Friday was a glorious night for Plymouth Argyle. Under the lights, in front of the cameras, we took down the league leaders to deliver a monumental boost to our survival chances. There are now just three games to go and Argyle are effectively five points clear of the relegation zone, given our goal difference, with just nine points left on offer.

Most important though was the attitude, on and off the pitch. Argyle fought for everything, and the Green Army fought alongside them every step of the way. Throughout the final half hour, the volume only grew louder and louder as the clock slowly ticked up to 90.

For weeks, infighting and unrest had been building within the club, at Home Park, and online. Argyle slumped into a relegation battle it appeared to have little intention of fighting against, and with it came greater division. Even having had his physical presence purged from the system, many scars of Ian Foster’s reign remained visible.

You could feel it against QPR. With minutes left and Argyle’s back against the wall, the atmosphere was tense, the players nervous. Our dangerous league position wasn’t met with fight as much as resignation. It didn’t feel as though the club and fans were united as one: bringing the most out of each other to bolster our chances.

Beating Leicester broke this cycle. So much so that, when we look back in the future, this may be seen as the day that Plymouth Argyle exorcised the demons of Foster’s time at the club. A gutsy, heartfelt, blood-sweat-and-tears performance against all the odds reunited everyone in the Argyle family. One Argyle, the mantra at the heart of the club’s philosophy under Simon Hallett, was reborn.

Over the course of an evening, expectations among the Green Army for a narrow defeat evolved into hopes of a point, reaching their crescendo as fifteen-thousand voices begged for the final whistle that could all but seal Championship safety. When that shrill noise screamed across Home Park, the stadium erupted in a cacophony of euphoria that enveloped fans, players, and staff alike.

As praise from Sky’s commentary team to the backing track of the Green Army’s jubilation were broadcast across the nation, the team huddled on the pitch to celebrate their titanic upset.

Seven years ago, to the day, as Argyle were preparing for an Easter promotion party and escape from the EFL’s basement division after six long, hard, draining seasons, reigning Premier League champions Leicester City faced off against Atletico Madrid for a place in the Champions League semi-finals, world football’s premier club competition.

All these years on, the two sides took to the pitch ostensibly as equals in the footballing pyramid: Championship opponents competing for three crucial points. Nobody would be so naïve as to buy such a story though. The gulf in resources is well publicised and the difference in quality was immediately obvious when Leicester initially carved through Argyle.

Patson Daka’s transfer fee alone is worth Argyle’s playing budget three times over; add up every transfer fee in Argyle’s history and it doesn’t even come close to the £23m Leicester paid for him in 2021. Argyle’s squad cost less than £3.5m to assemble, with the vast majority of that spent on Morgan Whittaker and Bali Mumba. Leicester’s starting XI cost over £125m in transfer fees. Aside from loanee Fatawu and academy product Dewsbury-Hall, every Leicester player cost more than Argyle’s entire squad.

It’s not yet clear whether Argyle or Rotherham have the smallest playing budget this season, nor which of the relegated Premier League trio are the Championship’s biggest spenders. Regardless, this was one of football’s most beloved metaphors: David versus Goliath.

Goliath started fast, with a narrowly offside Daka slotting away a correctly disallowed goal – thankfully, his only composed finish of the night – and Cooper making an important save low to his left, among other dangerous openings that went unexploited.

Yet, after the early inroads, the game settled into a pattern of Leicester in possession and Argyle in position. It was a game of attack versus defence. For twenty minutes, Argyle managed to break into Leicester’s final third just once, with the threat quickly snuffed out.

To begin with, the Greens unsuccessfully tried to press the league leaders, but they more than had the quality to pass their way through and pushing up just left space for their attacking talents to run at our defence. About fifteen minutes in, the correct decision was made to abandon the press, sit in, and make Leicester find a way through. They never did.

Naturally, this further limited Argyle’s already marginalised attack. Any chance of victory would come down to a hapless Leicester blunder, a vicious shot from distance, or a ruthless counterattack. Ultimately, it was the latter.

A blocked shot fell for Forshaw just outside our area. He sipped it to Whittaker, ten yards outside his box, who attempted the early switch to free Bundu, but it was blocked by two counter-pressing Leicester defenders. The ball ricocheted kindly for Forshaw, bursting into space near the centre-circle. He drove to the half-way line and switched the ball wide left for Bundu to attack Leicester’s centre-backs, with Hardie making it a two-on-two.

Exposed, Faes backed off and allowed Bundu to drive into the area before placing the ball between defenders, past the ‘keeper’s outstretched arm, and perfectly into the bottom corner. Home Park erupted.

From the outside looking in, it seems baffling that Bundu, who was winning the Midland Premier Division when Leicester won the Premier League, has been used as little as he has. Sure, he’s not the most talented Argyle player ever, but he has three goals from six starts, plus two assists from the bench, making for a goal contribution every 160 minutes.

After the game, Neil Dewsnip described Bundu as an enigma and demanded more consistency, which is fair criticism. However, given the squad depth limitations and his physical attributes, he seems an ideal player for any game in which Argyle plan to play on the counter (which was literally ever game Ian Foster managed).

The goal was Argyle’s first shot. They’d only manage four more in the game, all but one from outside the area. From the five shots, the total xG was just 0.24, but it didn’t matter: Argyle had a precious lead to defend against the teetering table-toppers.

The rest of the half was seen out with relatively little threat; the Green Army roared the players off, while jeers came from the away end at the prospect of back-to-back defeats against relegation-threatened sides.

Yet, the pattern remained. Leicester were too patient, betraying an underlying arrogance that a goal would inevitably come, that David would be unable to keep Goliath out forever.

Eventually, cracks did begin to appear and, after Mumba was beaten down the wing by the speedy Fatawu, whose cutback was turned wide by Daka, Dewsnip responded by bringing on Lewis Gibson for Bundu.

Argyle went to 4-4-2: four centre-backs across the back, with Pleguezuelo and Galloway at full-back, Mumba and Edwards out wide. Effectively, they performed as wing-backs in front of the full-backs, with the team compressing into a 6-4-0 in our final third.

It was an astute change. Argyle already had everyone behind the ball, so an extra defender only added cohesion, while providing additional support against Leicester’s tricky wingers. I had severe doubts about whether Dewsnip had the skillset to guide Argyle out of the difficult position we’d found ourselves in, but – with a little luck – he so far has.

Key to that has been the return of Dan Scarr, ostracised by Foster but voted man of the match by the fans for each game since his return. You can absolutely question Scarr’s viability in a back four, but in a three that sits a bit deeper, he’s a good asset to have and a leader in tough circumstances like facing the league leaders.

Leicester built more pressure, but rarely did they carve out a good chance as Argyle held their nerve: two snapshot volleys came and went; crosses were just about dealt with. When Jamie Vardy scurried through, Michael Cooper stormed out of goal to save, then gathered the loose ball. His return has been important not only to the way Argyle pass the ball out from the back, but also the way they defend. This was Cooper’s fifth clean sheet in 16 games this season. With him, Argyle have conceded just 20 Championship goals, 1.25 per-game. Without, 46 in 27, 1.70 per-game.

Ben Waine also made a good appearance from the bench, as he did against Rotherham. He pressed, won the ball back – setting up our second-best chance of the night – and injected energy that Ryan Hardie couldn’t, which really goes to show how tired he must be. We all know that there’s one thing the Scot will always bring: hard work and lots of running. Here, he looked so far off behind the pace of the game for long periods.

Hardie has started eleven in a row, twenty out of twenty-one in fifteen weeks. Despite two injuries in quick succession earlier this season reducing him to two starts from eleven games, he’s racked up the third highest number of minutes played for Argyle in 2023/24.

Spare a though, then, for Morgan Whittaker, who tops that list by some distance, having played virtually a thousand minutes more than Hardie. He’s started all but one league game – that Bristol City debacle in September – and the only other two he’s been rested for were the League Cup games in August. Middlesbrough aside, when he came off with seventeen to go, the last time he played fewer than 85 minutes was away at QPR in early December. He played almost every minute during the packed winter schedule, and again as Argyle had eight games (including extra-time against Leeds) in four weeks. No Championship attacker has played as many minutes as he has. His only rest came during the international break.

Like Hardie, he’s been run into the ground. Both have unsurprisingly become less effective as their legs have become wearier while the attacking burden thrust upon them grew after the departure of Azaz and Cundle in January.

They both gave what they had – what little they had left to give in a game like this that relied so heavily on defending and work rate. You can forgive them for having sub-par games, given the circumstances.

Everyone else though? It’s so difficult to single anyone out because each and every player gave everything they had and fought until the final kick of the ball. They put bodies on the line, kept their focus as mental fatigue grew, motivated each other, and stuck to the gameplan.

It was the sort of performance that would have delighted Derek Adams, sat in the stands. The sort that wouldn’t have looked too out of place in his 2016/17 promotion season. A performance about effort and the collective. A demonstration that football isn’t played exclusively by mercenaries.

Intriguingly, Leicester hadn’t won at Home Park since 1965, losing five and drawing five of their past ten trips to Britain’s Ocean City. Surely nobody expected that trend to continue on their first return since Argyle’s last season in the Championship back in 2010. Yet, as the minutes ticked down, there we were. Ahead, and watching as Leicester gradually ran out of answers.

What I and many others expected to be five minutes of siege warfare when the board went up actually passed with relative ease. Perhaps Leicester realised that it was too late to win all three points by then, or maybe it was a growing confidence in our defensive effort. Either way, the defence held firm, looking even more assured than it had for the final twenty of normal time.

The final whistle sounded and we celebrated as though we’d been promoted. In a sense, we had been. Survival, after all, means we don’t need to win another gruelling promotion to get back here. Combined with other results, Argyle are ever so close to confirming their Championship status for another year. Oh, how important that equaliser QPR gifted us looks now.

It was something more than that though. Not only had we won our first Home Park game since January. Not only had an Argyle player scored a goal at Home Park for the first time since Valentine’s Day. Not only had we given ourselves the best possible chance of staying up. We’d toppled a giant of the division and in the process reunited the club after what had been a bruising 2024.

All the anger and fear that had been swirling around every conversation about Argyle for weeks just seemed to dissipate. Talk of Foster’s failings, the delay in sacking him, selecting Dewsnip over Warnock, the lot, it all just faded away. A moment of crisis that has restored trust in the board’s decision making. Legitimate questions inevitably remain about the second half of this season, but those will surely be parked until the summer now.

It was like being transported back to 2012 and 2013, when fans, players, and staff alike gave their all to keep us in the EFL. Every game was about one single purpose: keeping us up. No agendas, no distractions. You could hear it in the chants, you could see it in every little celebration: defending a corner, winning the ball back, a quality pass, a great effort at goal.

For the very first time since we slid into this relegation battle, “we are staying up” rung around Home Park with vigour and confidence. Every extra decibel injected energy into the players and helped carry them across the line.

To mix metaphors, Argyle aren’t out of the woods yet, but we are so close that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Beating Leicester was so important to get those three points, but even more so is that precious commodity: unity. One Argyle is back.