Plymouth Argyle – A season in review – We Survived!

A neutral football fan will look at the final standings of the 2011/12 Npower League Two table and see that Plymouth Argyle finished in 21st place with 46 points.

This, to a neutral, will probably seem like an underachievement for the club as they only escaped relegation by two points.

But to The Pilgrims and their fans, it represents one of, if not the biggest achievement in the clubs 125 year history.

We started this season by no means sure we would finish it. Successive relegations had seen us plummet from the Championship to League Two, and we had been in administration for over half a year by the time the season started; none of us knew what to expect from this campaign.

1207 of us travelled to Shrewsbury to watch a very young Argyle squad that had only three faces in it from the last campaign kick off the season.  An unfamiliar and almost makeshift Argyle team battled away in the Shropshire sun before the home side took the lead midway through the second half, which was the way it stayed until the 90th minute when captain Carl Fletcher slammed home into the top corner in front of the travelling Green Army.

It was to be the only high, and point, of the first nine league games, a period in which we were also dumped out of the Carling Cup and Johnstones Paint Trophy at the first hurdle. Our players also threatened a strike due to the fact they had not been paid for ten months. Thankfully the administrators paid up a small amount and the strike did not go ahead.

After a 2-0 defeat at Southend, a 10th defeat on the trot, Peter Ridsdale replaced manager Peter Reid with captain Carl Fletcher. In Fletcher’s first game in charge against Macclesfield we won 2-0, it was the first victory of the season and things started to look up as we drew against Accrington and beat Dagenham in the coming month. I won’t even go into the result at Oxford United on a Tuesday night though.

On the 29th of November 2011 we travelled to Cheltenham for what would have been a normal game, except it wasn’t. It was our first match under the ownership of the new chairman James Brent. After ten months of uncertainty, administration and the real chance the club would fold, we were saved. The first of two battles was won; avoid liquidation.

Anybody that thought we would suddenly shoot up the table though, was wrong. One point from the first nine games was catastrophic and we were faced with a monumental task to secure our football league status.

It was to get worse before it got better. A humiliating defeat at the hands of our Devon rivals Torquay United proceeded Argyle being knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Stourbridge. Despite being saved from liquidation we were now the laughing stock of the country, and it hurt, it really hurt.

Funnily enough though, things really did start improving straight after the Stourbridge game. Just four days later we thrashed a hapless Northampton 4-1 at Home Park to set us off on a five game unbeaten run that included a 3-2 win over Bristol Rovers on boxing day when we had been 2-0 down at half time.

2012 started with back to back defeats as Torquay completed the double over us and we lost at Crewe. We then beat Burton and snatched a late, late equalizer against Crawley to move us out of the relegation zone for the first time since the 13th of August.

We dropped straight back in a week later as we lost 1-0 at Port Vale thanks to what was a truly dreadful performance at a freezing cold Vale Park. And then came a result that shocked everybody. With 5 minutes to go in a home match against Southend we were trailing 2-0 and seemingly heading to defeat.

The game ended 2-2. I have no idea how we did it, but we scored twice in the last five minutes to demonstrate the great team spirit Carl Fletcher had installed in his players.

A 4-0 win over Accrington was sandwiched between draws against Barnet, Dagenham and Macclesfield as we become increasingly tough to beat. An Onismor Bhasera goal less than 20 seconds into our game at AFC Wimbledon helped hand us victory in between losses to Gillingham and at Rotherham as the season started to draw to a close.

We shocked eventual league runners up Shrewsbury at Home Park as we won 1-0 before drawing with Bristol Rovers and Northampton. We defeated Bradford by the same score line in a key game at the bottom before travelling to Edgar Street to play Hereford. Had we been relegated we would probably look at the Hereford game and think about what could have been. We dominated the first half and took the lead through an own goal before Nick Chadwick spurned an easy chance and Simon Walton missed a penalty. The game ended 1-1 when really we should have been out of sight by half time.

A 1-0 win over Aldershot in dreadful weather conditions put us on the cusp of safety before we were all disappointed as we conceded 5 minutes from time at the league champions Swindon to deny us a point. The next game, a 1-1 draw with Oxford, secured our football league status and completed the great escape. The second of two battles was won; avoid relegation out of the football league.

So despite all that has happened it has been a season to remember for Argyle fans. We looked dead and buried from the start, but thanks to a great group of players and managerial staff we have survived. Our chairman has indicated he aims to get us promoted next season, weather that is a realistic ambition or not it is too early to tell but anything is better than what we have been through. The most important thing is we will be playing league football next season, and not competing in the dreaded Blue Square Premier – the graveyard of football league clubs.

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