DESPITE Argyle losing 3-2 to Wycombe Wanderers in the first leg of their Sky Bet League 2 play-off semi-final…
...John Sheridan knows there are plenty of positives and lessons to take from a special evening under the lights at Home Park.
With a stunning Wall of Colour on display and a season-high attendance for the Theatre of Greens to play in front, one would have possibly forgiven the visiting Chairboys to cave in under an incredible atmosphere.
Instead, they impressively thrived in the occasion, catching out a committed, attack-minded Argyle twice in the first half to forge into a 2-0 lead. Paul Hayes converted a goalmouth scramble after ten minutes and, whilst the Sky cameras in use for the game confirmed that the knock-down for Aaron Holloway’s goal in the 22nd minute was controlled by an arm, Sheridan was disappointed to see his players switch off during the incident, undoing their exciting first-half performance.
“In the first half I actually thought we played well, without hurting them or testing the keeper too much, and we find ourselves 2-0 down,” said John. “I was pleased with the way we played in the first half. I’m wondering how we’re 3-0 down.”
“With the first goal: I said they were a handful from set plays, and they do put balls in there and compete. The first goal is from a corner and the second goal; I didn’t see it but everyone is telling me that it was handball.
“We’ve stopped; everyone’s stopped, and it’s cost us, and they get the second goal. You should never stop, but there are players who appealed for handball and their players carried on.”
The opening throes of the second went much the same way of its predecessor, with the hosts showing plenty of purpose and aggression in their play, but being punished for defensive lapses. Seven minutes after the break, Wanderers caught out Argyle players, coaches and staff alike by playing a quick free kick around into the box for Steven Craig to finish off.
“The third goal I didn’t see: none of us on the bench have seen it. I turned round and missed it,” said John.
“It ended up in the back of the net quickly. When you’re 3-0 down you wonder where you are going to get your break from. I was just about to make my subs when the third goal went in, as well.”
“We haven’t conceded many soft goals this season, and we didn’t look like our usual selves. The second half was a bit cagey and I couldn’t see us getting back in it.
“I felt we did play okay in the second half. There was a good tempo to us. Luke [McCormick] hasn’t had much to do, to be fair.
Then came an incredible, late fightback, inspired by the Green Army and a pair of substitutes making an immediate impact. Both Zak Ansah and Jason Banton netted in the last five minutes of normal time to send the momentum of the tie hurtling back in the Pilgrims’ favour ahead of the second leg.
“Full credit to us. I couldn’t really see us getting back in the game but we have, and that’s full credit to the players,” said John.
“A great goal from Zak gets us back in the game. Zak’s goal gets us back in it and gives us that lift. Even 3-1 I would have took, but then we get the second goal, and it’s a shame there wasn’t ten minutes to go.
“It’s a really good response. We haven’t come back too many times when we’re behind, so we’ve put ourselves right back in the tie. We have.
“When you go 3-0 down, we could’ve really gone under but we plugged away and got our breaks and ended up with two goals. The subs have changed the game.
“Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. To get back to 3-2 gives us a really good chance.
"Jason Banton came on and did really well, so I have got to decide who is sharp enough and who’s going to effect the [second leg]. I’m not frightened to make a decision, and if I feel Zak or whoever is ready and I think they’re the best option to play, I’ll pick whoever I feel is right for the game.
“We need to have all players giving me eight or nine out of ten on Thursday.”