Carl McHugh has talked about strong rearguard displays being key to play-off success for Plymouth but some habits are hard to break at this late stage of the campaign and there’s value in this first-leg encounter at Fratton Park producing goals - they’ve been arriving at a rate of one every 22.5 minutes across Argyle’s last eight matches.
The Pilgrims have netted the majority in that sample (20 for, 12 against) but last Saturday’s 5-0 success over Hartlepool - a dead rubber in which they made wholesale changes - was only the second clean sheet they’ve managed in 13, so preventing Pompey from finding the net on their own turf in front of a fervent 17,000-capacity crowd might be a big ask.
But that’s not to say the visitors have anything to fear. Paul Cook is missing a trick with his performance-driven values, which refuse to tap into the potential of the Fratton Park crowd. His philosophy lacks the aggression that might otherwise create a greater bond between fans and team, thus making them a more intimidating proposition for both opponents and officials alike.
It’s a problem exemplified by Leam Richardson’s lame attempts to defend wholesale changes in the final day defeat to Northampton. The result cost Pompey the opportunity to play the decisive leg of this tie on home turf. The decision to rotate wasn’t wrong necessarily, but the rationale offered afterwards was symbolic of a general apathy towards masculine, competitive nuance.
"People will argue it’s better to play at home second but we haven’t had a penalty at home all season," said Richardson. "We haven’t had the decisions, so why people think it’s automatically better to play at home second is a beyond me. I’ve got no preference. You’ve got 180 minutes to beat a team."
It’s hardly what you’d call a win-at-all-costs culture and it’s a long way removed from the mindset that usually proves most successful in the cut-throat setting of the play-offs, but it does go some way towards explaining a mediocre W10 D7 L6 home record, which includes a 2-1 reverse against Argyle on their last visit 26 days ago.
Pompey dominated that day, just as they dominate most weeks, but Plymouth plundered two late goals out of nowhere to take the spoils, illustrating their capacity to kill teams on the counter. The Pilgrims have netted two or more goals in 13 out of 23 away games this term, a statistic that owes much to Adams’ ability to spot one particular weakness in the opposition and exploit it.
With that in mind, take the 29/10 available on Plymouth to score over 1.5 goals. And if you’re looking for a correct score interest, you could do worse than throw a speculative point at the 2-2 draw at 19/1. Shot data over the past 16 matches would have the total goals line at around 2.72, nearly half a goal higher than the market.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system