Do Plymouth Argyle need a new defence?

Every now and then you get one of those games that just leaves you confused. Yes, there may be a little bit of sadness there, but the overriding emotion the day after such a performance is closer to “what…what just happened?”

Plymouth Argyle’s 4-0 defeat at home to Rochdale was one of those occasions. OK, Argyle’s form wasn’t exactly the best heading into the game, but it certainly seemed on Saturday that they’d put that to one side following a solid performance and win over Lincoln. Plus, we’d all have been forgiven for thinking that Argyle’s season had reached its nadir with the 5-1 defeat against Fleetwood last weekend. And yet, here we are.

It was a game that led to renewed calls for the Greens to go through a complete defensive overhaul. And this time, I’m finding it hard to argue against doing just that.

The individuals

Argyle’s back line against Rochdale, to a man, were terrible. Granted, they were different levels of terrible, but terrible nonetheless. Kelland Watts was probably the least culpable of the three, and his passing was diabolical. Add in the fact that he was caught out completely for the first goal trying to play his man offside, and you get an idea of how horrific Argyle’s defending was on the day.

We also need to talk about Scott Wootton. Up until the mountain of first half stoppage time, he was actually doing alright. Not well, of course, but alright. He’d cut out a pass well at 2-0 to stop Rochdale getting their third a little earlier than they did, and generally defended with at least some level of competency. And then, as half time approached, he saw Jimmy Keohane’s weak header travelling towards the bottom corner and just…let it.

I’m writing this around 24 hours after it first happened, and it still shocks me. Yes, there was a mix up with goalkeeper Mike Cooper, who was no saint himself on Tuesday night, but for an experienced professional defender not to instinctively boot the ball away is just criminal. It’s not the first error we’ve ever seen Wootton make – of course it isn’t – but it’s surely the worst looking. As I say, I still find it unbelievable to watch.

And then there’s Niall Canavan. I’ve been pushing for Canavan to start in the centre of defence for a little while. Cue egg over my face. I’ve already covered this in yesterday’s player ratings, and I’m not paid enough I don’t have the time to repeat myself, so I’ll just let the last article do the talking.

Contrary to popular belief, playing to the whistle isn’t the first thing kids are taught when they start playing football. But yes, by the time they become highly paid professionals, they should be aware that you can’t just stop playing whenever you feel like it. Niall Canavan, inexplicably, failed at that very objective against Rochdale.

 

Was the ball out of play for the visitors’ second goal? Maybe. The perspective from every camera Argyle had in operation made it impossible to tell. But Canavan assuming it was going to be called was scandalous. He wasn’t the only man at fault in the omnishambles that followed, but had he decided not to suddenly have the night off, the issue would have been stopped at source.

It’s hugely frustrating. In the past I’ve spoken about how the errors may iron themselves out with a little more match sharpness. But these aren’t little errors, these are the absolute basics. And if they can’t manage those, we may as well pack in any hopes of the play offs straight away.

A lack of protection

One thing I have noticed in the deconstruction of Tuesday’s proceedings is the comparison of the defence this season to the last time Argyle were in League One. That year, 2018/19, saw Argyle relegated having conceded 80 goals across the campaign. The defence came in for plenty of criticism that year, and the fact that many of the same personnel are still around is not lost on some.

I’m cautious of that comparison. This site has in particular documented the inadequacies in Argyle’s midfield during Derek Adams’ last season at Home Park, and to put all of the blame on a defence that was left completely exposed for most of the year is unfair. Wootton was shown up but Canavan, for instance, certainly wasn’t.

There is an argument that we’re seeing similar this time around. Tyrese Fornah, for all he offers on the ball, doesn’t seem to have a clue out of possession. As the deepest lying midfielder in Lowe’s system, he simply has to be on hand to cut out the passing avenues for opponents on the break, and gobbling up second balls when required. In general, and particularly on Tuesday night, he’s managed neither. We’ve seen more of it from Panutche Camara in a more advanced position, which tells you all you need to know.

Look at how weak he was for Rochdale’s goal. With the ball bobbling around, loose in the opposition’s half, the defensive midfield player ought to be taking authority and making the it his. Fornah, however, was turned so easily by Stephen Humphrys, suddenly found himself out of position, and Rochdale had the ball in the back of Argyle’s net within seconds. It was a common theme.

Fornah’s performance certainly didn’t help. The defence were the main culprits on Tuesday night – of that there is no doubt. But when you know you’re lining up with error prone players in your back line, giving them more to do isn’t the most sensible idea.

So, do Argyle need a new defence?

I have to be honest; I’ve been as close as ever to answering a simple “yes” to that question. And I certainly wouldn’t mind if Lowe did decide to dip into the January transfer market for a few defensive reinforcements.

Believe it or not, however, there is still reason to be hopeful. Consider that a back three of Aimson, Canavan and Watts, probably Argyle’s best on balance, have only played together twice this season. Should they be given a run in the team, with Wootton, Jerome Opoku and the long-lost Gary Sawyer providing backup when necessary, Argyle may be able to find at least some sort of solidity. Granted, there’s no guarantee there, but it would surely be worth a try with things currently as they are.

There are also options for Argyle to solidify their performance in defence within midfield. Frankly, playing Fornah on his own in the deep position has failed. Therefore a path back for Lewis MacLeod, who put in some good performances there when he wasn’t injured, may well be there once he’s recovered. Until then, why not try a 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2, as we’ve seen from Lowe in the past, to allow Fornah to have a little more support in the middle? It’d surely help.

In all honesty, it’s hard to be positive. There are plenty of questions now Argyle have lost three in a row in the league, and they need rapid answers. If Argyle line up the same way against Ipswich this Saturday, confidence levels will hardly be high.

Let’s hope it can be sorted, whether that means a change of tactic or a new defence entirely.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Rochdale 4

Plymouth Argyle went down to a shocking 4-0 defeat at home to Rochdale, ending the unbeaten run in dramatic fashion. After no losses at Home Park since New Year’s Day, this was some way to start. The game was virtually beyond us by half-time, going in three down. The second half was a bit better but not notably so. Whilst we did create some chances, we were brutally picked apart on the counter and made a catalogue of ridiculous individual errors in defence.

Starting XI

Mike Cooper – GK, 3

It was once again a disapointing evening for Argyle’s young keeper who seems to be fast estabishing himself as a player of feast of famine. He didn’t do a LOT wrong. If we’re being charitable, we could even say that he did well for the first goal, forcing Beasley to a tight angle following the initial defensive mix-up. That said, he really didn’t do a long right either. His kicking was unmemorable and I can’t actually remember a save he made. Most of the time, his hands were only on the ball to pick it out of the net.

This is before we mention his decision to inexplicably play tiki-taka football with Byron Moore on the edge of his own penalty area, leading to the fourth goal. Moore was dispossessed but it was a ridiculous pass by Cooper to go short in the situation. Moore had a man on him and could have done nothing other than, at best, boot the ball out of play.

Scott Wootton – RCB, 3

Truth be told, there was a time that I was willing to cut Wootton some slack tonight. Argyle were 2-0 down after some kamikaze defending contributed to both goals. But of all of them, Wootton was probably least culpable. He also did produce a couple of excellent blocks to prevent the scoreline looking even uglier.

Then, and there’s no way of making this sound better, he saw the ball heading into the bottom corner and just…let it go in. Let me repeat: he just watched the ball go into the goal. Despite having the means to deal with it comfortably he decided, and I need to drill this in because it still shocks me, to watch the ball nestle into the bottom corner while thinking “yep, this is fine.” Honestly, he was an active hinderance to defending the danger. Had he not been there, at least he wouldn’t have distracted his own goalkeeper.

Cue a half time substitution, and another clanger to add to the collection.

Niall Canavan – CB, 2

Contrary to popular belief, playing to the whistle isn’t the first thing kids are taught when they start playing football. But yes, by the time they become highly paid professionals, they should be aware that you can’t just stop playing whenever you feel like it. Niall Canavan, inexplicably, failed at that very objective against Rochdale.

Was the ball out of play for the visitors’ second goal? Maybe. The perspective from every camera Argyle had in operation made it impossible to tell. But Canavan assuming it was going to be called was scandalous. He wasn’t the only man at fault in the omnishambles that followed, but had he decided not to suddenly have the night off, the issue would have been stopped at source.

As an advocate for Canavan starting up until this game, this was not a night to remember for me or the Irishman.

Kelland Watts – LCB, 4

Uhh. Not a memorable night for the Newcastle loanee, which I have quickly discovered is a running theme. He was completely caught out for the first goal when he tried to play the offside trap and failed miserably, and his defending for the fourth (I still can’t believe I’m writing that after a home game against Rochdale) left a fair bit to be desired.

What really grated in this one though was his profligacy going forward. Honestly, how many times did he give the ball away during his time on the field. Well, I could probably look it up and find out, but after watching 90 minutes of that I don’t have the will to look up the stats just yet. But it was a lot, is my point.

Against a side as good on the counter as Rochdale, with a defence as hapless as Argyle’s, that was suicide.

Tyrese Fornah – DCM, 3

Tyrese Fornah seems absolutely fine on the ball. Perhaps that’s what makes Lowe like him so much. We saw as much with Jerome Opoku starting in the centre of defence to start attacks. However, much like we’ve seen with Opoku, Fornah is failing in his primary role in this system: defending.

In his position, and particularly against good counter attacking sides, Fornah needs to be the player cutting out attacks and stopping the simple passing avenues for the opposition. Against Rochdale, he almost seemed to do the opposite. He was so weak in the tackle when attempting to stop the first, and on many occasions he was nowhere to be seen for the second balls he ought to be eager to mop up.

I’m happy to be proved wrong in the coming weeks, but if Argyle are looking for this season’s Josh Grant behind the midfield, Fornah isn’t the man.

Joe Edwards – RWB, 7. Player of the Match

I can only assume Lowe recognised the game was already lost at half time, and he wanted to trial something new. Because bringing off Joe Edwards at half time when he was the only attacking threat Argyle possessed for the first 45 minutes would be mesmerically stupid otherwise.

Much like Saturday, Argyle looked most dangerous down the right in the absence of Danny Mayor. Edwards was a key cog in that, and almost set up Luke Jephcott for an equaliser soon after the game restarted after the first half injury delay. It goes without saying that this wasn’t as good as his Lincoln performance, particularly in defence, but he still stood out amongst the dirge in the first half.

I sincerely hope Lowe was just giving his right wing back a rest for the second half.

Conor Grant – RCM, 7

Grant, alongside Edwards, is the only other player to come out of this omnishambles with any credit. He was quiet in the first half and missed a half-decent chance for what would have been 1-2, fairly early in the second half. That said, he did really grow into the game as it went on. His best spell, curiously, was when he was moved into the wing-back role just after half-time.

He got up and down the line well in this position, ensuring that Argyle’s left hand side was secure. As well as this, he did also deliver some decent crosses into the box. Unfortunately, nobody had their finishing boots on to get on the end of them.

Ben Reeves – LCM, 4

Picture the scene: Argyle kick off the second half needing an Istanbul-style comeback to save the game. Within two minutes of the restart, the ball falls to Ben Reeves on the volley on the edge of the box, just days after he scored a screamer in similar circumstances against Lincoln. Once again he catches the ball on his left foot and sends it…wide. It just wasn’t to be for Reeves tonight.

He was far from the worst player in Green, and his second half performance was enough for me to consider bumping his rating up a little. However, his overall influence (or lack of) was a little problematic. The lack of Mayor in the middle has left a huge creativity void, and thus far Reeves hasn’t been able to fill it. Edwards has been great in the last two games, but he shouldn’t need to be Argyle’s main source of attacks.

Perhaps Reeves will be better alongside Mayor. Will we find out one day?

George Cooper – LWB, 5

George Cooper, with a 5, escapes as one of Argyle’s better players on the day by virtue of not having played much of the game. Yep, that’s how bad it was.

It has been notable in the last couple of games how much he struggles without Danny Mayor alongside him, but we can’t really pass much judgement on that from tonight’s showing. He may have been playing injured from the start – who knows? Hopefully both will be back soon an we’ll be able to see Argyle’s attack at its fluent best.

Frank Nouble – ST, 4

Nouble gets a 4, but it’s certainly closer to a 3 than a 5. In the first half he was very quiet, generally failing to get involved in any of Argyle’s admittedly limited attacking moves. And in the second, when he was involved, he was annoyingly wasteful. He squandered a couple of headers that could have put Argyle back in with a shout, and was barely involved in the creative side of the game.

Credit has to go to him for putting his body about, and still trying to develop openings for his side with his physicality. He was certainly better in the air than he was against Fleetwood last week, for instance. However, that’s hardly an achievement, and tonight certainly wasn’t his game.

Luke Jephcott – ST, 5

Jephcott is an excellent young striker who, all being well, will be hugely beneficial to Argyle’s promotion chances or Argyle’s bank balance one of these days. Maybe both. That said, it wasn’t his day today. He was busy and energetic, like he always did. He got into deadly positions through electric movement, like he always does.

Where he did unusually let himself down was his finishing. Argyle’s best two chances of the game both fell to him at close range. The first one was tapped against the post and the second he couldn’t get a good connection on. You’d usually expect him to finish one or both of those chances. Today, it wasn’t to be.

Substitutes

Byron Moore – LWB/RWB, 4

Moore came on for Cooper, and despite a good run of performances when he was rushed to LWB of part of Argyle’s COVID inspired reshuffle, he was pretty awful today. He replaced the injured Cooper and immediately managed to make a bad situation worse, offering next to no end product. One well delivered cross onto the head of Nouble was the one exception to the rule.

He also has to take a lot of blame for the catastrophe of the fourth goal. Yes, Mike Cooper played him into trouble, but Moore should have put his foot through the ball to clear it. Instead, he too tried to be too cute in his own penalty area and was dispossessed.

Will Aimson – RCB, 4

Aimson came on at half-time for Scott Wootton and, whilst there was some merit in sending a message to the dreadful defence, he was pretty anonymous. He didn’t do loads wrong but his passing was aimless.

He probably would be a five out of ten but he totally missed a chance to clear the ball before the fourth goal, after the Cooper/Watts fiasco. Not good but he’ll still probably return to the team for the Ipswich game, if only by default.

Jerome Opoku – CB, 6

Opoku was the best of the five Argyle centre-backs to play today and he still didn’t play especially well. He’s closer to a 5 than a 7. He didn’t do anything outstanding and there are some questions to be asked about his passing out from the back.

But, he didn’t look like he was playing with a blindfold on and he didn’t make any errors that led directly to goals. That at least is a step above the others.

Ryan Hardie – ST, 4.

I’m getting a bit numb with Hardie at the moment. Usually this season he works very hard, gets in good scoring chances but just can’t find the net. Today, he got in one semi decent area but that was about it and he spent much of the game anonymous, not really making any clear runs or effort to get the ball.

Is it time to ask the question? How long does his blip in form continue to be called a blip? How long before we question if perhaps last season was the blip after all? He needs improvement and he needs it soon. The worry is that nobody can score without Jephcott.

Panutche Camara – CM, 5

Well…he came on, he ran a lot. That’s about it. Certainly none of it appeared to be to great effect. Camara is a good player for us but on days like this, you just have to accept that nearly everyone has had an off day. He missed a good chance for what would have surely been a totally worthless consolation goal in stoppage time. The best you can say is that he got into good positions.

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 2-0 Lincoln

After a very ropey week on the road, Plymouth Argyle got back to winning ways with a bang, beating Lincoln City 2-0 to get into the third round of the FA Cup. The scoring was opened by – who else – Luke Jephcott, heading directly in from a perfect George Cooper corner. Ben Reeves scored Argyle’s second goal in spectacular fashion, striking a Frank Nouble miskick into the top corner of the net on the volley. Argyle created chances in the second half. Whilst the first was quieter, we restricted Lincoln to few serious chances due to a very sturdy backline and were well worthy of the win.

Mike Cooper – GK, 8

A game at Fleetwood that could best be described as ‘error prone’ was followed up by a much improved display at Peterborough and then a performance today that was, if anything, even better. Cooper was largely very impressive against a Lincoln side who were increasingly peppering him with shots as the game went on. He saved everything that came at him, holding onto the vast majority of it. There were, perhaps, a couple of question marks over a couple of the shots in the first half that he could perhaps have held and were instead parried back to the striker.

Even those, he dealt with well. He also proved impressive in his command of area that was strong, knowing when to catch and when to punch. His kicking, one stray miskick aside, continued to be very impressive, often starting Argyle attacks. His use of his hands to distribute was also impressive, always looking for the quick route out of defence whenever he got two hands on the ball. Long may his form continue.

Scott Wootton – RCB, 7.

Given a run in the side once again following a couple of Will Aimson mistakes, Wootton continued to show there’s few better than him for on the ground defender. His aerial duel success may be patchy (albeit, it’s better than it was) but there’s few players I’d trust more to position themselves effectively to cut out an incoming attack. Lincoln barely had any serious chances in the game, largely restricted to long range shots. This was surely in part down to Wootton’s astute reading of the game.

Where he could have done better, as he so often can is his passing. Whilst he’s fine at playing the simple balls out of the back three, he too often executes aimless long passes to nobody in particular. This simply results in the ball coming back to us and it’s an area of his game he can still work on.

Niall Canavan – CB, 9. Player of the Match.

What a difference this guy makes. Surely, now, it is beyond doubt? Argyle are quite simply a better team when Canvan plays. No ifs, no buts. It isn’t just that he’s a better defender than the alternatives for the central man in the back three. I mean, I think he is the best defender for that role. He’s a colossus in the air, winning almost everything that comes his way and he knows exactly when to attack the ball with aplomb.

But more than this, and he showed this against Lincoln, is he makes others around him play better. He communicates where other players should be and organises at set pieces. He brings out the best in those around him. The stats speak for themselves: Argyle concede at a goal every 87 minutes when Canavan plays and a goal every 51 minutes when he doesn’t.

Kelland Watts – LCB, 8.

Another fine game was had by the man who is proving to be an absolute revelation on the left hand side of the defence. Whilst (as stated above!) I believe Canavan to be our best all round defender, I believe Watts to be our best attacking-defender. He executed his core duties brilliantly, a couple of slight errors that crept into his game in recent weeks were nowhere to be seen against Lincoln. He also overlaps well, presenting himself as an extra attacking option whilst ostensibly a centre-back.

One scuffed clearance is the only imperfection that I can think of and perhaps he can consider himself unlucky not to get an even higher score.

Tyreese Fornah – DCM, 6.

Fornah had an unexpectedly good game against Peterborough – after being dropped from the side, he had his best game in an Argyle shirt. He fought and scrapped constantly, not getting dribbled past once. We all hoped it was a positive platform he could build on to really cement his place in the side. He did have a quieter first half, often failing to decide when to press and when to hold off. This sometimes led to him doing neither.

However, the second half saw him look much more like the Fornah was saw on Tuesday night. He was much sharper and his decision making more astute and perhaps this lead to Argyle’s improved second half display. He’s done enough to keep his space for another game, at least.

Joe Edwards – RWB, 9.

I’m prepared to eat humble pie here. Edwards is a player who I didn’t think would make the step up to League One level particularly well. Last season, he was perhaps too often Mr 6 out of 10, getting up and down the line well but to no avail when it came to his end product. However, the game against Lincoln was the latest in a long line of very impressive displays for the greens.

He was constantly getting Argyle moving, the primary source of home attacks in the first half and the second. Additionally, he seems  to have upskilled himself. His passing, never really a strength last time out, was intricate in this game. He linked very well with Conor Grant and the strikers. Only Canavan’s dominant display prevents him getting man of the match.

Conor Grant – RCM, 7.

He was a bit quiet at times, especially in the first half, but he grew into the game as it went on. After a mediocre couple of games, it was good to see Grant look more like the star man we saw in the early days of the season, even if he wasn’t quite back to his best.

His distribution was tidy and he was part of a good joint defensive effort that largely restricted Lincoln to pot shots.

Ben Reeves- LCM, 8.

Reeves had all the good aspects of Grant’s performance made better. Yes, perhaps he could have been busier going forward but his tenacity was much appreciated by his defenders, who had much less to deal with due to the relentless pressing of Reeves in front of them,

And, of course, we can’t go without pointing out his miraculous goal. It fell to him on the volley and he timed it perfectly to whack the ball into the corner of the net, giving Palmer no chance in goal for the Imps. Contending with Conor Grant’s efforts against Wimbledon and Swindon, it will surely be up there for goal of the season when the campaign ends.

George Cooper – LWB, 7.

It was a funny game for the wing-back. Perhaps a little lucky to have kept his place after a dire display on Tuesday against his old club, Cooper showed he still has some magic in him with a beautifully whipped cross straight onto the head of Luke Jephcott for the opening goal. He was also involved in the second, delivering the free-kick into the box which was cleared out for Reeves’ stunning goal.

That said, his general level of display was perhaps still a little lacking at times. His defending was the weakest of the midfielders and he didn’t show for passes as much as Joe Edwards on the other side. He has encouraging signs to take from his performance but some areas for improvement too.

Frank Nouble – ST, 6.

It was in truth a fairly quiet game for the big striker. Certainly in the first half, he rarely got on the ball. In the second, he was more involved and didn’t do a lot wrong. Perhaps he deserves a higher score as he didn’t exactly make any mistakes, he just didn’t do a lot generally. Credit can be given to his movement, which can be useful in occupying defenders, if nothing else.

He will be fighting for the assist to his name but if he’s honest, I don’t think he can say he meant it. Still, a couple more ‘mistakes’ like that and Argyle will be laughing.

Luke Jephcott – ST , 7.

Just how many millions is this kid gonna end up making Argyle? I hate to think of such a good player leaving us when his Argyle career has only just got going and he’s establishing such a connection with the (albeit distant) fanbase. The fact remains though, that if he keeps up this kind of form, he can make money for the club that could have us set for the next five years.

He was really rather good again today, quite aside from the now expected poacher’s finish for his goal. It’s a myth that all he’s about is goalscoring. He’s relentlessly busy, constantly pressing opposing defenders and forcing them back up the pitch. I envy the 2,000 who will get to see him play in the flesh for Argyle on Saturday. Sadly I’m not sure how many more appearances he has left.

Substitutes.

Pantuche Camara – RCM, 8.

Whilst Grant had a solid enough game, he was exceeded by the man who replaced him in the second half. Argyle really needn’t have worried about losing Antoni Sarcevic this summer. Camara does everything that Sarcevic did and he does it better too. He drove Argyle up the pitch at a time where we could so easily have sat back and his use of the ball was immaculate. Ryan Lowe has once again been given a real selection headache for the two CM spots.

Jerome Opoku – LWB, N/A.

Once again tried at left-wing-back after a prolonged spell at CB, he did the job as a more defensive option to see the game out. He did get booked giving away a free-kick, but made no other mistakes of note.

Ryan Hardie – ST, N/A.

Try as he might, it just isn’t happening for him in front of goal, is it? He once again got himself into a good position but couldn’t put it away. We can at least take solastce from the fact that at least he’s getting in the right positions still, even if he’s a mile away from the confidence boost he needs.

Plymouth Argyle take no shame from Hull defeat

It’s been a few days now since Plymouth Argyle’s 1-0 defeat at Hull. Usually, that’s enough time to reflect and allow feelings from the weekend to die down. In the midweek period after a game, the delirium from any victory has mellowed, and any feelings of dejection from defeat can be left in the past. It’s around now that things never feel quite as good, or as bad, as they did a few days ago.

But things are different this time. See, Argyle’s defeat at the weekend wasn’t met with the derision you’d expect. Instead, there was an acceptance that the team put in a sterling effort, and only lost narrowly to a very strong side. Rather than anything reactionary, fans were able to see past the result, and appreciate the show put on by the Greens.

A few days later and yes, the feeling is exactly the same. Because Hull were excellent, and Argyle did very well to match them for parts of the encounter.

Hull set to challenge

Look at Hull’s start to the season, and you’d have to be exceedingly brave to say they’re set for anything other than a promotion challenge.

Granted, they’ve faced three promoted sides in Crewe, Northampton and ourselves, but their record couldn’t be more perfect. Played four, won four, scored six, conceded none. They’re in the promotion places on merit, behind only Lincoln on goals scored, and are surely a fearsome prospect for any side they face in the coming weeks.

We saw on Saturday exactly what makes them such a threat: their ability in possession. But that’s not just a reflection of how good each individual player is on the ball. That is true for some, but what makes the Tigers incredibly threatening in possession is their movement off the ball. As was covered in our Opposition View this week, Hull have a frontline who like to interchange and act fluidly, providing a nightmare for the defences tasked with covering them.

This is all made possible, and indeed compounded, by the talents of George Honeyman. He’s probably best known to those with a Netflix subscription as a product of the Sunderland academy, but he’s called Hull his home since the start of the 19/20 season. He was a regular for the side in the Championship last term, and it’s clear that he still has the quality to perform at that level.

Of course, he has very evident ability on the ball, but his ability off it is perhaps the best of anybody in the side. He was everywhere, whether his side were in possession or not, adept at either offering a passing option or cutting off said options for Argyle. There was one moment in the first half which saw him instrumental in winning the ball from deep, before almost getting on the end of the move to finish it off at the other end. Argyle couldn’t cope.

That was instrumental to how Hull had the better of the Greens on the day. Even if the deepest lying midfielder, in this case Conor Grant, was able to deal with Honeyman, they’d almost certainly be dragged out of position. That allowed Hull’s front three to go man-to-man with the Argyle defence, and their movements into the channels and across the pitch made life incredibly difficult for Kelland Watts and Scott Wootton in particular. Even when that was dealt with, it left space for Callum Elder and Josh Emmanuel to overlap from fullback. Argyle’s selection of Jerome Opoku was clearly designed to stem the tide, and he made a decent fist of it, but Hull just had too much.

There’s no shame in that. Despite the waves of pressure, Hull only managed one goal, and even then they were slightly fortunate that Wootton was caught out of position after dealing with the initial threat well. Of course, on another day Hull may have scored more, but in the face of an onslaught, Argyle’s defence certainly answered some of their critics.

Argyle a threat to anybody

I don’t know if I’ve touched on it so far, but Hull are quite good.

Indeed, their defensive record says it all this season – not only have they kept four clean sheets from four in the league, they also kept Sunderland at bay in their EFL Cup tie which they eventually won on penalties. That means that all season, Hull have only had their defences breached by Premier League opposition.

With that in mind, it was certainly refreshing to see Argyle able threaten going forward. In fact, there’s a school of thought that a late equaliser would’ve been just about deserved, such was the pressure exerted by Lowe’s men in the second half.

Unsurprisingly, Argyle’s best spell coincided with George Cooper’s introduction in place of Opoku. Again, that’s nothing against the Fulham loanee – it wasn’t his fault that he, as a centre back, was asked to offer an attacking threat down the left. However, at the hour mark, the time had come to freshen up the attacking effort, and Cooper was the perfect option. Naturally, his introduction gave Argyle much more of a threat down the left, and freed up Danny Mayor to add more confidence and creativity to his game.

Argyle also had further options from the bench who nearly turned the game on its head. Dom Telford, for example, was lively after coming on and almost got on the end of a Byron Moore cross to level the scores within minutes. But perhaps the most encouraging sign coming from the replacements’ area was Ben Reeves. Brought on for Grant to cover the deep midfield position, he looked surprisingly sharp for a player with so little competitive football, and his ball through four players to thread through Danny Mayor was delicious.

Granted, Argyle didn’t score on Saturday, which is a rarity in itself. But they did show that they are able to mix it with the best when going forward at this level. It makes such a difference to seasons gone by, where we have seen Argyle afraid to go at sides who are better than them on paper. We can safely say that, even if it goes horribly wrong on occasions, Argyle aren’t going to shy away from any opposition this year.

Player Ratings: Hull 1 Plymouth Argyle 0

Plymouth Argyle succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to league leaders Hull City this afternoon, despite a spirited performance. Argyle grew into the game as it began to draw to the close, but a Hakkeb Adelekun goal was enough to see the hosts home for a 4th win from 4 games, continuing their perfect start to the season. For Argyle, a first league defeat this term but many positives nonetheless.

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

An assured performance from the youngster, who looks to be continuing to grow into the physical nature of league football.

After a early spill from a shot from range which was regathered quickly, Cooper went on to have a game which produced very few mistakes, as he was behind what he had to face, and came for crosses well when tested in the air and could do very little about the Adelekun goal which won the game as it was fired into the opposite corner from close range.

He did have a shaky moment late on which nearly resulted in a mix up in defence as Argyle were chasing the game, when coming out to head the ball, but that can be excused when you consider how stretched the game was at that point as Argyle were chasing the game.

Scott Wootton, CB – 6

Not many complaints for Wootton this afternoon and he was part of a defensive unit that did well to limit one of the league’s best sides to very few clear cut opportunities. Despite a couple of wayward clearances Wootton performed well at one of his main strengths –  intercepting balls from crosses into the box. This was particularly important against a Hull side which liked to utilise the space created by Argyle’s three at the back system in wide areas.

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

One of the contenders for man of the match for me. Since coming into the side in the second half of the 4-4 draw with AFC Wimbledon two weeks ago in attempt to sure up the defence, Canavan has been a commanding presence in the air, greatly improving Argyle’s prospects in that area defensively. Today was no different as the Irishman seemed to connect with much of what Hull had to offer in wide areas.

Canavan also seemed to be the centre back most eager to try and switch the play, and although those didn’t come off as much as he would’ve liked the willingness to try and spread a resolute Hull defence out is pleasing.

Kelland Watts, CB – 7

Another contender for man of the match, this was one of the better performances from Watts in an Argyle shirt so far, he was very good positionally, particularly to cut out balls in the channels and he performed strongly against one of the league’s better wide men in the aforementioned goalscorer Hakeeb Adelekun.

There were a couple of occasions where Watts showed his experience of playing further up the field too, stepping out into midfield particularly later in the game when Argyle were chasing the equaliser and producing a good save from Tigers goalkeeper Matt Ingram.

Conor Grant, DM – 6

Grant started in the role he fulfilled well for much of the game last week after an injury to Lewis Macleod, and he kept his place in the deepest role this afternoon despite the signing of young defensive midfielder Tyrese Fornah on a season long loan from Nottingham Forest, last night. In truth, I can’t remember many contributions of note from Grant but he typically kept possession well, sometimes offering himself as an overlap to Byron Moore on the right side without receiving the ball. Grant did also unleash a good shot after a rare period of pressure from Argyle in the first half, but failed to make it 3 goals in as many weeks as it whistled over the bar.

Byron Moore, RWB – 6

Much like his partner on the right side of defence Scott Wootton, no complaints for the performance of Moore this afternoon, as he started his second game in a row ahead of Joe Edwards. Moore got forward well and although the quality of the cross was sometimes lacking, he continued to try and get forward right into the dying embers of the game, showing his immense stamina as many others on the pitch started to tire.

Panutche Camara, CM – 7

An overall good performance from the Bissau-Ginuean, who was actually making his first league start for Argyle this afternoon, after coming off the bench in the first 4 league games of the season. Camara provided his usual relentless pressing and also was very useful in helping Argyle relive some pressure, often snapping in to win the ball for Argyle particularly in the first half when Hull had the majority of the possession.

Going forward, Camara was not as good particularly when crossing or shooting, but he did his primary job well and there is no reason why he can’t find himself in the starting XI next week too.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7, player of the match

Mayor get my vote for man of the match this afternoon, as he looked the one most likely to create an opening for Argyle in the first half when they did have the ball in the absence of George Cooper from the starting XI.

He looked to conjure up opportunities, with his trademark weaving runs and was one the one player in a white shirt that had the Hull defence backtracking for the whole of the game.

He was also influential alongside George Cooper, in the visitor’s attacking onslaught in the final 20 minutes and had the game lasted five minutes more, you may have seen Mayor force an equaliser.

The only thing that stops the Leyland native from gaining another mark, is his looseness in midfield when trying to pass or run with the ball. However, this was likely because a lack of creative support in the first hour of the match.

Jerome Opoku, LWB – 6

Perhaps a surprise inclusion on the team sheet this afternoon for some after sitting out completely last time around, Opoku made his first appearance since joining on loan from Fulham until January last week. Opoku’s start in place of George Cooper was understandable when you consider the attacking prowess that Hull possess, and a good example of Ryan Lowe using the strong squad at his disposal, to cater to the opposition that his team face.

The former Accrington Stanley man was fine defensively and put some good crosses in going forward however, he was unable to provide the same attacking threat as Cooper and subsequently, Argyle were unable to stretch the opposition as much as they would have liked when he was on the pitch.

This is no fault of Opoku’s though as he is not in the squad as a left sided creative but rather a defender, it is just just an observation around the absence of Cooper rather than the debutant himself.

A good start for the young prospect in a green shirt, and I look forward to seeing more of what he has to offer in weeks to come.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

Hardie replaced Dom Telford, who started ahead of him for the game against Shrewsbury last week and produced a performance that is perhaps indicative to the start of the season for the Scotsman,

Hardie worked hard, chased well and used his pace to try and get in behind, but the ball just wouldn’t quite fall for him in the area. Whether it’s a lack of confidence or even the absence of strike partner Luke Jephcott, Hardie hasn’t quite been able to hit the heights of last season as of yet, which saw him score 7 goals in 13 appearances. Hardie needs a goal to get off the mark, but i’m sure a man of his quality won’t go much longer without one.

Frank Nouble, ST – 6

Nouble once again demonstrated his ability as a target man, and a good release point of pressure for the Greens this afternoon, and was able to be an outlet when Argyle couldn’t beat the press by passing through the thirds. He brought others into play well and occupied Hull Centre Back Reece Burke, and probably opposition man of the match Reece Burke all afternoon.

However, I would like to see Nouble try and get in behind more as he has the physical attributes to do so, and I think that might help free up the likes of Hardie up more, as they will be able to directly link up as a front two.

Substitutes

George Cooper, LWB – 7

As previously mentioned, Cooper was replaced by Jerome Opoku on the teamsheet in an attempt for a more defensive approach by Ryan Lowe and, Argyle subsequently lost his creative spark which is so important for for the sides attacking prospects. He came for the final half an hour of the game and completely changed the flow of the tie as, Argyle started to dominate territory and got into more advanced positions. The link up with Danny Mayor on the left side meant the league’s table toppers were genuinely clinging onto the three points towards the end. A higher mark for Cooper is only stopped because of the amount of time he spent on the pitch.

Dom Telford, ST – 5

Might be a bit harsh, but he came on for Ryan Hardie with just under 15 minutes and failed to make much of an impact. Telford did very nearly get on the end of a Byron Moore cross late on, but it was cut out excellently at the front post by Reece Burke.

Ben Reeves, DM – 7

The reason why Telford gets a 5 is Ben Reeves. the debutant came on at the same time as Telford – 76th minute to be exact, and made a great impact, ensuring that Argyle continued to move the ball forward late on in the game and was overall very neat.

Capable of playing further forward, if Reeves can stay fit he may just yet play a pivotal role in the Argyle side this season.

Plymouth Argyle 1 Shrewsbury 1: Player Ratings

Plymouth Argyle had to settle for a point against Shrewsbury Town, with a series of good opportunities wasted. Conor Grant’s left-foot came good for the second week running, helping the club to another league point as they remain unbeaten.

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

There really wasn’t much for Cooper to do. Yes, he picked the ball out of his net before fifteen minutes had passed, but a big deflection off Scott Wootton gave him little chance on first viewing. Otherwise, he only had one save to make and made it. Notably, he clung on well to a deflected shot when spilling it would have handed Udoh a tap-in.

He handling was good, offering a more commanding presence inside his box than he had in previous games, though Shrewsbury aren’t the tallest of teams and offered limited aerial threat.

Scott Wootton, CB – 5

Under pressure after last week, Wootton struggled at the beginning of this game before settling back into his rhythm in the second half. It’s possible Wootton would not have even started had Will Aimson not been out of the squad (which makes him the probable player to have received a positive Coronavirus diagnosis).

Wootton made a few sloppy errors in the first half, including giving the ball away under little pressure to allow a dangerous counter. Most notably, he could have done much better when heading a cross away from his box, the ball dropping two yards out of the area and ending up in the back of the net seconds later. Granted, he was running backwards when he headed it, but he was under no pressure from an attacker so should have done better. It’s also possible he could have done better when blocking the shot, but I don’t want to say that until I’ve seen it again.

Niall Canavan, CB – 7

Canavan made a welcome return to the team and added a calming element in defence it seems. Then again, Shrewsbury aren’t the strongest team going forward so that possibly disguises his true impact on the team.

Canavan added a dominant aerial presence in the middle of the defence, winning eight of nine headers, and consistently positioned himself to block and clear crosses. The man is definitely too calm in possession for his own good at times, but that helped Argyle avoid giving the ball away as needlessly as they have in recent weeks – not that it didn’t happen.

Kelland Watts, CB – 6

Watts Started a bit slow in the first half as Shrewsbury target his wing. He lacked support at times from Cooper, who missed some opportunities to put pressure on the ball and allowed the opposition to build up down the wing.

Did better in the second half, pressing well as Shrewsbury posed little attacking threat, and played an excellent through ball to pick out Cooper (or was it Mayor?) in the box, but it didn’t come to anything. Better performance than last week, which will help him as he now faces increased pressure on his place from new signing Jerome Opoku.

Lewis Macleod, DM – 4

Was Macleod pulled for injury or for performance? He certainly did not start well, giving the ball away six times in 30 minutes before the substitution. Given Camara came on rather than Edwards, with Grant moving to defensive midfield, it suggests the move was tactical.

It was a smart move in the end, given that Shrewsbury offered little attacking threat in his position and allowed Argyle to hold more control of the ball and reduce the number of counter attacking opportunities.

Byron Moore, RWB – 6

Moore was fine. Nothing outstanding in defence. Nothing outstanding in attack. He pressed nicely at times, but pulled out of two easy opportunities to win the ball back and counter. He suffered from the lack of support down the wing: while Mayor and Cooper worked together as a pair, Moore often received the ball and was abandoned. That Wootton offered him the most support said a lot.

Conor Grant, CM – 7, player of the match

Grant gets player of the match because he was the player to score the goal that won Argyle the point. Other than that moment, he lacked inspiration and could have done more to assert Argyle’s strength in possession from defensive midfield, but he did at least kill Shrewsbury’s attacking momentum for the most part by doing the simple things right.

Yet, despite being quiet in attack – and a touch disappointing in defence – he caught the eye once more with his goal. Smart play to slow the game down, work the space to cut the ball onto his left foot and then bend it into the far corner. Excellent goal, exactly what we want to be seeing from Grant when he gets in that position.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Mayor is as Mayor does. Plenty of intelligent dribbling, making angles, creating space, but lacked the cutting edge that Argyle needed. Made space for teammates, but too many players between him and goal was the issue again. Had one good position to shoot but saw his effort well blocked after good defensive work.

George Cooper, LWB – 6

Hit and miss for Cooper. Should have pressed better in defence at times, allowing a cross to come in when he could have closed the space more. In attack, his movement was often smart, dropping inside when Mayor switched out to the wing and allowing himself to pick up possession at the top of the area, but his shots from his right foot were too soft to threaten the goal.

His crossing was frustrating. Some beautiful crosses that nobody got on the end of, and some that were too low, high or wide.

Dominic Telford, ST – 6

Positives: great attacking movement, making him the most likely member of the striker force to score. Negatives: failing to convert the chances that were presented to him. His first, he positioned himself well, between two defenders, shifted the ball well and got a good shot across the ‘keeper but it was too close for it to beat his reach. For the second, he jumped well and directed his header on target, but again it was just within the ‘keeper’s reach.

The third however, a rebound from the second shot, should have been a goal. Yes, he was stretching for it with a defender and the ‘keeper positioning himself well to save, but a bit of elevation would have seen it in the back of the net and the scores at 1-1. I’d persist with Telford because he’s clearly not a Rudden, but it’s frustrating to watch his instincts get him in the right place, only to not convert some of these chances. Two goals this season, but he should have more.

Frank Nouble, ST – 6

Worked hard, did a lot of build-up work but could have been sharper when opportunities to attack came his way. On the end of a swift counter-attack but couldn’t find the spot to squeeze the ball past the ‘keeper under a bit of defensive pressure, on his weaker foot.

Substitutes

Panutche Camara, CM – 5

Camara got a few plaudits on social media but I’m not so sure. His pressing was excellent at times, helping win the ball back and turnover possession. In particular, his hard work helped spring a quick counter, with Hardie working the ball to Nouble, only to see his shot saved from wide in the box.

Yet, in possession he was again too slow. Too long to move the ball, and too often backwards. Only twice did he pass the ball into the final third, and only two of his touches were in the final third of the pitch. This was a game in which Argyle needed to break down a pretty deep Shrewsbury team, rather than win the ball back against a high-pressing Blackpool, and so didn’t suit him so much.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

Relegated to the bench after Telford grabbed his second of the season but was called from the bench with 24 minutes left. Looked threatening, but the ball didn’t fall for him. A snap-shot with seconds left went well wide.

Plymouth Argyle show their two faces against Wimbledon

Plymouth Argyle’s 4-4 draw with AFC Wimbledon is just over 24 hours in the past now and I think my heart rate has just about returned to normal.

Seriously, how many years are Argyle set to take off our lives this season? On various occasions during Saturday’s encounter, the Greens looked in total control, in panic mode, in a complete mess and frightfully dangerous whenever they went forward. For every painful error, there was a moment of brilliance to make up for it. And whilst the performance was a long way from perfect, nobody can claim that watching Argyle so far this year has been dull.

The analysis of such a high-scoring game may seem obvious: attack good, defence bad. But there are a few more intricacies we can delve into in an attempt to see where Argyle can improve in the coming weeks.

Individual mistakes costly

In our analysis of the Leyton Orient game in midweek, we started with the positives before the negatives, so we’ll switch it around this time. It will come to the surprise to precisely nobody that most of those negatives come from a defensive point of view.

However, there is a major caveat we ought to bring up. Many of the chances Argyle have conceded so far this season, and most of the big ones, have come through individual errors rather than any major systemic flaws. This isn’t a 2018/19 situation – back then Argyle were cut open time and time again as a result of terrible midfield selections and setups from Derek Adams. That hasn’t been the case this season, so the blame cannot be laid entirely at Ryan Lowe’s door.

Rather, the defenders themselves may want to have a little look in the mirror. It’s been error central for Argyle at the back this season, with Will Aimson guilty of a howler at the weekend as he totally turned his back on Joe Piggott, who simply came in and stole the ball from the ex-Bury man. That led to Wimbledon’s fourth goal of the afternoon, and was seemingly the point of no return for the Greens.

Aimson hasn’t been the only culprit this year. Scott Wootton made a terrible error in the last minute to gift Leyton Orient their winning goal in the Carabao Cup. Joe Edwards was lucky that his sloppiness in possession didn’t lead to a Blackpool goal on opening day. Mike Cooper? Well, there have been no glaring howlers on the same level in recent weeks, but there have been a number of goals conceded that he could have done more to prevent.

This is problematic for Argyle – Lowe’s side cannot keep going into games knowing that even scoring three times may not be enough to make up for brain fades at the other end of the field.

That being said, there are worse problems to have. It would be far worse if the problems were systemic, as they were in 2018/19. It’s far easier to train to cut out individual errors than it is to teach players an entirely new system.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but Lowe has a good base to be working from. As Wootton demonstrated last season, and Aimson and Cooper showed in superb performances against Blackpool, these players are talented. It’s not as if Argyle simply have a back line of duffers who can’t be trusted to ever perform. It’s impossible to expect a Blackpool-style rearguard effort on a persistent basis, but if Argyle’s defenders can find a little consistency, and cut out some of the howlers, they’ll be fine.

Finding a balance

Argyle were good to watch going forward in the latter half of last season. Now, having been promoted, they’ve somehow managed to take that up another notch.

As we’ve discussed, the Greens have shipped a few big chances over recent weeks, but they’ve created plenty of their own too. On Saturday there were even a few of those they didn’t put away – Ryan Hardie’s early second half chance at 2-1 springs to mind. It feels remarkable to say having scored four goals, but Argyle may walk off the pitch feeling as though they should have scored more.

However, that’s not to say the attackers were wasteful; that would be incredibly unfair. There may have been a couple of agonising misses, but we did see some stunning finishes to more than make up for those. George Cooper and Conor Grant both found the top corner from impossible positions and, with Niall Canavan also finding the net, 11 Argyle players have now scored this season in just five games. That’s a remarkable, and hugely encouraging, figure.

The fact that Argyle have found goals all over the pitch makes failures to win in the past week all the more frustrating.

Look, it was hard not to come out of Saturday’s game with a good feeling. Argyle showed incredible character to snatch a draw, and nearly win the game, having been 4-2 down with 15 minutes to play. The confidence in this team that they can outscore any opponent will surely serve them well as the season progresses.

Yet, there is a sense that Argyle could be much more successful this season if a sufficient balance can be found. Scouse supremo Ryan Lowe will love comparisons with his beloved Liverpool, and there are many similarities between this Argyle side to Jurgen Klopp’s 2017/18 outfit. That’s no bad thing – Liverpool that year were superb to watch, reached a Champions League final, and finished in the top four. But despite all of the high-scoring encounters, Klopp didn’t win anything.

The German really found success at Anfield once the defence was sorted. Bringing in Virgil van Dijk was probably the clincher, and maybe Argyle will eventually need to make a marquee centre back signing who can lead by example and help the side achieve their goals. But however it is done, Ryan Lowe’s Argyle could take similar trajectory to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool with the right defensive focus.

I don’t want this piece to come across as too critical. Argyle are already incredible to watch, and a successful basis is already present. But if a good balance can be found, facing Lowe’s side would be a frightening prospect for any team at this level.

Player Ratings: Wimbledon 4-4 Plymouth Argyle

A totally bizarre game at AFC Wimbledon’s temporary home will live long in the memory of fans who bought a ticket to watch the stream. To say Argyle were a good laxative is understanding the stress of the experience. Argyle were largely good in the first half, a couple of defensive errors not enough to blot the copyback of a good 45 minutes that saw us lead 2-1. From minutes 45 to 70 however, Argyle totally fell apart at the seams, conceding three goals. Predictably, Argyle started playing again when the game seemed dead and buried. Some inspired substitutions from Ryan Lowe saw the spoils shared.

Mike Cooper, GK – 4.

I don’t want to appear like one of those fickle fans. Really, I don’t. The last thing I want to come across as, is one of those flip-floppers who changes his mind on players like like the changing of the wind. All of that said, after giving him man of the match last week and hailing the birth of a star, I’m now on the point of contemplating whether a loan move may be the best outcome for the young keeper. He has potential, of course he does. Even today he showed it, making himself big for a good save and showing the rapidfire distribution that has become a trademark of his in recent games.

We still can’t quite avoid the elephant in the room. For two of the goals Argyle conceded against Wimbledon, Cooper could have done better. Poor decision making is becoming a concern. For the second goal, he seemed to almost hover off his line before McLoughlin stabbed the ball home for Wimbledon. For the third, he was positioned too far to the right as Pigott lined up to take the free-kick for Wimbledon, leaving the left side of his goal exposed. We’ll need to see how he does with a better defender in front of him (as we surely will next week) but, as high as his potential ceiling may be, he does need to improve fast.

Will Aimson, RCB – 5.

Aimson wasn’t Argyle’s worst offender for most of the game today, but nor did he demonstrate the quality that we’ve seen from the ex-Bury centre-back at his very best. He was composed and calm for most of the first half, gliding into the right positions to clear loose balls, reading the game accurately in front of him. He was a threat from dead balls too and as ever, played the ball well out of defence.

His part in the second half shambles however, was both individual and collective. The cross for the second goal came too easily down his side and his part in the fourth goal was decisive. Giving the ball away under no pressure was an absolute howler and Wimbledon were soon one vs one with Cooper. His start to the season has been solid enough. He’s certainly been the best of the three defensively but he needs to do a lot better than the defensive debacle we saw after half-time.

Scott Wootton, CB – 4.

Aaaaaargh. Let me take a deep breath before punching the wall. I wasn’t among the fans who were writing off the capability of Scott Wootton this season, but even the most ardent optimists would surely agree that it was always a bit of a shot in the dark. Moving him to the middle of the three was a bold move by Ryan Lowe but, early on, it did appear to work. He was good against Blackpool and actually, for MOST of the Orient game too. Sadly, the enormous gaffe he made in the 93rd minute of that fixture seemed to be weighing heavily  on his mind today.

He appeared flustered and panicked whenever he got the ball, trying to play the game at 100 miles per hour and just not having the skillset to do so. His use of the ball was erratic and his marking appalling, letting men get away from him on far too many occasions to justify. His rating could have been even lower if he wasn’t put out of his misery after Wimbledon’s fourth goal.

Kelland Watts, LCB – 5.

Kelland Watts is a frustrating player to watch and a difficult player to score out of ten. He does have some good attributes, not least the occasional glimpses of real composure that we can sometimes see. He played his way out well at times, especially in the first half. He offers a threat going forward too, demonstrating the ever-changing role of the centre-back in a 3-5-2 system. As seen in Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United side, the two sides of the back three expand the capabilities of the system by overlapping and offering a threat from wide areas. Watts did this well scoring on Tuesday and to his credit, should have earned a penalty today. If the game wasn’t officiated by one of the most questionable referees in the league, he surely would have done.

That said, I’m afraid he doesn’t escape a rollocking for his part in the defensive disasterclass that we witnessed. A miscommunication between Watts and Wootton saw Longman in one v one for the fourth and he was part of the general meltdown that we witnessed, with every player playing like they’d taken espresso shots before the game. Too much chaotic energy, not enough composure.

Lewis McLeod, DCM – 4.

We can have a go at the defence and the keeper all we like. And yes, there are some legitimate reasons for criticism. All that said, the defence are always going to find themselves in difficulty if they receive protection as poor as that which was offered by McLeod for most of today’s game. Frankly, he looks either unfit or out of position, quite possibly both.

He usually starts games well enough, winning a lot of loose balls and recycling the ball nicely. The more the games go on, however, the more his performance levels begin to drop. There was a spell between minutes 45 and 70 (or so) where Wimbledon cut through Argyle like a knife through butter, and the Scottish midfielder was too often AWOL during these period. The ferocious intensity and calmness whilst intercepting that we see during his good spells just weren’t present at the time.

I’m SURE he’s got more to offer than this, and I don’t doubt that’d he’d be better in an advanced role. Right now however, we’re being cut open too easily and he’s a clear candidate to be dropped. To his credit, he did deliver a lovely corner for Canavan’s goal but that in itself isn’t enough to justify his place.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 4.

After a relatively good run of form in the right-wing-back role, Edwards put in a much weaker performance today and it was one that exposed the his weaknesses in such a role. In stark contrast with George Cooper on the other side, Edwards’ end product was non existent, with barely one threatening cross into the box all game. He did technically register an assist for a nice bit of interplay before Conor Grant’s stunning goal but that was about the sum of his attacking contribution.

In defence too, his performance was (whilst not as bad as some others) certainly flawed. He was too often pinned back and the good pressing that we saw against Blackpool was nowhere to be seen. Like Wootton, he was rightly subbed off early.

Conor Grant, RCM – 8. Player of the Match.

THAT was the performance Plymouth Argyle had been waiting for from the man some are now calling the Merseyside Messi. I’ve said it for a while but I just think we play a bit better when Conor Grant plays, especially with the ball. He’s always good for composure and for recycling the ball. What we don’t see from him too often however (and it was very welcome today) is an assertive, controlling performance that bosses the midfield and creates chances going forward.

He did all of this today as well as scoring an absolutely beautiful goal, a clear contender for goal of the season. He took control from over 20 yards out and at a tricky angle before whacking the shot into the top corner. One of Argyle’s best technical players, today he also played like a leader. He scrapped for possession all over the pitch and was one of the few not to lose their head. Only a cheap free kick for Wimbledon’s third stops him getting an even higher mark.

Danny Mayor, LCM – 8.

The resurgence of Danny Mayor so far has been one of the season’s success stories. Argyle are playing a style of football that, whilst still not exactly like Ajax 1995, is far more focused around ball retention than the somewhat more direct style that we resorted to in the winter months of last season. What we’re really starting to see grow in Danny Mayor is confidence.

He takes on defenders with a swagger that lets them know that they have something to wear. Some of his interplay with George Cooper, particularly in the first half, was genuinely a pleasure to watch. There’s a lot of moaning to be had about the defence but let’s celebrate the attack too. Argyle scored four goals today and Mayor was an irresistible attacking force for most of the game.

George Cooper, LWB – 8.

If Mayor was good in the first half, Cooper was bordering on unplayable. His movement was absolutely joyous to witness, weaving in and out of the Dons’ defence with total ease. He also got the opening goal for Argyle, picking the ball from the feet of the Wimbledon defender after the (admittedly slightly botched) short corner routine. He then slammed the ball into the top corner of the net, firing the starting pistol on what was to be a truly remarkable game of football.

Did he drop off in our bad spell during the second half? Yes, he did a bit. But when we picked up again, he returned to his very finest form, whipping in some lethal crosses that nobody quite got on the end of in the last twenty minutes.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7.

It’s quite ironic really. Argyle have scored twelve goals so far this season (with eleven different scorers no less!) but none of them have yet fallen to Ryan Hardie, the man who, last season, looked like he could find a way to score a goal in a locked room. It’s not as though he hasn’t been lively. He’s still been trying the right things. He attacks misplaced balls from wayward defenders with the hunger of a terrier and he shows expert movement to get into behind when the chance presents itself.

Where he’s lacked so far is in the finishing. He had a big chance to put Argyle 3-1 up early in the second half and potentially kill the ball in the process, but unfortunately he fired tamely into the arms of the goalkeeper. He had another chance whilst scores were level at 2-2 but again he couldn’t find the net. It may take a while for that first goal to come, but I’m confident that the floodgates will open when it does.

Frank Nouble, ST – 5.

Despite his excellent last twenty minutes, this was another game from Nouble that asked more questions than it answered. He was pretty appalling for the first 65 minutes of the match, probably the worst in a crowded field for the greens. When Dom Telford lined up to come on, most fans assumed it would be Nouble who came off. To our great surprise, it was the largely effective Ryan Hardie.

The chance of a reprieve however, breathed new life into the big striker. He did more good in the next five minutes of the game than he’d done in the first three quarters. He offered a brilliant outlet for targeted long balls and he ran at defenders with menace, a key component in our dominant final twenty of the game. There was only ever going to be one winner after the scores went to 4-4 and Nouble looked among the most threatening players for Argyle. That said, he does need to improve. He can’t just keep on turning up for part of the game, or else his place in the side will be at risk.

Substitutes.

Byron Moore, RWB –  7.

Moore was brought on just after Argyle went behind in the game and frankly he improved matters for us simply by not being Joe Edwards. Moore carried the ball well down the line and put considerable effort into the high press as the greens took the game to the hosts. There are still some questions to be asked about the end product, but it’s surely now time to give him a full game from the off against Shrewsbury.

Niall Canavan, CB – 8.

Wow! Argyle’s best defender last season, many fans were surprised and dismayed to see him left out of Ryan Lowe’s starting eleven this season. Canavan was given the chance to replace Wootton from the bench and he threw down the gauntlet to reclaim his spot in the middle of the back three.

Given the armband, Canavan led by example. A calming presence with headless chickens all around him, he put in a near flawless performance from the bench. He won headers, started breakaways and even popped up with a goal. The only reason he isn’t man of the match is the relatively short time he was on the pitch. And even then, he was under serious consideration. It’ll be a travesty if he doesn’t start at home to the Shrews.

Dom Telford, ST – 8.

Telford needed a big performance from the bench today to save his reputation with the green army after a frustrating showing on Tuesday night. The diminutive striker went from zero to hero with an electric display that was crucial to Argyle’s two goal blast towards the end of the game.

He moved brilliantly and took his goal with the instinct of the poacher. Telford showed for the duration why he was such a highly rated player at Bury and as a youngster. Let’s hope he keeps it up, especially if he’s given a start against Shrewsbury.

 

 

Orient defeat exposes leadership void

We’re going to be on a rollercoaster ride this season, aren’t we? 45 minutes into Plymouth Argyle’s Carabao Cup tie with Leyton Orient, I was looking forward to seeing the Greens cruise into the third round for the first time in 13 years. The only real concern was whether or not the clash with Tottenham next week would be broadcast on Sky Sports. A number of my group chats could well have been screenshotted and sent directly to “football images that precede unfortunate events.”

Alas, things are never that straightforward, particularly with Argyle. A disastrous 40-minute spell saw Ryan Lowe’s side steal defeat from the jaws of victory. And it really was just like that – Argyle weren’t outplayed by Orient in the second half, they simply threw it away. Panic and individual mistakes were the order of the day, and a highly comfortable situation turned into a disaster within an hour.

It’s such a shame, especially considering the positivity surrounding the club after a successful start to the campaign. The mood at half time was sky high amongst supporters, but this was no doubt a reality check. Who knows – maybe it’ll prove to be just what Argyle needed to keep their feet on the ground?

Argyle attack potent

Let’s start with the positives, because there still are plenty to take from the game despite the raw emotions following such a defeat. In the first half, and for the first five minutes of the second, Argyle looked as strong going forward as they have at any point across the last couple of seasons. Yes, Orient came out of the blocks strongly, but as soon as Argyle got their noses in front after some superb work in the penalty area from Ryan Hardie, they were dominant right up to half time whistle.

As has so often been the case in recent years, much of the threat going forward came via the Argyle left. Danny Mayor was naturally the chief force, controlling the game more or less from the time the Greens went ahead to the time they conceded their first. His dribbling was as proficient as ever and, with willing runners in the form of George Cooper, Panutche Camara and the strikers around him, he was often able to display a quality end product.

And how about Kelland Watts going forward? There are certainly signs that he played as a striker at youth level with his willingness to get into the penalty area. He got himself a goal, and Mayor an assist, with a lovely overlapping run to make things easy for Argyle’s premier playmaker, topping it off with a more than tidy finish. He was also keen to make an attacking impact in the second half – within five minutes he saw a shot from range clear the crossbar. We’re perhaps getting a suggestion that, in an attacking sense at least, Watts could offer more this season that Gary Sawyer was able to last term.

It’s important to note that whilst Argyle can seem a little left-handed going forward, their dominance in that area can benefit the team across the field. On various occasions, Leyton Orient brought four men over to deal with the threat of Cooper and Mayor. This meant that Byron Moore often found himself in acres of space on the right wing, and was able to receive the ball on little to no pressure on many occasions. It all meant that Argyle had yet another threatening aspect to their already dangerous attack.

And it was tremendous at times. Argyle scored twice, Hardie hit the bar and Dom Telford had one ruled out for offside. The Greens were very comfortable.

The collapse

The last 40 minutes, by comparison, was a shambles.

Argyle weren’t necessarily poor right from the start of the second half. As we’ve mentioned, Watts had a shot early on, and Dom Telford missed a decent opportunity one-on-one from an admittedly tight angle. But when the first goal was conceded after 55 minutes, Argyle capitulated.

It was a very annoying goal to concede. Initially, Mike Cooper really ought to have caught the delivery from the corner rather than punching it out, but even from there Argyle had plenty of chances to clear the ball before it reached Louis Dennis at the back post. Conceding such a sloppy goal seemed to set alarm bells ringing not just in the Argyle defence, but across the entire team. They never really stopped.

Leyton Orient’s next two goals were also poor from a defensive point of view. For Jobi McAnuff’s strike, Cooper again will be disappointed – his decision to come so far off his line was a little rash, and made the decision to lob him easy for the veteran winger.

The third goal, meanwhile, still makes me cringe whenever I see it. With penalties looming, Scott Wootton only needed to play the ball into touch to secure a shootout. It’s hard to see exactly what he intended, but instead of doing that, he cushioned the ball down perfectly for Danny Johnson to steal it from him and score his stoppage time winner.

It was hardly an act of leading by example from the skipper on the night, and emphasised the leadership void on show across the evening. Without wanting to be disrespectful to the victors on the night, Plymouth Argyle have better quality players than Leyton Orient. If they kept their heads, they’d have had no problem securing the win even after conceding. It just needed somebody to take control, show some responsibility, and guide the side through the match.

Nobody was forthcoming. Instead, Argyle panicked more and more as the game was slipping away from them. The Orient-based commentators on iFollow made reference to Ryan Lowe slouched over the ad hoardings in the second half, perhaps to send a message of calm to his players, but it doesn’t look great in hindsight. It was that sort of behaviour we saw all across the field, that deferring of responsibility, that cost Argyle the game.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And it was painful to watch.

Reaction required

Missing out on a clash with Spurs hurts – that’s undeniable. Granted, the opportunity to play a Jose Mourinho side without being able to attend would’ve been a bit of a sickener, but still highly preferable to missing out entirely.

But, and I’m going to wheel out all of the cliches here, this could well prove to be a blessing in disguise. Had Argyle escaped from Brisbane Road with a victory, perhaps on penalties, it may well have papered over the cracks of a dismal second half showing. But nothing will bring those cracks to the fore more than losing in such circumstances.

On reflection, if defeats like this have to happen, it’s much more preferable for them to occur without any league points at stake. This loss, and the raw emotions that followed, should go a long way to ensuring that such a collapse doesn’t happen again in the near future.

In these circumstances, it’s always nice to have a quick opportunity to put things right, and Saturday’s League One clash with Wimbledon gives them the chance to do just that. A win would go a long way to exorcising the demons of Tuesday night.

Hopefully that’s exactly what happens, and we can go back to feeling positive and optimistic about the Pilgrims.

Player Ratings: Leyton Orient 3-2 Plymouth Argyle

What a mess. As I sat down to write these ratings, my overriding feeling was to smash my fist into the keyboard but having taken a moment to calm, I’ll try to write a more reflective analysis of the game. It’s not like the League Cup really matters (although it would have been nice to play Spurs) but to lose a game in such a slipshod fashion is pretty inexcusable. We had total control over it from minutes 10 through to about 55 but as soon as the hosts pulled one back, Argyle turned into a mess thereafter and lost in the dying moments.

 

Mike Cooper, GK – 5.

After a performance on Saturday that reminded us why he’s one of our most fancied academy products in years, we were brought slightly back down to earth with a display that did show us some of the limitations in his game. That’s not to say that it was a dreadful performance by any means. His distribution was largely excellent, with both short balls and long ones incisively finding their targets. He was rarely beaten from crosses either, perhaps opting to punch rather than cross but that’s often the best decision. And yes, he did make some good saves.

Where he showed himself to be somewhat lacking was his positioning in one vs one scenarios. For the second goal, he came far too far off his line leaving the clear opportunity for Jobi McAnuff to lob him and find the back of the net. He could have done better for the third too. At an angle, he again came charing out perhaps a little too soon and Danny Johnson slotted it through his legs. However, games like this will help him in the long term. He got some big judgement calls wrong but it’s definitely the kind of thing he can learn with time.

Will Aimson, RCB – 7.

Aimson put in a display that wasn’t quite as good as the excellent one that he demonstrated against Blackpool but was still solid enough, doing most things right and being the only centre-back not at fault for any of the three goals. He had a couple of wayward long balls at the very start of the game but largely he played the ball well out from the back and stuck to his man, if not like glue, then certainly well enough to avoid any real issues. If the other two played like him, we wouldn’t have lost…

Scott Wootton, CB – 7.

Wootton’s performance was a microcosm of Plymouth Argyle’s. You can’t deny there are some promising signs to take, but it was spellbounding stupidity that undermined all the good work.  After a few dodgy passes early doors, Scott Wootton was largely fantastic for most of the game. He was dominating in the tackle and even commanding in the air, an area of his game that seems vastly improved under Ryan Lowe. He was relaxed on the ball and happily joining the party playing it out. Even as Argyle imploded in front of him, his last ditch defending was pretty good.

In the dying embers of the game, disaster struck. He horrendously miscontrolled a ball that he should have either sent down the line or at worst kicked into touch. His attempted first touch frankly trapped the ball further than he could have planned to kick it and it left Johnson with a one vs one chance against Cooper, which he duly converted. As with the game generally, we can try to see the positives but my goodness it’s frustrating,

Kelland Watts, CB – 5.

I think if any rating is going to get me a bit of flack in the comments section, this one is. He overlapped very well to score our second goal and yes, did make some other promising runs forward. None of that changes the fact that his primary role in the team is to be a defender. Defending is something he did pretty dismally, if we’re being honest. His positioning was erratic at best, being found way higher up the pitch than he should have been for their second goal and unable to prevent McAnuff from going one vs one. He could arguably have done better for the first too, with the loanee once again too far from the play.

Whilst his advanced play was good, he was very poor in his efforts to actually play the ball out of defence, far too often opting for an aimless long ball that came straight back to us. If not for his good movement and finishing in the final third, he’d be looking at an even lower rating.

Lewis McLeod, DCM – 6.

McLeod is a very difficult player to rate. Like Argyle generally, his first half performance was very commendable. He pressed and snapped at the heels of midfielders aplenty, winning the ball back with impressive regularity. He didn’t have much incisive passing to speak of but he played the DCM role as well as he could have. After Orient got their goal back early in the second half however, McLeod appeared to run out of batteries.

Where he previously pressed and harried, he was slow and sluggish. Where he’d previously make a tackle, he would instead let a man pass him and invite pressure in the process. Against Blackpool also, his second half performance was considerably weaker than his one in the first half. You’d hope this changes with match fitness because it’s concerning if it’s a permanent problem.

Byron Moore, RWB – 5.

Another unconvincing performance starting the game from a man who very much impressed in his cameo from the bench against Blackpool. He was involved in the early stages of the game, often providing himself as an outlet for passes. That said, even when Argyle were on song, Moore’s end product wasn’t exactly amazing. There were some good crosses but in truth these were outweighed by the mediocre ones that weren’t really going anywhere.

As Argyle dipped, Moore became a bit anonymous in truth. He was forced back regularly and didn’t provide the best support to his back three. Like so many, his head seemed to drop with the mental blow of conceding. This is something Ryan Lowe needs to work on. Argyle could have been 4-0 up before Orient’s goal against the run of play. There was no need for so many players to develop the jitters the way in which they did.

Pantuche Camara, CM – 7.

Camara is one of the players who emerges from the game with the most credit. His energy is absolutely brilliant and in that regard, he’s clearly a natural replacement for Sarcevic. He did more than enough to earn his spot in the starting eleven for Wimbledon in the league on Saturday. As against Blackpool, he seemed to cover more blades of grass than any other player and in the first half, you never felt he was putting the team at risk positionally from doing so. His use of the ball was also fantastic and of course he popped up with a great finish.

Why only a 7? Well, his head didn’t really drop in the second half like so many did, but his general standard of performance wasn’t as good. He wasn’t blameless as Orient began to take more control of the game. His ball retention became worse and perhaps he slightly ran out of energy, following two games of relentless pressing.

Danny Mayor, CM – 7. Player of the Match,

That first half performance from Danny Mayor is one of the best 45 minutes he’s given the greens since signing from Bury last summer. He was absolutely terrifying the Orient players with every move he made and his decision making, sometimes an area for criticism, was much improved. He spotted the run of Kelland Watts and sent him a pitch perfect assist for Argyle’s second goal. His movement and dribbling were equally delightful on the eye and he was easily headed for a very high score.

Like Camara, if he’d maintained his standard of performance, he was going to be on for a very high score. An 8 at the very least, maybe a 9. That he went missing with the rest of them after the break is a cause for worry but he deserves credit for a cracking first half display. That in itself earns him POTM.

George Cooper, LWB – 6.

Let’s get one thing clear. Cooper is still a tremendous acquisition for Argyle and we’re all still delighted to see him back but there’s no denying that the GC32 we’ve seen so far hasn’t quite been the classic vintage that we know and love. In the second half, his defensive work was particularly lacking and he provided no imputes as we imploded mentally. I know I’m sounding like a stuck record, but there’s no excuse for so many players to go missing in the trenches.

Whilst he was very active in the early stages of the game, his strengths mostly came in running at defenders and forcing them back. We could have done with a few more trademark George Cooper crosses into the box though with Ryan Hardie waiting on the end.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6.

If you guessed I was going to say that he was lively in the first half and missing in the second….guess what, you’re absolutely right. How did you guess? His movement was absolutely electric in the early stages of the game, his sheer pace breaking through the Orient back line on more occasions than one. He began the move that saw Camara put Argyle into the lead with a fantastic bursting run. That said, he had a second chance after that he should probably have scored. His movement scared the Os but as with Cooper, the end product isn’t quite there yet. It’ll doubtless come as he’s given more time.

Dom Telford, ST -6.

Urgh. That’s about all I can muster. I don’t want to criticise him too badly because there were genuinely some aspects of his performance today that I did really like. Like Hardie, his first half was largely solid. He wasn’t as involved as his Scottish counterpart but he drew their defenders out of position and he played a threaded through ball beautifully for Hardie’s second chance. He obviously wasn’t much of a threat in the air, given his height, but his first half display was something to build on.

Sadly, he came out in the second half and missed an absolute stone wall sitter that would have surely put Argyle 3-0 up and the game beyond reach. He looked furious with himself and was understandably subbed off shortly afterwards. He will have been kicking himself all the way home.

Substitutes.

Frank Nouble, ST – 5.

He was clearly brought on to offer a more aerial outlet but in truth he didn’t really provide that. Naturally, he won more long balls than Telford did but he didn’t offer the escape route out from the back that we were hoping for.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 5.

A baffling substitution. Lined up to come on for Cooper before Argyle conceded their second goal, he would have been a good sub to defend a lead. He wasn’t so much use at chasing a game and as such felt a little superfluous.

Conor Grant – CM – N/A

He really wasn’t on long enough to justify a rating. He did actually make a positive impact with some quick movement and some well delivered corners but slightly tainted his cameo with what looked to be a dive in Argyle’s last attack of the game.