Argyle finally looking up
After the on- and off-pitch decline of recent years, the Pilgrims now have a measure of stability from which to build…
Accrington ｜ Aldershot ｜ Barnet ｜ Bradford
Bristol Rovers ｜ Burton ｜ Cheltenham ｜ Chesterfield
Dagenham ｜ Exeter ｜ Fleetwood ｜ Gillingham
Morecambe ｜ Northampton ｜ Oxford ｜ Plymouth
Port Vale ｜ Rochdale ｜ Rotherham ｜ Southend
Torquay ｜ Wimbledon ｜ Wycombe ｜ York
There were times during last season when the club’s mere survival – let alone any sort of stability – looked to be in significant doubt. But after riding through the worst of the storm, helped by the arrival of backer James Brent, the unwavering support of the fans and the growing influence of young manager Carl Fletcher, Plymouth have finally secured something of a base from which to build. It is early days but the cobwebs of administration have been largely blown away and Fletcher is accruing vital experience with every passing week. The squad may not yet be fully formed or indeed ready to challenge in the upper reaches but after a trying few years at Home Park, now is the time for small steps rather than giant leaps.
The way in which Peter Reid’s exit was handled last autumn continues to rankle. Having stayed with the club during the darkest hours Reid was unceremoniously dismissed by then-chairman of football operations Peter Ridsdale following the Pilgrims’ understandably slow start to the campaign.
Appointing Fletcher, still on the playing staff at the time, to the top job was a cheap but risky option. However, with the assistance of club favourite Romain Larrieu, the 32-year-old slowly took to life at the helm. Offered the support of the new administration, Fletcher continued to grow into the role and his work in dragging the Pilgrims away from the drop zone ranks as a considerable success. Expectations have been raised a notch this summer, which will see the former Wales international confronted with new pressures, but he has earned himself some breathing space after the past ten months.
This is a club which was playing in the Championship in 2010 and despite Argyle’s miserable decline on and off the pitch, managing expectations is still an issue. With a more sure financial footing, there are those supporters with their eyes on a play-off challenge but for many, consolidation will suffice.
For three years the Pilgrims have been in freefall – if ever the laws of physics can be applied (cack-handedly) to football, it is here. Such has been the momentum behind their demise, they cannot expect to spring immediately back up the ladder. Having slowed the descent last term, it will take time and effort to have the club moving steadily in the right direction again. However, to ensure they are fighting in mid-table and not for survival, there is a feeling that the squad could still do with a few more additions, with a striker and a midfield replacement for the departed Simon Walton among the priorities.
Counterintuitive though it may seem, the sort of rotten spell the Pilgrims have endured can often bring out the best in a club. For players and management alike, memories of the lowest ebbs of last season will be fresh in the mind and a motivating factor to inspire measured progress. The young players who were thrown in at the deep end during 2011/12, the likes of Conor Hourihane, Matt Lecointe and Durrell Berry will now be stronger for the experience and while the loss of Walton to Hartlepool will be felt, Paul Wotton, who returned in January, offers lashings of Football League know-how.
The strikeforce looks to be lacking a reliable scorer but with the budget at Fletcher’s disposal described as competitive (read: better than nothing), loan acquisitions are set to play an important part this year. This season may not be free of its difficult moments but with a measure of stability now in place, Argyle have the attributes to steer clear of trouble: mid-table would do nicely.
Damien Johnson (Fleetwood), Simon Walton (Hartlepool), Luke Daley, Jordan Pearce (both released).
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