We turn our attention away from the league on Tuesday evening, with Reading off to the south west for League Cup action. Our opponents are League Two side Plymouth Argyle, who were formerly regular Championship opponents in the noughties before dropping down through the divisions, bouncing between the third and fourth tiers over the last decade.
It’s been about a decade since Plymouth Argyle were last in the Championship - what caused that fall from grace?
In short, financial difficulties got us where we are now. We reached the Championship following two promotions in three years in the early 2000s, all through our own means. However, recognising the Premier League ‘promised land’ was close, we started running closer and closer to the edge. Once we didn’t perform quite as well on the pitch and the money started running out, things were only going to go one way.
A period of administration followed, after which we came within the skin of our teeth of falling out of the Football League altogether. But we survived twice, rebuilt and are now on a much more stable footing. We went down last season, but that was much more due to mismanagement on the pitch than issues off it.
What needs to change if Argyle are to get back to the second tier?
There’s no one particular thing that needs to change drastically at Argyle to improve our prospects of a Championship return. The club is in its good place for the moment. We have a chairman who has been a long-term fan of the club in Simon Hallett who isn’t afraid to invest a little, but appreciates the necessity of making the club financially stable. That’s why the new grandstand, funded by Hallett and set to open in January, will be so important.
Once that’s sorted, I imagine there will be a switch of focus from off-field to on-field matters. For so long we’ve been working to become financially sustainable, for obvious reasons. That should happen with the new stand opening, and once we’re in that situation the playing budget can grow. That should in turn encourage more people to Home Park, which can increase that budget even more. Hopefully, this will continue to cycle until we’re regularly challenging for the second tier once more.
Plymouth took on a very ‘Bury’ feel with the appointment of manager Ryan Lowe and a string of signings - is there an affinity between the two clubs now?
There’s certainly something along those lines. With Bury yet to have played a game this season, there were a few Shakers fans in the away end at Crewe on opening day to follow Argyle. I think there’s a mutual respect between the fan bases considering our own problems in the first half of this decade - we know exactly what it’s like to have the very existence of your club threatened, and it isn’t nice.
There are a few who feel we’ve taken advantage of the Bury situation somewhat. I can see that argument, but ultimately, the manager and players were always going to go somewhere; there was no chance of them staying at Bury with their financial difficulties. For that reason, I think that’s a minority view, and most of us want nothing but the best for the other side.
Due to the connection, we’re certainly following proceedings at Gigg Lane with added interest, and hopefully they’ll be able to take to the field again soon so we can keen an eye on their results.
Who are Plymouth’s key players that we should look out for?
There are lots of players in this side who could be considered key for their positions. Niall Canavan, for instance, has an aerial presence that holds together our new three-man defence. Joe Edwards plays a vital role in the deep midfield position to connect that defence to our vast array of attacking options.
However, if I had to pick one key player in this side above all the others, it would be Danny Mayor. I’m still amazed we managed to beat Ipswich to his signature over the summer. He’s the creative genius in our side with a wand of a right foot, and is the one player who you can trust to make something from nothing to win us a game.
As such, many teams have set up specifically to counter the threat of Mayor. Sometimes that works - it did for Newport County just over a week ago - but more often than not at League Two level it simply opens up space for more of our forward players to take advantage of. That being said, if a side like Reading can contain the threat of Mayor, it will go a long way to winning you the game.
How do Argyle set up tactically?
This season we line up with a very technical 3-1-4-2 system. It’s something Lowe fully believes in, and the players are buying into this philosophy. As such, it’s almost certain that we’ll line up this way on Tuesday evening.
The system generally works best when we use it to play in an ‘all-out attack’ sort of way. This usually means that in the “4” we should have two conventional wingers and two creative midfield players, though recently wingback Joe Riley has played on the right of midfield. The objective is to accept that we will concede chances, but trust ourselves to outscore opponents with six players regularly pushing into the penalty area. It will be interesting to see if that can work against higher-ranked opponents.
What do you make of Reading at the moment?
Reading have always struck me as a club whose natural level is somewhere between the top half of the Championship and the lower half of the Premier League. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, it seems to me that you were unlucky to lose on penalties in the 2016/17 Championship play-off final, and a couple of difficult years have followed since.
I’ll be watching with interest to see if a success can be made of this season… minus a run in the League Cup of course!
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
Because of the way we set up, I’ve always suspected that both teams are likely to score in our matches, but that’s only happened one time out of six this season: a 2-2 draw with Salford City last Tuesday.
That being said, I think both teams will carry a threat this time around. And whilst I always fancy us going forward, and Lowe’s home record has always been strong during his short managerial career, I imagine you’ll just about have too much for us. 2-1 away win.