Argyle won 2-1 at the weekend against Oldham Athletic, a team mainly synonymous with Derek Adams predecessor, for members of the Green Army at least. It isn’t hard to see why – John Sheridan played for the Latics for six years, and has had three permanent spells in charge at Boundary Park. So as the Greens completed their victory on Saturday, I couldn’t help but have a few thoughts reserved for Argyle’s former gaffer.
Sheridan is remembered for many things, good and bad, emanating from his time at Home Park. But perhaps the most notable of those things is his infamous record when falling behind in games. For those who have been able to forget, Argyle won no games from behind – zero – during Sheridan’s two full seasons in charge. There was an almost comical sense of hopelessness every time the opposition went ahead during that era, with the game effectively over as a contest. This was magnified in the final two games of Sheridan’s reign in the play-offs, where despite two spirited fightbacks, Argyle were unable to overturn early deficits against Wycombe Wanderers.
When Sheridan decided, eventually, to leave at the end of that season, the next appointment was supposed to be different, and when Derek Adams first came in that certainly appeared to be the case – in his own words, he was looking after a football club, not a football team, and the feel-good factor around that sentiment, coupled with Adams’ flying start at the club, was clearly apparent. He also helped out to a grand level with the aforementioned falling behind problem, with his Argyle side coming back from 2-0 down to beat AFC Wimbledon in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy within a month, and breaking the league hoodoo by overcoming a 1-0 deficit against Barnet within another. Perhaps most poetically, Adams’ Argyle came back from 1-0 down in December 2015 to secure a 2-1 win against Sheridan’s Newport County. Overall, Argyle won seven league games after trailing during Adams’ two years in League Two before promotion was secured.
Since promotion though, things have changed, and quite dramatically. Argyle have won no games from behind in the league during this campaign, and have in fact picked up just two points from behind all season, in draws against Southend United back in August and Doncaster Rovers a couple of weeks ago. Conversely, whilst Argyle do have 12 losses on the board, the Greens only led in one of those games before falling to defeat, that being the recent clash with league leaders Wigan Athletic. Argyle, suddenly, are showing shades of Sheridan in the way they approach matches, with the first goal taking on crucial importance all over again.
But what does this mean? The stats in isolation may not prove an awful lot, but the reasons behind what they show are certainly worthy of our consideration. When Argyle had such a dismal record from behind under Sheridan, the results were blamed mainly on perceived mental frailties within the playing staff, and Sheridan lack of any plan B when experiencing difficulties with his preferred 3-5-2 shape. So, does the same apply here? The former can certainly be looked at – Argyle’s fragile mental state was laid bare at the start of the season, with a series of horror defeats and red cards calling the club’s place in League One into immediate question. But the team have shown an awful lot of mental toughness with the resurgence up to the relative safety of midtable. It’s also very difficult to accuse Adams of lacking a plan B, since it’s his tactical changes which have allowed Argyle to shoot up the league since October. Maybe, then, it is simply the jump in class from League Two to League One forcing a reversal in Argyle’s fortunes. But that in itself is likely to see a downturn in results, rather than a reversal of trends, and also ignores the fact that Argyle themselves have strengthened since their days in the 4th tier.
Perhaps, and whisper it quietly, the Sheridan reign wasn’t as bad as we like to remember it. One could certainly argue that Sheridan was highly unlucky to have such an undesirable record bestowed upon him. Personally, I recall a game away at York City in 2013 where I still cannot understand how Argyle failed to win after falling behind. Lewis Alessandra missed an absolute sitter near the end which could have nipped the record in the bud before it really became noteworthy. There are probably many more games we can pick out where Argyle should have taken all three points when they were on track for none, but ultimately, nothing materialised.
So, ultimately, we are left with this one bad memory hanging over us from Sheridan’s time in charge. But if this season has proved anything, it’s that such a record is not necessarily a bad thing. Argyle may not have won from behind this season, but the season they’re having is beginning to morph into a very good one. Shades of Sheridan? Who cares?