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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Plymouth rock the boat

Plymouth Argyle have a picture of the Pilgrim Fathers' Mayflower ship on their club badge. Perhaps it's appropriate then that they've now got a Mariner in charge of first team affairs.

Friday's management shuffle saw boss Paul Sturrock moved into a new business support role with his assistant, Paul Mariner, taking charge of first team affairs.

For the Championship strugglers it's their first roll of the dice to help turnaround a season where the Devon club have a fight on their hands to avoid relegation.

It also brings an end to Sturrock's second spell in charge at Home Park, a return which has failed to bring the same kind of success his arrival the first time heralded.

Not that that should come as any surprise. Indeed, in truth, however tempting a return to the place where he first made his name in English football, the Scot should never have returned.

When he first took over at Plymouth in 2000 the club were languishing towards the bottom of the basement division. In his first full season, despite having to put up with stadium re-developments, he led the Pilgrims to the League Two title.

Two years later and the club were on the brink of returning to the second tier before Sturrock left to take on the job at Premier League Southampton. However, his departure couldn't derail Argyle's promotion bid and a second title in three seasons followed.

The club he returned to in October 2007 was firmly established in the Championship and former boss Ian Holloway had left the side challenging for the play-offs. It was a top six tilt Sturrock maintained for the rest of the season.

However, last season, despite recovering from a slow start to once again feature in the top half, the Pilgrims slumped down the table in the New Year into a relegation battle, eventually finishing just a place and five points above relegated Norwich.

New man at the wheel - Paul Mariner has stepped up from assistant at Home Park

The poor form continued at the beginning of this term, taking until the 10th game to register a win - one of just four all season. Plymouth's record of just eight wins in 2009 is relegation form - and the reason the board felt a change had to be made.

Sturrock cannot complain he wasn't given the time, especially by a new board ushered in after the club's summer takeover by a Japanese consortium.

However, the writing did appear to be on the wall a few weeks ago when long-term assistant Kevin Summerfield left to be replaced by ex-Pilgrims playing hero Mariner.

Despite their takeover, with crowds around 10,000 Plymouth will always be punching above their weight to do anything more than avoid a return to League One. Resources dictate that a relegation battle was always going to be on the cards this season.

However, the Home Park faithful will now hope a change in the manager's chair will be able to turn around the club's fortunes as they wave goodbye to a miserable twelve months. Plymouth's ship is currently a sinking one, but can Mariner throw them a lifeline?


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