Previously in The Pilgrimage, the Plymouth Argyle side of 2006/07 started their race from relegation and Gordon Sparks came a step closer to finding out who sent RPW FM into the past.
“RPW! I think I’ve solved it! There’s apparently some sort of underground criminal in the locker room – you’re gonna have to be careful mate. Janice down Dewdney’s said her bhey’s mate Pete has a cousin who works down the Pannier Market – you know the one who sells the knockoff DVDs – and they said they went to school with a bloke who walked past Home Park one day and saw a load of shady lads in dark clothing looking suspicious!” The dulcet Plymouthian tones of Gordon Sparks – local radio DJ by day, private investigator by night – rang out across the Central Park car park as he yelled at me.
“Cheers Sparksy, but what does that mean for our investigation?”
Gordon grinned before adding to his previous point, “Well basically I reckon those shady blokes were there on behalf of one of your team mates in the locker room…you’ve got to find out who!”
Leeds United vs Plymouth Argyle
With three games left of the season, we were currently 3 points from guaranteeing our place in the Coca-Cola Championship next season. Our fate was in our own hands, however two of our final games were against play-off contenders Leeds United and recently-crowned champions West Brom. A trip to Elland Road was always difficult and we had to be strong for the final run-in. We would of course be without midfield maestro David Norris due to his straight red card in the last game and so it looked likely that captain Paul Wotton would fill Norris’ place further forward than usual and vice-captain Nalis would sit at the base of the midfield three. The rest of the team was unchanged, however.
Leeds were on the attack straight from kick-off and attacked down the right-wing before Djordjic took out their right-winger and gave away a free kick with less than 20 seconds played. It was clear that Leeds were here to attack and try and pummel us into submission. Luckily the free kick came to nothing and Scott Sinclair spearheaded an Argyle counter-attack before shooting just wide. Both sides looked shaky in possession before the opposition counter-attacked, but it was Leeds who struck first. Capaldi lost the ball deep inside his own half and a swift passing move between Leeds’ attacking players resulted in space opening up for Antonio López on the left flank. López hit a daisy-cutter towards McCormick’s near post where the ‘keeper made a mistake and let the ball rattle in. 1-0 to Leeds. Although the home side were in control, Argyle looked dangerous on the break but unfortunately couldn’t find the back of the net due to solid defending from Leeds and poor finishing from the Pilgrims. At half-time we went in 1-0 down.
We came out for the second half and were punished straight away for starting off slow out of the gates. Antonio López was the danger man again, getting past Barness on the left flank to pull a high cross across the box that found right-winger Kome who headed home past Luke McCormick. After 46 minutes, it was now 2-0 to Leeds. Holloway had seen enough at that point and made a triple-change in an attempt to force the game back into a competitive nature. A surprising lack of performance from Ákos Buzsáky and Scott Sinclair meant that they were brought off for Luke Summerfield and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake. Capaldi was also knackered, so Barness moved to left-back and I came on to fill in at right-back.
At this point, Leeds were constantly making surging runs into the box and a wrong-footed Barness (now at left-back) was struggling. Sebastien Carole made one of these runs before being scythed down by the natural right-back and Leeds were awarded a penalty. Things were going from bad to worse. Kevin Nicholls stepped up to take it and struck the ball straight down the middle. McCormick stood strong though and made the save to a rapturous cheer from the travelling Green Army. Could this spur on a comeback? Unfortunately not. Just five minutes later Kelly was finding even more joy on the right-wing and sent a pin-point cross high to the far post where left-back Lewis was waiting (after I failed to mark him correctly) and hit the ball on the volley past McCormick. 3-0 to Leeds. The game would end that way and we headed back on the long trip home from Yorkshire with nothing to show for our efforts.
Plymouth Argyle vs Norwich City
Our final home game of the season was the ‘most winnable’ game of our relegation run-in as the Canaries were not doing too much better than we were, despite them being in the top half of the league table. Of course, Norris was still suspended for the remaining games of the season but I was the lucky recipient of the unfortunate occurrence of a minor injury to Antony Barness and so made the starting XI at right-back. Apart from that, the team was unchanged from the Leeds defeat. The difference was that we were motivated to win our league safety. Due to some teams playing later, the natural flow of the table meant that if we picked up all three points today we would be officially safe. We didn’t want to leave this until we played away at the Champions on the final day of the season. We had to take this opportunity.
It was a slow start from both sides but you could say that Argyle slightly edged the opening moments. Capaldi, Buzsáky and Sinclair all went close before 20 minutes and Mocquet was the most likely to open the scoring after hitting the base of the post shortly before 30 minutes had been played. Although The Pilgrims were dominating possession and camping out around the edge of the Norwich box, the Canaries were sharp on the break with Dion Dublin (playing in the heart of the Norwich defence) sending accurate clearances down the wings. Both of our wingers were showing their workrate and tracking back to support me and Capaldi but unfortunately both Djordjic and Mocquet picked up yellow cards just before half time for their defensive efforts. Both players would then pop up at the other end shortly before the ref blew his whistle. Mocquet received a long pass from Nalis in midfield before pinging an accurate cross to the head of Djordjic at the far-post. Bojan rose above his marker and headed powerfully past Gallacher. 1-0! At half time The Pilgrims were one step towards securing safety.
Norwich kicked off in the second half and attempted to pass the ball around the Argyle box in an attempt to find an opening. A cross came in and I headed it away, with Mocquet picking the ball up on the edge of the box. Mocquet tapped it to Sinclair in bags of space who ran from the halfway line all the way to the byline on the right wing. I was getting ready for the overlap but Scott decided to pass it back to me instead. I passed it infield to Wotton who took a touch before sending it to Mocquet on the edge of the D. The French youngster dribbled past Shackell before smashing it into the top-left corner of the goal. 2-0 to Argyle! Norwich made a couple of changes to try and get back in the game but it really did not seem like it was their day. Their right-back and captain Gary Docherty finished off their chances of taking any points home to Norfolk after slicing a very simple clearance straight into his own net after a period of sustained pressure. Plymouth Argyle beat Norwich City 3-0 and our safety in the Coca-Cola Championship was guaranteed. One more game, then surely I’ll get to go home…
West Bromwich Albion vs Plymouth Argyle
I never made it to the final game of the season: a bit of a dead rubber against recently-crowned Champions in the Baggies. After the Norwich game I spent a bit of time debriefing with the gaffer and analysing my performance with the performance analysis guys and when I had arrived back in the changing room to grab my stuff and head home, I spotted there had been an unfamiliar looking shirt left on the benches. Unwrapping the yellow and blue jersey, I noticed a note had been left with it.
Mystery is solved. Get back home and put him away.
I put the note down and picked up the shirt. I noticed the badge of Chievo Verona before turning it around. Although the number on this older shirt was different to one that I knew from his position in this Argyle squad, I recognised his name:
“Ah…I really wish you hadn’t found that, RPW.” A thick French accent flittered behind me. I turned and saw my future assistant manager and friend Lilian stood there with three figures dressed head-to-toe in black behind him; these must have been the men that Sparksy had mentioned. In Nalis’ hand was one of the groundsman’s shovels – still fresh from sorting the pitch after the Norwich match. Before I could even utter a word of shock the veteran midfielder picked up the shovel and smashed it over my skull.
Next time: Will RPW FM wake up alive in the present or injured in the past? Will he wake up at all? Will his former friend ever be tried for his crimes?