As far as opening days go, it doesn’t get much better than that. Plymouth Argyle took all three points with a 3-0 win at Crewe Alexandra to hand Ryan Lowe a perfect start as manager.
Alex Palmer, GK – 10, player of the match
Tricky decision on whether to give Palmer a 9 or a 10, but when he made so many crucial saves, and at vital moments, you can’t really say he didn’t deserve the top rating. He had a quiet opening period but came to life right before Argyle’s second goal, making a superb double save from close range to prevent a Crewe equaliser as the opposition started to get on top. A minute later and Argyle had doubled their lead.
It was that match-winning impact that bumps Palmer from a 9 to a 10. Not only did he do everything asked of him, distributing well and attacking crosses, he popped up at vital moments to skew things Argyle’s way. He then made a series of excellent saves in the second half as Crewe dominated. Had he not kept them out, then they would have pulled within a goal and sensed blood. This performance was nowhere near as good as it looked at 3-0, but Palmer was the main man in ensuing that Argyle not only won, but won comfortably.
Scott Wootton, CB – 7
Wootton, like his defensive comrades, had a solid game and formed an effective defensive trio. He started well by winning his first header of the game against Porter, and went on to win his fair share throughout the game. Given his aerial weakness was a key issue last season, this was a good start on that front. Wootton also made a series of smart interventions as the defence was thoroughly tested throughout the game.
His passing was quiet composed and, significantly, he was the most visible leader in defence for the most part as he pointed Sarcevic and co. around and into place on more than a few occasions.
Niall Canavan, CB – 7
Like Wootton, Canavan was solid in defence. He won the majority of his headers – though he lost a few that led to chances from those flick-ons. He also positioned himself well to deal with Crewe’s endless crosses into the box. How Argyle’s defence coped with all of them I’ll never know.
Composed as Canavan was, we didn’t see much of his passing range, as he was under significantly more pressure in possession then during pre-season, which cut him off as a route out from the back and contributed to Crewe’s dominance in the second-half.
Gary Sawyer, CB – 7
Like the others, Sawyer was part of a back three that came under a lot of pressure as Crewe flooded players forward and pressed to find a way back into the game. He made a few good tackles, won his headers, and did a good job covering McFadzean when he was beaten down he wing. I erred on the conservative side when giving each of the centre-backs a seven, but if you were to rate the unit rather than them as individuals, you’d be looking at around an 8/10.
Joe Edwards, CDM – 8
Edwards was definitely the best player in the first half. He was here, there and every f&*king where as Crewe struggled with his outstanding work rate, intelligent passing and occasional driving runs. He’s leadership was also valuable in a defence that still appears to remains slightly quiet, like last season.
He was then part of the effort to dig in as Crewe laid siege during the second half, though his influence on the ball was severely reduced. Without time to put passes together, Argyle lost what midfield influence they had and retreated into all-out defence mode. Surprisingly, Edwards was then taken off for Baxter with twenty minutes to go – possibly because he was on a yellow card – but had done so much to bolster Argyles performance in the first that – had it not been for Palmer’s perfect displace – he would have been my player of the match.
Joe Riley, RWB – 8
Riley underlined his role in the team with a very good performance to start the season. His work rate up and down the wing was excellent and he did a great job of keeping the influential Charlie Kirk quiet, balancing his attacking and defensive duties well.
Riley was involved in the opening goal – his cross led to the scramble from which McFadzean scored – but overall his final ball was lacking. Got himself into good positions with his strength and dribbling but didn’t create anything, while his shots were tame. Riley is obviously a fit for the position in every other way, but there are improvements to be made if he is going to convert this into goals and assists. Can he get a goal or assist from open play every four games, as Nicky Adams did from the same position last season?
Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 6
A low six for Sarcevic who worked hard, defended well and had some influence in possession, but overall was quite poor on the ball. He looked much more comfortable defensively than he had at times in pre-season, covering lots of ground and turning over the ball almost as many times as Edwards. His work off the ball was undoubtedly the highlight of his performance, unsurprising to many who have watched him at his best.
However, he didn’t register much of an impact going forward as he didn’t create anything and his few bursts forward led to nothing. Most worrying was Argyle’s lack of midfield control (a result of Sarcevic and Mayor having a lack of influence on the ball) which led to near total Crewe domination in the second half until Conor Grant’s introduction with fifteen minutes to go. Palmer would have been far less busy if Argyle could have held possession.
Joel Grant won’t score a goal on his weaker foot from twenty yards every game, nor will Palmer be able to keep the opposition at bay with a string of excellent saves. For all of the good attacking play, Crewe probably edged Argyle in terms of chances created, at least until last ten minutes, they just failed to put them away while those in white and green were clinical. Indeed, for much of the game, Argyle played Adams style long ball to no effect as the midfield offered nothing.
Danny Mayor, CM – 6
Mayor had similarly little impact on midfield proceedings as Sarcevic, and even lost the balls a few times which almost let Crewe in on the counter. The only difference between he and Sarcevic was that he provided a threat in attack. In the first half he dropped his shoulder, beat a few players and put in a low, close range shot that drew a good save, before almost getting in position to score late on and then laying off for McFadzean to settle the game entirely on the counter.
However, he went missing in the middle third of the pitch and was a large factor in Crewe’s control of the game in the second half. He and Sarcevic both pressed well at the end of the first-half as Argyle started to add a little control to the game, but this was gone in the second as the entire team sat back. Mayor has to offer more control to proceedings in the future, or Argyle will drop more points than necessary against teams like Crewe who are competing to make the play-offs, let alone those who are amongst the strongest sides in the division.
Callum McFadzean, LWB – 8
After being one of the only outfielders NOT to score in Bury’s 100+ goal season, McFadzean had two here with a pair of good finishes. First, he hooked in acrobatically to open the scoring after Argyle flooded the box with players to give Ryan Lowe a dream start, before his late strike into the top corner killed the game for once and for all.
However, those goals aside McFadzean could have offered more down the wing, as he was quite conservative in possession and looked for others to make the impact, being happy to cross from wide or pass back inside. Additionally, Powell easily beat him a few times down his wing and it required good defensive cover by Sawyer and Canavan to prevent those moments being converted into chances.
Byron Moore, ST – 6
Moore worked hard and held the ball up surprisingly well for a smaller player who had to deal with a lot of aerial duels (as did Joel Grant). He played deeper than his strike partner, working the wings in the first half and adding an extra body in defence when Crewe came forward.
Yet, he did not have as much or an attacking impact as Grant, though he did have his moments running off the shoulder, and no doubt would benefit from more chances with a stronger midfield performance. Starved of service in the second half.
Joel Grant, ST – 8
Brilliant second goal on his weaker foot that had such a big impact on the result of the match. The shot wasn’t the hardest hit, but was so well placed that it nestled perfectly in the bottle corner. It was part of the game changing minute which saw Crewe spurn two excellent opportunities to equalise before Argyle extended their lead.
Grant worked really hard out of possession, like the rest of the team and his strike partner in particular, to help prevent Crewe pass the ball out from the back in the first half. He held the ball up well and made intelligent runs, but was also starved of service throughout the second half as Mayor and Sarcevic rarely put a foot on the ball in the opposition half.
Jose Baxter, CDM – 6
Looked like he was going to come on for Sarcevic or Mayor to add more control of the ball in midfield, but instead he replaced the impressive Edwards in the deepest midfield position. Unsurprisingly, this changed nothing as the issue was the midfield pairing further ahead. Baxter looked comfortable when he received the ball, but did nothing that Edwards would not have while hardly adding anything defensively.
Maybe Edwards was injured? Or tiring? He was on a yellow but did not appear to be near a second one. In the end this had no real impact on the game, but removing a calming, defensive presence for a stylish, attacking midfielder when the team was under siege could have ended so much worse.
Conor Grant, CM – 7
Grant finally came on with 15 minutes left to add more control in midfield. He had to help the team dig in initially, as Crewe understandably threw players forward as they searched for a way back into the game, but with five minutes to go he finally got his foot on the ball and this helped kill the Crewe attacking threat.
In fact, all of Argyle’s best attacks of the second half came during his short spell on the pitch, with Grant at the heart of them. He picked out Mayor on the edge of the area for his blocked shot, created Taylor’s late chance, and provided the switch of play that released Mayor to create McFadzean’s third. Maybe less dynamic off the ball, but his control with it should serve Argyle better in the future than sitting him on the bench.
Ryan Taylor, ST – 6
Came on the help Argyle hold the ball up from the endless procession of goal kicks in the second half, and did a decent job of that. Looked sharp, if conservative, in possession – one poor touch aside.
However, his work with Lowe on the training ground clearly hasn’t reached fruition yet, as he generally made poor runs off the ball and squandered the chance to kill the game when he shot straight at the ‘keeper, six yards out, from Conor Grant’s cross after a smooth passing move involving Baxter and Mayor.