Ian Foster has finally been sacked by Plymouth Argyle, and not a moment too soon. In fact, two weeks late. The reasons he needed to go are well documented, but if you want a flavour then consider that he leaves as statistically the second worst Argyle manager of all time.

His 0.86 points-per-game is only bettered (well, not bettered…) by Steve McCall (0.80), the player-manager asked to steady the ship after Peter Shilton was sacked and who stood down when he was unable to improve things.

Foster joins McCall, Mike Kelly, Peter Reid, and Paul Mariner as the only five permanent Argyle managers to take less than a point-per-game. The former two inherited struggling teams after their predecessors had been sacked and in both cases the club was relegated at the end of the season. The latter two had to work in extreme financial difficulties and, again, saw the club relegated. That’s the company Ian Foster, a man hired when Argyle were near their 21st century zenith, will forever keep.


Not that sacking Foster is some kind of immediate remedy. The reasons our season have collapsed go far beyond him, and are far more related to Neil Dewsnip, but he needed to be removed nonetheless. He was only taking Argyle in one direction.

Given McCall (16) stood down, no manager has been fired after fewer games (17) than Foster. His tenure lasted 87 days. It should have been 72.

With his final defeat against Bristol City, Argyle have won just one league game in eleven attempts. They have picked up one point from the past available eighteen.

And yet, crazily, that’s not even the worst statistic. No, the worst statistics can be found when you’re just looking at our home form.


Fortress Home Park has fallen

Since Schuey left, Argyle’s record at home has collapsed. He was a manager who won three-quarters of his home games, both in the league and in all competitions. Now, Argyle have lost five consecutive home games without scoring, surely a club record.

What’s been missed within that awful statistic is that Argyle’s winless run at Home Park is now seven in all competitions. The last time – maybe the only time for all I know – when Argyle recorded a seven-game winless run at Home Park was when the club was in administration, spread across two seasons and the near-miss of liquidation.


Home league games

Win % (all)

PPG (league)

Goals/game (all)





Schumacher (23/24)




Dewsnip & Foster









In his entire tenure as Argyle manager, Steven Schumacher dropped 30 points at home. That’s it. Of 138 available points, he picked up 108. From the start of 2022/23, he only dropped 19 points at home. Since he left, the club has dropped 21 points from just nine games. The collapse in home form is absolutely staggering.

Our home form was keeping us up – it still accounts for over two thirds of our points – but that’s not the case anymore and the past month has seen Argyle slip consistently down the table. After losing to Ipswich, Argyle dropped a place to 16th. After the draw at Blackburn, 17th. Defeat to Preston, 18th. Norwich, 20th. Bristol, 21st. Argyle are one point, plus goal difference, away from the relegation places, a spot in which they have not occupied for a single minute all season.

All the while, others are pulling themselves away from danger. Swansea, QPR, Blackburn and Stoke are a probably a win or two from being in the clear (unless divine intervention in the form of a points deduction arrives out of the blue).


Dewsnip a divisive choice

We now have six games with which to save our season. The board has entrusted those six games to Director of Football Neil Dewsnip, a huge risk given he’s the figure most at fault for the predicament we find ourselves in.

Unsurprisingly, the news has hardly been greeted with euphoria by a fanbase – rightly or wrongly – that widely expected Neil Warnock to come in and save the day.

In appointing Dewsnip, a moment for a proper reset has been missed. Polls coming out this morning show that fans aren’t particularly excited or positive. At the time of writing, an Argyle Life poll with hundreds of votes shows that just over half think we’ll be relegated. Comments on Facebook, Twitter, and PASOTI show a huge number aren’t positive about giving the reigns to Dewsnip for these six vital games.

He’s the one who unnecessarily directed the mid-season change of strategy to 3-4-3 after Schuey’s departure. He’s the one who hired Foster and oversaw such poor January recruitment in terms of the quality and type of players signed, and the holes it left in the squad.

He clearly jettisoned data-driven recruitment to bring in players (and a manager) he knew from the England youth set-up, signed off on Foster working without a proper backroom staff, and delayed his sacking for two unnecessary weeks that might ultimately cost us survival.

If rumours are to be believed – and veiled comments in the press by Schuey and Dewsnip add validity to them – he fell out with Schuey in the weeks or months leading up to his departure, potentially influencing his choice that so dramatically altered the future of our club.

Argyle’s chances of survival would be dramatically boosted by a united fanbase that believes we can stay up. In going with Dewsnip, the opportunity to guarantee that has been missed. He’s essentially a continuity figure: the mastermind behind Foster pushed into the spotlight; an England youth coach with no club management experience who failed in the role being replaced by the ex- England youth coach with no club management experience who hired him.

This isn’t a reset. If the form continues, I think the boos will return. I don’t want them to, but I think they will if we fail to get at least four points from our next three games. I don’t think the fans are going to see a difference from Foster if the results don’t immediately change. The image of Dewsnip operating a Foster puppet that’s done the rounds on social, will be everywhere.

Had you brought in a new manager totally unconnected from this mess then you could guarantee fan backing. They wouldn’t be blamed for the situation and there would be an acceptance that there’s only so much they can do with their limited squad. Dewsnip is unlikely to get that courtesy if the results aren’t immediately positive.

Neil Warnock may not be a great fit for us long-term, but I don’t see much of a better option to galvanise the squad. This, coming from someone who opposed to hiring Warnock back in January. Warnock is a leader, he’s got experience at this level, he’s well connected to the club, and would instantly unite the fans again. That’s a massive factor at this stage.

He’s openly admitted he would have done the role and loves the club, which has only further highlighted how dissatisfied the fans are with Dewsnip taking over at this moment.

I agree that he’s a bit of a footballing dinosaur, but at this point you need someone who’ll motivate and inspire confidence in the players. He’d have the core of Dewsnip, Nance, Joe Edwards and Jordan Houghton to help tactically. And he’ll bring the experience of managing nearly two thousand games and the knowhow that comes with that, which Argyle have lacked.


Can Dewsnip keep us up?

Moving away from whether selecting Dewsnip for this monumental task will get the fans unanimously back on board, there’s the question of whether he’s got the ability to actually keep us up. We’ve got six games and need about seven points.

Aside from his short, interim spell over Christmas, he has five years’ experience managing England U18s, plus a tournament apiece with England U17s and U20s. Hardly the skillset and experience associated with navigating a high-pressure relegation battle, which is the biggest risk here.

Meanwhile, his previous four games give little indication of what to expect.

He was comfortably out-coached by Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham, who dominated at Home Park until a reckless tackle saw them reduced to ten-men at the beginning of the second half and finally allowed Argyle some territory to create chances. A defensive howler before the break and an own goal kept us in the game, and even then Birmingham scored another goal with ten men and contrived to miss further chances to win the game 4-3.

Yet, Argyle then went to Cardiff and were it not for a scandalous own-goal, Mumba hitting the bar when it seemed easier to score, or Whittaker failing to convert one-on-one, Argyle would have won. Dewsnip made smart substitutions to manage the minutes in players’ legs and influence the game tactically, which nearly paid off.

At Southampton, Argyle survived an early barrage and grew into the game defensively, maintaining concentration under wave after wave of Southampton attack. They were unfairly denied an opening goal by a blatantly incorrect offside flag and conceded less than a minute later, ultimately losing 2-1 following a late consolation.

Then, Argyle and Watford played out one of the best games of the season, a 3-3 draw featuring screamer after screamer. Argyle were a bit fortunate in that Watford created the better openings and failed to convert them while three outstanding finishes won Argyle a point, but the Greens created so many chances that they deserved at least two goals. Argyle hit the target eleven times in that game, almost as many as Foster managed at Home Park in his seven league games (14).

Overall, Argyle deserved between three and five points and Dewsnip brought in three. He achieved this during the chaos of four games in ten days following the departure of almost all Argyle’s backroom staff, as well as missing Michael Cooper and having Ben Waine the only fit striker for the first three.

So, was his interim spell a success or not? It’s hard to say. Will he improve things now? That’s an even harder question to answer. Yet again, he dives in with three games in the space of a week. He has Cooper and Hardie fit, but no Azaz or Cundle to rely on for midfield creativity.


It’s not as simple as before

Last time, he didn’t have much to do. Schuey had coached the squad well and confidence was higher than at any point in the season. He used the same 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 tactics that Schuey had deployed this season and last. Aside from implementing the permanent change to 3-4-3, which Schuey had used in just a fifth of his games this season, he maintained continuity.

That won’t be available now. He can’t just repeat the trick from earlier in the season. The side aren’t performing and he needs to find the answers. He hasn’t been given them by the previous incumbent as before. Confidence is quite low among the players and fans.

Foster himself just learned how difficult it was to throw down the same tactics as his predecessor and hope they work. He used a 4-3-3 for the first time as manager against Bristol City, a sign he’d lost confidence in his own approach, but it was still insipid and created little.

At its most basic, Schuey’s 4-3-3 utilised inverted full-backs to create the box-midfield that Pep Guardiola popularised last season for passing out from the back and controlling possession, allowing creators from central midfield to push forward and overload opposition defences in attack.

Foster’s 4-3-3 was just a Derek Adams 4-3-3. Flat back four, sideways passing and going around teams. Central midfielders needing to come back to get the ball, isolating the attack, and offering little creativity plus no threat in the box when they did push on. It left the entire attacking onus on Whittaker, Hardie, and Mumba, spread apart across the front three and frequently double-marked, albeit with some support from the full-backs.

Once Bristol City worked it out, which took about 25 minutes, they controlled midfield and Argyle’s attacking threat dissipated. From that point onwards, Foster’s limitations were obvious. He wasn’t able to improve his side. Either he couldn’t identify what needed to change or, if he did, he couldn’t communicate that message to his players. Not for the first time he was outcoached by his opposing manager.

All this means is that Dewsnip can’t just tell the players to go out and do what Schuey taught them to, partly because the midfield and defence that he coached so well is basically gone. Nor can he just continue what Foster did; that wasn’t working. He’s got to find his own answers this time.


Utilise the squad

His ultimate success here is dependent on extracting the maximum value from the players at his disposal, something Foster completely failed to do.

Take Bali Mumba. He was signed to play on the wing but, aside from his superb opening-day goal, struggled to transition to the position until late November, when he actually started to get the hang of it. I was mid-way through writing an article on his progress in the position when Dewsnip took us back to 3-4-3 and put him back to wing-back, where he remained for three months before Foster casually dropped him back into left-wing on Monday. Based on his Bristol City performance, what progress he had made has either been lost or he suffered from this worse iteration of the formation.

Or maybe it’s his confidence. The love he was shown by the fans last season has faded. He’s been criticised because Morgan Whitter changed into a £20m and Finn Azaz turned into one of the league’s best while Mumba hasn’t (yet). He spent three months learning his new position, then went to left wing-back for a few games before Foster’s need for Miller’s dribbling to break teams down due to his turgid tactics forced Mumba to right wing-back. Then he was dropped for Sorinola. Mumba has started just three of the past ten games, even though he’s comfortably our best wing-back in my eyes.

Callum Wright, a hero last season, has not been able to step up, even under Schuey. Yet, given how limited the options in attack now are, maybe this is his time. Like Mumba, he needs confidence and to play in the right position with the right players around him. That’s probably in attacking midfield in a 4-2-3-1 at this level, interchanging positions with Whittaker. He didn’t work in CM, nor (very surprisingly) in attacking mid for 3-4-3.

Dan Scarr has struggled this season and I don’t mind that he’s no longer a starter, but to get no minutes since January is mad. I don’t know if he can force his way back into the team, but he remains a leader and if we’re going to a back four he might be a better option than Phillips, though I think I’d start Plegeuzeulo ahead of Phillips myself.

This squad is undoubtedly far weaker than the one Schuey handed over to Dewsnip, but there’s enough quality in it to snatch points against some of the weaker sides in the league. Not many sides have an easier run in (on paper, at least) than Argyle. The only player who started the opening day win against Huddersfield and isn’t still available is Kesler-Hayden. The only player unavailable from the 0-0 draw at Watford is Saxon Earley. The only player unavailable from the 6-2 mauling of Norwich is Finn Azaz.

The size of the task is great, but the tools are there if Dewsnip can restore confidence and quickly identify the strongest available team.


It’s not too late to appoint a caretaker

However, I still think that Argyle should appoint a caretaker manager for the last six games. I’m concerned that Dewsnip does not have the skills or experience to keep us up and that fan frustrations at Foster will quickly transplant themselves onto Dewsnip, of which we’ve already seen enough signs in the past 36 hours.

We’ve just wasted two weeks due to inaction or indecision. It was obvious enough that Foster’s time was up after Preston, but the board didn’t seize upon it.

However, there’s still time to bring in a caretaker. Dewsnip’s role hasn’t changed despite Foster’s sacking. Finances permitting, at any point between now and the end of the season a caretaker manager can be brought in to take over without needing to change any current roles.

Hiring a caretaker this late in the season them with far less time to figure out their best team, but with the support of Joe Edwards and Jordan Houghton, two leaders who heavily supported Dewsnip after Schuey left, as well as Dewsnip himself and the remaining backroom staff, that time might be reduced significantly.

I understand that Argyle have no right to stay in the Championship. I understand that, on paper, we should go down given our budget, the quality of our squad, size of our fanbase, historical position.

But this would be such an unnecessary relegation, or at least that’s how it feels. It’ll potentially leave us needing to start from scratch, a new manager, probably a whole new squad, back in that old division that we know will be very difficult to escape from again.

Going into this season, I think we’d have all understood the possibillity of immediate relegation given how tough we knew it’d be. Instead, we got a taste of what might’ve been, only to watch the club let it slip from its grasp: hiring Foster; that January transfer window; taking too long to fire Foster. That’s why it hurts so much. You can potentially add choosing Dewsnip to steer us to safety to that list.

Given how stubborn and slow the club have been to accept their mistakes, I don’t see a sudden change of heart. All of which means it’s down to Neil Dewsnip now. Our Championship fate rests with him, starting with the must-win of all must-wins at Rotherham on Friday night. It’s sink or swim time.