Ahead of this one Lee Bowyer said “even though we’ve made a lot of changes from Tuesday, the 11 that is going out there, I expect them to win and I want them to win”. Those of us who have to try very hard to remember cup runs (leaving aside the Full Members Cup and Sir Chris’ last game in charge at Bramall Lane) probably had lower expectations and objectives: get a look at how Maddison is getting on, a chance perhaps to assess some others, including Maynard-Brewer given how important he could be should anything happen to Amos, and to just enjoy a game of football after a nail-biter or two of late, with avoiding any fresh injuries being a higher priority than actually progressing to the next round.
In the event it seems we managed to avoid injuries but came up short as far as actually going through is concerned. Fact is you can’t expect the same intensity and effort in a game when the team is selected and changes are made not with the sole objective of winning it. So we had a reasonable enough game, one which might have gone either way, but ultimately we didn’t create enough to have any complaints. Plymouth defended well and it took until the last one of the eight minutes added at the end before we forced a save from their keeper.
The line-up looked like a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, whichever way you look at it. In front of Maynard-Brewer were Matthews, Innis, Barker (good to see him featuring again) and Purrington. Midfield comprised Forster-Caskey and Levitt along with Williams, Morgan and Maddison, with Aneke really operating as the lone forward. As we shaped up it seemed that Williams was wide-left and Maddison on the right, with Morgan moving around.
The first 10 minutes or so were all about Maddison, who was involved in just about everything hid did, to mixed effect. Not everything worked as on one occasion he took it on and shot (over the bar) when others were better placed, while his delivery from set pieces was not great. But we know he’s going to be rusty and there’s no doubt that he will give us a different option.
We played Forster-Caskey and Levitt together in central midfield in the first half against Northampton and it didn’t work well then. They both seem to me to play better when a Watson or Pratley are shoring things up, but today was about trying things. What nearly cost us in the first half was that Williams seemed to have a brief not to worry about tracking back to help Purrington, leaving it to Levitt or Morgan. We found ourselves stretched on our left side again and it nearly cost us, with Maynard-Brewer called on to make some fairly routine saves and one dangerous cross blocked by Barker.
After the bright start we had faded rather in terms of attacking threat, with Aneke getting no change out of Plymouth’s central defenders and looking frustrated from the start. At half-time the stats showed that we’d had 60% possession but two shots – against 13 for Plymouth (to be fair only four on target).
The second half continued in a similar vein. An Innis slip let in their forward, who’s poor first touch allowed Maynard-Brewer to smother it and then kick away the rebound. We did sometimes play some decent stuff outside their box but still weren’t really threatening, or when we did the final ball in lacked quality. And we paid for it on the hour as Plymouth took the lead. Matthews was left exposed against two and when the low cross came in their guy dinked it over Maynard-Brewer.
The changes came shortly after. Aneke, who had picked up a yellow card just after their goal (as well as headed over from a corner and landed on their defender, who stayed down for some minutes), and Maddison going off for Washington and Vennings. This seemed to give us greater energy – and of course now we were losing and having to chase the game.
We did have some moments. Purrington got on the end of a chipped cross and his header forced a save. Forster-Caskey had also picked up a yellow and was perhaps fortunate to escape a second with a further foul, getting away with a lecture from the referee. He departed shortly after, replaced by Maatsen. And in truth Plymouth saw out the game reasonably comfortably, our best effort coming in that last minute as Barker flicked it goalwards only for their keeper to tip it over the bar.
At the end we didn’t look that broken-hearted. Good luck to Plymouth, we will take the positives in the form of increased match fitness for some and a rest for others. Clearly Maddison is going to offer us something different and will create and score (I think we knew that already), Maynard-Brewer made decent saves, Barker looked good. And that was about it. No point in player ratings for a game which ultimately didn’t matter. If you had to give a man of the match I’d award it to Barker. Get past the unwanted game against Orient and then its back to the real task in hand.