The First Cut

JOHN Sheridan knows that his Argyle side’s lacklustre showing in the first half of their 2-1 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers put an end to their hopes of promotion.

The Pilgrims were desperate to maintain the momentum gained by their late comeback in the first half of their Sky Bet League 2 play-off semi-final against the Chairboys, but found themselves behind on the night in frustratingly similar manner to last Saturday’s affair. 

Paul Hayes once again found room around the six-yard box and converted a goalmouth scramble from a corner after just eight minutes, and Alfie Mawson met another corner at the near post 27 minutes later to put the hosts three goals ahead on aggregate, adding an exclamation mark on a 45 minutes that left Sheridan perplexed. 

“I’m just really disappointed with the way we performed in the first half,” said John. “For the situation we’re in, that’s what the biggest downer is. 

“I’ve stuck with my team, I’ve kept faith with them, but the first half is probably, as a manager, the worst I’ve seen from any team I’ve managed. You can blame me, I pick the team, but we’re in a position where we’re in the play-offs, we know the importance of it and we just did not get going. 

“I don’t think we turned up, and it’s ridiculous how I can say that in a play-off game. It was a massive game for us, and a great opportunity. We got punished because we didn’t turn up, and we had a mountain to climb.

“I’m watching the game and thinking ‘this is a play-off semi-final, isn’t it?’ It was very lethargic – there was no fight whatsoever. I don’t want to criticise the players – they’re a good group of lads and they’ve done well at time this season – but at the end of the day, we haven’t achieved anything.

“That’s five goals we’ve conceded from set-play situations, and we’ve been good for the majority of the season with dealing with them, they haven’t scored a goal from open play.”

The boss brought on Ryan Brunt, Zak Ansah and Jason Banton for the second half to try and pull off similar heroics as the first leg, and Brunt pulled a goal back with a clever, back-heeled effort 19 minutes from time, but the ask proved to be too much, as Gareth Ainsworth’s side secured their spot at Wembley at the expense of the Greens. 

“In the second half we had a go. I had to do something: I put three subs on at the same time and their keeper has made some good saves,” said John.

“We got the goal and I believed there was some hope, but we needed the second with time running out. It was always going to be difficult. 

“There was just a bit of endeavour about us and we were fighting, scrapping for things. That’s what we need from the kick-off and, unfortunately, we didn’t get it.

“When you look at the first half performance and the second half performance, I’ve picked the wrong team, and that’s my fault. It’s not the players’ fault that I have put faith in them. As a team, we didn’t play well. 

“We played 3-5-2 when we played them in the league here and caused them lots of problems, but we didn’t tonight. We didn’t cause them any problems in the first half. 

“Obviously we’re all down and very disappointed. We’re all down at the moment. It’s hard to take the defeat because it was a great chance.”