Fox In - And On - The Box

WE turned our man CHARLIE HEMPSTEAD from football writer to television critic for Sunday's game against Notts County. Here is his take on the game - don't touch that dial...

The best thing about the international break is that it reminds the portion of the football-watching public which needs reminding that there is life outside the Premier League. 

On a day of unprecedented national coverage for the Westcountry, Argyle followed Exeter into the Sky TV spotlight, the Grecians’ 3-3 draw with Stevenage having served as the appetiser for the table-topping Greens’ visit to Meadow Lane. 

The last time we were in these parts was almost exactly 5 years ago, during the grim League 1 relegation season of 2011-12. The 2-0 defeat that day was just one of many (24, to be precise) suffered in that annus horribilis, but it was notable for the League debut of a 17 year-old substitute by the name of Curtis Nelson. 

205 appearances later, the youngster who endured such a baptism of fire was shaking hands at the toss with former England international, Alan Smith, now wearing the armband for Notts County.

International footballers outside the Premier League? Whatever next?

Well, it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, actually. 

On that day in 2011 when Curtis came off the bench, the Argyle side contained no fewer than five players who were already or who were to become full internationals. In the intervening years, Curtis has played alongside another seven who have represented their countries at the highest level, making a round dozen in all.

That is only half the number of international team-mates that Gary Sawyer can boast, but that’s a story (and a quiz question) for another day.

While the last five years have been tumultuous for Argyle, things have been pretty unsettled for the home side for rather longer than that. Like Argyle, County came perilously close to going out of existence, their brush with extinction having occurred back in 2003. 

There have been changes of ownership aplenty, while the manager’s office has had a revolving door installed. Since Sam Allardyce left the club 16 years ago almost to the day, the Magpies have had no fewer than 23 managerial changes, with not a single incumbent having lasted as much as two full years in the job.

Managers under pressure outside the Premier League, whatever next?

Even in the current season, the volatility continues, with 27 players having been used in the first 11 matches (more than Argyle have in their entire squad) as Ricardo Moniz seeks the right balance. The fact that only one of the starting line-up was wearing a number between 1 and 11 (the aforementioned Smith) tells its own story. 

For the record, seven of Argyle’s team were numbered 1-11 and it would have been nine if it weren’t for Luke McCormick’s preference for the number 23 and a question mark over Graham Carey’s fitness that meant he had to settle for a role as understudy in the screen test. 

There was a time when being on TV was a cause for extreme concern to Argyle fans, as it seemed routinely to end in defeat. Indeed, Curtis’s first appearance in front of the cameras was at Dorchester; enough said. 

Sides of recent vintage have not suffered from stage fright, however. The corner was perhaps turned with a decent 1-1 against Portsmouth in 2013-14, and last year saw two wins out of two – Luton (Dom Blizzard’s wonder goal, Reuben Reid MoM) and Portsmouth (everyone fantastic, Reid MoM).

We cannot avoid the reality of the play-off exit, but the recent trend is still decent. 

So on the face of it, it was no surprise that Argyle came out on top, although the three points were only secured after an examination by the home side that even a customs inspector would have described as searching. 

In a match of no little quality, County dominated possession and territory, with Smith and Stanley Aborah catching the eye, while Argyle always looked menacing on the break when Reid and Jake Jervis had the chance to stretch their legs. 

Anyone expecting League 2 to consist of hoof-and-chase, kick-lumps-out-of-em football would have been disappointed. 

Proper passing football outside the Premier League, whatever next?

At the end of it all, though, it was another win in front of a national audience, and with a familiar sign-off. 

Reid MoM.