Disappointed would be the word to describe the feeling of many fans in the immediate aftermath of Plymouth Argyle’s loss in their opening pre-season match against Truro, yet that feeling had largely dissipated by yesterday morning. Now, with Dominic Telford becoming the latest individual to make his way from Bury to Argyle, and a match against Parkway to look forward to on Saturday, it’s almost been forgotten.

Telford is a signing that could fly under the radar somewhat. A few have already questioned whether he can step up and lead the line next season in the same way Maynard did for Bury in the last. However, of Argyle’s present squad, he’s currently the one who is the most likely to command a large transfer fee in a year or two.

Player history

Dominic Telford hasn’t been around in football long. He made his first-team debut at Blackpool less than five years ago and only completed his first full season as regular member of the team last season with Bury.

After a breakout season with Blackpool aged 18, he left for Stoke but made no impact on their first-team before moving out on loan to Bristol Rovers last season. There, he enjoyed some success, but only one of his 19 league appearances came from the start. Despite this, he still scored three in the league, and five in all competitions, at a rate of one every 109 minutes.

At Rovers, he marked himself out as something of a goalscorer, but a player incapable of leading the line in a 4-3-3 formation that relied on greater height and physical power up front. A bit like Ladapo last season, Telford could score, but the team as a whole would score less – Darrell Clarke couldn’t afford to allow him to start many games because of it. Enter Ryan Lowe.

Lowe’s 3-1-4-2 style removed the need for Telford to be able to operate as a target-man. Instead, he was offered the opportunity to participate in build-up play along the floor and finish off chances in the box. He had players close by to interchange with and was able to make the most of his agile frame. It is this Telford that ought to excite fans – for certain he is now the striker best suited to Ryan Lowe’s style of play since Ladapo departed the club.

Style of play

Virtually the polar opposite of Ryan Taylor, Dominic Telford is a goalscorer. Across his professional career, he has averaged a goal every 183 minutes, just over one every other game. This is despite the fact that 60% of those appearances have come from the substitutes bench.

As years of watching Argyle will teach you, substitutes scoring is a rare sight – far rarer than Sky Sports’ advertising department want you to believe – and yet Telford has regularly been able to find the net in these circumstances.

Indeed, for those fans who have spent years craving “two up-front”, Telford is the kind of player you should enjoy to watch. Creative, quick, a good passer and a quite deadly finisher. The guy is only 22 at the moment and still in his formative years as a footballer, but if he blossoms in the way he hinted he might last season then Argyle are going to benefit from him in the next couple of years, both in footballing terms and financially.

Let’s start with that which we all want to see: goal-scoring. Lowe’s system relies on two strikers to find the net regularly, and Telford has already showed he can deliver that. Some have been deceived by the fact that Telford only scored six league goals last season, but that was actually a goal every 273 minutes – one in three. In all competitions that drops to every 159 minutes, significantly better than Ladapo last year.

If you look back of Telford’s goals in over the past two years, you’ll see that they’re evenly split between tap-ins as a result of good positional play:

His ability to drop his shoulder and beat a player:

Long-range shots:

And his surprisingly good heading in the box:

Indeed, one of the main reasons Telford has such a good minutes-per-goal rate is that he has all the essential tools in his locker to find the back of the net. He reminds me a bit of Jack Marriott during his time at Luton and Peterborough.

Just start with his movement in and around the box. He has good awareness of the positioning of the opposition defence and his own teammates, and therefore the available space in which to score. Neat and tidy finishes from close range account for the majority of his goals, which is what you want from a goal-scoring striker.

This can be seen particularly in his heading ability. Like Ladapo – who was similarly weak aerially despite his much greater size – he uses his ability to find the space and win headers in front of goal.

Then you come onto his dribbling. Here, his low centre of gravity and ability to accelerate quickly can allow him to carry the ball through tight spaces. Combined with his distance shooting, this gives him the ability – like Ladapo – to create goals out of nothing at all.

Yet, an undervalued quality of his lies in his build up play. There are more than a few examples of Telford interlinking in intelligent ways to help his team break through opposition defensive lines. It’s probably best to start with the obvious, such as this defence-splitting, goal-creating pass for Argyle’s new #10 Danny Mayor:

The awareness and technique to execute this pass perfectly does not come to all players. But Telford has demonstrated at times that he can be a creator as well as a goalscorer for his team. This superb back-heel flick to create a goal for Chris Dangall further demonstrates that point. Blending his speed and goal-scoring instincts to run in behind the opposition defence, he then had the presence of mind to pick out his teammate in a sublime way:

Another example came against Morecambe, when he once again paired his creative and finishing skills. Dropping off into midfield, he exchanged a one-two with Callum Styles – picking up an excellent position to break the midfield line – before then exchanging a one-two with Mayor. This time, he picked a perfect position to get a shot off at goal, and score. A masterclass in attacking positioning and execution.

The issue with Telford is that he is yet to demonstrate that he can consistently produce these moments of quality over the course of a season, though that is of course because he has never been first choice throughout a season. Yet, there is a real sense that he is on the cusp of that as we enter 2019/20. And being aged at only 22 means that he should only continue to improve during his time at Argyle.

Tactical role

Telford’s role is largely going to be goal-scoring. That’s mostly it. And though that seems obvious, it’s less so when you consider the trend away from goal-scoring strikers to building entire teams that can put the ball in the net.

Last season, 51.3% of Bury’s non-penalty league goals were scored by their strikers. By comparison, very few other teams come close to that share of goal-scoring. Of League One’s top six, Only Luton – who played in a very similar, all-out attack style with a formation featuring two strikers – had a share of 50%.

For runners-up Barnsley, it was 41.6%, followed by 38.2% for Charlton, 24.8% for Portsmouth, 31.2% for Sunderland and 32.9% for Doncaster. All of these sides relied more on their attacking midfielders for goals than their strikers. This has been epitomised in the move towards one-striker systems.

Just think of Derek Adams’ first seasons, in which Carey and Jervis were Argyle’s top goal scorers, not Reid, Brunt, Matt, Spencer, Goodwillie, Garita etc.

With Lowe’s 3-1-4-2 formation, that trend appears to be over in the south west. As at Bury last season, the strikers will be responsible for the goals ahead of any other position. Yes, it’s important that they help with build up play, but with four creators behind them it is more important that they finish off chances when they come. That was why Nicky Maynard was so important to Bury last season. He was an ever-present threat, a player always likely to get a goal that would decide a game.

He scored in half of the games he started in. Missing out on Maynard could have an impact on how Argyle perform next season, especially with Freddie Ladapo having departed. He would have almost certainly scored more than twenty goals in such a set-up, having netted 19 in a dysfunctional attack last year.

Yet, Telford could prove to be the replacement Argyle need. As has already been noted, his positioning is very similar to that of Maynard’s. Note how, from this attack, both Maynard and Telford are hanging around the goal-line, waiting for the chance to fall to them.

Again, look at how Telford is hovering around the edge of the goal from this corner. He’s waiting opportunistically, like Maynard has done to great effect throughout his career.

Indeed, Maynard may have got 20 league goals to Telford’s six, but the former was the constant in the attack. Lowe preferred to rotate the second striker spot between Byron Moore, Caolan Lavery and Telford, presumably to maintain morale or target different weaknesses in teams. Had Telford been a regular starter alongside Maynard, he would have been well into double figures.

When you look at Telford’s individual stats from last season, he’s not far from Maynard at all. He hit the target with a higher percentage of his shots and converted at a rate of nearly 20%, not too far from Maynard’s 25%. One of the key differences is that Telford averages only two shots per-game compared to Maynard’s three. After all, if you don’t shoot, you don’t score. That’s something he’ll have to improve upon next season.

Maynard Telford
Minutes per shot 35.5 46.7
Shots on target (%) 59% 64%
Conversion rate (%) 25.3% 19.4%

What’s important though is that all this adds up to a promising young centre-forward who looks like he really might become something a little bit special. He has all the tools to become a complete striker with the exception of target-man play . Having stepped out of Maynard’s shadow, and with a the possibility of a full-season as first-choice under Lowe coming up, now may be the season for him to flourish.

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