Football. It’s a funny old game, as they say. There are an almost innumerable amount of variables that can influence the outcome of a match, and the only thing we’re all really unanimously agreed on is that goals change games, whenever they are scored. As a child, before understanding the tactics and psychology of the beautiful game, I enjoyed this argument literally, in an “if that shot went wide rather than in, the opposition wouldn’t have had the kick off that led to the throw-in that led to the corner that led to the clash of heads that led to the substitute who scored three calamitous own goals coming on” kind of sense. Apparently, factual causation was the forte for seven-year-old me.
But it’s pretty obvious that it’s not only goals that can change the course of an encounter. There are many little incidents we have to consider, and they aren’t always obvious. Take Tuesday’s fixture against AFC Wimbledon, for instance. The goals may have changed the complexion of the game, but with the match in itself being incredibly entertaining, we have to look at a bit more to work out exactly how it progressed as it did. From my point of view, at least, Argyle were the beneficiaries of a few blessings in disguise.
Let’s look first of all at Ryan Taylor’s first real influence on the game, as his early header was swiftly ruled out for offside. Both sides struck the foot of the post in the opening stages, but it was the visitors, if anybody, getting on top. Taylor’s ruled-out strike may have seemed unfortunate at the time, but it woke up both the 10,000-strong crowd and the home team. Within moments, Graham Carey forced an outstanding save from Dons ‘keeper George Long, before Carey himself opened the scoring soon after, perhaps using that extra bit of adrenaline generated from the crowd to charge down an attempted clearance from the Wimbledon defence. It may have been slightly overdue, but Argyle led 1-0, and Home Park was rocking.
The game started to settle down before another seemingly innocuous incident changed the mood. Around ten minutes before half-time, Lyle Taylor netted Wimbledon’s equaliser, and decided for reasons unbeknown to anybody aside from himself to celebrate, bizarrely arms-folded, in front of the Devonport end. This riled up the home support, as was expected and doubtless intended, and maybe that extra noise encouraged David Fox to hit that rasping shot into the top corner just two minutes later, and perhaps that gave him the confidence to take on the free kick himself which led to Ryan Taylor doubling the lead on the stroke of half-time. From perhaps a position of ascendancy, Wimbledon suddenly found themselves battling simply to stay in the game. Maybe, their Mr Taylor should have kept his celebration to a minimum, allowing the atmosphere at Home Park to naturally transition from jovial to subdued.
That wasn’t to be the end of the convoluted drama though – far from it. Argyle’s Taylor had another header ruled out for offside, Wimbledon’s Taylor notched his second goal after a comedy of errors, and within a minute Argyle almost threw the game away in exactly the same fashion, with the linesman’s flag this time coming to the home side’s rescue as he adjudged the ball to have drifted out of play. Perhaps this was the wake-up call Argyle were desperate for, as they started to regain control, and seemed to be home and hosed when the phenomenal Ruben Lameiras restored the two goal-cushion. But of course, that wasn’t to be all. To the delight of the Argyle faithful, Remi Matthews denied Lyle Taylor his hat-trick from the penalty spot two minutes later, and added the final act to the drama of this breathless game.
Can we really say that Argyle benefitted from their own misfortune to the extent suggested? Perhaps Argyle were themselves rather lucky to triumph despite things going against them at certain intervals across the game. Maybe the fixture demonstrated why Wimbledon find themselves in trouble this season, as they were unable to take advantage of their own breaks to the extent Argyle were. To be honest, all of this may be true, but even then, credence is only added to the theory that there is a myriad of different ways a game can be impacted upon.
And for that reason, the fixture itself is one that would have confused and delighted my seven-year-old self in equal measure. Hopefully that child-like wonder continues for a few weeks yet, as Argyle look to make perhaps the most unlikely of promotion pushes of our time.