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Cooper return could be key to Argyle L1 hopes – Interview
Thursday, 3rd Sep 2020 17:42 by Clive Whittingham

The arrival of influential Peterborough loanee George Cooper on a permanent deal this week has boosted Plymouth’s hopes ahead of the new season according to Nick from the Argyle Life blog.

Promoted, as was the aim, albeit in strange circumstances, what did you make of Plymouth's 2019/20 season? Would have seen promotion through anyway?

The season ending when it did came at the best and worst time. Had the season ended a week earlier then Argyle would have been in the play-offs on points-per-game. Two wins, with dropped points for Exeter and Cheltenham, saw Argyle climb from fifth to third at just the right time. Yet, Argyle were in-form and had an easy run-in, at least easy on paper. Had the season continued, I'd have backed the club to finish second at least, if not take the title home.

Ryan Lowe is building a great reputation, two promotions in two seasons, what do you think of him? What's the playing style?

With Bury and with us, it's been a 3-5-2, but not quite as you'd imagine it. Wingers at wing-back, attacking midfielders in central midfield. Some clubs play with a back five but Argyle would more accurately be described as playing with a front six. The attack is fluid: George Cooper has a range of crossing and long passing that can damage any team, Danny Mayor was the best dribbler in League Two and is an incredibly intelligent player, and Ryan Hardie averages a goal every 83 minutes for Argyle. There will likely be another three attackers on the pitch too, so take your pick.

The team has the sought-after ability to adapt, too. They can dominate possession against a team that sits back but play quick, counter-attacking football against a more capable opponent. We used both styles to mostly equal effectiveness last season. Even at the back, all the defence is comfortable with the ball and Michael Cooper is good with his feet. We struggled at the start of last season when Northampton pressed us so high that we couldn't pass out from the back but the team evolved. Now, when faced with that, they just look for a long-ball cushioned into the exposed spaces and build from there. It's probably more effective than playing short from the back.

How do you think you'll do at the higher level?

If you'd asked this yesterday (I'm writing this on Tuesday) then the answer would have been different. We had a big gap for our first-choice left wing-back as the club was negotiating with Peterborough to sign George Cooper permanently. He was vital to promotion last season: only two players in the league assisted more goals (Exeter's Williams two more, Crewe's Kirk one more) and both started at least ten more games. Had Cooper finished the season he'd have almost certainly overtaken them.

Even more impressive was the impact of these goals. He scored or assisted nine opening goals, leading to eight victories. This is not to mention his highly influential role in the opening goals in victories against Leyton Orient and Cheltenham Town. No other player came close to being that involved in opening goals, which is all the more important when you consider that Argyle failed to win only one game in which they scored first (the home loss to Swindon Town), but only won one game in which the opposition scored first (the vital 2-1 victory against Crewe).

I'm not fussed about the team having less possession because we're still a threat on the counter, the risk will be how badly our defence leaks against higher quality attacks. We were indebted to the outstanding Alex Palmer, who saved so many 1-v-1s at crucial points in games that he was arguably the most important factor in the club's promotion. The back-three looks stronger going into the new season, but we'll have to wait and see if the club needs to acknowledge that we can't be as attacking as last year.

What state is the club in financially, obviously with no games or income for many months, crowds still not allowed back and trying to compete at a higher level?

No club is in a good position right now. We're indebted to Simon Hallett who is a godsend of an owner. He's got a clear strategy for the club and across the board he's basically changed its DNA since he took over from James Brent. He wants financial stability but he's not afraid to put his hand in his pocket to help us achieve it sooner. He and his wife funded the new Grandstand (a development about 20 years overdue) which will drive extra revenue for the next decade and more, invested in the squad, and gave an injection of £3m to ensure the club survives Covid.

The big worry is this: what happens if there is a second lockdown and we play the majority, if not all, of the season behind closed doors and the season doesn't end until December 2021? By that point, we'd likely need more money to ride the wave. But if things got that bad, there would barely be an EFL left, given you'd expect to see dozens of other clubs with more debt and less cash at hand go under first.

What summer transfer business has been done?

Quite a bit. Player of the season Antoni Sarcevic has moved on to be replaced by Panutche Camara from Crawley. He looks like a rough diamond, but with the right polish he could be sold-on for a high profit in a year. Callum McFadzean has gone, but despite his amazing start he had lost his place at wing-back to Cooper by December 2019. We thought we'd have a hard time filling that gap, but Cooper's back. Will Aimson is fit and firing, so like a new signing at CB, joined by Kelland on loan from Newcastle. Both look like they'll start the season at CB with either Canavan or Wootton, mainstays last season, in the centre. Lewis MacLeod arrived from Wigan and has already looked classy in pre-season as the screen in front of the defence, but capable in possession too.

Ryan Hardie has been allowed to return on-loan from Blackpool (god knows why they didn't keep him to themselves?!) and Frank Nouble has joined up front. Given Luke Jephcott, Hardie's likely partner for the season ahead, is unavailable this weekend, either Nouble or Telford will start and vie to partner Jephcott on the opening day of the season, when Hardie can't play because the opponents are his parent club Blackpool. Nouble has looked fit, strong, skilful but need to add the finishing touch to his game to be a striker in this set-up. Telford's first season was repetitive: signs of class and energy followed by immediate long-term injury. He's struggled a bit in pre-season but a goal would get him fired up.

Ins: >>> George Cooper, 23, LWB, Peterborough, Undisclosed >>> Luke McCormick, 36, GK, Swindon, Free >>> Frank Nouble, 28, CF, Colchester, Free >>> Panutche Camara, 23, AM, Crawley, Free >>> Lewis MacLeod, 26, CM, Wigan, Free >>> Ryan Hardie, 23, CF, Blackpool, Loan >>> Kelland Watts, 20, CB, Newcastle, Loan

Outs: >>> Ryan Taylor, 32, CF, Newport, Free >>> Antoni Sarcevic, 28, CM, Bolton, Free >>> Michael Peck, 19, CM, Tiverton, Free >>> Alex Fletcher, 21, CF, Tiverton, Free >>> Rubin Wilson, 18, CF, Plymouth Parkway, Loan >>> Joel Grant, 32, RW, Released >>> Tafari Moore, 22, RB, Released >>> Tom Purrington, 19, DM, Released >>> Callum McFadzean, 26, LM, Released

Prediction for the season?

With that vital piece of the puzzle finally filled by Cooper, Argyle look less like a mid-table side and more like play-off contenders. In a normal season, I'd be predicting Argyle to finish in the play-offs, but there are a lot of big clubs in the division and the transfer window still has weeks to go, so who knows which teams will be strongest by then.

Having said that, if you'd told me back in April that the club would be promoted, we'd keep Hardie and Cooper, go into the season with the squad we do now and potentially sign Ben Reeves (currently on trial), I'd have called you mad. If the stars align, why can't we have a run at promotion, like Oxford did last season? Albeit, hopefully without the awful defeat to Wycombe in an empty Wembley at the end though. Oh, enjoy Wycombe by the way. Couldn't be happier to not face them next season. For those who have watched Peep Show, I imagine you'll want to leave at half time uttering the immortal words: “Here you go mate, go and see the second half – IT’S SHIT”.

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