DEREK Adams’ plan to use the fitness levels of his Argyle squad to their advantage was unable to prevent a 2-1 defeat to Walsall on the 2018-19 season’s opening day.
The Greens opened up the new Sky Bet League One campaign with the same result they began the previous one with, both coming in similar circumstances. Unable to convert positive spells into goals often enough, Argyle saw a lead – given to them via an emotional goal from returning Ryan Edwards – cancelled out, as Andy Cook converted his penalty at the second attempt in first-half stoppage time.
A change in team talk was guaranteed by that goal, and it also prompted the boss to change his side’s system more than once, as they tried to regain control of the match.
“I thought it was a good performance in large spells from us,” said Adams. “We created a lot of good opportunities throughout the 90 minutes, and we went ahead, probably deservedly, with a good ball into the box and a good finish from Ryan Edwards.
“Then, probably undeservedly, they go in 1-1 at half time. We give away a needless penalty kick right on half time, and that causes us a problem.
“We had to push forward after it went 1-1, and we did that. They [Walsall] obviously had a couple of opportunities in the second half, which is going to happen. We had the better of the opportunities from the point of view that we had seven or eight, in the second half, in and around their 18-yard box.
“We went 4-4-2 at half time, and tried to get the ball into the two strikers. Then we went with three at the back, with two up and one off. We tried to push up and put them under pressure, which we did, and we just felt we could get that opportunity with a goal.”
Walsall were sure to have their own openings as Argyle forged forwards, and put themselves ahead with another set piece; Luke Leahy beating the similarly alliterative Matt Macey with a 25-yard free-kick. The final 20 minutes saw an inevitable wave of Argyle attacks, full of near-misses and penalty shouts, but the Saddlers held on to deny Argyle a result that Adams feels they deserved.
“In the second half, we put countless pressure on them,” said Derek. “They score from a free-kick. I haven’t seen it yet; did it go through the wall or around the wall? We’ll have to look at that. It was preventable, because it shouldn’t be going in on that side.
“I thought we finished the game stronger. You could see that Walsall players were going down with cramp; a good number of their players went down with cramp in the game, and for the last 20-25 minutes we were camped in their half, because our fitness levels were excellent. We could see them collapsing every minute with cramp, and we thought we could try and run the legs off them.
“We had enough opportunities in the second half. We should’ve never lost the game.”
Despite the loss, a competitive opening-day game with a host of fresh faces gives the boss some building blocks to work with, as the squad head home and prepare for next weekend’s first home game of the season against Southend United.
“The positives are that we’ve had six [players] making their debuts,” said Derek. “We’ve scored on the opening day of the season. We haven’t lost a goal really from open play, so that’s pleasing.
“We’re looking forward to it. It’s always nice to have a home game. Obviously we’re away this week because of the reconstruction work, so it’ll be nice to get back home.”