It looks like we’ll be waiting quite a while to see Plymouth Argyle in action once more, and even longer before we’ll be permitted to enter the ground to see them. In these most uncertain times, a little nostalgia can go a long way. With no live action to report, we’re going to be taking a trip down memory lane and looking at some Argyle seasons gone by.
Today, we’ll start by looking at Argyle’s first season back in League One: 2017/18.
It was incredibly difficult not to be excited. After the best part of a decade in the doldrums, Plymouth Argyle were back. Progress had been slow, painfully slow at times. But that mattered no more; whatever happened over the next 12 months, the Greens would finish higher up the pyramid than the season prior. Rejoice.
With James Brent at the helm in the boardroom, promotion was hardly going to be met with a lavish spending spree. But manager Derek Adams had always been capable of working on a shoestring budget. Shrewd summer signings including Ryan Edwards, Jamie Ness and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair helped to bolster Argyle’s squad. Gregg Wylde returned, whilst Argyle also wrestled another winger, Joel Grant, away from Exeter City. Promotion had gone a long way to proving there had only ever been one team in Devon.
Another signing that summer came in the form of Portuguese playmaker Ruben Lameiras. Recently relegated with Coventry, he entered pre-season with a point to prove, and it showed. Argyle avoided defeat in all but one game (a 1-0 reverse to Cardiff City) and achieved a frankly unbelievable 0-0 draw with Dutch champions Feyenoord. It was time to go.
Glorious defeat met the opening day of the season – Argyle deserved more, but went down 2-1 away at Peterborough. Ryan Taylor’s injury during the game would prove to be a huge blow. A 5-0 defeat in the Carabao cup days later saw a far poorer performance, but Argyle resisted the urge to refund travelling supporters in the face of some laughable claims.
Luckily, the Green Army had just a few more days to wait before properly arriving on the League One scene. Jake Jervis netted both goals in a 2-0 victory over Charlton at Home Park which also saw this preposterous save from Luke McCormick. Surely there could be no doubt that he’d have a big part to play this season, right?
A draw away at Southend followed, leaving Argyle with four points from three games and in an optimal position to push on. Alas, the fun ended there. Argyle shipped four goals in a crushing home defeat by Scunthorpe, concluding the encounter with ten men following Antoni Sarcevic’s dismissal. That would become a running theme. Conor McGregor boxed Floyd Mayweather on the same day, and some of Argyle’s actions across the next month wouldn’t have looked out of place in the ring.
Kyle Letheren joined Argyle at the start of the month, but the excitement surrounding a new signing was hardly palpable. He was a third-choice goalkeeper – surely we’d never see him play.
On the pitch, defeats to Walsall and MK Dons, the latter of which saw Graham Carey sent off, left Argyle in the relegation places. That was nothing to worry about, right? We were at the stage of the season where any string of defeats would make the table look crummy, but there was still plenty of time to turn things around.
The situation, however, deteriorated rapidly. Defeat to Blackpool saw Edwards sent off, before a McCormick-inspired Argyle somehow escaped with a 0-0 draw following a torrid performance away at Bury. It was Argyle’s first point for just shy of a month, but those hoping it would spark a turnaround were sadly mistaken. Argyle were demolished 3-0 by Doncaster at Home Park, and Sonny Bradley decided he fancied punching an opponent. Red card. Again.
The last thing Argyle needed at this stage was a trip to a high-flying opponent. So of course, the impending trip to Wigan summed up Argyle’s predicament rather neatly. Remarkably, Letheren got his chance less than a month after signing, with McCormick and second choice Robbert te Loeke injured. He and Argyle played fairly well, but still went down 1-0.
Letheren remained between the sticks for a trip to Bristol Rovers the following weekend, as Argyle again found themselves behind. Red cards, however, were conspicuous in their absence until a two-footed challenge from Gary Miller put an end to the brief respite.
September saw six defeats in seven league games, and four times as many red cards as points. Torrid.
Argyle’s conveyer belt of defeats showed no sign of slowing as Fleetwood became the latest side to leave Home Park with all three points. However, frank dressing room exchange following it may have helped turn the side’s fortunes around. Alongside that, Argyle brought in experienced midfielder Toumani Diagouraga on a short-term deal. Could he really be expected to make a meaningful impact in such limited time?
Diagouraga’s signature conincided with Adams’ subtle switch from a 4-2-3-1 style to a 4-3-2-1, which would prove to be a masterstroke. Under pressure, Argyle followed up with consecutive 1-1 draws against Shrewsbury and Blackburn, both highly respectable results given the high-flying nature of the opponents. Both games saw Graham Carey (who else?) open the scoring for the Greens in incredible fashion.
The second half of the Blackburn fixture saw an injured Letheren replaced in goal by Argyle’s fourth custodian of the season, 18-year-old Mike Cooper. He put in a performance to be proud of, but that didn’t stop Argyle dipping into the emergency loan market for Norwich’s Remi Matthews. He started and kept goal admirably in a 1-0 victory away at Wimbledon, just Argyle’s second of the campaign, with Grant’s winning goal sparking joyous scenes. Matthews was kept on for another week as the Greens then picked up another point against Rochdale.
Argyle were still rooted to the bottom of the league, but the tanker was finally starting to turn.
A Graham Carey screamer helped Argyle defeat Grimsby in the FA Cup, but it’s the next league game that proved to be particularly memorable. Argyle, bottom of the league, travelled to promotion-challenging Bradford more in hope than expectation, but came away with a marvellous single-goal victory. Jervis scored the winner, but the highlight of the game was a second-half penalty save by Matthews, demonstrating exactly why he was rapidly becoming a fan favourite.
Sadly, the good times couldn’t last. After keeping their discipline for well over a month by this stage, Argyle saw Ryan Edwards dismissed after 14 minutes against Oxford, who romped to a 4-0 victory at Home Park. The Greens then experienced contrasting fortunes across the following days, comfortably defeating Northampton before going down 1-0 at Fratton Park against Portsmouth, this time via a Matthews error.
Argyle were at least improving on the field, but ended yet another month at the foot of League One.
The goalkeeping situation was now beyond parody. Matthews had picked up a knock, so Argyle played with a clearly unfit McCormick for an FA Cup tie away at Bradford. He had a shocker, and his side were dumped out following a 3-1 victory for the Bantams.
It led to Argyle lining up their seventh goalkeeper of the season (Will Mannion played against Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy). This time it was Kelle Roos on loan from Derby, who made his Argyle debut against fellow strugglers Gillingham. At the very end of a tense encounter, it was new boy Diagouraga who scored the winning goal to spark wild scenes around Home Park.
This time, Argyle were able to take momentum from their victory into the crucial festive period. Despite a gut-wrenching last-minute equaliser denying the Greens all three points against Rotherham, wins against Oldham (4-1) and MK Dons (1-0) certainly made Christmas feel merrier. Then, just before New Year’s Eve, Graham Carey got the party started early with this outrageous goal against Blackpool.
Frustratingly, Argyle let a two-goal lead slip in that game, and had to settle for a point. However, they were at least out of the relegation zone as 2018 arrived.
Remember when New Year celebrations were not tainted with a sense of terror and dread about what the next 12 months may bring? Me neither. But New Year’s Day in 2018 was at least a good one for Argyle. Ryan Taylor, finally back to full fitness after his injury on opening day, scored the only goal as the Greens saw of Walsall at Home Park to further strengthen their position.
A few days later, Argyle saw off Bury 3-0 at the same ground. A certain Ryan Lowe sent off for the visitors for a horror tackle on Matthews, who had returned for the rest of the season following Roos’ departure at the start of the transfer window. The Green Army would surely never welcome Mr Lowe back to the city.
That would prove to be Diagouraga’s final game for Argyle, and just one point followed from the next two games. First, Argyle drew 1-1 against Doncaster, when opposition manager Darren Ferguson called for a massacre of poor referees. It was certainly a novel approach.
Argyle then lost 3-1 at home to eventual title-winners Wigan. Defender Zak Vyner made his debut, but it was tinged with sadness. His introduction was only necessary because of Ryan Edwards’ testicular cancer diagnosis, which was announced in the build-up to the Wigan fixture. It put everything on the field into perspective.
Buoyed by a sense of togetherness following the shocking news, Argyle ended the month strongly. A 2-1 win over Oldham saw them knocking on the door of the top half – who could have predicted that just a couple of months prior?
February proved to be Argyle’s best month of the season. It opened up with a commanding victory over high-flying Blackburn, with Lameiras netting the opener, and Taylor finishing off one of the great counter-attacking moves of the campaign.
Argyle again faced a promotion-chasing side in their following fixture, visiting Shrewsbury. In a true test of character, the Greens recovered from a goal behind, having missed a penalty, to win the game. Vyner notched the decisive goal in front of a delirious away following. Three days later, Argyle completed a league double over Wimbledon by prevailing 4-2 in one of the best demonstrations of Derek Adams’ 4-3-2-1 system one is likely to find. David Fox, vital to the system, also chipped in with a cracker. The celebration wasn’t bad either.
The Wimbledon game was probably the best of the season – it had everything. And, when Argyle followed it up with consecutive 1-0 wins over Oxford and Bradford, Argyle fans were daring to dream of a wholly unexpected promotion challenge. After all, a 100% record across the month of February was always going to bring with it a wave of optimism.
Argyle went into March on the brink of the play-off places following six consecutive league wins. A 1-1 draw away at Fleetwood, which would have been seen as a fine result a few months prior, was met with disappointment. Luckily, Argyle followed this up with another win in another one of the games of the season. At home to Bristol Rovers on a snowy (!) St Patrick’s Day afternoon, the Greens fell behind twice and missed a penalty, but prevailed 3-2 following Carey’s winner with five minutes to play.
Disappointment followed, as Argyle were defeated for just the second time since the turn of the year away at Charlton. Lee Bowyer was experiencing his first game in management in the home dugout, and masterminded the Addicks to a 2-0 victory.
But Argyle didn’t let it impact their momentum, and followed up with one of their most dominant performances of the season against Southend on Good Friday. The Green Army were treated to some terrific football, and their side deservedly came away 4-0 winners.
Argyle were in the play-off positions, but there were some big fixtures in the run-in to come.
Argyle’s first game in April was a huge encounter with fellow play-off challengers Peterborough, now managed by odious pie enthusiast Steve Evans. Argyle were hit by an injury to Matthews, and Peterborough took the lead as league top-scorer Jack Marriott lobbed stand-in Letheren. Taylor equalised, and two Peterborough red cards followed, for Liam Shepherd and Stephen Taylor. With the game in its dying embers, Carey’s stoppage time winner from the penalty spot sent Home Park into hysterics. Evans approaching the referee in gammon-faced rage after the full-time whistle made the day even sweeter.
The news which followed, despite all the success of the recent months, will surely go down as the moment of the season. Shortly after the Peterborough victory, Ryan Edwards announced he had received the all clear from doctors regarding his cancer treatment. It would, of course, be a while before he was able to take to the field once more, but it was just another boost to bring everybody together at a time of great success for the club.
On the pitch, the Greens had propelled themselves to 5th place, but injuries were becoming a major issue. Even Paul Paton had to have the occasional run out. Matthews again sat out Argyle’s next fixture against Portsmouth, and was joined on the treatment table by Taylor, a key cog in the Derek Adams machine. The 0-0 draw spoke volumes of Argyle’s impotent attack on the day.
Matthews did return for Argyle’s game away at Northampton, but the squad was looking more threadbare by the day. Matthews performed well at Sixfields which, given the insipid performances elsewhere, probably stopped Argyle’s hosts scoring four or five.
Now having not scored in two games, Argyle’s play-off hopes were dwindling at the end of the month. Still without many key individuals, they played host to eventual play-off winners Rotherham at Home Park. Hopes, it’s fair to say, were not high, particularly when the Millers took the lead in the first half. But somehow, Argyle hung in there, equalised through Grant, and had the chance to win the game from the spot in stoppage time. Much like against Peterborough, Carey made no mistake.
May & end of season
Argyle’s play-off prospects hinged on two games in the final month of the season, both away from home. It did, however, become apparent that the Rotherham victory was papering over the cracks in Argyle’s crumbling squad. The Greens were defeated on both occasions, first by Scunthorpe who did make the play-offs, before being thrashed 5-2 by Gillingham on the final day. It meant Argyle finished seventh, just one place away from the play-offs.
There was no shame in that. Injuries meant that Argyle ran out of steam as the season drew to a close, but the fact they were even in the promotion picture was miraculous. For a first season back in League One, Plymouth Argyle had left their mark, and proved that they had all the tools to be a force in the upper echelons of the football league again.
All the more phenomenally, this came after an appalling start to the campaign where Argyle seemed to be relegation certainties up until Christmas. The turnaround, however, was magnificent. Argyle’s opponents gradually converted from “fellow strugglers” to “fellow challengers”. The Greens just had to consolidate the squad in the summer, and surely another promotion challenge would follow…