Three games into the season and we’re yet to register a victory or a goal from open play. The concept of a ‘must-win’ game in August is ridiculous, but if there is a category of games called ‘it would be nice if we win this one to reduce anxiety levels’ then this upcoming game against Plymouth Argyle falls perfectly into it.
The hope is that this game builds on the encouraging signs that we saw on the opening day rather than the tepid showing against AFC Wimbledon and the cup defeat to Oxford. While it’s hard to read too heavily into a First Round League Cup tie, it’s not exactly positive that we were convincingly beaten against a second-string Oxford side while playing what was seemingly close to a full-strength side.
The Oxford game seemed to highlight the biggest issue with the team at the moment, the plethora of attacking options yet the difficulty in identifying the best way to line them up. It is a situation that has probably robbed us, to a degree, of the momentum you would have hoped that entering a season post-promotion would provide us with – especially with player such as Amadou Bakayoko and Jordy Hiwula thrown into the side mere days after signing for the club. Signing yet another forward this week in Luke Thomas doesn’t provide hope that a settled line-up is forthcoming.
That being said, there is no need at the moment to over-react to a fairly respectable point gained at AFC Wimbledon and a cup game that may or may not have been taken overly seriously by players and management. There were signs on the opening day that Tom Bayliss, Tony Andreu and the added pace in the side would make us a threat this season, let’s give that time to see where it leads us.
At the back, there are possibly decisions to be made depending on the fitness of Lee Burge and Jordan Willis. Tom Davies and Willis should be a solid central defensive partnership, while Liam O’Brien hasn’t quite done enough in the opening three games to convince he’s a superior option in goal to Burge. Having both Willis and Burge available would hopefully improve us by at least 5-10% at the back.
Last Time We Met
A run-of-the-mill 2-0 Football League Trophy victory for us over a then-League Two Plymouth Argyle side back in November 2014 was so forgettable that the BBC report for the game doesn’t even have a proper match report. Gary Madine and Frank Nouble scored for us that evening.
However, that game was all about the reaction to what had happened three days before, Worcester City, Lee Burge’s red card, Reda Johnson’s penalty, Steven Pressley’s angry eyes. In another universe, that Wednesday night Football League Trophy win over Plymouth could have began a run to Wembley, a surge away from the relegation danger that brought the end to Pressley’s reign that season and marked the beginning of a managerial dynasty.
Alas, none of that happened, but at least Steven Pressley is nowadays enjoying life in charge of Pafos FC.
How Are They Doing?
In terms of the league, Plymouth have had pretty much the same start to the season that we’ve had. Squandering a lead to lose on the opening day, before a draw in their second game of the season. However, a midweek cup victory over Bristol City may well have breathed life into Plymouth’s nascent campaign.
Plymouth boss Derek Adams had started the season struggling to incorporate his key creative players, the excellent Graham Carey and ex-Sky Blue Ruben Lameiras, into a functioning side. With a non-goalscoring but effective target-man in Ryan Taylor and a set of attacking full-backs that aren’t the best defensively, Plymouth have faced very similar issues in the early days of the campaign as we have.
That victory over Bristol City, although very much a smash-and-grab performance, may well have pointed a way to a formula that can work for Argyle, especially on the road. Reverse through-ball fan Ruben Lameiras was dropped from the side in favour of the pacier Joel Grant, Ryan Taylor was replaced in attack by the more mobile Freddie Ladapo, while the destroyer Yann Songo’o came in for deep-lying creator David Fox in midfield.
I would anticipate that Derek Adams will set-up in a similar manner, looking to stifle Tony Andreu and Tom Bayliss and nick something on the counter. In Graham Carey, Argyle have a creative midfielder capable of producing something out of nothing. While in Derek Adams, they not only have a manager capable of outsmarting his opposite number, but who also tends to push peoples’ buttons and get under their skin.
This game is an opportunity to ease the mood around the club, especially as this is the start of a run of three league games in seven days. Plymouth are likely to set-out here to contain us, but this feels like a game between two fairly evenly-matched sides with us enjoying the benefit of home advantage and Plymouth the momentum from a cup victory over a higher-division side.
Both teams are lacking a goalscorer, even though they have midfielders who can step-up, while both teams have weaknesses at the back that can be exploited. At this early stage of the season, neither manager is going to throw hell for leather at a victory here, I can see this being a fairly uninspiring draw.