It was particularly galling to call Saturday’s early December encounter with Gillingham a relegation six-pointer, particularly as the season has yet to reach the halfway mark. But, with Argyle’s opponents just three points ahead of them in the league heading into the game, that was the exact reality of the fixture watched by 11,155 at Home Park. And, by scoring a last-gasp winner in it, Argyle may have stumbled upon something which could prove to be season defining.
Yes, granted, it’s incredibly cliched (although regular readers will no doubt be expecting that from me at this stage), but Argyle have the opportunity to use Saturday’s momentum as a significant springboard to getting themselves outside of the League One relegation places. They have the chance to utilise the energy generated by Toumani Diagouraga’s late winner moving forward, particularly as we approach the traditionally hectic Christmas schedule. And the character shown to take the lead again after Gillingham netted in the dying minutes themselves could maybe, just maybe, hold the Greens in better stead for the doubtlessly tight battles to come.
Argyle were not perfect on Saturday, far from it – indeed, if they had managed to be perfect at all this season the league table may have been a lot more pleasing to the eye. The Greens escaped hugely in the opening stages with Argyle’s third emergency loan goalkeeper (Third! Emergency! It really is beyond words) Kelle Roos fumbling at his near post, scooping the ball up just before it crossed the line. Well, in the eyes of the referee and linesman at least – debate still rages on as to whether that was the correct call. In the end, after a few comfortable saves for both ‘keepers, it was Argyle who got their noses in front through Joel Grant, who poked home at Gills stopper Tomas Holy’s near post. Deserved? Debatable. But nonetheless, Argyle had themselves a lead worth its weight in gold.
That, as always, was the cue for Argyle to sit deep, soak up any Gillingham pressure, and perhaps grab a second on the break should the opportunity provide itself. It’s been the number one strategy from Derek Adams for the past two months, and initially it appeared to be working, with Grant almost doubling his and Argyle’s tally from the edge of the area. But, almost inevitably, Argyle couldn’t hold out, with a quick free kick undoing the defence and Tom Eaves launching a dipping shot past Roos to level the scores. Cue anger from the stands and more sporadic calls for the manager’s head.
But this is where Saturday was different, and why it could act as a catalyst going forward. When Diagouraga bundled in Argyle’s winner in the last minute of normal time, he marked a moment unlike any we have seen all season: a late winner. They’ve been a commodity available in abundance since Adams took the Argyle reigns back in 2015, but until Saturday the Green Army hadn’t had such a moment to celebrate and savour since the conclusion of the last campaign. A late winner has the ability to change the mood for supporters like nothing else can, with the impending journey home changing its tone from laborious to lively in the blink of an eye. So why not play on that?
Every season there are games which define the campaign, and this has been particularly apparent during Adams’ tenure. When Argyle conceded that gut-wrenching stoppage time goal at St James’ Park two seasons ago, many sensed the eventual collapse was in full swing, and indeed Argyle were unable to force their way back into the automatic promotion spots from then onwards. Fast forward a year, and the worries about a promising campaign falling apart are again niggling heading into an away fixture at Crawley on a gorgeous April afternoon. This time, however, Argyle were able to score their own late winner, and from there, promotion was a near certainty. Why are these two games particularly memorable? Simply, because of the late drama. Matches with such events in them invariably go on to define a season in the minds of supporters further down the line. Adams and Argyle would be missing a trick if they didn’t play on Saturday’s events, and use them as a momentum builder.
Perhaps that’s too ambitious. Maybe this time next week the mood around Home Park will come crashing down once more after a trip to Rotherham yields little. Alternatively, Argyle may come through with another promising result, continuing the upturn in fortunes right through the festive fixtures, and we’ll all look back on Diagouraga’s goal as the moment that changed the course of the season.
What? I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?