Once Bitten

YOU could argue that although Wembley was the final resting place for Argyle’s 2015-16 promotion hopes...

...the Wham Stadium, Accrington is where the fatal blow was delivered. 

It was such a bad day, Argyle boss Derek Adams rates it as one of his worst in football. 

It was March 12, 2016, and Argyle led 1-0 thanks to a Jake Jervis header. The Pilgrims, eight points above Stanley going into the game, looked set to make that gap into double figures, and solidify their promotion push at the same time. 

But it was not to be. Billy Kee was fouled by Kelvin Mellor in the area, and a penalty was awarded to Accrington. Mellor was sent off, Kee scored from the spot, and then in stoppage time, Shay McCartan’s diving header broke Argyle hearts – and possibly spirits. 

Argyle did win five of their remaining ten fixtures after that point; but they lost four, and one of those was, crucially, at Exeter City, where a similar reverse occurred. 

“Accrington was up there with the game against Exeter as the worst experiences I have had as a manager,” said Derek. “Two games that we were in a position where we were winning with less than ten minutes to go. If we had won those games we’d be in the division above now. 

“For one reason or another we didn’t do it. We don’t want to have that experience again.”

Accrington’s and Argyle’s experience ended up being similar. Although the Pilgrims made it to Wembley’s famous arch in the Play-Off Final, Accrington fell a hurdle previously, losing to Argyle’s eventual conquerors AFC Wimbledon.

Derek’s revamped set up have bounced back well, sitting as they do on top of the Sky Bet League Two table. Accrington, in contrast, are third from bottom, three points above the drop zone. 

The larger gap between the two sides does not, though, mean Adams is taking anything for granted. 

“It’s always a difficult match,” said Derek. “They are a team that did really well last season, and will be looking to kick on again. 

“They are only nine points off the play-offs. They are in there, and we have to be guarded about the three games they have won at home this season – Doncaster, Portsmouth and Blackpool. That tells you that they do up their game, and they did well away from home against West Ham as well. 

“We have to be mindful of that. They are a team that have good ability around their squad.

“Accrington were very unfortunate last season. They were minutes from getting promoted, and that can hurt badly.”

Argyle have navigated through a bad patch of their own: three consecutive league defeats were followed by a disappointing home draw against Newport in the Emirates FA Cup, but an excellent home performance against promotion rivals Doncaster gave Argyle a win, renewed confidence, and their spot back at the summit of the division. 

A win on Saturday would mean Argyle being at the top of the league at Christmas. This is obviously a huge positive – but then again the same was true last season, and did not result in a promotion, ultimately. 

Derek, as one may expect, is acutely aware of this fact. 

“Do I want to be there after Saturday?” he said. “The answer is yes, but we want to be there at the end of season. We were top at Christmas last year and it didn’t mean anything then. 

“We’re just trying to win the game on Saturday to put ourselves in a good position. We are better this season by a point. We’ve had a very good start to the campaign. 

“You have to look at the season as a whole. We have 46 games to play – you’ll win some, draw some and lose some. You don’t get too high when you win, you don’t get too low when you lose. 

“At times we are going to have a lot of the ball and create chances. It is something we are always going to do. We had a lot of possession in some games and were not able to score. In some games, we are not going to see as much of the ball, because we don’t want to see as much of the ball at times – we can control the game in a different way. That’s what we did last Saturday.”