Scout File: Plymouth Argyle (H)

Credit Graham Burrell

I suppose there is only one real result to expect at the Bank this weekend, writes Tom Morton.

Plymouth are currently threatening to run away with the league having won more than ¾ of their games so far this season. They are unbeaten since mid-August and even then have only lost two (with two draws). We are only a third of the way through the season but they look on a formidable run and if they keep up this performance the Pilgrims could end with a double-digit buffer come April.

This is Argyle’s third concurrent season in League One, having yo-yo’d a bit between the third and fourth tier. They actually spent a good chunk of time playing Championship football during the noughties, but a poor run followed by administration saw them slump to a double relegation – in fact, they just avoided an infamous triple relegation by two points in the 11/2 season.

Stats-wise there is some hope for tomorrow’s game. Not least because all of Argyle’s dropped points come from away games (2 losses, 2 draws). Equally, they were thrashed 5-1 away from home in the FA Cup last weekend at, wait for it, Grimsby. It’s tempting to put that down to a second-string team – but that’s not the case. Yes, the Pilgrims made 4 or 5 changes going into the game, but they switched to the full first team at halftime and still couldn’t bring the game back. The magic of the cup, maybe they are going to bounce back strong – but either way, it shows them as vulnerable enough.

On other fronts, the stats could be promising. Despite winning a lot they’ve conceded in all but one away game this season, whereas we have scored close to 90%. This gives us a surprisingly high chance of putting something past keeper Michael Cooper. Equally, Argyle are relying on high scoring rates – they are second only to Ipswich at scoring away from home. However, despite having only the 17th-best home record in the league, we are joint third in terms of conceding (6 goals). To give you ideas of how fine the margins can be – Argyle have conceded just one less.


plymouth lineup 2022

Those stats point to one tactic; keep them from scoring. As much as it isn’t making for flowing play, Kennedy’s evolving tactic of putting up one of the strongest defensive walls in the league is bearing fruit. It will be key for Saturday to keep the Pilgrims at bay. It should be a good game to watch though; we’ve played much more free-flowing football against the better teams this season.

Going forward Argyle have a lot of options, and a good few of them have scored (five players have more than five goals to their name). Top scorer is, of course, Morgan Whittaker (more on him shortly) but close behind is Ryan Hardie. I was impressed with Hardie last season and he is a strong lead for their attack. Plymouth do have some injury woes recently, largely on their bench, meaning they’ve had to rely on junior players as fresh legs. However, they will miss Finn Azaz. On loan from Aston Villa and with six goals to his name, Azaz has been a key partner to Whittaker on either side of the pitch. One thing to watch; the Pilgrims love to score a long-range goal and have several players confident enough to rifle in from outside the box.

Credit Graham Burrell

Of course, we are likely to see Whittaker play. He had 20 games for us last season and at times showed some incredible talent – at other times struggling to have an impact. Recently social media has been commenting on how Argyle seem to have gotten the best out of him – but I am not sure that’s true. Whittaker scored 5 in 20 for us, and has racked up 7 in 17 this season. Yes it’s more in less, but not significantly so and it’s probably explained just by having a somewhat better team around him. 

We will also see former Imp James Wilson, a stalwart in Plymouth’s defence, at the weekend. He had a mixed time with us during our League 2 promotion season but since then has had success at Ipswich and now Plymouth. He sits on the right-hand side of a back three that, to be honest, I don’t see as being too impressive on highlights. Overall Plymouth’s defensive line seems oddly slow and at times (for example in set pieces) very static. Looking at the teams who have beaten them they’ve struggled against darting runs and quick balls into the box. They are definitely very vulnerable on the break. I feel like Diamond’s aggressive pressure and House’s harrying could cause some confusion amongst the back line, enough to case some real both.

Head to Head

Last season we took four points from Argyle. That included a scrappy 2-2 draw at the bank (literally so in the last few moments) and a fab 2-1 win away from home with a last-minute winner from Melbourne. Prior to that our form has been so-so against the Pilgrims. Recent League One encounters has generally gone their way and we faced them a bit in the early noughties where again it largely ended in their favour. There was also a miserable 5-0 thumping in 2013 during an FA Cup first-round replay when Plymouth were at the tail end of League 2 (to our mid-table Conference).

It’s hard not to get too hopeful about tomorrow’s game. We are playing a lot better against the stronger teams and you can’t get much stronger than Plymouth. Equally, I feel like they have some weaknesses that play to their strengths. Ultimately the deciding factor is likely to be which team turns up; the lacklustre FA Cup exit-style might face a drubbing whilst you’d back the Carabao cup intensity as the sort of team to upset Southhampton in a few weeks.