We’re going to be on a rollercoaster ride this season, aren’t we? 45 minutes into Plymouth Argyle’s Carabao Cup tie with Leyton Orient, I was looking forward to seeing the Greens cruise into the third round for the first time in 13 years. The only real concern was whether or not the clash with Tottenham next week would be broadcast on Sky Sports. A number of my group chats could well have been screenshotted and sent directly to “football images that precede unfortunate events.”
Alas, things are never that straightforward, particularly with Argyle. A disastrous 40-minute spell saw Ryan Lowe’s side steal defeat from the jaws of victory. And it really was just like that – Argyle weren’t outplayed by Orient in the second half, they simply threw it away. Panic and individual mistakes were the order of the day, and a highly comfortable situation turned into a disaster within an hour.
It’s such a shame, especially considering the positivity surrounding the club after a successful start to the campaign. The mood at half time was sky high amongst supporters, but this was no doubt a reality check. Who knows – maybe it’ll prove to be just what Argyle needed to keep their feet on the ground?
Argyle attack potent
Let’s start with the positives, because there still are plenty to take from the game despite the raw emotions following such a defeat. In the first half, and for the first five minutes of the second, Argyle looked as strong going forward as they have at any point across the last couple of seasons. Yes, Orient came out of the blocks strongly, but as soon as Argyle got their noses in front after some superb work in the penalty area from Ryan Hardie, they were dominant right up to half time whistle.
As has so often been the case in recent years, much of the threat going forward came via the Argyle left. Danny Mayor was naturally the chief force, controlling the game more or less from the time the Greens went ahead to the time they conceded their first. His dribbling was as proficient as ever and, with willing runners in the form of George Cooper, Panutche Camara and the strikers around him, he was often able to display a quality end product.
And how about Kelland Watts going forward? There are certainly signs that he played as a striker at youth level with his willingness to get into the penalty area. He got himself a goal, and Mayor an assist, with a lovely overlapping run to make things easy for Argyle’s premier playmaker, topping it off with a more than tidy finish. He was also keen to make an attacking impact in the second half – within five minutes he saw a shot from range clear the crossbar. We’re perhaps getting a suggestion that, in an attacking sense at least, Watts could offer more this season that Gary Sawyer was able to last term.
It’s important to note that whilst Argyle can seem a little left-handed going forward, their dominance in that area can benefit the team across the field. On various occasions, Leyton Orient brought four men over to deal with the threat of Cooper and Mayor. This meant that Byron Moore often found himself in acres of space on the right wing, and was able to receive the ball on little to no pressure on many occasions. It all meant that Argyle had yet another threatening aspect to their already dangerous attack.
And it was tremendous at times. Argyle scored twice, Hardie hit the bar and Dom Telford had one ruled out for offside. The Greens were very comfortable.
The last 40 minutes, by comparison, was a shambles.
Argyle weren’t necessarily poor right from the start of the second half. As we’ve mentioned, Watts had a shot early on, and Dom Telford missed a decent opportunity one-on-one from an admittedly tight angle. But when the first goal was conceded after 55 minutes, Argyle capitulated.
It was a very annoying goal to concede. Initially, Mike Cooper really ought to have caught the delivery from the corner rather than punching it out, but even from there Argyle had plenty of chances to clear the ball before it reached Louis Dennis at the back post. Conceding such a sloppy goal seemed to set alarm bells ringing not just in the Argyle defence, but across the entire team. They never really stopped.
Leyton Orient’s next two goals were also poor from a defensive point of view. For Jobi McAnuff’s strike, Cooper again will be disappointed – his decision to come so far off his line was a little rash, and made the decision to lob him easy for the veteran winger.
The third goal, meanwhile, still makes me cringe whenever I see it. With penalties looming, Scott Wootton only needed to play the ball into touch to secure a shootout. It’s hard to see exactly what he intended, but instead of doing that, he cushioned the ball down perfectly for Danny Johnson to steal it from him and score his stoppage time winner.
It was hardly an act of leading by example from the skipper on the night, and emphasised the leadership void on show across the evening. Without wanting to be disrespectful to the victors on the night, Plymouth Argyle have better quality players than Leyton Orient. If they kept their heads, they’d have had no problem securing the win even after conceding. It just needed somebody to take control, show some responsibility, and guide the side through the match.
Nobody was forthcoming. Instead, Argyle panicked more and more as the game was slipping away from them. The Orient-based commentators on iFollow made reference to Ryan Lowe slouched over the ad hoardings in the second half, perhaps to send a message of calm to his players, but it doesn’t look great in hindsight. It was that sort of behaviour we saw all across the field, that deferring of responsibility, that cost Argyle the game.
It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And it was painful to watch.
Missing out on a clash with Spurs hurts – that’s undeniable. Granted, the opportunity to play a Jose Mourinho side without being able to attend would’ve been a bit of a sickener, but still highly preferable to missing out entirely.
But, and I’m going to wheel out all of the cliches here, this could well prove to be a blessing in disguise. Had Argyle escaped from Brisbane Road with a victory, perhaps on penalties, it may well have papered over the cracks of a dismal second half showing. But nothing will bring those cracks to the fore more than losing in such circumstances.
On reflection, if defeats like this have to happen, it’s much more preferable for them to occur without any league points at stake. This loss, and the raw emotions that followed, should go a long way to ensuring that such a collapse doesn’t happen again in the near future.
In these circumstances, it’s always nice to have a quick opportunity to put things right, and Saturday’s League One clash with Wimbledon gives them the chance to do just that. A win would go a long way to exorcising the demons of Tuesday night.
Hopefully that’s exactly what happens, and we can go back to feeling positive and optimistic about the Pilgrims.