Joel Grant: Successfully crossing the Devon divide

Much like Ryan Taylor, Joel Grant is another fairly long-serving Green who will not be retained by Plymouth Argyle next season. But as with Taylor, Grant’s departure should in no way detract from the successes he’s had across his three years with the club.

Grant ditched Exeter City for the greener pastures of Home Park in the summer 2017 transfer window. This followed Argyle leaving their rivals behind in securing automatic promotion, whilst the Grecians faltered in the play-off final. Three years later, Grant has turned out 85 times for the Pilgrims, scoring 15 times and assisting a further four. The numbers aren’t exactly eye-watering, but it’s hard to see Grant’s time at Argyle as anything other than a quiet success.

2017/18: A feeble opening

Grant’s start at Argyle was hardly swashbuckling. Whilst he did spend the majority of his time on the pitch, demonstrating his versatility across all three positions in Argyle’s attacking line, he had to wait until mid-October before his first goal contribution. But it was a vital one; Grant got on the end of Graham Carey’s superb pass to fire home against AFC Wimbledon. It secured a 1-0 win, just the second victory of Argyle’s campaign.

 

In truth, the feeble start to Grant’s season was mirrored by the diabolical start to Argyle’s in general. The former Jamaica international was finding his feet – he netted within a minute against Rochdale a week after his Wimbledon goal – but Argyle were still languishing in the League One doldrums. It took a tactical rethink from manager Derek Adams to turn the tide, and Grant wasn’t a part of his refined 4-3-2-1 system.

The swanky new style, devastatingly effective once deployed, made Grant a bit-part player for the second half of the season. Between the start of January and mid-April 2018, he didn’t start a single game, and spent just 62 minutes on the field through substitute appearances. Injuries to others forced him back into the side, and he did manage to score two important goals at the business end of the campaign against Rochdale and Rotherham, as Argyle almost completed the most remarkable of season turnarounds. But the play-offs were just out of reach.

It wasn’t the stunning start Grant would have hoped for, but he did manage six goals, certainly not a bad haul considering his sporadic appearances. Perhaps more importantly, however, his goals were enough to secure Argyle eight points. Only once, against Gillingham on the final day, did he score in a losing effort. He was certainly showing all the hallmarks of being a big-game player.

2018/19: Evolution and injury

As a whole, Argyle’s 2018/19 campaign was shambolic, ending in a totally unnecessary relegation. In relative terms, however, the first half of the season was by far Grant’s most successful time at the club.

Having fallen slightly out of favour at the end of the previous campaign, Grant started Argyle’s second season back in League One on the bench. However, a poor start led to Adams entering a state of panic, as he abandoned the style that served Argyle so well in the previous year. He switched to what he knew best – a 4-2-3-1 style – and when results didn’t improve, uncertainty and frenzied rotation were commonplace.

This meant that, by the law of averages, Grant was eventually given a chance in the first team. It’s testament to his form that, in those circumstances, he managed to impress and keep his place in the side. From mid-October 2018 right up until Christmas, he started 11 games in succession, scoring four goals which earned Argyle three additional points. He also netted one of the goals of the season that Argyle fans will be forgiven for forgetting – a late consolation in a 5-1 mauling by Luton.

 

The most striking part of Grant’s development was the change in his style of play. Whilst he was deployed as a left winger, right winger and centre forward in first campaign, he didn’t look absolutely comfortable anywhere. Very much a traditional winger at first, he wasn’t able to adapt to an inside forward role as Carey and Ruben Lameiras did so successfully. That changed in 2018/19, as Grant demonstrated a desire to get more involved in goalmouth action, and the results were tangible.

In a cruel twist of fate, injury hit just after Christmas, and he didn’t play again for the remainder of the campaign. It’s hard to argue that Argyle would have survived had Grant stayed fit. After all, his injury coincided with player of the year Lameiras getting an extended run in the team. Regardless, it was heavily frustrating that his best spell in Green had been abruptly cut short.

2019/10: Mixed League Two bag

Adams was binned off and replaced by Ryan Lowe before Argyle’s first campaign back in League Two, and the new manager had very different ideas about how football should be played. He knew exactly what he wanted, and for the players it was a necessarily ruthless case of ‘adapt or leave’.

At the start of the season, Grant certainly did adapt, and impressed Lowe enough to start as one of two strikers on opening day away at Crewe. The end result? An assist and a superbly taken goal as Argyle ran riot and won 3-0.

 

Injury again stopped him building any momentum on that flying start, but it was only minor this time, and Grant was back in the starting lineup by the start of October. He scored three league goals in 11 days – one each against Swindon, Carlisle and Leyton Orient – and it looked as though he was ready to hit the ground running once more. Alas, Grant didn’t score again for the Greens.

In fact, the main problem he encountered was indeed the necessity to find the net. Halfway through the season, Argyle were regularly out-creating their opponents, but results were not matching the performance levels. Chances being wasted were a key factor; it’s no coincidence that Argyle’s results picked up when the more clinical Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie arrived on the scene. By comparison, Grant hardly got a look-in before the season was suspended.

In the end, the season back in League Two was very much a mixed bag for Grant. Lowe clearly saw the makings of a great player in him, and at times he was able to repay that faith. However, it never felt as though it was quite enough, and with Argyle moving up a level next season, it didn’t come as a huge shock when he was released.

Reflections and the future

One wonders whether a younger player would have been given another deal, and a chance to improve and impress next year. Grant, however, will be 33 by the end of August. At the very least, he has reached his peak, and it’s probably for the best for his short-term playing prospects that he finds another club.

However, looking back over his three years in Green, Grant will have more successes he can recall than many former Pilgrims. Any transfer to a direct rival is risky for a player. It was a no-brainer for Grant to make it, of course. He always knew that he was joining a bigger club at a higher level right on his doorstep. In doing so, however, he knew he was likely to be cutting his ties with his previous employers for life. He had to make sure he made a success of it.

Overall, he did. His time at Argyle is now at an end, but he will be remembered as a player who successfully crossed the Devon divide and endeared himself to the Green Army. Both parties have been keen to wish the other the very best for the future. That speaks volumes.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2 Crewe 1

One of the biggest games of the season so far was won by Plymouth Argyle in a crunch top of the table clash at Home Park. A tight first half saw Argyle edge it but it was the visitors who came out in the ascendency after the break, taking the lead with an unstoppable striker from Harry Pickering. Argyle persisted and equalised soon after thanks to Luke Jephcott’s great header. The greens then won a penalty for a foul on Danny Mayor which Antoni Sarcevic converted with nerves of steel.

Alex Palmer – GK, 6

It was a bit of a funny game from Palmer today. His distribution will no doubt continue to take a bit of criticism as it often has over the past few games and not without good reason. A large number of his attempted passes failed to find the intended target with a not unreasonable amount going out for throw ins. However, the conditions in the game cannot be ignored. The ball was skidding and sliding around due to intense winds and heavy rain, hard for any player to play in and for a keeper even worse.

Overall, he managed the conditions well, saving what he needed to and proving his usual, assured command of area. However, he could have managed the backpass a bit better that allowed Chris Porter a (seemingly unmissable) open goal. He seemed to go for it and then change his mind, without the benefits of either clearing the ball or guarding the goal.

Scott Wootton- RCB, 6

Wootton has still had a much better season than a lot of Argyle fans have expected but it would be fair to say his performances have trended downwards slightly in recent weeks. He defended fairly well today but still had a few issues with high balls, struggled more than others on the surface and didn’t ever really get into any consistent pattern with his distrubtuion. Balls cleared down his side had a tendency to come back more often that not. A capable enough display but a return to form we saw in November and early December would be very much welcome.

Niall Canavan- CB, 8

Another fantastic game at the back from the man who is probably Antoni Sarcevic’s closest rival for the player of the season award. Canavan was a colossus in the air as he always is and excelled himself in his calmness playing out from the back. Defensive creativity is hard at the best of times but on a day where the pitch was cutting up left, right and centre, this was doubly the case. The big Yorkshireman has had a real renaissance this season and he always keeps his head when those around him are losing theirs. His tackling was also brilliant, emphasising the importance of good timing.

Callum McFadzean – LCB, 6

This is an unusual role for McFadzean, make no mistake, Against Salford, he was Argyle’s ace card, often making unexpected runs from deep. A master of chaos for the home defence to contend with, he pulled them out of shape to our advantage. Today’s performance was very different. He didn’t run forward with or without the ball nearly as much, tending to stay as part of a solid defensive line.

He was mostly capable enough in the air and on the floor but he made two big bloopers that nearly cost Argyle goals. It was his weak backpass that resulted in that comical Chris Porter miss and he was unlucky not to concede a penalty in the first half when he caught a Crewe attacker in the box without getting the ball. Not his natural role and you’d expect to see Sawyer back in on Tuesday.

Josh Grant – DCM, 9 – Player of the Match

What a fantastic performance. The loanee was absolutely everywhere and has at least for now cemented this particular spot in the team. He won tackles with perfect timing when he needed to and his passing was exquisite. Far stronger away from centre-back, this was one of the finest individual displays from any player we’ve seen this season. He controlled a game that Argyle dominated and there was virtually nothing to fault.

Joe Edwards- RWB, 7

Edwards might not have the pace or thrills of Byron Moore at wing-back but he is growing into Mr Consistency for Argyle and he built on this reputation today with another solid display. He protects Scott Wootton superbly defensively, severely restricting the attacks which come down Argyle’s right side. He isn’t quite so good going forward but he showed positive indications here today, linking up nicely with Antoni Sarcevic for spells.

Antoni Sarcevic- RCM, 9

On almost any other day, Sarcevic would have easily claimed man of the match from this one. As it is, he only just makes third due to two other spectacular performances. But lets not undermine just how good the Mancunian was in this game. He’s been famed this season for his energy, bursting around the pitch and picking up countless loose balls and turning the balance of play in Argyle’s favour. He did all of this today and more, moving the ball forward rapidly. Let’s not forget a perfectly placed penalty, blasted into the cortner of the goal at speed. A near flawless display.

Danny Mayor- LCM, 8

Danny Mayor needed a big performance and he certainly got one today. It was his best creative display in a good while and, as seen with Sarcevic, he mucked in defensively too. He had one absolutely spectacular moment where a stunning through ball and a bit of interchange saw him running towards goal in the Crewe penalty box before he was hacked down for a penalty.

Even generally, he carried and moved the ball a lot better than we’ve seen in the past few weeks and it’s good to see him get another assist to his name. Whilst he still needs to add some goals, this was a big step in the right direction.

George Cooper- LWB, 5

It just wasn’t really his game. That’s all there is to be said really. Paul Sturrock, back in the day, would have described this game as one for the ‘blood and snotters’. By that he meant the players who prioritise a tireless work rate and physical energy above their technical attributes and for all Cooper’s many strengths, this isn’t really what he is. He had some moments of promise, with a couple of very good crosses but by and large he was anonymous and will be hoping for a better surface next week to showcase his talents.

Byron Moore- ST, 8

Not since Oscar Threlkeld in the 16/17 season has there been a player who I’ve wanted to clone quite so much as Byron Moore. Taking aside the ethical implications, his versatility makes him worth his weight in gold for Argyle. He started the game brilliantly up front. His chemistry with Luke Jephcott develops game on game. Together, they’ve developed a near psychic understanding of when to make runs and when to hold back.

Moore battled well in the air and got some excellent flick ons. When needed, he moved out to left-wing-back and supported the defence very well there. Let’s give some credit to him too for a superb cross for Argyle’s equalising goal at a time where we really needed a tough of magic from somewhere.

Luke Jephcott- ST, 9

Josh Grant won man of the match by an absolute whisker, with an absolutely majestic performance from the 20 year old youngster coming extremely close to beating him. Jephcott was superb in every department, proving to sceptics that he’s about far more than just goals. Not that his goals don’t justify a place in the team by themselves, having got an impressive 6 from just 6 starts.

Here though, Jephcott’s real strength was in his maturity. He was up against a huge centre-back and proved every bit is equal, winning headers and physical duels that he had no right to win, as well as floating in the air for an inch perfect header to convert Moore’s excellent cross.

Substitutes

Tyreeq Bakinson- DCM, 7

Grant was moved to centre-back to allow the loanee to come in in DCM and he made a good case for a return to the starting team with his best performance we’ve seen in a while. He shielded the defence well as well as starting good counter-attacks on more than one occasion.

Ryan Hardie- ST,  N/A

Moved on to allow Byron Moore to move to wing-back, Hardie for the first time managed to come off the bench without scoring! He did come close though with a scuffed effort at the end nearly creeping under William Jääskeläinen in goal. He didn’t get on the ball a lot but looked lively when he did

Joel Grant- ST, N/A

Brought on late, Joel barely touched the ball but held it up quite well when he did as Argyle saw out the game in the corner flag.

Player Ratings: Salford 2 Plymouth Argyle 3

For the sixth time this season, Plymouth Argyle found themselves locked at 2-2 in League Two. However, away at Salford, they bucked the trend, scoring a 92nd minute winner to steal all three points.

Ryan Hardie scored a memorable late solo-goal to win the game, his forth in just four substitute appearances following a run of no goals in three starts. Prior to that Antoni Sarcevic stole the show, delivering an inch-perfect cross for Byron Moore to open the scoring before scoring a screamer to make it 2-1 just as Salford seemed to be turning the game around.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

It was a game of two-halves for Palmer and Plymouth Argyle’s defence on the whole. In the first half, led superbly by Niall Canavan, Salford barely threatened. In the second, they scored two and could have had three more. So, while Palmer was quiet initially and could have done better to prevent James Wilson’s first from squirming in, he did also deny Wilson a hattrick to put Salford ahead not once but twice.

Scott Wootton, CB – 6

Neat and tidy for the most part, but like the rest of the defence he looked uncomfortable when Salford started to put together wave after wave of attacks, which culminated in a string of good chances for Argyle’s opposition to win the game, far more than Argyle probably deserved to on the balance of the whole match.

Wootton’s highlight was an expertly timed intervention to block Adam Rooney from converting an excellent right-wing cross by Ashley Hunter right in-front of goal. However, he also failed to pick up Rooney later on when the big-striker completely failed to connect from five yards to make the score 1-1 and was perhaps drawn out to the wing too-easily when Salford scored their second equaliser, distorting Argyle’s defensive shape so much that Bakinson was left marking danger-man Wilson.

Niall Canavan, CB – 6

Canavan enjoyed a dominant opening hour as he helped keep Salford’s dangerous (and very expensive) front four at bay. That was, until ex-Man United player James Wilson came on… Canavan’s evening can be easily split into BW and AW, that is before-Wilson and after-Wilson. Before, Canavan was around an 8 and well in contention to be named the best performer in green. After Wilson’s arrival, things changed almost immediately.

Wilson beat Canavan to the ball to equaliser a first time and failed to intercept the cross for the second equaliser. Then, Wilson easily ran beyond the Irishman, only for Salford’s pitch to conspire against him and bounce the ball behind his run, putting him off and making Palmer’s double-save decidedly less tricky. Finally, he was exposed to a 2-on-1 by some lackluster midfield play, with Wilson going clean-through again, only for Palmer to thwart his would-be-winner.

Callum McFadzean, CB – 6

Starting with the positives, McFadzean was very much Argyle’s ace in the hole during the first half. The benefit of having an unmarked winger starting at left-back is that they can maraud forward virtually unmarked and create space for others. We saw this with the opening goal – it was he that made the initial break – his near-assist for Byron Moore, when he found himself in his common position beyond the defence, fed by Danny Mayor, and when he drove forward and was unfortunate to see a last-ditch interception prevent Moore running clean-through.

However, defensively there were big question-marks. He positioned himself far too often as a left-back rather than a left-centre back, creating big problems for his fellow defenders. Just take Rooney’s missed chance in the second-half, caused by McFadzean’s poor positioning dragging Canavan out of position and opening the space for the cross into Rooney. Had Canavan not been sucked out of the centre, he would have easily intercepted the cross.

Additionally, he should have been marking Wilson for the second equaliser, as Sawyer would have, rather than Bakinson. Instead he was focused on Hunter, the winger, who should not have been his man. It’s not entirely surprising that this was the case, given he is a wing-back by trade, but this is no doubt worrying going into another big game against Crewe on Saturday.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CDM – 5

Despite some rave reviews, Bakinson still has many areas of improvement left in his game, and defensively they were on show tonight. One of his biggest problems is a relative lack of defensive awareness, that is an ability to sense the danger before it appears. Instead, he’s far more comfortable tracking a player and getting up-close, which means he can be susceptible to following a runner. That tends to open up space behind Sarcevic and Mayor for opponents to charge into, and Salford regularly took advantage of that.

Joe Edwards and Josh Grant are far more comfortable when patiently occupying space, holding their nerve and block passing lanes. So, while Bakinson gets up in players faces and turns the ball over more often, he can do so at the expense of opening big gaps to be exploited. That’s not to mention that Bakinson was (albeit expertly) shrugged off by Wilson to level the scores and was at fault (along with Sarcevic) when he allowed Canavan to be exposed 2-on-1, leading to Palmer’s 1-v-1 save to deny Wilson a hattrick. Oh, and he struggled in the air, winning 2 of 9 headers.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Edwards was hardly that good tonight, but the game just appeared to suit him better. Despite facing some very dangerous opponents, he was resolute defensively and largely held-up his flank during the waves of second-half Salford attacks. He and Sarcevic also interchanged nicely on a bumpy pitch that suited their more direct style than more the intricate passing of Mayor and Cooper on the opposite flank.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8, player of the match

He wasn’t the match-winner but he deserved to be. Firstly, that cross was perfect for Byron Moore to score the opener – as a striker you could hardly ask for a better delivery. Then, to top that, he scored a goal of the season contender, striking on the outside of his right-boot through a crowd of players into the top corner from 20 yards.

I’d love to say that it helped to swing the momentum, as Salford had been building up pressure before getting their equaliser only for Sarcevic to burst the bubble, but they equalised within minutes and then should have gone in-front, so, yeah…

Nevertheless, the Manchester Messi (come on, grow up people) Sarcevic was a constant source of drive and energy in an attack badly lacking it on a bad pitch that was compounded by terrible weather conditions. It was always a game that would suit he and Edwards over Mayor and Cooper, and so it proved. Sarcevic took advantage of that and played a critical role in delivering three massive points towards the promotion push.

Danny Mayor, CM – 5

This was not a game for Mayor. The centre of the pitch was cut-up before the game even started and thus his passing and dribbling was never going to be at the level we know it can be. Worse, Salford lined up with two strong defensive midfielders tasked with closing him down quickly, denying him the time and space he likes to construct attacks (it didn’t work for Sarcevic though, who loves to take on a high-pressing midfield and bully his way into the space beyond).

Aside from that, Mayor was untidy, giving the ball away far too much. He looked at his best when he was able to work his way into the corners of the pitch where the turf was more even. He helped get McFadzean in behind in the first-half and dropped his shoulder wonderfully a few times from set-piece routines, though the cross didn’t come to anything.

George Cooper, LWB – 6

Cooper was largely anonymous throughout the game, spending less time in the opposition half than Joe Edwards (which is a very rare eventuality). However, he gets a 6 rather than a 5 because of two factors: first, he delivered three fantastic crosses, any one of which could have been scored. Antoni Sarcevic was probably the main guilty party for failing to convert one. Second, despite struggling a bit defensively, he did a decent job against a trio of very accomplished wingers.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

Almost a candidate for miss off the season when he failed to convert Sarcevic’s perfect cross from just three yards. Fortunately, his failed attempt at a shot actually trapped the ball under his feet, leaving opposing ‘keeper Letheren on his arse – as if he were facing a 55-yard shot against a teenage Southend debutant… – and allowing him to pivot and sneak the ball into the empty net.

Otherwise, Moore was quiet, strangled by Argyle’s lack of threat in the final third. There was lots of running but not much to show for his efforts, though he was twice nearly a beneficiary of McFadzean’s forays forward. Moved to wing-back after Cooper came off and Lowe chased a winner.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

Quiet. Very quiet actually. Only touched the ball fifteen times in his hour on the pitch. Like Moore, stifled by Salford’s deep defending in the first half and domination in the second. Unsurprisingly, won 0 of 5 aerial duels as Argyle were forced to play long balls toward him.

Substitutes

Joel Grant, ST – 6

Came on for Jephcott to provide fresh legs and help Argyle see out the lead after Sarcevic’s goal, only for Wilson to equalise within seconds. Struggled for involvement from then on, like the rest of Argyle’s strikers, though I am pleased to report that he has learned to hold the ball in the corner after his ridiculous antics against Stevenage last month.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Wow. Super-sub strikes again. Four substitute appearances, four goals. This one was something to behold: partly because of the amazing effort to run half the length of the pitch, batting away three defenders in the process, and score from a tight angle’ partly because of the dreadful effort Salford made to keep him out.

Particularly amusing was Touray’s attempt to wipe Hardie out from behind and give away a penalty when he was clearly not in the best goal-scoring position anyway. Other highlights include Letheren being beaten far too easily for the goal – it was a very tight angle and he barely seemed to react to the shot – and two dreadful attempts at a tackle on the half-way line by Burgess and O’Conoor.

Josh Grant, DM – n/a

On for a few minutes at the end with the score locked a 2-2, but once Hardie got the winner he did a job in helping Argyle see out their victory.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2 Crawley 2

Plymouth Argyle fans will slice this one up depending on whether they’re a glass half-empty or half-full supporter. Those with a positive outlook will see this as a point gained on Exeter and Swindon, who both lost. Those with a negative outlook see the two points dropped, yet again against Crawley.

Alex Palmer, GK – 5

I have to say, this was a difficult rating to give. Palmer had some good moments across the game, and perhaps given time I’ll look back on this in retrospect and say that a 5 rating was possibly too harsh. There’s no doubt, however, that Palmer wasn’t at his best. He was perhaps unlucky with both goals – after all, they were scored from a combined distance of around a yard – but his distribution seemed laboured at times. A monumental mix-up with Niall Canavan also looked for a moment like it was going to lead to Crawley taking a 2-0 lead in calamitous fashion.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Not the best performance from Argyle’s number 5, you’d have to say. Crawley’s first goal was the second occasion this season that a clearance from Wootton has bounced directly off another player and fallen kindly for the opposition, after the Bristol Rovers palaver in the FA Cup. It looks unlucky, but you have to wonder how much poor technique may also be involved with it happening more than once. Seemed surprisingly weak in the tackle on occasions, which has been unlike him in recent months.

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

The Irishman is very quickly becoming the vital cog in Argyle’s defensive machine, if he isn’t already. His ability in the air is unrivalled in Argyle’s backline, as we saw again on Tuesday night. And whilst he isn’t required to bring the ball out from the back quite as much as his defensive teammates, his distribution is still more than good enough. He was desperately unlucky to have Wootton kick the ball against his backside for Crawley’s opener, but he was on hand early in the second half to clear as the ball again bobbled around Argyle’s goalmouth. A top, top defender for this level.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

Much more comfortable than Wootton on the opposite side of the defence. There’s not much more to say in this case other than the fact it was a quintessential Sawyer performance, and the mark of a man who has fully grown into his new role. He looked solid defensively as always, and linked up well with George Cooper on the left side to get Argyle into some attacking positions. The collective worry when he was down injured was palpable, but of course, he wasn’t leaving the field without a fight.

Josh Grant, DM – 8

Josh Grant is a player whose stock seems to be rising with every game he plays. No wonder Ryan Lowe was so keen to sign him permanently this month. He’s taking steps to make the defensive midfield position his own again despite the competition of Joe Edwards and Tyreeq Bakinson alongside him. Against Crawley, he made some booming tackles to get the crowd going, but also showed some finesse in his game, regularly mopping up and bringing Argyle forward again when they had lost the ball further upfield.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

There are games where Joe Edwards seems to thrive in the right wing back position. Take the reverse fixture against Tuesday’s opponents Crawley, for instance, where he was able to notch a couple of goals. However, he does occasionally show that he still is a central midfielder playing out of position. This was one of those performances. Most of the danger from the right across the game was from Antoni Sarcevic rather than Edwards, and Argyle looked much more threatening when Byron Moore took over the wing back position in the second half.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8 Player of the Match

Does the system suit Sarcevic more than any other player on the team? There’s certainly an argument to say that it does. Can that detract from the superb performances he’s been putting in every week? Not a chance. Against Crawley he was instrumental again, driving the team forward with his supreme dribbling, and putting the opposition defence under extreme pressure whenever he had the ball. Argyle’s first goal was all his own work. Some lovely skill got him in behind on the right, and he made no mistake with the resulting penalty after he was felled.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CM – 5

Whilst Josh Grant continues to shine in the defensive midfield position, Bakinson has been suffering since his move further upfield this week. From a deeper position, he was in prime position to cut out opposition attacks, whilst also having plenty of time on the ball. In the more advanced role, he’s bypassed a little easier, and seems to struggle to bring fluency to his play on the ball. That’s exactly what we saw against Crawley – this game effectively passed him by.

George Cooper, LWB – 7

Oddly, Cooper didn’t seem to stand out for the many in attendance on Tuesday evening. The most likely explanation for that is that the quality he brings is now seen as an expectation, rather than a bonus. Without wanting to put the two in the same bracket, Graham Carey suffered similar in his final season with the Greens. With Danny Mayor absent, Cooper was Argyle’s primary creative threat from the left, and still managed to put the Crawley defence under pressure with his crossing and dribbling. Not his best by any stretch, but he was still the man Argyle wanted on the ball.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

Not a bad performance from Moore by any means. This 6 rating is certainly closer to a 7 than a 5. It was the sort of game where everyone could see what he was trying to do in getting behind the defence, and his footballing brain was clearly tuned in. However, it didn’t quite come off for him whilst he was leading the line. Nonetheless, he made his mark when switching to right wing back, playing a gorgeous cross to set up Luke Jephcott’s fifth Argyle goal. That’ll do.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

Not a bad game from the Blackpool loanee by any means. You could certainly see what he was trying to do in an attempt to bring his undoubted pace into the game once more. However, previously he was facing tiring defenders when coming on as a fresh-legged substitute. It’s a lot harder to do the other way around, and as such he was a little less effective than he would have liked. Didn’t managed to get his fourth goal from his first four Argyle games, but his stock is still more than high enough for now. Just don’t mention that late chipped effort.

Substitutes

Luke Jephcott, ST – 7

Came on with the game level with the hope of making an impact, and managed to bagged a late goal, incidentally his first professional strike at Home Park. Is there really much else to say? Jephcott is looking every inch like the goal poacher Argyle have been missing this season, and it’s such a shame that his headed finish on this occasion didn’t secure all three points.

Conor Grant, CM – n/a

Bringing him on did make at least some sense. As one of Argyle’s more creative talents, Conor Grant have hoped to have been able to make an impression against some tiring legs in the Crawley defence. But unlike Jephcott, he was unable to leave a mark on the game, and like many others, the final few minutes passed him by.

Joel Grant, ST – n/a

Came on late and, in his defence, didn’t really have a great deal of time to impact the game. Tried keeping the ball in the corner when Argyle were ahead, but when Crawley drew level, it never really looked like he would be the source of an Argyle breakthrough.

Player Ratings: Stevenage 1 Plymouth Argyle 2

Three more points away to Stevenage saw Plymouth Argyle climb back into the top three for the first time since August, with games in hand against their closest competition. However, this was far from the quality of performance we’ve seen in recent weeks. Like last week’s victory over Mansfield, this was a hard-fought victory with a large element of luck in favour of the Greens.

Ryan Lowe’s side was painfully average in the first half before taking the lead right at the beginning of the second. However, if there were VAR in League Two, the goal would have probably been ruled out for contact between Byron Moore’s hand and the ball. Stevenage pushed forward and hit the bar before Ryan Hardie’s third goal in 55 minutes of football gave Argyle a two-goal cushion. There was a slight panic when Stevenage pulled a goal back, but Argyle hung on to breach the automatic promotion places.

Alex Palmer, GK – 6

There was not much action for Palmer throughout the game as Stevenage failed to create many openings. A relatively routine diving save saw him guide the ball away from goal and any red-shirted players in the first half, but that was as tough as it got in a first-half that could be accurately described as “peak League-Two football”. In the second he had a bit more to do, with a few crosses pulled out of the sky as Argyle had to defend their slender lead.

A shakey save saw him punch a powerful shot hit onto his own bar, and he was left with no chance when Carter headed in off the far-post from six-yards. There were also a few errant kicks to boot. All in all, quite average, like most of his teammates.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Lots of long balls attempted, lots of long balls failed. More than any player, Wootton was at the heart of Argyle’s failed approach in the first half. Overall, 25 times, he picked up the ball and hit it long, 17 times he did not find his target, making for a dull afternoon. Very dull. His biggest crime in this sense was that he kept hitting the ball too wide, or not putting enough bend on his pass, making it harder for the ever-willing runners of Jephcott and Moore to do anything with his passes.

Throw in his interception in the first half that inadvertently created Stevenage’s only opening of the first half, and a few questionable moments defensively, and it wasn’t his finest game.

Niall Canavan, CB – 5

For the majority of the game, Canavan was an average performer. He did a good enough job against a difficult target-man, mostly winning his headers or ensuring the flick-on did not reach a teammate. When faced with a dangerous counter-attack in the first half, he also positioned himself perfectly to cut out a dangerous cross.

However, it was he who lost his header in the middle of the box as Stevenage fought their way back into the game, and he wasn’t at his most effective as he – along with the rest of the back three – looked vulnerable in the final third of the match. Were Argyle facing a team of greater quality (by my count, Stevenage wasted at least three counter-attacking opportunities by passing or running the ball out of play for a throw-in under relatively little pressure), they would have likely dropped points.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 6

It looked like Sawyer’s game would be over within minutes of kick-off when he went down holding his head after making a good interception, but he picked himself up to complete the full 90-minutes. Like his centre-back comrades, he didn’t look altogether comfortable this afternoon and was bailed out by Canavan’s defensive header when caught too central, allowing a counter-attack down his wing.

The captain made a good block at the end as Stevenage continued to threaten to steal a point and block Argyle’s path to the top three. He also continued to show a better quality of build-up down his wing than Wootton and Edwards on the right, though that probably comes with playing an entire career as a full-back.

Josh Grant, DM – 7

The highlight of the first half was watching Grant gallop forty-yards across the pitch and make a monstrous sliding tackle to kill a counter-attack stone dead. That was actually the highlight of Grant’s match too, as he was pretty quiet on the ball, only completing 14 passes despite Argyle having 58% possession and 63% in the first half. This was in line with the rest of his midfield partners, as the trio failed to offer much control or creativity throughout.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5

A quiet game for Edwards, who was hardly involved in an attacking sense yet not entirely convincing in defence. He could have done better to get a touch when attacking an inviting Cooper cross in the opening minutes (although it was at the opposite end of the pitch, so not easy to tell), and fired a good shot across the face of goal in the second. However, this was largely a continuation of the season-long trend in which Argyle’s attacking threat mostly comes down the left. Just compare his touch-map with that of Cooper on the left, to see how much deeper he receives the ball.

In fact, from left wing-back, George Cooper and Callum McFadzean have been involved 16 goals (6 goals and 10 assists) while Edwards, Joe Riley and Byron Moore have added just 5 from the right, with the only assist being Moore’s deflected cross against Stevenage at Home Park.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

Mostly quiet, like the rest of the midfield, but came to life shortly after the goal, and then again in the closing stages as space opened up beyond Stevenage’s midfield. For the majority of the game, he saw little of the ball and had few opportunities to run into space, so his passing was mostly short and square.

When Moore put Argyle in front, Stevenage were prompted to push higher up the pitch, giving him the space he so loves to exploit. There were a few breaks forward here and there, but he failed to make an impact until the final quarter of the game. Palmer booted the ball downfield, Jephcott lost the header but Sarcevic intelligently knocked the ball beyond the defence for super-sub Hardie to chase, putting him through to grab the all-important second goal.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CM – 4

With Danny Mayor dropped to the bench – injury? experimenting? transfer on the cards? – Bakinson was pushed forward into centre-mid and Josh Grant returned in his customary defensive-midfield slot. And did it work? No. Not that I blame Lowe; I actually suggested the same change after the victory against Mansfield last week (not as something I want, but something that might work). It still might work as well: one game away from home on a bit of a bobbly pitch against a resolute Stevenage doesn’t mean this one should be written off immediately.

However, this was a bad game from Bakinson, who failed to stamp his authority on the game and gave the ball away far too often for a player of his class. Four might be harsh, but it reflects the early expectations on him and how he failed to meet them.

George Cooper, LWB – 7

The left-boot of Plymouth Argyle strikes again. This time, an expert diagonal in-behind Stevenage’s back-four set Moore away and he was able to do the rest. That makes it 1 goal and 9 assists in his last 13 league appearances for the club as part of an incredible run which has transformed the club’s season.

Overall, Cooper sponsored by Argyle Life was hardly on top form today, but it usually only takes one swish of his wand of a left foot (cliche klaxon) to make a difference and so it proved again today.

Byron Moore, ST – 8, player of the match

Five goals for the season for Moore now, as well as three assists, and he made the big impact here with the opening goal that changed the game and forced Stevenage to come out. Very well taken it was too: a strong, left-footed volley into the bottom corner as he was closed down the the ‘keeper. Not an easy technique, but one that was very well executed.

It was not his only meaningful impact, as in the first half he charged back to deny a Stevenage counter-attack, flicking the ball back to Palmer to prevent a one-on-one.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 6

A quiet game for Jephcott, who had no service this week, like last week. Lots of willing running, but long balls in-behind that left him little chance. He almost turned one of those into a chance, squaring for Moore in-front of goal, but it was pulled back for a push.

Substitutes

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Three in three, nay three in 55 minutes. Argyle have their own Erling Haaland on their hands at the moment; another Manchester United target missed? Maybe it’s time to worry about Blackpool recalling him from his loan spell!

In all seriousness, who honestly expected this when Hardie was announced? Who was the last player to score in each of his first three games for Plymouth Argyle? His speed on the counter is frightening.

Joel Grant, ST – n/a

Barely on the pitch long enough to make an impact, though he did have time to perform the worst attempt to hold the ball in the corner of the pitch I’ve ever seen. Having managed to get beyond the defenders, he just needed to jog ten yards to the flag. Instead, he turned, tried to pass the ball back to Moore (why?!) only for it to go straight out of play for a throw-in (facepalm). Thirty-seconds later, Stevenage were in Argyle’s box.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 3 Mansfield 1

Plymouth Argyle weathered an early storm – nay, hurricane – to emerge unscathed and eventually claim all three points against a very wasteful Mansfield Town. The Stags missed three huge chances and could have gone into half-time at least 4-0 to the good, only for Niall Canavan’s header to tip the game in the Pilgrim’s favour.

A clumsy challenge on Joe Edwards allowed Antoni Sarcevic to double the lead, before Andy Cook’s excellent, opportunistic finish made a game of it. Ryan Hardie scored his second goal in two substitute appearances to put the game to bed, as the chase for an automatic promotion place continued.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

Had it not been for Palmer, Argyle would have gone into half-time at least one goal down if not more. He made a selection of good saves during the early onslaught, preventing the Stag’s from getting their antlers in front. He was first called into action instantly from kick-off, and went on to prevent what appeared to be certain-goals on more than one occasion.

Despite the catalogue of impressive saves, the youngster did make a few mistakes. The first, a wayward goal-kick resulted in a dangerous attack which could have been fatal if the Stag’s frontline were all singing from the same hymn sheet. Next on the agenda was a dubious decision from referee Trevor Kettle which saw Palmer get away with what appeared to be a penalty. To conclude, an awkward strike from Andy Cook found itself rebounding into the goal as Palmer failed to judge the flight of the ball, although this was admittedly a very awkward strike.

Yet, without his first-half interventions, it would have been a very different game, one that Argyle probably would not have won.

Scott Wootton, CB – 6

Although Wootton’s performance came with a sense of solidity, we did see the occasional phantom presence of the previous Wootton return. A few suspect clearances resulted in possession changing hands but bar that he was resolute. The firepower of the Stag’s frontline was always going to be a problem, but Wootton and co applied themselves superbly and dealt with the necessary danger with differing levels of ease.

Niall Canavan, CB – 8, player of the match

A stellar performance from the Irishman was integral to the acquisition of all three points. Canavan’s aerial presence was vital in a game in which the midfield struggled in the air. The defender also added to his goal scoring tally as he expertly notched a far-post header pass Stag’s goalkeeper, Bobby Olejnk. At the time this was very much against the run of play and the goal subsequently acted as a building block for the Pilgrim’s to work off.

The goal wasn’t his only game-changing intervention, as he parked himself superbly on the goal line in order to deny what was a certain goal when the score was 1-0. If Mansfield drew level, the course of the game could have been very different. He may have been part of the defence that struggled to contain a dangerous front three, but he more than made up for that.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

With little to note regarding Sawyer’s performance, it echoes the quiet consistency of his work, which he went about with little to no bother at all. Although the first-half saw a few hairy moments where his lack of pace was exposed, he adapted quickly. Despite the defensive struggles in the first half, much of this was down to a mobile attack and a midfield struggles rather than Sawyer individually.

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 7

Bakinson continued from where he left off on his Home Park debut. He screened the defence well for the most part, though there were more lapses than there should have been, such as when he allowed Nicky Maynard through on goal in the first half.

The youngster also offered a great range of passing to supplement the quality of the team, calmly distributing the ball under pressure. However, he lacked urgency and gave the ball away in a sloppy manner on a few occasions, offering Mansfield’s dangerous trio the opportunity to counter-attack. Yet, these are minor criticisms, as Bakinson truly hit the ground running as well as the woodwork, twice!

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Once again there is little to note regarding Edwards’ performance but the quite nature of his afternoon simply demonstrates the ease he found in nullifying the threat that came his way. On the offensive front Edwards is improving his attacking qualities week-on-week with his delivery becoming particularly dangerous.

Additionally, and subsequently the reason why he finds himself with a 7 and not a 6, it was he who won the penalty that put Argyle in total control. A very clever performance from the former Walsall man and perhaps a dark-horse avoiding the spotlight at the moment.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 7

A slow start from the people’s captain saw Argyle struggle to get a grasp on proceedings early on. However, once the Argyle number 7 found his groove the Greens looked more convincing in the middle of the park. The first half saw Argyle struggle to reclaim possession but the second half was a different story, with Sarcevic competing for 50-50s more frequently. His performance was capped off with an expertly dispatched penalty midway through the second half.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

Another quiet performance for the Argyle number 10 as we failed to see the playmaker make a large impact on the game. Although we saw glimpses of his creative self, there was an almost reserved attitude as he collected the ball on occasions. Mayor still offered the same ball retention skills throughout, helping quieten Mansfield’s rampant attack, but he does need to show more – as he himself surely knows.

George Cooper, LWB – 8

A vital component in all things creative, George Cooper finished the day with yet another assist to his name. The Argyle Life sponsored player demonstrated his finesse with a superb set piece which found the head of Niall Canavan. Equally useful in the defensive department too, the Peterborough loanee is really starting to acclimatise to life at wing-back.

His creative output has been a gift to the Argyle frontline as his wand of a left foot has frequently caused chaos in the opposition’s penalty area.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 5

The new glistening Grandstand overshadowed the homecoming of new prodigy Luke Jephcott as he struggled to make the same impact he had in the past two weeks. Although we saw little in the terms of goal-scoring potential this afternoon we did see glimpses of some very neat hold up play as well as a few nice interchanges.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

A particularly quiet performance from the Argyle front man saw the forward see little in terms of goal scoring opportunities but like Jepchott he demonstrated some neat hold up play alongside a collection of tidy passes.

Substitutes

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Two games, two goals. Hardie marked his Home Park debut with another goal as he chased a long ball down the line and subsequently squeezed it into the bottom right hand corner. A neat performance which was capped with a goal saw Hardie stake another claim for him to be implemented in the starting eleven against Stevenage.

Josh Grant, DM – 7

Grant was introduced midway through the second half in order to sure up the midfield and protect Argyle against the aerial battles they were loosing. The second half substitution of Andy Cook was causing problems and the introduction of the recently resigned Grant helped nullify his threat.

Joel Grant, ST – n/a

A late substitute.

Player Ratings: Scunthorpe 1-3 Plymouth Argyle

Another win for Plymouth Argyle as the greens climb to 6th in League Two, the highest they’ve been since the opening weeks of the season. In truth, the 3-1 victory over Scunthorpe did flatter us slightly and we sat too deep but our superior quality won out in the end and three deserved points were taken home to Devon.

Alex Palmer, GK – 8

Another confident and domineering performance from the Argyle keeper saw him largely to thank for another good defensive display by the team at large. He communicates well with his defenders, audibly telling them where to be and organising his back line. He made several solid stops and made himself big when the hosts had opportunities. His only weak area, as has occasionally been the case, was his kicking, which was often off target throughout the game

Scott Wootton, RCB – 6

Despite a general improvement throughout this season, Wootton did not quite perform to his highest possible level today. His heading was mostly fine but there were a couple of occasions where he either lost track of his man or let himself be outpaced. He should probably do better for Scunthorpe’s only goal, losing Kevin Van Veen. Still, it’s good to see our tried and trusted back three partnership together again.

Niall Canavan, CB – 9, Player of the match

Two words: simply phenomenal. As well as being dominant in the air, Canavan was super efficient as the last line of defence when Scunthorpe attacked along the ground (as they did towards the end of the game). Last ditch tackles and blocks were executed to perfection and he began to play the ball out well from the back, especially in the first half.  Canavan was once again a defensive colossus who is surely in contention for player of the season.

Gary Sawyer, LCB  – 7

A reliably solid return to the team from the skipper. What else would you expect from him? A reliable and efficient performance in which he regularly stood up his man well and stopped crosses down his left hand side. He didn’t influence the attacking side of the game as much as he might have done but it was a still a very capable performance by and large.

Tyreeq Bakinson, DM – 7

This was a good and assured debut from the Bristol City loanee, who fans will hope can follow in the footsteps of Zak Vyner, Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan, who all featured amongst our best loanees in the last decade. Bakinson had the positive knack, (like Josh Grant who he may well end up replacing) of not needing to make a crunching challenge because he put himself in the right place to receive the ball. He showed glimpses of the bursting runs forward that he was famed for at Newport but these were a little limited, perhaps due to low match fitness. Still, he played a good part in grinding out the win at the end and has probably made the slot his own for now

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Edwards’ spell as Argyle’s ‘makeshift man’ continued with his move back to right wing back to start the game. In truth, he’s perfectly capable in both of his main roles without being our best option in either. It was another solid display today where he defended very well, marking his man competently enough to prevent a much significant threat from dribbles or crosses down Argyle’s right. He got in a good position to add a fourth goal on the break late on but couldn’t quite find the finish

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 6

It was one of those days where it didn’t quite seem to pay off for Sarcevic, and in spite of his good season for us, he’s had a few of them over the Christmas period. He tried to add a touch of flair to the game on multiple occasions but in truth, that’s not his speciality and it didn’t really work out. His defensive work was encouraging, as it always is, but in truth he wasn’t really involved in our best attacking/creative moments.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

If it didn’t work out for Sarcevic, the same has to be said of his central midfield partner, really. Mayor showed some good moments for sure. There were some tidy passes and it was his shot that rebounded for Jephcott to score his third. However, he often dribbled himself into blind alleys and ended up surrendering possession which killed the momentum of some good team moves.

George Cooper, LWB – 8

Ok: sell off the silverware. Tighten the expenses budgets. Do whatever it takes barring outright bankruptcy in order to get this chap signed on the dotted line. He is a prodigiously talented player for league two level and this was on show today throughout. He put two superb balls into the box for the first two goals, assisting two of the goals with superbly hit crosses to the feet of the goalscorers. He also managed to add a bit more wing play to his game, getting himself up and down the touchline a little more as well as his usual technique of cutting inside.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 8

When the teamsheet was announced for the game, many fans did something of a double take. It went as a slightly unnoticed piece of news when Jephcott was recalled from his loan at Truro in midweek to supposedly compete in the first team. Most people at expected him to warm the bench at best in reality. Ryan Lowe was as good as his word though, giving him a chance in the first team. Jephcott took his chance with both hands and looked every inch the answer to our scoring problems. He buzzed around the defence, constantly looking for opportunities: in short, doing exactly what Lowe wants his strikers to do. He got two poachers goals, as well as showing good passing when he got the chance to pick out other players. He could have done better in the air but it’s a fine return to first team action.

Byron Moore, ST – 8

Moore has proved to be a bit of a jack of all trades in recent weeks, doing a very tidy job at both right wing back and up front. Moved back up front today, he began to strike up a lively partnership with youngster Jephcott. He tended to drop deeper to collect the ball whilst Jephcott stayed more advanced, and he did it very well. He was switched on to passes and was always running to stretch the defence even if he didn’t have the ball. The strike partnership looked a natural fit and may be here to stay.

Substitutes

Joel Grant, ST – 5

We seem to be seeing a bit of a recurring trend with the Jamaican striker from the bench. He often comes on and doesn’t really do a lot, his introduction coinciding with us becoming under the cosh. Maybe he’s one of those strikers who just needs to start. Maybe we just need to stop playing long balls up to him. Either way, he didn’t do a great deal at Glanford Park.

Billy Clarke, ST-  N/A

A classic neat and tidy Billy Clarke performance. without him ever really standing out, he held the ball up fine when coming off the subs bench.

Conor Grant, LWB – N/A

Grant was only on the pitch for a short length of time but his introduction was a positive one. He helped us keep the ball and got us up the pitch on the break to test them on the counter.

Player Ratings: Cheltenham 0 Plymouth Argyle 1

In a fairly even game where both teams scrapped and both created chances, Plymouth Argyle were that little bit more clinical in and around the box and it was that which saw the greens return to Devon with all three points. On another day, Cheltenham’s finishing could have been better and secured them a draw or even a win but Argyle still went away to a strong side, battled hard defensively and had positive spells of chance creation themselves.

Alex Palmer, GK – 6

The West Brom loanee has been on fine form in recent weeks and he was by no means bad in the game at Cheltenham, but certain areas of his performance weren’t quite up to the level of previous games. He was strong and domineering in his communication with his defenders and he did the simple stuff well, as you’d expect.

However, where he did go downhill slightly was his kicking. Quite a few kicks went out of play or didn’t reach Argyle heads. Cheltenham thankfully didn’t capitalise but it’s an area to improve upon, going forward. In addition, a couple of slightly spilled catches pull his rating down slightly.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Ironically, Wootton’s performance was somewhat similar to Palmer’s, especially considering the context of recent performances too. Like Palmer, Wottoon has had a fantastic few weeks where his domineering defending and stylish passing from the back has contributed to Argyle’s fine defensive record of late.

As with Palmer, the defender didn’t have a bad game today by any means. His positional play was mostly fine and his seasonal trend of aerial improvement continued. That said, his passing, which has always been a bit up and down, was nothing special with quite a few misplaced balls out of defence. He also slipped up in the first half, letting striker Addai get away from him and nearly find the net, alongside a couple of other less serious lapses in concentration

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

After his absence in the loss at Bristol Rovers last week, the big defender was back with a bang and another assured performance to see Argyle return to clean sheets. His dominance in the air continued to cut off Cheltenham’s main threat and more often than not, he was largely composed on the ball.

It was a performance not without its flaws – one of two passes went badly awry and there were times where he lingered on the ball a little too long. Yet, overall, this is more proof if any were needed that we’re a better side with Canavan in it than out of it.

Gary Sawyer, CB  – 8, Player of the match

We seem to say the same thing every time Sawyer pulls another quality performance out of the bag, but it seems remarkable that this is the same player who looked so utterly defeated for large spells of last season. The subtle change from left-back to left-centre-back has been astronomical in the difference it has made to the long-standing captain’s performances.

Not having pacy wingers ran at him has meant he is so often more able to hold his ground with more support and comparatively very rarely lets himself be dribbled past.

In the air, the strong centre-back next to him means that he isn’t so often in direct competition for headers and, when he is, his success rate is much higher. In this game, he took these areas of improvement and continued to thrive with excellent marking and (when necessary) great positional play. He began so many attacks from the defence too with a healthy mixture of short and long passing.

His performance wasn’t perfect. A couple of headers were lost from corners but by and large, he was the stand out player in the win.

Josh Grant, DM – 8

Whilst Sawyer is the selected choice for player of the match, this guy comes very close to beating him. Like Sawyer, he took has a story of recovery from humiliation. From many Argyle fans calling for him to never play again following the debacle at Exeter, he has reinvented himself in a defensive midfield role and really made it his own.

In this game, he didn’t make a great deal of tackles but he didn’t need to due to his magnificent sweeping play in intercepting loose balls. He kept loosely to the same area of the pitch but covered so much ground and did so so quickly within the context of that small vicinity.

His natural athleticism was on show, but so too was his calmness on the ball. When he did pick it up, he laid it off magnificently to Sarcevic and Mayor to begin the attacks.

Byron Moore, RWB – 5

Not the finest of games, if truth be told, from the speedy wing-back. Whilst he appeared to have put his name firmly on the slot in recent weeks, this performance will have challenged the idea that he is undroppable, especially with Lowe doubtless keen to shuffle his pack over the busy Christmas period.

His end product was a little unconvincing and his defensive work was prone to errors. He gets a 5 rather than anything lower due to his workrate which was fantastic throughout – his rapid pace allowed him to get up and down the line well.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8

Sarcevic’s fantastic season has continued with another commanding performance in the middle of the park to help secure another win on the road. His trademark skill of driving forward with the ball was once again on show. This was, make no mistake, a much more direct performance than the ones against Morecambe and Bristol Rovers and as such were a lot more dependent on good counter-attacks.

Sarcevic accordingly was in his element, showing a real threat on the break. His defensive display was also more than adequate and he passed the ball well when required to.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Another day, another game for Danny Mayor where his performance is largely pretty good. And again, he’s come in for a lot of undue criticism from Argyle fans because, whilst his performances this season haven’t been bad by any means, ‘largely pretty good’ isn’t quite what Argyle fans were expecting when they signed the playmaker from Bury. He did all the simple things right. He covered a lot of ground with excellent effort on show throughout. His simple passing was fine and didn’t do a lot wrong.

Where he was still flawed (as before) is that he seemed caught between two instincts. He seemed simultaneously too greedy and not greedy enough at points in the game. He would often begin a darting run at goal rather than make a pass but would also often back out at the last minute and decide to pass after all. Ideally, he will let one instinct become master of the other.

George Cooper, LWB – 5

As excellent as Cooper clearly is, he does have games where he can drift out of it for long spells and not really get involved. This was one, if truth be told. It’s a slight problem area for him and one to be worked on if he does, as I hope he does, stay with us in the long-term.

That said, he only needed one moment of magic to really make his stamp on the match. His sublime cross field ball for the goal split open the Cheltenham defence and landed perfectly at the feet of Antoni Sarcevic who crossed for Zak Rudden to fire home. He’s got those moments of great individual quality in him that transcend his overall performances.

Billy Clarke, ST – 6

It came as a surprise to many fans to see Clarke and Rudden selected to start the game at Cheltenham. Both have been slightly underwhelming signings so far and it seems not unreasonable to suggest that Ryan Lowe may have said to them both ‘earn the extension, or you’re off in January’.

Clarke started brightly – he fulfilled Dom Telford’s role of hustling and bustling his way through the defence, with plenty of flick ons and smart passes to threaten the hosts. He did drop off a little though, as the game went on and was substituted in the second half when visibly tiring.

Zak Rudden, ST – 5

The winning goalscorer? Only a 5? Well, it seems harsh but in truth the goal only really served to prevent him getting a lower score. His general play was largely pretty poor. It was sardonically observed early on before his goal that he can trap a ball further than most people kick it and didn’t compete successfully for many long balls, meaning the ball often came straight back up the field after our defenders cleared it.

That said, he displayed a real poachers instinct for the goal, getting in the position to score and then successfully dispatching it to secure the win.

Substitutes

Dom Telford, ST – 5

In truth, he didn’t do the Billy Clarke role as well as Clarke did or indeed as well as he himself has in some previous games. He tried to link up play but passes often went misplaced and he displayed a limited spacial awareness when running with the ball at his feet.

Joel Grant, ST- 5

His close control and ability to hold the ball were perhaps a little better than Rudden’s but in truth he didn’t get enormously involved in the game and we held on for the win more in spite of his substitution than because of it.

Joe Edwards, LWB – N/A

Edwards was bought on late in a position unfamiliar to him but fought well and did his bit to see out a victory.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Bristol Rovers 1

Despite having the better of the game, Argyle were knocked out of the FA Cup this evening following a 1-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers. The Pirates will go on to play Coventry City in the third round.

Starting XI

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

A disappointing evening for the West Brom loanee who was hardly tested in a match which Argyle dominated, but he still didn’t really deserve to be on the losing side. He could do nothing about the goal, a near perfect going right into the top of the net.

He did however make a very good save to prevent a Rovers sucker punch attempt going in shortly after, as Argyle piled men forward. They say it’s the sign of a good keeper to do well even when not tested for long spells in the game. Palmer certainly did that as well as consistently effective distribution.

Scott Wootton, CB – 7

Another solid enough performance from Argyle’s number 5. In the first half in particularly he made use of the space in front of him to give Argyle’s right side some added attacking impetus. He was bitterly unlucky not to level the scores with the last kick of the game, and even more unlucky with his deflected clearance leading to the only goal. One he’ll want to forget, but through no fault of his own.

Josh Grant, CB – 7

A great many Argyle fans were nervous when we saw he returned to centre back after a long spell in defensive midfield. However, we needn’t have been. In spite of his previous inadequacy in this position, he passed the test with good colours today. He was good in the air and with the ball at his feet, often starting attacks by playing the ball out well through the midfield lines. We hope Canavan isn’t injured for too long but if he is, Grant just needs to keep on playing how he has.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 6

A fairly mixed, and in all honesty unspectacular, performance from Argyle’s long serving captain. He linked play up down the left well at times, although that seemed to fade the longer the game went on. Played a pass directly out of play as the game drew to a close which didn’t help the mood, and he was beaten in the air for the winner, though he can hardly take too much of the blame considering the nature of the chance.

Joe Edwards, DM – 7

A solid game from Edwards who showed exactly why he was selected in lieu of Josh Grant in the defensive midfield role. He still displayed some of the same weaknesses. His passing over 15 yards or more for example isn’t great.

What he did do well is that which he always does well. He is a scrapper. He picked up numerous loose balls as well as tackling well when needed to regain the ball for Argyle. Against weaker opponents, we may need more of a passer but Edwards had a consistently good game in stopping the Pirates’ counter-attacking moves as well as playing the short passes well when they were needed

Byron Moore, RWB – 7

Good but not spectacular from Argyle’s right winger on the day. He followed a familiar script for Argyle players recently in looking tidy until reaching the final third. Completed some good runs and won some set pieces, but a lack of cutting edge prevented him from really shining this evening.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 6

Not a bad game from the dynamic central midfielder but not quite as good as many of the games that he’s played in recent weeks. He drove forward with the ball well at times but his old weakness of close control and passing came to the fore again at times in the game.

We returned again, as in the Morecambe game, to a nominally more passing based style today and it didn’t work out quite as well against stronger opponents. He still deserves to keep his place for the trip to Macclesfield but it’s worth bearing in mind. More positively, he covered a lot of ground and defended well

Danny Mayor, CM – 7, Player of the Match

In the first half, so much of the play went through Mayor. He played some superb through balls to set Taylor and Joel Grant free, where the former could have won a penalty and the other hit the side netting. He was another who faded slightly in the second half, possibly through Rovers changing their shape and focusing their defensive efforts down Argyle’s left. It is, however, still enough for Mayor to take our player of the match award.

George Cooper, LWB – 7

A curious game for the Peterborough loanee. He always looked threatening, could have scored if a few deflections were more friendly, and he played the McFadzean role well in the second half to bolster Argyle’s threat down the left. That being said, his one-footedness prevents him from a higher mark. He’ll probably be remembered most from this game for being particularly wasteful on his weaker side.

Joel Grant, ST – 6

Another slightly underwhelming game from the striker who has managed to be capable up front without ever really being inspiring. He was far from all bad. He linked up play well at times and got into one very good position to score.

Less positively, that good position resulted in a disappointing miss and there were large spells of the game where he didn’t really involve himself enough. He has done well enough to keep his place for now but he must be sweating at the prospect of the January window.

Dom Telford, ST – 7

The little striker certainly had a very good game on the whole. There were a number of occasions where he expertly held up the ball and laid it off to advancing midfielders to develop the attack. However, he has to lose marks for THAT miss. In a game of Argyle profligacy, that was just about the worst miss of the lot. A goalscoring striker to complement Telford is badly needed in January. Jamie Reid, perhaps?

Substitutes

Zak Rudden, ST – 5

It would certainly come as a big surprise if Rudden were to stay at Argyle if recent performances are anything to go by. He clashed with the Rovers goalkeeper moments after coming on, and generally bore the characteristics of a headless chicken at times. A worrying lack of technical ability on show, both tonight and in previous games, doesn’t work in his favour either.

Billy Clarke, ST – 5

In truth, he hardly touched the hall in the short time he was on, not really impacting the game

Conor Grant, DM – 6

He was clearly brought on to give more of a passing flavour to Argyle’s game as we looked to chase a leveller but he didn’t quite managed to find the defence-unlocking pass that we needed. He still did well though, moving the ball around quickly.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 3 Morecambe 0

Plymouth Argyle have returned to winning ways, making it four victories in a row at Home Park. Argyle dominated the first half but could not quite find the opening before Ritchie Sutton was sent off for bringing down Dominic Telford when clean through on goal. George Cooper, Antoni Sarcevic and Conor Grant conspired to secure the win and take Argyle to the cusp of the play-offs.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

In one respect, it feels harsh to rate Palmer as high as a 7. Morecambe’s performance was so profound in its inadequacy that really, you have to ask what Palmer could have done to be rated as well as that when he was hardly tested all game. Morecambe did not have one single corner, nor a free-kick in a threatening area so his ability to collect crosses was barely tested. He scarcely had to kick the ball either but one of the few times he did provoked a miskick.

So why so high? Ultimately, because the one time he was tested with his shot stopping ability, he passed with flying colours. A second half defensive mishap saw former green Lewis Alessandra through on goal but Palmer made himself enormously big to stop the forward from making a contest of the game. Another solid performance from the keeper who has arguably been Ryan Lowe’s stand out signing.

Scott Wootton, CB – 7

As with Alex Palmer, it is perhaps harder than you might expect to settle on a rating for someone who was in truth barely tested in the game. However, you have to give Wootton credit in that he too largely did everything well. He positioned himself well in both the defensive sense and the attacking sense. He stuck to his man as well as ever and got forward well to overlap on odd occasions – this is a feature that has been slowly integrated into Lowe’s 3-5-2 system of late and, Cambridge aside, Argyle have been a more rounded side for it.

Where he was weak was in his passing. Too often passes were a little aimless or badly directed, simply falling straight to the feet of the Morecambe defenders. That said, it’s another clean sheet with the scouser in the team and he can be proud of his improvement this season. He just needs to shore up his media diplomacy and he might even earn a much coveted handshake.

Niall Canavan, CB – 8

An excellent game was had by the Irishman in the centre of Argyle’s defence once again, cementing his status as Argyle’s best centre-back this season. He did all he had to in the air, meaning Morecambe’s long-ball option (something you saw a lot, it is a Derek Adams side after all) was frequently cut off at the neck. The main thing he brought to the game however, was his passing ability.

An interesting sub plot of this game is we saw a lot more short passing around the opposition’s defence than in most recent matches. It was not a full throttled return to the possession based  style that we saw in August and September but nor was it strict adherence to the territorial style as seen in recent weeks. Canavan’s cool and composed ability to play the ball out from the back was a big part of this.

Gary Sawyer, CB – 7

This was a classic Sawyer performance of this season, really. Did he do anything at any point in the game which could reasonably be described as stand out? No. Did he produce a consistently good performance in which he regularly dealt with the overwhelming majority of the threats to come his way? This is also a yes.

The left-centre-back role is perfect for Sawyer in his advancing years. He doesn’t have the requisite pace to play the wing-back role but the pressure on centre-backs in a back four to win the ball in the air may also have troubled with due to his lack of height. In this role though, we see the best of him and he consistently manages to link up well with the left-hand-side of Argyle’s midfield.

Josh Grant, DCM – 8

Grant largely did his role of protecting the defence pretty well although one might argue it was an easy task against a side as bad as Morecambe. What impresses most about him is his coolness of mind both in and out of possession. He will often be in just the right place to pick up a loose ball when it comes towards him in midfield and whilst his passing ability isn’t exactly that of David Fox (though we should stress, it’s still pretty damn good) where he really shines is in the decisions he makes with the ball.

He manages to be ambitious without being overly risky. His composure allows him to find passes that are high reward yet you rarely see him (from midfield) attempt passes that are especially high risk either. Compared to the gaffe-prone calamity that we saw at centre-back, Grant has been one the big success stories of the season.

Byron Moore, RWB – 8

Moore came out of this game as one of the latest in a long succession of great finds in terms of players playing outside of their normal position. Whilst he has by no means been bad as a striker in recent weeks, he added a great deal to Argyle’s display from the right-wing-back position. He showed promise in every facet of the role that is needed to impress. He got up and down the line very well, defending when needed yet also bursting forward with electric pace.

Furthermore, he displayed a refreshing unpredictability in his attacking play. often cutting inside to draw defenders in and create space yet also bursting down the line at times too. Not knowing what he was going to do added such variety to Argyle’s play that the Morecambe defenders were left dizzy by the end of the game. He’s made that spot his own for now. It’s unlikely Edwards goes straight back in.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8

Sarcevic’s excellent recent form has continued with a fine performance in the game that saw a hybrid of possession and territorial based styles. His defensive work was a good as it always is, with high pressing to win the ball back whenever it was surrendered. His movement and energy levels were impossible for the midfielders to handle.

With the ball, he showed a delightful mix of the explosive dribbling that we have seen thrive in recent weeks and he actually adapted well to the shift towards a more passing based performance. He didn’t attempt intricate through balls but we saw a lot of good simple passes out wide to the wing-backs who both performed commendably. That said, his magnificent first half form didn’t quite maintain itself throughout the second half and things were refreshed upon his substitution. It was good to see him return to penalty-taking form with a bang, converting our second goal with both power and placement..

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Mayor had another solid performance, with plenty of trickery on show as ever. He demonstrated his excellent dribbling ability in the move leading up to Argyle’s third goal that put the icing on the cake in the game. His passing ability was solid and consistent. Perhaps the only complaint if any was that he didn’t impress himself quite enough on the game, being a little too passive at times.

Still, after a Cambridge game which saw large proportions of the fanbase baying for his blood, this was a welcome return to form for someone who is unarguably one of the most instinctively creative players in the division.

George Cooper, LWB – 8, Player of the Match

I promise…it’s not just because he’s our sponsored player. Cooper had a truly excellent performance in the match, weaving his way in and out of the Morecambe defence with aplomb. He primarily played on the left but (as with Moore) drifted into the centre on so many occasions that he essentially created an overload effect against the Shrimper centre-backs.

That’s not to say he didn’t offer a threat from out wide too, making a large number of crosses in the game (24, to be precise). Whilst they didn’t all reach green heads, those which didn’t were so often in the danger area that they prompted hurried clearances or misdirected headers from which Argyle were able to resume attacking impetus. That’s not to mention his superbly hit free-kick to open the scoring for Argyle, which couldn’t have been better placed were David Beckham in his prime.

Dominic Telford, ST – 7

Telford isn’t quite proving himself to be the ‘Freddie Ladapo replacement’ in the goalscoring stakes that many fans hoped for when he came to Home Park in the summer but he he is proving to be is a consistent nuisance for opposing defenders. His agility of movement is extremely tough to handle and his ability to pick out just the right pass or flick on is indicative of a tall strapping target man, rather than the small chap that he is.

Furthermore, it was his bursting run on goal that saw him brought down one on one with the keeper which reduced the visitors to ten men – probably the most decisive moment in the match.

Joel Grant, ST – 7

Grant has come in for some criticism over flakey performances in recent weeks and was (rightly, on balance) dropped from the side to allow Dominic Telford to come in at Cambridge. He was granted (pardon the pun) a reprieve here which resulted in him grabbing the chance with both hands. He added much more than usual to his game, dropping deep to link play up when necessary as well as still moving dangerously in the box as Lowe likes his strikers to do.

He didn’t get a goal to add to his display but he will be hoping this is enough to earn him a prolonged stay in the side.

 

Substitutes

Zak Rudden, ST – 5

….Oh dear. He was only on for a quarter of the game but he somehow managed to miss two guilt edged chances that pulled his performance rating down a bit. His general play wasn’t awful, holding the ball up well and making a few successful passes.

Conor Grant, CM – 8

He was only on the field for a short duration of time but fair play where it’s due – the time he spent on the pitch was a delight to watch. He refreshed us well when Sarcevic’s legs began to tire, consistently showing for the ball with proactivity and moving it on well. It was also very encouraging to see him add a goal to his game, an area where he’s struggled in the past.

Billy Clarke, ST – N/A

Clarke was bought on for Dom Telford with just eight minutes to play and in truth wasn’t really given much of a chance to make an impression on the game.