THE inquest into Argyle’s 2-0 defeat at Carlisle United was immediate and inconclusive.
Goals from Gary Dicker, after half an hour, and substitute Billy Paynter, five minutes after half-time, means that Argyle’s Sky Bet League 2 play-off aspirations will go down to the final two games of the season: at home to bottom side Tranmere Rovers next weekend and away to title-chasing Shrewsbury on the final league Saturday of the campaign.
The Pilgrims went into the match in Cumbria in good heart after a fine midweek performance at home to Wimbledon, and a well-planned preparation for the key game that included a two-day stay in the north and training at Preston North End.
However, after a bright opening, they failed to make an impression against a side that guaranteed Football League survival with their victory.
By the time Argyle manager John Sheridan emerged for his post-match press debriefing, he had already begun unravelling the largely lacklustre performance.
“I’ve just tried to get answers out of the players and not one player’s responded,” he said.
“I said: ‘Why have we performed like we have just performed, with the importance of the game and knowing what was at stake?’ I can’t answer it. I went with the same team because I felt we had a good performance on Tuesday. Obviously I’m doing the wrong thing because some of us were flat.
“We’ve prepared properly for the game, the best we can. The club sorted us out and we did everything we could because we wanted to be fresh, but we probably gave our most lethargic performance of the season.
“I asked them before the game ‘Which dressing-room would you rather be in – ours or theirs?’ because we are trying to get in the play-offs and they were trying to get points to avoid relegation.
“I felt the game was there for the taking. I said to Wottsy [coach Paul Wotton] in the first 15 minutes: ‘This game is here, if we want.’ And we just didn’t pick the tempo up. It was too slow. [Carlisle] got men behind the ball and we didn’t move and create opportunities and get in positions quickly.
“I could see there was a bit of nervousness in Carlisle, but we just didn’t act or respond the way we want to. We had one or two decent opportunities but we can’t play like that.
“I just felt there was no urgency. It was like a testimonial, the way we played. It’s a poor, poor result. It’s not what we’re after.
“I’ve said the same things a few times this season, when we’ve had a good performance; I stick with the same team; we have a really poor performance; and I’m thinking to myself ‘Should I have changed the team?’
“I stuck with the same team, so I’ve obviously I’ve picked the wrong team.”