I appreciate this will come as good news to very few people other than myself, but with the UK Championship on the horizon, it’s not long before snooker is back on our TV screens again through the BBC. That means we get another week of John Virgo gloriously telling us it’s a “game of fractions” right after more narrowly mishit shots than you can shake a cue at. As a side-note, for those inclined, it makes a fairly entertaining drinking game to take a few sips every time you hear the phrase, which will get you only narrowly less tipsy than if you substituted in Virgo’s regular howl of “where’s the cue ball going?”
Anyway, I digress. Yesterday as Argyle limply fell to a 1-0 defeat in Portsmouth, I couldn’t help but feel that fractional incidents had gone against us at crucial intervals in the game. With the score at 0-0, Argyle unleashed a classic set-piece routine which found Yann Songo’o unmarked six yards from goal, only for the Cameroonian to head over the bar. Had it gone in, the whole complexion of the game would have changed, but instead, seconds later, the generally impressive Remi Matthews attempted a spot of ballet on the edge of his box, with the dire consequences that followed.
That was, of course, hugely frustrating, with Songo’o and Matthews, both shining lights in Argyle’s dismal campaign so far, involved in huge game-changing moments within a minute of each other. Had Songo’o found the back of the net, the mood around Home Park could’ve been entirely different. Instead, his miss, and Matthews’ subsequent error, have both led to Argyle dropping back to the bottom of the league with a chastening defeat against a team the Pilgrims have generally had the upper hand against over recent seasons.
And that got me thinking about football as a game of fractions in itself. Argyle are in the lower reaches of League One on merit – I doubt you’ll see even the most ardent Greens arguing with that. However, it’s also apparent that Argyle have been the victims of tiny moments at certain intervals this season having huge consequences on the outcomes of games. We can go right back to the start of the season to see this in action, with Gary Sawyer’s highly unfortunate deflection putting Argyle on the back foot against Peterborough in an otherwise impressive opening day performance. And just two games later, had Mark Oxley not got the slightest touch on Graham Carey’s late goalbound effort at Southend, we may have been celebrating two wins from our first three games. Instead, Argyle had to wait until late-October to finally taste victory again.
Indeed, it is argued that these things even themselves out as the season goes on, and we have seen Argyle benefit from small touches with big impacts during this campaign. Matthews’ penalty save to secure victory at Valley Parade against Bradford City is one such moment which sticks in the memory. On the other side of the coin, Bristol Rovers really should have been out of sight against Argyle at the end of September to cause a further dent to the fledgling goal difference boasted by Adams’ side, with the woodwork being struck and Kyle Letheren making some genuine top-class saves. But what if Antoni Sarcevic hadn’t scuffed his sitter wide during stoppage time in that particular encounter? Another point indeed, and perhaps a momentum builder? We can only speculate.
There are so many small moments that can be pointed to which help to define Argyle’s season so far. Graham Carey’s shot against Shrewsbury Town finding the back of the net after kissing the post rather than rebounding back out is one, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair managing to divert his goal-line clearance over the bar away at Blackburn Rovers another. None of what I have written is to suggest that Argyle have been lucky, unlucky, or deserve to be anywhere else in the League One table based on their performances so far, but it does go to show just how much of an impact these fine margins can have on mood, performance and points. Seemingly entrenched in a relegation battle, Argyle will need more of these tiny battles to go in their favour to remain in League One for the 2018/19 campaign.
Nothing is impossible at this stage. Indeed, we’re not even half-way through the season just yet. Argyle may well be fine, able to coast home to survival during the latter part of the season, or for the pessimists, the Greens may even be cut off at the bottom before the fight really begins. Whatever your viewpoint, it speaks volumes that my first port of call when writing this was to consider the small mercy of getting drunk listening to John Virgo next week.
What a life it currently is supporting Plymouth Argyle.