WHILE Argyle Ladies enjoy their well-earned festive break, it is time to look back upon a first half to the season that saw them lose their opening two games and losing their last two, but, in between, they won 11 league and cup matches in a row.
Having finished in a highly respectable sixth place last season, Argyle were looking to push on this time around and are currently in third position, still in the FA Cup and the National League Plate Competition, as well as reaching the semi-final of the Devon Senior Cup.
What has been surprising is that fixtures have not been in their favour, with only four of their league and cup matches at home, they have clocked up over 4,000 miles on the road.
Argyle started the season with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Crawley in the league followed by the shock 4-3 defeat at the hands of Exeter City in the National League Cup. It was then off to Gillingham where they got off the mark with a 2-0 victory.
There then followed two matches at their new home of the Manadon Sports Hub, which they won both against Keynsham Town (6-1) and Yeovil Town (5-1). This was followed by a remarkable six-match run away from home – all of which they won.
After two months on the road, the Pilgrims progressed in the League Plate competition by beating Wimbledon 3-1. There was then a remarkable 4-3 extra-time win at Oxford United to progress in the FA Cup before going down 5-4 against league leaders Watford in front of 800 fans at Home Park.
There was then a double whammy, when a last-minute goal denied them a point at Oxford United. It is now a short break before the Pilgrims travel to Watford in an FA Cup tie this Sunday. A win and they could be facing one of the top sides in the country in the next round.
This tie is followed by a difficult home league match against fellow title-hopefuls Crawley before visiting Buckland Athletic in the semi-final of the Devon Senior Cup.
Argyle have suffered from having a number of injuries to key players but this season they have strength in depth, and it has not gone unnoticed that the recruiting of central defenders Bow Jackson and Lydia Huntley has strengthened the options manager Dave Leonard has at his disposal.
Not even the loss of goalkeeper Ben Kyle through injury has disrupted the team, as versatile captain Katie Middleton has proved to be a capable replacement. Indeed, the squad has been virtually unchanged for most of the season and, with the team playing most of the matches away from home, it has helped the team bond, which should help the team as, astonishingly, five of the next seven matches are also away from home.
There have been some milestones along the way. Captain Kate Middleton has clocked up 285 appearances, scoring 92 goals as a central defender / goalkeeper. Striker Natasha Knapman is one short of making 150 appearances, scoring a remarkable 179 goals in that time. Mollie Taylor has played 155 times, scoring 23, with Amber Pollock reaching 101 appearances, scoring 28, while midfielder Kayley Lane has played 95 times, scoring 26 times
Reflecting on the season so far, manager Dave Leonard said: “The girls have settled in at this level and we are trying to finish as high as possible, which includes winning the league, I feel we are now one of the better teams in the league and fast becoming an established team.
“I am always mindful of how we want to take this team forward. A lot of the onus is placed on doing a lot of work what people don't see at the Advanced Development Centre and working with our under 18s, because the life of the football club is the youth and with the partnership we have with Marjon - that is where my focus is in the next 18 months.
“We've got some really good youngsters coming through and we cannot afford to lose the standard of girls we have at 12s, 14s and 16s coming through - we've got to get that blend right.
“Most of the girls are still young but they have been at this level for the last three or four years, so, to me, it is clearly having one eye on the job in hand but also mapping the future for the next few years.
“It is hard enough attracting players but, with the support of the club and to be able to play on the pitch, there is an awful lot of work happening behind the scenes and that is something we have to continue to do.”
“I was always keen to come back but, as long as this football club is progressing, and with the commitment of the club - I don't see a problem in where we intend to take it. There is still a lot of work to do and, as long as we are progressive in what we do, then that is all that matters.
“Promotion [for the Development squad] is an absolute. It is something that has to happen because that helps us maintain our drive forward and we must concentrate on the development side to see where they are going, to me that's key.”
Leonard also remarked on the appointment of new Ladies Chairman Chris Smietanka, saying: “Chris gives us a lot of experience through the set up at Marjon. His knowledge and understanding of the girls’ game in the Marjon part of things means he will be influential. He will be able to steer the ship until the end of the season and we will be able to see where we go from there.”