This week former Argyle striker Martin Gritton reviews West Brom, from the press box for Radio Devon.
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Let’s pick apart a good point on the road at West Brom.
That was more than just a point
I’d be happy with any point on the road this season. But after leaking 12 goals in 5 games (and worse 5 in 2 at home) a clean sheet and the return of Michael Cooper seem more valuable than a single point.
Argyle did a lot of growing up on the pitch, showing steely resolve, and seeing things out for a point after being on top for the first half. It was reminiscent of Birmingham, but the difference was taking something from the game.
Other games I’ve seen this season felt a touch desperate. Like a cup game. Happy to be there, and relying on sheer adrenaline and willpower to get a result.
Against West Brom, Argyle had a clear strategy to beat a better opponent (on paper), identify their weaknesses, and reduce their own vulnerabilities by being compact, street-wise, and hunting in packs.
I still think height and physicality is a different issue in this league, as is killer quality. And that was on display here again, as the second half went on, it felt like an uneven fight.
Argyle will need to strengthen in January, and adding steel to the midfield will be essential.
Middleweights vs Heavyweights
Argyle had to do all the work and movement and just hope a big punch didn’t land.
And West Brom were heavyweight. Carlos Corberán’s team is as physical and imposing a home team as they come at this level. It’s a recipe that Argyle does not like.
Argyle weren’t able to land a blow on West Brom, despite coming close through Whittaker and Bundu from long-range efforts.
But unlike this season, they didn’t leave themselves open to a knockout punch. They didn’t ride their luck.
But I’d also like to shout out our own heavyweights.
Bundu occupied the centre halves in a way that has been missing, either as a plan B or starting option. I’d like to see him get a start, now he must be approaching match fitness.
The bravery of Houghton is commendable, on the ball and as a player. He kept getting the ball under pressure – and when WBA realised he wouldn’t succumb to that pressure and would always move the ball quickly – they backed off.
After that, he had the freedom to dictate the pace of the game, getting the ball to Azaz, Mumba, and the increasingly exciting KHH.
The resolve to see the game out was exemplified by Lewis Gibson.
He wasn’t my MOTM until the last 20 minutes, but earned it because I know how hard it is to see those games out. He was ace, and so was Scarr, it was his kind of dust-up.
Defensive resolve and foul on sight?
Schumacher spoke before the game about how Argyle had spent the international break diving into their defensive frailties. One stat that popped out was how fewer fouls Argyle made than their opposition.
Argyle certainly made a mends on this front, copping 7 yellow cards while making cynical fouls as West Brom tried to break. It showed a different side to Argyle.
“We said we don’t want any lazy fouls, which I didn’t think we got. We got fouls where lads were away from us and we had to stop the attack. I have lost count of the number of times that has happened to us this season. It’s about learning, and wising up to the division we are in,” Schumacher told Plymouth Live.
Like many, I was nervous about Michael Cooper’s confidence, coming back from an injury into a match like this – but I shouldn’t have worried.
Early in the game he took a catch and threaded an inch-perfect throw to Azaz for a break on the left. His distribution was noticeably comforting to the defence.
It was harsh on Hazard to lose his place, as he didn’t do much wrong. But that moment above exemplified exactly what’s been missing with him at the back. So often he wasn’t confident enough to use the ball early.
Cooper was utterly calm on the ball, willing to invite the press to play through it.
His confidence emanated to the centre backs and beyond. Wrap him in cotton wool until Wednesday, because his distribution, maturity, and stature might just give Argyle the edge for this season.
Argyle’s defensive issues laid bare
If you didn’t catch last week’s stats post, it offered an intriguing look at Argyle’s season so far.
In short, Argyle were not creating enough dangerous chances, and conceding too many of their own. But if there’s ever a chart that showed exactly the scale of the issue, it’s the one above.
The chart shows where final passes were received and the percentage that ended up in the box. And you don’t need to be an expert to know that the red areas aren’t, ideally, supposed to be in the box.
It will be interesting to see whether Argyle’s more resolute approach can force opponents back.
See you after Sheffield Wednesday, which we can all agree is a must-win.