Tough at the Top

FIFTEEN years ago this week, Argyle were top of the league.

This time last year, Argyle were top of the league. 

How those seasons ended are probably etched on your psyche. In 2001-02 Paul Sturrock’s Argyle had hit their stride by this point in the season, and went on to set records aplenty as they swept every divisional rival aside. 

Last season, Argyle’s talented but thin squad failed to cope with the rigours of the gruelling Sky Bet League Two season. It was a season filled with great moments, but one in which Argyle ultimately fell just short. 

To the present, then, and a rebuilt Argyle squad is set for another shot at glory. The start could hardly have been better. Thirteen games in, the Pilgrims have won nine of them, drawing a further two, and sit three points clear at the summit, with an unbeaten run stretching back 11 games. This weekend, a trip to bottom side Newport County beckons. 

There is at least one common denominator from all those seasons. Luke McCormick was a backup goalkeeper in 2001-02, and first choice throughout 2015-16. As he prepares to make his 300th Argyle appearance, Luke considered how the Division 3 champions managed a 19-game unbeaten stretch, and identified how refraining from defeat could be the key to success. 

Luke said: “There are similarities [to 2001-02]. I think when you get good, successful, football teams you rely on that consistency. You look at the records and see that the success the club has had over recent years, we’ve had good winning runs and unbeaten runs.

“You only have to look at Northampton, and the sort of form they put together to win the title last season. If we are going to do something this season, it is going to be a crucial part.

“I don’t think we see it as pressure, we see it as something we want to sustain, protect, and keep building on. With every game that goes by, and you keep an unbeaten run going, it breeds more and more confidence.”

There is a feeling that perhaps a bulked-up squad this season may be the answer to averting the issues that marked last season. The squad is larger in number, and perhaps in the bulk of the individuals. 

“It is tough going to places like Stevenage, and particularly when you are sat at the top of the tree and they want to beat you,” said Luke. “They are not necessarily going to come out and attack. You saw at Stevenage the physical aspect of the game they tried to impose on us. We’re good; we can pass the ball when we need to, but we can roll up our sleeves when the time comes, and mix it with the best. 

“[We’ve got] experience and physicality. We’re a bit wiser, seeing games through this year. When we have the lead it feels different to last year. It feels like we have more control on the game. That should help as the season goes on. 

“We won’t get ahead of ourselves; we won’t be allowed to get ahead of ourselves. We know - the lads who were here last year - that you can’t take anything for granted.  But we certainly wouldn’t want to swap our position with anyone else.”