It’s been a few days now since Plymouth Argyle’s 1-0 defeat at Hull. Usually, that’s enough time to reflect and allow feelings from the weekend to die down. In the midweek period after a game, the delirium from any victory has mellowed, and any feelings of dejection from defeat can be left in the past. It’s around now that things never feel quite as good, or as bad, as they did a few days ago.
But things are different this time. See, Argyle’s defeat at the weekend wasn’t met with the derision you’d expect. Instead, there was an acceptance that the team put in a sterling effort, and only lost narrowly to a very strong side. Rather than anything reactionary, fans were able to see past the result, and appreciate the show put on by the Greens.
A few days later and yes, the feeling is exactly the same. Because Hull were excellent, and Argyle did very well to match them for parts of the encounter.
Hull set to challenge
Look at Hull’s start to the season, and you’d have to be exceedingly brave to say they’re set for anything other than a promotion challenge.
Granted, they’ve faced three promoted sides in Crewe, Northampton and ourselves, but their record couldn’t be more perfect. Played four, won four, scored six, conceded none. They’re in the promotion places on merit, behind only Lincoln on goals scored, and are surely a fearsome prospect for any side they face in the coming weeks.
We saw on Saturday exactly what makes them such a threat: their ability in possession. But that’s not just a reflection of how good each individual player is on the ball. That is true for some, but what makes the Tigers incredibly threatening in possession is their movement off the ball. As was covered in our Opposition View this week, Hull have a frontline who like to interchange and act fluidly, providing a nightmare for the defences tasked with covering them.
This is all made possible, and indeed compounded, by the talents of George Honeyman. He’s probably best known to those with a Netflix subscription as a product of the Sunderland academy, but he’s called Hull his home since the start of the 19/20 season. He was a regular for the side in the Championship last term, and it’s clear that he still has the quality to perform at that level.
Of course, he has very evident ability on the ball, but his ability off it is perhaps the best of anybody in the side. He was everywhere, whether his side were in possession or not, adept at either offering a passing option or cutting off said options for Argyle. There was one moment in the first half which saw him instrumental in winning the ball from deep, before almost getting on the end of the move to finish it off at the other end. Argyle couldn’t cope.
That was instrumental to how Hull had the better of the Greens on the day. Even if the deepest lying midfielder, in this case Conor Grant, was able to deal with Honeyman, they’d almost certainly be dragged out of position. That allowed Hull’s front three to go man-to-man with the Argyle defence, and their movements into the channels and across the pitch made life incredibly difficult for Kelland Watts and Scott Wootton in particular. Even when that was dealt with, it left space for Callum Elder and Josh Emmanuel to overlap from fullback. Argyle’s selection of Jerome Opoku was clearly designed to stem the tide, and he made a decent fist of it, but Hull just had too much.
There’s no shame in that. Despite the waves of pressure, Hull only managed one goal, and even then they were slightly fortunate that Wootton was caught out of position after dealing with the initial threat well. Of course, on another day Hull may have scored more, but in the face of an onslaught, Argyle’s defence certainly answered some of their critics.
Argyle a threat to anybody
I don’t know if I’ve touched on it so far, but Hull are quite good.
Indeed, their defensive record says it all this season – not only have they kept four clean sheets from four in the league, they also kept Sunderland at bay in their EFL Cup tie which they eventually won on penalties. That means that all season, Hull have only had their defences breached by Premier League opposition.
With that in mind, it was certainly refreshing to see Argyle able threaten going forward. In fact, there’s a school of thought that a late equaliser would’ve been just about deserved, such was the pressure exerted by Lowe’s men in the second half.
Unsurprisingly, Argyle’s best spell coincided with George Cooper’s introduction in place of Opoku. Again, that’s nothing against the Fulham loanee – it wasn’t his fault that he, as a centre back, was asked to offer an attacking threat down the left. However, at the hour mark, the time had come to freshen up the attacking effort, and Cooper was the perfect option. Naturally, his introduction gave Argyle much more of a threat down the left, and freed up Danny Mayor to add more confidence and creativity to his game.
Argyle also had further options from the bench who nearly turned the game on its head. Dom Telford, for example, was lively after coming on and almost got on the end of a Byron Moore cross to level the scores within minutes. But perhaps the most encouraging sign coming from the replacements’ area was Ben Reeves. Brought on for Grant to cover the deep midfield position, he looked surprisingly sharp for a player with so little competitive football, and his ball through four players to thread through Danny Mayor was delicious.
Granted, Argyle didn’t score on Saturday, which is a rarity in itself. But they did show that they are able to mix it with the best when going forward at this level. It makes such a difference to seasons gone by, where we have seen Argyle afraid to go at sides who are better than them on paper. We can safely say that, even if it goes horribly wrong on occasions, Argyle aren’t going to shy away from any opposition this year.