How Plymouth Argyle plan to cause an FA Cup upset against Sheffield United
“Why can’t Bury play like Liverpool or Manchester City? I think it’s the best way. You look at Barcelona, City, Liverpool: everything’s risky isn’t it?”
Ryan Lowe was still the manager at Gigg Lane when he outlined his philosophy to an inquisitive journalist. Two years on, and 19 months after swapping Greater Manchester for the more sedate and salubrious surroundings of Home Park, the scale of Lowe’s ambition remains as grand as ever. When his Plymouth Argyle side visit Sheffield United in two days time, they plan to attack, be aggressive and then hope the gamble pays off.
Last weekend’s win over Sunderland - a result which lifted them to 11th in the League One table - will only have emboldened Argyle’s belief that they can cause an upset in the fourth round tie. The victory at the Stadium of Light, where captain Joe Edwards wrote his name on the scoresheet, was their first away victory of the EFL campaign. Lowe’s post-match comments, detailing how he refused to change tactics despite the challenging conditions on Wearside, confirmed Argyle have no intention of adopting a more conservative approach against top-flight opponents.
“I looked at the pitch, watched what our players were doing (during the warm-up) and just thought ‘we’re still going to play our football.’ We don’t know any other way to be fair,” Lowe said. “There was no other way for us. There is no other way for us. Even when we know teams are going to come at us and have a go.”
Like his opposite number Chris Wilder, who won an army of admirers last season for his take on the 3-5-2 system, Lowe’s strategy revolves around tasking wing-backs with creating chances for their colleagues in attack. One of these, Edwards, has converted five himself although the former Yeovil Town, Colchester and Walsall defender is still 10 behind leading goalscorer Luke Jephcott. The Wales under-21 international has reportedly attracted interest from Nottingham Forest during the transfer window, although officials in Devon insist they have no plans to do business despite the prospect of receiving a £3.5m fee.
Argyle also favour a three man rearguard, with Edwards and Adam Lewis, recently signed on loan from Liverpool, supplementing a trio of midfielders anchored by Conor Grant. Despite being paired with Huddersfield Town in the previous round, they resisted the temptation to adopt a more conservative approach against the Championship club and were rewarded with a 3-2 victory. As United prepare their own strategy for the tie, Wilder will have noted that Argyle progressed despite twice falling behind; Ryan Hardie and Panutche Camara drawing them level before Edwards pounced midway through the second period.
“He (Edwards) is a leader and he’s a warrior,” Lowe said earlier this week. “I see things with Joe off the pitch which, I’ve got to say, I’ve only ever seen with a few other captains.
“He’#s not the most vocal, shouting and screaming, but he leads by example and by doing the right things. I don’t like singling people out but, for him to get the goals he has, that’s exactly what we want. Genuinely, I can’t praise him enough.”
“I have every faith in our lads and what we’re trying to do,” Lowe continued. “I’ve just told the group ‘Start believing.’ I just want them to have that bit of belief about them, on what they want and where they want to go. When we have got that belief and that bit of determination, it does take you places.”
After losing all but three of their matches en route to this month’s third round meeting with Bristol Rovers, belief is inevitably in short supply among the United ranks, although they did follow up their success at the Memorial Stadium by beating Newcastle before losing to Tottenham Hotspur.
Wilder, however, will trust his squad’s superior ability can shine through providing they approach this match with the same intensity they demonstrated against Rovers, who beat Argyle 3-0 five weeks ago. Intriguingly, Argyle seldom face their own 3-5-2 formation, with opponents in the third tier favouring a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 against them.
With Wilder unlikely to make too many changes to his starting eleven, the contest appears destined to boil down to a battle of pure ability. Despite their poor run of form since finishing ninth in the Premier League last term, United, now bottom of the rankings and seemingly destined for relegation, will be confident of prevailing in their one-to-one duels.
Despite spending the longest chapter of his own playing career with Shrewsbury Town, Crewe Alexandra and Bury, Lowe is best remembered in South Yorkshire for a brief spell at Sheffield Wednesday during the 2011/12 campaign.
One of the 26 appearances he made for United’s arch-rivals came in a Steel City derby at Hillsborough, which finished 1-0 in the hosts’ favour. Gary Megson, Wednesday’s manager at the time, felt it was the turning point in the battle for automatic promotion between the two clubs.
“People talk about philosophy, but I just wanted to instil a winning philosophy and I thought that by outsourcing teams we’d have more chance of doing that,” Lowe said, outlining the cavalier style he introduced at Bury and which, for a brief period before the club’s financial implosion, made them one of the most prolific teams in all four divisions.
“I won’t change my style. There’s no point. I was a striker. I loved scoring goals and I’ve always wanted to do things my way. Then, if it doesn’t work out, at least you can look back and have no regrets.”