Plymouth Argyle need to find winning formula to avoid another relegation struggle
ARGYLE need to start winning games, and soon, to prevent their season from descending into yet another scrap against relegation.
There is unrest spreading among the long-suffering supporters and only improved results will quell that.
No-one is immune from the mounting criticism, not least Pilgrims boss John Sheridan.
Only a matter of months after Sheridan led Argyle to Football League survival, some fans are calling for a change of manager.
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Sheridan has carried out a major shake-up to the squad at Home Park since the end of last season.
The latest addition has been striker Paul Hayes, who arrived on a one-month loan from Brentford on Friday.
To date, though, most of the new recruits have not impressed, or even come close to it.
You could argue the point that it was bound to take time for Sheridan's revamped side to become a settled unit.
However, Argyle have struggled so desperately over recent seasons that you cannot blame the supporters for feeling very frustrated at the moment.
You only had to read some of the website message boards after the 3-1 defeat by Exeter City at St James' Park on Saturday to see that.
The reaction from the travelling Green Army after the final whistle also told its own story.
Many of them sped their way to the sanctuary of the exit from the tiny away terrace while Exeter celebrated victory.
Others, however, vented their anger with shouts and gestures aimed at the Argyle players.
The result leaves Argyle without a win in their last four games and they have slipped to 17th position in League Two.
With almost a quarter of the season completed, the Pilgrims are only two points clear of the relegation zone.
They have also lost four of their five away games – the 3-1 triumph at Cheltenham Town in August being the exception.
Argyle finally ended a goal drought of more than five hours of football on Saturday.
However, it took a moment of individual brilliance from midfielder Luke Young, on as a second half substitute, to do that.
He scored with a superbly-taken free-kick in the 69th minute to put the Pilgrims level at 1-1.
That led to a spell of pressure from Argyle and it looked like they could come from behind and win the Devon derby.
Instead, the visitors conceded two goals in the closing stages as Exeter came out on top.
The same failings continue to plague the Pilgrims and Sheridan must come up with some answers.
There is no attacking threat from the wide positions and it makes them very predictable.
Opposition teams know that Argyle are not going to get behind them because their players do not have the pace or trickery on the ball to do so.
Instead, the Pilgrims aim straight balls or diagonal crosses – which are often over-hit – into the penalty area.
They are relatively easy to defend against, and that partly explains why Sheridan's side have found goals so hard to come by from open play this season.
Argyle had some good passages of play against Exeter until they got into the final third of the pitch.
They were then repeatedly let down by their final pass or cross and the promising build-up went to waste.
Jason Banton was a matchwinner for the Pilgrims when he was on loan from Crystal Palace last season.
He could score goals out of nothing or create chances for others with his skill on the ball and Argyle have not been able to come up with a replacement for him.
In Alan Gow, Exeter had someone who they could turn to and provide the inspiration to beat their arch rivals.
The talented, but not always consistent, former Argyle striker created City's first goal and scored the second one.
Defensively, Argyle always seem prone to a costly lapse of concentration, as their record of only three clean sheets all season demonstrates.
So there is much to work on for Sheridan and his coaching staff, and the Green Army will want to see an improvement soon.
The main talking point of a goalless first half on Saturday came in the 43rd minute.
Referee Andre Marriner was one of the few people inside St James Park who thought Argyle midfielder Hamza Bencherif had not handled the ball inside the penalty area.
The ball clearly seemed to strike Bencherif on the arm but Marriner surprisingly waved play on.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 53rd minute and it came after Gow made a surging, speedy run through the middle of the pitch.
He slid the ball past Guy Branston and behind Paul Wotton for Arron Davies to latch onto.
The City midfielder took the pass in his stride and smashed a shot past keeper Luke McCormick high into the net.
Argyle were struggling to create any chances and that led to a double substitution in the 60th minute.
Hayes, on his debut, and Bencherif were replaced by Reuben Reid and Young, respectively.
Young put Argyle on level terms in the 69th minute with his outstanding free-kick from 20 yards after a foul on striker Marvin Morgan by Exeter centre-back Danny Coles.
Suddenly, all the momentum was with the Pilgrims and City keeper Artur Krysiak produced good saves from Rommy Boco, Reid and Branston.
Argyle appeared to be on top, until they carelessly gave the ball away in the 83rd minute and were punished for it.
Exeter substitute Jimmy Keohane worked the ball across to Gow and he expertly curled the ball over McCormick and into the net.
Argyle could not come up with any response to that setback and conceded a third goal in stoppage time.
Keohane crossed low into the penalty area and stand-in striker Scot Bennett, usually a defender, twisted away from Wotton before slotting the ball low past McCormick.
Marriner blew for full-time immediately after the restart and brought to an end another miserable afternoon for the Pilgrims.