Lacklustre Plymouth Argyle need to discover winning formula
IT IS back to the drawing board for Argyle after their worst performance of the season ended in defeat to AFC Wimbledon.
Seven days earlier, the Pilgrims had played some of the best passing football seen from them at Home Park in a long time when they drew 1-1 with Paul Sturrock's Southend United.
They were in 15th position in the League Two table, and their next two games were against lowly, managerless teams.
First up was a trip to Wycombe Wanderers last Tuesday, when Argyle drew 1-1 after striker Guy Madjo grabbed an equaliser early in the second half.
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Then, on Saturday, they hosted Wimbledon, who had picked up only four points from their previous nine league games.
Inexplicably, the Pilgrims' passing was all over the place from the start of the match and it soon eroded their confidence.
Wimbledon opened the scoring with a goal from striker Byron Harrison in the 13th minute and their lead was rarely threatened after that.
Argyle were so out-of-sorts they eventually abandoned their passing approach and opted for route one.
That did not work, either, so in sheer desperation manager Carl Fletcher threw all the attacking players he could into the action.
His gamble seemed to have been rewarded when striker Rhys Griffiths, on his full Football League debut at the age of 32, equalised in the 89th minute.
Even that goal was not a straightforward affair, however.
Argyle were awarded a debatable penalty for a challenge on Madjo by Wimbledon centre-back Yado Mambo.
It had appeared Mambo had been fouled by Madjo, not the other way around, but referee Keith Stroud gave the spot kick.
Griffiths took it, and his shot was saved by keeper Seb Brown, but the Welsh striker followed up and slotted home the loose ball.
Could the Pilgrims stage a dramatic comeback and snatch all three points? No.
Instead, they were left stunned as Wimbledon grabbed a fortuitous winning goal deep into stoppage time.
A 20-yard shot from Rashid Yussuff deflected off Argyle defender Robbie Williams and looped over keeper Jake Cole into the net.
Wimbledon thought the goal made amends for the hotly-disputed penalty decision but, regardless of that, they were good value for their victory.
Managerless they might have been, but the Dons seemed more up for the fight than the lacklustre Pilgrims in the first half.
It was simply not good enough from Argyle and the supporters were not slow to let them know that.
There was an improvement after half-time, especially when Madjo was sent on as a 58th-minute substitute, but not by much.
Argyle went into the match without centre-back Maxime Blanchard, on-loan Watford midfielder Ross Jenkins and top scorer Warren Feeney because of injuries.
Even so, the Pilgrims should have been capable of much better than they came up with.
Onismor Bhasera and Alex MacDonald had provided an attacking threat for them from the flanks in recent games.
Against Wimbledon, though, they were not involved as much because Argyle could not put any passing moves together.
MacDonald was moved into a central midfield position before half-time to try to get him on the ball more.
He was replaced on the right by Paris Cowan-Hall, leaving Griffiths to lead the attack on his own.
That did not work, and it was only after the introduction of Madjo Argyle started to put some pressure on the Dons' defence.
In the closing stages of the game, Argyle had Griffiths, Madjo and substitute Nick Chadwick all playing as central strikers.
Cowan-Hall and Joe Lennox, who also came off the bench, were out wide, with MacDonald moved to right-back.
The 22-year-old loan signing has played there in the past for Burnley, but it was a strange sight nonetheless.
MacDonald has been one of the Pilgrims' best attacking players yet he was one of the furthest from the opposition goal.
Bhasera, meanwhile, was taken off in the 58th minute after an uncharacteristically ineffective performance from the Zimbabwe international.
There was a scrappy start to the match before Wimbledon scored from the first chance of the contest.
Jack Midson flicked on a low right-wing cross at the near post and Harrison darted in behind Argyle right-back Durrell Berry.
The Dons striker was only a couple of yards out when he stabbed the ball into an empty net.
Wimbledon had a couple of good chances to extend their lead before half-time, firstly when Cole parried away a low shot from distance by Yussuff.
Then, in stoppage time, Harrison wastefully headed wide after a cross from right-back George Francomb.
The best Argyle could come up with in the first period was when Williams saw his 30-yard free-kick pushed away by Brown.
The Wimbledon keeper continued to be well protected by his defence after half-time.
But Brown was called upon to make one superb save in the 64th minute when he pushed a curling shot from midfielder Conor Hourihane away for a corner.
When the ball left the boot of Hourihane it had looked as though it would be the equaliser.
Griffiths slotted into the net from close range in the 86th minute but was flagged for offside as time started to run out for the Pilgrims.
Then came the penalty drama and Griffiths' goal, at the second attempt, before Yussuff stole the show for Wimbledon.
Argyle have now won only one of six home league games this season, leaving with them a tally of five points out of a possible 18. That record must improve, otherwise it is going to be another long, arduous season.
There is no time for the Pilgrims to dwell too long on their latest home setback, however, as their busy October schedule continues.
Tomorrow night, they host Aldershot Town in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy second round.
Then on Saturday they will certainly need to be up for the fight when they visit bottom-of-the-table, and winless, Barnet, who will see that game as a good chance to get maximum points on the board.
It is up to Fletcher and his players to make sure that does not happen and they return to winning ways themselves.