MIGHTY STAGS HALT PILGRIMS PROGRESS
Evening Post, 12 August 2002
Mansfield Town 4 v 3 Plymouth Argyle
After the post-match interviews had been completed, I walked around the perimeter of the pitch at Field Mill and behind the goal at the Quarry Lane End, the stand where more than 1,000 Plymouth Argyle loyalists had been stationed about half-an-hour before.
On the floor, all you could see were ripped-up betting slips.
Now, I don"t know whether someone thought the free paper provided by the local bookies was ideal for use in an opening-day tickertape greeting for the boys in green, but the irony was certainly not lost on me.
Plymouth had, like many teams last season, come to Field Mill expecting a victory, and many experts would have put this one down for an away win at the start of the day.
But no doubt there are punters up and down the country cursing Stuart Watkiss's side for ruining what would have been a nice little payout on their fixed-odds coupon on Saturday.
But just as Luton and Hull, among others, were sent packing from Field Mill last year, the Pilgrims were handed the same treatment, leaving their fans to whine about the performance of the referee, an easy target at the best of times, and fail to recognise their side were clearly second best.
Two late goals from David Friio and Nathan Lowndes gave the final score a rather flattering look for the Division Three champions, who conceded only 28 goals last year.
But this time they were run ragged and any Stags fan could not have failed to have been impressed.
Watkiss adopted a 3-5-2 formation, which enabled him to combine the talents of Lee Wiliamson, Craig Disley - who headed the second - and new boy Neil Mackenzie in the middle of the park, and they ran the show, with the support of Scott Sellars and Wayne Corden.
And both the strikers, Andy White and Colin Larkin, got off the mark, with White continuing to improve with every game he plays.
The three at the back, Neil Moore, Stuart Reddington and David Jervis, looked assured and Kevin Pilkington was confident between the posts.
It was a good day all round when the pace and precision of the Stags play left the best team in last year's Division Three all shook up, after the visitors had taken the lead and failed to take a stranglehold on the match.
After such an encouraging beginning, apart from the visitors grabbing two late goals, there was plenty to smile about and I am now looking forward to Stags locking horns with Blackpool.
Steve McMahon must have some good midfielders at his disposal if he was persuaded to part with Mackenzie for nothing, because his passing was superb and he was the best player on the pitch.
The game was played at a blistering pace throughout. And many will see it is a case for both teams extending their stay in Division Three by an extra game, simply because they were drawn to face each other on the opening day.
Despite Plymouth having won the basement title so well last year and being tipped to challenge for a play-off spot again, that Stags have not truly experienced the difference between the two leagues yet has to be given respect.
But it should not allow people to pour scorn on a result that will have fans buzzing as they prepare to hit the road to Wigan tomorrow night and Wycombe on Saturday, before the long-awaited visit of Chesterfield the next week.
With injuries to the likes of Bobby Hassell and Allen Tankard beginning to clear up, there is further reason to feel optimistic.
Where this result stands in the whole scheme of things will only be seen when Stags find their feet over the next month or two.
But, on the evidence provided on Saturday, there could be a few more people finding that, after a trip to Field Mill, that nailed-on away win that appeared to be such good value is not free money after all.
Evening Post, 12 August 2002
Mansfield boss Stuart Watkiss has called upon his striker Andy White to continue his high performance levels after his two goals helped Stags to a 4-3 win over Plymouth Argyle on Saturday.
New boy Colin Larkin and Craig Disley were also on the scoresheet as the Stags got their first season in Division Two in ten years off to a winning start before a tough trip to highly-fancied Wigan Athletic tomorrow.
Watkiss was disappointed his side let in two late goals to give the scoreline a somewhat flattering look for Argyle but he was delighted with the rest of the performance.
He said: "Big Andy has set his precedent now.
"He knows if he falls below that standard I will be kicking his backside.
"It doesn't matter who he plays against because, when he plays like that, he is a handful. What he has got to do now is find that little bit of consistency but he has got better I every pre-season game and that is exactly what you want.
"We were okay for 83 minutes and thoroughly deserved to be 4-1 up because there were spells in the second half when we were excellent.
"We got the ball down, passed it and we did exactly what we wanted to do.
"The last five or six minutes took the gloss off it a bit. We have had a word because it was sloppy defending but it would be wrong to harp on about it too much because, before then, we were excellent.
"We must take heed of what happened in the last five minutes. We went 4-1 up and we took our foot off the pedal, which let Plymouth back into it and, in the end, we conceded three goals from set pieces, which is disappointing.
"If we defend like that up at Wigan then it will be a long 90 minutes."
Watkiss also pleased with the contribution of new boy Neil Mackenzie and veteran Scott Sellars and was delighted Larkin's performance alongside White was rewarded with a goal.
The former Wolves striker, who cost Stags £150,000 in the summer, showed an abundance of coolness as he fired the third goal after being released by Sellars
Watkiss said: "It was a great debut for Colin and he showed why we paid the money.
"Neil Mackenzie is a good player and that is why we spent so much time trying to get him in and he has got a good range of passes. I also think Scott Sellars was outstanding in that little spot behind the front two."
STAGS START DENTS PRIDE
Plymouth Evening Herald, 12 August 2002
Captain Paul Wotton admitted Plymouth Argyle's pride had been dented by the 4-3 defeat away to Mansfield Town on Saturday.
It was a miserable start to the Nationwide League Division Two season for the Pilgrims, who trailed 4-1 at one stage as they were torn apart by the rampant Stags.
Two late goals scored by David Friio and summer signing Nathan Lowndes were scant consolation to Wotton and his team-mates.
Wotton was relieved Argyle will get an early chance to make amends for their opening day woes when Huddersfield Town visit Home Park tomorrow (7.45pm).
"The lads were really low on Saturday but it's very important we pick ourselves up for tomorrow night," said the 24-year-old centre-back.
"You don't become a bad team after one game. Having said that, we were very disappointed with the goals we conceded, especially after going 1-0 up.
"I thought we were a yard short all game. They won everything and seemed stronger.
"If you are going to lose at least lose fighting and I don't think we did that on Saturday."
Argyle boasted the best defensive record in the Nationwide League last season as they lifted the third division championship trophy.
However, they have conceded 11 goals in their last three games - against Charlton Athletic and Nottingham Forest in pre-season and now Mansfield.
"It was similar to Charlton," said Wotton. "Individual mistakes cost us. It was just stupid things really.
"We were really low afterwards and I'm glad we have got a game tomorrow to try to rectify it.
"We didn't play well at all on Saturday but still scored three goals.
"They really were there to be beaten if we had gone about it the right way but I don't think we did.
"They are a decent footballing side - they always have been - and they knock the ball about well.
"But they seemed quicker to every single ball all over the park and there is no excuse for that."
Wotton added: "I suppose to a certain extent we kept going and got back to 4-3 but the lads were not happy," he said.
"We know we let ourselves down and we are a team that doesn't like losing. It's as simple as that. Our pride has been dented.
"We were very confident we could get something on Saturday and that is why we were so disappointed but we will bounce back."
Meanwhile, second-year scholar Rob Guppy scored a hat-trick for an Argyle XI in their 4-1 win over Holsworthy on Saturday.
Another teenager, Stewart Yetton, was also on target against the Carlsberg South Western League club.
The Pilgrims included defender Craig Taylor and midfielders David Beresford and Kevin Wills.
French trialist Osvaldo Lopes also had another run-out while talks continue between Argyle and his agent about a contract to stay at Home Park.
Argyle's director of youth Stuart Gibson took charge of the team. "I was very pleased with our two strikers, Guppy and Yetton," he said.
"They showed a lot of maturity, excellent movement, great runs and good finishing.
"Of the pros, Craig Taylor had to come off at half-time with a terrible blister on his heel and David Beresford did everything asked of him."
Argyle: Chapman; Parish, Taylor (Watts), Steward, Sawyer; Coxon, Wills, Lopes (Entwisle), Beresford (Barwick); Yetton (Kerr), Guppy (Fice).
EVANS SPELLS OUT REALITY FOR BEATEN ARGYLE
Plymouth Evening Herald, 12 August 2002
Striker Mickey Evans admitted: "We must do better" after Plymouth Argyle's 4-3 defeat away to Mansfield Town on the opening day of the new Nationwide League season.
Evans, whose face was still heavily swollen after an operation on his fractured cheekbone 48 hours earlier, put the Pilgrims ahead after 24 minutes.
But Mansfield drew level before half-time and then cruised into a 4-1 lead before Argyle replied with two late goals from David Friio and substitute Nathan Lowndes.
Evans said: "I didn't really have any problems with my cheekbone. I was glad to play and glad to score but very disappointed with the result, obviously.
"The operation went fine. I was in overnight and they let me out the next day. I haven't trained but I felt good enough to play so they let me.
"I didn't want to start the season on the bench or up in the stand watching. I wanted to play and I'm glad I did."
Evans thought the way Mansfield started the second half was decisive to the outcome of the match.
He said: "They came out and dominated for the first 10-15 minutes and their second goal absolutely killed us. It was just a bad, bad goal.
"They took over the game and got on top but, to be fair, the lads kept going and got back into it.
"With another four or five minutes we might have scored an equaliser but, at the end of the day, it's not good enough to concede four away from home.
"You usually expect to win when you score three and we didn't even attack that well. The lads are very disappointed and we have got to sort this out early doors. We have got to put it behind us, get on the training ground and get it sorted out."
LATE DOUBLE NOT ENOUGH FOR ARGYLE
Plymouth Evening Herald, 12 August 2002
Two LATE goals salvaged some respectability but could not disguise the defensive flaws as Argyle crashed to defeat on the opening day of the Nationwide League season.
Injury-hit Mansfield tore apart the Pilgrims' usually impregnable rearguard and could easily have scored more than four times.
It took some excellent saves from goalkeeper Romain Larrieu to prevent the Stags - who were promoted with Argyle from the third division last term - from running riot.
Centre-backs Graham Coughlan and Paul Wotton were given a torrid time by the little and large partnership of Colin Larkin and Andy White.
Larkin, a £120,000 summer signing from Wolves after the departure of prolific striker Chris Greenacre to Stoke City, put his pace and mobility to good use.
White, who only started the match because of the injury crisis at Field Mill, was a revelation.
The 20-year-old target man, who measures 6ft 4in, was a constant aerial threat and was no slouch with the ball at his feet.
White thrived on the service he received from the flanks but also from Town's 36-year-old former Leeds, Blackburn and Newcastle midfielder Scott Sellars.
He played in a withdrawn role behind the two strikers and his prompting and probing caused Argyle all sorts of trouble.
Mansfield passed the ball around confidently in midfield with Neil MacKenzie, a close-season recruit from Blackpool, and Lee Williamson also impressing.
In contrast, Argyle's creative playmakers David Friio and Jason Bent featured only fleetingly during the game.
The Pilgrims only conceded 28 goals during the whole of the third division championship campaign and, for the most part, with an identical defence to the one on duty at Field Mill.
So what went wrong? Mansfield deserve credit for their attacking play but three of the goals they scored were easily preventable.
Coughlan, usually so dominant, missed much of last week's training because of a slight hamstring injury, and was nowhere near the high standard he sets for himself.
Left-back Brian McGlinchey also struggled to get to grips with the Stags' attacking players and it was no coincidence that all four goals came from their side of the defence.
However, they were not the only ones at fault. Wotton was caught out completely when White headed home in the 32nd minute to put Mansfield level at 1-1 and transform the game.
Steve Adams tried to stem the tide in midfield by winning tackles and moving the ball swiftly to team-mates, but it was a losing battle as Mansfield overwhelmed their opponents.
Make no mistake, the Argyle defence are far better than they showed on Saturday. They all have the ability and determination to play to a high level in the second division.
But the harsh truth is that in their last three matches - against Charlton and Nottingham Forest in pre-season and now against Mansfield - they have conceded 11 goals.
More work is obviously needed on the training ground to find the defensive shape that served Argyle so well last season.
What made the defeat at Field Mill even more frustrating was that the Stags were so clearly incapable of defending set-pieces properly.
That glaring weakness resulted in the opening goal of the game in the 24th minute when Mickey Evans scored from a McGlinchey corner.
Evans rose above the Mansfield defence and his firm header hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced down over the line and then into the net.
Argyle had been the better team until then with Evans playing as a lone striker against a three-man defence, although he had Ian Stonebridge in close support.
However, the balance of power swung in Mansfield's favour after White equalised. Williamson was not closed down when he swung a cross into the penalty area for White to dart past Wotton and head home from six yards.
Larrieu got a touch to the ball but the header was so crisp and from such a close range that he had no chance of keeping it out.
Evans, who had been the focal point for all Argyle's attacking play in the opening half-an-hour, became isolated from the rest of the team as Mansfield took control.
Larrieu made one brilliant low, reflex save from Larkin before half-time to keep the visitors on level terms.
Assistant manager Kevin Summerfield changed tactics at the break, with Nathan Lowndes sent on as a replacement for Stonebridge to partner Evans up front.
However, Mansfield sensed Argyle were vulnerable and they took the lead six minutes after the restart.
MacKenzie aimed a free-kick into the penalty area which Coughlan, under pressure from White, inadvertently headed towards his own goal.
Larrieu touched the ball on to the crossbar but it looped into the air and midfielder Craig Disley was on the spot to head into the empty net from almost on the goalline.
Larkin then shot Mansfield into a 3-1 lead as he latched on to a defence-splitting pass from Sellars and crashed the ball past the advancing Larrieu.
White added the fourth goal in the 67th minute when he held off the challenge of Coughlan and got to the byline, cut inside the attempted sliding tackle of Wotton and squeezed the ball between Larrieu and his near post.
Mansfield piled on the pressure but Larrieu made fantastic saves from MacKenzie and substitute Iyseden Christie, who later took the ball around the French keeper and shot against the left post. Argyle then exploited Mansfield's defensive weakness from two Wotton free-kicks in the closing minutes which almost led to a remarkable revival.
First, Friio shot home from 18 yards after Town failed to clear their lines and then, in the fourth minute of stoppage time and from an identical Wotton free-kick, Lowndes grabbed his first league goal for the Pilgrims.
The ball bobbled around inside the penalty area and Lowndes' shot went into the net off the left post.
But it was too late to save Argyle as referee Graham Frankland blew for full-time immediately after the restart.
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