LUTON, Reading, Carlisle. Three teams, three defeats, no goals, out of the EFL Cup. Such was Argyle’s lot on August 13, 2016.
Things have rather perked up, since. Following two league defeats against the Hatters and the Cumbrians, interspersed with a defeat at the Madejski Stadium in the cup, Argyle have gone on a 13-game unbeaten run in Sky Bet League Two. The record in all competitions since the long, pointless journey back from Carlisle reads played 15, won 12, drawn two and lost just one, at AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy.
It is probably fair to say that no-one at Home Park or its environs were all that content after the season’s opening eight days, but that does not mean heads dropped, or that belief waivered. Not from everyone, anyway.
“I thought that the group of players that we had put together was a very good group,” said manager Derek Adams. “I’m not surprised by how well we’ve started.
“If you look at the results it’s a difficult league, but we’ve been able to get a very good start to the season. We’ve still got 31 games to play; we’ve still got a very long way to go in the season, but it’s important that you get points on board early.
“I think the group of players that we were able to take in, we’ve been really impressed with their attitude, their application and their ability to want to do better. They are a very hard working group; they’ve got a great attitude. They’ve all combined very well this season.”
All four teams that have beaten Argyle this season are doing well in their respective leagues. Reading are fifth in the Championship; Wimbledon are having a marvellous season in League One, reaching ninth at this stage; Luton are fourth in League Two, leading the chasing pack; and Carlisle are yet to experience league defeat. Indeed, they have won three out of four cup games, drawing the other 1-1 at Derby County, eventually losing 14-13 on penalties.
“They (Carlisle) have done very well this season,” said Derek. “We know their strengths – they are a very direct team, they have long throws on both sides. They play to their strengths, that has proven to be the right way for them. They’ve been able to get a very good unbeaten run.
“In the game against Luton we were the better side. 3-0 flattered them on the day. That sometimes happens in football.”
Carlisle were Argyle’s conquerors in last season’s Emirates FA Cup first round. They triumphed 2-0 at Home Park, having lost 4-1 in a league visit some two months earlier.
Argyle must guard against a similar occurrence this season. Mansfield Town fell to a Graham Carey-inspired Argyle earlier in the season at Home Park, but on their own patch they will be desperate to want to get their own back on an Argyle side that sit atop their division.
Derek may be tempted to rotate his squad, as he has done so in cup competitions so far this season – but then there have been league games following victory where changes have been made. Such is the qualitative depth of the Argyle squad, those asked to deputise are of a sufficiently high level that the transition would feel smooth.
In addition to his selection dilemma, Derek may have a Checkatrade Trophy decider at Swansea City in his peripheral vision. So, stick with a winning side, bring in some bench players? What is Derek’s approach?
“Maybe a bit of both,” said the gaffer. “We’ll have a look at things – we might keep with the same team, we might change. I’ll not decide that until later on in the week.
“We always want to win the next game. The FA Cup is an important competition, and we would like to progress to the next round. It can bring a lucrative tie – maybe a premier league team to Home Park in round three.
“Mansfield is a difficult venue to go to – we found that out when we went there and drew 0-0 last season. It is a team we know very well, which helps. But then it helps both clubs, knowing each other.”
Karleigh Osborne, yet to make an appearance for Argyle, has been on benches of late, and is an obvious candidate to get a run-out if and when Derek decides to rotate. It is not a foregone conclusion that it will happen on Saturday, though.
“I think it will be very difficult for him for Saturday,” said Derek, “but he has been in and around the squad, and will be again for Saturday’s game.”