ONE year ago today, the world was different.No lunatic had ever jumped from the edge of space. Fabio Capello was still England manager. The Higgs Boson space was still a theory. And Argyle were still in administration.
On October 29, 2011, Argyle travelled to Cheltenham Town’s Abbey Business Stadium. A combination of Jared Sims and a Robins defender conjured Argyle into a lead, which they defended brilliantly, only to ultimately go down 2-1.
It was a metaphor for that period of our history. A period of hope followed by ultimate disappointment and a renewed sense that the world was against us, and that things were bleaker when the sun went down that night that when it had risen that morning.
But a new dawn WAS coming. James Brent was at the game that day in Gloucestershire, and would soon complete a takeover of the club. Relegation and ultimate annihilation were averted. Argyle stayed alive.
The team that played that day was vastly different to the one we see before us now.
The starting eleven’s age averaged out at a shade under 22 years. Carl Fletcher, then a very fledgling manager, played the game. His assistant, Romain Larrieu, replaced an injured Jake Cole during the game.
A lad called Griffiths was sent off, but neither of the players currently in the squad who answer to that name. It was Jamie of that ilk, on loan at the time from Ipswich.
Things are vastly different now. Not only are there a plethora of faces starting the game that were varying amounts of time from signing for Argyle a year ago (Purse, Blanchard, S Griffiths, Madjo, MacDonald and others) but there were several who were ‘wee boys’ back then.
If you’ve been a regular watcher of Argyle since then, you’ve seen Durrell Berry, Conor Hourihane and Luke Young grow up in front of your eyes. This time last year they were inexperienced, wide eyed and naive. Now they are mature and integral to Argyle’s side.
Another stark change in emotion and situation is that today’s Argyle side is starting to look rather tidy. No-one is suggesting it’s a reincarnate of Brazil 1970 quite yet, but some of these boys can play. There are goals and wins in this side. Plus, and this is crucial, confidence.
Aldershot, Barnet and Rochdale all know that to their cost. Argyle have beaten each of them recently, and went to Gloucestershire with a spring in their step and designs on adding Cheltenham to a growing list of conquests.
For all the talk of 12 months ago, the focus of much of the opening half an hour was on a former Pilgrim now plying his trade in a red shirt. Chris Zebroski has passed through Millwall, Wycombe, Torquay and Bristol Rovers en route to Cheltenham, having left Home Park six-and-a-half years ago. His blistering strike on two minutes forced Jake Cole into a cracking early save.
Zebroski threatened twice more. Cole stood tall when the pacey frontman left yellow shirts in his wake, then he evaded his marker at the far post to head a corner into Cole’s gloved and grasping hands.
Argyle had their share of opportunities, but they seemed to be limited to outside the penalty area.
Twice Young tried his luck from range, but couldn’t find the target. However, bang on the half hour, his central midfield colleague showed him how it’s done. Conor Hourihane’s internal radar must have received a system upgrade during the summer, as his shooting boots certainly have increasing accuracy.
From twenty yards he steadied and took aim, and fired an unstoppable effort low to Robins’ keeper Scott Brown’s left. 1-0 Argyle, and what a doozy it was.
The lead lasted seven minutes, and to be honest, it would be difficult to say Cheltenham didn’t deserve it. This is a quick and mobile Robins outfit, and when Jermaine McGlashan skipped back Griffiths, the Pilgrim full back couldn’t only haul him down. Billy Jones put in a quality ball, Steve Elliott nodded home. Cheltenham, suddenly, had parity.
This actually rejuvenated Argyle. The last ten minutes saw the visitors put plenty of pressure on their hosts. Never mind ‘this time last year’, Darren Purse rolled back a dozen or more when bursting from the back to set up a dangerous attack. A series of corners forced some fluttering in the nests of the home ranks. A one–two between Hourihane and Madjo cut several defenders adrift, and Conor was through, though denied by Brown. Had it fallen to his left side, Argyle would have led into the break, for sure.
After the break, Argyle started brighter than the Whaddon Road floodlights. Joe Lennox whizzed past Jombati and flicked across the face goal towards Madjo, who was bundled over. No penalty.
The pressure continued. Forceful possession football earned Argyle a corner, which MacDonald clipped towards Purse, who hit the deck, having been nudged in the back. No penalty. I know we’ve had a few this year, but don’t tell me we’ve reached our quota.
If Andres Gurrieri was a song, he’d be by The Beautiful South. He’s subtle and clever, drifting between opposition midfields and defences like a classic Paul Heaton hook and melody.
If he was a sitcom, he’d be Frasier. Understated and refined, not an obvious and instant classic, but prone to moments of greatness, bordering on genius.
If he was a red wine, he’d be a Malbec. Argentinean, tasty and smooth.
And if he was a sub-editor, he’d tell me to shut up with the these bloomin’ analogies and talk about the football. So I shall.
Gurrieri was the shaping up as the star of the second half. A series of weaving and gliding runs drew panic in the Robins backline on more than one occasion, and a twenty yard bullet after he’d beaten two brought the best save of the game out of Brown. Whenever he got the ball, Argyle looked at their brightest. And they shone for much of the second half. Trust Lady Luck and her lesser known relatives
Baroness Fate and Countless Everyflippintime to conspire to try to ruin the evening.
Jones clipped in another lovely delivery, this time from a corner, and the ball would come to Mohammed, who headed powerfully home. It’s worth stressing again that this looks like a very capable Cheltenham side, but it would be a staunch red who felt that Argyle didn’t deserve to be on level terms at the very least.
And they so nearly were at the very end. Luke Young, who had an outstanding game, lined up a free-kick from a very similar position as the one he pouched at Barnet ten days previous. He struck, it was deflected, and struck a post. Following up, the ball hit MacDonald rather than the other way around, and the ball arced cruelly over.
And so it ended. Argyle had lost, as a year ago. They played very, very well against a team in a far loftier league position, as a year ago. And they lost 2-1 in horrible circumstances. Just. Like. One. Blinking. Year. Ago.
But you know what’s different? Everything except that result.
The vibe around the club, the confidence in the performance, the attitude of everyone involved. That is not to say that the adversity of financial difficulties and administration didn’t bring the Argyle family closer together, but now there is a renewed feeling of hope, of a brighter future.
The uncertainty at this time last year wasn’t about hanging on for a point, really. It was about hanging on to a club. Not only did we succeed in that, in some ways we are now thriving. There is a very long way to go, but ,in truth, twelve months ago I’d have settled for a Blue Square side that existed. We need to appreciate what we have, and what we nearly lost.
And, in the backs of our minds, we can dream of what might be. This time next year, Rodders……