Argyle miss the calming influence of Toumani Diagouraga in midfield

Not a surprise really, but something that became even more evident following the game against Doncaster. One of the many good things about Diagouraga during his 15 match spell with the club is that he was absolutely a jack of all trades. His physical presence was one thing, tied with his perseverance over 90 minutes that made him so difficult for opposing sides to play against. His main benefits to the team however were his composure on the ball and ability to get out of tight spots as well as his tendency to pick excellent passes into space that allowed Argyle to get the ball forward.
Jamie Ness is by no means a bad player and he improved as the game went on- but there is no denying that he looked a bit on the rusty side. Some of his passes were either overhit or underhit and he was visibly struggling to keep up with the pace of the game from an early stage. He did get his second wind and gradually ease into it but he was no replacement for the imperial Diagouraga whose natural ability was only matched by his concentration and consistency. Argyle need to sign at least one more central midfielder.

Ruben Lameiras is still some way from the finished article for Argyle

Fans have been surprised and delighted alike by the Lazarus-esque rise from obscurity that Lameiras has had over the Christmas period. From looking on the verge of being shafted out of Home Park, he has came back into the team and done remarkably well, playing a part in lots of goal and creating an impressive 1.56 chances per 90 minutes on the field.
However, performances like yesterdays demonstrate that despite a good run of form and excellent stats, he has a lot of improvement to do before becoming one of our best players. Too often he did not track back, leaving his full-back exposed and his end product was fairly poor, with many attacks grinding to a halt as soon as the ball was played to Lameiras’ feet. His tendency to misplace his passes or try and take the ball too far saw him substituted not long into the second half and Argyle were the better for his replacement. Speaking of which…

Argyle need to use Lionel Ainsworth more often

There is only one player who has created more chances per 90 minutes than Lameiras (with an excellent 1.62) and that is Lionel Ainsworth. Ainsworth’s career at Argyle is a very peculiar one so far in that it has not in any way been ‘bad’ but it has most certainly been underwhelming. Derek Adams has only allowed him one start in the league (where he incidentally assisted the winning goal) and has been loathe to use him from the bench (bringing him just three times in eleven league matches since that Bradford game, one of those only for four minutes). However, Ainsworth’s excellent statistics indicate that he should be afforded more opportunities than he is currently getting.
Stats aren’t the only reason why he deserves more of a chance- the intangibles are also in his favour. His electric pace (impressively maintained now that he is the wrong side of 30) stretch defences and as such can force them into mistakes as well as gaining us those extra ten-twenty yards of territory up the pitch due to his blistering runs. Against Doncaster, he was employed in something of a free role behind Ryan Taylor and in front of the diamond midfield that we switched to for the second half. This worked very well as his movement constantly baffled the Doncaster defenders and he was able to get a lot of time on the ball, setting up Antoni Sarcevic for a good chance late on that was unfortunately well saved by the Doncaster Rovers keeper. Adams showed great tactical instincts to bring him on in such a role and should trust such instincts more often.

Derek Adams once again demonstrated he has plenty of tactical flexibility

An oft-repeated myth about the Argyle manager this season is that he has no flexibility and always stick to the same ‘one up front’ system. Whilst it is true that Argyle usually start with one up front, he has shown plenty of flexibility within that framework (both 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations getting a fair hearing this season) and yesterday was another example of how he is more than capable of making changes during games.
Argyle were being outplayed with three in midfield, with Doncaster’s diamond system being well-implemented and ensuring that they swallowed up the vast majority of the loose balls in midfield, as well as crowding Argyle out when they were in possession so as to ensure that their passing options were limited. Adams, to his credit, saw this and decided to match Doncaster up by going to a diamond system himself. This is not the first time this season that he has done this, doing the exact same with Southend’s 4-4-2 in August and Walsall’s 3-5-2 in September.

Gary Sawyer’s remarkable season has continued

For most of the past two seasons, Gary Sawyer has been Mr Solid. He would rarely have a bad game but rarely have a very good one either. He would offer solid positioning and would rarely make a howler- but he would also come up short against players of real quality and he would rarely be able to offer much in the way of overlapping when he got forward. You would perhaps expect a player of this ilk to struggle making the step up to League One, but Sawyer has continued to age like a fine wine, if anything looking better against more threatening opposition rather than worse.
This match was a fine example of his recent improvement- his ability to stand men up when up against tricky runs from out wide and rarely let them get through to cut inside (one mistake accepted) was excellent and demonstrated the sort of smart on-pitch judgement that he has shown all season (whereas in previous years he tended to back off a little rather than mark tightly enough to force a man back). He also continued to venture forward with regularity, which became even more important following Argyle’s switch to a diamond system as he became the main outlet for width on the left hand side. Argyle must hope his Indian Summer of a career continues.