2018/19 Season Review:
- 10 reasons why Argyle were relegated
- July (pre-season)
Argyle continued their descent back down the table in April, following two needless draws at the back end of March, with the Pilgrims giving up points from winning positions against both Bristol Rovers and Blackpool. This would prove to be a sign of things to come, as Argyle maintained a downward trajectory, with a run of poor results throughout April.
The Pilgrims began the month in 14th position with 47 points; 5 points clear of the drop zone. However, with 5 defeats from 5 in April, Argyle found themselves in 21st position at the months conclusion, level on points with Southend, albeit with a significantly worse goal difference.
With Bradford the only team relegated prior to the last game of the season, the stakes for this final game were high, as 5 teams realistically vied for 19th and 20th spots, which would cement their League 1 status for another season. Argyle would also go into the final game with a new face in charge, following the dismissal of Derek Adams, leaving by mutual consent following away loss to Accrington.
False Sense of Security
Argyle began April in 14th position and with 6 games remaining in the season, and it would be easy to consider the Pilgrims safe. Yet, with only 7 points separating 12th place and 23rd place, anything could still happen. The Pilgrims opened April with a 2-0 loss to Charlton, making one forced change from the draw at Bloomfield Road; with Oscar Threlkeld coming in for the again injured Joe Riley.
Goals from Home Park fan-favorite Lyle Taylor and a Niall Canavan own-goal sealed the result for Charlton. For the opener, Lyle Taylor drifted away from Ryan Edwards at the back post and the Charlton striker responded to an inch-perfect cross with an excellent header into the corner of the goal. It was a cruel blow, coming right after Graham Carey had seen his penalty saved and Ladapo scooped over the bar when facing an open goal inside the six-yard area.
The second came from some good play from former Palace forward Jonny Williams, who lifted a cross into the six yard box, leaving Edwards stranded, and Canavan inadvertently knocked in the ball with his knee as he struggled to keep Vetokele from adding the decisive touch. Questions can certainly be asked of Matt Macey, who showed poor reactions. These mistakes proved crucial, and led to more dropped points for the Pilgrims.
Argyle lost again in the visit to Doncaster, conceding two first half goals in the process. Argyle again made one forced change which saw Jamie Ness replaced by Yann Songo’o. Doncaster’s captain Tommy Rowe opened the scoring for the home side, capitalising on Argyle’s ability to get the ball clear, turning well past Songo’o and away from David Fox – both of whom defended poorly all game – before lashing a shot high into the net.
Rovers had the majority of the play and the afternoon was summed up in the second goal, a direct free-kick from Danny Andrew found its way in at Macey’s near post. Two games, two losses, four conceded without reply, six points dropped. Argyle were still 3 points above the drop, but panic was starting to set in.
Abhorrent Away Display
Gillingham away was a torrid fixture last year, with the Pilgrims losing 5-2 in the final game of the season. The outing to the south-eastern town was no better this time around. Tensions were high but opinions were relatively positive, and fans were encouraged by Gillingham’s horrific home form; similar to our away form.
Argyle started the game with four changes to the side that lost against Doncaster, with returns to the side for Kyle Letheren, Jamie Ness, and Ashley Smith-Brown along with a first start for Lloyd Jones, who proved to be one of the bright sparks in a dreadful end to the season.
The team barely had a sniff throughout the first half, but found the back of the net through after Carey’s superb sliding tackle released Ladapo to beat the last defender and smash the ball in on his left food. Argyle defended very well throughout the first 45 and seemed to be set for a victory if they could continue to frustrate the Gills.
Gillingham made changes at the break and brought off goal threat Tom Eaves, who memorably scored a hat-trick in the previous seasons defeat; Argyle seemed to have him sussed, while Carey was doing an excellent job of marking Mark Byrne out of the game completely. The half-time changes seemed to upset Argyle’s game plan and the side fell apart from there.
Right after Ryan Edwards wasted the best chance of the game – shooting over the bar from yards away – Ashley Smith-Brown allowed Regan Charles-Cook to get in front of him and turn in a cross to level the scores , and not two minutes later, Byrne got on the end of a corner to put the home side ahead. Once again, Smith-Brown lost his man.
Argyle would fail to convert the best chance after going behind, with Sarcevic driling wide following some good feet from Ruben Lameiras, yet following a Byrne interception, Brandon Hanlan would seal the result in stoppage time, sliding the ball under Letheren.
With this loss, fans were really beginning to fear the worst, with the upcoming visit of high-flying Barnsley, it was hard to see where points would be won. Losing in this way to Gillingham, especially after performing so well in the first half, was simply unacceptable.
The home fixture against Barnsley doesn’t need to be discussed much, Argyle were played off the park by a team that, frankly, were too good for them. Not much was expected from this game, and the highlights do show some excellent goals, including some fantastic chest control from Cauley Woodrow for the opener and some individual brilliance from Alex Mowatt to bend in a free-kick for the third. I feel many thought this game was said and done before a ball had been kicked, and many were proven to be right when Argyle found themselves 3-0 down within the first 30 minutes.
Abhorrent Away Display Part 2
It was hard to top the defeat away to Gillingham, but Argyle managed it, losing 5-1 to Accrington Stanley in their penultimate game. Worse, the result of this game took Argyle’s fate out of their own hands. We would need other teams to lose for us to have a chance of staying up.
The sheer number of goals conceded gave Argyle a big problem when it came to goal-difference, as they fell far behind Wimbledon, yet the manner of defeat was even more worrying.
The first two goals came from set-pieces, Billy Kee fired home from the penalty spot following a collision between Jamie Ness and Accrington’s Jordan Clarke, and the second from a deflected free-kick that sailed past the already airborne Macey.
Following some nice interplay in and around the box, McConville buried his second, with a curled effort into the top right corner. McConville would then go on to complete his hat-trick with another good effort, away from Macey to the same corner. For the fifth, Argyle were caught on the break and allowed Luke Armstrong to bundle the ball in from close range.
Argyle, who changed formation at half-time, did get a consolation goal in injury time, but provided little solace after such a resoundingly disappointing performance. Tensions within the away end following the 5-1 defeat were high, and there was much hostility towards Adams as he trudged down the tunnel.
Adding to the end of season drama, following the horrendous result away to Accrington, the hostility and tension reached breaking point between management and the fans, and after complete radio silence from the club in the immediate aftermath; Derek Adams and his number two, Paul Wotton were relieved from their duties with immediate effect. He left a legacy, but he could have done much, much more.
Argyle knew that a win may not even save them, sitting level on points with Southend, albeit with a negative goal differential of 11, and one point ahead of both Walsall and Scunthorpe. Wimbledon were within reach, but we would have to win and Wimbledon lose to Bradford.
Argyle faced Scunthorpe at home, with both sides likely to be relegated come the final whistle. Southend on the other hand faced play-off bound Sunderland, and needed to equal or better Argyle’s result to stay in the division. Kevin Nancekivell took control of Argyle in the wake of Derek Adam’s departure, and laid out a similar team, while returning Freddie Ladapo and Ruben Lameiras to the starting line-up.
Argyle started brightly, playing with purpose and found themselves ahead after 8 minutes through a Lloyd Jones goal-line header, following a scramble in the box. Ladapo doubled the Pilgrims lead in the 36th minute with a superb half-volley and Argyle were on the road to safety.
Suddenly, doubt set in, as shortly before half-time, Scunthorpe pulled a goal back and, before Argyle had kicked-off again, Southend took the lead against Sunderland, which meant Argyle moved back into the relegation zone. Half-time was eerie, with all knowing the magnitude of what was happening over at Roots Hall.
Argyle conceded again 15 minutes after the break, in controversial fashion as a visibly injured Matt Macey attempted to throw the ball out of play to receive treatment. Winger
cheater Josh Morris raced to keep it in play and lofted a shot over the struggling Macey and into the back of the net. The Pilgrims protested but Scunthorpe showed Leeds how sportsmanship is really done and point blank refused to allow them to retake the lead, only to proclaim innocence after the game. Even their chairman was disgusted with the behaviour of his players and staff.
10 minutes later and justice was done as Argyle retook the lead when Lameiras slid in Carey who made no mistake as his shot lashed into the top of the net. Meanwhile at Roots Hall, John White, who had put Southend in the lead with an emphatic overhead kick, had conceded a penalty which Sunderland promptly put away. The news reverberated around the ground and with the goal five minute earlier, audible celebrations ensued all around Home Park.
Argyle were holding up their end of the bargain, and saw out the game, winning 3-2, but it all ended in the most dramatic of fashions, as the news of a late Southend winner infectiously found its away around the ground. The fans were stunned, and Argyle’s effort had proven to be for nothing, as silence rang around the ground.
Wimbledon and Wycombe, 2 and 3 points ahead of the Pilgrims respectively both picked up points in the final game to secure their League 1 place for the 2019/2020 season. Walsall had drawn to Shrewsbury and were relegated as a result. With the Southend victory, Argyle’s result meant nothing, and we were relegated on goal difference, with Wimbledon and Southend, sat three and 11 goals ahead of the Pilgrims respectively.
Following an up and down campaign, Argyle were sent back to where we had come from 24 short months before. We will be playing in League 2 when the 2019/20 season gets underway, and with a series of key players out of contract, plus the continuing lack of a manager, the side the emerges on the opening day next season may be very different indeed.