Carey has simply scored fewer goals as a result.

Then we come to chance creation – or the lack thereof. Since the turn of the year, Lameiras has only created four open play chances when lined up in a 4-2-3-1 spearheaded by Ladapo; just under once every three games. Compared to last season, the rate at which he makes chances has decreased by two-thirds.

This is reflected in Lameiras’ assists. Last season, Lameiras put players in positions to score goals. Gary Sawyer, Jamie Ness (see below) and Moses Makasi all scored after being played clean through. Against Southend, he put Joel Grant clean through twice in a matter of minutes. He put the same player in a brilliant position to equalise against Peterborough, only to see his shot come back off the post. He created the openings for Sarcevic to score against Bradford, and Grant to score against Rotherham and Rochdale.

Compare that to Lameiras’ assists this season. Not only is he assisting goals at nearly half the rate he did last season, his assists are of a lesser quality. Of the seven he has accumulated, three were simple passes for players to score from difficult positions (Grant v Luton, Threlkeld v Rochdale, Smith-Brown v Rochdale), one was the winning of a penalty, one a pass into Ladapo with his back to goal which was finished superbly (also against Rochdale) and another the corner which precipitated a horrific own goal against Bristol Rovers.

When you break it down, Lameiras’ only assist of real quality came recently against Blackpool: a smart run into the box followed by a pin-point cross for Ladapo to nudge over the line into an open goal from a matter of yards.

Ultimately, the absence of a target man in the mould of Taylor has been detrimental to his – and Carey’s – achievements this season. Instead of playing to their strengths, Adams has sacrificed them to try and extract more from Ladapo. The consequences of which have seen Argyle operate close to the relegation zone all season. It’s testament to how much Lameiras has improved this season that he has still be as involved in as many goals as he has; if Argyle stay up, he will have been the principal reason.

It’s time for Taylor to start

Therefore, as Argyle head into an Easter weekend from which they could well emerge in the relegation zone, it’s time to finally return Ryan Taylor to his place leading the attack. Ladapo’s status as undroppable ought to have expired long ago, and with three games coming up that are not suited to his style and approach, Adams cannot afford to continue to sideline Taylor any longer.

With Argyle desperate for points on the road against Gillingham – and Accrington – Adams needs to adapt his side to increase the chances of his team scoring. Another blank and scant shots on target can be tolerated no longer. There is one player who is more likely to improve that than any other: it’s time for Ryan Taylor to rise to the occasion again.