I’m not here exclusively to put a downer on proceedings – honest – but my overriding feeling after yesterday’s act of snatching a draw from the jaws of victory is that this season could be one we look back on in years to come with terror and anguish. A sort of “laugh or you’ll cry” attitude may sneak in for members of the Green Army in future years trying to forget how things were.
It could be remembered as the season where a frankly unprecedented injury crisis led to eight goalkeepers being involved in the first team squad by mid-December. Argyle fans may find themselves having nightmares about Remi Matthews’ unfortunate error in Portsmouth, or reminiscing about Will Mannion’s outing in the much maligned Checkatrade Trophy. The situation will no doubt have supporters losing sleep as they realise the supreme knowledge they have gathered on Football League goalkeepers for pub quizzes in years to come doesn’t make up for the lack of backline stability they’ll remember only too well.
It could also be remembered as the season where the tactics deployed were some of the most boring anybody in world football can remember. Indeed, if any Pilgrims do find themselves struggling to nod off with the goalkeeping situation in their heads, watching the 89 minutes following Joel Grant’s opener against Rochdale is guaranteed to do the job far better than any lullaby possibly could. It’s symptomatic of Argyle’s struggles this season that, the one time an extra defender wasn’t sent into battle for the final few minutes – during Saturday’s encounter with Rotherham United – Argyle conceded a stoppage time leveller.
Or maybe we’ll look back on the season as one where, heading into the second half of it, we’ve experienced more Argyle red cards than Argyle wins. It was more a characteristic of the early part of Argyle’s season, but even at this stage the Greens’ five wins are still no match for the six red cards picked up by Antoni Sarcevic, Graham Carey, Ryan Edwards (twice), Sonny Bradley and Gary Miller. Whenever Argyle have had a player receive their marching orders, they have lost, invariably through capitulation. It therefore came as no surprise that, in a season like this, Rotherham’s last-gasp goal on Saturday came with the Millers having ten men on the field following Richard Wood’s dismissal.
Argyle fans quite honestly deserve medals for their perseverance in following the team across the country and experiencing the Football Gods throwing them from pillar to post every Saturday. It’s testament to the commitment levels of many supporters that they keep ploughing on despite being hit by a script which even the most imaginative of directors may see as a bit much. The hilarity of Argyle’s luck, failings and circumstances this season may even be reaching a point where the dark humour involved is the thing keeping us going, and allowing our spirits to remain bearable, if somewhat depleted.
I’m cautious of bringing far too much doom and gloom to this column, particularly after only last week mentioning that Toumani Diagouraga’s late winner against Gillingham could give Argyle the springboard they needed to blast themselves out of the relegation zone this season. But with the way the last few months have treated us, it shocked nobody that this wasn’t the case at all, and instead the last-minute euphoria from one week turned into last-minute devastation just seven days later. Now Argyle have to be cautious in ensuring that Semi Ajayi’s goal doesn’t burst their bubble heading into a huge game with relative strugglers Oldham Athletic next week, which it may well do if the players go into the match with a gloomy attitude similar to my own.
A sense of perspective is probably needed at this point. Everything I have pointed out here is in the past, and none of it even comes close to confirming Argyle’s relegation with 24 league games still to play for the remainder of the campaign. Even recent wounds are perhaps not as bad as they appear – a point away from home against a side who could call themselves a Championship club only last year is something we’d have all taken before kick-off, and ultimately the manner of gaining that point won’t matter a great deal when we look at the table in May.
But it’s interesting, at least to me, to consider how this season will be portrayed in years to come, and in that sense the damage may have already been done. Even if Argyle do steer clear of relegation this season, it’ll be hard to ignore the outrageous circumstances we’ve experienced up until now.