LESS than 12 months ago, Gary Sawyer found himself in a lonely place; now Sky Bet League Two is his joy division.
The Argyle defender suffered alongside the Green Army last May, when Wimbledon pipped the Pilgrims in the League Two play-off final. He and his team-mates have already redeemed themselves for that failure by winning promotion this season; one more victory in their final match at Grimsby on Saturday and they will add the title to their achievement.
“Wembley is an unbelievable place to go and play,” said Gary, “but, if you don’t get the right result, it’s not a place that you want to be at. It happened and it made us stronger, so it’s helped in the long run.
“It’s been the aim for the club for a while now, to get back into a better league, and we’ve managed to do that this year. To finally do it after the heartbreak of last year – I think it means that little bit more.
“If you’d told us that when we were sat on the pitch [at Wembley], you would have snapped everyone’s hand off to be able to do it this way – one more game and hopefully we can put the cherry on top.
“We got ourselves in a really good position last year and, if you look at our points tally, if we’d done that this year, we’d have been promoted this year as well.
“We did really well last year but unfortunately just fell short at the end, which was a hard one to take, but the boys this year have been fantastic, all through the season. To get ourselves in the position we are now is amazing, really.”
Gary and his team-mates have timed their run to the season’s end to perfection. For the first time since January 2, they go into a match at the very top of the table, having overtaken long-time leaders Doncaster Rovers by virtue of last weekend’s 2-1 home win against Crewe Alexandra. Last year, the boot was on the other foot.
“Mentally, it’s not easy because you are forever looking over your shoulder,” said Gary, “but, because we weren’t the top team, you have got someone to chase and it helped having Donny out in front of us.
“We had someone to kick on to whereas, when you’re out by yourself at the top, it can be a little bit harder, I think.
“It’s been mentally hard this year; every season is, but it’s tough at the top; it’s been a tough season, a long season, but one we’ve enjoyed and one, thankfully, we’ve managed to take over the line.
“To have promotion in the bag is a lovely feeling and to take it to the last day is a massive occasion for everyone at the club.”
With two points covering Argyle, Doncaster and third-placed Portsmouth, and the Pilgrims having the worst goal-difference, Gary is as aware as the Green Army about what is required on Humberside.
“It’s all on us,” he said. “We’ve got to win. I think Donny and Portsmouth will win their games, but we know, if we win ours, we get it, so it’s a massive incentive for us.”
It is, of course, not only Argyle’s fellow promoted sides that will have a say in the destination of the 2016-17 title.
“Grimsby, when they were down here, were a good side,” said Gary. “They are not playing for anything which means they will be relaxed; it might be a little bit nervy for us because we know what’s on the line at the end of the day.
“We’ll go there with the same game-plan that we have all year, that has got us promoted.”