A Round-up of Argyle News
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Argyle drew 0-0 at Ipswich Town. Argyle: Larrieu, McNamee, Seip, Timar, Barker, Mackie, Walton, Duguid, Clark, Fallon, Gallagher. Subs – Doumbe, Judge (not used – Noone, Summerfield, MacLean). Attendance - 20,333
Despite being just four points clear of the relegation zone, team spirit at Home Park remains good, according to Jamie Mackie. He said: "We need a win, everyone knows we need a win, but we're sticking together and we're not down in the dumps. The lads pull together even more at times like this. If we were rock bottom, we'd be worried, but we're not. We're 15th in the table. We'd be more worried if we were getting battered every week and we weren't competing, but we are competing. In our league, you're always going to be looking over your shoulder, but all we need to do is go out there, get some points on the board and go on a little run, and that will soon be out of the window. If we don't get the first goal, it's tough for us at the moment. We're not scoring goals but, if we'd scored the first goal in a lot of our games recently, I think we'd be in the top half and pushing for the play-offs." Asked how Argyle's players are trying to resurrect their shortage of goals, Mackie replied: "All you can do is go out on the training ground and hit as many balls as you can and hit the back of the net. That breeds confidence. If we get the first goal in a game, you'll see the confidence run through the team, but that hasn't happened for a while. The lads can score goals, we've proved that, but you do go through spells like this one. Once a couple of us have started to score again, we'll be all right." Ipswich are tenth in the table, five points from a place in the play-offs. "They're a good team, and they're always strong at home," Mackie added. "This is one of the toughest games of the season, but there are no easy games in this league."
Damien McCrory has been included in the Republic of Ireland under-19 squad for two friendlies away to Russia on February 10th and 12th.
Argyle play the first of two difficult away games in four days when they take on Ipswich Town today. Paul Sturrock said: "They have got players all over the football pitch that can hurt you, but we have got to go there and give it everything we have got. We didn't win any of the first five games of the season, and then went to Watford and Crystal Palace and won. It's getting to that stage again, where we have got to go and drag a result from one of the next two games – or both." Sturrock admitted he had been concerned that heads dropped after conceding the first goal against Nottingham Forest and Bristol City. "I don't want to see any more of that, and I have already had words with the players about it," he said. "Yes, scoring goals has been a problem to us, but we have to roll our sleeves up and be even more determined. I'm hopeful the players will be appreciative of that." As soon as Argyle return from Ipswich, they will start preparing for their trip to Preston. Sturrock said: "We are going to fly to both games, thankfully, so that will help us. But with Derby at home next Saturday, making it three games in a week, we are going to be busy bees."
Alan Judge says that it was advice from Paul Gallagher that persuaded him to join Argyle. He said: "I'm really pleased to be here and I can't wait to get started. Paul Gallagher was down here already so it didn't take much thinking about. I spoke to him on the phone and he said I should come down. He said it was a great place and a fantastic place to play football so that was all I needed really." So far Judge has made only two cup appearances for Blackburn and admits that he will have to step up his game if he is to compete for a place in the first team. He said: "I've had a few games for Blackburn but they obviously haven't had the intensity that there is in the Championship and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in. I'm hopefully looking to get in the squad tomorrow and reach the bench - maybe get a few minutes on but obviously I'll understand if I'm not involved. It will then be up to me to kick on on Tuesday against Preston."
Paul Sturrock has insisted he will not shirk the challenge which is confronting him. He said: "Football managers are no different from anybody else. They look at themselves and are critical of themselves. I digest what has happened after every game and see if I could have done anything different. I have never been a manager to shirk anything, and I have not been relegated, apart from my first season as a manager, when St Johnstone were dead and buried and we nearly kept them up. I don't expect to be in a relegation tussle this season. I expect these players to turn their season very quickly. I honestly believe we will kick on again, as far as the team is concerned."
Craig Cathcart is a doubt going into the game against Ipswich tomorrow after hurting his back during the defeat by Bristol City on Tuesday. Paul Sturrock said: "We are going to give him every opportunity, but he's struggling at this minute. I think he has got a muscle strain in his back. Krisztian is ready to go. I have got no qualms about that, but we will wait and see because I thought Craig played very well on Tuesday. Him and Seip did very well together."
David McNamee is set to make an immediate return to first team duty after completing a three-match suspension. With David Gray injured McNamee seems certain to start against Ipswich tomorrow after a long wait to serve his ban. He said: "It has dragged on, and with the threat of the game on Tuesday being called off, I was thinking it was going to carry on into another month. But it's over now and back to business." McNamee admitted he could have no complaints about his dismissal against Cardiff. He said: "It was a situation I found myself in, where the keeper was up, nobody was behind me and they were breaking. I'm sure most of the lads would have done a similar thing – to try to prevent them scoring and make sure, we maybe, had another chance to get the equaliser. It was just one of those positions you find yourself in as a player sometimes. I can't really have too many complaints. I did go high and made sure I was bringing him down, so I have just had to take it on the chin." Despite his suspension, McNamee has still played two reserve team matches during January. "They were a good couple of workouts and, hopefully, I will be fine fitness-wise," he added. Argyle are desperate for a return to form after winning only one of their last 10 league games. McNamee said: "We have got ourselves into a position where it's going to take a bit of hard work and a bit of luck to get us out of it. I want to be part of that and make sure I help the team out." McNamee insisted he had been unperturbed by the arrival of David Gray. "I had no feelings towards it whatsoever," he said. "The manager thought he needed to strengthen that position, and a few others, because he is very versatile from what I have heard. I have absolutely no complaints with that whatsoever. It's one of those ones that if I'm playing to the best of my ability I know I will be in the team."
Blackburn Rovers are reported to be ready to let Paul Gallagher stay on loan at Argyle until the end of the season. A source at Ewood Park has confirmed that Blackburn have not received any bids for Gallagher. Paul Sturrock said: "Gall bounced in yesterday and trained very well. I think the scenario over his knee being cleared up has definitely settled his mind, and he's bursting to play against Ipswich." Sturrock confirmed that Graham Stack is not training with Argyle while his future remains unresolved. "I think Stacky's agent has been working away and there are one or two clubs interested in him, but that's as far as it goes," he said.
Ashley Barnes is in Argyle's squad for the trip to Ipswich Town tomorrow. Paul Sturrock said: "I was very pleased with him yesterday - he did very well in the reserve game, as I was pleased with them all. Their attitude to play was excellent yesterday and it was a very good game. He has gone away to Eastbourne and come back a man. It has been a real benefit to his game. If you look at my career, I had Drew Talbot at Sheffield Wednesday and Lukas Jutkiewicz at Swindon. There has been that kind of youngster on the periphery who has all of a sudden come to the scene. You have got to do it slowly because the situation we are in at the minute means it would be unprofessional of me to just say 'on you go son, take that pressure'. Others are going to have to grab that nettle. As a cameo role and coming in when teams are tiring, he has an eye for goal and I have that very much in mind." George Donnelly could well be joining Barnes at Argyle after impressing Sturrock during the reserves draw with Bristol City. "He did very well and it gives me food for thought," Sturrock said. "He can sign after deadline because of the club he is with, so I am not going to rush. If I was to take Donnelly, it would never be with any thought process of him being involved with the first-team. It would be as Ashley Barnes was signed in the beginning - a very good up and coming type of striker, and Ashley is now starting to fulfill his promise. Donnelly has definitely got things. He ticked the boxes but there is a naivety in his game and fitness levels. He has got definite potential and that is something you don't want to bypass. I am going to get Saturday's game out of the way and then take a considered debate on it. He would be one that would have to play reserve football and learn his trade because there are certain things in his game that I don't like, and that would have to be stamped out. There is also Liam Head and Joe Mason, who done very well at their level. Do I all of a sudden stifle their development and promise?" Meanwhile, Dan Smith's loan with Eastbourne Borough has been extended for a further month. Sturrock said: "Dan Smith's loan has been extended for another month because I feel he would benefit with more games."
Argyle have signed Blackburn Rovers striker Alan Judge on loan until the end of the season. Paul Sturrock said: "We needed a freshness in midfield and he can play several positions in there. We've had him watched several times. He is a livewire, box-to-box type player. He is very similar to David Norris in that he is a pocket dynamo. He comes into the squad for Saturday. I will have a look at him in training and decide overnight. He is very hungry for the challenge and I have taken him as an offensive player to come from midfield and support the front two."
Paul Sturrock has denied rumours of a rift with Emile Mpenza. He did, however, admit that he is keeping his options open as the transfer window draws to a close. He said: "There is a lot of conjecture and rumour going about at the minute - he and I have never fallen out once. I have got to do what is best for the football club, what is best for myself and obviously what is best to win football games. At this minute in time, I don't feel that Emile is up to match-fitness. He won't be in the squad for Saturday and we will take a considered view after the window closes on Monday. We had a conversation about things today and, like any football club, I have to look at the scenario of services rendered to the club by Emile due, unfortunately, to injuries and situations that arose through the season. I have got to balance the books as well and concentrate on budgets. I have decided to go down two roads. One, to get him fit, so if he is here after the window, I can get him closer to being available, while at the same time allowing him to see if there is anything out there that would benefit him." There have been rumours that Mpenza was not being allowed to train with the senior squad but Sturrock said: "The other day, he trained on the lower level at the training ground for the simple reason he was working one-on-one with the physio to get a bit of sharpness into him. I think people put two and two together and got 10. Emile trained with the first team yesterday and was quite lively."
Paul Sturrock has pledged to do his best to bring in reinforcements to try to help his squad. "We are going to have to think really seriously about freshening things," he said. "I've been very loyal to the players who took us up to fifth in the league, but it's time for one or two others to have their opportunity. We can freshen things up with a loan or two. Some of the signings who have come in have not performed to the standards I expected of them, but we work hard as a team and we can be very competitive in this league. We just need that edge." Sturrock is looking for a reliable striker, and he added: "Gallagher gave us that edge when he first came here, which meant that we won football games, but he has dried up. We need to bring in one or two new players who can give us that edge. We're going to some difficult places in the next couple of games, and we're going to have to bite and scratch to get results. Scoring goals has been our biggest problem. We're in a scenario where the team can't buy a goal. There's a lack of confidence around goal. We'll just keep working away and hope that one of them the chances hits a shin or skims off somebody and into the net. We're not that far away, but we just need that goal which kick-starts us. We have to keep battling. It's going to be a dogfight right to the end of the season, and we have to make sure we're stronger and better than the other teams. We'll have to muster the troops. We'll have to make changes, because that was a strength-sapping game on Tuesday, and the confidence of some of the players will be at an all-time low. We have to dig deep now, put 11 players on the pitch who have legs, and give it our best shot. We have to start winning football games. We can make all the excuses in the world, but we've only won one game in ten. We have to get something out of these away games. It's a must-win scenario. The players have to roll up their sleeves and give us as much as they can give us." Despite recent setbacks, Sturrock has not lost faith in his squad. "I believe in this team," he said, "because they went from 24th to fifth. They can be a good side, and we have to turn the clock back and start getting some results."
Argyle reserves drew 2-2 draw at Bristol City yesterday, the goals scored by Simon Walton and Ashley Barnes. Argyle: Saxton, McNamee, Gerring, Sawyer, Patterson, Noone, Folly, Walton, McCrory, Barnes, Donnelly. Subs - Head, McCaul, Brett.
Krisztian Timar has been named in Hungary's squad for a friendly against Israel February 11th
Argyle remained 16th in the table despite last nights defeat, but now face difficult back-to-back away games at Ipswich Town on Saturday and Preston North End next Tuesday. Paul Sturrock said: "We have got to go to two difficult places now, and we have got to stand up and be counted. We have got to stay strong." Argyle have won only one of their last 10 Championship games, and following the loss to Bristol City Sturrock said: "It was a tight, tight game, with nothing in it as far as I was concerned throughout. But when you are in the kind of run we're in, nothing seems to turn for you at all. I'm sorry for everybody involved, especially the fans, who were superb through the 90 minutes. Quite rightly, they vented their frustration at the end of the game. But, to be fair, they backed the team through the 90 minutes and I was delighted with them. We're going to need that backing because we have put ourselves right in the mire." Argyle were on top in the first half but could not convert any of the chances they created. Sturrock said: "That has been our biggest problem. A lot of people are thinking about it now. The amount of blocks we had tonight were due to this lack of confidence around the goals. We are just going to have to keep working away and hope one goes in off a shin, or screams into the net. The players are absolutely gutted because they put a lot into that game to get nothing out of it." Sturrock is exasperated by Argyle's loss of form since November. "Of course, it's a worry," he said Sturrock. "We have dropped like a stone and we have got to turn it around. We have played Bristol City tonight, who were in the play-offs last season and have got some good players, and we didn't look out of sorts with them. But, obviously, the killer was the two mistakes. The first goal was scored when one of my players was off the pitch and we were down to 10 men. When you are in the kind of rat-race we are in, that's exactly the sort of thing that transpires against you. I couldn't ask for any more from the players tonight, in difficult conditions. They have put everything into the game and we have played a game of football where there has been nothing in it. We just seem to be coming out the wrong end all the time."
Argyle reserves are away to Bristol City this afternoon and the team will include trialist George Donnelly. Paul Sturrock said: "The boy Donnelly would be one of those signings you make for development. He's not going to be the icing on the cake, although I would love to think he would come in and get 10 goals from now until the end of the season. I have seen the laddie and there is a bit of development needing done on him. But he has definitely got attributes that will make a pro footballer. Whether it's at this standard or not, that's the debate." Today's game was supposed to take place at Ashton Gate but has been moved to City's training ground and will be played behind-closed-doors. City blamed the decision not to allow fans to attend the match on the recent wet weather. A statement on their website said: "Due to the poor conditions on the grounds and walkways surrounding the pitches, the club is unable to grant access for supporters." But it is believed another reason was that manager Gary Johnson was planning on playing some trialists. Media from Bristol and Plymouth are not allowed to attend the game either.
Argyle lost 2-0 to Bristol City at Home Park. Argyle: Larrieu, Doumbe, Cathcart, Seip, Barker, Mackie, Summerfield, Duguid, Clark, Fallon, MacLean. Subs – Timar, Gallagher, Noone (not used – Folly, Barnes). Attendance - 11,438
Paul Sturrock has threatened to make several changes to his team tonight and Krisztian Timar is in his thoughts. Sturrock said: "Timar is an unfortunate one. He didn't really look himself at the start of the season but he has looked stronger and stronger in training as we have gone along. The problem has been that Cathcart has not let himself down and the two of them are too similar. You need a covering centre-half as well, and Marcel fits the bill for that. There will be certain games that Timar plays in and some he doesn't play in. He has not reached the heights of last season because he has not had the games - that is the Catch 22. Do I put Timar back in or do I go with Craig, who has not let us down? Adebola played against us in the 2-2 draw up there and Craig was outstanding." Argyle are 16th in the division going into tonight's game, while Bristol City are 14th. "They're two points ahead of us," Sturrock said. "If we win, we go above them. We need to get back to being competitive in this league."
Ashley Barnes has been recalled from his loan spell to Eastbourne Borough
Paul Gallagher has been given the go-ahead to play for Argyle tonight after fears over a knee injury were allayed by two scans. Paul Sturrock said: "Gallagher has had a scan with us and a scan with Blackburn. He's their player and it's their prerogative, and the two scans came out with the same result – he hasn't got anything serious in the knee. It has been worrying him because when he has been shooting there has been a wee pull in there and he has been in a bit of pain. But he now realises he can't harm himself in any way and he looked very bright in training yesterday." Sturrock now has to decide whether to start Gallagher against Bristol City. He said: "There is a big decision to be made on him because you have got to take into consideration other people have trained very hard to try to get themselves in the team. But you have also got to understand that a fit Paul Gallagher, with his mind on it, has taken us a long way with his goals this season. So I have got to weigh up everything."
Argyle could be about to cut their ties with Emile Mpenza. Paul Sturrock will hold talks with Mpenza and his agent later this week to discuss his future. Sturrock said: "I will be talking to his agent on Wednesday morning, and listening to him, and I will be having a meeting with Emile again. I wouldn't be doing my job if I wasn't concerned about paying so much money for a player I'm getting little service from. It has been a big disappointment to me because I was excited about this player. He had attributes, but he hasn't hit the heights, fitness-wise, in training. At the end of the day, you can only pick what you see, and he has never really got himself into condition. Any time I have thought about playing him, it has been me trying to force the issue along. If Emile isn't going to be in my plans, I have got to do what's best for the football club." When asked whether Mpenza wanted to stay at Home Park, Sturrock replied: "Me and him have got to have this conversation yet. That's the important thing." Mpenza is not expected to be in the squad for Argyle's game against Bristol City at tonight following an illness. Sturrock added: "Emile has now had gastric 'flu on top of everything else. It has been such a frustration to me. We have had the good, the bad and the ugly of Emile at this football club, and I like the good, but his fitness levels have been a problem. We have just broken him back into training over the last two days after his gastric 'flu." Sturrock has received no inquiries from other clubs about the availability of Mpenza, but said: "If somebody wants to make an offer, then fine, I will look at that if it comes in."
Mathias Doumbe will return at right-back when Argyle play Bristol City tonight because of an ankle injury suffered by David Gray at Nottingham Forest. Gray will have his injured ankle in a cast for the next two weeks before he can start his rehabilitation and Argyle's other recognised right-back David McNamee completes a three-match ban tonight. Paul Sturrock said: "David Gray has been seen by Manchester United's medical team, as well as a specialist up there. They have decided they are going to have to put him in a cast of some sort for a couple of weeks. It's a huge blow to us. But with McNamee coming back from suspension after tonight's game, he and Mat have the opportunity to be competitive for that position. Mat has played well at right-back many a time, so I have got no qualms about putting him in there tonight." Gray hurt his ankle in the early stages of the defeat by Forest but he did not tell anyone and played the whole match. Sturrock said: "I didn't think David was up to the pace of the game, and I was wondering why. He was getting caught with the ball quite a lot and didn't look as sharp as he did against Arsenal. He's a young, inexperienced pro and, by all accounts, he hurt himself pretty early on and didn't give any information to the bench. We have had a chat about it and, hopefully, it was a naivety that won't happen again." Sturrock confirmed Gray would carry out the rehabilitation from his injury at Home Park, rather than at Old Trafford.
Argyle's Japanese investors, K&K Shonan Management Corporation, have said the recession has not affected their plans for the club. Senior vice-president George Synan yesterday said: "With the yen being the strongest currency right now in the world it's helped our business considerably. When we invested the yen was at 210 to the pound, yesterday I changed my cash at the airport and it was 124, so it's a good time to move yen into the UK." While Synan said the company has found it harder to raise money, the exchange rate has meant that they are still happy with their investment. He added: "It's nothing major for us but it does cause issues when it comes to leveraging and how much cash you want to outlay versus what's available from financing. Right now honestly there's little financing available, you have to be smart with your cash." Despite the club failing to sign Akihiro Ienaga, Synan said a Japanese player in the Argyle squad is not essential for his company's continued involvement at Home Park. Synan said: "It's not a pre-requisite, our investment with the club is to help Luggy and help the club hopefully achieve a higher status in the table this year. If we can bring over players from Japan that exposure will help but again we look at this as more of a long-term process. It's not going to happen overnight, it's going to take one or two years and it's also a process of making sure that players we do bring over here we trial first and see if they acclimatise to Plymouth."
George Synan is committed to building strong ties between Argyle and Japan. Synan, who is on a quick visit to Home Park, said: "It's a quick visit. We came in on Friday and leave again on Wednesday. I sat down and had some words with Paul Stapleton yesterday. I'm going to watch the game against Bristol City and head back." Synan has confirmed that Argyle have not abandoned their pursuit of Akihiro Ienaga. "We were disappointed about the Ienaga outcome, but he has only just come back from a major injury," he said. "We think he'll be called up by the senior national team again pretty quickly. Once that happens, we're ready to go through the process again. He is one of the top talents in Japan, but his injury came at a bad time for him and us. We're waiting for him to make his comeback with the national team, and we're also continuing to look out for top players. We're talking to various players right now, and hopefully we'd like to get one or two over by the start of next season." Synan has been joined on his visit to Plymouth by Yokohama FC assistant coach Takuya Jinno. Jinno is looking at Argyle's young players with a view to potential loan transfers to the club, whose chairman is Argyle president Yasuhiko Okudera. "Jinno has come to see Argyle train and look at some of the younger players here in Plymouth," Synan said. Movement of players is not the only facet of Shonan's involvement at Home Park. "We're working with the board at Argyle on the next phase of the stadium development here," Synan added. "That process is still in the early planning stages, and we've looked over some initial plans. My focus has been more on the Japan side, in terms of trying to entice some Japanese national team players over here."
Paul Sturrock has called on Paul Gallagher to rediscover his early season form by ignoring the uncertainty surrounding his long-term future. He said: "Any footballer who has been out on loan as many times as Gall and who probably has it in his mind that he is not going to be a Blackburn player at the end of the season, it would take a real strong character not to have thoughts in his mind. I have mentioned to him already that whatever happens to him, whether he goes now or at the end of the season, or if we decide we can finance it, he has got to play in somebody's team regularly, and play well. That is the only way I see out of any scenario for him. It is up to him now and if he is given his opportunity tomorrow night, he has got to grab it and get back to the form we know. Sam Allardyce has made it plain that anybody can make a bid. The call-back clause is only in the window and on the sale of the player, or injury. There has to be a good reason to call him back. I would imagine Tuesday night and Saturday against Ipswich are important games for Gall's future and for us, for the simple reason that it is important for him to put in some solid performances. It is his career and for Gall, quite rightly, his career is the most important thing. He has got to weigh up that Blackburn don't appear to want him, so there have been a lot of things in that lad's mind. I have seen two standards from Gallagher. I know it is in him - everybody knows it is in him. The standards he has achieved in the last five or six games is not the real Gall. I call upon him to get back to the form he showed at the start of the season."
Argyle apprentice Liam Head celebrated his 17th birthday today by signing a professional contract with the club. He said: "I'm absolutely over the moon. It's been a brilliant birthday present; I've been waiting for it for ages. From quite a long time ago, I knew that I was going to sign for Argyle. There was never really any other thought. Hopefully, towards the end of the season, if the team can continue to do well then maybe I will be able to get a run out." Paul Sturrock was pleased to secure Head's signature. "We're delighted" he said. "Liam has done ever so well in the youth games this year and hopefully if he can knuckle down and concentrate then he can come to the fore sooner rather than later."
Paul Sturrock is planning to abandon his selection policy in a bid to increase competitiveness within his squad and he admitted that a tendency to stick with the players that took the club to fifth in the table has left some fringe players isolated. He said: "The important thing for me was to call on the ones who have not been playing - they are the ones who put pressure on the ones in the team. If I put my hand up for the scenario we have just gone through, I have maybe been a touch too loyal to the ones that took us into that position. I wanted to wipe the slate clean with some players for them to be competitive for selection and I would like to keep all options open." He believes the new approach has prompted an increased edge in training, ahead of Tuesday's meeting with Bristol City continues. "It has been difficult with the weather because one day it has been frozen and the next it is raining," he said. "We went down to the astro-turf yesterday for the last time. It doesn't matter how bad the training ground is on Sunday and Monday, we will be out on the grass. We had a training session yesterday, which went very well with the things we wanted to work on, but the real build up starts Sunday and Monday. Yesterday was the equivalent to a Tuesday, so we put them through the mill a bit."
Paul Sturrock has decided against signing Roman Kienast. He said: "I have deliberated long and hard about the boy Kienast and I have decided against signing him. Anybody we bring in now has to be up and running. His general fitness levels were nowhere near the standard they needed to be, and it would have taken him a long time to get up to speed." Kienast claimed in an interview in Austria that Sturrock had told him he wanted to sign him, but the manager denied that. "That's good PR for him," he said. "I did make comment it was very difficult for me to make a decision on what I had seen. At the end of the day, I have weighed up everything now and I have decided that if we are going to bring in somebody, we need somebody who is up and running. The scenario is trying to get him match-fit. It is an amazing thing to play up to October and then not play again until February. Trying to get trial games and trying to impress other teams when their fitness levels are well down does not give them any opportunity."
Paul Sturrock spent three days this week on a scouting trip to the north of England, returning to Home Park yesterday. He said: "I was just looking at targets, ticking the boxes and making sure I have seen all the people I wanted to. It was difficult because of the weather as it was. Certain games were put off, which made it difficult. But I travelled 600-700 miles by car to make sure I had my finger on the pulse on certain individuals." One of the players he watched was Skelmersdale United striker George Donnelly. Sturrock said: "I promised him I would let him play in a game and I won't go back on my word as far as that's concerned. I have had a look at him in his own standard, but people sometimes excel when they play with better players. He's lightning quick and lives off the shoulder of the other striker, but, obviously, there is work to be done on him – just like the boy Noone. He showed an attitude to play which excited me, and he's very pacy, but there are one or two things he didn't do in the game I would have expected of him. Whether that will happen or not, playing with better players, the proof will be in the pudding."
Paul Sturrock wants to add a couple of loan signings to his squad, but he has ruled out making any permanent signings before the transfer window shuts. He said: "We have been attempting to bring one or two in on loan. I just want some presence put on certain positions in the team. You have to remember that seven days after the deadline, we can take loans again, so it's not as if there is a real rush. But it would be nice to have a freshness for the game against Bristol City. There will be nothing done permanently, but there might be loans coming in to play until end of the season on the proviso that if we like what we see we would maybe take them." Argyle have been linked with Northampton Town midfielder Abdul Osman this week but Sturrock denied having any interest. "There's nothing in that," he said. Meanwhile, Sturrock is hoping to loan out Ashley Barnes and Dan Smith to clubs in League Two. The pair are currently at Eastbourne Borough in the Conference but Sturrock wants to step them up a level now. He said: "I'm trying to upgrade Ashley Barnes as we speak. I have got 24-hour recall on Ashley and Smithy so I'm trying to push them into League Two. The Eastbourne manager appreciates the situation as well, that if there was an opportunity I would definitely put them up one level. The development in Ashley Barnes over a short period of time has been immense."
David Gray and Paul Gallagher have both picked up knocks that are being checked by their parent-clubs. Gray has returned to Manchester United to see a specialist about an ankle problem, while Blackburn Rovers are keeping tabs on Gallagher's knee. "David Gray has had to see a specialist up there and we are just waiting on word back," said Paul Sturrock. "He is obviously going to miss the Bristol City game and we will wait and see what the specialist says. He has got an ankle problem, which he picked up in the last game. Gall has had a scan on his knee and just waiting to hear back on him as well." Paul Maxwell confirmed that both injuries are still being investigated. He said: "Neither injury is serious but we can't say too much until we receive the results back."
David Gray admitted he is hoping to use his time at Argyle to keep alive his dreams of playing for Manchester United. Gray, who is out of contract at Old Trafford in the summer, said: "My goal in life at the minute is to do as well as I can for Plymouth and come back and play for Man United's first team. If I play 20 games for Plymouth between now and the end of the season and do really well, I don't see why I shouldn't get a good shot at going for the first team. Playing in the reserves, it's more about performance, but at first-team level, points matter and it's more real. The club you are playing for have their livelihood on the line, so I'd call it more like real football. The experience of playing in important games with Plymouth can only be better for me."
Argyle yesterday issued the following statement: "Plymouth Argyle Football Club is aware of the arrest of first-year professional Shane White in the early hours of Tuesday, January 20, and the subsequent charge of driving with excess alcohol. As legal proceedings are now active, the club feels it is inappropriate to make any further comment at this time. The club will issue a further statement at the appropriate time."
Yala Bolasie is joining Barnet on a one-month loan deal after being recalled from his loan at Rushden and Diamonds
Paul Sturrock has scrapped plans to send out some of his players on loan because he wants them to challenge for a first-team place. Sturrock said: "The slate has been rubbed clean for a lot of people. It's important for them now to impress, and they can hardly impress if I'm shunting them out the door to go to so-and-so or so-and-so. I know I have got to cut the size of my squad. That's vitally important, and there will be a conversation with certain players that they have to move on. But there are one or two who I was thinking about putting out on a loan for the simple reason of match fitness. They are now going to get their match fitness here, being competitive for a game in the first team." Sturrock is ready to give Simon Walton another chance, although he remains on the transfer list for the time being at least. "Simon comes back into the equation," he said. "He's working very hard on the regime that we have put together for him now. I was hoping to see him perform to the standards I know he can achieve for the reserves on Monday, but that game was postponed. So I have got to try to put an edge to training to enable me to make a decision on Simon." Sturrock was bitterly disappointed by Argyle's defeat at Nottingham Forest and he is now contemplating changes to his team for the visit of Bristol City. He said: "Several will lose their strip for the performance and result on Saturday. I have opened the door for the others to go and grasp their opportunity. I'm hoping to see a real edge in training. I think bodies might fly! I have maybe been too loyal to too many of the team who had been churning out results, in the hope of getting back on the rails again. And, yes, some of the players could say they haven't been fairly judged, and that I have overlooked them. That all changed with the discussions I had with certain players on Sunday. It's up to them now to turn my head."
Skelmersdale United striker George Donnelly was due to play for Argyle reserves on Monday, but the match was postponed. However, Paul Sturrock still managed to see Donnelly in action this week as he scored for Skelmersdale against Rossendale United on Tuesday night. Skelmersdale manager Tommy Lawson said: "Georgie had his trial at Plymouth called off on Monday and they have not got another reserve team fixture until February. But Paul Sturrock flew into Manchester and then drove to the game on Tuesday night to see Georgie for himself."
Paul Sturrock will not take any more risks on the fitness of Paul Gallagher, who has been struggling with a knee injury since the win against Southampton on Boxing Day. Sturrock said: "He had been off for five days with 'flu, and has carried a wee niggling knee injury as well. But when you are going through the spell we are, you are going to go with someone who has scored seven goals in a certain period of time. I think it was to the detriment of him on Saturday that I kind of forced the issue. I wish I hadn't had him on the bench – but I did. The important thing now is that he gets totally fit, because when he kicks the ball in the wrong way, the ligament kind of opens up. That means he can run straight forward – which he will be doing a lot of over the next couple of days." Argyle play Bristol City next Tuesday and Sturrock added: "If Paul comes and tells me his knee is still sore, he won't play in that game. I think he's lacking a bit of confidence, and he's a confidence player. I think you saw that when he came here. He scored his first goal and then, all of a sudden, he was rattling them in from everywhere. But he has gone through a sticky spell performance-wise and has lost a wee bit of confidence. On top of that, he has had 'flu and he has got this wee niggling injury. So I think I have got to take the blame for him on Saturday. I forced the issue. He wouldn't say to me he wasn't right. I put him in that scenario, just because he might have seen one pass, seen one cross, or had one shot that might have taken us back into the game."
Goalscoring problems have been a major factor in Argyle's disappointing recent run of form. The team have scored just four goals in the last nine Championship games and Paul Sturrock is naturally concerned. He said: "Any manager would be concerned because the only way you're going to win a football game is by scoring goals - that has been lacking. We've been on the end of a few things but not hitting the target and that's something we're going to have to work on again. At the end of the day we do pride ourselves on scoring goals from set-pieces. But again with Emile being injured and just coming back into shape again, Gallagher as he's been lacking in confidence, it's been a difficult time for us as far as the forwards are concerned."
Paul Sturrock is looking for his team to rediscover the form that saw them rise to fifth in the table in October. "We started the season with one point from five and were bottom of the league," he said. "We went on a long run which was kind of play-off form and then all of a sudden. I think I mentioned it to everybody that I emphasised it all season that this was going to be one of those rollercoaster seasons; this minute in time, hopefully, we are at the bottom of the rollercoaster. Hopefully now we're going to go up and up once again but we can only do that now if we get that honesty back in the performance." The defeat at Nottingham Forest was a perfect example of Argyle's recent sluggishness, and Sturrock added: "I just feel that we weren't in their faces like we normally are, we were second best all over the football pitch with our challenges and tackles and headers, which is normally most of our game and I just feel that we've forgotten what we achieved earlier in the season. I think with the ten days that we've got, it's my job now to remind them in training what we are all about when we were on a good run. I keep saying this, these are the same boys, and it galls me, who had a fantastic run and took us up to fifth or sixth. To go from twenty-fourth to fifth are the same boys and that's the exasperating thing for me is that all of a sudden we go down from fifth to fifteenth with the same boys. We looked a bit sluggish compared to Forest but that's a team brimming in confidence as we were after we won at Watford and Crystal Palace, we then had a run of games. I was disappointed on Saturday for the simple reason ten minutes after we lost the goal we put our heads down. The second half goal was a bit of a killer but then we rolled our sleeves up and at least had a go. Doncaster, Blackpool, Nottingham Forest, Barnsley, if you talk to any fan we're expected to win them. We never won one. But then again, Cardiff, we should have got more out of the game, QPR we should have won the game, Birmingham we should have won the game. Again, we got one point out of the three but all of a sudden we play these teams and we're not the team that we were. That's the exasperating thing for me is these mind games."
Paul Sturrock will make a decision on whether to sign Roman Kienast by the end of this week. "It's still ongoing as far as the boy Kienast is concerned," he said. "I have had a bit of contact with the agent, about fees and everything else, and I have got a ball-park figure from the club. I have got to weigh up everything and make a decision over the next couple of days." Kienast has told an Austrian sports website that Sturrock has told him he wants to sign him. He said: "The manager wants me. He said from his point of view a transfer would be okay to make. I feel I have impressed, but it's too early to say it's done. Things have to be sorted out and arranged first. I'm still under contract at Ham-Kam.
Argyle's reserve team game at Forest Green Rovers last night was postponed and Paul Sturrock was very disappointed. He said: "It was a huge blow. George Donnelly was arranged to come down for us. We will now try and bring him down for our next game as he comes highly recommended from our scouting system. There was also somebody else but he's been cut off at the pass. The debate now will be looking at that player in a future game. We will have to think about things, how quickly we can get another game arranged. All the players who haven't been involved in the first team lately were going to get a run-out against Forest Green. I had a meeting with a lot of those players on Sunday and we discussed their situation. The most important people at any football club when you are looking for a winning formula, are those on the bench and those who aren't involved. They have got to be at the top of their game, putting pressure on the people who are in the team. I just feel that hasn't been forthcoming lately. They need an edge to them in training, to try to get themselves selected. It was a very good conversation I had with seven or eight players, and I'm going to have a discussion with another three or four in the next couple of days. In the end, the important thing is for us to start winning football games again."
Following the defeat at Nottingham Forest Karl Duguid wants Argyle to turn back the clock to when they were at the foot of the Championship after five games of the season, but then in fifth position after ten matches. He said: "We just have to get back to what we were doing after the first five games of the season. We dug deep, we all worked really hard, and that's what we have to get back to as a team. I'm not saying the lads aren't working hard now, but sometimes you just have to dig that little bit deeper to grind out results. Our away form was good, so we know we can do it. Up until Forest scored, I thought it was an even game and it looked like it was going to be a 0-0 draw. Conceding a goal from a set-piece was disappointing from our point of view, because we'd been working on defending set-pieces last week. It was a great delivery from their lad, but we'd worked on it on Thursday. Gary Sawyer put some similar balls into the box and we dealt with them, but fair play to Forest. They've obviously worked on that." Duguid played an inadvertent part in Forest's second goal, diverting Nathan Tyson's pass into the path of Anderson. "As it came in, I tried to stretch and clear it as best I could and it went to straight to their lad," he explained. "If I had known Barks was there, I'd have left it and he would have cleared it, but, if I'd left it and Barks wasn't there, there would have been a few words said. But you can't dwell on things like that." Argyle now have over a week to try to devise a plan to halt the slump. "We've got ten days to work on things and get things right," Duguid added. "We should have more points on the board, but we haven't, so I'm sure we'll be working very hard to try and push back up the league again. We know what we can do. At the start of the season we didn't know what system we were good at and who was going to play where, but at least now we know what we are capable of."
Paul Sturrock admitted he was dismayed that Akihiro Ienaga will not be joining the club. He said: "I am very disappointed. He's a quality player and he'd be a great benefit to the team. He can play wide right, wide left, and off the front. We had a very professional presentation. I went myself and aired my views. He's an exciting talent and he would be a great attribute to the Championship, but criteria has won the day in that he didn't have the games behind him. We'll wait and see how he gets on getting into the Japanese national squad." The club itself also outlined their disappointment, releasing this statement: "Plymouth Argyle Football Club is extremely disappointed at the FA appeal panel's decision not to grant Akihiro Ienaga a work-permit. Whilst Ienaga did not qualify under the strict interpretation of the rules, Argyle believed there had been extenuating circumstances for him not playing in the required number of full international matches, namely his inclusion in the Olympic qualifying team during 2007 and a cruciate ligament injury he sustained in 2008. Argyle presented a very strong case to demonstrate that Ienaga was a very special talent, as evidenced by the fact he was selected for the J-League All Stars team in 2007. The club also presented media articles in which Ienaga and fellow Japanese footballer Mizuno were described as the "new cornerstone" of the Japanese International team. Letters of support for Ienaga's work-permit were provided by well-respected football figures such as Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, who testified to the ability and work-ethic of Japanese players and cited his experience working with Mizuno, who was a member of the same Japanese Olympic team as Ienaga. Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura and former Arsenal player Junichi Inamoto, currently playing in Germany, also provided letters of support testifying to the ability and huge star potential of Ienaga. Despite the weight of evidence, the FA panel elected not to use their discretionary powers to grant Ienaga a 'special talent' visa. Whilst the decision is particularly disappointing for Argyle, the club is also extremely dismayed for the player, who really wanted to come to England. Ienaga spent 10 days on trial at Plymouth, during which he demonstrated not only that he is a very talented footballer, but also that he is a very likeable young man. He was very professional and respectful throughout his stay and was a credit to his country and his club, Gamba Osaka, who this year won the Asia Champions League. Argyle are also very disappointed for football fans who have been denied the opportunity of seeing a very exciting player, described in the Japanese media as the best dribbler in Japan. Argyle manager Paul Sturrock stated that Ienaga has excellent technique and would have been a great asset for the club as he could play wide left, wide right or through the middle. Argyle will continue to monitor the progress of Ienaga and have not given up hope of being able to sign him at some stage in the future."
Argyle's youth team lost 3-0 at Exeter City on Saturday. Argyle: Brooks, Leonard, Brett, Kinsella, Hodgkinson, Gerring, Edwards, Moseley, Head, Rickard, Grant. Subs – Trott, Broomfield, Young (not used - Troupe, Sawyer)
Paul Sturrock intends to use Argyle's week off to get into the minds of his players. Following the defeat at Nottingham Forest he expressed the view that his players' thought-processes have contributed to a run of just one win in nine games. "It's in us," he said. "We've got ten days now to regroup. We've got to start putting wins on the board or we are going to finish up having a real relegation tussle from now until the end of the season. Losing is habit-forming, as winning is, and I do feel that, mentally, our players are waiting on things happening; are being bullied all over the football pitch - today, especially; and, in the end, I cannot see where we are going to get a goal from. That is an exasperating scenario, because this team went chasing up the league, scoring goals all over the place and winning football games. These players are the same players that went to Watford, that went to Crystal Palace, that went to Coventry, and won football games. That's what we've got to churn out. If you take Nottingham Forest as an example, I've watched them two or three times this year and there was a spell earlier this season when there was a lack of confidence and they couldn't buy a goal if they tried. Now, you see a team mentally attuned to winning football games. All of a sudden, they are creating chances and everybody wants the ball. We started the season in that vein - couldn't buy a win, couldn't buy a goal. Then, all of sudden, for 14 games, we grasped the cudgel and took ourselves from bottom of the league to fifth-top. We had Gallagher, who had special form when he first came, and we were scoring the first goal: the back four has had a lot of pressure over a certain period of time and we are now losing the first goal. If you look at most games of football that are played in this day and age, in a high percentage of games, when you lose the first goal, you lose the football game. The goalkeeper and the back four have been a fantastic unit for us all season - the whole team, when the other team has had the ball - and now they are being asked to do too much. It was always going to be hard season, because of the transitional period, the changes that were made. I just feel that, at this moment in time, they cannot see where they are going to score a goal: it makes it very difficult when you do lose a goal. It is so exasperating, because I know it's in the players." Sturrock will be emphasising to his squad that 'we are all in this together' and has told players selected for Monday's reserve game at Forest Green to make a case for selection against Bristol City. "I have chopped and changed to try to find the right formula and maybe have taken a rhythm out of the team," he said. "I've got to get this scenario of 'them and us' out of their minds. We are a squad of players who have got a job of work to do: we are not 11 players and the other ten are bit-players. That, I feel, has sifted through the mental side of the game for some of the players: a typical scenario that is happening in modern-day football." Sturrock began with a 4-3-3 line-up at Forest but switched it to 4-4-2 at half-time. "When you lose a goal in 4-3-3, you have to revert as quickly as you can to having two forwards on the field," he said. "That 4-3-3 has worked quite well for us this season. They got a kick in the teeth with kind of a zany goal so early in the second half, but they stuck to their task. In the second half, we at least got ourselves in the right areas: Emile had a shot, the goalie's had a good save; we've hit the bar; but I did feel we reverted to Rory too much and Rory didn't have one of his better games today." The defeat leaves Argyle six points above the relegation zone, but still 15th in the Championship. "Lady Luck has shined on us to leave us in the position in the league we are at this minute," Sturrock added, "but we can't keep doing that. Sooner or later, the other teams are going to catch us up.We want to not be in that scenario. It's relegation material at this moment in time. Now we've got a break to make sure we are ready for Bristol City. I honestly believe there are players in my team that can score goals but I believe they are playing mind-games with themselves. I have got to try to find the winning formula, but it's difficult to get that psyche changed."
Emile Mpenza eased back into action after injury yesterday and Paul Sturrock believes that he could yet play a pivotal part in the campaign. Sturrock said: "He was through and had a shot; was nearly through again; and ran off Rory all day. So I was relatively pleased with his contribution, but I know there's more to come from him. Emile has shown us glimpses over the period he has been here. He turned up nowhere near the fitness to play; we got him fit; he then went through a spell of being on the bench because the team was winning. Then he got in the team and did very well for two or three games; got injured; went through a scenario for four or five weeks when he was unavailable for selection. He came back and needed games." Yoann Folly also returned to the team against one of his previous clubs, while Craig Noone played the first 45 minutes. Sturrock said: "I thought Yoann was workmanlike; I though Nooney had his good moments and his bad moments. I still believe Nooney's got a lot to learn in the game; I still believe he is better suited at this moment in time to being an impact player."
Argyle lost 2-0 at Nottingham Forest. Argyle: Larrieu, Gray, Cathcart, Seip, Barker, Mackie, Summerfield, Folly, Duguid, Noone, Fallon. Subs – Gallagher, Mpenza, Clark (not used – MacLean, Timar). Attendance - 20,392
Paul Sturrock has highlighted the importance of Argyle rediscovering their goalscoring touch. He said: "There is such a fine line between winning and losing in this league. There were games earlier in the season, when we were on a good run, we won 1-0. Now we are losing 1-0. Sooner or later, we have got to come to the show and finish teams off. That's where we are going wrong at this minute in time. Even against Arsenal, there were half chances dropping around the box that we should be putting in the net. So that's what we have got to put an edge to. Yes, I can help them maybe by bringing in somebody with a goal-scoring pedigree, but the people already here took us to fifth in the table. I'm expecting them to come to the show and start getting us on the winning trail again." Argyle have not played since losing to Arsenal because their game against Crystal Palace was postponed. That game was called off at 8.15am because of a frozen pitch, much to the disappointment of Sturrock. "It was the referee's decision, and we couldn't really force him into playing it, but it was playable at 12.30pm," he said. "That was a disappointment for me, because I think we were ready for that one. I had got good vibes from the players." Sturrock knows Argyle will have their hands full today against a resurgent Forest. He said: "They have got a new manager to impress, the crowd will be buzzing with the results they have had lately, and they will be desperate to make sure they are in this league next season. It's going to be a very difficult game – as they all are. You can take nobody for granted." Sturrock believes Argyle's defence can contain Forest's attacking threat. He added: "Our boys have been up against some very good forward lines recently, and have come out the right side of it. We have got to stand up and be counted now. And I would just like us to have a couple of dirty wins, so we are looking up the table, instead of looking down."
Paul Sturrock has been forced to make some tough decisions ahead of the game with Nottingham Forest. He said: "The large squad is my biggest problem and I am going to have some disappointed hombres on my hands, and I am trying to be as receptive to their disappointment as possible. There are a lot of them who think they should be in the team, quite rightly. I wouldn't want a player who didn't think they should be in the team. I would love to pick every player I have at Plymouth Argyle but that is obviously taken out of your hands by the fact you can only play 11. In the end I have got to decide what is best. There will be other weeks when others get left behind. It was fantastic to get the kind of practice game we got this week, which was a real bonus to us. It is now making my mind up on the squad to travel north."
Argyle's youth team will play their FA Youth Cup fifth round tie with Tottenham Hotspur at Home Park on Wednesday, February 11th. The match was originally scheduled to take place in January, but has been put back because of Spurs involvement in a tournament in Mexico. The winners of the tie will be at home in the quarter-finals against either Sunderland or Arsenal.
Argyle's home game with Crystal Palace, postponed last weekend, will now be played on Tuesday February 17th, with a 7.45pm kick-off
The knee injury sustained by Jermaine Easter is worse than first feared. Paul Sturrock said: "Jermaine's injury is much more serious than first thought. The scans showed that there was a lot of movement in his knee and fibres had been torn, so we've still got a hefty time before he will be available again. I am disappointed about that because the boy has had a chat with me about things and he appreciates the situation now. He is desperate to do well for the club again. I just felt at the start of the season there were things in his mind that were not pure Plymouth Argyle. He has gone away and had a taste, and I think he feels now that the grass is not always greener."
Argyle's appeal for a work-permit for Akihiro Ienaga has been rejected. An independent panel met in Birmingham today to consider Argyle's application. The request was made after Ienaga failed to meet standard criteria for a permit. Paul Sturrock and Michael Dunford presented the clubs case to the panel, which included a DVD of the player. However, after due consideration, the panel's recommendation was to reject the plea.
Emile Mpenza came through Monday's friendly draw with Cardiff unscathed and is available for tomorrow's trip to Nottingham Forest. Paul Sturrock said: "He has had a hamstring strain and he is a 31-year-old man who knows he has got to break himself in gently. As the second-half developed at Cardiff, he came into the game. If there is an injury he has had on a regular occurrence, it is this one. His legs are like tree trunks, so when a hamstring goes it is a major operation."
Roman Kienast has completed his three-day trial with Argyle and is now waiting to find out whether they will make a move to sign him. Kienast has now left Home Park, and Paul Sturrock said: "I would like to hear the financial terms from his club, and the financial terms from the his agent, before I make a considered decision on whether he's coming to this football club or not. He has gone back to Norway, but him and I, a couple of wingers and a couple of strikers did a finishing session on Wednesday, just to see what he was like in the box." Kienast has not played competitively since November, after suffering a hamstring injury while on trial with Norwich City. Sturrock said: "I think he has got attributes. You don't play for your country 10 times, including at the European Championships, if you haven't got something about you. I actually learned more about him in the training session on Wednesday than I did in the game against Cardiff because he's not near match fitness."
Paul Sturrock has not ruled out a return to first-team action for Simon Walton but admitted he had to 'build a few bridges' before he would consider recalling him. Sturrock said: "Simon has got to build a few bridges with everybody involved with the football club. I think that's his job over the next two or three weeks. Also, we have had him tested vigorously by specialists, with regards to his body fat content, his strength and his diet. We have come up with a regime that he's going to go under now, under the supervision of the physio and ourselves, to make sure we get him leaner and meaner." Asked whether that meant Walton would not be considered for the first team squad during this period, Sturrock replied: "He's going to try to do both at the same time. He has got to be competitive for selection but, obviously, appreciate that he's going to have to follow the stringent rules and regulations I have put him under." Walton was signed from QPR at the start of August for a fee which could eventually rise to £750,000. However, it is thought Argyle have paid only around a quarter of that figure so far.
Skelmersdale United striker George Donnelly will play as a trialist in Argyle reserves' game at Forest Green Rovers on Monday. Donnelly has scored 11 goals in the Unibond League Division One North this season. Skelmersdale manager Tommy Lawson said: "It's an opportunity for the lad to go and show his ability and he deserves the chance after the season he has had."
Paul Sturrock believes the global economic climate has taken little time to have an effect on football. "It is important now that the budget is adhered to," he said. "Nobody envisaged the credit crunch. Nobody envisaged the drop in fan-base that everybody has had, so everybody is near enough £1m down on what they were expecting. We have had tentative offers on several of our players but it is very tentative. I would imagine it would happen in the last two or three days - that is for loans because nobody's buying. There is obviously one or two I would like to keep and one or two I am contemplating but some of the positions where I have been asked to move people on I am light on anyway. The important thing for me to say about this January window is that nobody has any money: one, to take loans, and two, to buy anybody. Outside the Premiership, the credit crunch has actually nullified transfers. Loans are still available to us for two months after the window, so I am not going to chasing my tail. It is not as vitally important, which gives me a bit more time to survey the scene. This week was disappointing because the FA Youth Cup was on, so reserve games were all off. Next week, and maybe the week after, there are a host of games, which will give me a clear picture of who I would maybe like to add to the squad. The disappointment for me is the credit crunch has worked detrimentally for us in terms of getting people out of the football club, for the simple reason that people just can't afford them. It has cut down drastically on the opportunities some of our players would have had."
Paul Gallagher wants to put doubts about his future at Argyle to one side and concentrate on his football. Gallagher is on a season-long loan from Blackburn Rovers but has admitted there is a chance he could be sold by Blackburn before the transfer window closes. Gallagher briefly met new Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce when he returned to Ewood Park last month for assessment of a knee injury. "It was a quick shake of the hand and that was it really," he said. "He didn't say much, but he has spoken to the manager here and he has spoken to my agent. I think the thing is, I can stay here on loan, but if a bid comes in they will consider selling me. I will just have to concentrate on playing for Plymouth because that's out of my hands. This club, or any other club, could come in and take a chance on me. I have been happy here over the last four months, but you never know what's going to happen in football. Something could happen tomorrow, or it could happen on the last day of the window, but my mentality is that I will be here for a season-long loan, which is what I signed for." Gallagher returned to training yesterday after recovering from a bout of 'flu but is still not fully fit after the knee injury. He said: "The knee is still a bit sore. I have been taking some tablets and having ice on it, to try to keep the swelling down. There's a bit of fluid in there and it's a just bit aggravating when I strike the ball, but it's getting easier. I'm going to make myself available for selection tomorrow, but it's down to the manager. He picks the team. Hopefully, I can show in training today that I'm nearly back to 100 per cent. I have been ill for three or four days, which took it out of me a bit, but every footballer wants to play in every game." Gallagher played for 72 minutes of the FA Cup tie at Arsenal and enjoyed the experience, despite his sore knee. He added: "There aren't many times you get to play at the Emirates Stadium against a world-class team. Nine thousand fans turned out and it was a fantastic day for the whole club, not just for me. I think we did ourselves justice and if we can take that performance into the league, I don't see why we shouldn't move up the table." Gallagher has not scored for Argyle since the home defeat by Blackpool on November 29th, and hopes to end that sequence tomorrow. He said: "I need to get back to the levels I was achieving when I first came here. For the first few months, I was playing well and I felt good. But in the last few months, it just hasn't gone for me. Hopefully, I can get that form back." Forest have won three successive matches, and tomorrow will be their first home fixture since the appointment of Billy Davies as manager. Gallagher said: "Billy Davies has got a great record in the Championship. He got Preston into the play-offs and took Derby up to the Premier League. We know it's going to be a tough game, with a big crowd in a big stadium."
Paul Sturrock has insisted he expects Jason Puncheon to still be part of his squad next season. When asked whether he would be back for pre-season training in June, Sturrock replied: "I would say so. It's only a loan. The important thing for Punch is to get as many games as possible. He hasn't let himself down in the games he has played for us, but I feel the jump from League Two to the Championship is a long way at times." Sturrock admitted the rise to prominence of Craig Noone was a factor behind his decision to allow Puncheon to return to MK Dons on loan. He said: "I didn't want to stagnate the boy Noone's development by having the two of them here at the same time. I didn't want to finish up giving both of them less playing time. So I did feel it was appropriate to let one of them leave, and the one we had the opportunity to do that with was Puncheon. Everything suited everybody."
Paul Sturrock has admitted he wants to reduce the size of his squad before the transfer window closes. He said: "At this juncture, with the credit crunch as it is, we aren't going to be charging out the door and buying loads and loads. If we are bringing people in, it will probably be on loan, like everybody else is doing at this minute in time. But we have to move some of our players on permanently so they can get first-team football, which is what I want for them. I would pick every one of my players if I could, but I can only pick 11." Sturrock has had calls about the availability of some of his squad players and he described the situation as 'ongoing.' He added: "We have to trim this squad. Training with 24-26 players, it's very difficult to keep everybody happy and contented. And sometimes it means you don't get enough content into the first team because you are trying to keep everybody involved. I'm very hopeful I can move some of the players on and get them regular first-team football because they deserve it."
Argyle will play their postponed game against Crystal Palace sometime in February after Palace beat Leicester in last night's FA Cup third round replay. That result means the game cannot take place on January 24th, when Argyle have a free Saturday due to their FA defeat at Arsenal
Argyle's youth team will play Tottenham Hotspur in the next round of the FA Youth Cup, after Spurs beat Charlton Athletic last night. The tie will be played at Home Park before the end of January, but the exact date has yet to be agreed.
Argyle's youth team beat Millwall 3-2 in the FA Youth Cup tie at Home Park last night. The goals were scored by Lewis Edwards, Liam Head and Joe Mason. Argyle will now be at home to Charlton Athletic or Tottenham Hotspur in the fifth round. Argyle: Brooks, Leonard, Gerring, Hodgkinson, Brett, Edwards, Kinsella, Moseley, Grant, Mason, Head. Subs - Young (not used - Rickard, Sawyer, Trott, Chenoweth). Mike Pejic was happy with his sides attitude, if not their overall performance. "We took our chances at crucial times in the game and we have come through the other end," he said. "It was not one of our best performances but we haven't played for four or five weeks. The last game we had was against Fulham in the previous round and one or two of the lads have had flu symptoms, so I am quite happy to get the win tonight. We gave them far too much space and time on the ball, especially the front three. We didn't stop their supply as we had worked on in the week and they caused us quite a bit of damage tonight. We scrapped it out tonight and full credit to them. Lewis Edwards did well for the first goal and he performed well throughout the game. Liam Head did really well and made it his for the second goal. He was brave in the box but, again, having scored, we let them back into it. We had two players not doing their jobs on a set-play, which is one of our strengths, so I was not happy, but we justified our lead at half-time. We let them get too many crosses into the box in the first half and they were winning second balls and knockdowns, so it was not nice at all as a coach. We won the ball more often in the second half but we didn't use it like we can. We were a bit sloppy and panicked in possession. Our defending was far too deep for their second goal and one of our big defenders didn't win the header, but full credit to us again. We came back at it and a good challenge by Head was followed up by Mason. It was a different type of game to Fulham altogether. Millwall got it forward quickly and we adjusted well for a team that hasn't played in five weeks."
Paul Sturrock has stated there could be another two or three trialists at Home Park next week, but was not prepared to name them. Argyle are also continuing to investigate the possible signing of Japanese midfielder Akihiro Ienaga.
Jermaine Easter is working hard to recover from a medial knee ligament injury but it is thought he will not be ready for a return to action until the end of February at the earliest. Paul Maxwell said: "He started some light jogging last Thursday and has just got to build up through the rehab programme. We have been waiting for the ligament to tighten up, which it has done now."
The future of Austrian trialist Roman Kienast remains in the balance. Paul Sturrock said: "Making a judgment when you have just come off a plane and driven three hours up to Cardiff is very difficult, especially with his fitness levels and playing against the opposition we did. He is resting today but he will train tomorrow, and we will have more thoughts on his scenario on Thursday. He scored a goal and showed bits and pieces, but you could see generally that there was rustiness in his game. He came on as substitute three times in the European Championships and his goalscoring record is second to none. He scored 17 goals for a team that was relegated last season, which is good pedigree. He also went to Helsingborgs and scored three goals in eight games for them. His track record at a young age in Austria was reasonable as well. He reminds me of Peter Crouch a bit. He has got decent touch, although his ball skills yesterday were probably disappointing due to not having that sharpness, but he scored a goal and won his share in the air. This boy has got pedigree but the problem is making a judgment. I have to weigh up the time it took to get Emile Mpenza up and running, and have I got time to do that again? There are also discussions with the other club, discussions with the agent and discussions with the board. There is nothing being negotiated with the club at the minute."
Paul Sturrock was pleased with his players after the friendly at Cardiff yesterday. He said: "We needed a game yesterday for all of the first team squad who haven't been getting regular starts. Everybody who you can think of who hasn't started recently played in the game. It was a fantastic standard of game. We travelled up to Cardiff and the pitch was in fabulous condition considering the amount of rain they'd had in the area. They had a very strong team out and it ended in a 3-3 draw. We were very pleased with the standard of performance of all the players, individually and as a team. I was very, very pleased with getting that standard of game."
Roman Kienast scored one of the goals in a 3-3 draw at Cardiff City in a behind closed doors friendly yesterday. The match took place at Cardiff's Vale of Glamorgan training ground, and Paul Sturrock made the trip to see Kienast in action. The striker is expected to train with Argyle for the rest of this week. Details of the game have been hard to come by but reports suggest that Argyle's side included Simon Walton, Mathias Doumbe, Gary Sawyer, Krisztian Timar, Craig Noone and Emile Mpenza. The goalscorers were Kienast, Noone and Walton
Argyle under-18s will play for the first time in six weeks when they take on Millwall in the FA Youth Cup at Home Park tonight. Mike Pejic does not believe the long lay-off will damage their chances of progressing and said: "We haven't played a game since December 2nd but, hopefully, we will not be too rusty tonight. We have done a lot of fitness work and a lot of tactical work with them over the past week. There is a good incentive to get through to the next round, with a home game against Charlton or Tottenham. But, with youth football, you never know how the players are going to react on the day." Pejic has done his homework on Millwall, having had the Lions watched and seen DVD's of games. He said: "It's going to be a different type of game compared to the one against Fulham. Millwall are a very direct, competitive side and have one or two quick players in their team. We have got an idea about them and now it's all about playing to the best of our ability. If we perform as we did against Fulham, we have got a very good chance of going through to the next round."
Jason Puncheon has returned to the MK Dons on loan for the rest of the season. Paul Sturrock said: "It is important for Jason that he is getting regular football in a competitive environment. At his young age the experience he is getting is a different class"
Roman Kienast played for Argyle in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Cardiff City today. The match ended in a 3-3 draw. Simon Walton was also in a strong Argyle side in what was described as 'a very good, competitive game.'
Paul Sturrock was disappointed the game against Palace was postponed, but had no complaints about the decision. He said: "Every footballer, and everybody involved with the club, keys themselves up for a match on a Saturday. So it's always disappointing when this sort of thing happens. I was looking forward to the game because I felt we had been looking much better in training and there was an edge to the players." The game against Nottingham Forest will now be Argyle's only fixture in the next fortnight. Sturrock said: "We have got a vitally important two-and-a-half weeks coming up. It will enable us to really get some solid work done. Hopefully, that can get us back on track again." Sturrock sympathised with head groundsman Colin Wheatcroft and his staff who had worked around the clock to try to get the game on. He said: "It shows you how the climate is changing, big time, when we are having problems with frozen pitches in Plymouth. Colin and the boys have worked very hard to try to get the game on. They were here near-enough all night, so I'm gutted for them."
Argyle are reported to have Austrian international striker Roman Kienast on a week-long trial at Home Park
Groundsman Colin Wheatcroft was 'devastated' after the game against Crystal Palace was postponed because of a frozen pitch. He said: "We are all devastated. I feel I have let everybody down, but I suppose nature is a thing you can't beat. I have tried to beat nature before, and I have won a few times, but not many! Games here are usually called off because the pitch is waterlogged. This is extremely unusual. The referee went under the frost sheets with me. He had his boots on and they went 'crunch' as soon as he got onto the pitch because it was frozen. He wasn't prepared to take a chance, and have all the supporters and everybody else, come here, and then call it off at two o'clock because it hadn't thawed out enough. In my honest opinion, I think he had no choice at all because the temperatures have been so low. I did say to the referee that in the old days the players would have worn rubber-soled boots and that would have been acceptable. But that doesn't happen any more and he said he just couldn't take the chance." Wheatcroft praised the endeavours of his staff for battling around the clock. He said: "We were here until the early hours of Saturday morning. By then, we had all had enough and we could see what was happening, so we all went home. We were back in at seven o'clock and the temperature was nearly minus three. As soon as went underneath the sheets, you could see nothing had happened. I don't think any of us had slept anyway, worrying about it." Although the frost protection sheets did not save the game, Wheatcroft still believes they serve a valuable purpose. He said: "If you have a normal frost, which is maybe one degree below, you would be able to play on it. They were a good investment, and we also use them for germination and speeding up the growth of the grass, so they do two jobs. But to have played this game today, in these circumstances, you would have needed a big tent with heating blowing through it all the time. It would have cost an arm and a leg to get one of those here."
Despite Argyle's best efforts, their game against Crystal Palace failed to beat the freeze yesterday, when referee Rob Shoebridge called the match off. Following an 8.15 pitch inspection Shoebridge ruled that the Home Park surface was dangerously frozen. That was in spite of groundsman Colin Wheatcroft using double pitch covers and industrial heaters in an attempt to beat the weather. "I think all credit has got to go to Colin Wheatcroft for the hard work he has clearly done on the pitch throughout the week," the referee said. "However, it is still frozen, I'm afraid, despite his best attempts. Industrial heaters have been put on the pitch but the frost is so deep from Wednesday night, when it was -7 degrees, the decision was inevitable. Players' safety is paramount." The game was postponed in plenty of time for an early message to be put out to fans. Shoebridge said: "For me, it was a case of going on to the field, liaising with Colin, who knows this pitch a lot better than I do, listening to what he's got to tell me, and looking at the anticipated weather forecast. It should be noted that the forecasters have been wrong for the majority of the week, which hasn't helped us - I think they forecast rain for today which probably would have helped, but, even if that had happened, it still wasn't certain to get the frost out of the ground. There's always a school of thought of whether you can leave a decision a bit later, but it doesn't always pay to leave it. I left it at a game last season and the anticipated weather forecast didn't prevail." No new date for the game has yet been determined.
Argyle's game against Crystal Palace has been postponed because of a frozen pitch
Paul Sturrock was very pleased to see Rory Fallon extending his contract this week. "I must say how pleased I am that Rory is tied up to the football club," he said. "If you want an example of somebody who has redeveloped himself as a footballer, Rory comes into that category. He has been rewarded because he has been able to change his game and he has been able to take in information. He has wanted to do what we have asked him to do, and I'm delighted for him. When I got here, the old Rory Fallon was not a nice sight. But we've had a few chats and we've worked on wee bits and pieces of his game, without filling his head with too much, and he's definitely turned himself from an ugly duckling into a swan. An ugly swan, maybe, but still a swan. There are still bits and pieces he needs to add to his game to become that perfect swan."
Paul Sturrock hopes some of his out-of-favour players will be leaving Argyle within the next week. He said: "I spent the whole day on Wednesday phoning the other football clubs in the country to see if there was interest in any of the players I have. There are a couple of wee things going on – for players going out and coming in. I would hope things will open up next week and, maybe, we can move on some of our players on loan, and some permanently. I'm very much trying to organise things as far as bringing some trialists in to have a look at."
Paul Sturrock has praised the development of Ashley Barnes while he has been on loan to Eastbourne Borough. Barnes has scored four goals in eight games and has had his loan spell extended for a second month. Sturrock said: "I'm very pleased with the development of the players who have been out on loan. They are looking really good after getting games every Saturday. The strength factor and playing in competitive games has been a benefit to them as well. I have seen an edge to all of them who have been out. Ashley Barnes has been different class in the training lately."
For Rory Fallon, this year's serious business for Argyle starts this afternoon. "It was a good game up at Arsenal, we enjoyed the day, but it's over," he said. "In my mind, I always thought I was going to enjoy the day, but I never thought anything of it beyond that. The League is always most important." Asked if the trip to Emirates Stadium might have distracted the squad from league business, Fallon replied: "The game may have affected a couple of the lads, because some of them had never played in front of that many people and at such a big club, but I've been playing for ten years now and it was just another game for me. For me, what matters most is getting as high up as possible in the Championship. Doing well in the Cup was never going to be anything more than a bonus. We have to really roll up our sleeves and start getting stuck in and start winning some points. I need to get some goals and I need to keep assisting with goals." Argyle have won only one of their last nine games, but their displays have deserved better reward – and that applied last weekend as well. "Arsenal didn't hammer us," Fallon said. "We just gave away some bad goals and we paid for it. We have to learn from that and be tight at the back and take our chances as well." Fallon helped Argyle beat Crystal Palace 2-1 last September, and a repeat of that result would suit him down to the ground. "At the time, we needed those points," he said. "Palace was one of the stepping stones, and hopefully we can do that to them again and kick on from there. All it takes is three wins in a row and we're back up there. It's that tight. I know we're capable of it, because we've done it. I believe we have a good enough team here. With maybe a couple of additions, who knows where we could end up?" Fallon now feels that he has roots in Plymouth. "So many things have happened in this past year to get me to where I am now, and I'm just blessed," he declared. "I'm just so thankful that the club have put faith in me. There was no chance of me moving, but I wanted to be looked after. As soon as I knew they were taking me seriously, I signed the contract straight away. I didn't want to move, because there are so many things that are good in my life here. For me to leave to go to another club would be a disgrace, really."
Paul Sturrock knows Argyle are entering a crucial stage of their season. He said: "We are as close to the top areas we would like to be in, as we are to the bottom. Obviously, we can go either way, and it's vitally important to start putting results on the board as quickly as possible and gain some confidence. If you look at some of the performances we have had lately, they have not been untoward. But where I have been disappointed is our mental approach against the so-called minnows of the league. If you look at our form against the teams who are in the bottom six, it's probably the poorest in the league. That's the galling thing for me, and we are going to have to turn that around." Argyle face Crystal Palace tomorrow, who are one of the form teams in the league. Sturrock said: "They are a very strong, physical side and, away from home, their form has been good. They have definitely got players who can hurt you, and we are going to be at the top of our game to get a result." The match means another return to Home Park for Neil Warnock. "Neil and I have tussled many a time," said Sturrock. "I enjoy his company and he's a good lad. From three o'clock to five o'clock we are both different beasts. But before and after the game, I'm sure we will have a wee chinwag and a wee laugh together." Argyle's defeat at Arsenal took a lot out of the players, according to Sturrock, but he hopes they will be firing on all cylinders tomorrow. He said: "I'm a wee bit worried about a backlash from that game. It's amazing how much that took out of people. But after the week's training and the week's rest, everybody will be ready for the challenge. We know what we have got to do now. We have got to be positive in our approach and make sure our home form is good. We have taken four points out of the last six at home, and I would definitely take four out of six over the next two." The temperatures this week have led to the squad training on the artificial pitch at Saltmill Park, Saltash, because Harper's Park has been out of action. Sturrock said: "The artificial pitch has been a godsend but, even so, it has been a bit hard." The pitch at Home Park has been covered for the last couple of days and the game against Palace should not be affected by the weather.
Craig Cathcart believes he has become a much better defender in his five months at Argyle. He said: "I have played plenty of games in the first half of the season, so I'm looking forward to doing that in the second half, and getting us pushed back up the table as high as we can. I'm definitely better defensively now than I was when I came here. Playing against Rory in training has helped me massively. I'm not used to playing against big, tall strikers and you have to learn when to put your body on the line and when to jockey. In the reserves and youth team at United it's just a lot of passing, but down here it's 100 miles an hour." Cathcart has yet to make a first-team appearance for Manchester United, but hopes his time with Argyle will improve his chances of a call-up from Alex Ferguson. "I was sent down here to get more experience and toughen me up a bit," he said. "Hopefully, when I go back the manager will see how much I have improved and I might get amongst the squad." Cathcart has been joined at Home Park by David Gray, and he added: "Him and I have played in the youth team and the reserves at United for about three years. Hopefully, we will get a good run in the team here, make it a solid back four and it will help the team. He did brilliant on his debut and he's a very consistent player. He's a solid defender, he's quick and he can get forward, so I'm sure he will do well in this league." Cathcart believes it is important for Argyle to build on their display against Arsenal when they face Crystal Palace tomorrow. He said: "I can't think of anyone who didn't do well last Saturday. It was a good solid performance and, hopefully, we can take it into the league." Cathcart's second game for Argyle came when they beat Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park in September, and he is convinced they can pick up another three points tomorrow. He said: "I think we can take a lot from the performance we did against them last time. If we do the same sort of things, we can win. They have got quite a decent squad and a lot of good players who have been around the Championship. They have got some decent strikers, so we will have to be ready for them, but because we are the home team we will have to go out and put our game on. Hopefully, it will be enough to get the win. In most of the games we score first in, we go on to win. It's just getting that early goal and settling everyone down."
Paul Sturrock admitted he is expecting visits from some of the players left out of the team for the FA Cup defeat at Arsenal. He said: "I am sure Mat Doumbe and a few others will be coming to see me over the next couple of days with their opinions on why they should have played. That is the normal rigours of a football manager and I will be very disappointed if some of them don't knock on my door. David Gray is a utility player and can play all sorts of positions. Gray has always been in our thoughts and if he hadn't been injured, he would have come here in November. He has many attributes and the positions he can play is a great benefit to the squad of players."
Gary Sawyer will not be leaving Home Park in the transfer window, despite rumours of a loan move. Paul Sturrock said: "I have had a discussion with Gary and he is going nowhere at this minute in time. I thought long and hard about it but to tie him up somewhere else at this juncture of the season, without the opportunity of bringing him back again, would not be in the club's interests. It is unfortunate for Gary because he needs to play games. Gary is the first to admit Chris Barker has done a good job at left-back, which has nullified Gary's opportunities. Gary is appreciative of the situation and he is working very hard to keep himself fit because he knows that when the chance comes he has got to grab it."
Paul Sturrock has admitted it is make or break time at Argyle for Emile Mpenza. He said: "January is a huge month for Emile. I think he would probably be the first to admit that he hasn't performed to the standards he wants to achieve. He has shown glimpses of it, which has whetted people's appetites. He has had this niggling injury, which has always been a concern to him, but that seems to have cleared up now. He seems to be up to the pace in training." When asked whether he thought Mpenza would still be at Argyle after the transfer window closes, Sturrock said: "If he gets back to the standards he achieved against Cardiff, yes."
Paul Sturrock does not want Craig Noone to become distracted by transfer talk. According to a story in a national newspaper yesterday Noone is an £800,000 target for Sunderland and Wigan Athletic. Sturrock denied there had been any inquiries for Noone, and said: "Nooney is an exciting player and I would hope to think that over the piece people are going to come watch him and give good reports back to their managers. I don't see this newspaper story being any more than that. I would imagine any scout worth his salt will be reporting back after watching some of the games he has come on and played in. But, as I said, I think that's as far as it goes at this minute in time. Me and Nooney will have a wee chat about things. Things like this, to a young laddie, can be a distraction. But, to be fair, he's pretty level-headed."
With the transfer window now open, Paul Sturrock hopes to have two trialists at Home Park in the next two weeks. Sturrock would not name the players, but both are under contract at other clubs. He said: "I'm hoping one or two will come into our training environment, enabling me to have a look at them." Asked whether they were from this country or abroad, Sturrock replied: "Both." Talks about the possible signing of Japanese midfielder Akihiro Ienaga are continuing. Sturrock wants to make sure Ienaga is eligible for a work permit and he said: "We are discussing all sorts of things with the agent, the club and everything else. That's as far as it has gone." Meanwhile, the cold weather has seen Sturrock cancel a planned trip to check out some transfer targets. He said: "There were games I was going to watch this week – first team and reserves – but they have all been postponed because of the weather, which is very frustrating. I wouldn't have been here until Thursday had some of the games been available to me."
Graham Stack seems set to leave Argyle by the end of the January transfer window. Paul Sturrock said: "Graham and I have had a conversation and it's important he plays regular first team football. He has made that plain. The situation has arisen that he can go out on trial, go back out on loan again, or move on with a permanent deal." Sturrock would not be drawn on the reasons why Stack had fallen out of favour at Home Park. All he would say was: "Graham wants to play first team football – plain, simple and easy. That's it. He has made it plain to me he needs to play first team football at his age." In an interview after signing on loan for Blackpool, Stack admitted he had been 'extremely disappointed' about his omission from the Argyle team. Sturrock said: "That's football. We then went on an incredible run with Romain in the goals. That's the decision I made." When asked whether he thought Stack would still be at Argyle when the transfer window closes, Sturrock replied: "I would hope not. I would hope to think for Stacky's sake that somebody comes in and either takes him on loan or permanently and he gets his wish of playing first team football."
Simon Walton has completed his three-match suspension after being sent-off at Barnsley and Paul Sturrock said: "Walts and I are still to have another conversation. It has been difficult because the Arsenal cup tie took up so much of people's minds. Now, I have got to try to calm things down and get things sorted for Saturday, which is a vital game for us. I would think, over the next couple of weeks, I will clarify everybody's position at the football club."
Rory Fallon has agreed an extension to his contract that will see him remain at Home Park until 2011. "I've just signed a new two-year deal and I'm happy," he said. "It has been going on for a few weeks and I just know that I need to be in Plymouth. I didn't get side-tracked by anything else because I felt I needed another two years here. I am settled and, as everyone knows, I go to a good church and my wife Carly and I are having the time of our lives down here. We also have the Faith in Football stuff. I am happy here and you can't put a price on happiness. If you are happy and doing everything right outside of football, it comes back onto the pitch. Hopefully in the next two years, we could be in the Premiership - you just don't know. Football is a funny game and anything is possible with God."
Argyle expect to make more than £500,000 from their FA Cup tie at Arsenal. Michael Dunford said: "Arsenal gave us the total attendance but they haven't given us the gross cash figure yet. Until we get that, I don't know how much money we will get, but it's safe to say it will be in excess of £500,000. It's very much-needed in the present economic climate and we are very appreciative of it. We know it was expensive for our supporters to go up to Arsenal, but they were fantastic – all 9,000 of them. The money will be a much-needed boost, but it's back to the reality of Championship football now. We have had our birthday for the season – that was the trip to Arsenal. Now we are back to our bread and butter, starting with the game against Crystal Palace on Saturday. We have got to try to entice as many people as possible to come along to Home Park for that match."
Argyle reserves scheduled game at Yeovil Town on Wednesday has been postponed
David Gray made his Argyle debut in the defeat at Arsenal on Saturday. His only previous experience of first-team football was one appearance in the Carling Cup for Manchester United and one league game during a loan spell with Crewe. "When I played for Crewe the weather was like a hurricane. It was a miserable night and a miserable game," he said. "It was right in the deep end but I don't think I could ask for a better start in front of 60,000 people in probably one of the nicest stadiums around, so it was a great game to go in to. You have to go out and enjoy the experience, and take what you can. It is definitely the highlight of my career so far. It was by far the biggest game of my career. The biggest crowd before that was probably around 30,000, when I was in a tournament over in Dallas. This was the FA Cup, so it was completely different, as is the League because points matter - it is proper football. Before that, I was used to reserve team football, where it is more about performance than result. You can see the whole Arsenal team is one of the best passing teams in England, if not the world. Nasri is obviously a special talent and they are all really quick players. It is a privilege to play against players like that and it is good to see where we are as a team as well." Gray was disappointed with the goals Argyle conceded in an otherwise impressive performance. "I was disappointed with the goals that we lost," he said. "It was good to still be in the game and it was a good performance from the boys, but I am a little disappointed." The presence of Craig Cathcart at Home Park has helped Gray to settle quickly. "The lads were all very welcoming," he said. "The first day I was in was New Year's Day and they were all really helpful in getting me settled. It also helps going straight into a match because you get the chance to meet the players and play with them, which breaks the ice. I played with Craig for nearly a whole season in the reserves and it is always handy to have somebody beside you, who you've played with before. He said it was a real family club. Everybody makes you feel welcome and they are a good bunch of lads, and the football side of it is great. I am looking forward to it because it is all about games and getting experience with the age I am at. Playing in the reserves at Manchester United was obviously good but I am at the level now where I need to progress, and the only way I can progress is by playing first-team football. It was initially supposed to go through as the transfer window was closing in November but I had just had a hernia operation, so we slowed it down. I found out the day before New Year's Eve and drove down. The Gaffer phoned me to say 'how do you fancy going to Plymouth?' It was then a mad rush to try and get everything organized. We were playing against one of the best teams in Europe and we were in the game for 80 minutes. If you look at the Championship table, it is very tight. There are only nine points between the play-offs and relegation, so I'm sure, if we can put a few games together, we will be right up the table. I want to gain as much experience as I can, play as much as I can and, hopefully, help Plymouth push forward. The first game was so quick but to play at home against a team like Palace is really good." Gray has been touted as a versatile player but he insisted that right-back was his favourite position, and he has taken advice from one of the greatest full-backs in the history of English football. Gray said: "Gary Neville has been really helpful. He is the club captain and he has helped me a lot because he is very approachable. I started off as a winger and then got pushed back to right-back. I have played a few games at centre-back recently because we were struggling for players in the reserves, but I would definitely say I am a full-back." Gray denied he scored an own goal on his Argyle debut. "I have had nothing but stick from my mates, scoring on my debut," he said. "It actually never touched me at all. Bendtner beat to me it, which was a bit disappointing because, if I had got there first, it wouldn't have gone that way - it would have went out of the goal. I didn't think anything of it until after the match, when the lads were saying I scored an own goal. Seeing the replay again, it is hard to see, and it does look like we both made contact at the same time, but Bendtner definitely scored it."
Yala Bolasie's loan period with Rushden and Diamonds has been extended by a month
Karl Duguid praised the 9,000 travelling fans who made the journey to London to support Argyle against Arsenal last Saturday. He said: "Seeing and hearing the fans always helps. We have seen them come to places all over the country and they came out in their force yet again. Nine thousand fans have travelled for hours on a coach, or by train, or flown, or whatever they have done. They have made sure they have got here. I mean, I am from around here and I know how far it is, it's a long, long way and respect to them – they have been unbelievable all season, no matter what. I mean we have played away, we have lost games, and they are still there. They clap us at the end of the game and you have got to go and clap them as well because they pay good money, they work all week to come and watch us play. Even if we don't put a performance in, we will go and clap them to say 'thank you very much' because we respect what they have done to get themselves to the game. We are all right, we get a coach the day before and get a stay-over in a hotel or whatever. They get up at six o'clock in the morning to get to the game and that just shows you how dedicated they are – the players know that and respect goes out to them for that."
Argyle's finances have been boosted considerably by the FA Cup game against Arsenal. Argyle will receive 45 per cent of the gate receipts from an official attendance of 59,424 and although it is difficult to put a precise figure on the money the club will end up with Paul Sturrock said: "It will help in a big way. The credit crunch is causing clubs real problems. Crowds in the Championship are down 15 per cent and you can't legislate for that. Everybody has been affected. So when you get an opportunity like this, it definitely benefits the balance sheet. We were well over budget anyway, so it will go some way towards helping that." Meanwhile, Sturrock admitted his squad was 'very top-heavy' after the loan signing of David Gray. He said: "We will obviously try to strengthen our squad. But, we are like any football club at this minute in time. We are going to have to people move out. We are very top-heavy now, and there are certain players who are surplus to requirements. All footballers need to play in people's first teams. There is no point in playing reserve football for Plymouth Argyle. So it's vitally important that I try to move some of them on, and clear some spaces for me bring some others in."
Romain Larrieu played down the importance of his own performance in Argyle's defeat at Arsenal. "I had a couple of good saves – some I've blocked, some were lucky, but you need your luck sometimes," he said. "But we've lost three goals which was a shame, because we could have stayed in the game longer if we'd switched on at the corner. We were just happy to be level at half-time although we knew we'd be under pressure early in the second half. We were very disappointed, obviously, as their first goal was very soft. And after just five minutes of the second half we are 2-0 down and thought, 'Uh oh, what's going to happen next?' But credit to the lads they kept their heads and kept fighting and got back into the game at 2-1. With the score at 3-1 we had a chance just to make it 3-2. It was a good save from their goalie as well. And then you never know what will happen. We were still in the game even though it was played at our end, because we could have broken away and they could have switched off? So to come away with nothing is so disappointing." Larrieu said his regret at losing was tempered by his enjoyment of the occasion, performing in front of a near 60,000 crowd and the contribution of the Green Army. "They were unbelievable," said Larrieu. "They were behind my goal in the first half, but I could hear them just as much in the second, too. You don't notice them so much during the game as there's so much more to concentrate on. But they kept cheering us on – it was brilliant." Larrieu also spoke of how much the chance to play on the big stage meant to him personally, coming a year after his cancer scare problems resurfaced. He added: "It was just a year ago when I got diagnosed for the recurrence. I don't really think about it like that – I always knew I'd be back. So, to be involved in a game like this today, after receiving treatment in the early part of last year, is sweet."
Paul Sturrock was delighted with his entire team on Saturday, but did give a special mention to some members of the side. He said: "I thought Romain was very competent and showed how well he has been playing this season. I'm very pleased for him, and he definitely showed real class today. And the boy Gray had a baptism of fire for us, and I thought his debut for us was excellent. He's very athletic, he's quick and he's tenacious. He fitted in as if he had been playing for us for years. And, to be fair, in the first half he got to the by-line three or four times and got us a few corners so, offensively as well as defensively, I thought he was excellent." Rory Fallon led the Argyle attack on his own and made it an uncomfortable afternoon for the Arsenal defence. "Rory was a weapon we had to use," said Sturrock. "But I was a bit disappointed that a lot of things bobbled about the box in the first half and we didn't get on the end of them. He flicked on a couple of long throws and I would like to have seen people getting toe pokes in, but that's football." Sturrock took a chance on the fitness of Paul Gallagher by including him in the starting line-up. He said: "I was very surprised how long he lasted. He had not been training at all, but I took a chance on him. I think he would be the first to say he didn't have his best game for us, but he still contributed." Asked for his assessment of Arsenal, Sturrock replied: "They are very naughty. They have got amazing pace, guile and strength, and they are big boys too. But my boys have worked hard and did all the right things today."
Karl Duguid's delight at scoring against Arsenal was tempered by his disappointment at losing the tie. "You couldn't ask for anything more, really, than to come here and score a goal," he said. "And I think we deserved our goal particularly after all the hard work we put in during the first half. I'm a Tottenham fan as well, so you want to do well against these type of teams. But to end up losing 3-1, yes, we're disappointed, particularly after the first half performance. But you concede two at the start of the second and you think, 'Oh, my God, what's going to happen here?' But we didn't cave in and we carried on and had a couple of chances and their keeper made a couple of good saves as well. Then we had a couple of good crosses across the box and maybe if a little bit of luck had come our way we'd have got a result. I know they had some chances at the end but then so did we. But they're world-class players and we've just enjoyed the day and I'm sure the fans enjoyed it as well. So, we were in a win-win situation, really. All the pressure was on Arsenal." Duguid believes Argyle can take heart from their performance. "If we play like that every week in the league – then you've got a chance," he added. "People will say, 'Why can't you play like that in the league?' But it doesn't work like that. Yes, if we do play like that then we've got every chance of being right up there. Don't get me wrong, the lads give 100 per cent every single week. And, really, that's what we've done. We were never going to pass them off the pitch, but if every player gives their all, then you've got a chance. If you try to do the right thing, you've also got a chance."
Paul Sturrock's delight at a fine performance against Arsenal could not totally cover up his disappointment at four minutes of madness that cost the chance of an upset. He said: "I'm very pleased with the overall performance of the team; gutted with the two goals after half-time - having pre-warned players what to expect - which really kicks us in the teeth; and pleased that they got back into it again and dug deep to get a goal. If somebody had told me that, seven minutes from the end we would have been 2-1 down and biting and scratching to get the equaliser, I would have bitten their hand off. The players have shown a great commitment to the cause." Asked what he had told his players at half-time, Sturrock said: "That Arsenal would come out all guns blazing. I rattled their cage for about ten minutes, warning them what they were going to receive, that they would have to dig deep for 10-15 minutes. Fifty-three seconds later, we were 1-0 down - it was a sloppy set-piece, someone has not picked up properly - and we went 2-0 down after two or three more minutes and everybody was looking to the stars. As the manager of the opposition playing Arsenal at their own ground, I started to worry, but the players responded properly. They got the goal and dug deep again. Give them their due, they rolled their sleeves back up again. To get a goal back and to get ourselves back into the groove and in with an opportunity of snatching something was great for everybody involved. This lot have got a good attitude. There were one or two heads that went down but the goal gave us a wee tonic again and they kept going. The third goal was the killer, but I'd stuck the winger on, I'd stuck another striker on, to try to get back into the game. Their goalie's had a great save from MacLean late on - we could have been 3-2 and chasing the game at the end. If we'd weathered the first 20 minutes of the second half, it could have been a different game, but they are a quality football team - quality players all over the pitch, they can attack you from all angles. In the end, the boys have dug deep and have come out with a performance. We worked very hard on the shape of the team and the boys have put a great effort in. We made sure we were very compact and tight, and we played to our strengths and tried to play to their weaknesses. We would have loved to get to the last 20 minutes at 0-0. I think we might have seen an edginess in the stadium and an edginess on the pitch, but, when they got 2-0 up, it made it far easier for Arsenal. That was near enough their strongest team, apart from the centre-forward and the goalkeeper, so, when you look at it that way, it was a terrific performance from the players and a great attitude." Sturrock also paid tribute to the 9,000 Argyle fans, for some magnificent support. "I think the majority enjoyed their day out," he said. "They sung right through the 90 minutes. They backed the team fantastically and it's been a great day for them. They got a goal, so they had something to celebrate. The players responded to that support and came out with a reasonable performance."
Paul Sturrock is determined that Argyle's fine performance at Arsenal should be the springboard for Championship success. He said: "We have played one of the top ten teams in the world today and your game-plan is slightly different than when you play in the Championship, but I have got to turn that into our league form. The important thing for us now is to get some results in the league. That is the key. Our mental approach to the game today was fantastic. In a couple of league games recently, it's been disappointing, as far as I am concerned. If we can start taking the chances we have created, we are going to start winning football matches. We had a great run for 14 games, and now we're in a slump. We're at a crossroads, looking over our shoulder and still with our hand slightly on the cherry of the play-offs. We have got to come together as a squad and I think today helped that. There was unity and shape about us - everybody knew their job." Part of the on-going process will involve the transfer-market. "We are going to have to start moving players on," Sturrock added. "There are some players on the periphery now and they want to be playing, so I have got to try to move some of the players out. At the same time, I want to bring players like Gray in, that kind of standard, to enable us to kick on."
Argyle lost 3-1 in the FA Cup at Arsenal, the goal scored by Karl Duguid after 53 minutes. Argyle: Larrieu, Gray, Cathcart, Seip, Barker, Mackie, Summerfield, Duguid, Clark, Fallon, Gallagher. Subs – MacLean, Noone (not used – Saxton, Folly, Timar, Doumbe, Mpenza). Attendance - 59,424
Paul Sturrock has highlighted the size of the task facing Argyle when they take on Arsenal today. "We are going to probably one of the top 10 teams in the world," he said. "And if their full regalia comes out, we are going to have to be very thoughtful in our approach. We are going to have to defend, let's be honest, and we are going to have to be very well organised. But I would like to think we could bring a Portsmouth-kind of performance to the table. We have to realise that all teams have weaknesses. Even Arsenal have weaknesses. It has been well-documented what they are, and we have got to have some kind of game plan for winning the tie." Arsenal are perceived to have trouble coping with sides with a physical presence and Sturrock added: "That's something we will have to take into consideration." Arsenal had mixed fortunes against Championship opposition in the Carling Cup this season. They beat Sheffield United 6-0 at home, but lost 2-0 at Burnley. Sturrock said: "Half-a-dozen of their team that night against Sheffield United are nowhere near the first team squad, so that scares the living daylights out of you. But I hope Arsene Wenger plays his strongest team because everybody – management and players – wants to be assessed against the best. I would like to think we will perform to the standards in a lot of away games this season." Although Arsenal were beaten by Burnley, Sturrock pointed to the performance of Clarets' goalkeeper Brian Jensen in that match as a key to the outcome. He said: "The man-of-the-match by a mile was Burnley's goalkeeper. He saved six one-on-one goal attempts on the night." Sturrock has taken encouragement from Barnsley beating Liverpool and Chelsea in a memorable cup run last season. He said: "I don't think we are any less of a team than Barnsley were at that time, so you can take some confidence from what can be achieved. But the players will dictate what happens. If two or three freeze on the day and you are playing Arsenal with eight men, then you are going to have serious problems. One of the worrying aspects for us is when Arsenal are on the counter attack, which is three gears up from the Championship. It's something we have got to put in our players' mind, that they will probably have to run back much faster to their own goal than they have in the past. I think that's a key to us today."
Romain Larrieu is expecting a busy day today but he expects Argyle to continue their defensive form. "It will be a busy day defensively, not just me," he said. "We have proved over this season that we are reliable. We don't really lose too many goals and we defend for each other. I expect to be busy but I don't really have a plan - I just want to get there and play. Every game is different. It is just 11 players, obviously very talented ones, but we shouldn't make a big thing of it. We shall go there, enjoy ourselves and play with a smile because it is such a nice occasion to be involved in. They play a different style to many Premiership teams, so I don't know if we need to adapt our game. Whichever position you play in, you have to play to your strength. We know our strengths and that is what we need to play on. If we do that really well, you always get a chance in a game. There are no games, whatever the difference between the teams, where the lesser team doesn't get a chance. It is up to us and, if we are on a good day, then we take our chance and get our noses in front, it could be wide open. Even though we put pressure on ourselves, the pressure is really on them. They have to beat us because we are a team from the league below. We just have to perform and show everyone, including ourselves, what we can do against this type of quality opposition. It is one of the biggest games but there are big games for different reasons. This is a big game for the glamour but, in terms of what it means for the club, it doesn't mean that much, unless we go on to win the FA Cup. When we played Rochdale away and we knew a win would take us to the next level that was a massive game at the time. I just want to play out of my skin and help Argyle give a good account of themselves."
Ashley Barnes and Dan Smith have extended their loan deals at Eastbourne Borough for another month. Eastbourne manager Garry Wilson said: "The pair of them have made a huge contribution to get us valuable points and I am really grateful to Plymouth for allowing that to happen. Ashley has got strength and an eye for goal and Dan makes things happen. They are two good lads and I'm really pleased to have their services."
Rory Fallon has scored five goals so far this season, and he would be delighted if he could add to his tally this weekend "I may only get one chance but, hopefully, I can take it," he said. "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. If we get something out of it, then it's a bonus. There is more pressure on Arsenal. We're the underdogs, and they're expected to win." The limited expectations do not mean that Argyle will be free of tension tomorrow. Fallon 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 think the adrenalin gets you going and gives you that extra bit of energy. "We're really looking forward to it, and it's going to be a special day for the club. We just want to put in a good account of ourselves. We have got to give it 100 per cent and see what happens. Anything can happen on FA Cup day. It doesn't matter who it is. Anyone can win that one game."
Romain Larrieu will play at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow, a marked contrast to his debut in the FA Cup. In November 2001 Argyle drew 1-1 at Whitby Town and Larrieu has one fond memory from the trip. "I probably made the best save I've ever made for Argyle in that game," he said. "It was from Graham Coughlan, and it was a very good save because, when it comes from one of your own players, you do not expect it. We didn't play well at Whitby. It was windy and the pitch was awful, and we weren't prepared for it. We were lucky to get a replay, and we struggled to win the second game." Argyle avoided defeat against non-League opposition that year but were beaten 2-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge in 2003. "That game at Dagenham was probably the worst game I have played for Argyle," Larrieu said. "Nothing went right for us that day. We were not at the races, and I played really badly. We have never been a good Cup team since I have been here, except for that nice little run two years ago. I've hardly played in any FA Cup wins. I played against Everton four years ago, when we did all right but we gave them two early goals. That was still a good experience, but Arsenal will be a very different type of game. Ever since I have been here, I have been waiting for an FA Cup tie away to one of the really big clubs, and it is nice that it has happened at last. I am really looking forward to it. I know I can trust my defenders. We will rely on ourselves as a team. We need to keep doing what we do well, which is work hard for each other and get behind the ball, and we need to do it probably 20 per cent more. But, if I am called upon, I am ready for it and I am relishing it." The game is one that Argyle should be able to enjoy as few people expect them to win. Larrieu added: "We want to give a good account of ourselves because we are professionals, but it's true that the pressure is on Arsenal. The pressure is rising because Championship clubs have made a habit of beating big clubs who have been taking them lightly in the Cup. We have nothing to lose. Why not us this year? We have to believe that. If we have to start a run by beating Arsenal, then so be it."
David Gray could make his debut for Argyle against Arsenal tomorrow after completing his move from Manchester United yesterday. Paul Sturrock said: "He's very quick, and has got all the ingredients to be a very good player. We have watched him two or three times now, although I have only seen him once lately. He has a really good knowledge of the game, is hard working and shows great attitude. He's identical to Cathcart in his thought process as to how the game should be played." Another Argyle player with Premier League experience is Emile Mpenza who has returned to training following a hamstring injury. Sturrock said: "I think he will deem himself fit, but I have got to make an assessment on whether he's totally up and running. He has been a bit ginger on it in training." Sturrock insisted that experience was not the be-all and end-all when it came to his team selection tomorrow. He said: "There are a couple of players who I feel they could come to the show. Nooney is one who comes into that bracket."
Romain Larrieu has revealed how he and Arsenal defender William Gallas were team-mates while on national service in France. They were both conscripted to the French armed forces for a 10-month stint during 1997 and 1998. Larrieu said: "I'm not in touch with William Gallas, but we played for a year in the French army team. It was when national service was obligatory. The coach was Roger Lemerre, who later was part of the set-up when France won the World Cup in 1998. He then became the French manager and won the European Championship in 2000. We did a little bit of national service and a lot of training. We had a really good team. I was at Montpellier then and I used to travel to Paris every week. You could see even then how good Gallas was. He was a great defender in every sense, and he has shown it since. He has played for two of the 'big four' in England and I rate him very highly."
The chance of playing against Arsenal is one that Craig Noone is relishing. He said: "I would love to be involved against Arsenal, even if it's as a substitute. Hopefully, it's going to be a good game." Noone played in the FA Cup last season – for Burscough when they lost 2-1 at Bamber Bridge in a second qualifying round tie. He said: "It's just a massive difference now to play at the Emirates Stadium. If someone had told me at the start of this season this would happen, I would have snapped their fingers off. I can't believe it. They have got a few players I look up to. There is Van Persie, Walcott – who has got incredible pace, and Nasri." Noone does not believe the prospect of playing against Arsenal has been a distraction for the players, even though the teams form has dipped in recent weeks. He said: "We haven't really thought about it that much until this week. Everyone has started to talk about it, and there has been a big buzz going around." Noone made 10 substitute appearances for Argyle before he was given his first start in the victory over Southampton. He almost missed the match though because he was suffering from illness, and, according to Paul Sturrock, he was 'violently ill' at half-time. Noone said: "I woke up that morning and felt absolutely terrible. I phoned the physio and he told me the gaffer would ring me. When he did, the gaffer said 'You were starting today as well', so that immediately gave me a bit of adrenalin. I went out and played against Southampton and I thought I did alright. I set the goal up for Rory, so I couldn't have asked for much more." After his illness, Noone was a substitute for the defeat at Cardiff City, and came on as a 77th minute replacement, so there is every chance he will see some action against Arsenal. He said: "There is going to be 60,000 there, so it's going to be the biggest crowd I have played in front of, the best stadium I have played in, and the best team I have played against us. It's a massive game and I'm looking forward to every minute of it. We used to get 300-400 people for league games at Skelmersdale and Burscough, so to play in front of 60,000 at one of the best stadiums in the world is going to be absolutely amazing." When asked about Argyle's chance of causing an upset, Noone added: "All we can do is go out there and play our game, and who knows what's going to happen. Anything can happen in the FA Cup, and we are all looking forward to it."
Argyle will name Lloyd Saxton, not Graham Stack, as their substitute goalkeeper at Arsenal. Stack has returned from a one-month loan spell at Blackpool but will not be among the seven substitutes that Argyle can select for the tie. Stack's absence from the squad fuels the speculation that he has had a serious fall-out with Sturrock.
Paul Sturrock plans to keep a close check on Damien McCrory now he has returned from a loan spell at Port Vale. Sturrock said: "Port Vale wanted to keep him but the problem I had is that he's fighting for a contract. So I have got to assess what development he has had from playing for Port Vale and the only way I can do that is back on home soil. I would have liked to put him out on loan to a League One club for another month because that would have been even better for him, but nothing came up and slapped me in the face. And, from the middle of February, I can put him back out again for a month or so."
Paul Sturrock is very hopeful that Arsenal will field their strongest possible team on Saturday. A youthful Arsenal team beat Sheffield United 6-0 in the Carling Cup in September but they were then knocked out by Burnley, although Sturrock is not taking great solace from that result. "Arsenal 6 Sheffield United 0," he said. "It terrorised me the first time I watched it. I taped the highlights that night but I refuse to watch it now. Burnley beat them but their goalkeeper was man-of-the-match by a mile - he made five or six saves from one-on-ones. I am very hopeful they will play their strongest team as well. It would be nice to have a challenge like that and the players are all up for it, as long as none of them freeze on the day. There is an edge to their younger players and they will want to give 200% instead of 100%, and we could maybe catch Arsenal a couple of gears down. There were half-a-dozen of them nowhere near to the first-team squad against Sheffield United and that scares the living daylights out of you, if you're a footballer or a manager. I hope Arsene Wenger plays his strongest team. Everybody wants to be assessed, management and players. We will have to be at the top of the game. Whatever happens, I would love to think that we will be competitive."
David Gray completed the formalities of his loan move this morning and immediately joined the squad for training as they prepared for the FA Cup tie at Arsenal
Recent form suggests Argyle have no chance of beating Arsenal but Paul Sturrock believes their recent performances have warranted a better return. "I have been very disappointed with some of the results we have received over the last month," he said. "Our standard of performance has been much better than the results have shown against Birmingham, QPR and Cardiff the other day. I would like to think we would bring some of that into the game but the pressure is all on Arsenal, and we have got to try and feed off that. If we looked at our form in the league, which, you would say at this minute is relegation material, I would not say all the games we have been performed in has been to the standard of a relegated team. We came out with one point against Birmingham, QPR and Cardiff, which I don't believe mirror-imaged our performance. If we can play to the standard we achieved against Cardiff where we created chances, I will be very happy."
Nicolas Marin has left Argyle after having his year-long loan cancelled by mutual agreement. Reports in the French media are that he will now join Bastia.
Karl Duguid is approaching the game at Arsenal in the same way he always does. "It's a game of football to play and that's what it's all about," he said. "They obviously have top class players at one of the best stadiums in the world but you have got to approach it like any other game. You have to be mentally strong enough to get through that." Injuries have struck Arsenal in recent weeks but Duguid admitted he would rather face the best team available. "You want to play against their best players," he said. "You want to play against people like Fabregas but no matter who they put out, they are world class - look what they did to Sheffield United. Whether they play their young lads or fringe players, there is no doubt you will be in for a game. It shows you that you have got to approach it right." Duguid recently returned to the Argyle team following a calf injury, but he was subsequently benched for the defeat at Cardiff. "The lads that came in did very well," said Duguid. "Puncheon was brilliant, Yoann Folly did well and Craig did well playing in front of the back four. Gary Sawyer hasn't played a Championship game since I've been here and he didn't look that he hadn't played for such a long time. A lot of players needed a rest and it gives the manager something to think about. Two games in three days was probably a bit too much for me after being out for so long. It is down to him now. He has got decisions to make and training should be interesting this week because everyone will be pushing to get in the team."
Paul Sturrock is hoping that Paul Gallagher will be available to play in Saturday's FA Cup tie at Arsenal. "Paul will want to play," he said. "I think he's dead keen to play. He went back to Blackburn because they have all the facilities to scan people. It was much quicker for us than sending him to hospital. He has been assessed, and I don't think he has done anything serious. That's a huge boost for us." Gallagher has been outstanding this season but Sturrock admitted that he has not been in peak form lately. "Paul would, I think, be the first to agree that he has not reached the standards that he had been achieving in his last few games," Sturrock added. "I do feel that he had been distracted by not knowing his situation at Blackburn. That has been clarified now. To be fair, against Southampton, he showed a brilliant bit of ability in the corner of the pitch and dragged a penalty out of the situation. That's what is in him, and he has made other goals but, as far as taking chances is concerned, he has not been at his deadly best lately." Asked if Gallagher would be risked on Saturday even if he is not fully fit, Sturrock replied: "Yes. I would hope to think that this game might just rekindle him. I'm very hopeful that this kind of stage will be something that he can excel on."
The last time Argyle played Arsenal in the FA Cup, Kevin Summerfield lined up in midfield and this Saturday his son, Luke, will line up in midfield at the Emirates Stadium. For the players, such as Summerfield, it is a chance to test themselves against one of the biggest and best clubs in Europe. "Whatever the result, we have got to walk off that pitch at 4.50pm knowing we gave it our all," he said. "We have got to show what Plymouth Argyle is about as a whole – the players, the management and the fans. We have got to go there and enjoy ourselves, express ourselves, and see what happens." Summerfield admitted he had not talked to his father about the 6-1 defeat 22 years ago. He said: "I haven't asked him. I think I will wait until afterwards and see how we compare!" Summerfield insisted Argyle will travel to the Emirates with hope of causing an upset. He said: "We can't go there with a negative frame of mind and say 'we are just here for a game of football.' We have all got to look at it in a positive frame of mind, play to the best of our ability and follow the instructions the gaffer gives to the team. I think we can definitely get something out of the game." That said, Summerfield has a high opinion of Arsenal's squad. He said: "All the big Premier League teams have got world-class footballers and you want to test yourself against them. Arsenal are one of those clubs, but if we play to the best of our ability we can't ask more of ourselves. Whatever team he puts out, it's going to be top-class. They can beat anybody by three or four goals on their day. But we have just got to look at it as another game of football for us." Summerfield admitted the game would 'definitely' be the most important match of a career in which he has played 64 games, 26 of them this season, during which he has become a regular in the first team. He said: "I'm absolutely delighted about that. I have patiently waited in the background for my chance. Hopefully, I can carry on the way I have been doing. I have just got to get more consistency to my game." Summerfield's increasing maturity has been highlighted by the fact he has become the penalty taker, and has converted both of his spot kicks this season. He added: "We have been playing well recently but just not getting the results we merit. We need to get on a good run again and get ourselves up the table. If we can go to Arsenal and walk off that pitch and say 'we have played to the best of our ability and we have given 110 per cent' then, hopefully, that will stand us in good stead for the second half of the season." There will be 9,000 Argyle supporters in the crowd of 60,000 on Saturday. Summerfield said: "It will be brilliant to see them all there. The fans are going to be massive for us. Hopefully, they will carry us forward, whatever way the game is going. It's going to be a memorable FA Cup day for everyone."
Argyle are finalising the signing of David Gray on loan from Manchester United until the end of the season. Paul Sturrock tried to sign Gray, who is primarily a right-back, on loan in August, but he suffered a groin injury and it had to be put on hold.
The transfer window opened at midnight and Paul Sturrock has admitted he wants to add another striker to his squad. He said: "Whatever mix we have used up front, we aren't scoring to the standards we were earlier in the season, and we have got to try to get to the bottom of that. That will be an area I will be trying to do something about in the transfer window." Argyle have yet to decide whether to offer a contract to Akihiro Ienaga, who had a short trial at Home Park last month. Sturrock said: "We are still assessing the situation." There are likely to be departures from Argyle in January, as well as arrivals. Sturrock knows he needs to reduce the size of his squad because of financial restraints. "We will wait and see what January brings," he said. "But we will officially put a list of three or four players out to all the clubs to see if anybody is interested. I think it's important that everybody plays football – at whatever standard. There is no point in people hanging around as back-up and just playing reserve team football here." Sturrock admitted he would be out and about checking on potential targets during the transfer window. He said: "January will be a very busy month for me. When the reserve leagues start again, I'm going to travel the length and breadth of the country to see our targets play for myself. Everybody makes mistakes in the transfer market but, percentage-wise, you have got to try to cut down on those disappointments. So I think it's important I venture out and see a lot of the targets."
Graham Stack has completed a one-month loan spell at Blackpool, without playing a game for the club
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