IT IS not always easy to bounce back from an embarrassing defeat.
You get can beaten by an entity some may consider inferior – although I would not necessarily say that – but the best way to deal with it is to accept the situation, work out where you can improve, bide your time...then strike back.
And so it was, almost a year to the day from when Argyle analyst Matt Neil turned around a 2-0 deficit to defeat me 3-2 at head tennis in Delden, that te rematch occurred.
It was highly anticipated. Well, by me, anyway. The defeat had lived with me, eaten away at me – though I tried not to let it define me. I tried to channel my emotion into focus. In this year’s event, we agreed a best-of-three-sets format. We stepped back on to the court, I won the first net with a calm nerve, then shot to a match-point situation in the second…and blew it and lost 2-1.
“I bet you don’t put that in your blog,” said the beaming victor. Au contraire, Matthew. But I shall seek revenge before the week is out.
I give you this self-indulgent tangent partly to second guess Neil’s cocky assertion, but mainly because the natural thing had seemed to be that this missive would open up with me talking about how the Argyle lads were reacting to their 5-1 defeat by Yeovil on Saturday as Derek Adams and his coaches punished them for their loss by making them toil in the Dutch sun.
The thing is, that did not happen. Well, they toiled in the sun, but there was no dressing-down; no sense of atonement for the weekend; no step-by-step reminder of the game. Instead – and quite rightly, by the way – it was business as usual. What is the use of dwelling on the game? If anything, it might drag some down. Whereas, by focusing on the future, and what needs to be done, the players are far closer in their minds to their opening game of the season in a dozen days than they are to a friendly defeat 48 hours ago. I heard the word ‘Walsall’ many times more times than I heard ‘Yeovil’ today.
Do not, though, get the mistaken impression that the lads had an easy ride. Good grief, no. This was a serious double-session day, with some running; box work; lengthy possession drills; press-ups and affiliated manoeuvres; lengthy stretching; and a culmination with a defence v attack drill, after each part of the party had been doing their own hard work depending on field position.
It was hard, and it was hot. But I think it is the session they would have got had they been the ones to win 5-1 at Huish.
I have tried not to look at too much of the fallout to Saturday’s defeat, but I have seen some overreaction to the game. Listen, I am not going to throw any PR guff your way about how plucky Argyle were undone by bad luck, bad decisions, bad karma, bad anything. We did not play well, we lost. Report over. It will have annoyed everyone, but no-one ever slagged off a play because the rehearsal sucked. Few people in Russia are downhearted about their team’s World Cup performance because they lost a friendly to Austria in May.
We all know that, in football, you tend to have those who can see good in everything; and others who refuse to dole out praise, whoever the opponent. Both archetypes can be a little irritating to some, but you tend to find the truth is somewhere between.
Friendlies are fuel to the naysayers. If you win, then it means nothing, the opposition were not trying. Lose, and all hell breaks loose. I have watched it with England for so many years, although perhaps the clouds have parted a little on that score since the World Cup.
Part of the problem – and it is an understandable one – for those less than optimistic by nature, is that they anticipate problems around every corner. Another issue, for fans, is that there is more time between games to dwell and let something stew. Players get a day (if that) then are they playing, training, and moving on. Fans can have to wait for some time, and end up cogitating to breaking point.
You would not have been able to tell much by the body language of the Argyle staff and squad as they boarded coach, plane and coach again to reach Delden, from Plymouth.
There was no lack of chirpiness, mickey-taking or the usual things you may associate with such a group. My only concern on the plane came for Derek’s wellbeing. Nothing physical, but I know how organised he likes to be, and I saw errors into an alphabetical system.
By way of example, you could tell there was a logic to the rows surrounding me. Ladapo sat next to Letheren, following from a gaggle of Grants. Kit man Neil Lunnon sat next to me (McNichol), and so it went on: Moore, Nancekivell, Neil, Ness…
Hold on, where was Ruben Lameiras? Not following on the Ls, where he should have been, anyway. He was sat too far back. Worse still, Ryan Taylor was sitting with Paul Atkinson. An ‘A’ then a ‘T’? I can only think Derek ditched an alphabetical plan for a theme of ‘Aston Villa Managers of the 1990s’. If we sign anyone called ‘Venglos’ in the near future, you will know I am onto something.
This lack of alphabetical order seemed to hit me right in the spectrum as I disembarked the plane having forgotten one item – my camera. I had it in a separate bag, under the seat in front, and forgot it. I realised not far into Amsterdam Airport’s huge terminal, but as I attempted to reboard the plane to get it, there stood a beaming Antoni Sarcevic, camera bag in his hand. I heard someone mutter of me: “The main reason he’s here, and he forgets it!”
It was a fair comment, except that I am here for two things: to document this training camp, and to have my revenge on the head tennis court. Both are likely to finish with dodgy shots. Stay tuned.