The magic of the F.A. cup returned to Plymouth Argyle once again and to a neutral at least, did not disappoint. A great advert for League One sides was presented to us at Home Park with two struggling teams plying their trade in the bid to progress to the prestigious 3rd round of the Emirates F.A. Cup.

Riley revelation

A large proportion of blame of the Pilgrims’ downfall has been shovelled towards former gunner Tafari Moore within recent weeks. This weeks outing against Oxford United saw Joe Riley given his first start since an away outing at Bristol Rovers earlier in the season, in a bid to improve the stability at the back. A draw was a result in that game which featured two teams offering very little in attack.  The former Shrewsbury man proved his worth this afternoon with a stellar performance against Northern Ireland international Gavin Whyte. The pacey winger provided a difficult task for Riley but he excelled, preventing Whyte from progressing up the pitch numerous times. The Salford born full back also provided a threat in the attacking half via several well placed crosses and overlapping runs into the oppositions half. He wasn’t perfect but demonstrated an improvement on Moore’s performance on Tuesday. The question is whether he can he progress and make himself into a pivotal member of the Pilgrims starting 11, much like Niall Canavan has done in recent weeks.

Power off

Both goals were conceded within a 10 minute spell after the break, which demonstrates the fact that Argyle, not for the first time, switched off after half-time. The greens looked strong going into the interval but came out a completely different team. The first goal came from a lapse of concentration where Ashley Smith-Brown was caught napping after a loose ball was collected by the Oxford midfield, two passes later and the ball had hit the back of the net. The second was, in simple terms, a wonder strike. Oxford midfielder Callum Brannagan collected the ball just outside the box before hammering it into the top left hand corner. These goals could have been avoided if Argyle came out from the interval with a similar spirit as the later half had shown there may have been a greater chance of success. Tactical decisions such as the choice to play Fox and Ness in a double pivot (rather than Fox deeper) may be questioned but even with that flaw, we were still taking the game to Oxford in the first half. We simply stopped doing so.

Set-piece encouragement

Carey and Fox received multiple opportunities to place dangerous balls into the box from a set piece situation. You may think that this point was raised during Tuesday nights visit to Shrewsbury: however, the problem differed. The problem at Shrewsbury was the quality of delivery whereas the problem for the greens was the poor finishing from these set plays. There was an opportunity in the first half, which was squandered by Argyle’s number 16. Joel Grant should have capitalised on a chance to shoot from inside the six yard box but failed to do so. He received the ball from a David Fox corner which the Oxford defence failed to clear. The ball came to him with his back to goal therefore he attempted an audacious backheel which went wide of the left hand post, a chance which really could have found itself in the back of the net. The deliveries were greatly improved this weekend compared to Tuesday nights display however the end product was what was lacking within the 90 today.

Substitutes too late

I’ll be the first to admit that I stated that the substitutes were implemented with next to no effect last Tuesday: however this Saturday we saw Derek Adams nominate his chosen saviours too late in the game. As stated in the previous paragraph, there was still a problem but it was an altogether different problem to the Shrewsbury game.  Ryan Taylor was introduced exactly 20 minutes after Oxford scored their second goal of the afternoon which was quite frankly too late. Fan favourite Ruben Lamerias was introduced in the 86th minute a whole 33 minutes after Oxford’s second.

Once Taylor was introduced, the attacking threat became a great deal more difficult for the Oxford back four to handle due to his aerial ability. The introduction was a wise decision on balance, made wiser by the removal of Jamie Ness due to him walking the ever dangerous tight rope of the dreaded red card. Prior to Taylor’s introduction, Argyle were struggling to get the ball to stick in the opposition’s half. He provided exactly what the Pilgrims were after, as we have seen him do many times before. He won header after header and provided a crucial building block for every Argyle attack.

The introduction of Portuguese winger Ruben Lamerias allowed Argyle to carve the oppositions back four open with great ease compared to earlier on in the game. The tricky playmaker entered the pitch at he expense of Mancunian left back Ashley Smith-Brown, leaving the back-line heavily exposed. You can see why it was done, as we needed to go for the game but nonetheless Argyle were lucky not to concede a third with the defence being left exposed. Joel Grant is who I would have personally nominated to leave the pitch due to the Jamaican looking like he had ran his race. The former Grecian was not having as much as an impact in the second half as he did in the first. The two substitutes bolstered Argyle’s attacking threat greatly and I cannot help but think if the pair were introduced during the 60th minute the score line may have been a different story.