A new low for Plymouth Argyle as history whispers in the night
It has been nearly eighteen months since the first post on The Seventy Two, yet there are elements that I’m still getting used to. One of these is a compelling sense of duty to watch League One and League Two teams whenever their games are chosen for live television coverage. I would generally choose to watch Championship football anyway but if there is anything on the box from further down the divisions, that infuriating duty kicks in.
This led to some fascinating viewing last season, most notably Eddie Howe’s emotional last game in charge at Bournemouth and cast-iron evidence of why Chesterfield were to end the campaign as champions of League Two. It also meant watching Notts County against Hartlepool a month or two back, just in case. Just in case it was a classic. It wasn’t. Maybe this will be. Hence, an evening in with Stourbridge versus Plymouth Argyle.
Cup competitions are always a gamble, although the fact that most of these games must be won on the night is one saving grace. The lunar atmospherics of Bramall Lane and The Valley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy were a particular lowlight, while a pair of Manchester United strolls past Leeds United and Aldershot in the League Cup in recent weeks pushed them close. Even the FA Cup can occasionally feel like a slog. But it must be done. Hence, an evening in with Stourbridge versus Plymouth Argyle.
There was a stage just a couple of years ago when I couldn’t have imagined watching so many televised games and it still feels odd. Between the summers of 2008 and 2010, I only missed a handful of my own team’s games but a growing sense of detachment and disillusion, coupled with the rising cost of living, ticket prices and most of all petrol, means that sort of commitment is a thing of the past. Hence, an evening in with Stourbridge versus Plymouth Argyle.
A couple of years ago, Plymouth would have been the big, bad league team and I would have wanted Stourbridge to win, if I had watched the game at all. Now, of course, I’m definitely watching the game ahead of either of the two Manchester clubs in European competition and I want Plymouth to secure their passage through to the second round. Not just because of their league club status but also due to all their supporters have been through in the past couple of years. At the exact time of writing, both City and United are a goal down despite their relentless progress at domestic level and both games must be pretty interesting. Nevertheless, I am sticking with Stourbridge versus Plymouth Argyle.
It’s half time. Stourbridge have been the better side and Plymouth are down to ten men thanks to some silliness on the behalf of their right-back Paul Bignot, on loan from Blackpool, who kicked out after winning a foul in an innocuous area of the pitch close to the halfway line. Bignot’s parent club are an obvious reference point for Plymouth’s current travails. Managed by Ian Holloway to the Premier League (and back), there must be some Argyle fans who wonder whether they could have achieved something similar to Blackpool had he elected to stay at the club during late 2007. The Green Army can wonder all they want of course, but even their fantastic support up and down the country each week has not been enough to summon worthy performances from their team.
Ten minutes or so on and both Manchester clubs have pulled level, while Plymouth player-manager Carl Fletcher rallies his troops in the away dressing room at Stourbridge. Around 20 miles to the north-west, the former Manchester United striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake is playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers reserves against Arsenal. In the first half of the 2007/08 season, Ebanks-Blake appeared to be firing Argyle into contention for promotion from the Championship. Meanwhile, around 30 miles to the east, Lukas Jutkiewicz leads the Coventry City line in a Championship clash with Cardiff City. Jutkiewicz endured a brief and unsuccessful loan spell at Home Park as the club sought to replace Ebanks-Blake, the latter having departed to Wolves during the January transfer window that season. Six minutes or so into the second half, Stourbridge take the lead.
Under Holloway, Blackpool now lie just outside the Championship play-off places after 17 games. Moving away from the Bristolian jester, anything other than a defeat for Jutkiewicz’s opponents Cardiff tonight will send the Bluebirds third in the table. They currently sit 4th, one place above Leeds United. With 17 games gone in the 2007/08 Championship season, Plymouth Argyle were 4th. At Stourbridge, ESPN commentator Jon Champion refers to Peter Ridsdale, formerly of Leeds and Cardiff, “shifting uncomfortably in his seat”. Soon afterwards, player-manager Fletcher substitutes himself.
Plymouth began the 2008/09 season still in need of replacing the goals of Ebanks-Blake. With the hours counting down until the close of the transfer window, they signed Paul Gallagher on loan from Blackburn Rovers. While not quite as prolific as Ebanks-Blake, Gallagher hit 13 goals for Argyle that season and became a popular figure at Home Park. He appeared keen on a permanent move to the club, but eventually signed for Leicester City in August 2009. On Sunday, Gallagher scored two spectacular goals to help lift Leicester to within a point of Holloway’s Blackpool. This evening, he told his followers on Twitter that he was watching his former club on television and that they were losing 1-0. A few minutes later, they were losing 2-0 with a goal from former Manchester United youngster Sean Evans.
Jutkiewicz equalises for Coventry at the Ricoh Arena. Plymouth will not equalise this evening.
So what hope is there for the future? It reads like a neverending downward spiral but surely there must be a glimmer of something better lying ahead for Plymouth fans? With around five minutes to go, Gallagher again took to Twitter to say this: “Plymouth needs some new players fast to stay in the football league, some experienced players. Sad to see what has happened.” The sight of Darren Purse, an impending loan – and, in January, permanent – signing from Millwall, sitting in the stand at Stourbridge must give a little cause for optimism given that Argyle cannot rely on the two teenage centre-backs that played this evening to keep them from the dreaded trapdoor into the Conference. They are currently five points away from safety at the foot of League Two.
Fletcher stands on the touchline with his arms folded as the game ticks towards full time. As the cliché goes, at least now Plymouth can concentrate on the league. I turn over and watch the last ten minutes of Manchester City’s game with Napoli. Their multi-million pound strikeforce flood forward in an attempt to pull back a 2-1 deficit. It’s another world.