By Matt Rowson
"How do the following combine to score constantly although missing the point? The only man ever to make BB King sweat, singers of Stars, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, one who worked under Tommy Stack, and a Steve Buscemi character".
You see, it is possible for something that might normally be seen as a negative attribute to develop an attractiveness, an endearing quality. A friend or relative's forgetfulness. A young child's inability to pronounce certain words or sounds. Keith Dublin's relentlessly overzealous assessment of his role in the team. Keith Dublin at all, some might argue.
The above poser was taken from the Royal Statistical Society Newsletter's Christmas quiz, which has been the source of some discussion in the office this week (what, you think we work?). The solution is so wonderfully anal that it could only have been found in a quiz set by a statistician. And much as it won't do wonders for the world's perspective of statisticians as well balanced, not to say interesting individuals... it's kinda cool as well. And no, I'm not going to give you the answer. Read the bloody preview first...
So can watching another team being Pulissed from a distance can be construed as endearing or entertaining? My feeling is that whilst the consequences in terms of watchable football might not be a good thing (Stoke's notorious run last season of seventeen league games featuring a total of fifteen goals from either side is still the stuff of wonder) I'm quite glad that Pulis exists as long as I don't have to watch his teams terribly often.
Plymouth fans, certainly, can be forgiven for having mixed emotions at how things have developed since Bobby Williamson's departure less than a month after our eventful trip to Home Park at the start of the season. At the very least it seemed reasonable to expect that a defence which, our visit aside, had done the job reasonably well would continue to do so as a minimum. The recent additions to the squad of centreback Elliott "brother of Darren" Ward and ballwinner Jason Jarrett on loan from West Ham and Norwich respectively added to that suspicion... instead Plymouth's defence, admittedly deprived of a couple of players through injury in recent weeks, has begun to leak alarmingly and whilst Argyle continue to struggle for goals Pulis has a job on his hands. Perhaps crucially, Argyle haven't recorded a win away from home since their incongruous victory at Reading on the opening day - still the Royals' only league defeat - a run that includes a League Cup exit at Barnet.
In goal for Argyle will be Romain Larrieu, one of three likely survivors from the eleven that lost to Vialli's Watford side in the League Cup four years ago. A good shot stopper, Larrieu has been criticised for failing to command his area. Luke McCormick should be on the bench; he's been contesting the keeper's slot with Larrieu for a while, but hasn't started a League game this season.
Argyle's problems at the back seem to have been rooted in the full-back positions; the return of Paul Connolly from a thigh injury should help at right-back where Matthias Doumbé looked rather uncomfortable out-of-position at Coventry last Saturday, but the departure of Peter Gilbert to Leicester and the apparently terminal falling out of favour of pantomime dame Rufus Brevett leaves Anthony Barness, himself coming back from a hamstring injury, at left back. Centre backs will be two of the quick but limited Doumbé, versatile but off-form Hasney Aljofree and Ward, who has yet to stamp his authority on the Argyle back line. Portuguese teenager Nuno Mendes, brought in by Bobby Williamson over the summer, hasn't featured since August and seems to have been written off as a bad idea all round. Taribo West, much trumpeted on his arrival, had his contract cancelled in September.
In midfield, Hungarian Akos Buzsacky, whose first goal for Argyle beat us at Home Park at the end of last season, is very much the star turn. He's rumoured to be heading to the Premiership (not Premier, not a ship) in January however, and missed the Coventry game with an abdominal strain although he could be back in contention this weekend. His likely deputy on the right hand side of midfield is David Norris, whose availability for this game is a little unclear with different sources disagreeing over whether last Saturday's booking was his fourth or fifth of the campaign. If available and selected, Norris can be relied upon for commitment that often makes up for technical deficiencies. Jarrett, not overly popular either at Wigan or Norwich, is likely to play in the centre, probably alongside long-serving Paul Wotton, in his testimonial season but struggling for form although always a danger at free kicks. Northern Ireland international Tony Capaldi, off form and "lethargic", should play on the left with Bojan Djordjic likely to be out with a hamstring injury. Kevin Lasley could get a place on the bench, but the squad's other senior midfielder Bjarki Gudjonsson is out of favour and won't have been glad to see the arrival of the manager who sold him to Plymouth from Stoke. He too is expected to leave in January.
Goalscoring always looked likely to be Plymouth's problem this season and Argyle are, alongside Wednesday and Millwall, the lowest scorers in the division with only four goals in ten league games away from home since that opening day victory. The squad still relies on the creaking Mickey Evans for physical presence up front (I was going to be unkinder than "creaking" but Evans is only a couple of weeks older than I am so I've got to be careful there really...). He's likely to be partnered by former Everton man Nick Chadwick, an apparent favourite of Pulis' despite only two goals from eighteen games this season. Scott Taylor, prolific in Division Three with Blackpool but not yet replicating the same form a division above, should get a place on the bench alongside pacy Blackburn loanee Matt Derbyshire, a signing secured by previous boss Bobby Williamson but apparently discarded by Pulis. Further strengthening in this department was sought before the recent pseudo-deadline, but moves for both Svetoslav Todorov and Kevin Lisbie apparently failed although Nigerian international Benedict Akwuegbu was recently trialled at Home Park.
This Saturday's fixture would appear to be, on the face of it, comparable to the last in that we face a struggling and limited side who are lightweight up front and short of goals. Betty was candid in his assessment of last weekend's performance; given that the two games are so similar, it will be interesting to see how the Hornets, presumably strengthened by the return of Matthew Spring, handle this one.
And you're going to have to wait for the solution to that puzzle. Or work it out yourself...