Last season we had to wait 12 games, nine whole agonising weeks, for Plymouth Argyle’s first league win. This year? 90 minutes. I know I know, it’s only one game, it’s a long season and we mustn’t get carried away. But who could begrudge long-suffering Argyle fans the chance to celebrate a 3-0 opening-day win away from home?
Argyle boasts a charismatic young manager, a run of quality signings, a new stand due to open in the autumn and a club that, in contrast to so many floundering peers, is on a firm financial footing. No wonder there has been a mood of optimism around Home Park in recent weeks.
There have been a few minor hiccups – pre-season friendly defeats to Truro City and Torquay – but at least there was no repeat of last season’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands of a Yeovil side that would go on to be relegated from the Football League. Overall, the events of the close season ensured that supporters went into the opening weekend with high hopes.
The ‘Ryan Lowe effect’ has been central to all this. People who knew him insist that behind Derek Adams’ slightly dour façade was a fundamentally decent man and there’s no reason to doubt that. However, it can’t be denied that Lowe’s chirpy Scouse persona is in stark contrast to his predecessor. The fact that it appears entirely genuine means that he won the affection of Argyle fans from the moment he walked into Home Park.
Lowe is a man who appears comfortable in his own skin, mingling with fans for a combined players/supporters team photo at the Spanish training camp and happy to pose for selfies outside Home Park. That might all sound a bit superficial, but make no mistake, these things do matter. Fans are more likely to make the effort to travel across the country to support a manager who seems genuinely in awe of their dedication. So when things go wrong during the season, as they inevitably will at some point, there’s a reservoir of good will to draw on.
The club’s efforts to engage with the fans, via open forums with the Chairman and new Chief Executive amongst other things, also appear to be paying dividends. The new culture of transparency and openness will go an awful long way with supporters. It’s clear that there is some savvy business thinking at work behind the scenes at Argyle these days. Paying a fee for Ryan Lowe’s services looks like a very good investment as it has secured the transfer of several members of a talented Bury squad who otherwise would not have considered continuing their footballing careers in the south west.
Speaking of away support, it was hugely impressive to see 1,600 Argyle fans – the best part of a third of the total crowd – making the 500 mile round trip to Crewe. The sight and sound of the Green Army dominating opposition stadia this season is likely to be a regular occurrence. Last season’s average League Two gate was around 4,500, about half that of League One. With the four top teams in terms of crowds – Lincoln, MK Dons, Notts County and Tranmere –all exiting the division last May, average attendances are likely to be lower this year. With the exception of Bradford, whose home gate averaged more than 16,000 last year, the Pilgrims will likely make up a significant percentage of the crowd at most away games.
Clichés about the importance of the ‘12th man’ slip off the tongue easily, but you have to think that having thousands of your own fans turn up at grounds all over the country must give the team a significant boost.
It’s worth putting the Argyle fan base in perspective. Look at Salford City – favourites to win League Two, marginally ahead of Argyle, Mansfield and Bradford. Salford, inevitably, were the Sky Sports pick for the first televised match of the season but for all the fuss, they only averaged home crowds of 2,500 last season, though they did draw 3,416 on Saturday. That’s still only two thirds of their capacity, disappointing considering it was the first Football League game in the club’s history.
It would be easy to resent the spotlight in which Salford find themselves as a result of their famous owners and substantial financial backing. Winning four promotions in five seasons probably doesn’t hurt either. But that shouldn’t bother us. That level of scrutiny can be a curse as well as a blessing so we should be happy to let them have the limelight for now.
As for the Crewe game itself, McFadzean, Palmer, Edwards and Joel Grant impressed the most. The third goal, with McFadzean scampering up field to overlap Mayor before slamming the ball into the top corner at an angle he had no right to overcome was pretty breathtaking. Yes, those were the dying moments of the game when Crewe were throwing everyone forward, but it surely epitomised the kind of buccaneering Ryan Lowe brand of football we were promised.
The midfield was probably the main area of weakness, with Mayor and Sarcevic not exerting the level of control we had hoped for. But that will surely come in time. The defence appears to have done a solid job and Palmer in goal was many observers’ man of the match. You can’t help feeling that we are a bit light at the back though, with the three amigos – Sawyer, Canavan and Wootton – the only group of players that were all at Home Park last season. Obviously the line-up will be bolstered when Aimson is fit, but there’s still a risk of being short there should injuries start to kick in.
And while the final ball appears to be problematic for the wingbacks, who are critical in Lowe’s system, (something that was certainly evident in the Bristol Rovers friendly) the general consensus is that they had a pretty decent game. Oh, and one of them scored two out of the three goals.
Meanwhile, we still haven’t seen Dom Telford in action and Jose Baxter remains a bit of an unknown quantity. By all accounts though he’s a prodigious talent whose career has gone off the rails somewhat. How exciting would it be to see him get back on track under Ryan Lowe? Overall, there’s a feeling of real anticipation when you look at this season’s squad and it’s going to be intriguing to see how it all shakes out over the course of the season.
Critics might say that the result flattered Argyle a bit and that Crewe really should have got at least one back. Looking at the highlights, they have a case. But the fact is, they didn’t. Last season was all about how Argyle should have won, should have held on to a lead, should’ve done this or that. Football is full of those kinds of moments. If the shoe is on the other foot this season and if Argyle get results that occasionally flatter the team, I’m not going to complain. Because if you achieve that all season, it’s not just ‘luck’.
And the fact is, that we’ve been told that Lowe’s attacking approach comes down to scoring more goals than the opposition. The bottom line is that we could have conceded two and Argyle would still have come away with all the points. I’ll take that all day long.
So it’s all systems go for the first home game next Saturday. We must surely be looking at a 10,000 plus crowd and we can only hope that Colchester United, used to playing in front of just 3,000, won’t know what’s hit them when they walk on to the pitch. There will be plenty of bumps along the road in the coming 45 games, but I for one am pretty excited about the season ahead.