Misfiring Plymouth Argyle have work to do after tepid stalemate
THERE was a mood of optimism around Home Park before kick-off on Saturday after the spate of signings by recently-appointed manager John Sheridan.
That had evaporated by full-time, however, as Argyle produced one of their poorest performances of recent seasons.
You could make a case for it being the worst – and there have been a lot of contenders for that dubious accolade.
On the evidence of the goalless draw against Accrington, it is difficult to see how the Pilgrims are going to get the points they need to escape relegation from the Football League.
It could take seven wins to save Argyle and they have only come up with six in as many months this season.
Accrington arrived at Home Park with one win, and five points, from their previous 10 games in League Two.
They should have been there for the taking. Instead, after a dismal display, it took an excellent late save from Argyle's substitute goalkeeper Jake Cole to earn them a draw.
The Pilgrims were hopeless in the first half, devoid of any attacking threat and repeatedly giving away possession in their own territory.
A better side than Accrington would have punished them for that and had the game won by half-time.
Fortunately for Argyle, it remained 0-0 until the interval as the visitors could not turn their dominance into any goals.
The Pilgrims were better after the break but, then again, they could have hardly been any worse.
Midfielder Luke Young was a 65th minute substitute and made a difference for them.
Argyle started to apply some pressure and a couple of chances did come their way, but they were not taken.
In the end, a point apiece was a fair outcome but not what Argyle had been hoping for.
Sheridan pointed to a lack of confidence among the players, and some certainly did not perform at a level they are capable of.
It should be noted, though, that four of the starting line-up signed for the club this month.
So they have not experienced the disappointments the rest of the squad have done during another torrid campaign for the Pilgrims.
Those six consecutive seasons in the Championship from 2004 to 2010 seem a distant memory.
Sheridan, in his second match as Argyle manager, gave debuts to Anthony Charles at left-back and Reuben Reid in attack.
There were also second appearances in a Pilgrims shirt for central defender Guy Branston and striker Ronan Murray after they were signed earlier this month.
However, Sheridan's other recent recruit, attacker Gozie Ugwu, was sidelined by an ankle injury he picked up in training on Friday.
Argyle looked a like a team with a lot of new players in the first half as they lacked any cohesion.
Having beaten Morecambe 2-1 at Home Park in their previous match a fortnight earlier, there was an expectation they would take the fight to Accrington from the kick-off.
Not so. Accrington were on top for nearly all of the first half and the Pilgrims could not respond.
Even when they won the ball in their own defensive third, time after time they would give it away immediately.
Reid cut an isolated figure in attack, with Murray playing in a deeper role behind him.
There was not much support from midfield, with the exception of Onismor Bhasera out wide on the left.
Accrington should have taken the lead in the 19th minute when Romuald Boco wasted a clearcut chance.
Boco was picked out by a low cross from midfielder Craig Lindfield but the striker somehow steered the ball past the outside of the far post.
Accrington's attack was led by 34-year-old former England striker James Beattie and he caused a lot of problems for the Pilgrims.
He headed wide early on from a long free-kick and was later off target with a shot from inside the penalty area.
Beattie was not picked up when a corner from midfielder Charlie Barnett reached him beyond the far post in the 40th minute and he seemed certain to score.
His header lacked direction, though, and the ball went wide from close range.
Moments later, Beattie had another chance to break the deadlock as Accrington kept up their pressure.
This time, his glancing header was cleared off the line by Bhasera.
Argyle had to change goalkeepers before half-time when Rene Gilmartin made way for Cole because of a hamstring injury.
Bhasera went close to putting the Pilgrims into the lead in the 51st minute but his shot was scrambled away by Accrington keeper Cameron Belford.
There was a hint of good fortune about the save but, regardless of that, it was an important stop.
Had Argyle scored then, they could have built on that momentum.
Instead, the scoreline stayed at 0-0 and there was soon a long break in play because of a serious head injury to Accrington right-back Nicky Hunt.
He was unconscious on the pitch for around 10 minutes before being stretchered off.
Hunt was taken to Derriford Hospital and regained consciousness but was kept in overnight for observation.
Reid, starting a second spell with Argyle, had a great chance to score in the 66th minute.
The ball ricocheted to him inside the penalty area but the loan signing from Yeovil Town rushed his shot and sent it high and wide.
Several Accrington players needed treatment for injuries as the game became very stop-start.
Charles headed the ball into the net from a free-kick taken by Murray in the 81st minute but Argyle's celebrations were cut short.
Referee Mick Russell awarded a free-kick to Accrington, not a goal for Argyle.
Russell presumably spotted a foul inside the penalty area, but it was not apparent from his signals why he had disallowed the 'goal'.
Reid then saw his shot deflect into the side netting after a free-kick from Murray was not cleared.
With the injury to Hunt, plus the other stoppages, Russell added on 11 minutes at the end of the match.
Murray made way for 17-year-old Tyler Harvey but Argyle could still not come up with a goal.
They almost conceded one in the closing seconds when Accrington were awarded a free-kick 20 yards out.
Beattie curled the ball over the defensive wall and towards goal but Cole pushed it away for a corner.
That was the final action of a contest which Argyle will not want to dwell on. The players will know they must do better in the weeks to come.