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…
15: Zak Vyner
Clean sheets: 5
Currently: Aberdeen, Scottish Premier League
17 games…one goal…and he’s in the top 15? That’s a testament to just how excellent Zak Vyner was during his time at the club. On pure ability, he’s right up there with the names you’d expect as the most talented to don the green shirt in the decade that has passed. Even on impact, he’s very good indeed. He came into the team to continue the good run that had already been started with his role being filled Ryan Edwards, after the latter’s sad diagnosis.
Vyner immediately came into the side and raised the stakes tenfold. His first game was one of his weaker ones. We faced off against Paul Cook’s Wigan side and we conceded three with Vyner being far from blameless for one of the goals. From there, we began a six game winning streak in which the young Londoner was the very epitome of composure, as he played the ball out of defence with total ease. He was that very rare thing in the English lower leagues: a genuine playmaker at centre-back. He wasn’t just a centre-back whoi could pass, he was making passes on a par with David Fox on a regular basis.
His defensive work was more than good enough, too. He could read the game in front of him as good as anyone else in the decade (and even the decade before) and he added pace into a back line that hadn’t really seen any since coming down from the Championship. The only reason he isn’t any higher on this list is because he was here for just 17 games. His only possible weak area is in his heading off the ball, and even that was perfectly supplemented by his partner at the back.
In short, Zak Vyner was a tonic for Argyle. He bought calmness, distributional excellence and real class to a back four that hadn’t seen his like in a long time (and hasn’t since).
14: Craig Noone
Currently: Melbourne City, Australian A-League
“Noooooooone”, as the uninspired chant used to go.
Back at the very beginning of the decade, Argyle were a team that lacked creativity. Stuck in the relegation zone and entering 2010 as the lowest scorers in the Championship, Argyle were as dull to watch as they were disappointing.
The club needed a player to stand up and be counted, someone who was unafraid to try something creative, without fear, and the young Noone ended up being that player. Aged just 22 at the time, and with precious few professional minutes under his belt, his skilful dribbling added a new dimension to a cumbersome attack.
A few promising displays in late February and early March showed what he had to offer, including a man of the match performance against play-off chasing Leicester. A couple of weeks later, his excellent display from the bench helped Argyle win a point against Preston, and nearly more as his late 20-yard effort bounced down off the crossbar but didn’t cross the line. Sadly, his season was ended that day with an ankle injury.
Argyle may have been relegated to League One, but that gave Noone the opportunity to fully emerge. He forced his way into the team by scoring a headed winner for ten-man Argyle late on against Sheffield Wednesday and didn’t look back. By the time he left – sold to raise funds as the club found itself on the brink of administration – he was widely considered to be among the best players at the club.
Four goals and eight assists in just 20 starts helped Argyle to the outer reaches of the play-offs (four points away with a game in hand). With his departure, Argyle lost their chief creative threat (along with their signature goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips) as a team that could have challenged for promotion was picked apart. The three key departures (including Reda Johnson) were all playing Championship football within 18 months, while Argyle were scrapping for Football League survival. Oh, what could have been.
13: Jake Jervis
Clean sheets: 17
Currently: Salford City, League Two
Jake Jervis was one of the many players Derek Adams brought down from Scotland during his first transfer window in 2015. Formerly of Adams’ old side Ross County, Jervis had a reputation as a player who had flattered to deceive across his career. He’d always excite fans wherever he went – including the likes of Portsmouth, Hereford and Turkish side Elazigpor – with a smattering of goalscoring debuts, but never seemed to be able to press on. That changed at Argyle.
Traditionally a striker before coming to Home Park, Jervis started the 2015/16 season on the right wing. His fast start was unsurprising given his career record; he got an assist on his debut, and two goals in his next league game against Carlisle. But what was particularly impressive is that he managed to make the position his own across the season. A perhaps surprising level of pace and trickery down the right contributed to him scoring 14 goals and getting 8 assists across his debut season.
Jervis returned very similar figures, 12 goals and 8 assists, in his second season. He was a key cog in the Argyle promotion machine in 2016/17, playing 42 out of 46 league games. After a dismal start, Jervis scored Argyle’s first goal of the season in their fourth game, and never really looked back. He scored important goals against the likes of Doncaster, Carlisle, Exeter and Portsmouth along the way, before notching a brace in the 6-1 promotion-winning victory over Newport.
Jervis continued to deliver in parts in 2017/18, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Charlton, and the only goal in an excellent victory away at Bradford. However, there was a sense that Argyle had got a good deal when Luton paid £125,000 for his services in the January transfer window. Nonetheless, Jervis had done more than enough by that stage to leave his mark on the club.
12: Conor Hourihane
Currently: Aston Villa, Premier League
At the time of writing, Conor Hourihane has fired Aston Villa into a 1-0 victory over Norwich City. That magic left foot belted the ball into the top corner of the net, something we’ve seen so many times in the colours of Argyle, Barnsley and Villa. Keen readers will note that we’re judging just on his time in green and not elsewhere. But here, it is a little relevant. The reason it’s so relevant is because we witnessed the transformation of the Irishman over a period of three seasons.
When he first came in, the hot-headed youngster recently let go by Ipswich was a regular player in one of the worst teams in our history. He had potential, of course. Nobody denied that. Too often, his performances flattered to deceive. He never saw a shooting opportunity that he didn’t like to have a go at and often as not, they’d go flying wildly over the bar. His passing was if anything, too far the other way. It was too conservative a great deal of the time and didn’t do enough to open up the opponents.
He did improve in his second season with us but was limited by the frustratingly cautious style of manager Carl Fletcher. Only when John Sheridan came in after Christmas did Hourihane really make his mark. A lot of criticism can be levelled at Sheridan but he was the one who saw the great potential in Hourihane. He moved him into a more attacking role, gave him leighway and the captaincy. He continued to improve in his third season (and Sheridan’s first full season) but it was only when we moved into 2014 that the man nicknamed ‘Our Conor’ by Argyle’s twitter account really came into his own.
His stylish mix of defence-opening passing and direct runs with the ball at his feet rightly had him considered as one of the better midfielders in that league by the end of the season and he rightly earned his big move to Barnsley that summer. In many ways, he defined Argyle’s recovery from the doldrums of administration. Like a phoenix, we rose from the ashes and we saw his feathers bloom.
11: David Fox
Currently: Free agent
Fox arrived in the summer of 2016, making his first start as a trialist at Plainmoor. Fox was a key component within the promotion season as his wide range of passing gave Argyle a different dynamic to their game. Throughout his time in Green, his composure and intelligence on the ball were ital.
It would be an understatement to say that Fox’s goals were few and far between but when the midfielder hit them, they stayed hit. His first goal, against Mansfield in the FA Cup was a peach, and his next two topped the previous. Both against Wimbledon, the deep lying playmaker struck from range finding the top corner on both occasions.
Fox was first deployed in a 4231 as one of the two defensive midfielders, often sweeping up play and implementing himself into the game via clever interceptions. Once Argyle reached League One Fox’s role changed as he was deployed as a sole defensive midfielder with Sarcevic and Ness being deployed ahead. Once again the emphasis was on Fox using his wide range of passing to spread the play and much like Sergio Busquets he was very often the tempo controller.
Opposition managers often said that the key to stopping Argyle was stopping Fox, and this is why he finds himself so high up the list. Integral to Argyle for 3 years.