Plymouth Argyle 2 Mansfield Town 1
Mansfield were unchanged from the side that picked up their first away win for 11 months at Swansea, and started the match with a 3-5-2 formation with Lee Williams and Andy Roscoe as wing backs. But a disastrous defensive display in the first half saw the Stags 2-0 down at half time, and it could have been worse. In the second half, the Stags switched to a 4-4-2 formation and this led to a much better performance as Mansfield pulled a goal back, had another harshly disallowed, and had the home side hanging on for the last 25 minutes.
Mansfield were under pressure from the opening minutes of the game as Plymouth seem to carry on from where they had left off following a 5-0 win over Leyton Orient a week earlier. As early as the seventh minute, the Stags were behind. But it was controversial goal that put Argyle ahead. The ball was threaded through to Gritton who appeared yards offside, 40 yards from goal. As the whole ground waited for the offside flag, Gritton ran at the Stags goal with no defenders in sight. Muggleton initially saved well at his feet, but couldn`t hold onto the ball, and Gritton was able to slide the ball into an empty net. Mansfield`s defence surrounded the linesman, and boss Billy Dearden and assistant Mark Kearney were completely furious and remonstrated with the 4th official. But it was to no avail as the goal was allowed to stand and Roscoe was booked for protesting. Even the biased reporters of the local radio station conceded that Gritton appeared yards offside. It was a bitter pill to swallow so early in the game, and Argyle went from strength to strength. The home side were fighting hard all over the pitch and the Stags were second to every loose ball. Whenever Mansfield did get the ball, they were closed down ferociously. The Stags defending was appalling in the first half, with Asher and Richardson especially guilty, and the midfield seemed to lose out on every challenge with Blake especially slack. In truth Argyle threatened to run riot and had a succession of chances with Stags lucky to survive. It was no surprise when more appalling defending led to a simple second goal as Sean McCarthy headed back a simple cross for Wayne O`Sullivan to score unchallenged.
Mansfield created only one chance in the first half as Linighan headed wide from a corner.
The Stags truly woeful performance continued and on 44 minutes they should have been 3-0 down. Richardson tripped Hargreaves as he ran at the bye-line and this time the officials got it right, as a penalty was given, though a booking for Richardson seemed harsh as the attacker was going nowhere. Hargreaves hammered his penalty towards the corner of the net, but Muggleton dived to his left to pull off a wonderful save. The Stags trooped off at half time knowing they were lucky to still be in the game, though still feeling aggrieved at the injustice of the opening goal. It was by far the worst half of football the Stags had played since the opening day debacle at Brighton, as only Muggleton, Peacock and Lormor could escape harsh criticism. Defending had been non-existent and the midfield were completely outplayed by a very lively home side. Argyle`s outstanding player was wing-back Beswetherick who caused trouble down the left hand side throughout the half.
A change of tactics was needed, and at the start of the second half, Lee Williams moved from right wing back, where he had been roasted, to the left side of midfield. Alistair Asher moved to a conventional right back position from central defence as Stags adopted a 4-4-2 formation. But in the opening 10 minutes of the second half the pattern remained unchanged with Argyle completely on top. On 55 minutes, there was more schoolboy defending as veteran Steve McCall incredibly ran unchallenged into the Stags box and could have had a free shot himself but elected to square for McCarthy who missed an absolute sitter.
Suddenly the Stags seemed to find their feet and from a rare corner were unlucky not to pull a goal back. The corner was met firmly by the head of Linighan who powered the ball into the net from 2 yards but the referee disallowed the goal for a non-existent foul on the keeper. Once again Stags boss Billy Dearden was furious, as were many of the Stags players.
But on 65 minutes Mansfield did get a goal back. A goal kick from Muggleton was cleverly headed on by Lormor into the path of Lee Peacock who ran on and beat the keeper with an excellent left foot shot. The finish was reminiscent of his hat-trick goal against Peterborough earlier in the season.
It was amazing how the whole atmosphere of the game changed. Suddenly Mansfield were no longer second to every ball, and at the back Linighan started to command the Argyle forwards.
10 minutes left, it looked like the Stags would surely equalise when, following
a Lee Williams cross, Darrell Clarke got in a flicked shot which was heading
for the net, but deflected off Lormor, hit the goalkeeper, and rebounded to
safety as far as Argyle were concerned. I noticed Mark Kearney put his head in
his hands in disbelief as a golden chance went begging.
With 5 minutes left, former tennis professional Michael Boulding replaced the ineffective David Kerr to make a 3 pronged forward line. But it was too little too late, and Argyle were able to hold the ball up well to frustrate the Stags, winning several corners and free-kicks to wind down the clock and earn the 3 points.
So Mansfield slipped to their first defeat following a run of 3 wins and 2 draws and certainly deserved to lose. Having said that, if the officials had not made 2 poor decisions, Argyle`s first goal would have been disallowed, while Linighan`s second half header would have stood and the result could have been reversed. But even the most ardent Stags fan could not have claimed the Stags would have deserved anything other than defeat after an appalling first half performance both in defence and midfield. The performance of the final 30 minutes was much improved from the opening hour. Argyle looked superb in the first half, but after the Stags pulled it back to 2-1, seemed to lose a lot of confidence and were left hanging on to claim the 3 points.
Stags now have successive home games against mid-table Hartlepool and Northampton and must be looking for maximum points to get them heading back up the table. It is to be hoped that this was just a temporary blip on the road to recovery, following a disastrous start to the season.
Man of the Match: Lee Peacock
Muggleton 7 Unlucky with the first goal. Made a superb save from the penalty.
Asher 5 Extremely poor in the first half though regained a little composure in the second half.
Richardson 5 Very poor in the first half, improved a little in the second half.
Linighan 7 Poor first half, but excellent in the second, commanding the back line. Unlucky to have goal disallowed.
Williams 5 Roasted in the first half at right wing-back, but improved in midfield in the second half
Roscoe 6 Anonymous though at least didn`t make any errors.
Kerr 5 Never got into the game.
Blake 4 Appalling. Very slow in midfield and repeatedly gave the ball away. His first poor performance for the Stags.
Clarke 6 Poor first half, but did get a grip of the midfield for periods of the second half.
Lormor 6 Worked hard. Did well with header on for Peacock`s goal. Not given enough service from midfield.
Peacock 7 Excellent finish for the goal and generally had a good game.
Boulding (for Kerr, 85 mins).
Bowling, Gibbons, Disley, Bacon, not used.