From the Off: talk a good game

It’s been a difficult week. Let’s be honest, 4-0 against your local rivals is one of the worst things that can happen to a football fan. Whether Argyle go up this season or not, the game that took place on Saturday will forever be a stain on the 2019/20 season for the club.

What is perhaps most disturbing for many members of the Green Army is the way that Ryan Lowe attempted to downplay the significance of the Devon Derby in the weekend just gone. Whether you believe that Exeter are a small club who have different ambitions or not, you don’t say it a few days before the game. You gloat afterwards, not before. Rookie error.

Worryingly, this is not the first instance of this. It’s not that long ago that we were all informed that Danny Mayor was better than two fan favourites at Home Park in Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras. That, thus far, has not appeared to be the best call. It’s a tactic that I don’t quite understand. You wait for Mayor to have an outstanding season and THEN you gloat about how smart you are, not before. You only get cocky and big headed about Exeter City once you’ve battered them, not after you’ve given their manager a free team talk and let them walk all over you.

It was a shoddy performance for sure, and analysis of all the talk before and after the game will only get you so far. It was a questionable line-up and included a flurry of questionable in-game decisions too. As discussed on the latest podcast, Will Aimson not starting was perhaps the most criminal of these decisions what with Josh Grant having been directly at fault for the first two goals and then surely able to do better individually for the third and fourth as well.

No Danny Mayor is perhaps acceptable when you have just won a game 4-0 without him, but sometimes you should just pick your strongest side. We beat Leyton Orient without thousands of professional footballers starting that game for us – it doesn’t mean that a large number of them wouldn’t ultimately improve them. These selections, matched with this recent new territorial style of football (the game against Exeter saw the second highest number of long balls in a game this season) do not exactly bode well moving forward.

Another particular aspect of the current management that I do find strange I must admit, is the complete reluctance to change from the 3142 formation that we have employed so far this season. Don’t get me wrong, long term this could well be the shape for us. But if it isn’t working then sometimes you have to change things up. I shouldn’t need to repeat the cliche of insanity and repeating things to a man with more footballing experience than I’ve had years on planet Earth.

All this could, of course, be taken the wrong way. Even if the side have been somewhat underwhelming thus far, there is plenty of room for improvement. We have a wealth of talent in the squad with more to come from many of them and a young, hungry management team who have risked a lot in coming to Plymouth Argyle to try and make a success of their coaching careers. We are only on the cusp of November and there is an awful lot of football to be played.

It’s just that these problems look so obvious. Moving forward, if fit then Danny Mayor and Will Aimson MUST start. That and, it would be great to see some manoeuvrability moving forward regarding the formation. If it isn’t working after 60 minutes – change it! There’s plenty of formations that enable you to play the way we want to. With Nicky Law man marking Joe Edwards on Saturday, why not move to a 4231, take out the DM altogether and force Exeter to react to your changes? Something more pro-active would be a nice addition.

This result is particularly a shame because there were definitely signs that the team was moving forward, certainly in results if not performances. What a way to come crashing back down to earth, though. I just hope that the next time we have a big game, there is much less of an attempt to downplay the occasion.

Sometimes you have to accept that a game is a big game that means a lot to lots of people, and approach it with the right mentality. For now, it’s time to work hard and begin to put things right on the pitch. After all, it will take an awful lot to make people forget what they have just witnessed.


 

Green & White: Fury follows Exeter thrashing

Lowe gets it all wrong in derby day defeat

We’ve had a little while now to digest Plymouth Argyle’s shocking Devon Derby defeat, but the feelings remain just as raw as ever. Argyle put in one of the most sickening performances you’re ever likely to see from a team in a derby match. The final 4-0 scoreline in favour of the Grecians could not have been more deserved – Argyle were simply pathetic.

It’s often a lazy excuse to say that the team didn’t look like they were trying, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that was the case at the weekend. Ryan Lowe himself admitted after the game that the Pilgrims had been beaten by a side who “wanted it more”. Exeter were better prepared, cleverer in their pressing, and won the race to the second ball more often than not. That is simply inexcusable.

Lowe said in the build-up to the encounter that he was treating this match just like any other. Perhaps that goes a long way to explaining why his side didn’t look up to the occasion of the derby. It may also offer an indication as to why his team selection was so inadequate. Make no mistake: Lowe got things badly wrong, and his selection was one of the primary factors in allowing the hosts to dominate the game.

Selection disaster

Following Argyle’s 2-0 win over Carlisle last weekend, Lowe surprisingly opted for an unchanged side for Tuesday’s visit of Leyton Orient, despite that meaning a place on the bench for key playmaker Danny Mayor. Granted, it worked against a poor Orient side under new management, but it was clear that Mayor was going to have to come in again at some point. You would have expected such an important game to be the ideal time to do just that.

Add in the fact that Lowe was unable to name an unchanged side for this one, thanks to Scott Wootton’s suspension, and bringing Mayor back into the fold made complete sense. However, Lowe didn’t capitalise on that opportunity. Instead, Argyle’s manager made just the one enforced change to replace Wootton in defence. That was mistake number one. But mistake number two was bigger.

Rather than bringing the superior Will Aimson into the backline, Lowe opted for Josh Grant. We’ve been calling for Aimson and Canavan to line up in defence together for a number of weeks for two reasons: first, they’re the two best centre-back options at the club; second, Aimson played on the right of defence under Lowe last season, so he could slot in easily; third, he adds more height and strength to a back-line that needs it, offering more protection from crosses (more on that, later).

Grant struggles

Within moments, Exeter really ought to have troubled Alex Palmer in the Argyle goal. A cross from the right found its way to the back post, where Grant was beaten by the flight of the ball. Ryan Bowman really ought to have given the hosts the lead there and then, or at least hit the target, but he put it wide. It wasn’t long before Grant was involved in an Exeter goal, however. Admittedly it was through an incredibly soft penalty, but it came right after Grant had given the ball away in his own third under no pressure.

From there on, things only got worse. He lost his man from a set-piece as Exeter took a 2-0 lead (O’ Aimson, Aimson, wherefore art thou Aimson?), allowed Bowman to take the ball-down and launch the counter for the third (he also played everybody onside as the ball was passed through), and reacted so slowly for the fourth that Nicky Law was yards ahead of him and free to tap into an empty net after a shot rebounded back off the post.

There was so much wrong with Grant’s performance that you just wouldn’t expect had Aimson been in the side. And that makes the Chelsea loanee such an interesting case. He started well, and many (including myself) were calling for him to have a run in the side. But my word, he has so much to work on based on the evidence of recent weeks. Don’t write him off based on one game, but equally, he was disastrous against Exeter and needs to learn from it.

Poor style of play

Despite those criticisms, Argyle’s defeat at St James Park on Saturday can’t be pinned on Grant alone. In truth, not only did Lowe get his team selection completely wrong, he was also well wide of the mark with his tactical approach.

One of the staples of Lowe’s style at Bury was the way his side liked to keep the ball. They knew that if they had the lion’s share of possession, and were lining up with an ultra-attacking shape at the same time, the opposition would almost always find themselves on the back foot. Thus, they would have to plan carefully when considering how to stop the waves of Bury attacks.

We’ve seen glimpses of that style this season. Admittedly, there have been a few teething problems with the players trying to swiftly gel, but the signs have been there. However, we’ve seen some games where Argyle have deviated from that plan and played a more territorial style. This involves playing the ball long into channels for the two strikers to run onto, with the aim of getting Argyle upfield quickly.

It’s had mixed results. For example, Argyle had less possession against both Carlisle and Leyton Orient in the last week, but still comfortably won both games. However, it was certainly a mistake to use that style against Exeter at the weekend, and that was compounded by the fact that, when things were clearly not working out, Argyle just tried the same thing over and over again.

Argyle played 77 long balls in total across the game, the joint second highest attempted in any game this season. It accounted for around one in five of the passes they played across the game. But the ball just wasn’t sticking up front. This meant that Argyle were, on many occasions, literally punting the ball back to their opponents. There was absolutely no platform for attacks, and just invited waves of pressure coming the other way.

It was just one of many things Lowe got wrong on a wretched afternoon for the Greens.

Lowe: Exeter match “is just another game”

Ahead of the Devon Expressway Derby, Ryan Lowe told reporters at his press conference that he is aware of how “big it is for the fans”, but emphasised throughout that “it is just another game.” He added that “we will train as normal; we will press as normal. We won’t change anything.”

In the terms of squad selection, Lowe finds himself without Scott Wootton due to the accumulation of 5 yellow cards. However, he has “no worries at all,” regarding this as he can call upon either Josh Grant or Will Aimson. Jose Baxter is the only other player who is confirmed not to be involved in Saturday’s events, while Argyle duo Dom Telford and Ryan Taylor will be analysed today to see if they are ready or not.

Danny Mayor, who missed the weekend win against Carlisle through suspension and did not reclaim his spot from George Cooper against Leyton Orient, may start from the bench again. However, Ryan Lowe did not rule out the possibility of a return for the number 10. He said:  “there is no need to change” but later entertained the idea of a Mayor return, claiming “there is no saying he might not play on Saturday, I could change the team just because we’ve won back-to-back games”.

Preview: Exeter v Plymouth Argyle

Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle come into Saturday’s Devon derby at St. James Park with contrasting form. The Grecians have won just once in their last six games, losing their last two on the spin. Meanwhile Argyle are unbeaten in the same run of fixtures, including the 4-0 drubbing of Leyton Orient on Tuesday night.

Line-Up

Forward Nicky Ajose remains absent through injury. The 28-year-old last featured for City at the beginning of September, sustaining a knee injury in their 1-0 win over Cheltenham in the EFL Trophy.

Goalkeeper Jon Maxted will continue in goal for Exeter. First choice stopper Lewis Ward suffered a broken arm during City’s 1-1 draw with Crewe earlier in the month.

Midfielder Randell Williams is expected to return to the Grecians side after fitness doubts resigned the former Watford man to the bench on Tuesday night against Scunthorpe.

There should also be returns for midfield trio Jake Taylor, Aaron Marin and Nicky Law as well as forward Lee Martin after manager Matt Taylor made five changes from the side that lost 4-0 against Cambridge.

Predicted Line-Up (3-4-1-2)

Maxted

A.Martin, Parkes, Moxey

Williams, Taylor, Collins, Sparkes

Law

L.Martin, Bowman

Style of Play

Having started the season in a 4-4-2 attacking formation, Exeter City manager Matt Taylor now predominantly deploys a strongly attack minded 3-4-1-2 formation. Somewhat similar to Argyle, the Grecians looks to control possession in their opponents final third simply by overloading players and keeping them pinned in.

This allows them to utilise wide play and stretch their opposition in this part of the pitch in order to create space for the likes of Ryan Bowman and Lee Martin in the middle. With this it comes as no surprise that 67% of their shots this season have come from within the penalty area, a figure that only Cheltenham and Grimsby can better.  Very much in the old fashioned ‘little and large’ mould, Bowman at 6ft 1in is the more aerially gifted and physical of the two whilst Martin at 5ft 9in is more technically skilled and quicker in his play.

Bowman is currently top scorer with five goals in 15 appearances and looks to be City’s biggest threat going forward but, unlike a lot of sides in League Two, they aren’t generally reliant on one player to score the majority of their goals. The 27-year-old’s strike partner Martin also has four as does attacking midfielder Nicky Law.

Predominantly, Exeter tend to attack down the right side of the pitch, looking to get the ball to playmakers Nicky Law and Randell Williams, often utilising the latter’s pace to cut teams open. They often do this by playing long balls forward and average the second most in the division.

The duo have already assisted nine of City’s 19 goals in the league so far this season with Williams’ tally of six ranking him highest in League Two. They will look to get the ball to him as much as possible against an Argyle side that have struggled to defend from crosses for much of this season. With an Exeter side averaging 22 crosses a game this season, this should give Ryan Lowe some food for thought ahead of the encounter.

The central midfield trio of Archie Collins, Jake Taylor and Nicky Law mean that Exeter have plenty of bodies in midfield, making it more difficult for their opposition in terms of building up play and progressing up the pitch. Neither of the trio are particularly physical, as they are right and left sided midfielders by trade, but their pace and agility allow them to hound opponents.

Summer signing Nigel Atangana is the less technical but more physical option that Exeter have at their disposal. The 30-year-old failed to feature in any of his sides first 11 league matches this season but has been involved in their last four league games, starting the last two since featuring in their 1-1 draw with Crewe. Although unlikely to start this time round, he will likely be their first player off the bench should they struggle in the middle of the park.

Star Player: Nicky Law

Whilst it would be easy to pick Ryan Bowman for his goals since joining the club from Motherwell in January, attacking midfielder Nicky Law has been City’s player to watch this season. The 31-year-old has already registered four goals and three assists, directly contributing to 36% of Exeter’s goals. Despite all of those coming in his first seven appearances this season, the Plymouth-born man is looking likely to record his best season to date with the Grecians. The former Rangers man has scored and assisted a combined 22 goals in 58 appearances (14G, 8A) since joining the club from Bradford in 2018.

Being poor in the air, Law is at his dynamic best with the ball at his feet, utilising his agility to run at opponents, holding onto the ball in order to work his way into space to create a goalscoring opportunity for himself or a teammate. In terms of his role in the team, he is perhaps Exeter’s most complete player.

Weaknesses

City’s 3-4-1-2 formation means that they often play a high line which leads to them being vulnerable on the counter attack and leaves a lot of gaps between their defence and midfield. Teams have found this out in recent weeks with Taylor’s side conceding seven goals in their previous two games against Cambridge and Scunthorpe.

They also concede a lot of shots from range which often doesn’t prove to be too costly, but against a side like Plymouth Argyle who often tend to shoot from distance, the likes of Danny Mayor or George Cooper will cause them a lot of problems. Such space proved vital for Cambridge as they put four past Exeter last weekend.

This space typically occurs on the right side of the pitch as that’s where most of Exeter’s opportunities are created. This looks set to be the key battle on the pitch as Argyle tend to create most of their opportunities down the left through Callum McFadzean and Danny Mayor. Both sets of players will have to better balance their attacking and defensive work rates with only a back three behind them.

Prediction: Exeter 2-2 Plymouth Argyle

Form would suggest that Argyle should turn up at St. James Park brimming with confidence looking to inflict even more misery on their Devon rivals. However in a game of this magnitude, form counts for very little. Ryan Lowe’s side will be buoyed by four wins in their previous six league encounters against their rivals, but Matt Taylor’s side have lost just once in seven league games at home, conceding only six goals in those games.

Both sides will be looking to finish Saturday in the play-off places and with defence being a crucial problem for both sides I would be surprised to see any clean sheets. As has been the case on a number of occasions this season, I’m predicting Argyle to draw 2-2.


 

Green & White: Finally, Plymouth Argyle are building momentum!

Green & White: Pre-Season Predictions

With just days to go until the upcoming 2019/20 League Two season kicks-off, we predicted where Argyle will finish as well as which sides will be looking for promotion, the play-offs and relegation.

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