Argyle’s bright start to the season – before Tuesday night’s game – had many fans, myself included, getting a bit carried away about what Ryan Lowe’s side can achieve this year.
Much fancied sides Peterborough, Blackpool and Oxford all lost on the opening day, with Portsmouth and Sunderland also dropping points. Fleetwood and Hull were the only sides that most people have tipped to do well who won their opening fixtures.
Managers often stress how important it is to start a season on a high, and last season Coventry, Rotherham and Wycombe all won their opening games before going on to get promoted. But how important is a win on the opening day?
Despite all three promoted sides winning on the opening day last time out, this is not as common an outcome as you might expect. In fact, less than 50% of all teams promoted from League One over the last 20 seasons have won their opening game.
Only 28 (46.66%) of the 60 sides promoted from the third tier this millennium started their season with three points, and while that is higher than the number of teams who started with a draw 13 (21.66%), and that started with a defeat (31.66%) it is still a surprisingly low figure.
When you discount the play-off winners, and look only at the teams who have finished in the top two, the percentage for an opening day win increases to 52.5% (21 of 40 teams), with small drops in the percentage for draws (17.5% – seven out of 40 teams) and defeats (30% – 12 out of 40 teams).
There has already been calls on social media from fans of some of the division’s more high profile clubs for their managers to be replaced, and while this may come more from what has happened in previous seasons, it is a little early in the season to be talking about replacing a manager.
There is, of course, an obvious example of a club who did replace their manager after one game and went on to win the league, Norwich City in 2009/10 after a 7-1 defeat to Colchester United whose manager they then poached.
But by the time a new manager is found a couple of weeks are likely to have passed by, and if not already behind the front runners in the league, by the time the new manager has got used to his squad it is unlikely a side will be in contention for promotion, leaving a lot of work for a new manager to do if they are to be deemed successful.
Norwich, for example, had just 10 points from their opening nine games and were 14th in the league, but then went on a great run.
Elsewhere that day, Gillingham beat Swindon 5-0. Gillingham went on to be relegated while Swindon finished in a play-off spot, and made the final, where they lost 1-0 to Millwall.
This is not me saying that the first game is not important, it is, but no more so than the 45 games that follow it. Or 43 if the EFL expel someone, or x amount if the season gets cut short by a pandemic and teams get rewarded based on three quarters of a season (thanks again for that EFL, despite some at the club saying we’d have won the league, I was convinced Argyle were going to fall short if the season continued).
It is obviously nice to get off to a good start to the season, and more teams who get promoted do win their opening game than draw, or than those who lose. But then, they will win more than they lose or draw for the entire season, otherwise they wouldn’t be up at the right end of the table.
With only 46.66% of promoted teams winning their opening game in the last 20 years, that means over 50% who have gone up have not won their opening game.
To be clear, this article was not written to dampen the spirits of Argyle fans. Not at all. The decision to look at this came from many of the favourites to win the league this season making a poor start.
How their seasons will pan out, and how those teams will bounce back from these results, remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the first game does not mean a great deal, and with 45* games remaining it is a bit early to be panicking and talking about replacing a manager. Equally, the loss to Orient should be viewed with equivalent caution, treating the two impostors of triumph and disaster just the same.