For Plymouth Argyle, it has been yet another season of struggle. With the club suffering consecutive relegations in the last two seasons, a rapid decline from the championship to the basement division of League Two, they find themselves in yet another relegation battle.
Argyle currently sit in the relegation zone in 23rd place, with only ten games remaining to determine their fate. Such games are often referred to as "cup finals"; they’re not.
These games are not the difference between winning a trophy and receiving a runners-up medal: they are the difference between survival and relegation, between the Football League and the non-league abyss—a depth lower than the club has ever played in its 125 year history.
If sentiment influenced the league table, then Argyle would already be safe- having gained widespread support from football fans across the land during the club’s administration, where it seemed a genuine possibility that the club could be liquidated- a result of total mis-management by the previous board and a direct cause of their current position- most will feel they have suffered enough.
The Pilgrims have been fairly resilient of late and have lost only twice in their last eight games, although they've only won two as well, owing to the manager's often cautious approach. At this stage of the season, draws (eleven in total) will do little to boost the club’s survival chances. The teams that can find some consistency and pick up the wins will stay in the division.
Realistically, Carl Fletcher’s side may need to win four of their matches, punctuated by a couple of draws. That's a tall order when you consider the club has won just seven games all season, the fewest in League Two.
Argyle must go all out to secure three vital points in their next match against Shrewsbury Town at Home Park, a team who are in contention for automatic promotion, currently placed third in league. This will be a particularly tough fixture. Though with Argyle already three points adrift of safety and clubs around them starting to pick up the points, it is a match that they simply cannot afford to lose.
The club play six of their 10 remaining fixtures at Home Park, where it is crucial they gain top form and pick up wins.
Their most important matches, however, are both away from Home, against fellow strugglers Northampton Town and Hereford United. These are must-win games, games that neither side dare lose.
The problem manager Carl Fletcher faces is how to ensure they are invariable enough to win enough games.
Argyle haven’t won back-to-back games all season and at times have lacked consistency in their performances. With many games finishing all square, they will need to maintain their composure and take their opportunities to score in order to turn draws in to wins. While they have had some poor luck, wasted chances and late goals have cost them valuable points in recent matches. All of this must change if they are to remain in the division.
The squad certainly have enough quality and experience, with the likes of defenders Robbie Williams and Darren Purse, Simon Walton and club legend Paul Wotton in midfield, and with Nick Chadwick and Alex MacDonald up front- scoring eight goals in twenty appearances between them. The club also have a number of talented young players such as Conor Hourihane and Ashley Hemmings. With their current squad, they should be capable of avoiding the drop.
Given all the problems Plymouth Argyle has faced this season, it will be celebrated as one of the club’s greatest achievements if they manage to retain their status as a Football League club.