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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 28/08/04, 3.00pm
Watford
versus
Plymouth Argyle
 
A distracting novelty
By Matt Rowson

I've had enough of the Olympics now. A distracting novelty for a week or so, granted, and the source of much excitement and animation in the Rowson household during long-distance running events... however, when football commentary (even Premiership (woo) commentary) on Radio Five, takes a back seat to some soppy mare bawling in the back of a van, something's wrong with someone's sense of priorities.

The thoroughly enjoyable journey back from Leicester was only slightly sullied by the below-par volume of football coverage on Radio Five. We eventually entertained ourselves by tuning into BBC Radio Leicester ("A Mrs.Jones from Ilkeston has just won 6million on the Lotto. At least someone's bloody happy...", etc), but not before a bored interlude in Olympic coverage led to the presenters discussing the possible unsuitability of London's 2012 bid.

Pursuing the logic that successful Olympics of recent years have been held at coastal locations (Sydney, Barcelona), the motion was that Bournemouth or Cromer might be more appropriate venues. However on consideration it's difficult to better Plymouth as a potential Olympic site. Geographical features mean that the whole palaver would be kept well out of the way of the rest of the country for one thing. The thought of (I hate...) Sebastian Coe stuck in traffic congestion on the A38 for the next eight years is also appealing, and the advent of bowls as an Olympic sport is surely long overdue.

I quite like Plymouth Argyle. This is probably a perspective coloured somewhat by the fact that we've not played them for a few years, in the League at any rate, and if George Reilly's unfortunate ear incident of eighteen months ago is anything to go by, it's not a warmth that's mirrored by a Plymouth affection for the Golden Boys. Nonetheless you've got to admire a side that makes such a solid start to a season after promotion - far more solid at this early stage than either of their fellow promoted sides. Respect is also due for naming ninety-one year old ex-Labour leader Michael Foot on the squad list on their official site ("experienced left-winger", etc), and there can't be a lot wrong with a side that has Ginsters as their shirt sponsor. Except their waistlines, perhaps.

This bonhomie will not linger long if Argyle extend their strong start to the season by winning at the Vic on Saturday, of course, in which case I hope the bastards are stuck behind a veteran caravan convention all the way back to Devon.

For all that it's a few years since Argyle last competed at this level, there's no shortage of experience in the side. Recent managerial history has influenced the make-up with no fewer than eleven of the squad having seen action north of the border, just under half of whom recruited by Bobby Williamson over the summer.

In goal will be twenty-one year-old Luke McCormick, who kept his place and impressed greatly when coming in for Romain Larrieu last season when the highly-rated Frenchman suffered a knee injury. Paul Sturrock's Southampton were linked with a move for McCormick over the summer, possibly dissuaded by his appalling haircut.

Graham Coughlan and Paul Wotton form a strong base of the team in central defence. Coughlan, a rugged Irishman, was voted the best player in Division Three last season. Wotton, the team captain, was in the Argyle sides we played in our last league encounters in 1997-98; he has a bomb of a shot, a slight deflection to one of which did for Thomas Myhre in the first minute at the weekend. Pacy Frenchman Matthias Doumbe, recruited by Williamson from his old club Hibs, looks like first-choice deputy with the left-sided Hasney Aljofree unlikely to be back from a knee injury by the weekend.

Left back will be Peter Gilbert, a new Welsh U21 international recruited from Birmingham at the start of last season with Northern Ireland international Tony Capaldi, who plays ahead of Gilbert in left midfield and has been in good form in the opening weeks of the campaign.

Less convincing perhaps is Plymouth's right-hand side. Keith Lasley, one of the summer arrivals, plays in an unfamiliar right-sided midfield role ahead of David Worrell, a steady right back who was exposed for pace on occasions last term. David Norris is the long-term plan for right-midfield; he's been out with a thigh injury although he could be back for the weekend, whilst Paul Connolly looked bedded in at right-back at the end of last season but hasn't featured as yet this.

In the centre, Steve Adams is the holding midfielder with the versatile former Spurs trainee Lee Hodges alongside him. David Friio, who impressed in our League Cup win under Vialli, has been restricted to appearances from the bench so far, whilst Lee Makel, once a next-big-thing when he moved from Newcastle to Blackburn, is now thirty and impressed on his debut at the weekend. A suspension carried over from last season in Scotland had prevented his earlier inclusion.

Up front, target man Mickey Evans is somewhat iconic, back at his first club for three years now after an aggregate 1.75m in transfer fees saw him spend three years away with Southampton, West Brom and Bristol Rovers. Stevie Crawford looks a decent signing, the Scottish international scored his first goal for Argyle against Sunderland and also scored on his only previous visit to the Vic, for Jimmy Nicholl's briefly Caldedonian Millwall in 1996. Other options are two more Scots, the nippy Marino Keith and Steven Milne, a summer signing from Dundee, and one-time Hornet Nathan Lowndes, now twenty-seven and considered unfortunate to have slipped down the pecking order after a decent second season at Home Park last year.

Plymouth have started well - Marcus Stewart's uncontested near-post header at the weekend was the first they've conceded - but a cynic might suggest that the truest test of mettle of a side promoted twice in the last three seasons will be when they're asked to cope with losing a few games. Nor, as Bobby Williamson has been at pains to point out, should too much be read into early season form - more interesting will be league positions when we face our backbreaking combo of Burnley (A) and Plymouth (A) in April. After all, it's a marathon, not a sprint.