This past decade has seen players arrive at Home Park and demonstrate the potential to play top flight football – some of which have. Others have left a great impact on the club, as their actions have helped to positively change the club’s future. As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve reviewed the past ten years to pick out the top fifty Pilgrims to have donned our Green and White.
It’s important to note three things: first, this is not a competition of the best players; we have not judged players based purely on their skill, but also their impact. Jake Cole may not be the most able goalkeeper in Plymouth Argyle’s history, but he left a greater impact than most, as his performances were vital in avoiding relegation to the National League for two consecutive seasons. For that, he gets a ranking higher than that of Alex Palmer, who is a better keeper objectively speaking but has had a significantly smaller impact on the club.
Second, players have been judged according to their ability across all the time they were at the club, not just their peak. For example, Conor Hourihane in his first eighteen months wouldn’t get close to this list, but the Hourihane of the final five months before his departure would probably outrank all but a select few individuals in terms of ability. This has been factored into his ranking, instead of merely taking him at his peak.
Finally, this list is not perfect. It is notoriously difficult to rank players, let alone more than 200 of them across a ten year spell. To build this list, we spent hours debating, ranking and re-ranking lists of players until we arrived on a list that we were happy with. There will be players that you believe should be ranked higher, lower, or shouldn’t be on the list at all. You can’t please everyone. Please remember that while you’re complaining on social media having read this list. Otherwise, enjoy…
10: Carl McHugh
Clean sheets: 34
Currently: ATK, Indian Premier League
McHugh’s departure was one of the cruellest during this decade. The influential midfielder had been one of the stand-out players in 2015/16, along with Graham Carey, but with his contract up nobody knew if he would be around come the start of the following season. Then, the club announced that he had agreed a contract to stay, only for this departure to Motherwell to be confirmed a couple of days later, much to the anger of the Green Army.
However, regardless of the way he departed, it cannot be denied that McHugh was an excellent player during his two years with the club, though it did not start out that way. Initially signed to play at left-back, even though it was painfully obvious he was not comfortable in that position, McHugh could well have developed a reputation as one of the worst players at the club had it not been for the tactical rethink.
Finally, in October, then Argyle manager John Sheridan switched back to the 3-5-2 formation that served him so well the previous season. With that change, McHugh moved to the centre of the back three, and never looked back. From then on, he became one of the most consistent members of the team as Argyle’s defence stood out, keeping 21 clean sheets in his 49 starts.
Come the end of the season, Derek Adams took over as manager and changed the team from a three-man defence to a back-four, leaving three top centre-backs competing for two positions. No matter, as in one of Adams’ few tactical masterstrokes, he converted McHugh into a defensive midfielder.
The signs had been there for a while – McHugh had been the most comfortable in possession in the back-three and had often pushed forward from the back to help string together attacks. At the base of midfield alongside Hiram Boateng, he helped Argyle control games, providing leadership in defence, composure in possession and surprising efficiency in attack, scoring four goals, two from outside the box.
A classy midfielder, and a real shame he left in the way he did. Nevertheless, the tenth best player of the decade.
9: Sonny Bradley
Clean sheets: 31
Currently: Luton Town, Championship
Bradley arrived at Home Park after the Wembley dismay with questions marks regarding his purpose. Laughed at by Crawley fans, dismissed by Portsmouth fans and seemingly destined for National League Eastleigh, the centre-half made the long venture to Devon in order to seek promotion with Derek Adams.
At 6ft 5, Bradley was heads and shoulders above his opposition literally and figuratively, and thus boasted an impressive aerial success rate. The defender typically fitted a more old-fashioned model of centre-half but Bradley was far from out-dated. A clever knack of being able to read play enabled him to footraces and allowed him to focus on his more prominent asset, one-on-one defending.
A stalwart in defence and a danger at the other end, Bradley almost single-handily saved Argyle on numerous occasions, and his far post headers earned multiple points. Moments against Doncaster Rovers and Cheltenham Town were particularly memorable, and proved vital to Argyle’s promotion chase. And after failure the previous year, it was enough to get Argyle over the line.
The next season saw Bradley have a slow start as the new surroundings of League One demonstrated a much faster pace of football. Although the early struggle was noticeable Bradley quickly adapted and excelled in the higher division, particularly with a quick partner in defence and more protection from the midfield. The centre-half was integral to the late play-off push as the Pilgrims darted towards the summit of the league table.
8: Curtis Nelson
Clean sheets: 61
Currently: Cardiff City, Championship
The first appearance of the man who would go on to become Argyle’s highest appearance maker of the decade in a matchday squad was in our final game in the Championship. Nelson went on to make his debut a few months after.
From the raw, rash, but clearly very talented 17-year-old we saw debut at the decade’s birth, Nelson grew into a highly influential and genuinely excellent player as the years went on.
Playing under four different Argyle managers, he upped his game under each of them. In the Fletcher years, he added composure on the ball to his raw physical attributes. In the Sheridan years, he added consistency and cut out a lot of the silly mistakes that were plaguing him.
He only had one season under Derek Adams and it’s sad his last year with Argyle was as captain of the side who bottled promotion so badly. That said, he was pretty much the complete defender by the end, even if his time had come to a natural conclusion. It’s rare any player plays as many games for any club as he does and he’ll be remembered with great affection consequently.
7: Reuben Reid
Currently: Cheltenham Town, League Two
Reid ended the decade as Argyle’s top goal scorer, finding the back of the net 50 times, one ahead of Graham Carey but well clear of the next closest competitors, Jake Jervis, Lewis Alessandra and Freddie Ladapo. Few would have foreseen such an eventuality back when he was released as a youngster back in 2008, but between then and his return, Argyle fell from one of their best ever finishes in the English Football League (10th in the Championship, six points from the play-offs) to one of their worst (21st in League Two, two points from relegation).
When Reid returned, Argyle had just appointed John Sheridan to be Carl Fletcher’s replacement, and what a step up from Nick Chadwick he proved to be. Mobile – if a bit portly – strong and direct, he quickly stepped into the role of a lone-striker for Sheridan’s defensive brand of football to build around. He only added two goals himself but contributed in many other ways to Argyle’s attack at the team secured survival on the final day of the season.
Then came the halcyon days for Reid – back-to-back seasons with at least 20 goals, not seen since the likes of Tommy Tynan in the 80’s.
A particular highlight was his hattrick against Exeter City, the first for nearly a hundred years, as well as his hattrick against Lincoln in the FA Cup, which was the first since Vincent Pericard nine years earlier. His were the only hattricks scored during the decade, with the closest any other player came to achieving that being Carey’s missed penalty against Southend.
His final season with Argyle didn’t have the same highlights, as injury in October combined with the emergence of Ryan Brunt and Jamille Matt largely curtailed his season. Yet, there were special moments, not least two fantastic individuals strikes against Notts County and Accrington. Both showed why he was such a top striker at this level, and it is a real shame that he was not able to lead the team to the promotion that his hard work possibly deserved.
6: Luke McCormick
Clean sheets: 66
Currently: Swindon Town, League Two
Luke McCormick’s return to Plymouth Argyle in 2013 made national headlines, for obvious reasons. But whilst the vitriol from tabloids and opposition fans may have been the order of the day, McCormick’s professionalism and performances were huge yet understated successes. He was at the club for half of the decade, spending four of those years as the club’s main custodian, and truly was one of the players to make a real difference to Argyle’s fortunes.
McCormick quickly established himself as Argyle’s first choice keeper, ousting Jake Cole for the first half of the 2013/14 season. A broken hand cut his season short in February, but he was back for the 2014/15 campaign, with the added responsibility of being appointed club captain. He shone. Appearing in every game in league and cup and keeping 22 clean sheets along the way, McCormick was a deserving winner of the Argyle player of the year award that season.
He remained at the club following Derek Adams’ appointment in 2015, and generally maintained his high level of performances. It’s no coincidence that Argyle hit a bad run of form with McCormick injured from November to December 2015. But it was in 2016/17 that McCormick really came to the fore. Now full captain after Curtis Nelson’s departure, a series of splendid saves and commanding performances contributed heavily to Argyle’s promotion. And who can forget his penalty save from Divock Origi in an FA Cup replay, days after he kept a clean sheet at Anfield?
He looked like he could do it all over again at League One level in 2017/18, particularly after his stunning save to deny Josh Magennis against Charlton secured Argyle’s first win of the campaign. But injury ultimately ruined his season, and he wasn’t retained when his contract expired in 2018. Surely a mistake, given Argyle’s goalkeeping woes with Matt Macey and Kyle Letheren in the 2018/19 season.
There will always be question marks around McCormick the person following events of 2008. But McCormick the player did more than enough to win back the hearts of the Green Army across the last decade.