Last Tuesday night saw Shrewsbury Town visit Home Park in another important fixture for Argyle following a good point against league leaders Luton. Matt Macey has returned to the team and has been solid deputising for the injured Kyle Letheren providing healthy competition between the sticks, which has been a problem area for Derek Adams in recent times. Freddie Ladapo scored the first against Salop to continue a productive season, especially at Home Park where he has notched 12 times in 14 games in front of the Green Army.The following Saturday, Argyle lost 2-0 to Fleetwood in what was an underwhelming performance. The Pilgrims sit in an ostensibly healthy 12th place in the table, although 5 points is all that separates us and the final relegation spot in 21st, currently occupied by Oxford United.
Before Saturday’s loss, recent form and the league standings have some fans looking upwards though, with whispers of the playoffs starting to gather. The season was looking to be very similar to 2017/18 where a very strong second half of the campaign gave us a 7th place finish, 3 points off the top 6. Any lingering hope, however, was pretty much extinguished by Saturday’s result. At this point, Argyle would have to make up 12 points on Doncaster, who sit in 6th place and have a game in hand. With a total of 24 points for Argyle to play for between now and the end of the season, it is mathematically possible to sneak in the back door. But realistically, it is highly unlikely.
At a risk of sounding negative, do we really want to? I don’t think we are anywhere near ready for a go at promotion. With the playing squad, budget and ongoing changes behind the scenes with the stadium and non-playing staff, we are currently at our level – but the foundations are there for a promotion bid in the future, no doubt.
The Championship is an incredibly tough league – the jump up from League 1 is significant in many aspects, from wages, club stature, stadiums, not even to mention the quality of football. As a football club we are far from competing at that level. Lasts year’s League 1 promotion winners were Wigan (champions) Blackburn (runners up) and Rotherham (playoffs) respectively and whilst Blackburn will be confident of avoiding a relegation fight sitting in 16th place, Wigan and Rotherham make up 2 of the 4 teams most likely to take the final relegation spot in the league. Ipswich sit at the foot, followed by Bolton before a 7 point gap between them and Rotherham.
The amount of money being spent in the Championship is also something we cannot possibly compete with. Nottingham Forest for example, spent approx. £28m in the summer and sit in 10th place – a poor return some would say. Average wages are 10 fold what they are in League One; another example – Stoke City, who were relegated from the Premier League last season have several players on wages in excess of £50k per week – although sustaining this is largely down to parachute payments from the Premier League, they sit in, by their standards, a disappointing 17th place given their squad has players such as Darren Fletcher, Bojan, Tom Ince, Joe Allen, Kevin Wimmer – I could go on.
These statistics show the incredibly competitive nature of the Championship and the gulf between where Plymouth currently are, and where we want to be. Without serious financial backing it will be a slow process building not only a team, but a club that could survive the nitty gritty of Championship life. Ten to fifteen years ago, the long term aim would have been the Premier League but it seems now, surviving in The Championship is a good measure of a successful football club and that should be our target for the next 5 years and beyond.
Getting our feet back firmly on the ground, Argyle host Bristol Rovers in a relegation six pointer who sit in 13th place and just 1 point below the greens. Ched Evans and Patrick. Kyle Letheren could return, although Adams may reward Matt Macey with another start following some solid showings recently. Continuing our good record at Home Park between now and the end of the season will be more than welcome as we look to steer further away from relegation.