Goal drought is proving very costly for faltering Plymouth Argyle
JOHN SHERIDAN has stated more than once that he believes Argyle can challenge for promotion from League Two this season.
Yet, there has not been much evidence to date to indicate the Pilgrims can live up to those bold words from their manager.
Argyle's shortcomings were all too obvious in the 0-0 draw against bottom-of-the-table Accrington Stanley at Home Park on Saturday.
The lack of goals must be the most pressing concern for Sheridan.
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His side has scored only six times in League Two and drawn a blank in five out of the nine games.
Their finishing has simply not been good enough and it is proving very costly.
Argyle could have easily won their last two matches, away to Scunthorpe United and against Accrington, with the chances they created.
However, they lost 1-0 to Scunthorpe and were held to a draw by Accrington.
Their play has become too predictable, they cannot sustain a high tempo, there is no width to their attacks and there seems to be no back-up plan.
Defensively, the Pilgrims are reasonably sound but they are prone to errors from time to time.
There is a lot for Sheridan to try to sort out as autumn turns into winter and he needs to come up with some solutions.
Sheridan worked wonders when he arrived at Argyle in January.
He inherited a team assembled by his predecessor, Carl Fletcher, which was desperately short of confidence, and led them to Football League survival.
His reward was a three-year contract and he set about reshaping the squad over the summer.
Sheridan made many signings, with most of them having experience of playing at a higher level than League Two.
Yet, nearly two months into the campaign, the Pilgrims are struggling to pick up points.
Unless there is an improvement, and soon, another season of fighting against relegation is on the cards.
There is not much a manager can do when a striker misses a simple chance.
That is out of his control. But tactics are his responsibility and Sheridan's message does not seem to be getting across to his players.
The drop-off in Argyle's performance in the second half against Accrington was alarming.
The Pilgrims dominated before the break, and had they taken their chances the game would have been all over.
Accrington had lost their last eight games in all competitions and they were there for the taking.
One goal for Argyle would have probably been followed by more. It should have been a relatively simple three points for them.
Even at 0-0 at half-time, the Pilgrims should have been confident of winning.
But they could not build up any momentum in the second period and Accrington, without creating many chances themselves, were the better team.
The lack of attacking width is, to my mind, one of Argyle's main weaknesses at the moment.
They do not have anyone capable of consistently beating an opposing full-back and providing a pinpoint cross into the penalty area.
This makes it much easier for teams to cope with what the Pilgrims can throw at them.
Accrington could see what was coming as Argyle repeatedly aimed diagonal crosses into the 18-yard box.
When they were not over-hit – which was all too often – they were comfortably dealt with.
Former Accrington attacker Rommy Boco could be a creative threat for Argyle but they do not get him on the ball enough.
That has been a problem all season, and particularly when he plays on the left of midfield rather than in a central position behind a striker.
It is no wonder that you can sense increasing frustration among the Green Army at what they are witnessing.
The attendances at Home Park have held up remarkably well considering Argyle's trials and tribulations over recent seasons.
Yet, it is inevitable they will start to fall unless results and performances improve, and financially the club can ill afford that.
Marvin Morgan should have put Argyle into the lead on Saturday in only the second minute.
Reuben Reid flicked the ball on and Morgan was too strong for Accrington centre-back Tom Aldred.
Morgan had a one-one-one with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli as he raced into the penalty area.
The Pilgrims striker tried to chip the ball over Bettinelli but did not get enough elevation and his shot was pushed away for a corner.
Boco then saw a low angled drive clip off the outside of the far post in the fifth minute.
Reid had a couple of good shooting opportunities but could not hit the target on either occasion as Argyle started strongly.
Bettinelli easily saved a weak strike from Reid later in the first half after the ball was nodded down to him by midfielder Hamza Bencherif.
Reid fired wide of the near post at the start of the second period when Morgan cut the ball back to him.
Argyle captain Conor Hourihane also sent a rising 20-yard shot over the crossbar.
But, after those early chances, the Pilgrims lost control of the game as their play deteriorated rapidly.
The fans in the Devonport End called for 18-year-old striker Tyler Harvey to be sent on as a substitute.
They got what they wanted in the 70th minute when Harvey replaced Reid but, by now, Argyle had lost their way totally.
When a clearance from keeper Luke McCormick bounced all the way through to Bettinelli there were ironic cheers from the Green Army for the 'on-target shot'.
Accrington grew in confidence and a series of free-kicks and corners taken by left-back Lee Naylor caused some anxious moments inside the Pilgrims penalty area.
However, the visitors also lacked a cutting edge to their play and McCormick only had a couple of relatively straightforward saves to make.
One came from a 20-yard shot from Accrington captain Luke Joyce in the 80th minute.
Argyle substitute Luke Young had fired the ball over the bar from 20 yards shortly before that as neither team could find a winning goal.
Argyle forward Marvin Morgan gets in between Accrington's Luke Joyce and Tom Aldred at Home Park on Saturday