2018/19 Season Review:

Plymouth Argyle’s 2018/19 campaign can be roughly split into three parts: a terrible start, a resurgent middle, and a car crash of an ending. Much of the terrible form at the start of the season came in the month of September. Argyle failed to win even a single game across the entire calendar month, in all competitions – April was the only other time that happened during the season.

The Greens played five games in all across September, all of which were League One encounters. They picked up just a solitary point from those five games – a dour 0-0 draw we’ll come to discuss shortly. If there was any optimism amongst the Green Army heading into the season (and as the previous pieces in this series have discussed, optimism was somewhat limited after a poor pre-season and a slow start), it was totally destroyed by the events of September.

Argyle ended the month bottom of the league on a paltry three points, and already five adrift of safety.

Disheartening start

Argyle’s first game of the month came on the first day of the month, as another trip to Fratton Park to play Dockyard rivals Portsmouth beckoned. Argyle’s supporters didn’t exactly seem to look forward to the encounter – the slow start meant numbers in the away end were lower than in previous years. And indeed, the game itself was the clearest sign yet that Argyle had regressed over the course of pre-season.

In the first three years of Derek Adams’ reign at Home Park, Argyle and Portsmouth never finished more than one position apart in the league table. It’s a remarkable statistic, and goes to show just how closely fought clashes between the sides were. Games between the teams were not just feisty due to a perceived rivalry between the clubs, there always seemed to be something on the line. That was the nature of the beast.

However, Argyle’s performance on the day was woeful, and in the end they fully merited their 3-0 defeat. It must be said that the players on the field were not assisted by their manager. Whilst Adams was serving a touchline ban following a managerial fracas against Southend in August, he still maintained control over his team selection. He got things horribly wrong.

Much like in August’s 1-0 defeat away at Coventry, Adams opted to line up with the same team that seemed to perform well in a midweek EFL Cup game. This meant that his side involved 5 central midfielders, two of which were forced to play on the wing, and not one of Ryan Taylor, Graham Carey, Ruben Lameiras or David Fox, who all featured so prominently in Argyle’s supreme run of form in 2017/18. It was never likely to work.

The hosts took the lead after 22 minutes, and a quickfire second half double saw Pompey waltz off into the sunset with all three points. Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis ran riot – they were both able to take advantage of Argyle’s dire setup, and each one was able to provide an assist for the other on the day. The defeat was truly disheartening for Argyle. They had always seemed to challenge their Dockyard opponents across the three preceding seasons, but this was a clear indication that things were set to be different this time around.

 

The solitary point

As we’ve discussed, Argyle picked up a single point across the entirety of September. This came with a 0-0 draw against Bristol Rovers in the game directly after Portsmouth. Whilst it is very easy to say in hindsight, particularly having just been relegated on goal difference, this was very much a case of two points dropped.

In truth, very little of note took place during the first half at the Memorial Stadium. However, just after the hour mark Argyle made a substitution which saw Joel Grant replace Conor Grant. This meant the Greens were creeping closer to their best shape – unsurprising considering they now had a winger playing on the left rather than a central midfielder. The team wasn’t perfect; it never was all season. However, Argyle’s opponents on the day were very poor. From the moment the Grants swapped places, Argyle really ought to have won the game.

First, the Greens somehow failed to convert after an almighty goalmouth scramble. Then, Antoni Sarcevic and Graham Carey couldn’t find the net when presented huge opportunities in the centre of the Bristol Rovers penalty area. Argyle did everything but score in the end, and had to settle for a 0-0 draw. That wasn’t greeted with widespread disdain at the final whistle. After all, the Green Army were happy to accept any point they could get at that stage of the season. However, there is no doubt that Argyle should have gone on to secure their first league victory of the campaign.

Did those late misses ultimately cost Argyle their League One status? It’s hard to say – football isn’t that simple. That being said, the two additional points would certainly have helped Adams and his side heading into the rest of September.

 

Three straight defeats

Argyle weren’t in an ideal position after their stalemate in Bristol. However, their position would suddenly take a sharp turn for the worse before the month was out. First of all, Blackpool visited Home Park, fresh from victories against the Greens in Devon in each of the previous two seasons. That trend was not bucked on this occasion.

The Seasiders had done enough to win the game after a quarter of an hour. Nathan Delfouneso got past Joe Riley on Argyle’s right, Harry Pritchard scuffed his shot from the resultant cross, but Mark Cullen was on hand to tap in from close range. There would be no further goals, as Argyle tried and failed to find their way through resolute defending from the visitors, though in truth the Argyle team was not set up in a way which allowed them to truly trouble Blackpool. In fact, the visitors were able to afford having two players receive their marching orders for fighting each other in stoppage time, and still hold on for the win.

Following that abject performance, Argyle had the joy of a visit to The Valley to face Charlton Athletic, a side that were, and indeed remain, in the League One promotion picture. However, whilst the Blackpool fixture brought disappointment, the game in London brought heartbreak to Argyle’s travelling support.

The visitors did take a surprise lead after just nine minutes via Graham Carey’s header from Joel Grant’s cross, but as was typical of Argyle across the month of September, disaster was never too far away. Karlan Grant equalised just three minutes later after a deep corner saw the ball break to him right in front of goal. From there, Charlton always looked the most likely to win the game, but Argyle managed to keep them at bay for large periods – Matt Macey even saved a Lyle Taylor penalty late in the first half as the Greens looked to hold on to their point.

Gut-wrenchingly, with just two minutes to play, Charlton forced their way through. Ben Reeves’ cross found its way to Igor Vetokele, and the ball deflected off the Angolan striker and across the Argyle six-yard box. Again, Karlan Grant was the quickest to react, slamming the ball home and stealing the points from under Argyle’s noses. They’d have one more chance to put things right in September at home to Doncaster.

The Doncaster encounter marked Argyle’s tenth league game of the season, but if Argyle fans thought this may mark a turning point, they were sadly mistaken. The game saw the disastrous midfield duo of Yann Songo’o and David Fox deployed, a plan that would inexplicably remain Adams’ midfield of choice throughout the season. Doncaster were able to take advantage, with two goals from John Marquis and one from Matty Blair securing them the win. Argyle were offered some brief respite with goals from Ruben Lameiras and Graham Carey, but they were ultimately second best throughout the encounter.

And that marked the end of September for Argyle. They were rooted to the bottom of the league with three draws and seven defeats from their first ten league games. It was going to take something special to turn it round from here.

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