Image (Above): beIN Sports



Argyle lost (again). They deserved to lose (again).

That’s four home losses in a row without scoring. The last time Argyle lost four home league games in a row was during the disastrous start to the 2017/18 season, when Argyle found themselves bottom as late as December. Before then, it was in 2011, when the club had barely survived liquidation. Four straight home losses without a goal? Well, I couldn’t find it, and nor could Argyle Life’s very own Sam, despite trying hard to find an example. It’s probably happened a couple of times in the club’s history, but surely not more than a handful.

Let’s not focus on the ifs and buts about the loss to Preston. If Whittaker had found the net with his snapshot volley. But Hardie should have had a penalty (having seen the replay, I think it’s not a penalty). But Preston should have scored at least one other goal. There’s also if Miller had been sent off. More accurately, why wasn’t he sent off?

We could debate those, but they distract from the real question: when will Ian Foster be sacked? Because that’s where we’re at. He has to go; we’re just debating when.

Let’s get one thing straight, right from the off: this is not entirely on Ian Foster. The entire point of a Director of Football is that they set the footballing strategy, they oversee all transfers, and they hire the coaches. Neil Dewsnip is deeply involved in this mess, but we’ll come back to him.

Why does Ian Foster have to go? Well, if you’re the fan of another team, or if you’re reading this in a decade’s time reminding yourself of some dark period of Argyle’s history, or if you’re just green-tinted enough to need an explanation, here’s why.

Let’s start from the top: he’s completely lost the fans. By which I don’t mean that nobody is defending him, but he’s lost so many of them that every loss is going to be greeted with toxicity.

He lost online fans depressingly fast, within six weeks of arriving, even when he had a respectable 1.14 PPG (yes, the football is that bad). Granted, those outspoken online fans are melodramatic and their opinions swing wildly, but to lose so many of them, so quickly, with results that actually weren’t too bad at that point, is an impressive feat. I was certainly taken aback (though also largely agreed with them).

But the silent majority who share their thoughts with their friends at games have turned too, evidenced by the verbal abuse heaped on Foster by those inside Home Park – well, those remaining come the end – during this latest dire performance. Sadly, the booing didn’t start today, it started against West Brom. Expect to hear those chats at many (maybe most) games until Foster is gone.

Even many of the staunchest defenders of the upper echolons of the club want Foster out. Those won’t hear a single bad word against the club, no matter how true. THAT is how much Foster has lost the fans. The sort of people who’d usually be up for giving a manager more time until things have reached a stage of irreparable damage are calling on him to go. And once you get to that stage, there’s no coming back. As a manager in this situation, you can forestall the inevitable, but you will never be successful. At best, you’ll always be a couple of losses away from hostility.

In fact, Foster has lost the fans so much that I don’t really need to go into any level of detail about this. Pretty much every reason that Foster needs to be sacked is seemingly agreed on by the majority of the fanbase and has been well articulated a number of different ways, so much so that I don’t even have to explain the reasons (but I will anyway).

Obviously, the results have been pretty shocking. Three wins in eleven, 1.0 points per game. More recently, just one win in nine, that win coming against a Middlesbrough side that were awful on the day. We’re just two points above the drop zone and heading in only one direction.

Worse though, the football is hard to watch. Taken out of the context of a relegation battle, it’s bad to watch. Factoring in results, it’s awful. Throw in the threat of relegation, it’s absolutely dire.

We know how well this team could play, because what feels like half a lifetime ago (actually, just over two months) we were one of the best attacking sides in the country. Now, the patterns of play have almost completely evaporated, though some moves show that a bit of muscle memory remains from the previous management.

In over half of the games under Foster, we’ve been out-passed, out-shot, and out-created by the opposition, who we must of course respect. Compared to Steven Schumacher, Foster’s Argyle make 21% fewer passes per game, take 20% fewer shots, record 23% lower xG, and score 40% fewer goals.

In terms of style, we’ve traded in Ange Postecoglou for Antonio Conte, but playing boring, negative football hasn’t even solved Argyle’s defensive problems from earlier in the season. Foster’s side has kept two clean sheets, one thoroughly undeserved at Swansea, in fourteen games, compared to Schuey’s five in twenty-two.

Yes, the rate of expected goals conceded and actual goals conceded have dropped since Foster’s arrival, but what’s that worth if we’re still averaging 1.40 xA and 1.57 goals conceded per-game. We’re far less likely to score, but only slightly less likely to concede.

Schuey predicted this at the start of the season. He was very vocal about playing on the front foot, that this group of players weren’t going to play best on the back foot. Our talents are in attack, and we should play in the best way possible to unleash their potential. And it paid off. We played attacking football and outscored opponents to pick up points. Now, the attack is neutered but the defence just as leaky.

Yes, that traitor was lucky that Whittaker and Azaz were in an endless goal of the season competition with one another, but he created a team that created lots of opportunities to shoot, so you knew you could take on a chance knowing more will come. Likewise, he created a culture that bred confidence in his flair players and increased the chances of them scoring from unlikely positions. That’s gone.

Whittaker still takes those chances on sometimes – barely anybody else does – but with most of the team behind the ball he’s frequently crowded out and with far fewer attacking touches per-game he has to be careful not to waste an good position. In fact, Argyle haven’t scored a single goal from outside the box under Foster. The goals rained in from range under Schuey.

And that brings us to tactics. A major frustration for fans is his inability to impact the game. He’s too passive, rarely seen barking orders to his players when the game is getting away from him (which has happened a lot). It’s almost always going behind that shakes Argyle from their slumber, not Foster. Only then will we see a change of gear and attempt to attack.

His substitutions have often been predictable (in six of his first nine games, he made a double wingback swap) and almost entirely ineffective. Only one of his subs come on and been involved in a goal, despite routinely being behind and needing a spark.

Away at Blackburn last weekend, his substitutions after the equaliser made Argyle worse, while he failed to get a grip of the side and calm them down as they repeatedly coughed up possession attempting to make a hero pass at every attempt rather than building pressure.

But most frustrating is the formation. You can play a 3-4-3 if you’re happy to have none of the ball but have an amazing defence, or if you’ve got of some the best players in the league across multiple positions (like last season). Argyle have neither of those right now. All it leaves us with is little control of midfield, facing a wave of shots, and precious little in attack.

The only sides that formation has worked against this season are the sides who try to play expansive football and have too many creators but nobody to control the game in midfield, plus a defence as porous as ours: Norwich at home, Boro away, Blackburn away.

Otherwise, the formation has left Argyle looking second best. To be blunt, the stats tell a simple story: less likely to win, less likely to score, less likely to keep a clean sheet.

Champ opposition




21 (19 league)


Wins (%)

4 (19.0%)

6 (31.6%)

Points (per game)

18 (0.86)

23 (1.21)

Average possession



Goals (per game)

28 (1.33)

28 (1.47)

Conceded (per game)

37 (1.76)

33 (1.74)

Clean sheets (per game)

2 (0.10)

5 (0.26)

Which brings us to recruitment. The assignment for Argyle in January should have been to fill in the gaps in the squad. Playing 4-3-3, we needed a quality centre back, a couple of full-backs (pretty much everyone bar Kesler-Hayden and the injured Earley were wing-backs) and backup wingers, plus a striker.

Instead, the team decided to jettison the 4-3-3 that had been successful at getting Argyle into the position they were in. Out went the only full-backs Argyle had, no wingers joined, and an experienced, calming head to shepherd the back-four did not join, instead a raw, young centre-back who’s impressed but is better utilised in a back-three.

That leaves Argyle between a rock and a hard place: knowing which is the better formation, but only having the players to use the worse one.

That’s before we consider the fact that Argyle blatantly sacrificed data-led transfers in favour of young, up and coming players with almost literally no game time in the Championship – or in fact any professional football – that Foster and/or Dewsnip knew via their connections with the England youth set-up. Maybe one or two of them were on the list, but I do not believe for a second that all four of them were near the top of the list of targets when Schuey was at the helm.

And then we come to the most depressing part of the transfer window: Finn Azaz. Argyle almost certainly had the money to sign him. The financial reports show that, as of 30th June 2023, the club had £5.3m in the bank. They’d just made about a million from losing Schuey and had almost certainly exceeded their target for cup income for the season.

Yes, spending big on one player – not just spending big, but breaking our transfer record a third time – would have been a risk, but so was allowing a key player to leave mid-season. Survival this season is worth so much, at least £10m in income. Signing Azaz could have just meant spending less next summer. Or, if relegated (unlikely with both Azaz and Whittaker part of the team) and the club needed to recover the money, having to sell Whittaker to cover the cost of the transfer, which we’ll likely do this summer anyway. Or selling Azaz for a slight loss.

Either way, though I’m all for Argyle not throwing around money we don’t have on risky, unproven players, Azaz was as sure of a deal as you’re going to get, with the potential to make us a huge amount of money both by keeping us up and being sold for a huge profit. I’m adamant that Argyle could have financed it if they want to without external investment. Sure, it would have been a risk to commit the money, but it was just as much of a risk to not keep him. And, oh boy, are we now starting to pay for that (pun intended).

The club could be paying in more ways than one. The financial model Argyle are aiming to replicate is that of Brentford, Brighton and Peterborough: buy young and cheap, sell for a big profit, reinvest. Though Whittaker started off well under Foster and surely saw his value climb, it must have been dropping with each passing week for over a month now as his impact lessens.

Yes, Whittaker started well under Foster, with six goal contributions in his first five league games, but that was part of a longer run of form. Over ten games and three managers he recorded thirteen goal contributions (fourteen if we include Mumba’s disallowed goal at Southampton). Yet, once this form ended, with Foster’s style causing his chances to influence games dry up, his performances went downhill, fast.

Whittaker aside, bigger clubs want to pay for players with lots of goals or assist. It’s where the big money gets spent in the transfer market. But it’s hard to do that in a low-scoring side. Foster’s Argyle average less than a goal per game. Across a season that equates to fewer than fifty goals in all competitions, and presumably no player with more than fifteen goal contributions. Which only means fewer valuable players with less resale value.

And then there’s ticket sales. It’s pretty simple: boring, losing football, particularly if you add relegation into the mix, will result in less ticketing income, costing the club anywhere up to £1.5m per-season in the long-run. Don’t forget that in Argyle’s first season in the Championship in 2004/05, the average attendance was almost identical to this season, just fourteen fewer spectators (16,419). The average attendance in 2005/06? Well, it dropped to 13k, and stayed there the next two seasons. And then it dropped to 11.5k in 2008/09, then 10.3k in 2009/10.

But the biggest financial risk is relegation. The additional TV and Premier League revenue the club receives for playing at that level, and the extra sponsorship revenue gained because of those extra televised games and higher attendances are worth somewhere in the region of £10m.

Are Argyle destined for relegation if Foster stays? Not necessarily. The club could still stay up, potentially needing just a couple of wins. But is that likely? Not right now.

Foster hardly even seems to believe Argyle deserve to be in this league anyway. The response to pretty much every defeat is that we have to respect the opposition. I mean, that’s true, but you don’t get the impression that he thinks the opposition needs to respect us quite as much as we need to respect them. Consequently, lots of fans think that Foster doesn’t really believe Argyle deserve to be in this league and, given the comments in his press conferences, I can see why they think it.

This bleeds into the way the team is often set up. Playing on the back foot, we look like a League One side playing for a cupset, not a Championship side in our own right facing another Championship side.

The latest gambit in Foster’s interviews is to blame the referees, right out of the managerial handbook for distracting from defeat. He called out what he described as an awful refereeing performance against Wednesday, citing two innocuous incidents in which Argyle were apparently hard done by, but completely forgot to mention the legitimate goal Wednesday scored which was incorrectly flagged for offside.

Against Preston, he demanded a stonewall penalty that actually looks like a good tackle (as it did to the Argyle commentary team, too), but made no mention of Miller’s fortunate yellow card that should have been a different colour.

Argyle have had some awful decisions go against us this season, but pretty much all the worst decisions were under Foster’s predecessors. He’s hardly been victim of a string of terrible refereeing decisions in the same way Schuey was.

So, what does that leave us with? Short-term benefits to keeping Foster? You could make the argument that sacking him could make things worse, or that Argyle aren’t yet destined for relegation, so why take the risk. Equally, we waited far too long to sack Derek Adams while making the same arguments, and that cost us our league status.

The next twelve days represent the last opportunity to reset the side, that is if Dewsnip, Parkinson and Hallett believe it needs resetting. After that, Argyle will play their remaining eight league games in 37 days. Any attempt to change manager after that will give them precious little time to make a difference.

If Argyle’s winless run extends another two games, then the club will almost certainly find itself in the relegation zone for the first time all season, putting huge pressure on back-to-back games against Rotherham and QPR. For the first time, relegation is looking more than just a possibility.

We’ve already seen how many sides have turned around what looked to be guaranteed relegation this season: Millwall, Huddersfield, QPR, Sheffied Wednesday, and Stoke have all looked destined for the drop at one point this season, only to experience a near-instant benefit from a change in manager that gave them better chances of survival. Argyle needn’t look further than the short term right now, just find someone who’ll give them enough of a bounce to keep them up.

But let’s put aside the short term for the moment. What are Foster’s long-term prospects? Will he win back the fans? Sure, things could reset themselves a little, but as soon as results dip they’ll be back to calling for him to go. He’ll never be able to shake that for as long as he remains manager of Argyle.

Even if he keeps us up, he’ll now have a permanent core who want him gone, and a restless majority ready to call for him to go once the cards are down.

That’s not a healthy relationship for the club to have with its fans, nor for Foster to have to deal with. I can’t imagine the toll it must take on your mental health hearing your own fans turn on you; but it must be awful. And it takes a lot of courage to face it down and keep going. That sort of courage is worthy of respect, but it won’t keep us in the league.

Then we come to the aforementioned finances: if Argyle continue playing football like this, fewer fans will attend, players will have less resale value, and the club will probably be relegated this season or next. The five-year plan will go up in smoke before its even a year old.

Short term or long term, I just don’t see the cause for retaining Ian Foster as manager of Plymouth Argyle.

Which brings us to Dewsnip. He’s the true mastermind behind this mess. It was his move to change back to 3-4-3. Foster was his choice. And he oversaw the January transfer window. Three critical factors that have led the club to this position, with the fans demanding the first sacking in five years.

Dewsnip banks a lot of credit from the success we had under him: no matter how important Ryan Lowe, Steven Schumacher, Mark Hughes, and all the other backroom staff were to returning the club to League One, then the Championship, I do not believe it would have happened without him.

That goes two ways, though. He takes credit for that monumental success. He takes credit for this fine mess we find ourselves in. If we’re questioning Foster, then the real responsibility lies with Dewsnip. He sets the strategy; the strategy is failing. Maybe it has failed outright, and we’re just a few weeks away from finding that out for sure.

Even then, if Foster goes, it’s unlikely that Dewsnip goes with him. In fact, it’s more likely he’d be the interim until the rest of the season. He did well enough earlier in the season (though won no games) and certainly played more into the strengths of the squad. Though that squad is now notably weaker after January. He doesn’t have Azaz or an in-form Whittaker to lean on anymore.

Personally, I wouldn’t hand the reigns over to Dewsnip if a better option is available, but I certainly would feel a bit more confident with him at the helm for the rest of the season than Foster.

For that to happen though, we need the club to show the courage to make a difficult decision, something Hallett has only had to face once as chairman during an otherwise totally successful time as Chairman.

Had he acted quicker with Adams in 2019, Argyle probably would have stayed up. In the end, rumour has it that behind-the-scenes events forced his hand when it came to sacking the Scot, rather than the threat of relegation.

But Hallett isn’t some soft old gentleman. He was an investment banker. You aren’t successful in that role without a ruthless streak. He knows what he’s doing. So, it’ll come down to whether he feels that retaining Foster is in the short- and long-term interests of the club. I don’t see it, but he, Parkinson, and Dewsnip might.

When James Brent faced these situations, he got them right. He sacked Carl Fletcher early enough that Sheridan had enough time -and most of the transfer window – to keep us up. He parted ways with Sheridan at the right time, despite his undoubted success at Argyle and a year remaining on his contract, when the easy decision would have been to stick rather than twist. And he backed Adams in late 2017 when the club sat bottom of the table and resisted growing – but not overwhelming – fan pressure to sack him, giving him enough time to turn it around before the crucial January transfer window.

Hallett needs to follow that example.

For sure, he needs to review Dewnsip’s position as Director of Football. Why the sudden change of tactics in January, and the transfer window following it? Does he realise the impact such a dramatic change in tactics mid-season had on the club? Does he think 3-4-3 needs to stay next season and, if so, how is he going to improve it? And if it fails early on, what then?

But first, he needs to use this international break to remove Foster and replace him with a new manager to improve our chances of survival and repair the relationship with the fans. If not now, when? If he fails to win over Easter? If the club fall into the relegation places? If the gap grows to three points? At what point do we pull the plug? Even if he keeps us up, does he lead the club going into next season?

No, now is the time. Make the call, find the right replacement, retain our Championship status, and bring back attacking football.