Pilgrims sent packing: Imps 2-0 Plymouth

There are few things in life that are certain, death and taxes are the famous ones, but it seems at the moment me talking positively about my football club is another.

I felt tonight was a big test for us, coupled with Ipswich this weekend. We battled to a draw with Fleetwood and should have won, but it was one point from a possible six and the start of a possible slump. How we progress over the next four matches will go a long way to setting us up for the season. With six games gone, the season is in its infancy, but with ten gone you are almost a quarter of the way through. Plymouth, Ipswich, Crewe and Doncaster are four matches from which seven points upwards would be a really great haul. Well, one game down, four points to go.

I still have my pessimist head on ahead of a game at the minute, but going to watch it with my Dad tonight reminded me how a real pessimist thinks. Not being in the ground has meant I forgot how my Dad gets before a fixture, worried and constantly saying ‘I don’t know about tonight’. He said it against Bristol Rovers and once again, he was on it this evening. Still, it was nice to watch another game with him, seeing as that has been cruelly snatched away by Covid and inadequate governance.

I’ll leave politics in the first paragraph though, this is all about football. I can’t say I hold the belief Plymouth will be up there this season, but I do think they’re a good side who play football in a manner which will see them win more than they lose. Ryan Lowe has built his Plymouth side in the image of his Bury promotion winners, and we know what that means; 3-5-2, playing out from the back and usually through Danny Mayor. Not a lot has changed, which hinted at an open and exciting game.

In the first fifteen minutes, both sides had chances. There’s no doubt we should have been 1-0 up, Brennan Johnson’s shot not quite sitting up at the back stick for Jorge Grant, but his flashed return effort should have been turned in by Tom Hopper. Our forward endeavour was smart, but Plymouth had a constant air of menace, like a dodgy backstreet inner-city boozer, you never quite knew when they might flare-up. Danny Mayor was the focal point, his effort saved by Alex Palmer in an evenly-balanced opening 15.

After that, I felt we began to let them control the tempo, not unlike matches with Charlton and Oxford. One effort from a free-kick drew a superb save from Palmer, who wasn’t aware their forward was offside. It came at the start of a good spell of pressure for the visitors, and if anything I felt we began to retreat into ourselves a bit. Nobody was playing that badly, but there were too many loose passes. Conor McGrandles, in for Harry Anderson in one of two changes, didn’t have a great first half, but his constant work rate made up for being a little sloppy in possession. Brennan Johnson looked a threat, but he drifted in and out of the game. when he was in it, he was a real livewire and posed a constant threat, but when we couldn’t get the pattern right in midfield, it left him looking isolated, Jorge Grant too for short spells.

However, when Grant did get on the ball, he teased and tormented Will Aimson. He had another effort across goal late on which, once again, it looked easier for Hopper to touch than avoid. Sadly, he didn’t get on it and twice we should have scored but didn’t. Those two chances were more or less the sum of our first half though and when the whistle blew for half time, my Dad the pessimist said he didn’t know where a goal was coming from. Part of me could see what he meant; we had played some nice football, in patches, but at the same time we’d allowed Plymouth to do the same. It wouldn’t be over the top to liken the first half to that of the game against Bristol Rovers. We weren’t bang on it, a couple of lads were misplacing passes and when that happens, the machine breaks down. On the other hand, despite having a little more purpose in possession, we hadn’t really looked like conceding.

In the second period, things certainly swung the other way. I had called a possible change at half time, maybe Harry for McGrandles, but to his credit, Michael stuck to the same XI that started the game and I felt it paid off. McGrandles came out rejuvenated and from the first whistle of the second period to the last, we were the better side.

Brennan Johnson was once again the main source of the threat, and within three minutes of the restart he had a solid penalty shout turned down. Good work saw him released down the flank and as he jinxed into the area, he seemed to be tugged back. The honest player in him stayed on his feet, the effort was cleared and it seemed we had faced an injustice. We didn’t have to wait long for balance. McGrandles lashed a superb effort against the post and when the rebound fell to Johnson he was seemingly bundled over for a spot-kick. I wouldn’t possibly suggest a referee has the earlier one in his mind, but the second looked weaker. Still, it doesn’t matter, he pointed to the spot and at that moment the game was won and lost.

Jorge Grant continued his fine run of scoring with a well-taken spot-kick and Plymouth’s heads dropped. Now, when Bristol Rovers conceded around the same time, they got straight back at it and scored, but the Pilgrims didn’t have the same focus or drive. In fact, straight after the restart, we went back up and almost added a second, Johnson and Grant the architects once again, this time James Jones with the effort that their keeper turned away. Minutes later, Sean Roughan went through on the keeper and had to be denied quickly.

If there was a lesson for us in being on the front foot after scoring from our last home game, it is safe to say it has been learned, 100%. I felt we looked more dangerous in just ten minutes of second-half action as we had in the first half. James Jones had an effort deflected for a corner as the visitors looked to run out of ideas. They didn’t get the ball to Danny Mayor at all and the threat he posed us in the first half was non-existent. Instead, they started to go a bit longer, with both Walsh and Montsma having decent evenings.

The change I thought might happen at half time came just after the hour mark, Harry Anderson (who still hasn’t cut his hair) coming on. For six minutes, he barely had a touch, with my Dad saying just as much. As he finished the sentence ‘we haven’t seen much of Harry’, he laid a smart ball out wide to Tom Hopper. His cross was deflected and up popped Brennan Johnson to settle our nerves with a classy header. It was a good finish too, he didn’t have a lot of pace to work with on the ball and had to add direction to beat the keeper, rather than power. Whilst he will take the plaudits, I also spotted Harry’s run to try to get on the end of Hopper’s cross too; in the first half when Hopps drifted out wide, we didn’t seem to have the option in the middle. That is what Harry gives us and even though he didn’t score, his presence added to Johnson’s gave the Plymouth backline too much to think about.

Once we got to 2-0, there was little to do other than safely see the game out. Plymouth were well beaten, there wasn’t any chance they were going to get a second wind unless it was of our doing. Their best chance came when a tired-looking Walsh lost out on the attacking right, but it as a half-chance, little more. I’ve got to give a big shout out to Roughan and TJ Eyoma though. Roughan certainly catches the eye and his performances are perhaps under a microscope because of his age, so he is unlikely to get overlooked, but he had a good game. TJ however, he is the new Sam Habergham, in that he is a seven or more every week and rarely seems to earn plaudits. This is a young man just seven matches into his Football League career who plays with the calm assurance of a senior professional with 200 outings under his belt. He was strong and stable again tonight, rarely giving the ball away and rarely being beaten by a runner. He has power, he has pace and I think as the season progresses, he might even chip in with a goal or two.

In the middle of the park, I felt we got more balance with Grant alongside Jones in the later stages, but it could have been the tired Plymouth legs making it look that way. I’m leaning towards preferring Grant in the middle, which poses problems of the positive kind for MA. I also wonder if Anthony Scully might get off the bench every week, because his introduction always inspires a second wind of sorts. He must be a frightening prospect for tired legs, a player with a lower centre of gravity and plenty of running in him. He torments and teases when he comes on; he isn’t always orthodox, but he isn’t afraid to shoot either. He should perhaps have scored late on as he had a late effort, as did Theo after coming on (a wild one) and Harry too.

In the end, it was a comfortable win from a game that could have proven to be a banana skin. That’s two clean sheets on the bounce now, four points from six and the ghost of Bristol Rovers has been well and truly exorcised. Plymouth will be alright, they’re a good footballing side who I think are maybe one or two components shorts of a top ten place this season, but they won’t be troubling the bottom four either. They have strength up top in Nouble, but was he ineffective, or did our young defence just deal with him really well? He came up against Roughan a couple of times and the 17-year-old dealt with the issue, something that scouts will take note of. The worry with youngsters is not being able to mix the physical, but Roughan, Eyoma and Montsma have all proven they won’t be phased by so-called robust forwards.

We move on to Ipswich now, knowing they’ve been hammered 4-1, and maybe thinking there could be something in the game for us. I wouldn’t rule it out either, this Lincoln City team are unlike anything I have seen before. We play football the right way, we are not intimidated or bullied and we have options all over the park. It’s going to be an exciting few months, that is for sure.

With so much work to do ahead of Thursday’s podcast, I’ve got this out before Bubs’ gallery, but will furnish you with those pictures when I can.