Believe this can be turned around, because it can

Plymouth Argyle have now lost six consecutive league games. They haven’t won since the first week of November. The team has fallen from two points off the play-offs to two points from relegation in a month.

Seventeen conceded in six, averaging nearly three goals in the back of our net per game. In the other net? Only three goals scored total.

Luke Jephcott has scored all of them, and all the league goals since the 2-2 draw with Portsmouth, a game he only missed because of international duty. Excluding the EFL Trophy, Jephcott has now scored 9 of Argyle’s last 19 goals since the beginning of October. He started on the bench last night.

Things look bleak. But that doesn’t mean they will be this entire season. I know it might be hard to read, and to believe, but this can be turned around. You don’t have to look too far back to see it. It’s worth remembering that three years back Argyle had five fewer points at the same point in the season. The club finished three points from the play-offs.

That doesn’t mean it will turn around. It just serves to highlight that you might be feeling negative right now, but you need to remember that seasons don’t end in Decemb… actually, maybe we should retire that “seasons don’t end in X” after last season…

Rebuilding confidence

The biggest issue this team faces right now isn’t tactical, it’s mental. There are other problems. Selection, formation, and style are all being criticised. I would agree with some of them and disagree with others.

But the big issue at the moment is confidence. Ahead of a game, do you believe that Argyle will win? Or are you half-jokingly asking how many the team will concede. Half-joking because to think too seriously about it would be depressing.

How does that feeling affect you? How does the belief that Argyle will lose – probably heavily, embarrassingly – affect your mood? How do you act differently? What do you do differently, just because of this one thought.

That’s what this entire club must be going through right now. Think in a professional capacity: when you’re at work and something’s going wrong, people disagree about the reason for it. How often do you challenge your boss because you disagree with them? Doubt seeps in. It affects how you work. It affects how you work as a team. How you trust each other’s decision making.

When the first goal goes in for the opposition, how must the defence feel? How must the midfield feel? How do they play differently because of it? Does it impact their decision making? Does the way the team operate change because some disagree with how their teammates should be playing?

Why have mistakes increased in the past month? Why are forwards – Jephcott included, don’t forget – choking even more in front of goal? Why are we finding new, innovative ways for the ball to end up in the back of our net?

Pressure. Ever growing pressure.

Growing pressure

This is why it’s important to take things one game at a time. Forget about the last match. Ignore the next match. For 90 minutes, you decide your own fate, regardless of how the season will end.

Failing to do this has consequences. The nagging reminder of past failure, or the creeping uncertainty of the future, stops you from focusing properly. How can you calmly put the ball into the back of the net if you’re afraid that missing will cause your team to lose? As a defence, or an individual, how can you choose whether to press or drop?

It might seem far away, but one win changes the picture. How much better will you feel when Argyle get that win? The current certainty of defeat will fade slightly. How different will the players feel? Taking things one game at a time is a cliche because it can be hard to do. Like telling yourself to fall asleep as though that will break your insomnia. Breaking the pattern of defeat will make it easier to push those negative, distracting thoughts to the back of your mind.

Argyle could – should – have beaten Ipswich. That might have ended this current spell. One stupid red card sunk the ship. Maybe the side would have capitulated without it, but based on the display I think they would have hung on. How that may have changed things? But other opportunities will come regardless.

A month ago, a run like this seemed inconceivable. Sure, some might have expected a lot of goals conceded, but even the most pessimistic didn’t think we’d concede a combined nine goals against Rochdale, Bristol Rovers and Crewe, scoring just one in return. That just goes to show how quickly fortunes can change. For the worse, but also the better.

If you could speak to Ryan Lowe

This is one thing I’ve been increasingly thinking about in the last week. When we record our next podcast, it’s something we’re going to discuss. If you could speak to Ryan Lowe, just you and him in a room, what would you say? What would you want to tell him?

Of course, you’d probably be angry, but I think that would fade when faced with the opportunity to just talk about the club’s current situation. I think you’d soon be talking about how to get thing going the right way again, rather than shouting about past mistakes.

Last week, I’d have said something very different. Two days ago I’d have said something different. But after tonight? I’d probably tell him to trust himself.

It must be difficult. As is the nature of being a football manager, every decision you make will be challenged by at least someone, somewhere. That includes four people on a weekly Plymouth Argyle podcast.

Last night, Lowe used a back four for the first time since he became manager of Plymouth Argyle, and I actually think for the first time since he became a permanent football manager. That really worried me because it said to me that the lack of confidence had reached him too.

I would tell Lowe that he built a good team that was going through an awful patch. I would tell him to trust his best team – at least what I perceive to be his best team – to play the way he has spent 18 months coaching them to play. I think that is the best way to get out of this spell.

I would tell Lowe that his biggest job right now is to sit down with each and every one of his players and make sure they believe in the way they need to play. And to guarantee that they understood that six games, ten games, twenty games don’t completely define a season.

Most of all, I would tell him to believe that this can be turned around, because it can.

Published by

Nick Saunders Smith

Nick leads on Argyle Life’s strategy and administers the website while writing and editing our analysis articles. He also features on the Green & White podcast. View all posts by Nick Saunders Smith