Comeback to the Future

CHRIS Groves takes an alternative look at Argyle's 2-1 win at Newport County, when we met an old face...

ALLOW me the temerity, as young and unpolished reporter, to preach a little about one thing that journalists must understand: when observing and reporting on an event, take the most pessimistic comment you hear, then take the most positive and exaggerated comment, and, somewhere in the middle, you will usually find the truth. 

In the heat of the moment, when knees are jerking, you are likely to find a juicy quote or angle that raises an eyebrow when it hits the home page of a website, or any page of your local newspaper. We can all say things that may be offensive, flippant, outrageous or foolish straight after an event that hindsight does not treat kindly. It happens. 

However, to me, the truth – and assessing the reasons behind it – is much more appealing than creating stories out of fractions of your source material. Once the dust settles, cooler heads prevail and some context is given to the situation, the reality of the situation becomes much clearer, and a fairer judgment can often be made. Similar applies to John Sheridan’s time as Plymouth Argyle manager, which was brought firmly back into the spotlight as the Greens made the trip across the Severn Bridge to visit an old acquaintance.

On paper, the verdict on his time at the club is clear. In two-and-a-half seasons, Sheridan took a team teetering on the brink of relegation from the Football League to the League 2 play-offs and the verge of Wembley. Under his stewardship, the Green Army witnessed long unbeaten runs, sustained spells of attractive football, a couple of thumping wins, and the introduction of some of the best talent to pull on an Argyle shirt during the decade. 

There are some who look back at John’s Home Park tenure less than favourably. He is hard-nosed gaffer who often seemed uninterested in creating a rapport with fans and I remember hearing many times from supporters that any success Argyle had last season was in spite of their manager, as their quality at times was befitting of a League 1 team. 

It is a debate that was re-ignited by Argyle’s visit to the new club of their former employee, whose actions would be analysed thoroughly before the match. Would Sheridan seem noticeably more motivated by taking on the club from which he departed at the end of last season? Or would he downplay the whole situation and focus on giving the club he now represents three much-needed points? 

Both theories had been aired in the lead-up to the game but, as predicted, the reality lay somewhere in the middle. Whilst there were no attempts at Rodney Parade before the kick-off to treat the fixture as anything but ‘business as usual’ (Sheridan did not come out of the dressing-room during the warm-up, which was par for the course during his time at Home Park), he did produce an eyebrow-raising quote the day before: “I’d love to get one over them and get three points.”

Despite the use of the word “love”, it was not quite up to the Kevin-Keegan-on-Manchester-United levels of aggression, but this was clearly more than just another game to the Newport manager. Not a lot more. Just a little bit more. 

As the teams strolled out, some of the away end applauded Sheridan as he walked past them, a gesture reciprocated by the man himself with a thumbs-up in their direction. If there were any boos directed his way, they were not enough to be audible; besides, most of the Green Army was more focused on cheering their team on to the field. There was no anger or over-the-top praise from either side; just a respectful nod of appreciation and relative normality (that theme again) from two parties who knew that more important matters were at hand. Argyle were looking to strengthen their hold at the top of the League 2 table under the stewardship of Derek Adams, whilst Newport had a chance to further ease themselves clear of relegation, and boost morale by proving their worth against the league leaders. 

Each boss took his place on the edge of their technical area – the best position in the ground to see the Pilgrims concede an opener that any manager would be disappointed with. A free-kick from Newport goalkeeper Joe Day was flicked on by a lightly challenged Lenell John-Lewis and anticipated by strike partner Scott Boden, who was left with the simplest of finishes over the top of Luke McCormick. Whether Newport were fired up by their boss or just exploiting an under-par Argyle display, leading 1-0 at half-time certainly seemed a fair outcome. 

The visitors came out for the second half with visibly more conviction and energy, and dragged themselves level within three minutes of the restart. Ryan Brunt controlled the ball on the corner of the area and looked up to see Jake Jervis pulling away from his marker. In came a perfectly-weighted cross that Jervis flicked into the far corner and, suddenly, the entire complexion of the game had changed. Argyle were in the ascendancy, and looked dangerous every time they came forward. Once again, Brunt was coming on stronger in the latter stages, and proved to be the difference-maker yet again, swivelling with his back to goal and firing a brilliant strike into the very same corner that Jervis had found. 

No matter the back-story, this turned out to be a terrific game of football to watch, as the momentum ebbed, flowed, and threatened to turn again completely in the latter stages with County pushing for an equaliser. Adams’ side stood firm, though, and to help nullify Newport’s late surge, Derek even reverted to a 3-5-2 formation, using the same set-up and exact same centre-back trio that Sheridan used to great effect at times. 

It was not the only instance of irony that worked against Sheridan, either. For all the improvements that took place around the football club under his stewardship, he was unable to change Argyle’s common inability to win a game after going behind. Whilst you can count on one hand the instances we did it with ‘Shez’ in charge, Argyle have now chalked up wins after conceding first on three occasions this season, and only went and did it against Sheridan himself. 

It was an irony that did not pass by the 1,000-strong Green Army at Rodney Parade, who chanted before the final whistle about their come-from-behind victory over the manager they once admired. 

Well, some did, anyway.