Case For The Defence

THERE is a school of thought – often a very tall school – that suggest that it is clean sheets that wins you promotion, not goals.

Argyle have conceded just seven goals in the opening ten games of the Sky Bet League Two season. That is a divisional low – two goals fewer than the next best, Mansfield, who lie in 14th place. 

Three of the goals shipped by the Pilgrims came on a wretched opening day, when Luton came to Home Park and plundered three goals and three points. Since then, Argyle have played nine games, conceding once in four of them, and keeping clean sheets in the other five. 

Adding to the impressive – and growing – litany of stats, just two of the seven goals have been conceded away from Home Park. The last three games on the road has seen 1-0, 2-0 and 2-0 victories, against Blackpool, Exeter and Leyton Orient, respectively. 

The 2016-17 Clean Sheet Club has quite an exclusive roster. Sonny Bradley has played played every minutes of every league game, in front of goalkeeper, and fellow ever-present, Luke McCormick.  Nauris Bulvitis, since missing the opening game because of an administrative error, has played all of the nine that he has been allowed to. 

Gary Miller has played most of the season at right-back, with Oscar Threlkeld deputising on three occasions, while Ben Purrington and Gary Sawyer have shared equally the left back duties, with the former standing in following the latter’s injury. 

“We’ve got good defenders, a good goalkeeper,” said manager Derek Adams. “The shape of the team when we’ve not got the ball is very good. 

“We don’t allow teams to have too many opportunities in the game. You’ll never stop a team from having any opportunities, but we have defended well. 

“Continuity is a good thing. Having experienced defenders, players that have played at a high level; in the case of Bulvitis, an international level.  Sonny Bradley has played in this league, Gary Miller has played in Europe and Scottish Cup finals; Oscar Threlkeld has played at this level, as have Gary Sawyer and Ben Purrington, who has come through the youth system. It’s all about giving them that work on the training field, and an understanding of what we are looking for. 

“It’s not just the defenders. It’s not just the defenders, it’s the team. Our strikers work very hard, as do the midfielders, to stop the space for the opposition. That’s going to be important as the season goes.”

Goals are important, too, of course. Argyle are hardly prolific in that department – 13 in 10 games is a lower than all of the other teams in top half of the table, bar 12th placed Crawley – but have only failed to score on two occasions: and they were the opening two matches. 

The 13 goals have been shared among eight different scorers, with Jimmy Spencer and Ryan Donaldson the latest to chip in, bagging their first goals in green in Argyle’s Tuesday night win at Orient. 

They join fellow attackers Graham Carey (four), Jake Jervis (two), Jordan Slew and Arnold Garita (one each) on the scoresheet, but Bulvitis, with two, and Bradley have also netted this term. 

“It is important that you get goals throughout the team,” said Derek, “not relying on one or two individuals. We’ve shown that we’re not doing that. We have players that can score goals from a variety of positions and we’ll need that with 36 games to go. 

“Having a stronger pool of players than we did last year, you look at the team photo from last season, and the squad is not much different, size-wise, but we have players that have better first-team experience than last year. That was about using the budget well during the summer, and getting the quality of player in that we have.”