There are some games when you watch in disbelief and wonder what exactly is going on. Yesterday was one of those.
Before describing it, the first thing that has to be done is pay tribute to the 1622 City fans who made the long journey to Plymouth. They deserved better. But they could be heard until the end.
Wagner made two changes from the starting lineup for the Leicester game. Hwang and Idah came in for the injured Barnes and for Gibbs.
Tellingly, Plymouth also made changes, switching to a back three, playing four across the middle and three up top.
City started brightly once again. Hwang was leading the press, closing down the Argyle keeper, while Idah pulled wide or deep as required.
A diagonal ball into the space behind Mumba found Stacey and his cross was headed out for a corner. City played it short, and it went out for a second corner.
Like the City defence later in the day, Canaries TV was absent and the Argyle channel chose the same moment to go down. Apparently in the gap, City registered a shot and forced a save from keeper Hazard.
After six minutes, Plymouth won a corner. They played it short – something they had clearly worked on and the ball came to Randall. Gunn saved his shot and the follow-up.
Stacey struck back, intercepting a poor ball from Mumba and breaking down the right. When he cut back and played the ball back inside, Gibson picked up the ball but his attempted final ball was not good enough to find a City player.
City were pretty much in control at this point until, on 14 minutes, Duffy played a poor ball out from the back. The ball was headed back and Gibson found three players around him. He went with Hardie, barrelling into the back of him. The Argyle number 9 cleverly sidestepped the ball and allowed it to run into space where it was picked up by Whittaker, who cut back and coolly slotted past the wrong-footed Gunn.
The City players were stunned but got their heads down and tried to take some control of the game. A Giannoulis cross was just intercepted by the foot of Randall, then a cross from the left saw a Fassnacht header being headed behind by the defender for another City corner.
On 21, Gibson fouled Whittaker on the City left. The free kick went out for a corner, which once again was played short, resulting in a Whittaker shot that Gunn was able to watch go wide.
Then it was Rowe’s turn to embark on a strong run. His ball found Sara, whose shot was blocked, and moments later, a great Sara through ball put Hwang through on the keeper, only for a great saving tackle to deny him.
City were turning the crew with a spell of dominance of possession. Every cross seemed to be met by the head of Scarr though. It was like watching City throw crosses in when they had Teemu Pukki up front. There never seemed any prospect of one of our attackers getting on the end.
After 30 minutes, Gibson played the ball to Hwang. His touch to Idah was turned through to Stacey, but just too heavy for the City defender to get on the end.
Only five minutes later, Hwang conceded a free kick on the left, in an almost identical spot to the previous one. You could see it would be played short, but only Rowe stood nearby. As soon as it was played, Giannoulis attempted to close the ball down but got nowhere near enough to stop the cross. The ball cannoned off the crossbar and fell to Scarr to side-foot home. 2-0.
City were once again looking around in disbelief. They tried to take the sting out of the game, as Plymouth dropped all ten outfield players behind the ball. A City corner somehow ended up being passed all the way back to Gunn. It seemed both teams had settled for 2-0, as four minutes of added time were signalled.
Alas no. After three minutes of the added time, Duffy won the ball on the left, only to be pushed in the back, allowing Plymouth to regain possession again. The cross came in and Whittaker made it 3-0.
City heads were still shaking when, somehow, Plymouth were allowed to waltz through the middle of the pitch, Asaz did a couple of stepovers and then slotted home.
In the space of two minutes, it had gone from 2-0 to 4-0.
Unsurprisingly, Wagner made changes at halftime. Placheta replaced Fassnacht and Forshaw came on for Hwang, allowing Sara to be pushed forward into a more advanced role.
Forshaw immediately made an impact with a great ball to Giannoulis, which the Greek couldn’t quite keep in. Then Placheta joined in, cutting in and giving the ball to McLean. The City skipper promptly gave the ball away and within a few seconds, Argyle had a 3 v 1 on the edge of the City box.
In this occasion, Gunn made a great save with his feet from Whittaker’s shot.
Bolstered by Forshaw, City were looking more solid, albeit against a team in cruise control. Rowe, now on the right, was clearly having a battle with Mumba and won a corner to his obvious delight.
Then a great ball by Sara into the area was met by the onrushing Idah. He made good contact with it for Hazard to save well. The resulting corner was cleared initially but City played it back for Rowe to hit a tame shot straight at the keeper.
Any delusions of a City fightback were halted moments later. Another cheap concession of the ball, Plymouth scythed through the City team for a final ball to find Whittaker to slot in his hat trick.
Ten minutes later, City actually had the ball in the net but Sara was well offside. Immediately after this, Hernandez came on for Rowe.
Then came a real goal. A really neat City move ended with a Sara ball to Idah on the edge of the box and his shot gave Hazard no chance.
City attacked again, Placheta with a good run on the left, played the ball into the area to find Giannoulis. Unfortunately, his run was always taking him wide, rather than more directly towards goal and Hazard was able to narrow the angle and grasp the ball.
On 76, Hernandez powered past Mumba. The former City man stretched out a leg and as the Cuban tumbled, he pointed straight to the spot.
For what it’s worth, the initial contact may have been outside the box, but the leg that brought him down caught him inside the box. Hernandez stood straight in front of Mumba to celebrate. Clearly, no love lost there!
Idah stepped up and confidently hit the spot kick home.
The game was then disrupted by a succession of Plymouth substitutions and fouls that disrupted any head of steam that City may have been attaining. When the referee signaled seven minutes to be added, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be City that profited.
City won a free kick on the left. The ball was played in too deep and over everyone. Plymouth broke and a long ball found Bundu, he selflessly played Cundle in to make it 6-2.
Clearly, this was not a good day for City. My hints of concern about our lack of punch up front after the Leicester game were reinforced. City must have played 20 crosses into the box in the first half, none of which even came near a yellow shirt.
The situation was better in the second. Idah seems to be more effective up front on his own, and the advanced role certainly brought Sara into the game more. Forshaw looked handy too. Placheta has certainly done enough to start, with both Rowe and Fassnacht dipping in form.
City were undone by a pacy, quick-footed Argyle side. They exposed the lack of mobility of Duffy and Gibson, who for all their aerial prowess, were chasing shadows on the ground much of the day, not helped by City’s over-commitment to attack, which created the spaces for Argyle to flood into.
A worrying performance and the way City continued to make the same errors showed a naivety not seen since the end of last season. The loss of Barnes may be bigger than we ever thought.