Plymouth Argyle’s strong start to the season continued with a 2-1 victory over Northampton. The result, for now at least, leaves Argyle in sixth place in League One. If for some bizarre reason the season were to be halted and curtailed now, the Greens would have secured a play-off shot for promotion to the Championship. But when would that ever happen?
Argyle were probably good value for the win. It wasn’t a vintage display for Ryan Lowe’s side, and there is an argument that some of the bigger chances actually fell to the visitors on the day. But from a football purist’s perspective, Argyle were the only side looking to attack for the majority of the game, and if any side did enough to deserve to win it, it would be them.
In truth, Northampton’s game plan was particularly odd. They chose to sit back, but didn’t equip themselves with the right tools to make such a plan effective. It allowed Argyle to control the pace of the game and, aside from an alarming ten-minute spell in the second half, the Greens were able to dominate possession of the ball.
Argyle on the ball
Northampton came to Home Park looking to soak up pressure, and would probably have been happy with a point. The problem they had, however, was failing to line up with an outlet up front that allowed them to relieve that pressure when required. Instead of utilising a target man to hold the ball up following a clearance, the Cobblers lined up with the much more diminutive Ricky Korboa. It allowed Argyle to be dominant in the air and recycle possession quickly – the Greens’ back line won 9 aerial battles on Saturday compared to just two for Northampton’s front three.
What compounded Northampton’s misery, however, was their tactical style with this lineup in mind. Korboa was never likely to win too many long balls, but he could at least have been expected to press high up the pitch alongside Danny Rose and Sam Hoskins. But Keith Curle clearly didn’t instruct them to press, and as a result Argyle were on the ball much more often than not. The Greens ended up with over 65% of the possession on Saturday, and the visitors seemed more than happy for them to knock it around – almost 30% of the game was spent with one of Argyle’s back three on the ball.
That may seem like a sensible approach in theory, especially if you’re more than happy to take a point from the game. The problem, however, is a team with an abundance of creativity is always likely to create scoring opportunities if you give them the chance. Delightfully, Argyle fall into that category, and were able to do just that following a gorgeous cross from Conor Grant to set up Frank Nouble’s opening goal.
That’s the issue with looking to park the bus for 90 minutes. Sure, you may get a 0-0 every now and then, or even sneak a smash and grab 1-0 on occasions. But as soon as you concede, the game plan immediately gets tossed out of the window. As soon as Nouble found the back of the net on Saturday, Northampton had to completely change their style of play. Of course, they’d have made some soft of contingency plan for the eventuality, but it’s hardly ideal.
To their credit, Northampton did take advantage of a poor ten-minute spell from Argyle, but shrunk back into their shell soon after. Argyle took control again and won plenty of set pieces, of which one was eventually converted through Kelland Watts. Again, the Greens were hardly proficient with their set pieces on the day – the corner from which Watts scored was one 15 – but when you give a dangerous side so many chances to score, you really shouldn’t be surprised when they do.
And, gleefully, Argyle are a dangerous side these days. Even when not at their best, a goalscoring opportunity never feels too far away.
A difficult period
The way Argyle took advantage of Northampton’s game plan and created enough chances to punish them was enough to win the game. And thank goodness it was, because for the aforementioned ten-minute spell in the second half, it looked as though Lowe’s men would shred their own good work to pieces.
What was the cause of that? Well, mainly, it came down to some players simply being caught napping. During the period just before and after their equaliser, Northampton found it far too easy to cut through Argyle’s lines. Byron Moore and Tyrese Fornah were particularly culpable, failing to read play and cut out fairly straightforward threats before they were able to develop. But in truth, every Argyle player had more than a little wobble at the start of the second half.
Take the period just after the equaliser, for instance. Within around thirty seconds, Argyle had lost the ball from kick off, left a gaping chasm of space in the centre of the park, and nearly conceded another goal. Bear in mind this came right after they’d just conceded their first, and even that came just after Mike Cooper did well to deny another sweeping move from the visitors. From a situation of total control, Argyle suddenly looked shellshocked. It was painful to watch.
Why did it happen so suddenly? Perhaps it’s still down to the lack of sharpness after a long time without football, though with every passing game that excuse becomes flimsier. Add in the fact that Argyle seemed able to pick things up again once the damage was done, and the problem seems to become even harder to diagnose.
Whatever the case, it’s something Lowe ought to be looking at in the limited training sessions around the Lincoln fixture this week. As Northampton fans have been so keen to point out since the final whistle on Saturday, the Cobblers are far from the best team at this level, and Argyle throwing away such a strong position against them would have been a travesty.
It’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things. Argyle making a strong start in League One has been almost unheard of in recent years, and the mood all around is certainly positive. But these issues are worth pointing out; if they can be resolved quickly a stunning season could be in store.