Are Plymouth Argyle the real deal for promotion this season?
League Two leaders Plymouth Argyle head into the next round of fixtures on a high. Last time out, at home against Portsmouth, they scored a dramatic late equaliser, and now the club are three points clear at the top of the table. They then followed this up on Saturday, with a 3-1 away victory over Newport County.
The thing is, something similar happened last season. After thirteen games, the Pilgrims were also sitting at the summit of the League Two table. Argyle were on top of the pile for ten of the next fourteen rounds of games, and at one point looked a certainty for promotion back to League One for the first time in five years.
Things turned sour, however, and a dire run of form saw them pick up just seven wins in their final 18 games. This was enough to get them into the playoffs, where they edged past Portsmouth over two legs to get to the final at Wembley, only for them to be beaten by the narrative-laden AFC Wimbledon.
Will this season be different? Will the club that, just a few years ago seemed almost on the verge of dropping out of the league altogether, be able to finally take their first step back up the footballing pyramid?
Well, thus far Plymouth have looked impressive. They have a mean defence, having conceded the fewest goals in the division so far, with just 12 in 14. They are also scoring a lot of goals and are amongst the top sides in the division in terms of finding the back of the net. Indeed, they have scored in every league game this season, apart from the two games in which they lost.
What is most impressive about the Pilgrims so far is that they have spread the goals around the squad and are not reliant on one particular striker to score all their goals. Midfielder Graham Carey sits atop the club’s scoring charts with five goals, whilst forward Jake Jervis has bagged himself four.
On top of their efforts, eight other players have bagged at least one goal for the side so far. Given the club’s injury issues (more on that later), this is a key aspect of Argyle’s success this season as they are able to mitigate against losses to key players such as strikers.
One result of the good form of the team on the pitch is the increased support of the Green Army off of it. With more wins, the stands at Home Park have been busier in recent weeks and over 13,000 turned out to see their last home game. This additional support can really provide a boost for the team on the pitch and can make Home Park an intimidating place to go when the fans are in full voice. This can only help the players, giving them more confidence and support in tough games towards the vital run-in.
So far, so good.
One potential problem, however, is the club’s mounting list of injuries that is threatening to derail their season. Five first team players sat out of their 2-2 draw with Portsmouth, and in total only 18 players were fully fit for manager Derek Adams to choose from.
Two are currently out with long-term issues, whilst a further two absentees are actually loanees who’s clubs will not want them rushed back before they are properly fit. This issue is compounded by a change of league rules that prevents sides from bringing in players on emergency loan deals, so for the time being Argyle will have to make do with their thin squad.
Another might be that the club does not have a goalscorer of particular pedigree in the lower divisions. Whilst it was mentioned earlier that not having to rely too much on one man for goals is a good thing, one might expect a side with ambitions of challenging for the League Two title would have a striker who is capable of hitting close to 20 goals in a season. Jake Jervis, currently the club’s second highest scorer, only bagged eleven last season from 42 games.
All four promoted clubs last season had a player who scored 15+ goals. Jervis will need to step up, or the squad will have to continue chipping in with their fair share if Argyle are going to have the firepower necessary to get out of the division.
Finally, whilst they have been excellent defensively, Argyle have struggled against pacy attackers at times. Now, clearly in League Two there are not too many sides with truly skilful and pacy attackers in abundance, and given their solid defensive record “struggled” might be an unfair term to use, but they have been shown to be vulnerable and this could prove to be a big problem if they get found out.
So far this season, Plymouth Argyle have an improved record after the first fourteen league games of the season compared to the year before. Now, they are again top of the league and they seem to be in pretty irresistible form. In 2015-16, Argyle’s fourteenth game was an away loss at Oxford United, a team that would go on to win promotion at the end of the season. However, with Saturday’s victory over Newport, they have now bettered their previous achievements.
They do, though, have a fairly tough run of fixtures coming up, in which the Pilgrims take on a number of upper-mid table and promotion chasing teams such as Grimsby Town and Crewe Alexandra. Get through these games without dropping silly points and the Green Army should be looking at celebrations come May, rather than Wembley heartache.
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