It all feels so familiar, doesn’t it? Many of us were optimistic a month ago when the season got underway, believing Argyle may well be able to build on a successful 7th place finish last term. But, suddenly, it’s September and the Greens are rooted to the bottom of the league. This is nothing new, of course – Derek Adams and his team have found themselves propping up the rest of the league at least once in each of the last three seasons. The previous two campaigns have shown that a slow start isn’t necessarily a long-term problem, but of course a team would prefer to have points on the board at this early stage, rather than be forced to play catch-up during the second half of the campaign.
It’s therefore worth considering exactly why Argyle appear to have a knack for crushing all of our pre-season dreams at the start of every year. There are plenty of compelling theories as to why our team manage to do this to us, although in all honesty there are probably a few explanations to diagnose Argyle’s problems working in conjuncture, rather than one glaring trap the club fall into every year. The factor I’d like to bring to the table? Player mentalities, or the low level of them, causing mistakes and, ultimately, defeats.
Poor player mentality was on show as Argyle made their stuttering start to last season. Players lost their heads all too often, and red cards were the order of the day as the team struggled to arrest their early-season slump. Sonny Bradley’s dismissal for striking an opponent in last season’s 3-0 reverse at home to Doncaster stands out as a particular lowlight of an altogether dire period to be an Argyle fan, but that was just one of six red cards to plague the Pilgrims as the players found themselves mentally unable to cope with the trials and tribulations of League One football.
Similar traits can be seen this term. When looking back, many of the onslaught of goals against Argyle can be attributed to defensive errors, rather than any teams tearing the side apart with some sublime football. Questions can be asked about the ability of the players themselves, particularly the new recruits who have yet to prove themselves in front of the Green Army, but in the main this suggests that it is moments of absent-mindedness allowing opposition forwards to take advantage of Argyle. And whilst the players aren’t being given their marching orders quite as often this time around, the lack of discipline appears to have transferred to the Argyle penalty area – Argyle have given their opponents five opportunities to score from the penalty spot this season, and despite Matt Macey’s sizeable frame, he’s only been able to keep out one of those attempts so far…and the rebound was tucked in anyway.
However, whilst it’s all well and good identifying and establishing that Argyle have a problem with regards to collective player mentality, to fully assess how the problem can be solved we must consider exactly why this occurs. Last season, the players at least had the excuse of the step up after promotion being much greater than anticipated, and with the sudden pressure in what was expected to be a calm, consolidation season getting to the players very quickly. But with that consolidation now complete, what could be the reason behind the deficiencies within the current squad? Unfortunately, without the swift invention of a fan-accessible mind reading device, we can only speculate on this issue.
We regularly hear about Argyle’s location acting as a blessing, allowing the players to form a tangible feeling of togetherness as the players support each other with the majority playing a relatively fair distance from home. Could it be, however, that before this occurs, the unfamiliar surroundings interfere with a player’s mind, elongating the settling and gelling process? Perhaps. Or maybe the issues are related to the type of player Adams has brought to the club over the duration of his tenure. The Scotsman is known for turning around the careers or players who had previously shown promise, only to go off the rails at some point in their development. If a player is failing to reach his potential, it is perhaps indicative of poor mental attributes, and we perhaps should not be surprised that it takes Adams more than a month of competitive action to turn them around. Regardless of what the cause is, it is imperative that the issue is sorted out as soon as possible to ensure the squad is in the best possible place to deal with the current adversity.
Recent history tells us that a poor start is no guarantee of a poor season, and this is particularly true in Argyle’s case. However, to aid the blood pressure of all fans, it would be very handy if Adams was able to sort out the current situation quickly. Argyle face Bristol Rovers next in their shortest away trip of the season and, with their opponents also struggling at this early stage, it would be the perfect time for the Greens to keep their heads and give this season the springboard it is beginning to desperately need.