Final Whistle: The Fortress Walls Are Flooding
After a positive six game unbeaten run, it was back to the drawing board for Plymouth Argyle on Saturday as a first-half red card and a 4-0 defeat at Home Park (not for the first time this season either) brought Derek Adams’ side firmly back down to earth.
Home Park has been anything but a fortress for the Pilgrims so far this campaign with their 2-0 victory over Charlton in August still their only win from nine home fixtures so far this season. Two draws and six defeats make up the other eight fixtures which sees the Devon side having picked up the fewest points on home soil in the league this campaign with just five. Interestingly, before their promotion to League One, they boasted just seven defeats from their 23 home games, registering 13 victories. This was only bettered by fellow promoted sides Portsmouth and Doncaster as well as Colchester United (all 14 wins).
Whilst there could be a wide range of factors responsible for their lacklustre start to the season, the Pilgrims have often proven to be the masters of their own downfall with defender Ryan Edwards receiving his second and Argyle’s sixth red card of the season yesterday after 14 minutes with the scores poised at 0-0. Whilst on this occasion the card could be considered harsh (and undoubtedly affected the outcome again), it was another example of poor decision making costing the side. Edwards is one of three defenders, along with Gary Miller and Sonny Bradley as well as midfielders Graham Carey and Antoni Sarcevic to receive their marching orders with only 17 league games played this season.
Interestingly, of the six red cards, only Miller’s in September’s 2-1 away defeat to Bristol Rovers has come away from home, meaning that in just nine league games at Home Park they have received five red cards. With points seemingly difficult to come by it will come as no shock that Argyle have struggled at home as a result of this lack of discipline, with Edwards, Sarcevic and Carey all ensuring their side played the entire second half with a man disadvantage against Oxford, Scunthorpe and MK Dons respectively. Furthermore, in all of those games they have also failed to score, conceding nine goals in the process.
One of the key factors in Adams’ sides recent upturn in form came as a result of improved discipline as they kept clean sheets in victories against high-flying Bradford and Wimbledon as well as Grimsby in the FA Cup last weekend. Whilst the six game unbeaten run was never going to be enough to starve off the worries of potential relegation this season it proved that when necessary the players were capable of performing and stepping up when it mattered. It looks heavily likely that Adams will delve into the January transfer market with a striker the obvious option so far as well as a couple of others in different positions to hopefully provide competition for places with certain summer acquisitions clearly having failed to do so thus far.
With the obvious frailties going forward this season and a clear over-reliance on talisman Graham Carey as the side have struggled for goals, it has become vital that the emphasis is placed on a solid defensive unit. With Edwards and Bradley beginning to click as a centre-back pairing and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair silencing his critics it seemed as though things were beginning to turn around. The signings of midfielder Toumani Diagouraga and Remi Mathews have also proved instrumental with Diagouraga putting in a number of fantastic, tough-tackling displays whilst Mathews’ penalty save against Bradford effectively earned his side three points. With fellow strugglers Northampton arriving at Home Park on Tuesday evening it will be vital to avoid back-to-back defeats if the Pilgrims wish to continue their fight out of the League One relegation zone.