It’s been a while since we experienced the emotions that only a diabolical Argyle away performance can provide. The Greens are yet to win away from Home Park in the league this season, but they’ve often looked good in some of those games despite the results. Think about the first halves against Wigan and Lincoln, the second period against Hull, or the attacking talent on show against Wimbledon.
This, however, was not one of those occasions. Plymouth Argyle’s 5-1 defeat at Fleetwood was just as abysmal as the scoreline suggests. A shambles at the back was combined with a dreadful toothlessness in attack to deliver a most horrific performance. Indeed, it’s probably on par with last season’s trip to Exeter as one of the worst displays since Ryan Lowe took charge at Argyle.
And the manager himself wasn’t blameless – far from it. Lowe’s setup doomed Argyle to defeat right from the start, as all of the issues that have harmed the Greens this season came to the fore in one dismal afternoon.
Set up to fail
Lowe and Argyle’s scouting team really ought to have had a grasp on Fleetwood’s style of play. All season, they’ve been experts at turning over possession and setting up to attack teams on the counter. It’s baffling, therefore, that Lowe’s team selection seemed to play directly into the hosts’ hands.
Argyle ultimately had far too many holes in their spine for the requirements of the fixture. In lining up with Conor Grant in the deep midfield position, they didn’t provide themselves with the defensive solidity and covering required against a team so dangerous when turning over possession. It’s no surprise that Lowe switched things up after just ten minutes, brining on Tyrese Fornah for Panutche Camara, and pushing Grant further upfield. Though as it turns out, it was already too late.
Argyle’s problems were compounded by a leadership void at the back – where have we seen that before? This is perhaps a harsher criticism to throw in Lowe’s direction. After all, Kelland Watts, Will Aimson and Jerome Opoku have been working well together in recent weeks, with the latter scoring his first goal for the club against Portsmouth on Monday. But it was never likely to work here.
With Opoku in the centre of defence, Argyle had no vocal leadership coming from such an important position. He resembled a lost sheep at times, so often caught out of position and not vocal enough to get Watts and Aimson to cover. It all goes back to the idea of selections based on opponents. Opoku is a useful player to have when Argyle are likely to dominate possession; he completed 100% of his passes over 90 minutes against Swindon as Argyle built brilliantly from the back. But Fleetwood away was never going to be his game.
All of this was the perfect setup for Fleetwood to overrun Argyle. The Greens have struggled against the high press all season, and that’s exactly how their hosts tried to hurt them from the first whistle. Argyle coped at first, perhaps unsurprisingly given all the technical players in defensive positions, but it would never last. And as soon as Fleetwood did win it high up the pitch, after four minutes from Camara’s error, they scored. It was always likely to be the way.
It was a problem entirely of Argyle’s own making, and completely foreseeable. The Greens had 59.5% of possession in the first half, with 364 touches to their opponents’ 271. They completed 221 passes in that time, which was 93 more than Fleetwood. But who had the better chances? Fleetwood were more than happy to let Argyle have the ball, press smartly, and tear Lowe’s side apart on the counter.
Straight from kick off, a massacre ensued.
Mistakes still prevalent
Two of Argyle’s major flaws this season have been dealing with the high press and scattered individual errors. We’ve touched on the first, but that’s not a feature of every game. After all, not every side sets up to press from the start – look at Northampton. However, the rate of individual errors has a constant, significant worry.
In truth, the Greens have been partial to the occasional blunder all season. From the first away day at Wimbledon when Aimson dallied on the ball, right up to the draw against Portsmouth on Monday when Watts and Fornah had their own brain fades. Argyle have been plagued by cock-ups, and nothing demonstrated that better than those 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon.
We’ve already touched on Camara’s error for the first, but Argyle made sure they weren’t done there. The second goal in particular saw a catalogue of errors, with Opoku caught in no-mans land defending against nobody in particular, and Mike Cooper letting slip what ought to have been a comfortable take at Callum Camps’ feet. Cooper also slipped to make Wes Burns’ finish easier for the third, but that was more unfortunate than idiotic, and the danger really ought to have been dealt with before Burns went clean through.
We’re not done. Fleetwood’s fourth goal also saw an old problem come to the fore, with Scott Wootton and Frank Nouble beaten so easily in the air. But the fifth was possibly the worst of the lot. Byron Moore, under no pressure at the back post, cleared the ball straight into the path of Camps to slam the ball home. It was honestly the perfect assist, similar to Fornah’s error against Portsmouth but somehow worse in execution. Had it not been so tragic, it would’ve been hilarious.
It’s such a frustrating issue that keeps rearing its ugly head. These players aren’t terrible. In fact, they’ve all shown across their time at Argyle that they have a lot to offer. But if the silly mistakes aren’t cut out, these results will happen.
Even in games where Argyle’s defence has looked shaky this season, the attack has always looked a threat, but even that was lacking on Saturday. The choice of personnel may have had a role in that too, particularly the persistence with Frank Nouble, who had no shots, won only 17% of his aerial battles and completed just 8 passes across the 90 minutes.
I could go on a little more with Argyle’s toothlessness on Saturday, but I’ve already wasted enough of your time. So instead, I’ll simply say that a reaction to this display is desperately needed. And soon.
Ryan Lowe’s record of having never lost two league games in a row at Argyle is under serious threat. The 5-1 defeat is a big mental setback, and a trip to Peterborough could hardly be coming at a worse time – they’ll be after a reaction too after they relinquished their lead at the top of League One following defeat to Blackpool at the weekend. There’s also the question of selection. One presumes Hardie and Jephcott will be straight back in, but who plays in defence? Canavan for Opoku would be the obvious choice, but the former’s red card on Saturday and subsequent suspension was the cherry on top of a particularly unpalatable cake.
It’ll no doubt be tough, but dealing with adversity has been a staple of Argyle under Lowe. They’ve demonstrated their bouncebackability in the past, and whilst Saturday was awful, the promise of better days to come is enough to keep us enthused.