Matthew Crichton: When Ryan Lowe left to join Preston in December, his assistant Steven Schumacher took over - is it a case of him maintaining things as they were?
Sam Down: Possibly controversial, but I’d say rather than keep things as they are, he’s arguably made things better. The points per game tally under Schumacher is virtually identical to that under Lowe, with both managers coming in at around 1.8 points per game.
Schumacher has had the tougher job, though. He’s had to manage the squad through a tough injury crisis and he came in with some very difficult fixtures to come immediately, a real baptism of fire. That’s before we even mention our excellent cup run, taking Chelsea to extra-time in the fourth round.
He’s made us look tactically more coherent and got the best out of players who were mere squad options under Lowe. Don’t get me wrong, Lowe was a good manager for us. He built this squad and implemented the style - but Schumacher might just be an even better one. If we miss out on the top six this year, it won’t be a failing of his.
MC: Given your size of budget, many expected Plymouth to fade, but your side has been excellent this season, what factors are behind their consistency?
SD: As I alluded to in the previous answer, I think it’s largely down to a culture of excellence that’s been embedded in the club from the chairman downwards.
We have a director of football who is sure to sign players who fit the system tactically and personally and two managers who were/are more than adept at getting the best out of the squad.
We may not have the best budgets in the league but we have the best people to manage those budgets. We have a mid-table budget and a slightly better than mid-table squad. It’s about getting the best out of the resources available.
We also have a fantastic team spirit - the lads all seem to genuinely like each other and we have bounced back well from every bad run of form so far.
MC: Plymouth face Sunderland, Wigan and then finish at home against MK Dons - are you concerned that your team are ending with the most difficult run in all against sides battling for promotion?
SD: Frankly, yes I am. As positive as my previous answers have been, we are seemingly running out of steam at the worst possible time.
Of course, it’s possible that we can turn things around, but the final three games are very unforgiving.
Wigan have been the best team over the season, and MK will likely be fighting for promotion on the last day. Sunderland have been excellent under Alex Neil (ironically, the man Lowe replaced at Preston) and he’s managed to turn those frustrating draws that have plagued your side into wins.
If we don’t end your unbeaten run, I reckon we’ll find it tricky to make the top six.
MC: Injured Ryan Hardie is Plymouth’s top scorer with 16 League One goals this year, what makes him so clinical at this level?
SD: In all honesty, it’s the law of averages. He’s scored 16 league goals but he’d be the first to admit he could probably have scored even more.
There have been plenty of occasions where a string of chances have been missed. Being brutally honest, he could have broken the 20 goal mark already.
He gets into lots of good chances with his movement and late runs, and we’ve created a lot of quality openings for him with the quality we have in our midfield (not to mention our wing-backs).
We’ve rotated the strikers at times, but Hardie has inarguably been the focal point and the first choice. No denying he’s a good player, but his 16 league goals are more of a team success than an individual success.
MC: Without Hardie, the focus will be on Luke Jephcott who was prolific last season for Plymouth, has he struggled to find similar form this season?
SD: In truth, Jephcott was probably out-performing his true level last season to some extent. He’s a poacher and he went on an incredibly hot streak where he was scoring almost every chance he got.
He scored his final goal on February 6th last season and whilst he’s begun to score again this season, he’s not quite found that same level.
There is also the question of his player development. He’s tried to make himself less of a poacher this season, dropping deep to make passes in the same way we’ve seen Harry Kane do for England and Tottenham.
He has improved that aspect of his game but it has come at the expense of goalscoring. If he’s playing deep, he isn’t getting into scoring positions like Hardie is.
MC: Former Sunderland left-back Brendan Galloway joined Plymouth in the summer, will he be a miss for your side today?
SD: He was a huge miss when he first got injured in November. He was probably our best player for the first three months of the season. He’s way too good for this level - his ability to read the game forensically and play the ball out from the back put him above and beyond an ordinary League One defender.
The only reason he’s an Argyle player is because his knees are liable to bust at any time - which is, of course, exactly what has happened.
Macauley Gillesphey has come in as a left centre back in our 3-5-2 formation and has really come into his own over the last few weeks, despite a slightly shaky start.
He’s dominant in the air (perhaps even more so than Galloway was) and whilst his general ability/game understanding isn’t quite as good, it’s good enough to be an able deputy.
MC: Which Plymouth players should Sunderland fans keep an eye on during the game?
SD: Our player of the season is probably our goalkeeper: Mike Cooper. He’s a local lad and only 22-years-old but has become a firm fan favourite over the past two seasons.
He can throw a ball further than most outfielders can kick it and he’s made a succession of remarkable saves.
In terms of attacking players, Danny Mayor is one to worry about. He was a contender for League One player of the month in March and the improvement he’s made under Schumacher is remarkable. He’s always carried the ball well, but he’s added dynamic end product, increasing his goals tally and also his assists.
MC: What style of play can Alex Neil’s side expect to face and which eleven players do you think Schumacher will select?
SD: We play a 3-5-2 and a mostly possession based style. We have one deep-lying midfielder and two more attacking players who bomb forward with the wing-backs.
As for our line-up? I’d go for Cooper; Wilson, Scarr, Gillesphey; Houghton; Sessegnon, Camara, Mayor, Grant; Jephcott, Ennis.
I’d possibly go for Adam Randell in midfield over Houghton, who is on patchy form - but I suspect Schuey will probably go for what he sees as the safe option.
MC: What is your prediction for the final score?
SD: Really not sure. You’re in better form than us, but as I alluded to, this side doesn’t know when it’s beaten and we’ve responded well to bad runs in the past.
It’ll be a tight game, probably only a goal in it either way. I’ll say 2-1 to Argyle, without a high degree of confidence.