Following Kaine Kesler-Hayden’s abrupt recall by Aston Villa, a clear need arose to replace a player with the sixth-highest number of minutes played for Plymouth Argyle this season. The Greens, to their credit, acted quickly. Matthew Sorinola was the man brought through the door and, as an added bonus, he’s become the first Argyle signing this winter to join on a permanent deal.

Sorinola, still only 22, joins Argyle with a surprising amount of pedigree. He already has Championship experience, having spent last season on loan at Swansea City, and that came after a spell lower down the leagues with Milton Keynes. Perhaps the most surprising element of his career though was his spell with Union Saint-Gilloise, who currently top the Belgian Pro League. Ok, the move didn’t fully work out – it was his release from Union that allowed him to make his move to Argyle – but his continental experience will have done wonders for his character.

Having already completed a lap of at Home Park after Argyle beat Cardiff City at the weekend, Sorinola has the unusual honour of being a cult hero before he’s even kicked a ball. How could he fare when he steps onto the pitch for real?


Dealing with the noise

There’s one thing I want to address straight away: the reaction of Swansea fans to Sorinola’s arrival at Argyle. When Sorinola was unveiled, a flurry of comments from Swans supporters poured in. I’ll try to keep things clean here, but it’s safe to say they weren’t fully impressed following his time in South Wales.

Now, I could be churlish. I could perhaps say that listening to a fanbase who didn’t rate Morgan Whittaker, at a club who thought he was only worth £1 million, would be stupid. I could say that, and you could choose to agree. I wouldn’t blame you.

But I will try to be as fair as possible to our Jack Army friends. Whilst I feel their responses aren’t justified, and I’ll explain why in a moment, I can at least see why they didn’t rate the 22-year-old too highly. Take a look at the below. Although it’s tight, Swansea did win more points across 2022-23 when Sorinola didn’t start, they conceded fewer without him, and they scored more in those games by a fairly comfortable margin.

Swansea City (22/23) When Sorinola started When Sorinola didn’t start
Points (per game) 1.4 1.46
Goals scored (per game) 1.25 1.65
Goals conceded (per game) 1.4 1.38


You may look at those numbers and feel somewhat unperturbed. Sure, Swansea won more points per game last season when Sorinola didn’t start, but it was hardly by a statically significant figure. As true as that is, it’s the goals scored that is particularly eye-catching. Scoring 0.4 goals more per game, Swansea were clearly more exciting to watch in the games Sorinola didn’t start. And as a football fan, you’re bound to notice if you enjoy watching a game more when a certain player doesn’t feature.

Luckily, we’ve yet to consider something pretty vital about Sorinola’s impact on those numbers: it’s a complete coincidence.

Under Russell Martin, Swansea picked up a large portion of their points in a nine-game spell at the end of the season, which saw them jump from 16th to 10th. It’s certainly arguable that those nine games eventually clinched the Southampton job for Martin.

Before this run, he was tinkering with his side, and appeared to find something that worked for the final run-in. It just so happens that Sorinola wasn’t part of those games. His absence wasn’t the cause of Swansea’s upturn in fortunes, it simply coincided with him not being in the side. Before that run of nine games, Swansea averaged 0.93 points per game when Sorinola started, meaning they were comfortably better with him for the vast majority of the season.

If Martin really thought Sorinola was inadequate, he wouldn’t have wanted to work with him more than once. The opposite is true. Martin was Sorinola’s manager at Milton Keynes, worked with him again at Swansea, and by all accounts wanted to do so a third time. The player was heavily, and not without solid grounds, linked with a move to Southampton before he joined the Pilgrims this winter.

So yes, Swansea supporters may have reasons behind their belief that Sorinola isn’t up to standard. But that shouldn’t be a concern in its own right. Their reservations don’t have a great basis and, even if they did, they’ve been wrong in the past.

An attacking replacement

Kesler-Hayden played for 1711 minutes during his stay at Home Park. Last season at Swansea, Sorinola played just one more, clocking up 1712 minutes across the campaign. A direct comparison, therefore, could hardly be more relevant.

I’ve compared the numbers from both spells. My initial assessment is that Sorinola has the ability to make up for Kesler-Hayden’s absence, and he could also add to Argyle’s attack by offering strengths where Kesler-Hayden struggled.

Many of Sorinola’s success rates put him more or less on par with Kesler-Hayden. At 48%, both players have exactly the same ground duel success rate. Sorinola just about has the edge with his passing success (78% vs 77%) whilst Kesler-Hayden comes out on top for tackling success (68% vs 71%). Kesler-Hayden does actually have a comfortable lead in aerial duel success (26% vs 48%), but this is never quite as vital for a wing back/full back as it is for someone playing in the centre.

Going forward though, the players differ significantly. One obvious example is the fact that Kesler-Hayden didn’t score during his stay at Home Park, whilst Sorinola notched two goals in his Swansea spell. One saw him bundle home a set piece at West Bromwich Albion, and the other was a splendid finish to give his side the lead against Blackpool.



Sorinola’s numbers are most notable in the build-up play. He made 21 key passes last season, compared to 16 for Kesler-Hayden this term. That may not seem like a significant gap, but a figure of 21 is actually closer to Alfie Devine and Luke Cundle this season than it is to Kesler-Hayden. Don’t see that as a measure of game time alone either; Sorinola completed 1.10 key passes per 90 minutes at Swansea. Compared to Argyle this term that puts him fairly close to Morgan Whittaker, above Jordan Houghton, and comfortably higher than the likes of Joe Edwards and Callum Wright.

His crossing, and frequency of it, plays a significant role in those numbers. Put simply, Sorinola crossed last season at a remarkable rate. Only Morgan Whittaker has attempted as many crosses this season than the 78 Sorinola posted last term. For his part, Kesler-Hayden attempted 21 in the first half of this campaign.

Player Crosses Attempted
Morgan Whittaker 78
Matthew Sorinola* 78
Jordan Houghton 56
Mickel Miller 46
Adam Randell 37
Finn Azaz 22


All of the above, pretty unsurprisingly, means Sorinola has created a good number of big chances. He created an average of 0.26 per 90 last season. Again, that’s a figure that compares favourably to Argyle’s numbers this term, with only Cundle and Finn Azaz claiming a higher average.

Player Big Chances Created per 90
Finn Azaz 0.51
Luke Cundle 0.29
Matthew Sorinola* 0.26
Mickel Miller 0.22
Mustapha Bundu 0.21
Morgan Whittaker 0.20


When added to the couple of goals he scored, we shouldn’t be shocked to see Sorinola post a good number of goal contributions. Ok, his total of three assists last season is hardly world-beating, but it’s solid enough. It’s also another metric where he edges out Kesler-Hayden, who managed two league assists during his Argyle spell.

Excitingly, one of those assists was for a certain Morgan Whittaker. Could we see them linking up again as the season progresses?


That’ll be the aim. At his best, Sorinola can be a player who lives up to Kesler-Hayden’s talents at the back, whilst also adding another string to Argyle’s bow in attack. Let’s hope he can reach that level.

Foster’s preferences

Sorinola’s arrival is perhaps the clearest indication yet of a switch to Ian Foster’s preferred shape for the remainder of the campaign.

Kesler-Hayden was a useful player for Argyle to have under Steven Schumacher. He could play on either side of the defence, as was comfortable in back four or a back five. He did though start much more frequently as a full back at Atgyle. In his 21 starts across all competitions, Kesler-Hayden played at right back 11 times, left back six times, right wing back three times and left wing back just the once. In total, it’s 17 appearances as a full back compared to just four as a wing back.

Sorinola is, if you’ll excuse the oxymoron, the same but different. He too can comfortably play on either side of the defence, and he too doesn’t have a problem featuring in a back four or a back five. But he differs significantly in how he’s been used across his career.

Keeping with the theme of his season with Swansea, Sorinola made 22 starts in all competitions. That consisted of 14 starts as a right wing back, six as a left wing back, and one each as a left back and right back. In total, that’s 20 starts as a wing back and just two as a full back. Essentially, he posted the complete opposite numbers to Kesler-Hayden.

Player Starts at full back (%) Starts at wing back (%)
Kaine Kesler-Hayden (23/24) 81% 19%
Matthew Sorinola (22/23) 9% 91%


Now it’s true that Sorinola has manager Martin to thank for his extended spell at wing back. Martin likes using a back three, and wing backs are of course essential to that system. But there’s no reason to believe that Foster will use him any differently. He’s used wing backs exclusively in the league so far, is unbeaten, and the other signings all appear to fit such a style.

Like it or loathe it (and there are conflicting views), wing backs are here to stay. The hope, of course, is that the system will continue to work as well as it did against Cardiff. And if Sorinola can come in and improve from that base? Well, it’s an exciting prospect.