A Derek of two halves: Plymouth Argyle’s Adams regime

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 29 April 2019, 11:06

Derek Adams deserves great credit for the work he did at Plymouth Argyle.

At least, that is, in the three seasons that preceded this current campaign, which has seen the Scot dismissed as manager on Sunday night following a 5-1 loss at Accrington.

It is only fair, therefore, to split this review into two parts: what he got right before this season and then, perhaps, where matters went awry.

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Part one – Argyle’s rise

Argyle had been in a relatively healthy off-field position when Adams took over: the financial crisis of the early-2010s had subsided and John Sheridan had steadied the ship on the field, leading them to a Play-Off finish in 2014-15, when they lost in the Semi-Final to Wycombe.

However, Sheridan as a player and manager has only ever been able to truly embrace northern clubs like Oldham, Chesterfield and Sheffield Wednesday; he still had roots a long way from Home Park and the amount of travelling he did meant he never quite settled.

Adams though moved down from Ross County with a very different mind-set.

Just before his first press conference, he corrected somebody who said “welcome to Plymouth” without using the word “Argyle” – pernickety perhaps, yet a sign he was keen to not just coach the team, but also buy into the Pilgrims’ heritage and identity.

The Carey Effect

Adams’ predecessor was a 4-4-2 disciple; he did not tend to like non-strikers having much attacking freedom and with poacher Reuben Reid looking slightly languid, there were times when it might have felt like Lewis Alessandra was the one carrying attacks.

Adams switched to more of a 4-2-3-1 with Graham Carey, who he brought from his former club, playing in the #10 role he would embrace for the next near half-decade.

Carey delighted Argyle fans; his ability to pick up pockets of space between lines, his wand of a left foot, his set piece specialism, his expert through balls – and he put in a fair shift without the ball, too.

One might be hard-pushed to find too many better Argyle signings this century than Carey, around whom so much of the play has revolved.

 

Promotion pushes

The Green Army missed out on promotion in 2015-16 despite a healthy November lead: the defeats to Exeter may be looked back on as defining points in that campaign prior to the 2-0 Play-Off Final defeat to AFC Wimbledon.

Adams responded to the disappointment of that performance Wembley strongly though: he instigated an overhaul of 28 players for the following campaign, to ensure the disappointment did not fester.

Sonny Bradley, from Crawley, proved a bigger addition than it initially looked – he was the team’s third top scorer with seven league goals in 2016-17 and was so commanding at the back, the team could win games on one or two moments of quality rather than absolute control.

Argyle enjoyed 12 wins from a 14-match unbeaten run early on to ensure a promotion that was ultimately comfortable, even if they missed out on top spot to Portsmouth on the final day.

 

Target man Taylor

A 2-1 home loss to Fleetwood left Argyle bottom of League One in early October of their debut campaign, but the club gave Adams the time to make crucial alterations.

He put Ryan Taylor up top in a front three with Carey and Joel Grant; although Taylor only scored five league goals himself, his hold-up play was crucial to bringing others into the game.

The Devon outfit’s outstanding form propelled them to an unlikely Play-Off push, before concluding their campaign with back-to-back defeats in a seventh place finish.

Part two – the decline this season

Losing (and not replacing) Bradley

Rumours suggest that Bradley, pivotal over the previous two campaigns, was open to staying at Home Park and that it would not have taken an astronomical wage to avoid losing him to Luton – where he has since starred once again.

The board did let him go and thus the team went from conceding 59 goals last season to at least 78 this term, which comes down to poor recruitment.

Peter Grant, Ryan Edwards and Scott Wootton were all brought as potential replacements for Bradley but none have quite been up to the required standards.

Defensive disorganisation

Argyle’s woes at the back though are not all down to Bradley’s departure: they have looked vulnerable in wide areas, which comes down to numerous factors.

Firstly, it could be questioned whether the midfielders and forwards in the narrow 4-3-3 have been sufficiently diligent and aware of danger without the ball.

Secondly, the full-backs have not been strong enough defensively: Tafari Moore’s rashness and Ashley Smith-Brown’s relaxed mentality have at times left Argyle open when the on-loan duo have played.

Joe Riley and Oscar Threlkeld have been affected by injury while experienced campaigner Gary Sawyer has looked burdened by the captaincy; midfielder David Fox is arguably the only player with obvious leadership qualities.

 

There has been a few no-shows in which Yann Songo’o has been the team’s strongest defensive performer: merely through being the one player running back, challenging for loose balls and showing commitment.

When Songo’o is the man holding the team together, that can sometimes reflect systematic issues.

Ladapo over Taylor

Freddie Ladapo has scored 17 league goals this season – the joint-sixth most in the division – and individual displays like the 5-1 home win over Rochdale show he does have potential.

Ladapo has pace, power and quality of movement which gets him into numerous potential goalscoring situations.

However, the criticism of Ladapo would be that he can be selective of the moments at which he uses his athleticism – normally when there is an opening for individual glory, rather than when he is needed to do a tactical job for the team.

Taylor has, perhaps, a lower long-term ceiling than Ladapo – he is not particularly quick and has only scored 30 goals in the last eight years.

However, there is also a far greater consistency to the work he does, especially off the ball, while his selfless hold-up play completes the equilibrium of Argyle’s attacks.

Because creative magician Ruben Lameiras is skilful yet individualistic, it is important to have a more team-centred striker ahead of him holding the attacks together.

Adams has been criticised for not starting Taylor more than six times in the league this season, when 13 of the team’s 19 league wins last season came in the 21 games he played from the outset.

 

Sidelining the media

For many years, Plymouth Herald have had fair journalists like Chris Errington who have reported very reasonably on the team – and at a time at which local newspapers are under more pressure to produce a higher-volume of content.

For Derek Adams to then refuse to speak to them or any other outlets, including his own media team, is a move he might come to regret.

After the 5-1 loss at Accrington, Adams got some abuse from certain supporters – and he did not deserve that given all the work he has done for the club.

Equally, the result left Argyle needing to avoid defeat on the final day to have any chance of staying up – and possibly needing to beat Scunthorpe depending on the results for Southend and Wimbledon.

The club needs to go into that crucial game with a sense of togetherness.

That could only have happened under Adams if he had apologised for events in East Lancashire, taken personal responsibility for the club’s situation, then asked supporters to park question marks about himself until the end of the season and get behind the players.

Instead, he refused to face anybody questioning him and that shows a damning lack of leadership at such a crucial point.

Adams and assistant Paul Wotton have done some excellent work at Plymouth, overseeing progression for three consecutive campaigns

However, the appointment of Kevin Nancekivell as caretaker manager gives the club a better chance of rallying for this final, defining game.

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