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Opposition Preview - Plymouth Argyle (Away)
Written by ad_wilkin on Friday, 1st Mar 2024 14:25

It’s the long trip down the West Coast to face last season’s League One champions.

The Pilgrims have avoided being drawn into a relegation battle so far and much like Birmingham last weekend are at the lower end of those mid-table positions.

They recently ended a run of five games without a win with a 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough and will be hoping to build momentum coming into a run of games against teams at the lower end of the table.

Previous Meeting (Ipswich 3-2 Plymouth)

A topsy-turvy game at Portman Road swung back and forth as Town came back from a goal down to go 3-1 up before Joe Edwards pulled a late goal back for the Pilgrims.

Town started brightly with lovely interplay between Leif Davis, Nathan Broadhead and Conor Chaplin, who poked a ball past the defensive line for George Hirst to run on to.

Hirst got his toe to it before the onrushing Michael Cooper but didn’t connect with enough power as Cooper managed to spin and dive on the ball before it crossed the line.

Town were then stung on the break as Finn Azaz laid the ball off to Morgan Whittaker on the right. With Davis still up the pitch, George Edmundson came across to cover but was helpless as Whittaker dropped his shoulder, took a couple of touches inside to set himself and curled in a glorious effort from outside the box that left Vaclav Hladky absolutely no chance.

Whittaker was in again moments later but this time he scuffed his left-footed shot into the arms of Hladky.

Town had a couple of half chances, but it was Plymouth who were in the ascendency, pressing high and forcing mistakes. Whittaker hit another shot into the midriff of Edmundson and another well-worked move saw Bali Mumba fire high over the crossbar.

Omari Hutchinson was the Blues’ best outlet down the right but whenever the ball fell to a Town shirt there was a body in the way to block.

On 41 minutes Plymouth were threatening on the counter once again. Mustapha Bundu received the ball, spun Edmundson and raced away towards goal. Edmundson showed excellent pace to keep up with him and came up with an excellent last-ditch challenge to poke the ball away just as the Plymouth man was about to pull the trigger in what was a key moment in this game.

Plymouth fans were all over social media after the game saying it should have been a red but there was one angle that showed the Town man just about getting his foot to the ball.

The Blues were straight up the other end with Hutchinson lifting a delicious, dinked ball into the path of Broadhead, who brought it under control inside the box but then spent too much time trying to get it under control and was closed down and shut out before he could get a shot away.

It was a 45th-minute corner that provided the Town breakthrough, Davis’s outswinger going deep and was bizarrely headed back into the middle of the box by a Plymouth player. Massimo Luongo landed on it and attempted an audacious backheel that looked to be going straight into Plymouth keeper Cooper’s arm before Mumba had a moment of madness and in attempting to stick out a leg to clear just diverted it into the net.

The balance of the game changed even further in the second half. On 53 minutes Davis received the ball on the left in his own half and played a lovely curling ball over the top that Hirst looked to run on to. It bounced over Dan Scarr’s outstretched boot right into the path of the Town striker who calmly slotted past the onrushing Cooper to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

Town were firmly in the ascendency with Hutchinson twisting and turning and having a shot in the box blocked narrowly wide but Plymouth still posed a threat on the counter.

Hladky had to be alert as the Pilgrims worked the ball wide and played a cutback across the box, but the Ipswich keeper rushed out and cleared away before it fell to Azaz who was waiting to slot it in.

Hladky was then at his best once again as a deep corner was met by the head of Scarr, who looped a wonderful header back across the goal. The save from Hladky was even better as he leapt and clawed the ball away.

Town had their keeper to thank yet again as a Whittaker shot kindly deflected into the path of Edwards, who was clean through but unable to find a way past the Czech glovesman’s legs as he spread himself well to deny the Plymouth man.

Town were under pressure and they needed a goal to settle things. Some nice footwork from Jack Taylor got the ball to Sam Morsy who drove through the middle of the pitch. He found Davis wide on the left who side-footed an excellent cross into that dangerous area of the box where Chaplin usually lurks.

With Chaplin off the pitch this time it was Marcus Harness who was there waiting to sweep a left-footed shot which was again blocked by a Plymouth shirt. Fortunately, the ball fell back to him to side-foot his right-footed effort firmly into the net this time.

There was still time for a Plymouth consolation where, in a similar move to the Harness goal, Kesler Hayden found Whittaker wide on the left. He whipped in a left-footed cross that Edmundson got a boot on.

Mumba was the player who landed on the ball and produced a dip of the shoulder to beat Davis and got to the byline before cutting it back to Edwards, who despite the best efforts of Hladky and Luke Woolfenden on the line was able to slot home and make it a nervy final six minutes.

This was definitely one of the more even contests at Portman Road and Plymouth were a constant threat on the counter with their excellent interplay.

They managed six shots on target to Ipswich’s four and finished with 1.61 expected goals to Town’s 2.05. They also got in nine blocks on Blues shots with the definition of a bodies on the line defensive performance.

The thing that separated the sides was how clinical Town’s last two goals were. They were both moves that have been worked on again and again in training and with a left foot like Davis’s you know that they’re eventually going to come off.

What's Changed

January was a month of upheaval for Plymouth which all started with manager Steven Schumacher leaving the club to join Stoke after the Potters disposed of the services of Alex Neil. Schumacher departed at the end of December and was in charge there when Town played out a drab 0-0 draw at the Potteries.

Replacing Schumacher is another coach who meets the in-fashion, young manager with a deep coaching career and attacking philosophy, Ian Foster. Kieran McKenna is obviously one of the successful blueprints of this but as Millwall have found out with the recently-sacked Joe Edwards, this isn’t always the case.

Foster cut his teeth in the League of Ireland managing first Galway United and then Dundalk. His career then dropped back to being a member of the coaching staff first at Coventry and then under Paul Cook at Portsmouth.

He then switched career paths again and joined the FA and has worked with the U17s, U18s, U19s and U20s in his time there. He’s also worked with the England women's team and finally had a brief spell with Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq before taking this job.

He’s taken a bit of time to bed in and looks to have adopted a slightly more defensive style than Schumacher, but it’s hard to judge the stats on such a small sample size of games.

When you come into a new job the last thing you want is to face losing one of your key players, let alone three. That is what Foster had to deal with as three of Plymouth’s main performers were recalled by their parent clubs in January.

Kaine Kesler-Hayden has returned to Aston Villa and with their injuries has been on the bench every game since his recall without managing any minutes yet.

Finn Azaz was also recalled by Villa but this time to be sold back to the Championship, to Middlesbrough, and Luke Cundle was recalled by Wolves to allow him to link up again with former manager Schumacher on a permanent basis at Stoke.

All of that plus a few more sales and loans out meant the Pilgrims had a very active January brining in six players. The first one in the door was Ashley Phillip, who joined on loan from Tottenham.

The 18-year-old was snapped up by Spurs just as he was getting Championship game time at Blackburn last season and a loan back to the Championship was seen as the next step for his development. He has come straight into the side and featured in every game so far for the Pilgrims. He has 14 caps for England U19s and whilst he clearly has lots of potential his performances have been hit and miss so far.

Following Phillips was another young player, Darko Gyabi, who joined on loan from Leeds to fill the midfield void. He’s another player that Foster will know from his time with the England youth teams and starred in Plymouth’s last match against Middlesbrough having been switched from a deeper midfield role to a more attacking position on the left-hand side.

In that game he made four key passes and got himself his first professional assist. Interestingly the only Championship minutes he had played prior to Plymouth were as a last-minute substitute in Leeds’ 4-3 win at Portman Road in August.

Third in the door, this time a free transfer, was Matthew Sorinola, who had been without a club since being released by Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise at the end of last season.

He fills the wide role left by Hayden and was another who has been slowly introduced into the team before making his mark with his first goal of the season against Middlesbrough.

Sorinola was a fairly regular Championship started on loan at Swansea last season and has the ability and versatility to be a threat on either wing.

Next to be strengthened was central midfield. Alfie Devine joined on loan from Tottenham and Adam Forshaw for an undisclosed fee from Norwich to bring some experience to a young Pilgrims side.

Like Gyabi at Leeds, Forshaw’s game time with the Canaries was blocked by the form of their midfielders so he looked to move on. He was straight into the side in the holding midfield role starting three in a row and contributing an assist against Swansea before suffering a hamstring injury which has kept him out of the last four matches. He could be fit enough to make the bench for this one

Devine made an instant impact with two assists in his first four games, but his form has dipped a bit since. This is his second season of senior football having made 20 League One appearances on loan at Port Vale last year, alternating between playing in central midfield and as a more attacking midfielder. It looks like he’ll mainly be filling one of the number ten roles for Plymouth.

The last addition is another left-back again on loan from Aston Villa in Lino Sousa. Villa signed him from Arsenal on deadline day and immediately loaned him out. He’s another who’s featured for England at all youth levels and had five goals in 36 appearances for Arsenal’s U23s before making this loan to get his first taste of senior football. Given how raw he is he’s only started two games so far but has been given a chance to make an impact off the bench in others.

Key Players

Morgan Whittaker

If you’re reading this and you need me to tell you that Morgan Whittaker is Plymouth’s key player, then I'm not quite sure how you’ve ended up here.

He sits on 17 goals and seven assists for the season and is in the running with a group of attacking midfielders (Sammie Szmodics, Crysencio Summerville and Jack Clarke) and Adam Armstrong for the golden boot.

His goal at Portman Road meant he has scored against Town in both of his last two performances and they have both been absolute rockets.

Of his 17 goals this season, six of them have come from outside of the box. He’s taken the most shots in the league with 123 and 49 of those have been on target.

He’s clearly enjoying his football and if Town want to have any success in this one, they’ll have to try and keep him off his dangerous left foot.

Ryan Hardie

Sitting just below that group of players just mentioned is Ryan Hardie. He’s sixth in the scoring charts with 12 goals, keeping Jonathan Rowe and Will Keane company and one ahead of Town forwards Chaplin and Broadhead.

He’s an expert finisher, is outperforming his expected goals and is also able to hold onto the ball and bring it up the pitch with his dribbling ability. He didn’t really get a chance to show his ability at Portman Road having to be replaced in the 19th minute and will be hoping to have more of an impact on this one.

The Teams

Town have had a full week off from beating Birmingham which is a luxury in this run in. It also gives injured players crucial time to recover. Wes Burns, Broadhead and Chaplin all went off with injuries.

The Welsh duos were both muscular but Chaplin’s was just an impact injury. Hopefully Chaplin should be fit to go again but I think it’s likely that both Hutchinson and Jeremy Sarmiento will be given the chance to impress from the start in this one with hopefully both Burns and Broadhead ready to make an impact from the bench if needed (McKenna has unfortunately confirmed that both men will miss out since I wrote this).

The rest of the team picks itself apart from the right-back question. Axel Tuanzebe put in a man of the match performance last time out and his throws led to both of Hutchinson’s late goals against Rotherham and Birmingham but Harry Clarke was playing his best football before his knock. It’s nice to have the luxury of such a decision but I think Clarke will come back in for this one.

The other potential tactical switch could be the one that was made in the reverse fixture with Edmundson coming in for Cameron Burgess in that one. Plymouth are not a team with a massive aerial threat and his natural right-footedness on that side could prove useful for dealing with Whittaker so we could well see him coming in again for this one.

For Plymouth, Cooper was in goal the first time around when Conor Hazard was dropped despite great form at the start of the season.

Following the 4-0 defeat to Leicester in December ,Cooper picked up another knock and despite now being fit again has been unable to replace Hazard a second time meaning the former Celtic player will probably start this one in goal.

A back three of Phillips, Lewis Gibson and Brendan Galloway was disrupted after a run of games as Julio Pleguezelo came in against Middlesbrough. The Spaniard was substituted late on in that game so that back three could return for this one.

At wing-back, Sorinola and Mickel Miller have been in good form and Sorinola is unlikely to be dropped but an alternative on the left side is Mumba, who’s dipped out of the side and struggled for minutes in recent games as both goals and assists have dried up for him (his last goal contribution was an assist against Huddersfield in January).

With Gyabi having success in a more advanced role, it’s likely that the combative midfield of Jordan Houghton and Adam Randell will fill the middle of the pitch with Gyabi and star man Whittaker ahead of them with Hardie ahead of them.

Action Areas

Quite simple in this one. Town need to keep Morgan Whittaker off his left foot. Videos earlier this week showed him firing another long range effort in in training and having been victim of it twice already this season the Blues won’t want to be punished again.

Tactically, the Pilgrims tend to sit deep only ranking 16th in the league in terms of possession but they are effective when they counter with high numbers of dribbles into the opposition box and shots on target.

Going forward, Town will need to be very patient and work the ball well as Plymouth are very well drilled at defending their box having blocked the most shots of any team in the league.

Town have a long way to travel and Plymouth’s home form is way better than their away form this season, 28 home points compared to 12 away from home.

They’re a slightly different style to Rotherham and Birmingham but they were one of the better teams that I have watched at Portman Road this season so this will be no easy task.

I went 1-1 against Birmingham and it was that score for a long while before Town eventually made the breakthrough and I’m going for another 1-1 in this one.

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ipswichboi added 15:18 - Mar 1
Well done ad, always look forward to reading these and tend to be pretty spot on with the predicted line ups and scores. I think most of us would take a draw here, big bonus if we win though as I think the others could drop points too.
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