A Round-up of Argyle News
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Greens on Screen's Daily Diary is a compilation of Argyle news, with help from these and other Argyle-related sites.
On This Day:
Also included on the three most recent days, facts from Argyle's history.
Craig Noone had his wish granted when Argyle were drawn to play at Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup. "I was wishing for a big cup game when the draw came out," he said. "At first, everyone was saying to me it would be Liverpool at Anfield. You don't really think there is a chance of getting Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. To be drawn against Arsenal, especially at the Emirates, which is a massive stadium, is unbelievable. Last year I played for Burscough in the FA Cup against Blyth Spartans. We lost 2-1 and there were about 500 people there. From last year's FA Cup to this year's FA Cup - I can't get it into my head that I could be playing at the Emirates next week." Running at defenders has taken Noone to the Championship and he is not planning to change his game if he does feature against Arsenal. "I have just come here and carried on with what I have been doing," he said. "I haven't had to change my game. I have got loads to learn but I've not changed what I was doing at Southport and Burscough because that's what got me here. I'm not going to change running at defenders." As the game approaches excitement has gripped the Argyle squad and training has taken on a new complexion. "We have not really thought about it too much until this week," said Noone. "Now this week has arrived everyone is going to start talking about it. We thought about it when the draw came out but it was a bit far away then. I'm dead excited and the lads have got a bit a buzz about them in training, so I can't wait."
Karl Duguid is aware that Argyle will be very much the underdogs against Arsenal this weekend, but he knows what it feels like to be on the wrong end of an upset in the FA Cup. Ten years ago he was in the Colchester United team which lost to non-League Bedlington Terriers. "That was probably my worst experience in the FA Cup," Duguid said. "We turned up to find a playing field. It had rope round the pitch, and the pitch was horrendous. It was like playing on a Sunday league pitch. We had to get changed in a hut, and it rained solidly. After the warm-up, you couldn't see the lines on the pitch. We thought it was going to get called off but, to be fair to them, they played really well and we were poor. I'd never heard of Bedlington until that game, but I won't forget them. That was the worst FA Cup defeat I can remember, but there were some other bad ones. We lost 5-1 at Yeovil. It was 0-0 at half-time, and I scored my first FA Cup goal in that game. It was memorable for me, but not for all the right reasons." More recently Duguid and Colchester went to Chelsea for a fifth-round tie in 2006 and took the lead before two late goals condemned them to a 3-1 loss. "It was great. We were up against the best team in the country at the time," he said. "To be honest, we thought we were going to go there and get a good beating, but we deservedly went 1-0 up. We were level at half-time and we lost 3-1 in the end, but it was a memorable day. It just shows you how well we played that they brought Frank Lampard and Joe Cole on at half-time. Lampard was unbelievable when he came on, and Cole scored a great goal. It was a great day, just like it will be a great day when we go to the Emirates." Duguid added: "We know what a great side Arsenal are. There's no doubt about that, but we want to approach it as we do every game. We want to win, but we'll have to work very hard and we'll have to be at our very best to get anything out of the game. Mentally, we'll have to be right. We'll have to be strong. We have some strong characters in our side, and those characters will have to come out and be strong and help the rest of the lads get through the game." Argyle will not find out until the weekend what sort of Arsenal side they will be facing, and Duguid added: "We've seen what their kids can do. Whoever they pick, they're a great side, especially at home. The young boys like Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are top-quality players. We can't go thinking it's just going to be a great day out. We know we've got a game of football to play. We're going to make it hard for them. We've got to get in their faces, and that's what we'll do."
Argyle's FA Cup game against Arsenal will complete a remarkable 12 months for Rory Fallon. Paul Sturrock was ready to let Fallon leave Home Park and the club even agreed a transfer fee with Southend United in January. But Fallon decided to stay and has since become an integral part of the team. Fallon said: "It has been a good time for me. God has truly blessed me. I started the year on the transfer list and now I'm coming up against Arsenal. I'm just thankful to be in this position. I may only get one chance but, hopefully, I can take it. We have just got to go out there and give it 100 per cent. If we don't win, then we can say we gave it our all. And if we get something out of it, then it's a bonus. There is more pressure on Arsenal. We are the underdogs and they are expected to win. It's going to be like one of Sylvester Stallone's 'Rocky' films. He was the underdog and not meant to do anything." Fallon is relishing the prospect of playing at a sold-out Emirates Stadium, with 9,000 Argyle supporters. He said: "It's always good to have a little bit of nerves, but we do this week in week out. It's our job and it's our life. Some might be more nervous than others, but it's going to be a big occasion for everyone. I played for Swansea at the Millennium Stadium, so I know what a big crowd looks like. I think the adrenalin gets you going and gives you that extra bit of energy. We are really looking forward to it and it's going to be a special day for the club, and whoever is put out on that park. We just want to put in a good account of ourselves. We have got to give it 100 per cent and see what happens after that. Arsenal are a big club with a big history and a big stadium. Everything about them is big. But anything can happen on FA Cup day. It doesn't matter who it is. Anyone can win that one game." Argyle have won only one of their last eight matches, but Fallon believes they are not without any hope against Arsenal. He said: "If you put your mind to it and go out there and give it 100 per cent, anything is possible. The away fans have been awesome all season, no matter whether it has been win or lose. So I can't wait to see what 9,000 Argyle fans are going to do when they are at Arsenal."
David McNamee has been suspended for three matches after being sent-off at Cardiff City on Sunday. Referee Stuart Attwell ruled it had been 'serious foul play' rather than denying 'an obvious goalscoring opportunity.' So, as a result, McNamee was handed a three-match suspension instead of a one-game ban.
Luke Summerfield plans on enjoying his day when Argyle play Arsenal on Saturday. He said: "You have got to look at it as just another game, but, on the other hand, they are one of the biggest clubs in the world. As a whole club, I think we're all looking forward to it and we have just got to go there, roll our sleeves up and just enjoy it. If you don't enjoy these days, there is no point doing it. We have to work as hard as we can, play with a smile on our face and see what happens. We will go out and enjoy ourselves as a club." Summerfield has generally been partnered in central midfield by Karl Duguid but Paul Sturrock tried a different approach at Cardiff last Sunday. Duguid was rested and Summerfield was pushed further forward with Yoann Folly and Craig Cathcart providing the shield to the back four. "I enjoyed it against Cardiff, just a shame about the result," said Summerfield. "I enjoyed getting forward and supporting the front man. It gave me more of a free license and, if we play that way, all well and good. Hopefully, I have got the shirt to go and express myself against Arsenal.I look at myself as a footballer. You can't really compare yourself to other footballers because your game will suffer. You obviously look at some of the greats at their club. Fabregas is one of the best midfielders in the world and I look at some of the things he has in his game that I can adapt to mine." The Championship remains the priority though and Summerfield added: "We really want to concentrate on our league form and get back on a real winning streak again, like we had a couple of months ago. Once this game is out of the way we can concentrate on getting on a good run again."
Paul Gallagher's chances of playing in Saturday's FA Cup tie at Arsenal have received a boost. Paul Maxwell said: "As the swelling has gone down, Blackburn are quite happy and have decided Paul doesn't need a scan. He will be returning to us later in the week, and I'll have a look at him on Friday to see whether he can play at Arsenal on Saturday. At the moment, it's too early to say one way or another but it's fair to say he has a chance of being fit."
Damien McCrory is returning to Home Park when his loan to Port Vale ends on December 31st. Vale boss Dean Glover said: "Damien's gone back because Plymouth want to evaluate his progress because his contract's up in the summer. They may want him to play at a higher level, but first and foremost they want to assess him. It's a blow to us because he's done exceptionally well and he has been a good lad to work with."
Gary Sawyer has spoken of his surprise at being called up for Argyle's game at Cardiff City on Sunday. He said: "It was pleasing for me to get through the 90 minutes. You can play as many reserve team matches as you want, but first-team football is different. I only found out on Sunday morning that I would be playing against Cardiff. It was a surprise because I hadn't even been on the bench, but it was nice for me." Sawyer was one of seven changes made by Paul Sturrock and he admitted it had taken the new-look side time to settle against Cardiff, but thought they improved as the game progressed. "It takes a while to gel everyone together, and I think the lads did well," said Sawyer. "After about 20 minutes, we were fine." Jason Puncheon was also recalled for the game. Sawyer said: "Obviously, he has been playing games for MK Dons and I thought he did really well." Sawyer did not have it easy against Cardiff as wingers Paul Parry and Wayne Routledge regularly swapped sides. He said: "I have always liked Routledge, from when he was at Tottenham. He's really finding his form at the moment and has been on fire the last couple of games. But if you are going to be chucked in, you might as well be chucked in at the deep end. They are both good players and if you give them time and let them run at you, they are going to hurt you." Argyle are now building up to their FA Cup tie against Arsenal but Sawyer insisted the possibility of playing against the Gunners had not even crossed his mind. He said: "I was just happy to get a game. I haven't played at all, so I wasn't even thinking about Arsenal. It was massive for me to get that game, and it's just a shame we couldn't pick up any points. I have been fit for a while now, but Barks has been doing really well. You can't drop someone who is playing well. It had crossed my mind I would maybe have to go out on loan for a month or two. I can't sit here playing reserve team football because it's not often enough and it's not up to the right standard. I don't see going out on loan as a bad thing. It's something that would help me, and it might still happen. I wouldn't rule that out. I will have to speak to the gaffer and see what he thinks." In addition to Chris Barker and Sawyer, Paul Sturrock can also play Jim Paterson at left-back, although he has been used more in midfield this season. Sawyer added: "We have got three left-backs, and you don't normally play in a side with three left-backs. All competition is welcome. I think it makes you play better and it makes everyone train better."
Nicolas Marin could be about to leave Argyle. It is thought Marin has become unsettled at Home Park and his season-long loan might be cut short when the transfer window opens
Argyle dropped to 15th in the Championship after yesterdays defeat at Cardiff. Paul Sturrock said: "I have got to try to lift a despondent group of players because I don't think we deserved to lose, but that's football. The name of the game is scoring goals, and they have scored one more than us. The goal came very late and it kicks you in the teeth because you really can't make the changes to go hell for leather. I'm very disappointed for the players, but again we haven't scored a goal, and that's what has let us away from home in the last two or three games. The good thing is we created a lot of chances, which we probably haven't done in the last couple of away games. But to put in as much effort as that team did today and come away with nothing is soul destroying for the players. Their heads are down around their ankles at the minute, but I have tried to say to them they shouldn't be feeling that way. We have got to take positives out of the game. All right, the result was a negative, but there were a lot of plusses for us." Sturrock admitted his team selection had been based on the fact that Argyle were playing their second game in three days. He said: "I have got players who are basically coming from injury who played on Boxing Day, and I have got players who I honestly don't think can handle two games in three days, and there were a couple of people with wee niggling knocks. Normally when we win a football game I stick to the same team, but I did feel we have done that too many times lately and we have been very stodgy. So I decided to freshen things up, and all we needed to do in that game was just get our noses in front. Puncheon is a quality player in certain aspects of the game.He's still got an awful lot to learn but he has influenced the game today which shows he can handle this division. I felt Gary Sawyer needed the game and that Barks needed a wee rest after a tight game two days ago. Clarky has played in a lot of games and was maybe wee bit tired, and I though Fallon was carrying a bit of a knock. If we had got a goal in front, Cardiff would have chased the game and it would have benefited us. But we were very disciplined in our approach, the attitude was fantastic and the work rate was different class. The one thing that wasn't there was the final finish." One of the positives for Sturrock was the display of Craig Cathcart, who played between the defence and midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation. "I think the change of system benefited us," said Sturrock. "We looked a very solid team even though Cathcart was playing in an alien position. He did very well. I didn't take a chance on Duguid today because he was feeling stiff and sore after playing on Boxing Day, and he had been out for so long before that. So we had to try somebody in there and Cathcart fitted the bill. He's very competent, reads the game very well."
Jason Puncheon was recalled from his loan at MK Dons by Paul Sturrock at the start of last week, and after being an unused substitute against Southampton made the starting line-up yesterday. Puncheon said: "I was happy to come back, as long as I was coming back here to play games, but I enjoyed it up there as well. I went out to MK Dons to start games and to get my fitness, and I think that has helped me. League One is of a good standard, but it's nothing compared to the Championship." Puncheon insisted that Argyle did not deserve to lose yesterday, and added: "We created chances, and we should have taken some of them. But we didn't, and it was very upsetting to concede a goal in the last ten minutes. I had to get back to the rules of what the gaffer wants. The little things, on and off the ball. It was hard, and I had to work my socks off out there." Puncheon now could find himself facing Arsenal in next Saturday's FA Cup tie. "It's a good chance to play against Arsenal," he said. "Who knows what could happen over the next week?" Asked whether he thought MK Dons would make a permanent move for him in the transfer window, he replied: "I'm not too sure. What they do is up to them. I want to stay at Plymouth Argyle and prove myself in the Championship."
Paul Gallagher is set to stay on loan to Argyle for the rest of the season. Paul Sturrock has discussed the situation with Sam Allardyce and the new Rovers' boss has no plans to recall Gallagher. Sturrock said: "I have spoken to Sam and he's happy for Gallagher to stay. Unless they have injuries, or someone comes in with a fantastic offer for him in the January transfer window, he will be here for the rest of the season." Gallagher was ruled out of the defeat at Cardiff City by a knee injury and Sturrock was not sure whether he would be available for the FA Cup tie at Arsenal on Saturday. Sturrock said: "Gall is getting scanned in the next couple of days. I would hope to think he will be okay for Saturday, but who knows?"
David McNamee will be suspended for the FA Cup tie at Arsenal after being sent-off against Cardiff. Paul Sturrock said: "It's a killer, absolutely soul-destroying for the boy, but that's football. He'll have to grin and bear it. He hasn't carried much luck so far in his career. I'd have much preferred it if he'd let the player run through to score, in the light of what's going to happen for next week, but there might have been be two or three minutes left, we might have managed to get an equaliser. I'm very comfortable with him. I think that he's going to be a quality player for us once he gets in the groove."
Argyle lost 1-0 at Cardiff City. Argyle: Larrieu, Doumbe, Timar, Seip, Sawyer, Cathcart, Summerfield, Folly, Puncheon, Mackie, MacLean. Subs – Noone, Fallon, McNamee (not used – Duguid, Paterson). Attendance - 19,145
Argyle travel to Cardiff today to face a team eager to avenge a 2-1 defeat at Home Park last month and Paul Sturrock is expecting a battle at Ninian Park. "We have got a big game coming up and they will be baying for blood after the result here a couple of months ago," he said. "They have gone away to Reading and Reading had to equalize in the last minute to get a draw, which shows the standard they can achieve. They will cause us all sorts of concern and I have been disappointed with our last two away results. The performance at Doncaster was definitely our worst away performance of the season." Fatigue and illness is a concern, and Sturrock admitted there were a few struggling during the win over Southampton. He said: "There were a few coughing and spluttering in there. Half-time was difficult to get anything into them because they were all spluttering, so we will wait and see. We trained yesterday and then went down for a quiet, lazy night in Cardiff. We took a lot out of ourselves against Southampton. I brought Puncheon back, which will be a benefit. Emile, who was very close to being ready for today, with the extra couple of days, will be able to do something on Sunday. We had him doing weights yesterday morning."
Karl Duguid paid tribute to his midfield partner Luke Summerfield after the victory over Southampton. "I can't say enough about Summers," he said. "I see him every day in training and what hard work he puts into his game, and how much he wants to play at the highest level. It helps me, playing alongside him, not me helping him. I haven't played there a lot in my career, and he has helped me a lot. He's great to play with. He's enthusiastic and I've said from the day I walked in here that he's got a great chance. He's a very good footballer. He's got great passing ability, and we have scored a lot of goals off his set-pieces this season." Duguid was also full of praise for Craig Noone, who marked his full debut with the cross for Rory Fallon's goal. He said: "He's set the goal up, so he's started and he's got an assist - you can't ask for much more than that. He's exciting, great for the fans to watch. He gets crosses in the box and that's what the manager wants. He's waited a long time for his start. He's come on and done well when he's been sub, and he did very well today. We're all pleased for him - he's a great lad, all the lads love him to bits. He's got a great future - the manager thinks a lot of him - and he can only go from strength to strength. The victory was hard won but Duguid was just delighted to be back and back to winning ways. "It's always nice to wins games and it was important for us to win today," he said. "We might have played better football in the previous games against Birmingham and QPR, but it was a battling performance today, and, no matter how you do it, you've got to get three points. It's not nice, when you are injured. You want to be involved, but you still want the team to do well. They put in some good performances over the time I was out injured, but they didn't quite get the results that they wanted. We've played in games when we haven't played that well when we've got three points - Preston was one - but, at the end of the day, you have got to get three points, no matter what. Away fans used to call Arsenal 'Boring, boring Arsenal' but the home fans loved it because they managed to get three points a lot." Duguid admitted that his first taste of action for a month did begin to tell towards the end of the game but is looking forward to Sunday's visit to Cardiff. "It did get hard at the end because the pitch is heavy," he said. "Southampton pass it about a lot and you are chasing around a lot, but that's part and parcel of it. It was tough towards the end but it's 90 minutes that I've got in me now. Hopefully, I can recover for Sunday and we can get another three points."
Argyle were on the receiving end of a favourable refereeing decision as they won 2-0 against Southampton. Paul Sturrock said: "As far as the performances from the last two home games and the disappointment of not taking more points, it shows you how strange football is. We can play so well against Birmingham and in the second half against QPR, and yet not reach those heights today, but pick up three points. There have been a lot of times we have been complaining about referee decisions on penalty kicks and everything else, but it swung our way today. If I had been the manager of the other team, I might have been aggrieved, but it went our way today and I am very pleased to win two nothing. We didn't play to the tempo in the last couple of home games and we sauntered along to their tempo. If we had raised it up to the Birmingham standards, the game would have been much easier for us." The win came with Sturrock having made five changes to the side that lost at Barnsley last weekend. He said: "I have said all along that this was a squad and not a team, and it was important to get some of these influential players back into the team. Chris Clark has looked a bit leg-weary in the last couple of games but it is difficult to rest everybody. We made five changes and that freshness definitely benefited us today." Craig Noone terrorized the Southampton defence for an hour before succumbing to a virus that threatened his inclusion earlier in the day. Sturrock said: "He had sickness and phoned up this morning to say he had a virus, and I kind of cajoled him into playing. He was violently sick at half-time and we got 10 or 15 minutes out of him in the second half. I am pleased for him. He is a great crosser of the ball and he can stick things on people's heads. The only problem is he thinks he can beat people in our 18-yard box as well as their 18-yard box. There is a slight worry about getting him trained up and fitness, but he didn't look too bad actually, even though he was feeling unwell." Karl Duguid's return to the side was an obvious relief for Sturrock, and benefited Luke Summerfield, who capped an assured display with the penalty. "Luke has had a torrid time with some of the fans at home, not away from home," said Sturrock. "Good on him. He has stood in front of them today and won us the game really. Summers has had a lot of good games but the problem is, if he misses the target, that is the one thing that is irking him. It used to be that people would say he didn't have a presence but I think he has shown that now. He used to try too many long balls and he is now cut that down. He is now trying to get over getting a goal or two. Duguid coming back made us more solid in the middle, and gave us more shape as far as a midfield unit is concerned. It shows how influential he is as a leader of the team, and obviously the influence in midfield he brought to the game. He picked up a whole load of things and he epitomized that late on in the game when we were caught out at left-back and there was a long ball played down to that position, and there was Duguid to head it back up the pitch. Nobody has probably tried him in centre-midfield at the club he has been with in the past. He has maybe played there once or twice but he has now shown that he could play for a long time in his career, and he has now found a solid place to play. Craig Cathcart was another who returned to the starting line-up, just days after agreeing to extend his loan stay until the end of the season. David McNamee also impressed at right-back, as he made his second consecutive appearance. "Craig was excellent and we needed that type of centre-back today," said Sturrock. "He was outstanding and was involved in sweeping up everything. He likes defending and that's what I like about him, and he is quick. I am very pleased he has agreed to stay. It has been a difficult time due to not knowing what was going to happen, and I am pleased it is all tied up. McNamee, for as long as he has been out, and that is two in a row, which is a record for him, we are starting to see what a quality full-back he can be."
Argyle beat Southampton 2-0 at Home Park, the goals scored by Rory Fallon after 38 minutes and Luke Summerfield (52). Argyle: Larrieu, McNamee, Cathcart, Seip, Barker, Clark, Summerfield, Duguid, Noone, Gallagher, Fallon. Subs – Mackie, MacLean (not used – Folly, Timar, Puncheon). Attendance - 15,197
Argyle will look to end a six-game winless run against Southampton today. Paul Sturrock is grateful that the poor recent run has not damaged Argyle's play-off hopes too severely but he is now desperate for a proper response. "The pressure is on the players to respond properly," he said. "The disappointment for me has been the way we have handled the teams below us. We have not responded properly to the challenge in any of these games. We have to get back on the rails again. Crazily enough, we haven't dropped like a stone from our results because this league is very cut-throat. Sooner or later, it is going to affect us, so we have to get a solid three points as soon as possible." Sturrock will be hoping for a repeat of the high-intensity performance produced in the recent home games with Birmingham and QPR. He said: "Southampton seem to be a better team away from home than they are at home, so that means they are a dangerous team. They went to Reading and won 2-1, and I think they are the only team to do that this year, so, with that in mind, we have got to be receptive to their danger. There were things from the games against Birmingham and QPR that we need to take to the show, which will be very difficult for them to handle. We have to be in their faces and make sure the person on the ball is not able to see those passes. It means we are going to have to put a very athletic team out and a rested team, so that we have the engine for 90 minutes to make sure every player on the Southampton side has a problem every time he receives the ball. We did that against Birmingham and in the second half against QPR and, if we bring that to the show, I am very confident we will get a result."
Manchester United have agreed to extend Craig Cathcart's loan until the end of the season. The formalities of the lengthened deal will be completed after Christmas
Paul Sturrock has admitted the pressure will be on Argyle to beat Southampton on Boxing Day. Argyle have not won in their last three home games but Sturrock was pleased with the performances against Birmingham and QPR, even though they only yielded one point. He said: "I do feel it showed everybody who we can compete with. But the disappointing thing for me is how we have handled the teams below us. We haven't responded properly in any of these games to the challenge. The pressure is on the players to respond properly. We have to get back on the rails again. Crazily enough, we haven't dropped like a stone through our results because of what's happening in this league. It's very cut-throat. But, sooner or later, it's going to effect us, so we have to get a solid three points on the board as quickly as possible. Obviously, Southampton at home is the next game, and that would take us into the New Year on an up." Argyle played Southampton on November 25th when they battled out a 0-0 draw at St Mary's Stadium. Sturrock said: "They seem to be a better team away from home than they are at home, so that means they are dangerous. They went to Reading last month and won 2-1. I think they are the only team to have done that this season. So, with that in mind, we have got to appreciate they are a danger, but if we come to the show like we did against Birmingham and QPR we will be very difficult for them to handle. We have got to be in their faces and make sure the person on the ball doesn't get his head up to be able to see those passes. It means we are going to have put a very athletic team out. We have got to make sure every player on the Southampton side has a problem every time they receive the ball. We did it against Birmingham, and in the second half against QPR, and if we bring that to the show on Boxing Day, I'm very confident we will get a result." Sturrock was proud of the way the rest of the players responded after the dismissal of Simon Walton at Barnsley, and he added: "To be kicked in the teeth like they were, and then lose a goal not long after the incident, it would have been very easy for people to just capitulate, but their attitude was fantastic and their workrate was second to none."
Karl Duguid has been thrilled by the speed of his recovery from a torn calf muscle. He said: "I have done all the stuff I can do with Maxie. I'm going to train with the lads today and tomorrow and we will see how it goes from there. We had aimed for me to come back into training this week, and Cardiff away was the game we pencilled in for my return. But, with what has gone on, it might be a game earlier now. That's a decision for the manager to make. Everything has gone according to plan with my recovery. Halfway through the rehab, I was ill and missed a few days, but that might have helped in resting it. And we are still ahead of the schedule the specialist set for me." Argyle will be training on Christmas Day morning, but that prospect does not bother Duguid too much. He said: "I have done that for the last 15 years so I don't know any different. It's all part and parcel of being a professional footballer and you get used to it. You can still enjoy the day at home, you just can't have a drink or eat too much. After Christmas, you can look at the table and you know what you are striving for in the second part of the season."
Argyle have recalled midfielder Jason Puncheon from his loan spell at MK Dons. Puncheon made nine appearances, including eight starts, for the Dons, and scored one goal.
Argyle are set to be boosted by the return of Rory Fallon, Emile Mpenza and Karl Duguid, for the visit of Southampton on Boxing Day. Also, David McNamee could start after making his comeback from a thigh injury at Barnsley. Paul Sturrock said: "We will give Duguid every opportunity. We had targeted Cardiff for his comeback but I will wait and see what transpires this week. This team is a jigsaw puzzle, and certain pieces are invaluable to us. We haven't won a game since Duguid has been out, we look a different team when Rory doesn't play, and McNamee gives us a very positive approach from full-back. We have worked very hard to get a shape and a style to ourselves, which has benefited us. When bits of that cog are missing, we don't flow the same and we don't have a rhythm like we do normally." McNamee had not played any competitive football since November 1st, and after he came on as a substitute last Saturday Sturrock said: "It didn't look as though he had missed a day. He was very athletic in everything he did and was a big bonus to us."
Emile Mpenza is expected back at Home Park tomorrow if he comes through a final test on his fitness. Paul Sturrock said: "I have had word from the Belgian medical team and they are very pleased with his progress. His final test was today and I am led to believe that he will be travelling tomorrow. He will hopefully be involved on Wednesday, if he comes through that last test. I will have to see him on Wednesday and Thursday before I make a decision on that."
Paul Stapleton has called for more unity at Home Park as the club tries to turn around their fortunes. He said: "I think there are a minority of fans who are targeting certain players. And when those players respond, it's making them even more of a target. It's a shame because we are all in this together. We don't want to fall down the divisions and be back where we were before. We want to stay in the Championship and aim for the Premier League. We also want to redevelop the ground and improve the facilities, and we have all got to be signing from the same hymn-sheet. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I can't argue against that, and I can't criticise the crowd who turn up because they are paying their hard-earned money. But the integral part of our success in the past used to be the fact we were all pushing together, and we were all backing the manager and the team. People are not going out to play badly. They are not going out to miss a pass or a miss a tackle. They are trying to do their best and I just hope we can all push on." Argyle have dropped to 13th in the Championship after a poor run of results. Stapleton said: "We have had a period of six games without a win and it's not what we want, obviously. It's important we get a good attendance on Boxing Day and we go out with the right attitude. There might be some players back from injury, and if they show the same spirit they did in the second half against Barnsley then, hopefully, we will win the game." Argyle played most of the match at Barnsley with only 10 players after Simon Walton was sent-off in the 28th minute and Stapleton said: "I was very disappointed with Simon Walton, who has just come back into the team. The flick was so evident for all of us to see and the referee had no choice. It killed it for us, and yet we fought and fought and fought. It's just so disappointing when you go there and a player gets sent-off so early in the game for no reason. It was not though as he was trying to save a goal, or trying to score a goal." The chairman also spared a thought for the Argyle fans who made the trip to Yorkshire. "I thank them for their support," he said. "And they did see the team battle and battle until the end."
Paul Stapleton has admitted the recession could have an impact on Argyle's plans to redevelop the South Stand at Home Park. He said: "All the conferencing and banqueting figures are based on forecasts. If you knock those projections by percentages because of the economic market, then it could have an impact. But we are still working on the figures because by the time we were to build we are hoping we will see the shoots of recovery from the recession. Everyone is talking about 2009 being a difficult period, and 2010 being the start out of it, and, if that's the case, then it may all fit in. We are told the cost of steel and concrete will come down, or has come down. But you have got to have a robust business plan to support it, and everyone is watching what they are doing at the minute." Stapleton revealed there were meetings scheduled for this week as part of the preparation for the redevelopment. He said: "We have got to do that, because it's for the long-term future of the football club. We need non-match day income." There could be an announcement about the project in January or February.
Paul Maxwell believes Jermaine Easter could be out of action for as long as 12 weeks. It was initially thought he could be sidelined for six to eight weeks with medial knee ligament damage, but Maxwell fears it could be even longer than that. He said: "It's a grade two tear – close to being a rupture in there. It's still intact, but it could be anything up to 12 weeks."
Paul Stapleton has revealed cost-cutting measures are being considered at Argyle because of falling attendances. He said: "I'm very private with financial figures because that's my nature, but it is a difficult period. The board of directors have had to support the club, personally, with funds but that's obvious when the gates are dropping to around the 10,000 mark. It was disappointing for me today to see Barnsley with a higher gate than we have had the last two home games. Barnsley versus Plymouth gets more fans than Plymouth versus Birmingham City and Plymouth versus Queens Park Rangers. That disappoints me because they haven't got any more money in Barnsley than in Plymouth – perhaps even less. It is a difficult time and we have just got to try to do what we can. The board have had to support the club financially, as individuals, which is what we are there for, because the gates are less. Now, the good news is we have got the Arsenal game, which won't solve all our ills, but it will help. And if we go up there and get a result, which is what we are hoping for, then all the better. That was a godsend thank goodness, but we are going to have to look at cost cuttings and seeing where we are. What it means – and every club is the same as this – is that you can't carry passengers. I think that's going to be evident, and we are going to have to look at the size of the squad and say, 'Are we getting value for money?' If not, then we are going to have to adjust accordingly. To be fair, there are deals out there. You have only got to look at Craig Cathcart, who we have got on loan. And we have got Craig Noone, who we managed to pick up, so there are people out there who you can actually get at a reasonable price. We are looking for additions in January – that's true to say – even though it is a difficult time." Stapleton admitted that in the current financial conditions the support of season-ticket holders became even more important. He said: "The fact they have been able to get Arsenal tickets first has been a great thing for them. We appreciate their support and we have got to try to make sure we look after them in the coming year as well. We need that solid base of support, otherwise the football club will have to be looking over its shoulder. But we are not the only ones. We had a Football League meeting last week, and a lot of clubs are feeling the pinch on attendances." Asked whether Argyle were well positioned to cope with tough economic times in 2009, Stapleton added: "We are okay this season, and we are trying to make sure we are okay from then on. We are probably stronger than a lot of clubs, let's put it that way."
Simon Walton has been placed on the transfer-list. Paul Sturrock said: "I have had a discussion with Simon today and I have made it very plain to him how disappointed I was about the whole scenario. I had emphasized it to him, after watching video evidence from the last couple of games where there were certain incidents that could have turned into what happened on Saturday. He took no heed of that and, after careful consideration, I have decided to put him on the transfer list, and I have fined him two weeks' wages. The reason why this has been brought to a head today is the pre-warning I gave him over the last couple of games. He has taken no heed of it and that I can't legislate for, I can't tolerate or accept. There were several incidences in several games where he has been very close to tempting the referee. After taking the time to show him bits and pieces, and reiterate my thoughts on it, for it not to happen, I cannot accept. He has let all the players down, which is more important than anything else and I feel this is an appropriate course of action. The rest of it is internal as far as I'm concerned." When asked how Walton took the news, Sturrock replied: "Very quietly."
Chris Barker is adamant that there is reason for optimism about Argyle's prospects, despite a run of bad results. "As long as we keep battling, we'll be fine," he said. "We pushed Barnsley on to the back foot for the last half-hour. On another day, something might have fallen for us, but the penalty at the end just killed us." The spot-kick was awarded when Diego Leon went down when challenged by David McNamee. "I think he went down a bit easily, but it was one of those things," Barker added. "Sometimes you get them given, sometimes you don't." Earlier, Simon Walton had been sent off for kicking out at Anderson De Silva. Barker said: "To be honest, I didn't really see it. I was going up for a header. To go down to ten men was disappointing, and to let a goal in ten minutes later killed us even more. If you can keep a clean-sheet until half-time, you've always got a chance." Argyle will hope for a better outcome in Friday's home game against Southampton. Barker added: "The boys have run their legs off and battled away fantastically hard. We've done that in the last three games, and yet we've only got one point."
Paul Sturrock was uncompromising in his condemnation of Simon Walton after his dismissal at Barnsley. "It's very difficult to play with 11 men in this league, never mind 10," he said. "I cannot believe the boy's mentality: to get back into the team and show that kind of stupidity will cost him dear. I will be meeting him at 9 o'clock on Monday morning and we will get things sorted. I don't think there's any point in me getting upset about things in the heat of the moment. Things could be said that could be taken out of context. Monday morning will suffice. As far as the rest of the players are concerned, he let them down, and I'm sure, over the piece, the rest of the players will make sure he knows that. I feel very sorry for the rest of the players. You can train football teams, you can shape football teams, you can put them out and give them a game-plan, but when somebody does what he did today, all of sudden, your game-plan goes out of the window. The boys battled. We had a game-plan in the second half and we were a wee bit unlucky something didn't fall for us. Their work-ethic was very, very good. The boys showed the right response. They could quite easily have folded and sat back and defended their box. We got forward and we attempted to get crosses into their box. They had a few half-chances - that's really all it was - but I'm really disappointed about how the game's unfolded. I think it was a foul on Simon, but he's got that in his make-up - I don't think you'll ever take that out of his make-up - and it's cost us dear."
Paul Sturrock was thinking about the men who were not available to him following the loss at Barnsley. After confirming that Karl Duguid will be available again for the visit to Cardiff on December 28th he said: "Rory's done very well for us - there's no ifs, buts, or maybes. He brings another dimension to us. I'm a great believer in a big boy and a wee boy up front - it's worked very well for me anywhere I've been in the past - and we've based our game round him at times. He was missed today, as I feel Duguid has been missed through this spell, because leadership qualities are needed in midfield. I believe him and Luke Summerfield were doing exceptionally well as a partnership and we have definitely missed him. He's adapted to central midfield much better than I expected him to do. He's been a stodgy full-back all his life and he's gone in there and changed his career. We've missed him big time. Mpenza's back on Monday. Hopefully, he'll be raring to play which gives us a bit more firepower."
Despite predicting it, Paul Sturrock is not enjoying the rollercoaster ride that Argyle's season has become. He said: "When we were winning quite regularly, that was habit-forming; now we're on a slump, confidence is low, and the circumstances that happened today do not help. We're on a rollercoaster in this league: we went from a bad start to a very good spell, and we're back in the dip again. We have got to get out of the dip as soon as possible. It's exasperating because, when we were flying, we lost to Blackpool and Doncaster; then we had Birmingham and QPR, when any man worth his salt in the game will tell you we deserved more than we got; then we got kicked in the teeth today. We have got to battle, to fight and scratch. All I want now is a dirty win. I want to be absolutely hopeless and win. In the last two home games, we have played probably the best we have played all season and come out with one point. We took two points from the first five games, then we went on an incredible run when we had eight wins in 14 games. So it's in them - we've just got to get it back. We're a hard-working team with a good work-ethic, and that's what it takes to win football games in this league - we were not given the opportunity today after stupidity. The troops are well down tonight and it's up to me to raise their spirits for Boxing Day. I've got to rally the troops now."
The successful reappearance of David McNamee after injury, and the deployment of Craig Cathcart in midfield were two positives to come out of the defeat at Barnsley. Paul Sturrock said: "I've always known David is a good football player. The problem has been getting him on the pitch. I've taken a wee chance on David because of the standards he can achieve. I think everybody saw today that he has got all the attributes to be an exceptional player. Hopefully, that 60-70 minutes today will stand him in good stead for him to kick on and be a regular in the team. Craig's done very well for us. He adapted very well - the three in the midfield ran their socks off in the second half - playing in a position that is totally alien to him. He sounded like Darth Vader for the last 20 minutes. He was blowing out of his proverbial. We're starting to shape a team together. We got them all together for the beginning of the season and were like a burning spitfire for the first four or five games, then we started to gel - people are starting to know their jobs - especially in the last two home games, in which I felt we were going in the right direction. That's why I felt so confident of coming here today. Things had gone very well all week in training and I was looking forward to the game, but that's football."
Argyle lost 2-0 at Barnsley. Argyle: Larrieu, Clark, Timar, Seip, Barker, Mackie, Summerfield, Walton, Paterson, Gallagher, MacLean. Subs – McNamee, Cathcart, Noone (not used – Folly, Marin). Attendance - 10,944
Paul Sturrock expects Barnsley to be hard to beat today. He said: "They have got some good players. Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who plays out wide, has done very well and they have got two quality finishers in Cureton and Macken, who have scored a lot of goals over the years. They are very positive at home so it will be a difficult game for us." With Rory Fallon suspended today, the attack will be led by Paul Gallagher and Steve MacLean. Sturrock said: "The two of them have shown on the training ground they have got a rapport. There have been small glimpses of it in games as well, and I would like to see more of it."
Paul Sturrock has explained that Craig Cathcart's omission from the last two games was not a reflection of his performances. "Cathcart has come out of the team in the last two games and it has been nothing to do with his performances," Sturrock said. "He is a 19-year-old lad who has had to combat a strength thing in this league, which he has done very well. I know these types of players and long stays in the team can affect them, and drain them. I have taken him out for the rest I feel he needs. There will be times when we need him and he will be fresh. He is obviously disappointed but I have made it plain to him that is the reason why."
Steve MacLean was an outcast at Home Park earlier this season but is currently delivering the goods, as far as Paul Sturrock is concerned. "I've been very impressed with his attitude and his work-rate in the last three or four games he has played," the manager said. "The icing on the cake is that he has scored a goal, and now he has to add to that. He has done well lately. Since he has come back into the fold, nobody could complain about his willingness. The problem has been that he has missed several chances, but I'm hoping that confidence will ease back into him after the goal he scored last weekend." With the absence of the suspended Rory Fallon and the injured Emile Mpenza, MacLean seems certain to start at Barnsley. Sturrock added: "We will adapt. The use of the ball from the back will have to be a bit better." He also has an emergency strategy in mind, in case he feels he needs a big man up front. "I've got Timar," he said, with a smile. "I could lash him up front and batter balls up to him! MacLean and Gallagher have a rapport between the two of them. It has been seen on the training ground, and there have been bits and pieces of it seen in games as well. I'd like to see more of it." Sturrock admitted that Paul Gallagher has not been in peak form in recent games. "I don't think Paul is hitting the top of his game at the moment, compared to the standards he has been achieving," he said. "There's a conversation to be had with him about that. He's going to have to remember some of the things that were making him play well." With no other forwards to call upon, Sturrock could put an apprentice striker on the bench today. "Either Liam Head or Joe Mason will be travelling with us," he added. "Whether he makes the bench or not will be a matter for deliberation." Chris Clark seems set to keep his place at right-back in preference to Mat Doumbe. Sturrock has another option in that role, having seen David McNamee return to the squad this week after injury. "It's good to have McNamee back in the squad, but he has to get himself back in the team," he said. "It's hard to chuck him into battle conditions with no match practice."
Krisztian Timar is set to keep his place in the Argyle side to face Barnsley this afternoon, and he wants to make the most of being back in favour. "When I was not playing, I just tried to keep fit and wait for my chance," he said. "Now I think I am in good form and I have a good fitness level, and I think I will improve when I play a few more games." Timar had hoped for a run of games after returning to the side at Sheffield United, but it was not to be. "I think I played really well in that game, but then I was injured and I could not play for ten days," he added. "After I was ready, I worked really hard to come back in the same form and at the same fitness level, and I think I have been successful. The gaffer has given me a chance and I want to grab it." Timar has had plenty of opportunities to be a spectator in recent weeks. "We have not been consistent," he added. "Sometimes we play very well, sometimes we are not very good. Sometimes we have been lucky, sometimes we have been unlucky. That was the case against Birmingham and QPR, when we played really well and we didn't win. It has been a strange season, but I think we are still in the mix and if we can a few games at home we can go back up to the top six. There is nothing to lose. There are a lot of games coming up. We have Barnsley, Southampton at home and Cardiff away in the next week, and it is really important for us to win a few games for our confidence. We also have a really big game against Arsenal coming up and if we can win a few games before then we will be more confident and we can play our own high-tempo game against Arsenal." The first objective though is to produce a better performance at Barnsley than they did at Doncaster Rovers. Timar said: "I think we were a little bit tired in that game, and maybe we needed some fresh legs a little earlier. When we changed things and put some fresh legs in the team, we looked a sharper, stronger, more attacking team. We should have beaten Birmingham and QPR. It was unbelievable that we did not win either of those games." In the absence of the suspended Rory Fallon, Paul Sturrock has revealed that he might use Timar in attack if his side need a physical presence up front in the game's closing stages. "I am a defender, but if the team need me to play up front for maybe 20 minutes then I will do it," Timar said. "I have done it before."
Paul Sturrock will be getting in touch with new Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce this week to try to make sure that he can continue to rely on the services of Paul Gallagher. "I will be contacting Blackburn on Monday or Tuesday of next week to clarify the situation," Sturrock said. "As far as we're led to believe, Paul is here for the whole season, but, when circumstances like this arise, sometimes there's a change of goalposts. We just want clarification. I haven't talked about it with Paul. He has just got on with his job. He's very happy playing here, and he's enjoying his life in this part of the world. I think he has benefited from playing regularly."
Jermaine Easter wants to stay at Home Park and fight for a first-team spot, after his loan spell with Colchester United was cut short by a knee injury. Paul Sturrock said: "Jermaine has come back with a really bad medial knee ligament strain. He's going to be out for quite a long time – we are talking six to eight weeks, maybe even longer. He has come back and had a quiet word with me. He has made it plain he wants to fight for his place. He has lost his way with the international team at this minute in time, and there were spells when he wasn't getting a game at Millwall. I think he now understands the grass isn't always greener on the other side. He has come back with a very positive attitude to the whole scenario and, basically, is threatening he's going to force himself to be one of the players picked every week. We will wait and see how it transpires." It had been thought Easter's loan move to Colchester would lead to a permanent transfer but Sturrock would not be drawn on whether he had planned to let him leave. He said: "He won't be fit by the time January comes and goes. As far as he's concerned, his option at this minute in time is to fight his way into this team, and start playing on a regular occurrence again. I don't believe Jermaine's head has been at Plymouth Argyle this season and all the contributing factors are away from the football pitch. We haven't really seen the standards he achieved last year, this year. The proof will be in the pudding and he has got to perform to a standard now that forces me to play him. He has got a bit of work to be done on him. I pre-warned him of that at the beginning of the season. There are bits and pieces to his game that he would have to improve to put the icing on the cake. His attitude to play, his willingness to battle and his sharpness are all good. There are other things in his game that, if he was to show a marked improvement in, he would become a very dangerous hombre. It is up to me to pinpoint those things for him and do a bit of work."
Argyle are in talks about the signing of Japanese midfielder Akihiro Ienaga during the transfer window. Paul Sturrock said: "Technically, he's very gifted and we are discussing with his club and the agent about the package that would be involved. That will probably determine whether he comes here or not. We have got a lot of things to weigh up before I make a decision." As well as training with Argyle, Ienaga saw the matches against Birmingham City and QPR. Sturrock added: "The pace of the game has been a problem to him, but anything we have asked him to do in training, he has adapted to very quickly. He speaks no English, which is a serious problem because we couldn't have an interpreter running up and down the wing with him. It's how quickly he could adapt to that, as well. If you take a person on loan who can't speak the language, how do you all of a sudden sort him out? It makes his development slower and his adaptability to the British game slower. Whether their style is adaptable to the British style is another debate. Even food can be a problem. The game is completely different. It is all passy passy and nicey nicey. There is nobody over six foot in their game, so it is a very difficult adaptability." Despite those reservations, Sturrock is investigating the possibility of other signings from the J-League. He said: "There are a host of players who are coming out of contract in Japan who have been recommended to me. We actually sent Andy King over there for five or six days. He perused three or four of the top games and saw the national team play as well, so we have got a wee shortlist." Sturrock would not comment on whether K&K would come up with the funds for the signing of Japanese players. "I'm not getting involved in anything like that," he said. "There are commercial benefits from signing Japanese players, but I will not sign someone solely for commercial reasons because I think that would be a slap in the face for the rest of the players." Sturrock pointed out it was often difficult for players from overseas to adapt to English football, using Gyorgy Sandor as an example. Sturrock said: "That's the worrying aspect of it all. Sandor came here and couldn't get used to the pace of the game. Some people can only play the way their country plays, rather than being adaptable."
Argyle are close to finalising a new two-and-a-half year contract with Rory Fallon. Paul Sturrock said: "I'm very confident we will sort things out by the middle of next week."
Craig Noone admitted he would 'jump at the chance' if offered his first Argyle start at Barnsley on Saturday. "Yes, definitely, I'd jump at the chance if I was offered the opportunity to start for Argyle," he said. "I wouldn't be worried about starting the match – I'd be proud and grateful. To be honest, I'm raring to go. But if the gaffer decides that my best role is as an impact player and coming on as a sub, then I'd be happy to play my part doing that, too. I know I've still got a lot to learn, but I'm enjoying making my way with Plymouth. The manager has backed and supported me, by signing me and also giving me first-team chances. He encourages me when I go on, saying 'I want you to take them on and get crosses into the box'. He doesn't try to hold me back at all. But I don't want to stay as an impact player for ever, so if I did get the chance on Saturday, I'd bite his hand off."
Argyle's youth team will play their FA Youth Cup fourth-round tie with Millwall on January 13th at Home Park
Emile Mpenza is still in Belgium receiving treatment to a hamstring injury. Mpenza told the Belgian media last week: "In about two weeks I should be fit again. It is a pity that I had this problem just now, because I had just started to do well at Plymouth. I feel pretty good, and maybe I will extend my contract with Plymouth at the end of the season. The English second class is a high level. In addition, I have had enough of big clubs. I do not have anything more to prove."
Jermaine Easter has returned to Argyle after his loan spell at Colchester United was cut short by a knee injury. Colchester manager Paul Lambert said: "It's a huge blow for us as Jermaine has been terrific since he signed. He has helped Clive Platt enormously and we will miss what he brings to the team." Lambert admitted he may go back in for Easter, who he previously managed at Wycombe, when the transfer window reopens. "I was the manager when we sold him to Plymouth so I know the fee that was involved at the time. I don't know what their plans are for Jermaine, so we will have to wait and see," he added.
Steve MacLean is ready to stake a claim for a regular place in the Argyle starting line-up. With Rory Fallon suspended for the trip to Barnsley, MacLean will almost certainly get the chance to start the game. He said: "Hopefully, I can stake a claim by getting a couple of goals and we can get a win. It's then up to me to keep my place." Argyle have gone five games without a win, and only scored two goals during that time. MacLean said: "The boys don't go out to miss chances, but sometimes it happens. In the last couple of games you could say we have squandered a lot of chances, and that's not like us, to say the least. At the start of the season we weren't creating as many chances. Now we are creating quite a lot and not taking them. It's positive because at least we are creating chances and it would be a bigger worry if we weren't creating them." MacLean's goal against QPR was his second of the season. He said: "Sometimes, things just fall for you and sometimes they don't. Luckily enough, it fell this time and I put it away. Hopefully, a few more can go my way and I can go on a goal run."
Argyle have opened talks about a contract extension for midfielder Luke Summerfield. The 21-year-old graduate of the Pilgrims' youth set-up agreed a new one-year contract with Argyle in the summer, but now he has become a first-team regular, the Pilgrims want to tie him to a longer deal. The club are also continuing their negotiations with striker Rory Fallon over a new two-and-a-half year deal. Fallon put pen to paper on a two-and-a-half year contract when he signed for Argyle in a £300,000 transfer from Swansea City in January 2007. He initially struggled to make an impact at Home Park, but has risen to prominence this season, fulfilling the role of target man that Pilgrims' legend Mickey Evans used to carry out with such success. Fallon, 26, would be eligible to leave Argyle on a Bosman transfer at the end of the season, but he is settled in Plymouth and Paul Sturrock hopes a new contract can soon be agreed with him.
Rory Fallon will serve a one-match suspension when Argyle are away to Barnsley on Saturday. He has been banned after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season in the 1-0 defeat by Birmingham City at Home Park last Tuesday. Steve MacLean is almost certain to take over from Fallon for the game against Barnsley.
Today's Combination Cup game against Swansea City at Home Park has been postponed because of the state of the pitch after heavy rain and ground frost.
Paul Sturrock was full of praise for striker Steve MacLean after his rescue act on Saturday. When Sturrock decided to take off Paul Gallagher, there were chants of 'You don't know what you're doing' from some sections of Home Park. But, after seeing the introduction of MacLean reap rewards, Sturrock would not be drawn on the fans' reaction to Gallagher's substitution. "I don't think I should get involved in any of that," said the Pilgrims' boss. "I felt it was appropriate and the proof is in the pudding." Asked whether Gallagher's substitution on Saturday had been for tactical reasons, Sturrock replied: "Very much so. Gall, over the last two games, has gone through a lot of mileage and I felt we needed fresh legs. I'm delighted the bench has come and played its part today. It shows the squad is blossoming. I thought Steve did really well for the goal. Him and I had words earlier in the season because I felt he had lost confidence in front of goal. But since he has come back into the fray, I can't fault his application or attitude. It was nice he got the icing on the cake today, as far as the equaliser was concerned." MacLean made angry gestures to supporters in the Mayflower Enclosure after scoring his goal. He was perhaps mistaken in believing the jeers when Gallagher were substituted were aimed at his introduction, rather than the decision to take off Argyle's top scorer. Regardless of the reason, however, it took some of the gloss of his superbly-taken equaliser.
Paul Sturrock has admitted winger Craig Noone is getting ever closer to his first start for Argyle. Noone has made nine appearances for the Pilgrims since his £100,000 transfer from non-League Southport in August, and all of them have been as a substitute. Sturrock has previously insisted the 21-year-old did not have the fitness levels to start a Championship match. But the Pilgrims' boss could have a change of heart after the draw against QPR. Noone is set to play for the reserves when they take on Swansea City at Home Park tomorrow in the Totesportcasino.com Combination Cup (2pm). Sturrock said: "I'm going to give him a wee run-out on Tuesday, just to get an hour into him and we will see what he's looking like. He hasn't played many games lately, and I would imagine his pre-season wouldn't have been up to the standards of the Championship. I'm not being derogatory about where he has been when I say that, but I don't envisage his tank is completely and utterly full. Now, do I put him in and he dies a death, or do I use him as a substitute who responds properly and turns games for us? There will come a time when he gets his chance, like anybody else. But, at this minute in time, I'm not going to put him in a situation where he loses confidence."
One of the positives for Sturrock to come out of the draw against QPR was the performance of former Rangers' midfielder Simon Walton. The 21-year-old made his second successive start, after being recalled for the 1-0 home defeat by Birmingham City last Tuesday. And Walton should have scored in the seventh minute, when he headed over the crossbar from close range. But Sturrock took encouragement from the fact Walton is now playing the way he wants him to. "I thought Walton had an excellent game again today," said Sturrock. "He's starting to respond to what I'm looking for, and starting to do the right things, and Krisztian Timar was very solid as well. People who have come into the side are grabbing their chance at this minute in time."
Argyle are confident of being able to sign Japanese midfielder Akihiro Ienaga should he impress during his trial at Home Park. The Home Office have tight rules and regulations about granting work permits to footballers from non-European Union countries. Usually, a player has to be a full international and have been involved in at least 75 per cent of his country's matches during the previous two years. But there is a 'special talent' dispensation for footballers aged 23 or under, such as Ienaga. Clubs can appeal to the Home Office on the basis the player they want to sign would be 'able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in the UK.' Ienaga, 22, has made only one appearance for Japan at senior level, as a late substitute in a 2-0 win against Peru in March 2007. But Ienaga has played regularly for his country at all the age groups up to under-23 level. The 5ft 8in midfielder was part of Japan's under-23 squad when they took part in the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics. However, although Japan made it to the Olympics in Beijing, Ienaga could not take part because of a serious cruciate knee ligament injury in February, and that ruled him out of action for a considerable period of time. Ienaga has spent most of his career at top J-League club Gamba Osaka. He has made 87 appearances for them and scored five goals since making his debut in November 2004. However, Ienaga was loaned to their J-League rivals Oita Trinita towards the end of the 2008 season, after recovering from his injury. He played four times for Oita, who finished fourth in the J-League, one position behind Gamba. Ienaga is still under contract to Gamba so Argyle would have to pay a fee for him if they wanted to sign him during the January transfer window. But Oita have also made it clear they are keen on adding him to their squad permanently. Ienaga arrived in Plymouth last Monday, following the completion of the 2008 J-League season that weekend. He has been training with Argyle since then, and will remain at Home Park until later this week. Signing a top Japanese player would, undoubtedly, improve Argyle's chances of commercial investment from the Far East. Tokyo-based K&K Shonan Management Corporation have held a 20 per cent stake in the Pilgrims since April.
Substitute Steve MacLean fired in an 83rd-minute equaliser to end Argyle's four-match wait for a Coca-Cola championship point. MacLean was on the pitch for five minutes before superbly controlling Rory Fallon's headed flick on with his right foot before firing home a left foot shot to reward home manager Sturrock for introducing three forwards late one in search of a draw. Paul Sturrock said: "I believe you have to go for it at 1-0 down. At that late stage it does not matter whether you lose by one or two if the chance is that you may get a goal back and that's precisely what we did. The only real disappointment for me is only taking one point from the last two games. That's really exasperating because we could have easily come away with six." Sturrock kept faith with the side that lost 1-0 to Birmingham but Icelandic striker Heidar Helguson hooked home at the second attempt after crashing his first effort off the post from Martin Rowlands' cross. QPR boss Paulo Sousa admitted: "I was much happier with the team because they are starting to show consistency. I want them to play as well away as they do at home and for the first half they did that. With consistency comes confidence and I thought we looked more confident today." Argyle were unlucky not to take a second-minute lead when Krisztian Timar's close-range strike from a corner was scrambled off the line. Czech keeper Radek Cerny made two superb stops to keep the home side at bay. In the fourth minute he kept Simon Walton's 20-yard strike out and in first half stoppage time turned over Jamie Mackie's shot on the run. Skipper Rowlands had a late first-half effort, from 20 yards, ruled out because Helguson was offside. Patrick Agyemang, who had a first half shot saved by Romain Larrieu, should have done better with an early second half effort. But Sturrock's decision to send on striker MacLean and wingers Craig Noone and Nicolas Marin in the final stages resulted in Plymouth piling on the pressure which led to the late leveller and a share of the points.
Argyle drew 1-1 with Queens Park Rangers at Home Park, the goal scored by Steve MacLean after 83 minutes. Argyle: Larrieu, Clark, Timar, Seip, Barker, Mackie, Summerfield, Walton, Paterson, Gallagher, Fallon. Subs – Marin, Noone, MacLean (not used – Folly, Cathcart). Attendance - 10,747
Tickets sales for Argyle's FA Cup third round tie at Arsenal on January 3 have been "excellent" according to chief executive Michael Dunford. Season ticket holders in the Main Grandstand, Mayflower Enclosure (reserved), the Devonport End and blocks 6 to 10 in the Lyndhurst Stand have already had the chance to buy their tickets. Next week it will be the turn of season ticket holders in blocks 11 to 17 in the Lyndhurst Stand, the Mayflower Enclosure (unreserved) and the stand for supporters with disabilities. Argyle's sales policy has meant there have only been short queues as season ticket holders have bought their tickets in prescribed time periods. Officials at Home Park believe that has made it more convenient for the fans, as well as the club. The Club will make an announcement next Friday concerning ticket availability to non-season ticket holders, including White members, holders of season tickets bought after the FA Cup third round draw was made, and Pilgrim members.
Paul Sturrock has insisted he is not ready to cut his losses with on-loan French winger Nicolas Marin. The 28-year-old has made only five appearances, including four as a substitute, since he was signed from Lorient at the end of August, but Marin has suffered from the rise of winger Craig Noone, which has restricted his first team involvement. But Sturrock has no plans to try to cut short the season-long loan of Marin from Lorient. He said: "It's something that hasn't crossed my mind. I'm sure he has been disappointed but he's a model professional. He works his tail off and he just gets on with it."
Argyle take on Queens Park Rangers at Home Park today, hoping for their first win in five matches. The Pilgrims have scored only one goal in their last four games, and that came in a 2-1 home defeat by Blackpool a fortnight ago. Sturrock admitted the players had been working on their finishing in training this week, in preparation for the visit of QPR. He said: "We made 19 clearcut chances the other night and haven't scored, so that has to worry you. We will just work away on our finishing at the training ground. There was a spell this season where we were scoring for fun, so it's in the team. We have just got to get it out of them again." Argyle are going into the game against QPR on the back of three successive defeats. Sturrock said: "We have to blank it out of our minds, but it will sit there. There is nothing you can do about it because facts are facts. The important thing is to get a win under our belt, and I don't care how we get it – whether we are good, bad or indifferent. I just want to get this barrier of 30 points out of the road as quickly as possible and kick on for 40."
Argyle reserves will play Swansea City in their final game of the Totesportcasino.com Combination Cup at Home Park on Tuesday (2pm).
Argyle under-18s will play Millwall in the FA Youth Cup fourth round at Home Park. The match must be played at Home Park by January 17.
Simon Walton and Chris Barker are both set to play against their former club QPR tomorrow. Paul Sturrock does not believe either will be out to prove a point when the two sides meet, and he said: "Footballers make so many moves in this day and age. In the past, if you moved once in your career, then there was an edge to it. I don't see the same scenario now, but I'm sure they will want to play well tomorrow – as they do in any game." Walton earned praise for his performance against Birmingham from Sturrock, and the midfielder wants to build on that tomorrow. "There have been a lot of changes since I left QPR, but I enjoyed my time there," said Walton. "It's a good club with good people. Obviously, you always want to do well against your old teams, and I'm yet to lose against one of my old teams, so long may that continue. They are not doing as well as I thought they would do. Maybe there is a bit of uncertainty in the players whether they are going to be there from one day to the next, so we have got to take advantage of it. But, at the same time, it's there for everybody to see the quality of the players they have got and the potential they have."
Jim Paterson has admitted Argyle are desperate to pick up three points when QPR visit Home Park tomorrow. He said: "There were a lot of disappointed players, and a lot of disappointed fans, after the Doncaster game. We let the manager down, so it was important against Birmingham we showed that we could play and fight. We were disappointed not to get anything from it, but we are going into a massive game tomorrow. We have lost the last three so, basically, we need to pick up three points." Argyle have struggled at Home Park this season, but have impressed against three of the top six clubs and Paterson is hoping for a repeat of that against QPR. He said: "Wolves came here and we got a 2-2 draw. Birmingham are also up there and we showed we could more than match them on the night. QPR will be a difficult game. I saw them on the TV last Saturday, when they beat Wolves 1-0, and they played some good stuff. But we know every game in the Championship is hard, and we are looking forward to it – especially picking up three points." Paterson was an unused substitute for six matches before he was recalled for the defeat at Doncaster. He said: "I was disappointed with myself on Saturday because I have been busting for a chance and I didn't play as well as I could have, but I think a lot of the boys were like that. So I was delighted to get the nod again on Tuesday, and, hopefully, I have done enough to keep my place for tomorrow." Paterson started on his favoured left side of midfield against Birmingham after beginning on the right against Doncaster, but he insisted he was prepared to play anywhere Sturrock wanted him to. He added: "I prefer to be on the left, but when we went to Sheffield Wednesday I was on the right and it worked. It all started last season, away to Southampton, when we beat them 2-0 and I scored one of the goals from the right. I will play anywhere for the team – the manager knows that – but, yes, the left side is my favourite."
Nicolas Marin has endured a frustrating start to his Argyle career and Paul Sturrock said: "Nicolas has been very unfortunate. I probably played him in one of the most difficult games to play in for somebody making his debut. I made it hard for him when I gave him Sheffield United. He did ok for the first 25 minutes but the pace of the game caught him up. Noone came to the show over the next few weeks and then Marin had recurring flu over the next couple of weeks, so it's been a difficult time for him. He has come back and looked lively in training, and I put him back on the bench on Tuesday against Birmingham. I am sure he is bursting for another glimpse of it but the way the game went, I couldn't get him on the pitch. I am sure he has been disappointed but he is a model professional, and he works his tail off."
Argyle's season reaches the halfway stage tomorrow and Paul Sturrock admitted the campaign so far has been very mixed. He said: "I would assess that we had a problem at the start of the season due to so many players coming in at once. I would assess that we had a problem of fielding a 4-4-2 team with the personnel we had at the start of the season, which was rectified by one or two signings at a key time at the end of August. We went on a good run, which shows what is achievable with this team. We went to very difficult places and got results. There was one game, which was our worst performance of the season, when the other team was really dominant. We have been near enough in every other game. It's been a goal here, a shot there, a referee's decision here or there. I am now beginning to see people responding properly to what I am asking them to do. They are getting the idea and a picture of what I want. The old team we had here took an age. They took the foibles, the problems and the results before they got everything right in their mind, before they knew what everybody should do at set-pieces, before everybody knew where they should be standing in relation to throw-ins and everything else. It a long time before we married that team together. It probably kept this club going in this direction over the last three or four years. Now, from Ground Zero, we have got to do exactly the same with these players - remould them and revamp them into exactly the way we want the game to be played, and I am starting to see the signs that they are responding properly."
One point from a possible 12 and one goal in four games is a depressing statistic but Paul Sturrock can still see a bright side. The lack of chances created against Doncaster Rovers was worrying but this was greatly improved last Tuesday, despite the defeat to Birmingham. Sturrock said: "Like any football manager, you have got to look at that scenario. We made 19 clear-cut chances the other night and haven't scored, so that has to worry you. All it does is put you on the training ground to work on finishing, which is what we have done. There was a spell when we were scoring for fun, so it is in the team - we have just got to get it out of them again. The Blackpool game in the first-half and probably the whole 90 minutes of the Doncaster game were disappointing."
Paul Sturrock suffered three consecutive league losses for the first time in his Argyle career on Tuesday and he knows a victory against QPR tomorrow is very important. "We will try to blank it out but it will sit there, and there is nothing you can do about it," he said. "We have to get back on the rails with a win. Whether it takes us one or two games, it doesn't matter. The important thing is to get a win under our belt. I don't care how we get it, whether we are bad, good or indifferent. We need three points on the board and I want to get this barrier of 30 points out the road as quickly as possible, and then we'll kick on for 40. We have only taken one point from 12 and I have been disappointed by the mental approach of the players, sub-consciously I might add, it is not a conscious thing. They didn't get the mental approach right against Blackpool and Doncaster, and it has cost us dear."
Krisztian Timar suffered a head injury against Birmingham City, but is set to be available for tomorrow's match against QPR. Paul Sturrock said: "Krisztian didn't do any heading in training today, but we'll just patch him up if he's selected. There were no stitches, it was just a graze rather than a cut."
Argyle have been drawn at home in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup against either Sheffield Wednesday or Millwall, who play tonight. The game is to be played by January 17th
Japanese midfielder Akihiro Ienaga has started a trial with Argyle and will be training with the club until next Thursday. Paul Sturrock said: "We have a Japanese friend with us at the moment. He is with us for a set period of time for us to have a taste of the Japanese style, and for me to have a clearer picture of what they are like. I will also be looking to see if he is of the standard required to play for us. We were always going to have a connection with the Japanese and I am quite happy to have a look. I am happy to see how he handles the British game because that will be the determining factor on whether we have Japanese players or not. It is bad enough at times for some of the European players adapting to the British game, so I need a clear picture of these players. He looks a technically gifted player but the first thing I noticed today was the pace of the game was in the frightening category for him. The Japanese players are hard-working, fit lads. I have had French players who have not adapted, but David Friio adapted after the first day."
Simon Walton was delighted to be recalled to the starting line-up to face Birmingham and he hopes the match will prove the turning point in his Argyle career. "It was good to be back," he said Walton. "It had been a long time coming, but I was just delighted to be involved again, although unfortunately we could not get a win. But anyone who watched the game saw we deserved more than we got." On his performance, Walton added: "I coped better than I thought I would. I think the last couple of minutes I started to cramp up, but you have to remember my last start was September 13, which was a while ago. I felt good. I felt better than I have done in previous games. Obviously, stuff has gone on before and I was out of the team, but I have got my head down and worked hard. And I would like to think I have done enough in training in recent weeks and on Tuesday to keep my place, although obviously the lads before had been doing well. However, there's lot of games coming up so I dare say everyone will be in and out. But I just have to keep producing that level of performance, as has everyone else. If we do that we will go places. We created plenty of chances on Tuesday but it was one of those where another day we would have won three or four nil. But you get punished if you don't take your chances in this league. Yet that was probably one of the best performances we have had this season, so there's plenty of positives to take from the game. If we keep doing what we did then nine times out of 10 we will win those games." Walton admitted it has taken him longer to settle in Plymouth than he expected. "It is nothing to be proud of but I have moved clubs a few times now, so it is nothing new to me, but I think I found it a little bit harder here to settle in," he said. "Obviously, the team and me personally were not doing well at the start of the season so it did make it hard, but I am enjoying it now. I have got my head down and worked hard. I have worked on stuff the gaffer has told me to improve on and I feel I can only get better and I am striving to do that every day." Walton recently became a father and he feels that has helped him settle down. "Being a dad puts things into perspective," he said. "I have had to do a lot of growing up in the last couple of years. People forget that I am still only 21 – I am a young man and I am still learning. All experience, whether good or bad, is valuable." Walton has yet to experience a win with Argyle, but he would love it to come against his former club QPR on Saturday. "I had some good times at QPR," he added. "They treated me well and I enjoyed my time, but this is definitely one game I would like to play in. Like I said, hopefully, I have done enough to stay in the team, but it will be another difficult game for us."
Paul Sturrock took a lot of positives out of Argyle's loss to Birmingham City on Tuesday and was particularly pleased with Rory Fallon and Krisztian Timar.n He said: "If there is a Jekyll and Hyde in the team, it's Rory. You would have waxed lyrical about him on Tuesday, but against Blackpool you wouldn't have him given house room. That's the problem with Rory at this minute – his consistency level. If he can get that right, he will make himself into a real quality player. But he has to appreciate that every game has got to be played at that tempo, and that style, for him to be the player I think he can be." Fallon picked up a fifth yellow card of the season against Birmingham and will miss the match against his former club Barnsley. The form of Craig Cathcart had kept Timar on the sidelines, but Sturrock wanted to add 'a freshness' and more of a physical presence to his side on Tuesday. Sturrock said: "That was probably the best Krisztian has played this season. Craig had done nothing wrong. I just felt there was a freshness needed in the team. I'm sure Craig would have handled things, as well as he has done this season. But I didn't really want to put any pressure on him on Tuesday. I wanted to put the pressure on some of the others, and they responded properly, to be fair." Sturrock's shake-up of the side also saw Chris Clark move from midfield to right-back and Jim Paterson starting the game on the left-side of midfield. Sturrock said: "I think Jim would be the first to admit he didn't play well on Saturday but on Tuesday he put crosses in the box and got himself high up the pitch. And Clarky didn't look out of sorts in his new position." Argyle have scored only one goal in the last four games, but Sturrock could not complain about the chances they created against Birmingham – only their failure to convert them. He said: "We weren't creating too much over the last couple of games. So it was nice to get back to creating things and if we start taking some of them we will be okay. The mentality of this team has been their problem. We have had some excellent results this season and decent performances, but then we have thought, 'We are there', or we haven't given the opposition the respect they merit. It has cost us dear, but when this team are honest, hard-working and show the proper attitude they are a match for anybody. They proved that on Tuesday. The thing is, we have got to try to get a consistency, which I think is another word we need to use a bit more. Consistency has been our key problem, from game to game, but we are building something very slowly here. There are a lot of players who have come here and maybe not achieved what we wanted them to achieve, but they are starting to come around and appreciate what we are looking for. And there are players here who weren't performing to the standards I think they could do, and they are starting to get there."
Paul Sturrock was proud of his players even though Argyle lost to Birmingham City last night. He said: "If there's a good way of losing, we have just done it. We have played 90 minutes how you would like it to happen. I'm gutted for the players and everybody involved at the football club. After the criticism I have given the players over the last couple of games, I'm proud of every one of them this evening. They gave everything they had. They played to the shape and the style we wanted, and it seemed to benefit us. If we were to keep performing like that on a regular occurrence at home we will win a lot more than we lose. Over the 90 minutes, we have created a lot of half-chances and full chances and not taken them, which is disappointing. But we were different class in some aspects of the game. I don't think I could point the finger at anybody about their performance, individually or team-wise." Simon Walton returned to the fold after falling out of favour with Sturrock and put in a decent display. Sturrock said: "Simon did okay. I think we saw what he can achieve, but he has been fighting himself for the last two or three years. His opinion of how the game should be played, and his whole thought process on football, has been stifling his career. But, apart from one pass back to Romain in the first half, he did exactly, to the letter of the law, what I was looking for from him. He brought a steeliness to us, and he saw a pass." Sturrock was sad to see his record of not losing three consecutive matches as Argyle manager come to an end, but added: "To be fair, the record went because of the two games before this one. There were a lot of pleasing things to come out of this game, but it's now three defeats in a row. We have got to keep our heads held high, and realise we have got another difficult home game coming up on Saturday. We have obviously got to get back on the rails as quickly as possible."
Argyle lost 1-0 to Birmingham City at Home Park. Argyle: Larrieu, Clark, Timar, Seip, Barker, Mackie, Summerfield, Walton, Paterson, Gallagher, Fallon. Subs – Noone, MacLean (not used – Folly, Cathcart, Marin). Attendance - 10,446
Rory Fallon has described tonight's match with Birmingham City as one of the biggest games in Argyle's year. "A win against Birmingham would delight the fans and boost the confidence of all the lads in the dressing room," he said. "It is one of our biggest games this year so far if we want to stay as close to the leading pack as possible. Losing tonight would be a blow, but if that happens it will not be all doom and gloom as we still have plenty of games to make up for it." The physical presence of the Birmingham team will be an obvious threat at set-pieces and if selected, Fallon is expecting to do a big defensive job. He said: "It's going to be a tough game and the lads have got to be on top form tonight. We know they bring a wide range of attacking options and we have to be aware of all the possibilities. We will defend collectively as always but we have to be on our game and try to get three points tonight."
Argyle try to bounce back from successive defeats when they take on Birmingham City at Home Park tonight. Paul Sturrock said: "Defeats can be habit-forming, as well as wins. Things didn't work out for us in the first five games of the season, and we don't want to go down that road again, so it's important the players respond properly tonight." Argyle have gone three games without a win and, in each of those matches, they have started very slowly. Sturrock has come up with a way of trying to prevent that from happening again. He said: "In the last three games, our second half performances have been better than our first half performances – no doubts. We have looked at that and, as a result, I have got the players coming in this morning for set pieces. I want to get them out of their beds and get them bright-eyed and bushy tailed. I will put the set pieces in their minds nearer to the kick-off time and see how that affects them." Sturrock believes it will take a performance of the same calibre as when Argyle beat Cardiff, to get a positive result against Birmingham. He said: "This is a winning team we are playing, with armoury that can hurt you all over the pitch. We have got to be up for it tonight. We have got to be in their faces and do all the things we have made ourselves good at. I haven't seen that from one or two of our players in the last couple of games, and trying to put your finger on the reason why is difficult. We have tasted a good run of form with a lot of victories and, all of a sudden, we have forgotten the things we have been good at doing." Birmingham's main attacking threat is Kevin Phillips, who played for Sturrock at Southampton. Sturrock said: "He's a great lad. I had him at Southampton and he's a fantastic pro. He did all the right things for me. He deserves all the accolades he's receiving at this minute." Asked how to stop Phillips from scoring, Sturrock replied: "With a machine gun!" But, on a serious note, he said: "It's very difficult because if you concentrate too much on him, one of the other ones will pop up. We have just got to be hard-working and honest and hope that we can start the game like we did against Cardiff. I believe Cardiff could be as good a team as Birmingham, and we more than matched them that day, and we more than matched Wolves at the start of the season. That's the kind of performance that will get us a result tonight." Meanwhile, Sturrock revealed Argyle could wear their tangerine and green away kit tonight because of the poor illumination from the Home Park floodlights. He adde: "It's a night game and, basically, our players are having a wee problem in the green."
Emile Mpenza is expected to be ready to return to action for Argyle in two weeks' time. Paul Sturrock said: "Emile is still in Belgium, and the medical team and myself have to sit down and debate what's best for him. The specialist is someone Emile has used all the time he has been in football. There are two options – we bring him back and rehab him here, or we rehab him over there. So that's a deliberation we will make over the next couple of days. The people in Belgium are confident he will be back playing in two weeks."
Paul Sturrock is all too aware what difficult opponents Argyle will be facing tonight. "This is a winning team we're playing," he said. "They have armoury all over the pitch, and they're a big team. They've got monsters, and they'll be a threat from set-pieces." After Saturday's game, Sturrock conceded that he had made selection errors, but yesterday he stated: "Sometimes I take the criticism off the players. I just feel that the players have to take a wee bit of criticism too. Yes, in hindsight, there are things I could have done better, but the players have a responsibility to this football club as well. It's a team game. I got things wrong and they got things wrong. Tonight is an opportunity to get back on the rails, but it will be a difficult game. Defeat can be habit-forming, and we don't want to go down that road." David McNamee's unavailability means that Mat Doumbe is likely to continue at right-back tonight. Sturrock admitted that the creative aspects of the job are not his strong points. He said: "Mat gives us certain attributes but, when you're losing a game, he isn't one who's going to open the door with a pass. You have to put other people in there who can services the front players quicker and better. McNamee has been missed big time, in that respect. But that's taking nothing away from Mat, who has done well for us."
Chris Clark has been one of Argyle's best players this season, but Paul Sturrock thinks he has let his high standards slip lately. Sturrock said: "In the last couple of games, I think he'll be the first to admit he hasn't played to the standards he had been achieving. I thought he was exceptional against Cardiff but, since then, I just feel he's one of the players who has forgotten what he needs to do. He isn't getting as far up the pitch as he was."
Argyle are close to completing a deal to keep Craig Cathcart on loan until the end of the season. His loan period is scheduled to end after the game at Cardiff City on December 28th, but it is believed Alex Ferguson will let Cathcart stay at Home Park until the end of the campaign
Argyle have picked up only one point from their last three matches, a run that has coincided with the absence of Karl Duguid. Paul Sturrock admitted Duguid's enforced absence had been felt, and said: "Karl has been a huge miss. He has got leadership qualities and is a very strong character. How he has adapted to playing in the centre of midfield has been quite incredible, and the quicker he's back the better."
Yoann Folly has been with Argyle for almost a year but has yet to enjoy a long run in the first-team. An injury to Karl Duguid has now given him a chance to establish himself in the side. Folly said: "It was unfortunate because the team was playing well when he was there and he is the captain as well. You need someone like him to influence the game but from a personal point of view, I have been waiting on the sidelines to get my chance and you can't predict how your chance will come. When it does come, you have to take it. You need a run of games to get your fitness going and your confidence, and that is what I am hoping for. You can play every week in the reserve team but the pace of the Championship is totally different - you just can't compare the two." The pressure is on Folly to settle into a partnership with Luke Summerfield, but he believes work on the training ground will stand both in good stead. "Summers was obviously working well with Karl before and I have come in now," said Folly. "We are working on the training pitch and everybody knows what their job is - it is just the personnel that are different." Birmingham City visit Home Park tonight, and Folly added: "We are playing at home and it is up to us to get back to what we do best. We have to play like we did when we were on a decent run and get back to winning ways. We were 1-0 up in the Blackpool game and we were expecting to beat them, but every game is different. It is still a long way from the cup game with Arsenal and losing the last two games means we are only thinking about winning and getting back into the play-offs. We started the season slowly but we got together and got some results. It is now important to get points over the Christmas period to stay around that play-off area."
Argyle reserves drew 2-2 at Bournemouth today, the goals scored by Joe Mason and Josh Grant. David McNamee did not appear as expected, and Paul Sturrock said: "We have decided McNamee needs a week's training before we put him into a game. There have been too many times before where, in the importance of trying to get him back fit as quickly as possible, we have chucked him into a reserve game after one day's training and he has walked off injured again. I want seven days where he trains with us at a decent tempo, and we will take it from there." Mike Pejic took the team to Dorset, and he said: "We had a very young side with only two pros - the rest all first, second year apprentices. It was 0-0 at half time and we didn't perform particularly well in first-half and there were quite a few things to solve at half time. In the second-half, we did quite well in patches but there was sloppiness again, and a few minutes later poor decision making, led to further mistakes followed by poor defending and they too the lead. I bought Head off and on came Greg Moseley in midfield and that tightened things up for us and we started to work the ball better. Then Mason did well, taking the ball across the by-line after beating the defender, squared the ball into the six yard box and grant ran in and finished on one touch. It's a step up. When they play against opposing first team or reserve team players, it a good grounding for them. You're still making demands of them and it's part of their learning process. There's no use easing your way into it, you have to show what ability you have every game." Argyle: Saxton, Leonard, Hodgkinson, Sawyer, Brett, Edwards, McCaul, Kinsella, Grant, Mason, Head. Subs - Trott, Moseley, Troupe, Brookes, Gerring
Chris Clark admitted there were harsh words from Paul Sturrock after Argyle's defeat at Doncaster. He said: "He talked about a few things and put across how we want to play. I think we have done that in the past, but today we didn't do that. I think he was right enough to have a go. It was probably our poorest display of the season and we feel very disappointed, individually and as a team. It has taken a great strike to beat us, without us playing well. They didn't create too many other chances. I don't think Romain had any saves to make, but their 'keeper didn't have too much to do either. Attacking-wise, we weren't good enough on the ball. We didn't give ourselves a chance at all." Doncaster packed the midfield and Argyle could not come to terms with that. Clark said: "It was very difficult for the midfielders, and probably the strikers, to get on the ball because it was so crowded. It has worked for them and they passed the ball better than we did, which is where we let ourselves down." Clark is under no illusions about the task Argyle will now face against Birmingham tomorrow night. He said: "It's maybe a good thing there is a game coming around so soon. Obviously, they are a very good side, but we have got to get ourselves right. We have got to keep our heads up, we have got to be positive, and make sure we put in a good performance and try to get a result."
Paul Sturrock admitted he and his players had let themselves down in the defeat at Doncaster. He said: "Managers sometimes have to put their hands up - in hindsight, the type of players I started the game with were maybe not appropriate to the game. In hindsight, football's a wonderful game: the type of players I played didn't work out the way I expected it to happen. That's football and that's the type of league we're in - if you don't turn up full throttle, this league will devour you. There's no blame, as far as players were concerned. There have been times I've put that team out this season and we've won very competently. It doesn't really matter what players go on the football pitch - whether it's Craig Noone, or Jamie Mackie, or Rory Fallon, or Jim Paterson or Chris Clark - at the end of the day, they have got jobs to do on the pitch, and, if they do the jobs to the letter of the law, we normally win football games. Lady Luck has decided she's going to slap me on the arse for a wee bit. I'll go home and batter myself tonight. I'll put my hand up and say that sometimes, you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong. Hopefully, you get it right more often than you get it wrong. Putting your finger on the pulse of why is far more difficult. We started reasonably well in the first 10-15 minutes but we sat back and expected things to happen, we expected to score and hold on to things, when, all of a sudden, they scored. In the second half, we showed an urgency and came back into the game - Gall had a couple of half-chances and we were in and around their box a bit more - but the frustration for me was how we started the game. It's been in the second half when we've tried to dominate and win games. We have got to start the games much better than we are. Defensively, we are always going to be sound. We're never going to lose many goals; the problem is that we have forgotten what to do when we have the ball. We're relying heavily on not losing goals, instead of going out and scoring goals. We're starting to forget what we're good at, going forward and it's letting us down at this minute. We've got to get back to remembering how we won games away from home. We're not moving forward as a team, but we're moving back as a team. When we all move back, we don't seem to relate to get ourselves in the right areas going forward. Earlier in the season, we were breaking up all sorts of things early, charging up the football pitch and scoring goals. It is something we have forgotten about and now have to paint a picture into the players' again. The scary thing is that we've got a very good away record. When we score first, we are the top team at holding on. If you reflect on it, we are also the worst team when we lose a goal. That's something we are going to have to change very, very quickly. This squad of players has been through hell and high water so far this season, but we've let ourselves down in the last two games. The perception was that these two games were an easy six points and I feel that the mental approach is akin to that. That's sometimes the problem. The mental approach is incorrect, and they've duly been spanked on the bottom. I'm being a bit harsh because our goalie didn't have a save. In the end, he picked a worldy to the top corner out of the back of his net. Through the 90 minutes, he had very little to do, as far as shot-stopping is concerned." After two defeats, Argyle now entertain Birmingham City on Tuesday, with Sturrock needing at least a draw to preserve a record of never having suffered three successive league losses in his time as Argyle manager. He said: "We've got a right hard game on our hands and, hopefully, that type of game will benefit us. There will be a big hype to a game like this, and I'm hopeful the players will respond. It should take care of itself. We've got a lot of soul-searching, a lot of debate, before Tuesday. I'll make it plain to the players what I'm looking for. I'll have to maybe freshen things up. The next two games at home are huge and we have got to turn heads. We've come back once from adversity and put a run together - it's time to put another run together."
Argyle lost 1-0 at Doncaster Rovers. Argyle: Larrieu, Doumbe, Cathcart, Seip, Barker, Clark, Summerfield, Folly, Paterson, Gallagher, MacLean. Subs – Fallon, Mackie, Noone (not used – Timar, Walton). Attendance - 10,187
Paul Sturrock is willing to risk players getting injured to make sure that he has a fully-functioning squad for the festive period. He intends to play several first-team squad members in Monday afternoon's reserve fixture at Bournemouth, and said: "David McNamee will play so will two or three others. Gary Sawyer has to get a game; Simon Walton has to get a game. I'm taking big chances on some of them getting injured, but, we need to top them up, because they are going to be called upon over Christmas."
Kevin Summerfield has praised the professionalism of Krisztian Timar during his absence from the first team. "He has been very good, to be fair," said Summerfield. "We have had one or two chats with him, but he has knuckled down and trained well and has been a real strong part of the squad. He gets behind the boys when he's not playing and he's on the bench. He hasn't been a problem at all, and I'm sure over the piece – whether it's this month or whenever – Krisztian's turn will come. We are going to have injuries, without a shadow of a doubt, and it's up to the guys who are sitting on the sidelines to train as if they are in the first team anyhow. If they don't, they are going to get put in and they are going to get found out. Then they will be straight back out, and that's not good for any football club."
Argyle have tried a new training regime this week, with the players given Monday off and then training for the next four days. Usually, the squad train on Mondays and are given Wednesdays off. Kevin Summerfield said: "We changed our routine a little bit this week. We got our work done over three days and then yesterday we just finished off bits and pieces. We have highlighted some areas we think we need to improve on. We have gone through one or two things with the boys. They have seen it all on the video so they are clearer about it. Hopefully, if these things arise against Doncaster they shouldn't be a problem."
Kevin Summerfield has sounded a note of caution as Argyle prepare to take on Doncaster Rovers. He said: "It doesn't matter who you play in this league, anybody can turn anybody else over. Ipswich are the best team we have seen here. They absolutely mullered us, but they went to Doncaster and lost. There is no rhyme, reason or logic about it." Summerfield holds a high regard for Rovers' boss Sean O'Driscoll, who was previously the Bournemouth manager. "We have played against his teams over the years, whether we have been at Plymouth, Sheffield Wednesday or Swindon," he said. "We know how they are going to play and what sort of team they are. I think massive credit must go to Sean O'Driscoll for sticking to his beliefs, come thick or thin."
Jamie Mackie has insisted Argyle will not be distracted by the prospect of their FA Cup tie against Arsenal next month. He said: "Obviously, everyone wants to play against Arsenal but we have got six important league games coming up. The gaffer has made it clear that everyone is playing for their shirt at the moment. There isn't the same starting 11 the whole time. We are all trying to fight hard to play in the league games and if it gets to the stage where you are in the team for the Arsenal cup tie then that will be great. Arsenal is not until January and it's always going to be in the back of your mind. But, hopefully, it will pick performances up because we are all going to want a shirt at the time." Mackie is particularly excited the FA Cup game because he has always followed Tottenham Hotspur. He said: "A lot of people in the area where I'm from support Tottenham, including some close friends, and I liked them as a boy growing up. So it would be nice to go and play Arsenal and, hopefully, get a result up there." Gary Sawyer is also a Spurs' fan. He said: "All my family are from near the area so we have all grown up as Tottenham fans. It would be nice to get one over Arsenal. But I think the league form is more important to us than the FA Cup. We want to do better in the league and play teams like that every week, rather just get a one-off every now and again." Mackie has been in and out of the Argyle starting line-up lately but has started the past two away games, and so hopes to be picked tomorrow. He said: "There has been a lot of chopping and changing. I have had a chat with the manager about it and whatever team he goes with, I will have to go with it as well. If I'm on the bench I will come on and do well, but I'm sure I will get my place back because I'm going to work hard." Sawyer, who has not played for the first team this season because of his injury trouble, will travel with the squad to Doncaster, and he added: "I'm fully fit now. Obviously, the lads have been doing really well and all I can do is do my best in training and hope that I get involved. It has been a steady road back and I'm just waiting for my chance now."
Argyle face six games in the next 22 days and Kevin Summerfield believes injuries and fatigue will cause inevitable problems. "It is something we have talked about and it could become a factor over the course of December," he said. "You could pre-plan and anybody who has been around us, even in the spell we had before, would know that we have been pretty loyal to the ones who are playing when we have been in decent spells. We have basically picked the same team and that is the decision we made post the Norwich game - that we were going to do that come what may, and that may have saved our bacon this season. There is going to be a time when you say horses for courses and you know that you need to change the team, even when you're in a good spell. It is the decision to make but if you do change the team and lose, you leave yourself wide open." Defeat to Blackpool last weekend suggests Argyle may now make alterations for the trip to Doncaster. Summerfield added: "You can use that as an excuse to fiddle with the team and that may be the case for this weekend."
Emile Mpenza will not be making the trip to face Doncaster Rovers on Saturday as he has returned to Belgium to see a specialist after limping out of last weekend's defeat to Blackpool. Kevin Summerfield said: "Emile has been seeing his consultant in Belgium, so he won't come into contention. He's gone over to sort himself out but I don't think it is serious. We are hoping that he comes back clear in his mind that he is ok and starts training. It has been a tough for him since he came here and then he had that nice little spell where he scored a couple of goals, and everything was looking rosy. This twinge has set him back but let's hope it is just a setback." Summerfield was hopeful that David McNamee will rejoin full training next week. He said: "We think David will be joining training on Monday. He has been with Maxi all this week and he is stepping up today and tomorrow."
Mike Pejic is delighted that playing in the FA Youth Cup again brought out the best in his team. He said: "It's fantastic to carry on from last year's run. We had a strong squad last year, with strong characters, but we showed belief on Tuesday and there were some good performances. I was pleased with their response." Asked if he was surprised at the outcome of Tuesday's tie against Fulham, he replied: "Very much so. We haven't been as consistent as I would have liked so far this season, but we have been a little bit more consistent recently and I think that led to Tuesday's performance. They've shown a greater belief in themselves these last few weeks, and they performed on the night. We worked really hard. The lads were tremendous in terms of how they carried out their instructions." Ryan Leonard put Argyle ahead early in the game, and Sean Kinsella's free-kick made it two. "It was a very good finish from Ryan," Pejic said. "He's been pushing forward these past few weeks, and he got his just rewards. It was a good match for him. We always hit the goal with our free-kicks. If we don't get anything on it, it's up to the keeper to save it. The goal was the end result." Compared to last season, Tuesday's side lacked experience and Pejic added: "We had two first-year apprentices as full-backs, we had a lad who's at college in goal, we had a first-year in central midfield, and we ended up with two schoolboys on the pitch. We did tremendously well."
Argyle's youth team beat Fulham 2-1 in the FA Youth Cup at Home Park last night. The goals were scored by Ryan Leonard and Sean Kinsella. Argyle: Brooks, Leonard, Hodgkinson, Gerring, Brett, Edwards, Moseley, Kinsella, Grant, Head, Mason. Subs – Trott, Rickard, Young (not used - Sawyer, Chenoweth)
Graham Stack has moved on loan to Blackpool, and when asked what he hoped to gain from the temporary move, he said: "I want to play as many games as I can. I want to try and get myself in the team as quickly as I can, and play as well as I can in as many games as I can. It's a month's loan, with no view to a permanent move. Of course there's chance I won't get many games, but I've talked to Simon Grayson. He didn't tell me I'd come in and play straight away, but he did say I'd be given an opportunity to force my way into the side. That's all I can ask for. It's up to me." Stack's exclusion from the Argyle side after five games of this season still rankles with him. "I got left out of the team unreasonably, I felt," he said. "I was player of the month in August, and I felt as though I was playing well. We were beaten 2-1 at home by Norwich in September, when we were down to ten men for an hour of the game, and the manager went and made seven changes. He left me out against Watford, which I was extremely disappointed about. It's something I've had to accept, and I've had to get on with it. I was disappointed with the way it came about, and I think I was entitled to be."
Argyle are in talks with Manchester United about extending the loan of Craig Cathcart. His loan period is set to end after Argyle's game at Cardiff City on December 28th and Paul Sturrock said: "We have started to have talks with Manchester United about extending his loan and we hope to know more by Thursday." Paul Gallagher, who is on a season-long loan from Blackburn Rovers, should be available for the FA Cup tie against Arsenal but Blackburn do have the option of recalling the striker, but they are not expected to take it up. Sturrock said: "As far as we are concerned, he's on a season-long loan."
Argyle take on Fulham in the FA Youth Cup third round tie Home Park tonight. Mike Pejic, whose team progressed to the quarter-finals of the competition last season, said: "I don't think we are anywhere near as strong this year. We had quite a strong, forceful unit last season, in terms of characters, and I think they pushed each other on in training and in matches. They are not as competitive, this bunch I have had this year. Already one or two have suffered by not playing in the team, through not showing enough in training. The standards can't afford to drop at this club, and I will ensure that doesn't happen. So those who don't perform in training will not play on a Saturday, or in Youth Cup games. Of late, they have picked up in the league, but we are still having indifferent performances within the team. Although we have been winning games, we are still making sloppy mistakes. I have introduced some younger players. Hopefully, they are next year's apprentices. I have given them a taste earlier in the season than I would have liked to have done, but it will do them good. And, hopefully, it will kick on those who haven't done so well lately. It will ensure they know what's coming up behind them, and if they want a pro contract they have got to start performing consistently well." Despite his criticisms, Pejic is still optimistic about the outcome of the tie. He said: "It's a massive competition for youth players. It's their FA Cup. We did quite well last season and, hopefully, we can emulate that by going through in this round."
Paul Sturrock is as excited as the Argyle fans about the clubs FA Cup tie with Arsenal, but his priority remains securing points in the Championship. "We are obviously delighted," he said. "Either a small team at home or a big team away was what we were looking for. Hopefully, it will be a big bonus to the players and there will a bit of pressure on them for selection, and we hope that will benefit our league form. We have to get back on the rails and I should emphasise that we have got some big league games coming up. We have got to put the Arsenal thing on the back-burner as long as we can and I hope it doesn't unsettle us." Sturrock admitted the experience of playing in front of a potential crowd of 60,000 will be a new one for the vast majority of his squad. He said: "I don't think there will be many of them at all. Mpenza might have done but I would be very surprised if there was anybody else. There is always an edge when you're playing in this kind of game. I have never really picked up one of these ties in the past, so it will be an experience I am looking forward to. Arsenal 6 Sheffield United 0 - that's how excited I will be. We are playing a quality side and we will have to be at the top of our game, whatever happens. We will go there and be competitive. We will take a big crowd and we don't want to let them down. It is a one-off game. It is 90 minutes, 11 versus 11, but you have got to be appreciative that it will be a very difficult game."
Argyle currently have seven players out on loan and Paul Sturrock is delighted to see them enjoying competitive football. He said: "We have a 24-hour recall clause with Stack but, if there was a problem within the 24 hours, we would have to go with Lloyd Saxton. Stack had a niggling injury but he played in the reserves, and has looked pretty competent in every training session I have watched. That is the essence of why I put them out - the lack of reserve games means these players going out is a benefit. Puncheon is on a 24-hour recall, which is very handy. All the others are also on a 24-hour recall once they get the first month out of the way." Puncheon has been enjoying a decent spell at MK Dons, but Sturrock ruled out the possibility of bringing him back as cover for Karl Duguid. He said: "Puncheon has played centre-midfield for them, plus wide left and wide right. The one reason I sent him was to start games. My criticism of him was that, although he is the best substitute I have ever seen, he is a poor starter, and that is a mental approach to football. The more games he starts the more times he is going to kick that out of his psyche. It was also for him to play shape and he tells me he has been working very hard at that. We have had him watched twice and received some glowing reports. Centre-midfield is the one position I wouldn't play him. You are asking a winger to play central midfield, match runners into the box, make tackles and win headers. He would be ok off the front and allowed to roam anywhere he wants." Yola Bolasie has also made a positive contribution, playing a big part in Rushden's 4-0 win over Altrincham at the weekend. Sturrock said: "Bolasie was taken off at half-time because he was on a yellow card but he made the first two goals, and got a boy sent-off when he was right through. He was getting a bit of stick from their players after the boy got sent-off but he is supposed to be doing very well. We have them all watched twice in a month but we don't tell them."
Paul Sturrock decided the best way to deal with Saturday's defeat to Blackpool was to give his players the day off. He said: "I made a conscious decision after the game and consultation with the staff, and thoughts on what I'd seen in the game, and I felt that we had to come up with some way of regenerating players quicker than we have in the past. It is something we are looking into as far as Tuesday to Saturday is concerned, and we are also looking at for the week after. I have to make sure our players are peaking properly for these games. I don't want to start getting all excited and having team meetings about defeats. Rest should be a real benefit to them and we'll have a 20-minute chat about Saturday, and then we'll move on."
Paul Gallagher scored his seventh goal of the season on Saturday, but in the end it counted for nothing. "The first half wasn't up to scratch," Gallagher said. "We wanted to come out the way we did against Cardiff last Saturday, and we didn't do that. The manager had some words to say at half-time, and I think we came out a better team in the second half. We got a goal, which luckily enough I scored, and we nearly scored again when Steve MacLean's header went just past a post. If that had gone in, it would have killed them off. We didn't sit back this time, we went for another goal, and I think that cost us." When he was asked to try to explain the difference between Argyle's display on Saturday and their performance against Cardiff seven days earlier, Gallagher replied: "I can't put my finger on it. It's something we'll have to work on in training this week. We've got to start every game at a fast tempo, get in their faces, and get shots in. It didn't go that way today, In the second half, we came out firing. We could have got a penalty early in the half, when Chris Barker's cross hit one of their lads on his hand. I had a perfect view of it, but the referee said he didn't see it." Blackpool had lost four consecutive games prior to Saturday, and Gallagher added: "We can't afford to go into any game and think we just have to turn up and win, because that isn't going to happen in this league. It's a crazy league – anybody can beat anybody. We've shot ourselves in the foot today. A win today could have taken us into a play-offs spot." Describing his goal, Gallagher said: "Steve MacLean has a good footballing brain, and he rolled it to me. I was thinking about going on my right foot, but the shot before I took with my right foot and I mis-kicked it. I totally missed the ball, so I thought I'd better try my left foot. Luckily enough, it went in the top corner. I thought that might have been enough, because it looked like there weren't going to be many goals in the game. We're just so disappointed we couldn't hold on."
Argyle are set for a £1million payday after drawing Arsenal in the FA Cup yesterday. Michael Dunford said: "It's a great draw for the players, the fans and our bank manager and will be a fantastic day for the club. "It's bound to help the club – we should receive a significant pay-day, which is something which is vital to us. The Emirates in a fantastic stadium and it will be an opportunity for the fans who went 22 years ago to go again. I think it's a game all the players will want to be in."
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