After a dark beginning to December, light finally emerged in the week before Christmas Day. Argyle’s worst month this season saw four consecutive defeats after capitulations against Ipswich, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers, followed by an identity crisis against Crewe as Ryan Lowe turned to a back-four to start a game for the first time in his tenure as manager of Plymouth Argyle.

Thankfully, a hard-earned victory over MK Dons finally broke a six-match run of defeats and saw Argyle victorious in League One for the first time since Swindon on the 3rd November.

A 2-2 draw away at Charlton followed, meaning Argyle are still without a win or a clean sheet away from home in the league, and the month closed with another disappointing defeat, this time to Oxford, after a promising start to the match.

Player of the Month: Luke Jephcott (10.79)

It will come as little surprise to anyone that the player of the month was Luke Jephcott, the man who scored five of the seven goals for Argyle in December. Jephcott has come a long – long – way since he was loaned out to Southern League Truro City. Yet, at the age of 20, he still has even further to go before he can become the best player he possibly can, but his finishing is so impressive that it would be a real coup for Argyle to keep him next season, assuming he doesn’t leave for another club in January.

Despite his ridiculous goal scoring rate, Jephcott is still far from the complete package at this level, and may yet struggle if he moves to another team that cannot provide chances for him at the rate that Lowe’s Argyle have. Yet, the flip-side of that coin is that Argyle will struggle if they lose Jephcott, since a whole raft of players (other than Jephcott) have conspired to miss as many goals as possible in spite of the chances created for them. December was, of course, another reminder of just how valuable the Welshman is to this team. Creating chances means nothing if the ball doesn’t actually go into the back of the net.

Jephcott doesn’t always get the highest ratings, mostly because his style of play is largely geared towards getting on the end of attacking moves.That’s not to say that all Jephcott can do is finish – far from it. No, it is merely a reflection that 17 of his 20 goals in 2020 have been from a first-touch finish, while the other three were with a second touch, all of which came inside the box at an average distance of 5.7 yards from goal. It’s not for nothing that nearly a fifth (18%) of Jephcott’s completed passes this season have been kick-offs. Or that he has recorded no assists in 2020 (and no big chances created), compared to a combined 16 among his strike partners.

Yet, there can be no doubt that he is deserving of player of the month in December, after coming second in November, when he once again carried the goal-scoring burden for Ryan Lowe, possibly saving his job in the process.

To put his remarkable 2020 in context, Jephcott is the first Plymouth Argyle player since Reuben Reid (2014) to score 20 goals in a calendar year. Reid scored 22 at a rate of one every 193 minutes, Jephcott scored 20 at a rate of one every 116 minutes. However, Reid played a full, regulation season. Jephcott lost 9 games (potentially 12 had Argyle ended up in the play-offs) due to the curtailment of the 2019/20 season, and an anywhere between 3-7 games because of the late start to the 2020/21 season.

If you’re a betting man (unless you’re an addict, in which case seek help), you’d surely want to put your money on Jephcott to receive a senior call up to Wales’ national team at some point in his career. He started the last year in the Southern Football League Premier South, and ended it as the second highest scorer in League One. And as the player of the month, of course.

2. Will Aimson (10.57)

Aimson might be a surprise appearance at second, notably because he has deservedly earned a nickname as Bambi ever since he developed a habit of slipping over at least once per game starting with the 2-2 draw with Portsmouth. Fortunately (for Aimson and us) these slips haven’t led to immediate catastrophe and I hope that he can put it behind him in the near year (given how ridiculous it is).

Leaving that aside, Aimson ended the month poorly by giving away a needless penalty against Oxford. Regardless of the fact he got the ball, he went through the back of the player and had no need to make the tackle at that point. Yet, prior to the walls caving in on him during the final minutes of the month, he was otherwise solid. Mostly excellent against Charlton, particularly when red shirts started to find cracks in Argyle’s midfield, he was similarly solid against MK Dons to prevent any frights late on to secure Argyle’s first win since Swindon. Even against Crewe, another bad night for Argyle, he himself was impressive, at least relative to the rest of the team, and put in one of his personal best passing displays of the season. Of course, Aimson was largely spared the humiliation of the Rochdale debacle after starting from the bench.

That’s not to forget his highlight of the month, galloping back to make a superb last-ditch tackle to thwart a 1-v-1 and help Argyle to a much needed (and deserved) victory against Ipswich… oh wait I just remembered how that ended. Alas, as the PM might say.

3. Conor Grant (10.10)

With news that George Cooper is going to be injured for some time, it’s a good thing that Conor Grant has emerged as an able back-up since he was first injured against Crewe. Though he maybe does not provide the same quality as Cooper does (or maybe that should say as Cooper can, given he hasn’t hit top form yet this season), he certainly offers a similar quality of crossing from the left wing, leading to the opening goal against Ipswich and more recently the opening goal against Gillingham (though that does not count to this given it took place in January.

Grant has plenty to learn about this new role, particularly defensively, but it’s been a good enough start thus far and it’s been wonderful to see him finally blossom in a green shirt. The biggest question for him will be whether he can keep Byron Moore out of wing-back, particularly given the success of his relationship with Danny Mayor in that position back in late October and early November.

4. Joe Edwards (10.05)

Player of the month in November, Joe Edwards continue to impress from wing-back and keep Byron Moore out of the team. Though Edwards offered less in attacking during December than he has since winning his place back in the team, he still offers powerful, direct running infield from the wing, while helping to guard the right-flank of the defence when without the ball. During a month of defensive howlers, he’s largely done that job well, though more cracks have been emerging than since he broke into the team and its possible that he needs a rest, given how much running he seems to get through when on the pitch.

Edwards’ highlight of the month of course came from setting up Ryan Hardie’s much-needed winning goal against MK Dons, powering past static defenders with another direct run in from the wing and crossing for the finish. In a game in which Argyle were overly cautious and created little, he provided the inspiration that finally got three points back on the board.

5. Ryan Hardie (9.83)

Ryan Hardie has finally returned to something like his best form, and what a relief it is. Sure, he started the month slowly, but the winning goal against MK Dons was a predatory finish, the likes we haven’t seen enough of. Following that, he provided two assists for Luke Jephcott away to Charlton and then a third assist – and fourth goal involvement in three games – as Panutche Camara scored his first league goal for Argyle against Oxford.

Hardie also created another big chance for Jephcott away to Bristol Rovers, but Hardie himself missed three great chances in that game, overshadowing his otherwise good performance and leaving him with an average score of 4. Playing well means nothing if you, as a striker, miss a hat-full of chances yourself.

Last, an honourable mention to Camara, who does not feature in this list since we only cover the top five, but he finished sixth by 0.13 points and was of course voted player of the month by readers of Plymouth Live. Like Hardie, he finished the month strongly and it was great to see him get off the mark in the league. Hopefully this will translate into even more attacking output from him in the coming months.

Previous winners:

September 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Danny Mayor (11.61)
  2. Will Aimson (10.31)
  3. Conor Grant (9.86)
October 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Kelland Watts (11.20)
  2. Danny Mayor (10.56)
  3. Joe Edwards (10.26)
November 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Joe Edwards (11.86)
  2. Luke Jephcott (10.38)
  3. Michael Cooper (10.12)

How we calculate the score

Each player receives a match rating from 1-10 and one player from each match receives a man of the match bonus. Players who played fewer than 15 minutes of a match do not receive a match rating unless they made a significant impact. The players are scored by a variety of individuals who have witnessed every match this season.

The scores are aggregated and weighted against the number of appearances, before the man of the match bonus is added. In this way, we are ranking the impact of a player across the season. The more often they have played and the better they have performed, the more of an impact they have made on the team’s season, and therefore the higher they rank.

The formula also adds weight to higher scores. A player who gets 6s and 7s every week would average out at the same rating as a player who got a 9 one week and a 4 the next. Yet, that 9 rating implies a player made a match-winning impact and that should be rewarded. So, players who score higher ratings receive higher scores, even if their average rating is the same as a player who gets consistent middling-scores.

This way of ranking players enables us to be more impartial when speaking of the impact made by each player across a season, as it significantly reduces:

  • recency bias (players who hit a spell of form often have their season-wide impact overstated because of their recent performances).
  • statistical bias (players with lots of goals or assists relative to their position tend to be rated above those whose performance levels have been consistently superior but are not involved in goal-scoring, often because it is hard to visualise a player’s impact across a season without resorting to these stats. It explains why attackers, or defenders involved in a high-number of goals, predominantly receive most recognition throughout a season – we’re looking at you, Garth Crooks).
  • conformation bias (fans who favour some players tend to fixate on their positive performances while neglecting to factor in their bad performances when ranking them across a season).