Time running out for John Sheridan to turn around Plymouth Argyle's fortunes
TIME must be running out for John Sheridan to try to turn around the fortunes of Argyle.
As he admitted himself, after the demoralising 1-0 defeat by 10-man Hartlepool at Victoria Park on Saturday, football is a results business.
And, it is clear for all to see, the Pilgrims' results are simply not good enough.
Unless that changes, and soon, it is hard to see how Sheridan can survive as Argyle manager.
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It is now six games in League Two – and seven in all competitions – without a win.
The Pilgrims have picked up only two points out of a possible 18 since they beat Bristol Rovers 1-0 at Home Park on September 7.
That sequence of results includes a goalless draw with bottom-of-the-table and still winless Accrington Stanley.
Argyle have the second worst scoring record in League Two, with eight goals – two of them penalties – in 12 games.
Only Accrington, with seven, have netted fewer times than the Pilgrims this season.
Including the final four games of last term, Argyle have a record of four wins, two draws and 10 defeats in League Two.
Sheridan will know as well as anyone that dreadful record cannot be allowed to continue.
One way or another, the Pilgrims must try to find a winning formula or it will be a sixth consecutive season of fighting against relegation.
Managers around the Football League have already paid the price for poor starts to the season.
Sheffield United, Gillingham and Bury have all sacked their bosses recently, and there are bound to be plenty more dismissals in the coming days and weeks.
That is the brutal reality of life as a manager. Football is an unforgiving business.
Argyle's supporters have suffered more than most since the club's halcyon days in the Championship from 2004 to 2010.
The Pilgrims have not finished higher than 21st in any of the past five seasons.
So it is totally unrealistic to expect them to be patient after the way the current campaign has started.
Even some long-standing supporters must be wondering whether it is worth all the misery.
There were widespread calls on various websites from disgruntled fans for Sheridan to be sacked after the defeat by Hartlepool.
Many believe former Pilgrims boss Neil Warnock would be the perfect replacement.
The 64-year-old is in semi-retirement from management after leaving Leeds United in April and now living in south-east Cornwall.
Another promotion-winning former Argyle manager, Paul Sturrock, is out of work and seeking employment somewhere.
It is clear changes need to be made at Home Park to try to revive the team but exactly what they will be remains to be seen.
The players looked as though they had the weight of the world on their shoulders as they boarded the team coach on Saturday night.
Of course, it was a crushing defeat and you would not expect them to be all smiles, far from it, but it was clear they were hurting – badly.
There was a lot for Sheridan to think about on the long, cross-country return trip to Plymouth.
Ultimately, his fate rests with Argyle owner and chairman James Brent and his boardroom colleagues.
By common consent, Brent left it late last season when he sacked Carl Fletcher on New Year's Day and replaced him with Sheridan.
Argyle eventually stayed up, but only after Barnet lost on the final day of the campaign.
It is hard to imagine the powers-that-be at Home Park would leave it anywhere near that long before making a change, should the results not improve.
Sheridan is an experienced manager and will understand there is bound to be much speculation about his position.
All he can do is focus on getting the best performances out of his players as possible, and not be distracted by what he cannot control.
He has, after all, won the League Two title with Chesterfield earlier in his managerial career, so he has a track record at this level.
Sheridan admitted he was 'hurting inside' after the defeat by Hartlepool.
The Pilgrims were presented with the perfect opportunity to pick up a much-needed win when Pools' winger Jack Compton was sent off in the 25th minute.
Compton crashed into Argyle wing-back Jamie Reckord with a horrible, late lunge.
Not one of Compton's team-mates complained when referee Scott Mathieson pulled out a red card.
Although it was 0-0 at the time, Argyle had been the better team up until then.
There was every expectation they would go on and win the game such was their dominance up until then.
However, Hartlepool defended solidly and goalkeeper Scott Flinders had an excellent game.
Flinders produced some top-class saves, but Argyle's finishing was often not as precise as it should have been.
The visitors had 21 goal attempts during the game but could not open their account.
It was frustrating enough when it was 0-0, but it was even worse after Hartlepool took the lead from a rare attack in the 55th minute.
It was all the work of 18-year-old striker Luke James, although he was assisted by some less than assertive defending.
The 2012/13 League One apprentice of the year was allowed to make a diagonal run across the pitch and into the penalty area.
That created an angle for James to shoot across keeper Luke McCormick and into the far corner of the net.
In doing so, the ball went between the legs of Argyle defender Curtis Nelson. It was an awful goal to concede.
Not surprisingly, Hartlepool's spirits were lifted by James' sixth goal of the season.
They continued to defend resolutely, packing out the centre of the pitch and challenging Argyle to attack them from wide positions.
The Pilgrims did get some crosses in, but the finishing touch was not there.
On another day, Argyle captain Conor Hourihane could have had a hat-trick but Flinders repeatedly denied him and anyone else in a green shirt.
The pick of his saves was when he pushed a powerful 25-yard shot from Hourihane onto a post shortly before Hartlepool took the lead.
Had Hourihane scored then, Argyle would probably have won comfortably. Instead, they slipped to a crushing defeat.