Last time, we saw how our new 3-1-4-2 tactic worked out and made some new January signings to bolster our first team and youth ranks. We pick up our story after the closing of the winter transfer window, as we push to improve upon our 10th place finish last season.
A short, but good month! February started with a standard Connor Ronan midfield masterclass, with a Dawid Kownacki penalty becoming the icing on the cake at the end of the 90 minutes. For our home fixture against Manchester City, I decided to revert back to my counter-attacking 5-1-2-2 that worked so well against another big team in Liverpool earlier in the season. It seemed to work well, frustrating the Citizens up until the 80th minute where a Jadon Sancho run ended with City going 1-0 up. Luckily, Dawid Kownacki was our saviour just 5 minutes later where his goal would secure a valuable point against another title challenger. Unfortunately this tactic didn’t work against a Chelsea side fighting to get into the top six, where despite going ahead 1-0 just before half time through a Jonathan volley, Krzysztof Piatek bagged two in the closing moments to take all three points for Chelsea.
I came into the month of March hoping for at least 9 points in the four matches played, however I was not too disappointed with our performances – despite not hitting my points target. A disappointing match against mid-table Aston Villa was quickly forgotten with consecutive 4-1 wins at Home Park to two of our rivals in Burnley and Bristol City. Abou Kamara and Connor Ronan were the stars of both shows and the displays of attacking football left the Green Army purring. Our huge win against Liverpool earlier in the season unfortunately did not repeat itself at Anfield, where despite going ahead through a Jan Mlakar goal in the 75th minute, Nikola Milenković and Mo Salah combined to tear apart our hopes and dreams with just 5 minutes left to play – again. We were dropping a lot of points through giving up the ghost mere moments before the full time whistle blew, and it was starting to get a little frustrating.
Connor Ronan’s performances duly earned up a 2nd place in the Premier League Player of the Month awards. All we could hope for is that our best Irish playmaker since Graham Carey keeps up his good form in the latter two months of the season.
After the opening two matches, I was starting to doubt the newer 3-1-4-2 tactic and was feeling far more appreciation for the classic 5-1-2-2. The old tactic comprehensively beat Spurs – away as well – 4-1, with Joel Latibeaudiere bagging 2 goals from corners, as well as goals from Jonathan and Hwang Hee-Chan. Knowing that the Norwich match should have been easier, I reverted to the newer and more commonly use 3-1-4-2 but found myself only just scraping a 4-3 win against the Canaries. Our defending was awful, and it was only the goalscoring prowess of Jonathan, Kownacki, Kamara and Mlakar that kept us in the game. The rest of April was disappointing, with a relegation-threatened West Ham completing a smash-and-grab after getting an early goal through Rhian Brewster before sitting back and defending for their lives; and again we had to fight from 1-0 down to at least secure a point through a Didier Ndong long shot.
We seemed to save our best form for last, where we really pulled out some big performances to hold onto our 8th placing in the league table. A huge win against a very talented Wolves side (who now boast Pjanic in their midfield) happened through solid defending before Kamara and Latibeaudiere grabbed goals in the final 15 minutes to collect all 3 points. Again, we were unlucky to lose to Arsenal next, as we went in at half time 2-0 up due to goals from Abou Kamara and Pedro Diaz. Unfortunately, this team just seems to not have the bottle to hold onto games: McPake, Tsygankov and Januzaj scored Arsenal’s three second-half goals and we – once again – dropped 3 points from a winning position. This was something we had to improve upon next season. Luckily, our final game of the season was against an already-relegated Newcastle side bereft of confidence: A very young Pilgrims side won 3-1 through goals from Mlakar, Hee-Chan and Kownacki. Lars Isecke and Josh Foster made their first league appearances of the season in the season closer.
We had done it – we had secured a new record 8th place finish in the Premier League! As a result of this, the board promised us a transfer budget of almost £60m and a wage budget of £950k p/w. This was a phenomenal jump from last season’s budgets and should allow us to make even more progress next year.
Connor Ronan was well on his way to becoming a fan-favourite as he picked up his second Fan’s Player of the Season award, but it was the signing of Hwang Hee-Chan that sold the most shirts worldwide. Not long after these bits of info popped into my inbox, I found out that the board planned to expand the Theatre of Greens even further to allow almost 35,000 members of the Green Army to watch each game. It would also make Home Park the 12th biggest stadium in the Premier League.
Transfer Targets for Next Season
Next season, there was only one area I’d like to 100% improve upon, and a number of different areas that we will sign players if needed and we have the right deals in place. Boris Moltenis is a player that has rarely featured at all during our time in the Premier League and is naturally the weakest of our 6 centre-backs and a clear area to improve upon. As well as that, Didier Ndong and Aboubakar Kamara are players that have done okay when required during two seasons in the top flight, but if we are to try and push on and progress further, they will need to be improved upon.
With the stadium expansion, a much-improved transfer budget and a record 8th place finish, everything seemed to be on the up for The Pilgrims and as a result of this I wanted to be ambitious next season. If we can really push the ‘big six’ and become the best of the rest – potentially even sneaking into European competitions – I will be overjoyed.
Thank you once again for reading. Next time, we get ourselves battle-ready for our third season in the Premier League; we attend our pre-season tour of China and make new key signings to improve our Argyle side.