Champion tips stronger Pilgrims to go through
JON CHAMPION said he will be watching and commenting on a 'very different' Plymouth Argyle in Sunday's televised FA Cup tie at Dorchester Town.
For the second season on the spin, ESPN co-commentator Champion will be covering the Pilgrims away to a non-league side in the first round of the world's oldest domestic cup competition.
For those of a statistical bent or with long-enough memories Argyle last played Dorchester in the FA Cup back in 1957 and left with a 5-2 victory.
Last year when he spoke to Herald Sport ahead of their replay at Southern Premier outfit Stourbridge, Champion had Argyle down as slight favourites to return from the West Midlands with a place in the second round.
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Instead, Argyle, who had needed an 88th-minute Onismor Bhasera equaliser in a 3-3 draw with the part-timers at Home Park, bowed out well beaten 2-0 on November 22.
It was a night to forget for Argyle who had Paul Bignot sent off in the first half for kicking out at one of the Glassboys' goalscorers Sean Evans.
But while Champion believes in-form Conference South side Dorchester will be tough opposition for Carl Fletcher's Argyle, he is unafraid of risking the commentator's curse for tipping the visitors to prevail at Avenue Stadium this weekend.
Champion watched Argyle at Cheltenham before covering Newcastle's Europa Cup tie with Club Bruges and Manchester City take on Swansea City in the Premier League.
He thought Argyle's 'pleasing performance' in the 2-1 defeat at Whaddon Road confirmed his opinion that the differences between the Argyle team at Stourbridge and this season's model are if not poles apart, then stark in comparison.
Champion told Herald Sport: "I'm really looking forward to this cup tie, it promises to be very exciting one between two in-form sides.
"It is set up to be an intriguing match-up with Dorchester going well in Conference South at home with five wins out of six at their lovely new ground.
"But Argyle are a very different proposition than they were when I saw them this time last season.
"Then, they had just come out of administration and were bottom of League Two and none of us knew for certain whether they were avoid the drop.
"And when they had Bignot dismissed in the replay which Stourbridge deservedly won, it simply served to underline Argyle's predicament.
"I felt really sorry for Fletcher that night as the future looked dark for Plymouth.
"Carl Fletcher deserves a great deal of credit not just for making sure Argyle stayed up but also for the way he has changed things around."
Champion added: "I saw Argyle at Cheltenham and was impressed at the improvement on the pitch, which again is credit to Fletcher and their philanthropic owner James Brent.
"Argyle played with intelligence, skill and pace at Cheltenham and were a world away from where they were when I saw them at Stourbridge 12 months ago.
"Then, midfielder Conor Hourihane looked like a callow youth, but against Cheltenham he was a man and scored a very good goal.
"I also think Argyle have unearthed a talent in their Argentinian midfielder Andres Guerrieri.
"Although Argyle still seem to me vulnerable at set-pieces at the back, I think in Darren Purse they have a centre half who talks to his players and organises them.
"Without taking sides ahead of the tie, I hope Argyle can go from strength to strength this season and get back to where they were a few years ago – the Championship.
"I still believe Plymouth and the West Country is one of the untapped areas of great footballing potential.
"As for a winner on Sunday, as formidable as Dorchester are at home I'm still tipping Plymouth to come through."
Sunday's FA Cup First Round tie at Dorchester (4.30pm) will be shown live on ESPN.