A 1-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle provides us with our first victory of the season. It was a performance summed up by Amadou Bakayoko’s first-half penalty, not overly convincing but enough. There are improvements to be made, but it’s important that we pick up points while the team gels to avoid the kind of scenario we found ourselves in during our last season in League One.
Risks And Rewards
The 4-2-3-1 system that Mark Robins has opted for in the opening league games has seen Tom Bayliss and Jordy Hiwula deployed the wide positions. The benefit of this is that Bayliss can drift inside to link up with Tony Andreu, while Jordy Hiwula can cause teams problems with his pace when he has the opportunity to run at defenders.
The disadvantage is that neither are natural wide players, which not only leaves us looking susceptible to teams that can create overloads on the flanks but can also leave our full-backs isolated when they have the chance to get forward. There was one point in the first-half where Brandon Mason was left to take on about four Plymouth defenders as we looked to build an attack, which saw him pass sideways and killed the momentum of the move.
The hope is that once the players develop a better understanding of what is required of them in an attacking and defensive sense, we will be a threatening side on the counter-attack. Hiwula nearly created an excellent chance in the first-half when he broke following a Plymouth attack and played through Amadou Bakayoko, who was ruled marginally offside.
It remains to be seen just how effective a counter-attacking strategy that sacrifices a level of defensive stability will be over the course of the season, but there are signs that it could work, even if there are also signs that it could leave us very open at the back.
The Right Substitutions
Possibly Mark Robins’ biggest weakness as a manager is his use of substitutions. Not only does he tend to wait until late on in games to make changes, but there are very few instances where he has positively turned a game in our favour through substitutions. The changes he made against Plymouth weren’t of the game-changing variety, but they provided exactly what the team needed.
The first substitutions came with just under 20 minutes to go, when Maxime Biamou came on for Amadou Bakayoko, and Luke Thomas replaced Tony Andreu. Bakayoko had put himself about well on his home debut, but Biamou’s ability to put opposing defenders under pressure with his aerial ability and work-rate provided the team with an important out-ball to relieve pressure. Thomas provided an injection of pace and energy on the counter-attack who looks like he’ll provide goals and assists over the course of his loan spell.
The final change was Jordan Shipley for Jordy Hiwula, who had faded over the course of the game. It was a change that was possibly 10-20 minutes too late, but at the very least it demonstrated that Robins had identified that Shipley could help the team defend better on the left wing while also offering something on the counter-attack, with the academy graduate twice coming close to putting the result beyond doubt.
We’ve Got Michael Doyle
It should be clear that Michael Doyle is not going to be as involved this season as he was last year, however, we saw in his showing against Plymouth that he still has an important role to play for us. Despite being put to the floor by Ruben Lameiras’ evasiveness early in the second-half, Doyle exerted himself as more of an influence on the midfield than in previous games.
What was particularly notable about Doyle on Saturday though were two instances where he tore into his team-mates. The first was directed towards Dujon Sterling, after the full-back had shown a reluctance to put in a challenge on an opposing player. The second was directed at Liam O’Brien, who had spurned an opportunity for a counter-attack by choosing to kick the ball instead of rolling it out to any one of three of his team-mates who were charging down the pitch.
While it’s not a positive thing to see players criticising their team-mates, there are several relatively inexperienced players in defence at the moment and having a senior player in front of them provides them with a reference point of what is required to see out results. For Sterling in particular, that’s an experience that under-23s football would not have provided him with.