Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.24 – Plymouth away

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, December 30th, 2020  

SEASON 2020/21 – No.24: PLYMOUTH AWAY

Live football provides many things that we are now, rightly, having to forego and the importance of each missing piece of the old match day experience will vary from supporter to supporter. The majority of our home fans, like at all clubs, don’t travel to away games and for them iFollow is a nice little bonus, there to be had if so desired.  A few hundred of us though, when permitted back in the good old days, used to travel the length and breadth of the country. The Barrow on a Tuesday nighters. Or should that be Gateshead (x2) on a Tuesday nighters? Anyway you get the picture.

But how appealing was a 200 mile trip, a quarter to eight kick-off, sitting around in temperatures just above freezing for a couple of hours and then all the way back home? Does sitting at home with the central heating doing its job and watching the game on TV with no time wasted trekking to and from trump that? Of course it does – logically speaking – but if I’d had the chance to be at Home Park even if iFollow was an option it would have been the former without question.

Live football for us seems as far away as ever. There’s more chance that a Tier 5 will be created than Oxfordshire coming out of Tier 4 any time soon. Covid has again done for an Oxford United game: Doncaster will not be coming to the Kassam on January 5th.  The figures of new cases announced daily are now even more horrendous than during the first wave and until the vaccine has done its work on a significant proportion of the population there’s little prospect that we’ll be back in any football stadium watching our team. The visits of Hull and Northampton were both this month but already seem much further back in the past. I enjoyed them but how cruel for it all to be snatched away almost immediately and even then the experience was by necessity a diluted and sanitised one. That said how privileged I now feel. I also have a huge amount of sympathy for ST holder who crave live football but did not get selected for the Cobblers. First in the queue for Boxing Day turned out to be meaningless.

For all that there are still some areas of the country in Tier 2. Devon is one which meant that for the first time OUFC were to play in a stadium with only home fans in attendance, albeit just 2k of them. We’d had that scenario in our favour twice already, now we were to be on the receiving end. It’s been said that this number of fans can sound like there’s way more of them. Whilst there’s no seething pits of hate anymore I agree with that, particularly when it comes to influencing the officials. So how would we cope?

Didn’t walk past here this season

Plymouth Argyle 2 Oxford United 3

We’d had a pre-match family discussion about team selection. Jamie Hanson in for the suspended accidental assassin Alex Gorrin was expected. We’d also thought there was a good chance Matty Taylor would be rested with Dan Agyei given a run out and possibly Olamide Shodipo starting ahead of Jordan Obita. What visionaries we are. I rate Obita higher than Shodipo and would have expected him to come on in place of his replacement for at least half an hour. Our visionary powers might extend to team sheets but not as far as Maternity Units, thank God.

When I saw that team formation on screen it struck me that the midfield and front three lacked experience and so much in that regard would fall on James Henry’s shoulders. Also how much work Hanson would have to do in the Gorrin role protecting the back line.

We started badly. Our play was scrappy. We were doing stupid things. Shodipo was putting his hands on opponents when it was blatantly obvious that a free-kick was going to be given. I was shaking my head very early on and reasoning that he and Agyei are not the same class as Obita and Taylor. We were quite possibly in for a long old evening.

Henry hit a poor free-kick out of play. Yes very likely a long evening and they can be made even longer when a referee plays up. I’ll be kind here and say that the huge amount of excess baggage Brett Huxtable was carrying around his middle was the result of over indulgence during the festive period and will soon be waddled off. As it turned out it wasn’t his ability to move around the field that irked me though, it was his inability to be even handed in what he considered to be a foul and what not to be depending on which coloured shirt was on the receiving end. I’ll give him his due though, he wasn’t as bad in the second half and the Sam Long booking was absolutely correct.

After we’d gone 1-0 down my assessment was that we looked as we had done at the start of the season. Yes, pretty awful. For that goal Long had ventured up field but gone down under a challenge. Foul or not I couldn’t say. Nor did the booing of the few Plymouth fans present tell anything other than there’s previous between them and Sam, apparently. Even though he was on the floor and out of position we should still have controlled the situation. Liam Kelly played the ball back to Elliott Moore and although our centre-half was tightly marked, he should probably have done better than trying to give it straight back to him only to find Danny Mayor. The Plymouth man set off and played a neat pass forward for Ryan Hardie whose first time cut back was hammered high into the roof of our net by the lanky Panutche Camara. Once we’d given them the ball it was a well worked goal. Looked like the evening was getting even longer.

As an aside what’s a Panutche? Never come across it randomly in scrabble or boggle before. Pop it in google and all you get is Panutche Camara. Total respect to his parents for originality.

The game continued and we still weren’t putting anything together. If anyone in white did anything decent that was it. Nothing to link it to. There was an instance when Hanson did well and went forward with the ball but what next? Nothing really because there were no runners. No one was giving options. Shodipo was close by but he wasn’t moving. This was sub-standard.

Then, a bit like the Wimbledon game, but thankfully this time in reverse, things began to change. From about the half an hour mark we became the assertive team. It was a complete turnaround.

With less than ten minutes to the break we’d levelled. Huxtable to be fair did award some dead ball situations to us and a free-kick a third of the way into Green Army territory was banged into the penalty area in dangerous fashion by Henry. Someone got a flick on. It was a crowd scene in which anything can happen but we were lively and no-one livelier than Josh Ruffels who ran on to the ball as it fell free and got it over the line with no messing.

This was incredibly encouraging. We’d exposed an opponent that was poor at defending balls played into the box from set pieces and we’d got the weaponry to exploit it. Perhaps Karl knew this all along. Happy days. (Possibly).

In the remainder of the first half we had more free-kicks and corners which created more crowd scenes and more evidence that they didn’t like it up ‘em. I don’t mean that in a nasty way but I can’t recall the last time we had opponents under the cosh from such situations.

At the start of the second half Plymouth began as they had the first but we were better than we had been first time around and they soon petered out.

Even so we were still only drawing and parts of our machine were not functioning as hoped. Henry had a poor shot; Shodipo had an awful touch; Liam Kelly, who had been booked, was doing well in the winning the ball stakes but was living dangerously. Could it all go tits up?

With an hour gone we made two substitutions. Off went Henry and Kelly and on came Anthony Forde and Sean Clare. Relief for the Pickers who had James down for no shots on target. Money to be made here possibly but who gives a stuff about that? Two extra points are what it is all about.

We remained the better team and this was with a new style of play. Who says our manager isn’t adaptable? I was loving it, except for one thing. We had not scored another.

In addition to the longer ball stuff and the threat from that we were now passing it from player to player. Perhaps not at our slickest but a huge improvement on our start.

There was less than a quarter of an hour to go when we took the lead we deserved and what a goal it was. You won’t see many like this, or as good as this. Long received the ball 15 yards into his own half. He made as if to hammer it forward but as a green shirted man turned his back, beat him and set off. Over the half way line he went and kept going once he’d lent the ball to Clare. By the time he got it back, having pointed to show where he wanted it, he was at the angle of the six yard box and one touch later the goal was scored. That, my friends, was magnificent. What energy the Bicester lad has and Clare’s contribution should not be overlooked. When was the last time we had both full-backs on the score sheet? I can’t be bothered to go back through the records but I know that some have encyclopaedia type memories.

Very much the dominant force a penalty was won in 82nd minute. Marcus McGuane who had become increasingly influential as the game progressed, had a Stevens’s clearance headed on to him by Ruffels and slipped a pass through to Shodipo. Man, ball or both I’m not sure but why a defender would challenge like that on a man posing no immediate threat will have the Argyle coaches pulling their hair out. There was also a little shirt pull so yes, penalty then.

When it was Shodipo himself who stepped up to take the spot kick my confidence level in it being converted was only about 50%. The way he took it was totally professional. Sorry for the doubt. He lined up directly facing the ball. I don’t like that unless a player steps one way or the other before running to the ball. He did, he moved to his left then sent Michael Cooper the wrong way.

All we needed to do now was stand firm and see the game out with just eight of the standard 90 minutes left but two minutes later Plymouth had scored from a penalty themselves.

At two down they had not given up and when Long got the wrong side of Byron Moore, a tangle resulted in the box. I’m even less sure about this than I was ours but Moore had got into a much more threatening position than Shodipo. Sam though could hardly be accused of putting in a challenge.

Luke Jephcott thrashed the ball home. Stevens made a valiant attempt to keep it out but to no avail.

Now we needed a very disciplined last few minutes.

Clare was fouled and Agyei headed the free-kick over the bar. I was surprised how many we’d sent up for this but it was mostly about defending.

In the 89th minute Taylor replaced Shodipo. This was all about letting the seconds drift away but the five added minutes were perhaps not a surprise. When Huxtable allowed the game to go beyond that my anxiety level just kept on increasing. I was getting hotter and hotter which is something I wouldn’t have been able to say if I’d been in Devon in the open air.

But we saw it out, victory was ours and deservedly so. After the first third of the match we’d mostly looked defensively sound with Moore and Rob Atkinson standing out as large figures winning most duels when the ball was in the air.

Had we beaten much? Plymouth’s home record had been good with six wins, two draws and two defeats before we arrived but most of those dropped points had come from the more recent fixtures. They’ve now got the third worst defence in the division based on goals per game conceded. At the other end of the pitch they do have L1’s second highest scorer in Jephcott and Mayor is a player with some class.

There’s much to like about this performance and not least that it was achieved without Taylor, Obita and Brannagan. Sam Winnall back on the bench and hopefully at least half fit has to be a little bonus too as does the brief reappearance of Mark Sykes doesn’t it?

Also need to add a Steve Kinninburgh plug. Top punditry. Enthusiasm second to none. Just the sort of bloke you want standing next to you on the terraces and in the pub afterwards dissecting the game over a beer or two.

As this is our last game in 2020 a very Happy New Year to one and all. 2021? Not a clue. I do know though that Covid and the government’s latest response permitting we will play our first game of that year at the Pirelli Stadium on January 2nd. Fingers crossed all round.

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