Plymouth Argyle won their first game since late-November in calamitous circumstances, as Rochdale’s goalkeeper Josh Lilis air-kicked a back-pass and had to watch the ball roll into his own net. A big win for the club, who now move within one point of moving out of the bottom four for the first time since August.
Matt Macey – 6
Obviously Adams and his management team still have some work to do when it comes to nullifying Macey’s weakness in distribution. This was particularly apparent on Saturday as Macey struggled in harsh conditions, and a couple of his slightly weaker kicks almost got Argyle into trouble. However, he did do the basics well. Last week I was critical of Macey’s ability to hold the ball or push it out of the danger area when making saves, but that wasn’t a problem this week as he held everything he needed to. Overall, it was decent performance from the Arsenal loanee.
Joe Riley – 5
A game of two halves for the ex-Rochdale right back. In the first, he showed that can be a very clever footballer, putting his body in excellent positions and knowing when it may be best just to foul his man to stop danger developing. In the second, however, he made the crucial mistake of losing his man in the build up to Rochdale’s equaliser, something many people will remember from his performance. A mixed bag, then, but it’s still pleasing to see him in the side, allowing Tafari Moore to take a much-needed break from first team action.
Yann Songo’o – 7
Songo’o played in his best position of right centre-back, and unsurprisingly it allowed him to put in a performance that brought his strengths to the fore. We know he has no problem putting his body on the line, and very early on he was in position to make a vital block that may well have prevented Rochdale taking the lead. He was still a little too ready to launch the ball long when in possession for my liking, but make no mistake, this was the sort of performance that has endeared many supporters to Songo’o.
Gary Sawyer – 8 (man of the match)
How delightful was it to have Sawyer’s presence back in the defensive line? He wasn’t in his primary left back position, but in all honesty if you weren’t aware in advance you wouldn’t know he was playing slightly out of position based on yesterday’s performance. He was always on hand to deal with issues that arose during Rochdale’s attacks, and it’s clear that he carries with him a high level of footballing intelligence. As he gets older, his experience only adds to this facet of the game, and in a defence that has been lacking in leadership recently, he could be a vital cog in the Argyle machine in the coming weeks.
Ashley Smith-Brown – 6
Smith-Brown got away with one slightly midway through the second half, with referee Carl Boyeson awarding him a very debatable free kick as Rochdale stole the ball away in Argyle’s defensive third. Within two minutes, Argyle opened the scoring through Joel Grant. Aside from this minor blemish on his record, Smith-Brown put in a solid enough performance. Indeed, we seldom saw big chances coming from his side, and it’s clear that playing alongside Sawyer in defence and Grant on the left has helped him with this. Is that a long-term solution for Argyle? We’ll have to wait and see.
David Fox – 6
Without trying to make these ratings unnecessarily complicated, I’d say Fox probably falls into the 6.5 area, so it was tough to decide whether to award the 34-year-old a 6 or a 7. I opted for the former, because we have clearly seen better from Fox across his Argyle career, but that’s not to say he was unable to demonstrate his strengths at Spotland on Saturday. When paired with his midfield partners of Ness and Sarcevic late in the match, Fox was an important part of Argyle going forward, particularly with the balls he was able to find on the counter attack. All in all, not a spectacular showing, but a satisfactory one.
Antoni Sarcevic – 6
A quiet one from Sarcevic – his ability in running with the ball was apparent on occasions, but they were a little too few and far between for my liking. That could have had something to do with the midfield setup rather than Sarcevic himself, and particularly hampered him during the first half, but it was generally a frustrating game for the player. He can’t possibly drop down to a 5 – he was instrumental in the creation of the opening goal – but his rating is at the lower end of the 6 range, unlike Fox’s which was towards the opposite end of the scale.
Luke Jephcott – 6
Encouraging. Very encouraging. It shocked many when academy product Jephcott was included in the starting line-up on Saturday, but after being given the chance he was clearly very eager to make an impression. Perhaps too eager at times – he was prone to giving fouls away, and on one occasion in the first half he made a glorious run down the right wing, only forgetting to take the ball with him. He tired as the game went on, perhaps adapting to the fitness levels required for a League One regular, but he can nonetheless still be pleased with his display. May there be many more to come.
Graham Carey – 6
Generally quiet from Argyle’s primary playmaker, but that doesn’t mean there were no good facets of his game on show. I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss the Irishman’s aerial ability; it perhaps gets overlooked considering all of the other qualities he has in his locker, but it’s certainly a strength. Last week he won a header on the right that led directly to Argyle’s second equaliser, and on Saturday he looked like more of a threat in the air than the player most of Argyle’s long balls were aimed at. Do we want Carey’s main demonstrable strength to be his ability in the air? No – but it certainly helped at the weekend.
Joel Grant – 7
As we’ve discussed on this website lately, Joel Grant’s game has improved significantly in recent weeks. The former Exeter City winger has come on in leaps and bounds, with much of this thanks to the idea of playing him further inside, rather than hugging the touchline on a more regular basis. This was apparent on Saturday, with Grant in the right place at the right time to roll in the opening goal thanks to his positioning. It’s two goals in as many games for him now, and with the festive period fast approaching, let’s hope he can continue to get himself in good goalscoring positions in the coming weeks.
Freddie Ladapo – 6
A bit of a mixed bag at the weekend for Argyle’s top scorer. Early in the game he seemed fairly dominant against the Rochdale back line, who all seemed afraid to put a tackle in as he dribbled his way into the area. However, it appeared they learned how to play against Ladapo as the game progressed, and his effectiveness was dramatically reduced as he was forced to deal with long balls. He remained a threat with the ball at his feet, but the team wasn’t built in a way that allowed him to demonstrate this often enough.
Ryan Taylor – 8
I hate to sound like a broken record, but Ryan Taylor’s abilities are vital to the success of this team. This was clearly demonstrated on Saturday as he had a hand in creating the opening goal with his physicality, and he applied the pressure that caused Josh Lillis to rush his clearance, causing the comical winning goal. He was also the perfect player to have on the pitch to cling onto the lead, demonstrated with his superb hold-up play and ability to win cheap fouls, such as one he won in the attacking third deep into stoppage time. I’d have happily chosen him as man of the match had he been on the field a little longer.
Jamie Ness – 6
Ness did appear a little anonymous at times on Saturday, but his presence on the pitch was more important due to the shape he allowed Argyle to use, rather than any outstanding attributes he brought to the game. His introduction meant five of Argyle’s dominant front six from last season were on the field at the same time, and we should therefore not be too surprised that a victory eventually followed.