Sometimes, it’s a dangerous act to put in a performance that good. With many Championship clubs screaming out for a goalscoring striker to convert the chances they create – a certain unnamed Staffordshire side included among them – and just days remaining for clubs to throw money around in the hope of energising their season, Ryan Hardie delivered the complete strikers’ performance and put three more points on the board for Plymouth Argyle.

We have been blessed to witness so many individually excellent displays this season from Finn Azaz and especially Morgan Whittaker, but Cardiff was Hardie’s turn. That was undoubtedly his best performance for Argyle, possibly the best game he’s played in his entire career.



With his excellent pair of finishes against Cardiff, Hardie moved in double figures for league goals for the third consecutive season at Home Park. He sits seventh in the Championship top scorer rankings, sixth if you ignore penalties, second behind Adam Armstrong if you’re only looking at strikers.

Equally impressive is that he’s recorded ten goals despite accumulating an expected goals tally of just 7.22. That is to say, Hardie has scored 2.78 more goals than would be expected based on the chances he’s had, making him one of just four Championship strikers with at least five goals to outperform their xG by two goals or more. In fact, only Jay Stansfield (2.82) surpasses Hardie in that regard.

He’s achieved all of that in spite of the fact he’s missed nearly a quarter of the season through injury. With fewer than 1500 Championship minutes, he’s played notably less time than the league’s top five scorers, who’ve have all played at least 2000.

A black mark against Hardie is the seven big chances he’s missed in the league, but that doesn’t even put him in the top ten in the league in that regard, with the most profligate player being Armstrong, who’s has missed more than twice as many big chances as Hardie.

For all the praise that his goalscoring prowess has earned him this weekend, what made his performance complete was his creativity. Twice, he peeled onto the wing, unmarked thanks to his excellent movement, demanded and received the ball on the move in behind the defence. On both occasions, Gyabi played him in, the first of which was a particularly excellent ball and deserved singling out.

The first time, bursting down the right wing, he squared the ball almost perfectly for Whittaker. Mere millimetres were the difference between the ball being nudged into the net and or not. However, the second time, with more space to aim for as Cardiff pushed (well, sort of pushed) for a late equaliser, he broke through on the left wing, looked up to see Whittaker sprinting clear of the deepest defenders, and picked out an exquisite cross for Whittaker to stroke home. The move was almost a carbon copy of Whittaker’s hattrick goal against Norwich, save for Hardie delivering the assist instead of Azaz.

With the finish applied, Hardie recorded his 20th assist for Argyle, so not only is he now tied as Argyle’s highest goal scorer this century, but only a select few can surpass his assists too.

With this being his fourth assist this season, he matched last season’s total despite having played 1000 minutes fewer in a higher division. He’s also created more big chances than he did in the entirety of last season. Compared to the rest of the league, only eight strikers have created more big chances, five have created more chances, and four have more assists.

And, of course, there’s his work rate. It’s always said that a minimum requirement for an athlete is to give your all, and absolutely nobody could doubt that Hardie does that. If needs be, he will charge all the way to left back to plug a hole and prevent an overload. He’ll run the channels all day to force a team to defend deeper and create more space between the lines for creative players. When he was finally given a breather with minutes left on the clock, Hardie deserved to be carried off on his teammates’ shoulders for all the distance he had covered – and you could see the exhaustion in his face.

In fact, I think you can pin all of Hardie’s success at Argyle to his attitude; just look at all effort he’s put in to improve as a player, particularly in his finishing. When he first joined the club in League Two, he had a knack for scoring counter attacking goals while dribbling with the ball, but struggled with instinctive, predatory finishing in the six-yard box, which hampered him during his first League One season.

Since then, he’s worked so hard to add a range of finishes to his game. The cheeky little lob, the powerful, first-time volley to catch the goalkeeper unprepared, the powerful drive high into the roof of the net, the touch and finesse into the bottom corner. He didn’t arrive with all that in his locker but, through good coaching and a willingness to learn, it’s there now. Hopefully heading is next on his list, as he’s only ever scored three headers for Argyle and all have been unmarked from open play.

It’s not just working hard, it’s also his loyalty. With his contract expired over the summer, he surely received lucrative rival offers, yet signed a new three-year deal with Argyle, choosing to stay with a club that had given him a lot, and that loyalty has been rewarded.

Meanwhile, Niall Ennis accepted a higher salary and moved closer to home at Blackburn to compete at an established Championship club but has managed just three league starts and recorded neither a goal nor an assist.

Last season, Ennis eclipsed Hardie and to my eyes was undoubtedly our first-choice striker. Now, Hardie’s former teammate-cum-rival seems set to return to League One on loan, which is a bitter shame for him as he more than earned his shot at Championship football and, in my opinion, is more than good enough to play in this league. Football careers are short, and Ennis looks set to have wasted one of his prime years.

All this makes you think about what other Championship clubs with play-off aspirations are thinking about someone like Hardie. I don’t think I’ve seen any rumours about him online yet, but I (and I expect others) have heard that a few clubs are interested in Hardie now and in the summer from “ITK” people, make of that what you will.

Ten days remain in the window and, for a few teams, a late splurge on the uncapped Scot could be the difference between Premier League riches via the play-offs and another gruelling, unpredictable Championship campaign next year. For years, Argyle have been attempting to get a Brentford-eque model up and running: buy low, sell high. Now the club are sat on a series of valuable assets that will surely yield a tasty profit, of which Hardie is just one. In contract until 2026 and performing as he is, there’s no doubt that seven figures would be required to prize him away, the question is what the first number is.