2018/19 Season Review:
We didn’t know it at the time, but December was a hugely pivotal month in Plymouth Argyle’s season. There were only five games in League One and a record of one win, two draws and two defeats doesn’t initially appear to be particularly out of the ordinary. Indeed, five points from five games seems about right for a team who would eventually go on to be relegated.
However, the two defeats were particularly significant, one due to the opposition and one due to the margin. As with everything when looking back, it’s easy to speak with hindsight, but those two games in particular were hugely pivotal in shaping Argyle’s campaign.
We’ll get to those games shortly. However, Argyle started off the month of December with an FA Cup match against Oxford United. Argyle lined up once again with the 4-2-3-1 shape and went 2-0 down shortly after half-time. The Greens may have been lively and adventurous but that didn’t translate into a great many clear cut chances. Antoni Sarcevic’s late consolation wasn’t enough to take Argyle into the third round.
December’s slate of league matches began with a hugely important game against Bradford. The two teams went into their encounter at Home Park each occupying a position in the relegation zone. The fact they couldn’t be separated therefore does not appear, on the face of it, to be too surprising.
However, the manner of the game certainly was. On a chilly winter afternoon, Argyle fell behind three times, and equalised three times. Joel Grant’s third goal of the season was sandwiched by goals from Freddie Ladapo, who netted a brace.
In truth, Argyle ought to have won the game – the Bantams’ lineup was a mess on the day, as it was for much of the season. Unfortunately, Argyle didn’t line up in a way that allowed them to take advantage. A 4-3-2-1 shape helped them in their previous home fixture against Fleetwood, but Derek Adams decided to stick with the flawed 4-2-3-1 formation here, in spite of the loss to Oxford. Bradford were able to take advantage of that, and some poor defending from the Greens (particularly from Ryan Edwards) to net three goals of their own.
A 3-3 draw would have to do. Disappointing, but at least Argyle didn’t lose. However, things could have got worse for the Pilgrims in their next game, but for a comical moment as the match drew to a close.
This game saw Argyle travel to Rochdale. After a drab first hour, the game changed following the introductions of Ryan Taylor and Jamie Ness. The changes meant Taylor was in his favoured role of the lone striker, meaning Argyle’s wide duo at the time of Graham Carey and Joel Grant were able to get more involved. Taylor contributed to the flow of play as Grant gave Argyle the lead with just over 15 minutes of normal time to play.
However, just three minutes later, Joe Riley reacted slowly to a dangerous situation developing behind him. This allowed Brad Inman to nip in and level the scores. Once more, it looked like valuable points were about to slip through Argyle’s fingers.
What followed was perhaps the most hilarious goal involving Argyle all season. Antoni Sarcevic and Taylor pressed well, but the situation still looked fairly innocuous when David Perkins passed the ball back to Dale goalkeeper Josh Lillis. Lillis, however, completely missed his attempted clearance, and the ball slowly dribbled into the net. Argyle, via a large dose of fortune, left Spotland with all three points.
A week after the Rochdale win, Argyle welcomed Accrington to Home Park. The Greens had a decent chance of emerging from the relegation zone with a victory, but never got going. It took until the hour mark for the deadlock to be broken – Billy Kee won a header in front of makeshift centre back Gary Sawyer, allowing Sam Finley to nod home his first goal of the season.
The eventual defeat was bad enough, but the fact Argyle conceded two more before full time was significant. A narrow defeat wouldn’t have been ideal, of course, but going down 3-0 dented Argyle’s goal difference. That would come back to bite them on the final day.
Another hugely significant fixture in the context of Argyle’s campaign came on Boxing Day, just four days after the humbling by Accrington. Argyle’s festive fixture took them to AFC Wimbledon, a huge clash considering the two sides made up the bottom two at the time.
Things looked incredibly positive for the visitors when David Fox scored by far Argyle’s best goal of the season to give them the lead. However, the Greens were unable to create the conveyer belt of chances they’d have liked, hampered by their front two on the day (Ladapo and Taylor) struggling to play together.
Wimbledon swiftly equalised with a superb goal of their own through Anthony Wordsworth. Then, a glaring error from Yann Songo’o on the halfway line let Mitch Pinnock in, and he lobbed the ball over Matt Macey to secure the win for Wimbledon.
The defeat sent Argyle back to the bottom of the league, and certainly hurt at the time. However, its significance would become even more painful as the season progressed, as Argyle and Wimbledon both battled against relegation.
Argyle played their final match of 2018 away at Burton. They gained an acceptable point with a 1-1 draw, but rode their luck in getting there. In truth, Burton really ought to have won the game.
When Will Miller gave them the lead after just four minutes, it looked like Burton would do just that, particularly when considering Argyle’s recent form. However, Argyle did at the very least give themselves a chance going forward. Whilst Ryan Taylor wasn’t involved to get the best out of the pair until late on, playing Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras as inside forwards gave Argyle an attacking platform. Lameiras scored the equaliser early in the second half. Poor goalkeeping? Yes. But at that point Argyle were willing to take anything.
It was one-way traffic for much of the game, however. Burton had a number of clear openings to extend and retake the lead across the 90 minutes, but poor finishing let them down. The 1-1 draw kept Argyle bottom of the league, but little did we know at that point that the Burton game would be the start of a minor mid-season turnaround.