Under the last four games of Stephen Robinson’s reign – before heading off North to take the Saint Mirren job – I felt the two points from twelve hadn’t represented the performance level. Our expected goal for over the duration of those four games was 1.95 and against was 0.94 according to Wyscout. Essentially, more clinical finishing and we’d have won at least two of the four games.
Last Saturday, in Derek’s first game in charge the opposite happened. Ipswich came to town having not conceded in the five previous games. In the first half – they dominated play with 70.95% of possession, having eight shot attempts whilst we didn’t have one strike at goal. You could only see one outcome as the sides went into the Mazuma dressing rooms at halftime.
Derek – had kept faith with the same 3-5-2 line-up which caretaker-for-one-match Barry Roche had selected for a spirited two-nil defeat away to League leaders Rotherham. I personally think, despite being dominated in the first half, from squad morale and management perspective this was the correct call. Everyone had a chance to build on the positive Rotherham display despite the result, but changes were required at halftime.
The changes were somewhat surprising but made sense. Right-back Ryan Cooney and wide forward Jonah Ayunga went off for attacking midfielders Aaron Wildig and Adam Phillips. Aaron and Adam were two players I incorrectly predicted would start, as they were two crucial cogs in the Derek Adam promotion machine. On 59 minutes, this change proved fruitful as Phillips’ tenacity found him on the wide right of the area. His cross found Wildig perfectly, who skilfully landed the ball in the net.
Sadly, Ipswich’s sustained pressure was rewarded with an eighty-six minute Wes Burns equaliser. However, on the balance of play and against an Ipswich side full of composure on the ball it was a very valuable point. Morecambe and Dundee loanee stopper Trevor Carson was a major factor in gaining a point with multiple brilliant saves. According to FOTMOB he made eight saves and received the highest match rating.
Incidentally, it’s Trevor’s 34th birthday today so it’d be useful for him to have another top performance on his big day.
Saturday’s opponents Plymouth come into the game in better form having won 5 of their last 7 games (compared with one win for The Shrimps) but have only got one point from their last two games. Argyle have averaged 1.8 points on their own turf, while Morecambe have averaged just 0.5 points on the road.
I’m lucky to have two avid and hugely knowledgeable Pilgrims in Ben Fuller and Stephen McIlkenny to guide me through the analysis and expectations from Steven Schumacher’s men
Our first game at The Mazuma was quite a cagey affair that ended 1 apiece. What do they expect from this game?
“I think we will have another cagey game on our hands. Having slipped outside the play-offs last week, we will be hunting for a big win to push us back into a position us fans would have dreamed of at the beginning of the season.
We have lost two games in a row so Morecambe should be coming to Home Park with the intention of getting away with a win. Add in the fact that Derek Adams will be back at the club which gave him his first taste of English football, I think this will be a tense, feisty game. Adams will get a mixed response from the Argyle fans however I am sure that he will really really want to win this and get his team up for the fight.”
“A Plymouth Argyle win. Albeit perhaps a cagey game once again. Argyle are under a bit of pressure to make the playoffs and fans looking at the league table will expect Argyle to win this one. That as a result could lead to a bit of pressure on the players on the pitch and may reflect in the game and scoreline. Argyle have a few games in hand, but need to make them count!”
Derek Adams – returning to his former club – was naturally giving little away in his pre-match press conference, but did suggest we need a bit of extra quality in the final third and be better on the ball in possession.
I predicted in the last game that he’d be looking to go for his second most used formation from the 2020/2021 promotion season 4-2-3-1 (used 22% of the time according to Wyscout). Based on the evidence of the Ipswich came, I envisage he’ll either go for 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-2-1 like he deployed in the second half last Saturday.
Although we lacked a consistent threat in the final third, we pressed better with the introduction of Adam Phillips and Aaron Wildig. They both supported Cole Stockton better than the options in the first half. With the week to train and share Derek’s expectations, I believe he’ll have confidence with those two men to be potent in an attack like they were for him during his last managerial stint with The Shrimps.
“Schumacher has heavily rotated his front two from the four strikers with good success so far however our last performance against Rotherham had both starters, Garrick and Hardie, missing golden chances.
Both are absolute nuisances for defences with their pace running off the last defender but Schumacher will have to consider Ennis, Jephcott or both starting this game. In other areas, Schumacher is under some pressure to give more minutes to our three January signings who have barely featured since joining. I think Sessegnon may start for his full debut ahead of captain Edwards on Saturday.”
“I guess the main questions will be around who leads the line for Argyle, with strikers chomping at the bit to stake their place in the starting XI. Only two can start out of Jordan Garrick, Ryan Hardie, Luke Jephcott and Niall Ennis. Garrick and Hardie played in the 1-0 defeat to Rotherham at home, so we could perhaps see some rotation. It’s probably too soon to see Dan Scarr back – and some fans are excited about Adam Randall, so there are always a few calls from fans for him to get more game time. Like any club, Argyle like to see one of their own on the pitch.”
“The transition between Lowe and Schumacher has been understandably seamless with Schuey adopting the same system that has been so successful this season. There are slight differences with Schuey’s team wanting to keep more possession on the ball before playing the balls up and into the channels for the running strikers.
Danny Mayor has been in fantastic form recently, linking up with Conor Grant on the left and using his superb dribbling to drop a shoulder and beat his man consistently. Jordan Garrick has shone as well under Schumacher with his strength and pace as well and if Morecambe sit deep, he is able to shoot well from range”.
“Argyle’s attacking play leaves them as one of the most attractive to watch in the league. Indeed you’d expect them to score in most games they play in, especially at home. Argyle like to keep possession and stick to their principles of fluid football, as you can see against Chelsea for example in the FA Cup. Panutche Camara can often keep us ticking over and we can be pretty swift on the counterattack. Also, Mike Cooper is one of the best in the league and one for the future.”
According to The Analyst, Argyle have the fourth-highest number of ‘Direct Attacks’ in the division with 60.
Direct attacks are the number of open play sequences that starts just inside the team’s own half and has at least 50% of movement towards the opposition’s goal and ends in a shot or a touch in the opposition box.
This was evident for their goal when we played them back in The Mazuma. Plymouth’s James Wilson intercepted the ball in their own half and immediately fed the ball to Camara. His first instinct was to switch it out wide to Conor Grant. Conor’s played it diagonally forward into the feet of striker Ryan Hardie front and centre of the box. Some clever short exchanges and sloppy Morecambe defending contributed to them getting the equalising goal. The key feature was the speed of moving the ball forward and the use of the the wing-backs to pick out the forward pass.
According to Wyscout – Grant has nearly double Ryan Broom’s crosses per 90 minutes (5.92 vs 3.04) which illustrates the high crossing propensity of Grant considering Broom is their second-highest.
Plymouth have also created the fifth most key passes in League One with 126 according to Wyscout. A Key Pass is a pass that immediately creates a clear goal-scoring opportunity for a teammate.
When The Pilgrims are humming they have the pace and threat upfront that they can hit you with direct balls on the ground into their front men. A few games ago, against Crewe Alexandra, they punished Dave Artell’s men’s sloppy defending with four goals in the second half from seven shots on target – ending up 4-1 winners. This was a perfect example of how clinical and deadly they are if you defend poorly.
“Against Rotherham, their front two pushed high which stopped Cooper from distributing through the centre-backs as usual. This meant we had to go long and with no real target man, the ball was often lost. If Morecambe adopt a similar approach, we need to make sure that the ball sticks better with the front two when their backs are to goal. Also, with no goals in two games, our strikers need to find their finishing boots after a fruitful early February. The likes of Mayor, Grant and Camara are making the chances but we must be more clinical if we have any chances of making the playoffs.”
“Argyle play 3 at the back with wing-backs and at times, this can leave us pretty open at the back. We continue to attack regardless of the result and as such can result in the team being open on the counter-attack, especially if chasing a game or pushing for a winner. Set pieces and second balls are also an issue and while the team are well drilled, moments or lapses of concentration can prove very costly. Argyle’s backline have massively improved and are a big and committed bunch. We’ve also missed a few penalties of late so there is even hope if one is conceded from a Morecambe point of view. “
Whilst goals haven’t been scored in Argyle’s last two outings, overall they have the seventh-most goals from open play and are exceeding their expected goals from open play by 5.7 (40 compared to 34.3).
This would suggest over the duration of the season they have been productive with the opportunities which they have created.
Adding to what Ben has said regarding the hold-up play of their forwards, leading into our game back in October we’d been struggling against physical threats upfront. Wycombe’s Sam Vokes and Burton’s Daniel Jebbison had caused us all sorts of headaches using their physical presence against a less than confident centre back group. Against Plymouth – on the day – our centre backs seemed to enjoy playing against Jephcott and Harding. They looked to get the ball into feet and play on the ground which seemed to suit us. It isn’t so much a weakness, just a noticeable difference to the previous opposition who had caused us issues.
Opportunities Against Argyle
“With Dan Scarr injured, Argyle are missing a key part of their defence. James Bolton has stepped in admirably but I feel Argyle are weaker without Scarr’s presence. Adams will want the ball played quickly up the pitch and I feel like in transition, Morecambe’s wingers will have a chance to break quickly through the channel between wing-backs and centre backs. With the back three less organised without Scarr, this could be an outlet for long balls from the defence.
Morecambe did superbly defensively against a creative Ipswich side. They put their bodies on the line and their last-ditch defending was exceptional. Adams will always make them tricky to beat and Morecambe can frustrate Argyle by setting a low block and packing the box.”
“With the pressure on Argyle to win there may be some joy on the counter, and if Morecambe could take the lead for example they may be able to frustrate Argyle. There have been some mixed results when going behind depending on the response from the team, but failing to score in the last game could play on the minds of some players. Argyle have also been susceptible to set pieces and especially the second ball.”
Despite this being the second time Derek Adams has been at the helm, it is a little tricky to predict the style and methods with just one game in charge with this squad.
Stephen mentions that The Pilgrims can be susceptible to dead-ball situations. Granted, it was one division lower in League Two and with a different squad but under Derek in 2020/2021 Morecambe created the second-highest expected goal from set-pieces.
According to The Analyst, they had an expected goals of 21.7 – scoring 15 goals compared to being the sixteenth highest this season in League One with a different squad and having been managed by a different manager.
It’ll be interesting to see if we’ve been practising set-pieces this week to capitalise on any potential weaknesses in the Argyle backline.
Last week, Ipswich completely dominated the ball – meaning our only opportunities were on counterattacks. Town have the highest possession in League One with 58.7, whereas Plymouth are slightly lower with 53.5% with the seventh highest. I predict, if selected, Adam Phillips and Aaron Wildig running on beyond Cole Stockton will be a focus for Derek Adams in attack.
I don’t think it’d be controversial to say that Phillip’s form has been mixed this season, but it’s interesting to see he has the fourth-highest assists per 90 minutes in the division with 0.29 per game.
His deliveries are often a mixed bag, but as we saw last Saturday when they do deliver they create goals. Under Derek Adams, he was a constant threat with his passes into the front players from deep.
Threats from Argyle
“On their day, Mayor, Camara and Houghton can completely overwhelm and dominate even the best midfield. Houghton is fantastic at receiving the ball on the back foot, turning the pressing midfielder and then moving into the space left to find his midfield partners. Their interplay will cause Morecambe problems and if Mayor is able to break past and get a clean run at the defence, chances will be created for the two strikers.
Most of our play will come down the left-hand side but if Sessegnon starts, I could see us keeping the ball down the left before switching it over to a more attacking wing-back who can infiltrate the vacated space on the right. “
“Danny Mayor can cut any team open and is a flair player who is one to watch. Argyle have a lot of driving force pushing them forward in the centre of the pitch with pace to burn in Ryan Hardie and Ennis for example. Runs in behind or carving opportunities from the match could be really important. As mentioned Panutche Camara is a driving force for the team as in Joe Edwards so they are also ones to watch that can provide threats.”
In addition to what Ben and Stephen have said, if Conor Grant is selected (he’s been predicted to do so in both of their line-ups), he offers a threat with his dangerous deliveries.
According to Wyscout, he has the sixth-highest number of key passes in the division – passes leading to clear goal scoring chances – with 22.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
If you look at the home form and away form of the two sides, you’d think this is a fairly straight forward game for The Pilgrims. Derek Adams will be desperate for three points against his own club, but primarily to help his current side claw their way to safety. He said in his pre-game interview keeping Morecambe up would be one of his greatest achievements.
If The Shrimps can frustrate the home crowd, it may become slightly restless with a frontline that has dried up over the last couple of games. They need a win to keep in the hunt for the playoffs.
If we put them under pressure from the start and don’t allow them to play out from the back, as is their favoured style, couple this with that man Ousmane Fane stifling their midfield, then maybe an upset could be on the cards.
The noble thing would be to say that I hope for a good game, but truthfully speaking – as an exile returning after years away for my first game in person – I just want three points. Surely not too much to ask?
I’d like to say a thank you to Ben and Stephen for their superb contributions. The previews depend largely on the opposition input, as these are the guys who watch their team every week looking for the small details. I’m very grateful that consistently the level is of such high calibre.
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