It may seem counterintuative, but this is how surrendering the midfield may make us more competitive under Ian Foster?

“Pack the midfield”. “Outnumber the opposition in there”. “The game was won/lost in the midfield area”.

The above phrases are commonplace in modern football punditry. Certainly given that most teams play styles which are based on keeping the ball on the deck and playing out from defence, if you can dominate the opposition centrally you are likely to have more possession, more control, and a better chance of winning the game.

Argyle’s success under Steven Schumacher centered around formations which enabled us to outnumber the opposition centrally. The 3-4-2-1 of last season saw a “box” of two defensive midfielders plus two more attack-minded ahead of them, and this season’s 4-3-3 had the full-backs invert into midfield to add to the numbers too. When playing out from the back, this always gave us options to progress the ball through the thirds and not have to resort to aimless hoofs upfield. This, combined with team cohesion, an appetite to commit players forward and great movement off the ball, meant that we consistently created chances and scored goals.

Under Ian Foster, despite some initial green shoots of positivity, the attacking, exciting football has disappeared. This has culminated in a second half performance at Sheffield Wednesday where we amassed a total of one shot on target, which was described as “perfect” by our Head Coach. It will take someone smarter than I to figure that one out.

It is quite clear that we are now looking to play “kick and chase”, only playing out from the back in low-risk situations, as demonstrated by Foster criticising Adam Forshaw for not “clearing his lines” prior to Tuesday night’s winning goal – even though footage shows he was in no way forced into hoofing it at any point.

Opposition managers have figured out how to stop us simply by deploying a press that allows centre-backs the ball but cuts off supply to wing-backs or midfield. This was most evident in Argyle’s dismal 0-3 defeat at home to West Brom, where, with painful regularity, the ball seemed to be passed back to Conor Hazard followed by a punt upfield.

Therefore, given that we are now regularly booting the ball over the head of our centre-mids… why pack the midfield? Why play numerous players there when we aren’t interested in progressing the ball through that area? My notion is: let the opposition take the midfield, and let’s outnumber them elsewhere.

Therefore, here’s the team and formation that I think would suit us better with Ian Foster in charge, and may see us scramble the few wins we need to stay in this division. A 4-2-4, with full-backs looking to tuck in and keep the defence compact, the two defensive midfielders sitting deep to protect the back four, and the wingers staying high and wide to pick up second balls from the front men.

It won’t be pretty deploying a style that is actively even more direct than before. But can anyone say that we are in any way a nice team to watch at the minute? The results under Foster have objectively not been terrible (11 points from 10 games), but a lot of the performances have been way below the standard required – even when you factor in the budget challenges we face in this division. The only goal now is a short-term one – and that is trying to stay out of the bottom three. This might just help us do that.