Well, football is back, Argyle have lost, and I’m here to discuss whether any of this really matters at all. But whilst this could go down the route of considering whether football as a whole is worth caring about in the current global political climate, fear not. Fully appreciating of the target audience here, I’ll be considering whether the result from Saturday’s game away at Walsall has any great implications for Argyle’s season as a whole, and whether the defeat should really be ringing any alarm bells at this stage.
It did come as somewhat of a kick in the teeth when Luke Leahy’s free-kick consigned Argyle to a third opening day defeat in as many years. Granted, Argyle didn’t play their opponents off the park, but a defeat was tough to take on the balance of play, particularly after the euphoria of Ryan Edwards scoring the opener on his first game back from treatment for testicular cancer. But football, as we all know, is a results business – results are one of the main reasons why Derek Adams has become so adored by the Green Army since he took over at Home Park, and they are perhaps the only reason why odious characters such as Steve Evans, Graham Westley and Gareth Ainsworth continue to find work in the game. And contrary to the pre-season games preceding it, the result of an opening day fixture is much more likely to be key to the momentum gained from the game, rather than the performance. After all, Argyle looked superb against Peterborough United on the first day of last season and ended up going on one of their worst runs for years.
However, when it comes to the potential momentum gained or lost, there’s an argument to say that the impact of any opening day result is negligible in the grand scheme of a season. Argyle have won a grand total of one game on opening day across the last eight seasons, but across that time, performance in the league has improved every year. In fact, the year in which Argyle won on opening day during that timescale – a 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon in 2015/16 – ended in perhaps the bitterest disappointment, as the League Two play-off final was lost at Wembley by the same scoreline against the same opponents.
On the contrary, Argyle’s curtain-raising defeats in recent years have often been precursors to relatively successful seasons. The Greens made their first realistic promotion push in over a decade by making the play-offs in 2014/15, nine months after an abject performance and 1-0 defeat away at Cambridge United on opening day. And of course, Argyle managed to finally win that elusive promotion after 13 years in 2016/17, but not before the carnage of a 3-0 opening day defeat at Home Park against Luton Town. And even in 2017/18, where Argyle had the look of relegation contenders for the first half of the season, they managed to curb the momentum from the opening day, beating Charlton Athletic 2-0 at home in game number two, a team who eventually reached the play-offs after a tumultuous season.
So, what does this quick investigation of recent history mean for Argyle here and now? Well, in short, it would appear that whilst there may be a little momentum that can be gained or lost from an opening day result, it should in no way be seen as something which can set the tone for an entire year. Argyle’s record for the first game of the season this decade is fairly abysmal, but their performances in the league have been anything but. If fans were optimistic about the side’s chances for the year ahead before last weekend’s fixture, there is no reason for that optimism to have been crushed by that one result.
In the more immediate future, perhaps the small amount of momentum that can be lost from such a defeat will have an impact on Argyle’s fortunes this weekend as Chris Powell’s Southend United come to Home Park. If spirits have lessened as a result of the Walsall fixture, Argyle could come unstuck this weekend against a side many have tipped to do well this season – this site has them finishing 4th in the season preview. However, these fears themselves can be tempered too. After all, Southend themselves may be licking their wounds after an opening day defeat, in their case a 3-2 reverse at home to Doncaster Rovers. And even if the game doesn’t go too well for the Greens, it’s worth remembering that over the last four seasons, Argyle have lost their opening two games just once – that promotion winning year in 2016/17.
Nobody likes losing, particularly when optimism is sky high, and when points are up for grabs for the first time in three months. However, an opening day defeat can never, and will never, prove fatal towards an entire season. Indeed, if recent history is anything to go by, Saturday’s loss could be just the eye-opener Argyle need to really hit the ground running. Optimism was indeed high heading into the season, and for now at least, that should continue to be the case.
Of course, if we remain on 0 points after ten games rather than one, feel free to throw this back in my face, and I’ll vow to be more careful forevermore.