Everyone Makes Mistakes, and Plymouth Argyle Have Made a Big One

When Ian Foster spoke to the media after Argyle’s 1-0 defeat away at Sheffield Wednesday, he had an opportunity to earn himself some respect from a considerable number of rightly furious supporters.

He could have owned up to the poor performance, accepted that the team was outplayed and taken some responsibility for the result. Unfortunately, he did no such thing.

Instead, he went on a two minute ramble about how well the team played and the only blame he did place was solely on the (admittedly poor) referee for his decisions. He said the team were ‘perfect’ and ‘bossed the second half’.

If you weren’t concerned before that interview, you should be now.

People make mistakes. Argyle’s recruitment has been outstanding for years now, and the club has been on a broadly upward trajectory for the best part of a decade. It’s been slow at times, but there has been no denying the direction the club was going on.

‘Was’ being the key word here.

Because this time, the club got it wrong. That’s fine, it is what it is. Mistakes happen in football, and even teams with superb recruitment make mistakes. It’s obviously the case with some of the January signings, but it’s especially the case with the Head Coach.

It just isn’t going to work here. The key, however, is that the club act in the appropriate way, acknowledge their mistake and replace Ian Foster at the earliest opportunity.

There has already been talk of a fall out with a couple of players, and I’m sure people can work out who they are based on recent matchday squads. Are the players themselves a big loss? Probably not. Is breaking up a tight knit dressing room midway through the season a good idea? It seems unlikely.

But even then, the problems run so much deeper than this.

In the last five games, Argyle have failed to score in four of them. The only positive was an admittedly good game against a Middlesbrough team in freefall and with half their first team missing. 

I don’t care that the other teams we played were good or in great form, Foster inherited the team with the 5th best attacking record in the Championship and has already dismantled it.

What even are the attacking tactics? Does anybody actually know? The game against Wednesday saw Argyle clip the ball into the channels for Hardie to chase aimlessly over and over again. Or pass to Whittaker and hope he can beat three players. There was no other threat until Mustapha Bundu came on with 20 minutes to go.

I appreciate that Azaz missing is a big problem, but it shouldn’t have made this much of a difference. Perhaps the club should have signed an actual replacement, and not just play inexperienced teenage loanees out of position?

Unfortunately, the January recruitment looks to have been especially poor itself. Forshaw looked promising initially but has had injuries and has struggled in the last two games. Devine is being played out of position, Phillips has made a number of mistakes, Gyabi is incredibly inconsistent, Sorinola hardly plays and Sousa well, what was even the point?

Somehow, in the loss at Sheffield Wednesday, Foster didn’t even make a substitution until the 68th minute. Can you believe that? It was obvious to every man and his dog that something needed to change, and he stood there with his hands in his pockets and watched. 

This is a theme, unfortunately, just staring at what is already out there and hoping that the issues (usually caused by opposition managers adapting and outcoaching) magically resolve themselves. If they don’t, just switch the wing backs and hope that does something.

I could go on and on about some of the baffling decisions. Bali Mumba is not a right wing back, for example. He was player of the season in a title winning League 1 team and has hardly played his best position all season. Being right footed does not mean he should play on the right, and Foster has totally negated his ability to drive inside with the ball, the best attribute he offers.

Mustapha Bundu was one of the few bright sparks in the entire game when he came on. Though I wouldn’t anticipate that meaning he gets much more playing time. For some unknown reason, he’s been banished from the team until the last five minutes of games.

I said a couple of weeks ago about this having been so much bigger than anything Foster has ever done before. He has made no effort to connect with fans, so he is either unable to connect with the significance of this role or he has done and is overwhelmed by it. Neither of those possibilities are good for the club.

When you watch him pitchside and in the interviews, he gives off the impression of someone who is simply not up to the task. It is frighteningly similar to Joe Edwards’ time at Millwall with the baffling tactics and poor media performances. The only difference is that they went through it two months earlier, and have already replaced him.

The club have worked hard to improve the Home Park experience, but right now the football is appalling and this will put people off attending. Would you want to watch a team sit deep and hit the ball into the channels 30 times a game all for the pleasure of £25? I wouldn’t. I mean, I’ve got a season ticket and I’m already dreading the next game.

And what is the alternative? Well, that’s the really difficult bit. There’s no time for a thorough process so you’re looking at either a Nancekivell-Dewsnip job again or hiring a caretaker/firefighter. Warnock if available, for example. Not someone you want long term, just someone who’ll get enough fight out of the squad for the last 10 games.

One thing worth bearing in mind is that Simon Hallett has aluded in the past towards regrets having left it so late to sack Derek Adams in 2019, a decision that ultimately led to the club being relegated to League 2. He cannot make the same mistake again.

You want to run your boyhood football club to be the best it can be? Well then, it’s time to make some difficult decisions.