Why hasn't twelve-goal Ladapo won over the Green Army?
Background photo: Dominic Nelson
Freddie Ladapo has been the only bright spark in the dismal first half of Plymouth Argyle's League One season.
The striker signed for Crystal Palace in 2016 after some impressive displays for non-league Grays Athletic and Margate in 2014/15. it was too much too soon for Ladapo who endured frustrating form before signing for Argyle in the summer.
Upon failing to establish himself at Selhurst Park, he was loaned out to Oldham, then Shrewsbury, where he only showed brief glimpses of his talent. He signed for Southend in January of this year but once again struggled to make an impact. No goals in ten appearances led to his release at season's end.
Argyle manager Derek Adams snapped up the free agent. After a slow start, Ladapo has rediscovered the form that caught Premier League Palace's attention three years ago. He's scored 12 goals in all competitions for the Pilgrims. Even so, Argyle find themselves third from bottom, four points from safety. Without Ladapo’s goals, it would be far worse.
Eleven of his dozen arrived in the league. Despite Argyle’s lowly position, only two players in the division have scored more than the Romford-born forward.
Ladapo's success didn’t happen overnight. He took a while to waken to the task. Murmurs of discontent arose from fans when Adams chose to start Freddie over popular striker Ryan Taylor for Argyle's third game, away to Coventry.
The new striker endured criticism from a section of the Green Army. Taylor shone as the target man in his manager’s preferred 4-3-2-1 formation. Many found his benching unwarranted. Despite scoring only once in his first eleven appearances, Adams kept Ladapo in the team at Taylor's expense.
Then Taylor suffered an ankle injury in September, relieving some of the pressure. Without his experienced teammate breathing down his neck, Ladapo got down to the business of scoring goals. Six in five games repaid his manager's faith and earned Ladapo the October player of the month award.
The part his goals have played should not be underestimated. Without them, Argyle would have only eight points and most likely a new manager.
The Devon club own just four victories this season. Ladapo played a telling role in each.
Argyle waited until October for their first. A Ladapo header sealed the three points in a 1-0 win over fellow strugglers AFC Wimbledon. Gillingham were the next victims. A Ladapo brace carried Argyle to a 3-1 win. Then Ladapo’s 13th-minute strike set the ball rolling in a 4-1 win over Scunthorpe. The most recent three-point haul, a 2-1 success over Joey Barton’s Fleetwood, saw the rangy striker bag another brace.
Following an inauspicious start, Ladapo has shown what can be achieved when a manager places his faith in a player and gives him time to adapt to his new surroundings.
Yet there are still those who yearn for the attacking trifecta which proved so fruitful for Argyle last season. Ladapo’s 12 goals are not enough to silence calls for Taylor's reintroduction, now that he's fit again. Many supporters believe the ginger is more suitable to the lone-striker system from which Adams refuses to deviate.
In fairness, Graham Carey, Argyle’s talismanic playmaker, struggles this season without Taylor’s hold-up play. So far this season, Carey's failed to reproduce his scoring form. Ladapo's lack of service is held to blame by his detractors.
Carey scored 16 goals last season, nine in games Taylor played. Again, in all fairness, he managed another seven while Taylor was sidelined with injuries at both ends of the campaign.
So far this year, Carey has scored only three times, twice in games where Ladapo led the attack and once, a penalty against Southend when Taylor started. Make of that what you will.
Taylor and Ladapo are very different players. The former plays with his back to goal, providing for Carey and Ruben Lameires. Ladapo uses his pace to get in behind defenders. He has the speed to beat most League One defenders in a foot race.
Lameires looked surplus to requirements this time last season before ending the campaign as a mainstay. He's been unfortunate to find himself on the bench in recent weeks. Adams has overlooked the former Spurs youngster despite furious lobbying from the Green Army. He prefers Joel Grant who has played well in one of the two available attacking roles behind the main striker. The seemingly undroppable Carey occupies the other.
Attacking is not the problem for Argyle. As noted, they've more talent in that area than needed. If Argyle are relegated this season, it will be a result of shambolic defending. Evidence Argyle’s 3-3 draw with Bradford. The Yorkshire side scored just 15 goals in their opening 20 games but took the lead in this one three times only to be pegged back on each occasion. Once again, it was a brace from Ladapo that bailed Argyle out of a sticky spot.
The January transfer window looms. Argyle must spend money to shore up their defence but money is tight for the Pilgrims. At least, that is how it seems. Adams could be tempted to sell Ladapo to free up money for reinforcements.
Most Argyle fans would be sad to see him go. Without him, they'd be conducting a vigil for League Two football in 2019/20.
Sadly, those few who view Ladapo's potential sale as a shrewd piece of business, with Taylor waiting in the wings, make more noise. What is the saying? The squeaky wheel gets the grease.