A fantastic finish by Ruben Lameiras handed Plymouth Argyle a late win against ten-men Peterborough. The game swung on a red card in the final seconds of the first half and a moment of inspiration late on.

Red cards change games

Argyle’s victory stemmed largely from two moments. First, Lee Tomlin’s stupid decision the throw his arm at Ryan Edwards while he was preventing striker Ivan Toney from doing something equally stupid. The attacking midfielder had been booked shortly before after losing a 50-50 in midfield and flooring Graham Carey. Second, Darren Ferguson chose to introduce midfielder Reed for speedy attacker Dembele at half time.

The effect of this was twofold. Obviously the Posh found themselves down to ten men, without their main creative force, but more importantly they sacrificed a counter attacking threat for midfield stability. Wrong decision. The conservative attitude left Toney as the lone attacker and Fox, who had been marginalised in the first half, finally had time and space in possession.

He used this to great effect as Argyle established a stranglehold of possession, nullifying the attacking threats of Peterborough and finally getting Lameiras into good attacking positions. It was only in the final twenty minutes when Peterborough finally began to put pressure on Fox and Argyle’s defence – and when the team lost the link-up play of Taylor – that they started to look like snatching something.

Mixed bag tactically

Derek Adams lined his team up in a 4-3-1-2 formation designed to mirror that of Peterborough’s, and that worked to an extend in the first half. Argyle may have been unable to get a foot on the ball for most of it and relied on long, direct passing to move forward, but the team were strong defensively. Following a slow start in which the diamond struggled to settle, the unit – Sarcevic in particular – really began to assert itself and denied the Posh space to exploit. Adams got that tactical decision right.

Had he stuck with the same 4-2-3-1 formation as had been seen since the 1-1 draw with Burton then things could have gone very differently. It would not have been as dire as being 4-0 down to Luton, since yesterday’s opponents do not have the same individual skill nor do they have the same familiarity with the formation, but there would have been more spaces to exploit and likely better chances for the opposition. Still, had it not been for the red card, Argyle would have been hard pressed to even come close to snatching a goal in the second-half. Though the lineup protected the defence sufficiently, it did not help the team create chances.

Yet, with 13 minutes to go and Peterborough having enjoyed a mini-resurgence, Adams made a bold call and brought the impressive Ryan Taylor off for Luke Jephcott. It backfired. Argyle lost the intelligent link up play of their number nine and, more importantly, his physical presence. As Peterborough pressed higher up and won more of the ball, Ladapo was unable to bring anything under control as a lone striker. Peterborough built pressure and put a couple of dangerous deliveries into the box, one of which Edwards did very well to clear from under his own crossbar as Letheren stayed on his line.

Taylor had hardly been playing defence splitting passes, but he had been the more influential striker and the one most likely to find the game-changing goal, routinely putting himself in good positions to score in second half but not being able to find the necessary touch.

Adams slightly got away with this sub, as Jephcott struggled to make any form of impression upon the game while Peterborough looked more likely to snatch the winning goal from the moment Taylor was removed. Had it not been for another fantastic finish through a crowded penalty area from a half-chance by man of the moment Lameiras, we would have been left questioning whether Adams had blown the chance of three vital points by relieving the pressure the Greens had built to that point.

Good finish, but creativity lacking again

Once again, Argyle took more than they deserved from a game following a decisive, accurate finish by Ruben Lameiras. Had it not been for his return to the team, we could be looking at just one or two victories during this period and the team could be well and truly submerged in relegation trouble. The draw against Burton, the win against Coventry, the win against Peterborough: all three owed to good finishing by the Portuguese (and in some cases poor defending). That amounts to six point alone, without which the team would be stuck in 23rd and firm relegation favourites. A crude measure of influence maybe, but one that is easy to understand.

In the second-half, like in recent games, Argyle failed to translate their possession into an attacking threat. Yes, Peterborough lined up to frustrate Argyle, but in this game of attack versus defence, the defence won quite comfortably. A fair chunk of this was because of Ladapo’s minimal influence – his main involvement was to head a corner over the bar – and Carey’s conservatism (more about that later). Both were marginal threats as Taylor, Sarcevic and Lameiras were the main pillars of attack in the final third.

Last season’s success was built around solidity in defence and the potency of Carey and Lameiras in attack, but we have yet to truly see the pair create chances for their teammates in the same way this season. A lot of that is down to the fact that the duo have yet to play as inside forwards in the same way as last season, with Adams preferring an attacking trident including Sarcevic behind a lone striker. It remains unlikely that we will see Argyle line up in their undisputed best formation this season, but until it happens we are unlikely to see the duo creating chances in the same vein as last season. Instead, it looks like we’ll be relying on clinical finishing from half-chances to deliver points for the time-being.

Conservative Carey

One of the biggest frustrations in the second-half was the conservative nature of Graham Carey. In recent seasons the Irishman has been the Green’s talisman, but that mantle is fading this season for a variety of factors, not least the rise of Ruben Lameiras. Against Peterborough, we saw this once more. Instead of pushing forward to help his team convert superiority in possession into a lead on the scoreboard, Carey played far too deep with an eye on preventing Peterborough from registering a threat at the other end.

In some ways this was smart: Fox would be easily caught out by a swift counter attack – and duly was on a couple of occasions. However, Argyle had a comfortable control of possession, with Fox and Canavan in particular demonstrating composure and control over possession. Peterborough were lined up to defend, not to counter, and so by positioning himself 40-yards or more from goal at all times only helped them achieve this. When Lameiras was found in possession, they found it easier to surround him and force the ball backwards to Carey, who was in a nonthreatening position.

All of this was to the visible frustration of Adams and Paul Wotton on the sideline, who constantly implored him to push further forward, and they eventually succeeded in positioning him higher up the pitch as the second-half progressed. Yet, Carey’s main attacking contribution was – once again – from a deadly set-piece that narrowly missed the far post and the head of Ryan Edwards. Seeing Argyle’s best player over the past three seasons reduced to a man whose main threat now comes from dead-ball situations is depressing. Certainly, poor midfield control has hampered his performances all season, but in some ways it looks like his self-belief has been reduced. Five wins from six look likely to be the turning point in the season – not that Argyle truly deserve to have accumulated so many points over this run – but the return of the Carey of old would be a blessed sight, even if he does depart in the summer.