ARGYLE manager Carl Fletcher labelled himself “shell-shocked” after his team relinquished a deserved 1-0 first-half lead to go down 3-1 to a spirited Port Vale side on Saturday.

A supreme Robbie Williams strike was the nominal difference between the two sides, but the evidence of the eyes betrayed a disparity more stark that numbers.

Argyle’s football was controlled; determined; at times, classy.

Vale chances were limited by a miserly and rapacious home side that wanted the ball all to themselves and resented the idea of their visitors sharing it.

However, in 13 second-half minutes, it was all gone.

A penalty conceded by Luke Young let to a 66th-minute equaliser for the Valiants, and, when further goals were added to the tally in minutes 74 and 78, Argyle were finished.

“I’m a little bit shell-shocked,” said Fletch.

“You come out of the game thinking ‘How did we lose that one?’

“In the first half, we controlled the game, played some real nice stuff, and got a deserved lead. Maybe we eased off at the end of the first half, but we were still fully in control.

“We tried to push on from that in the second half, but it wasn’t to be.

“We got sucker-punched. From a game that we were controlling and winning, we’ve come out with a defeat.

“We speak to the players about trying to keep the ball and passing. We had that; we’ve got some good players and they took that on board and really did well first half.

“We had some good movement from Macca [Alex MacDonald] and from Baz [Onismor Bhasera] and we played some nice stuff, which was pleasing.

“After the first one, it went downhill from there. Once we went a couple of goals behind, it was difficult.

“If anything, we got a little bit nervous and went in our shells a little bit. We’ve spoken about that.

“[Port Vale] were a goal down and had nothing to lose. From our point of view, we still had relative control of the game. We weren’t too troubled in the second half until the penalty went in. Then we lose the shape and our discipline a little bit, and stopped doing the things we should be doing.”

The passing and purposeful football played by the men in green was certainly the most striking thing of the first hour of the game.

One move at the start of the second half contained approximately three dozen passes and ended with Onismor Bhasera having a chance to double Argyle’s lead. Had it gone in, it would have been a staple of Home Park highlight reels for years to come.

“I enjoyed watching the first half,” said Carl, “We got the ball down and kept it. There were some real plus points.

“We were in the ascendancy. We were not only playing some nice football but actually getting somewhere with playing the football. We were getting chances, not just keeping the ball for the sake of it.

“It’s just disappointing that when you lose a goal in the second you change your way from doing that.

“We’ve spoken to the players about still doing the right thing, whether you are winning or losing, having a good day or bad day. You still do the right thing.

“If it is the right thing to do in the first half when you are winning and getting joy from it, it’s still the right thing to do later on in the game.

“In certain periods of the game, it was disappointing that we weren’t we needed to be to see the game out.

“It’s important when you have those little periods in a game – you’re not going to control a game for 90 minutes – to see them through and come out the other side.

“We didn’t do that today.”