By Tony Leighton
Plymouth Argyle's tormented times are behind them and the future is looking good, says captain Conor Hourihane, with the Pilgrims on an eight-match unbeaten run that has meant progress in both Sky Bet League 2 and the FA Cup.
When Hourihane arrived at Home Park from Ipswich Town in July 2011, Argyle, having gone into administration five months earlier and then suffered a second successive relegation to land in League 2, were at their lowest ebb.
What would have been a catastrophic third relegation, casting the Pilgrims into non-league, was narrowly avoided in 2011/12 and last term - both season's seeing Hourihane and his colleagues battling against the odds but surviving.
Argyle also made a slow start to the current campaign and in mid-October they were only two points above the drop zone. But their recent run has taken them into mid-table and a point closer to the Play-Off places than to the bottom two.
Republic of Ireland Under-21 midfielder Hourihane, who began his career at Sunderland, told football-league.co.uk: "This is my third season here and things have got better each season, even though we've had some really tough times.
"There were stages in both of the first two seasons when things were not looking good, but we pulled through and now we're making steady progress under an experienced manager and we're definitely looking up, not down."
Former Oldham Athletic and Chesterfield boss John Sheridan took over at Home Park in January and has bolstered the playing squad to the point that Hourihane feels it is the strongest unit that the club has had in the last three seasons.
And with the Devon outfit's off-field operations also looking far more solid than in recent years, the 22-year-old skipper is looking ahead with confidence and belief. "The club is stable now and it's in very good hands," he said.
"We've got a gaffer who knows this division inside-out, in fact he won it with Chesterfield not so long ago, and since he's been here we've had good signings come in and we're now making steady progress in a tough league.
"We're eight games unbeaten now and some of those games have been very difficult - we've gone behind once or twice but come back to get a result, so that shows the character in the side and we've got a fair bit of quality as well."
Argyle's character and quality will be tested on Saturday, when they entertain a Burton Albion team who are currently lying seventh in the table - the lowest of the Play-Off positions - and seven points ahead of Hourihane's team.
But that gives the Pilgrims the chance to close the gap even further on the teams above them and the skipper added: "It's going to be tough, but on our day we're a match for any team in the division and we'll go into the game with confidence."
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