Neil Dewsnip

Neil's Notes

Sync Fixtures

Following the summer transfer window, an impressive start to the Sky Bet League One season and the visible progress of several young Pilgrims, Argyle Director of Football Neil Dewsnip writes with an update on various areas of the football club…

It feels like a good time, with so many things going well at the football club at the moment, to discuss a few of things that have come together to help foster a very positive atmosphere around Home Park at the moment.

The areas I thought we could take a look at are data, analysis and development, all of which are rather fluid categories, and involve many people working very hard towards the same ultimate goal: to improve all aspects of Plymouth Argyle Football Club.

Some time ago, we wrote a five-year plan, of which we are in Year Four. The plan was always to be in the play-offs in this year. We came so close last year, but we were actually ahead of the plan, for which our stated desire was simply to reach the top half of the table.

We reviewed the 2021/22 season and saw it as very positive for the first team, but we knew we wanted to go at least one better.

Our data analysts tell us that 75 points usually gets you in the play-offs. Admittedly, it didn’t last year, but that was statistically remarkable. It doesn’t look, at this stage, that there will there be that kind of outlier this season.

If the target estimate of 75 points is correct, we need an average of around 1.6 points per game throughout the season. At the moment, we are scoring at approaching 2.4 per game.

We do have targets of the amounts of points we would like at certain stages, and we are ahead of those targets. It is something that is discussed regularly between me, the manager and Andrew Parkinson, the CEO, so we know where we are at at any point in time.

We knew that we wanted to continue to make Home Park a very difficult place to come. We have a geographical advantage in terms of how far teams must travel to us, and a fantastic supporter base that makes it even more difficult for visiting sides.

The evidence is that we are utilising those advantages quite nicely.

We know that we underperformed against the top teams last season. The fixture list this season threw up a lot of games in the early part of the season against teams that were above us last season, or would be forecast to be among the frontrunners come the conclusion of this season.

We have done very well against them so far. Does that point us in the direction that we’ve done very well and that the hard work is done?

Not at all.

This is a dangerous point for us, really. Steven has already spoken to the team about being careful, not getting complacent, and realising that the next few fixtures are every bit as important as those that we have already faced.

Part of the reason for our form so far has been the performances not only of the players we retained from last season, who make up the core of our squad, but the players who we brought in during the summer.

We are incredibly happy with how our close-season recruitment went, and how all of our acquisitions have performed so far.

I saw and heard lots of comments about the fact that we had signed so many players on loan. The lads who have come in on loan are all performing, and all are loving the Plymouth Argyle experience. We will have one eye on conversations with their parent clubs about whether they are available at some point down the line.

Our Head of Football Data, Ross Goodwin, in conjunction with Jimmy Dickinson, our Head of Recruitment, controls a developing and evolving database that we are building. Ross and his team are out there now, looking for possible January signings. We must always stay ahead. In January, focus will already be shifting towards next summer, and so it continues.

Data also plays a part in preparations for each match during our season.

Sam Morcom, our Performance Analyst, liaises with us and a game plan is put together regarding our next opponents. Before the game, we have a clear idea of what we think is going to be challenge posed by our opponents, and Steven and his team prepare the players accordingly.

Interestingly, in a recent game, Sheffield Wednesday came up with something we didn’t foresee, in terms of their line-up. Then, the question is how we react to that.

The process is that I watch the games from in the stand so I can get a view that identifies those kinds of issues. I am miked up to Mark Hughes, our Assistant Manager, and we will have a discussion about the opposition’s formation. Mark’s role is then to discuss that on the touchline with Schuey.

Steven is the manager. He decides what we should do. Against Sheffield Wednesday, it was a team effort, but he made the decision to change our formation in-game, which helped settle us and got us a foothold in the game.

That kind of process, and those discussions, are ongoing, all the time. We discuss whether we stick to the plan, whether we change it, substitutions and many other decisions that go on during a football match. It is then up to Steven which decisions we make.

Each week, we watch with interest the progress of our Academy sides, in particular the Under-18s led by Darren Way. They have started their league campaign with four wins and a draw from five games, which is very impressive.

Having teams that win is great, but it is of paramount importance that we are producing young players who can go on to play in the first team. This season, we have already seen signs that some of our youth team have what it takes to play in the first team, and there are others who may not yet have experienced the first-team environment that certainly have the potential.

You may have seen that we have received information from two separate external reports comparing us to other teams in England’s top four divisions in term of home-grown players, and we come out very favourably on that. Our rankings and scores, taking into account players produced, minutes played and other metrics are favourable, and are markedly improving year-on-year.

This is credit to our Academy Manager, Phil Stokes, and to Darren Way and his technical team with the Under-18s. It is another area of the football club that has been backed by Chairman Simon Hallett and the rest of the board.

We are a work in progress at the academy level. Our performance is very good, but we think it can be better still. We are a Category Three academy, but our young players have played against teams from Category One and Category Two academies and have been holding their own.

We often talk about the ‘pathway’ for young players, and a huge part of the process is Kevin Nancekivell. Nance is a first-team coach, but he also is responsible for overseeing that pathway whereby players have a route through the Academy, becoming a professional, and working towards the first team. It does not happen all at once.

Nance knows all of the players from Under-14 or so, upwards. He knows those who will potentially become apprentices and those apprentices who could potentially become pros. His role is vital as someone who knows the football club, cares deeply about its future, and understands young footballers very well.

You also need a manager who is able to do what, for example, Steven did with Will Jenkins Davies against Ipswich Town, putting a 17-year-old onto the field for a reasonable amount of time in a very important, high-profile game. He did so not for a token gesture, but because he felt Will would add value to our team’s performance in that moment.

The development of our younger players as far as the first team goes does not just begin and end with what you may see in Sky Bet League One or in the Papa Johns Trophy.

There is an ongoing conversation between Darren and Nance. On a day-to-day basis Steven might request a couple of players to join in with training, depending on the situation. Nance will make that happen; part of his role is to know which players would be appropriate to step in at that point in time, into a first-team environment.

Progression in our pathway is not an accident. I will be bold enough to say that all of the good things – and there are many – going on at Argyle right now are not by accident. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of planning, a lot of good structure, and a lot of backing, for which we thank Simon and Andrew.

We also thank all of you to your support. I hope that the next time I am able to update you, we are still generating positivity with good results and progress throughout the club.


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