Extra Time: The Cup Conundrum
The vast majority of us will remember the scenes after the FA Cup second round replay win against Newport County last season. The 1-0 victory, sealed with a Graham Carey penalty deep into extra time, did of course land Argyle their unforgettable third round tie against Liverpool at Anfield almost 11 months ago. The Newport encounter, on a nippy December evening, would in normal circumstances have been a bog-standard game, with very few members of the Green Army particularly fussed about the result. However, because of what was on the line, the game’s intensity and relevance both increased tenfold, and the temporary stands at Rodney Parade were literally bouncing when the final whistle blew.
However, one encounter that certainly doesn’t stick in the memory for most is the game leading up to that replay; a 0-0 bore draw with Newport at Home Park with the Exiles playing the majority of the match with ten men after Sean Rigg’s early dismissal. Yes indeed, there was once a time where the opposition had men sent off at the Theatre of Greens – it seems we didn’t quite know how good we had it. That 0-0 would be the precursor to one of Argyle’s highlights of that and any season, but at the time many fans simply didn’t care about that, a picture painted perfectly by the miserly attendance of 5,071 that day.
I couldn’t help but have those games in the back of my mind whilst watching Argyle go down 3-1 at Bradford City yesterday. The result was obviously somewhat disappointing, but I didn’t particularly feel heartbroken by our exit from the FA Cup at the second round stage. Why? Simply because we can’t say for sure what was on the line. Of course, had Argyle progressed, Derek Adams could have found himself facing Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte or other illustrious names, but equally, Argyle’s reward for getting through at Valley Parade could have been a January trip to Milton Keynes. As it is, regardless of who Argyle would have faced in the third round, we know the only remaining games this season will be in League One. And that is where the priority had to lie irrespective of yesterday’s result.
For that reason, it’s much more important to focus on the performance yesterday, rather than the eventual result, as this will give us a much greater indicator of Argyle’s credentials as they look to remain in League One. And that performance, for the most part, was very positive. Romain Vincelot’s opener for Bradford arguably came against the run of play, and Argyle were certainly unlucky not to go in at least level when the half-time whistle sounded. It’s well documented that Jake Jervis could have had a hat-trick before the interval – his headed effort with goalkeeper Rouven Sattelmaier stranded was a particularly shocking miss – but Argyle were encouraging their supporters with a satisfying, if toothless, display.
Nat Knight-Percival’s comedy goal at the start of the second half could have knocked the wind out of the Pilgrims’ sails, but even then Argyle kept carving out openings for themselves, and got their just reward when Graham Carey’s effort looped over Sattelmaier via a slight deflection. It took an error from returning keeper Luke McCormick, generally impressive until that point, allowing Charlie Wyke to tap in to finally put Argyle to bed. Disappointing? Yes. But certainly not disheartening – Argyle weren’t as bad as the scoreline suggested, and didn’t drop any vital league points as a result of the defeat.
I’m well aware of this piece coming across as if I’m clutching at straws – maybe I am – and it probably speaks volumes about Argyle’s season that I’m not devastated by a 3-1 loss. However, calling for Adams’ departure on the back of this fixture seems slightly harsh. It’s clear Argyle’s problems yesterday were up front, with nobody clinical enough to stick gilt-edged chances in the back of the net. The impending return of Ryan Taylor to league football may help, but January surely will. The signing of Toumani Diagouraga has shown exactly what one addition can do to the attitude of this team, and as horrendously cliched as it sounds, Taylor’s return will feel like a new signing to Argyle heading into the second half of the season.
And as for the cup? Well, I’ll only feel disappointed if it’s Bradford getting a trip to Anfield in the third round. Ask me again on Monday evening.