New-look Plymouth Argyle show no signs of improvement
There was a mood of optimism around Home Park before kick-off on Saturday, after the spate of signings by Plymouth Argyle’s new manager John Sheridan.
That had evaporated by full-time, however, as the Pilgrims produced one of their poorest performances of recent seasons in their 0-0 draw with Accrington Stanley.
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 stalemate against Stanley, it is difficult to see how the Pilgrims are going to get the points they need to escape relegation from the Football League.
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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 victory, and five points, from their previous ten games in npower 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 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 it was not what Argyle had been hoping for. Sheridan pointed to a lack of confidence among the players, and some 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 endured during another torrid campaign for the Pilgrims.
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 Plymouth 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 kept out 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, when they lacked any cohesion.
Accrington were on top for nearly all of the opening half and the Pilgrims could not respond. Even when they won the ball in their own defensive third, time after time they gave 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 clear chance. He was picked out by a low cross from 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 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 the visitors kept up their pressure, when his glancing header was cleared off the line by Bhasera.
Argyle had to change goalkeepers just before half-time when Rene Gilmartin made way for Cole because of injury.
Bhasera went close to putting the Pilgrims into the lead in the 51st minute but his shot was scrambled away by goalkeeper Cameron Belford.
There was a long break in play because of a serious head injury to Accrington right-back Nicky Hunt. He was unconscious on the pitch for about ten minutes before being carried 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.
Charles headed the ball into the net from a free-kick taken by Murray in the 81st minute, but Argyle’s celebrations were quickly cut short as referee Mick Russell awarded a free-kick to Stanley.
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.