Plymouth Argyle: The Green Army On the Rise

Plymouth Argyle’s first season in the Championship since the 2009-10 season has been seen as a success for many on the South Coast. Although it may not seem like something special is brewing at Home Park when looking at their current position, true onlookers will know the setbacks the pride of Cornwall has overcome in their return to Championship football. Sitting in 15th, a comfortable seven points above the drop zone and 12 away from the playoff places, ruling out the Green Army would be a mistake for any football fan.


Success of 22/23


After 13 long seasons of bouncing between the third and fourth tier of England’s divisions, their title clinching League One campaign saw Plymouth finally return to the Championship and take the record for the most third division titles in its entire history, winning it for the fifth time in their existence. Despite fierce competition from Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, both of which joined Argyle in the Championship, they held on and secured the title. 


The Decline of Huddersfield Town


Argyle were in the top rankings for most stats throughout the season. The Greens scored 82 goals from a 54.6 xG showing they were able to convert chances that weren’t as clear and well overperformed in this metric. Defensively solid too, recording 18 clean sheets from the 46 games and averaging a goal conceded per game showed the workload was managed from front to back. Steven Schumacher’s Plymouth philosophy didn’t just stop there, ball retention was an important aspect of the side’s ability to be compact and break down teams. Averaging 54.9% of possession per game put Plymouth third in the league for average possession per 90.


What made Plymouth a cut above the rest though? Their mix of young talent including impressive loanees and experienced players of the division made the squad a cut above the rest. Though he was only there for half of the season, Morgan Whittaker was electric operating on the right of the front three. His signing has since been made permanent due to his contribution last year, with 9 goals and 7 assists in 25 league games the 23-year-old quickly became a favourite.


Bali Mumba, another loan signing, played on the right side of a midfield four with the job of a modern wing back. The man on loan from Norwich excelled in the title-winning season. Mumba recorded 7 assists and 6 goals from a 2.57 xG but his work didn’t just stop there. A 76.4% rate of successful tackles showed the 22-year-old was an exemplary wing back who fit into the system like a glove. Again, his signing has now been made permanent but unlike Whittaker, he was able to complete the full League One season. 


The final member of their young English trio is Argyle’s very own Mike Cooper. Cooper was excellent between the sticks, conceding 29 throughout the entire season and managing an impressive 11 clean sheets in his 29 matches. A 78% save percentage with 3.63 saves per 90 whilst also recording 0 errors leading to goals showed the young keeper as the best of the talent shown in League One, earning him a spot in the team of the season for that campaign. 


Reading FC: A Royal Disaster


Their title win did go down the last day, beating Port Vale 3-1 away from home whilst challengers Ipswich were held to a 2-2 draw at Highbury by Fleetwood Town. Automatic promotion was already secured for both Argyle and Ipswich, but the sweet pride of clinching the trophy was something those on the South Coast didn’t want to give up.


Managerial Roulette


The hot seat at Home Park over recent years has seen those who occupy it well sought after due to their excellent work in the job. Ryan Lowe and Steven Schumacher, the predecessors to current Argyle boss Ian Foster, have both been poached by Championship teams in recent years due to their success and the style of football they have injected into the Plymouth structure. Current manager Foster, who worked alongside Steven Gerrard at Al Ettifaq, has the job now of following two influential figures in the Home Park dugout.


Ryan Lowe


Ryan Lowe was the managerial appointment that brought hope to Cornwall but also broke the hearts of fans in the process. Lowe guided Bury to League One football in the 18/19 season but due to the financial insecurity of the club and falling out with then chairman Steve Dale, Lowe opted to leave Bury and stay in League Two for the next campaign, bringing some of his Bury squad with him including Dominic Telford and Danny Mayor. As the League Two season was cut short due to the Global Pandemic that year, Lowe’s Plymouth finished in third place based on expected points and gained automatic promotion. 


He set Argyle up in 5-3-2/3-5-2 formations, relying on his wing backs to get wide and create a midfield five in attack, overloading the opposition midfield whilst also expecting them to create chances for his strikers. Left wing back George Cooper excelled in this role. Whilst the opposite flank changed personnel between games, Cooper racked up three goals and 12 assists throughout the season ranking him third in the assists chart. Strike partnership Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie scored 14 goals between them: excellent output from all three players given there was nine games left to play before the season was cut short. 


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Lowe’s final game as Plymouth manager came on the 8th of December 2021, a 1-1 draw away at MK Dons. The previous year saw Plymouth finish 18th, six points above the drop. The following season saw Lowe steady the ship at Argyle, gaining some form before eventually being poached by Championship side Preston North End following the sacking of Alex Neil. As Lowe made his way to Deepdale, it was a familiar face who stepped into the role at Home Park.


Steven Schumacher


Steven Schumacher was Lowe’s assistant during his time at Argyle, a perfect student of football that made Argyle into a solid third-tier side and eventually the student became the master as he stepped into the dugout as the main man. Schumacher continued to embed the tactics of the 3-5-2 formation into the Plymouth squad and it wasn’t long before his first win. A 1-0 home success in his second game gave Argyle their first points of the Schumacher reign, almost as though nothing had changed in PL2.


Schumacher guided the team to a 7th-place finish, just three points off the playoffs. In their final two games, Plymouth drew 1-1 away at league winners Wigan and were hammered 5-0 at home to third place finishers MK Dons as Wycombe picked up six points in their final two games to beat the Green Army to sixth place and a playoff position, losing in the final to Sunderland.


Plymouth wouldn’t dwell for long, bouncing back instantly and becoming a mainstay in League One’s promotion and playoff spots and as we know, clinched the title taking us to the current day and their Championship status. The title-winning season would show Plymouth have matured from mistakes and showed a resilient never-say-die attitude, winning more points from losing positions than any other team in the 92 throughout the 22/23 season.



Plymouth would start the season strong as they knew any slip-ups would go punished in what has been considered the best standard of Championship football in years. Argyle started at home in the sunshine, as 16,000 fans packed into Home Park to witness a 3-1 home win over Huddersfield Town. The returning Morgan Whittaker slotted home to start the Championship era and open his competitive account since signing permanently over the summer. Bali Mumba would also join permanently over the summer window, again marking his return with a goal before Plymouth regular Ryan Hardie slotted home and secured a 3-1 win over an established Championship side.


The start of their campaign would see them face some established Championship sides such as Birmingham and Watford, but a 3-0 win at home to Blackburn Rovers would be the highlight of their first few games. Argyle took seven points from their first 15 available, a start Schumacher would be happy with as they looked to be steady in their return to the second tier. 


Schumacher would end his time on the South Coast in December, moving to Staffordshire after being appointed Stoke City boss on December 19th 2023. Fans of the Greens getting de ja vu, a managerial move they knew all too well.


The 23/24 season


Argyle are sitting comfortably in the midtable positions this season, now being overseen by Ian Foster. The opportunity given to young talent has been well documented with loan players coming in and featuring regularly.  The performance of some players has been so good that they have even been poached by other Championship clubs as their parent clubs recall them for pastures new. Luke Cundle, on loan from Wolves at Argyle, had his time in Cornwall cut short to join Schumacher at Stoke. Cundle featured on the right side of a midfield three, recording three goals and five assists in the 26 matches played in the league.


Fin Azaz from Premier League highflyers Aston Villa was another player who had his tenure at Argyle cut short. Azaz played alongside Cundle in the midfield, recording seven goals and five assists in his second loan spell at Plymouth. Azaz’s highlight coming in a 3-2 home win against Rotherham, as he scored two and assisted Morgan Whittaker in the 96th minute to secure three points. 


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Foster’s time at Argyle has got off to a great start, taking four points from his first two league games and also securing a fourth round FA Cup spot following a 3-1 victory over League Two side Sutton United. They drew 1-1 at Leeds before losing the replay 4-1 at home. The first three games saw Plymouth set up in similar tactical setups to Schumacher, adopting a 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 formations, allowing the team to be fluid depending on the players available. 


Plymouth under Foster have again been beaten on possession in both league games, following the counter-attacking style implemented by coaches before Foster. As the managerial merry-go-round keeps spinning, tactical styles seem to stay the same. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.


The loan players recalled have also been replaced swiftly. Alfie Devine has been loaned in from Spurs as Darko Gyabi joins from fellow Championship side Leeds, both seemingly like-for-like replacements for Cundle and Azaz. Devine’s debut against Cardiff saw him pick up an assist, playing on the left side of an attacking front three. Gyabi also debuted with 90 minutes, winning 100% of his tackles and recovering the ball eight times offering a solid midfield presence. Plymouth this season have truly put the “home” into Home Park, taking 27 points from a possible 42 at home putting them sixth in the home form charts for the Championship.



Argyle have taken to life in the Championship and are not backing down from the big boys of English football. The 48 goals this season from 29 games is at an average of 1.6 goals a game whilst also recording a 38.6 xG, well overperforming in this metric as their form in front of goal continues. Morgan Whittaker is first in the Championship for goals scored with 16 goals from 8.1 xG, a massive overperformance in this metric yet again. Ice in the veins from the young star.


However, defensively Argyle haven’t been the tightest team at the back. Only Preston have conceded more in the Championship’s top 16, although it is worth noting that they are conceding far less than they should be. They have 51.2 xG conceded, second only to Rotherham United, but they have let in just 47 goals thanks to the impressive form of Conor Hazard in goal.



Argyle have adapted well in their return to the second tier and if they carry on with this form, should establish themselves as ready to return next year. After opening February with a 1-0 victory at Swansea City courtesy of Whittaker’s 16th goal of the campaign, they lost 4-1 to Leeds in an FA Cup replay before losing 3-1 at Sunderland, and they’ll be looking to bounce back today with a home win against Coventry today.


The Green Army should be happy with what they have seen this season, overcoming multiple setbacks with their personnel, and competing against some teams who could be considered Premier League quality. Watch out for Argyle in the second half of the season and if you listen closely, you might just hear Pieface saying “that’s class” about their season thus far.


By: Josh Wright / @joshwrightt12__

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images