Mansfield 0 Argyle 2: Match report
ARGYLE manager Derek Adams had talked in midweek about being happy to forego an eye-catching display in favour of a three points and, although it would be vastly overstretching things to say he had his wish granted at One Call Stadium, a third win over Mansfield this season was about guts as well as glory.
Sonny Bradley and Graham Carey got the goals, but such was the nature of the win and Adams’s superbly executed spot-on tactics that it would have been no surprise to see ‘Smash’ and ‘Grab’ on the scoresheet.
For an hour, the Pilgrims soaked up pretty well everything that their in-form hosts could throw at them. They bent a few times, and creaked a few more, but thanks to their ability, character and the division’s best goalkeeper, they simply refused to be broken.
Then, Bradley’s sixth goal of the season – all with his head – in the 69th minute and Carey’s free-kick five minutes later secured the Pilgrims their 11th away win of the campaign. They have worked no harder for any of them.
Adams had made two changes from the side beaten by Blackpool at Home Park in midweek, one up front and one at the back.
On-loan Cardiff City forward Matty Kennedy was ruled out through injury, leading to a recall for Jordan Slew, after ten games on the substitutes’ bench, to the scene of probably his best game as a Pilgrim and possibly his greatest career goal – the opener in Argyle’s 2-1 Emirates FA Cup win at One Call Stadium on Guy Fawkes Day.
The other recall was for Czech defender Jakub Sokolik, who resumed his centre-back partnership with ever-present Sonny Bradley, allowing Yann Songo’o to yo-yo back to central defensive midfield. Ryan Donaldson, who had occupied that position against the Tangerines, retained his place in the side, moving to the right side of midfield and relegating Jake Jervis from the starting 11.
The Pilgrims’ starting line-up showed five differences from the one that had begun the November cup-tie, as did that of their hosts. Mansfield had also changed manager in the interim, Steve Evans coming in after the dismissal of Adam Murray.
The most notable name on the Stags’ team sheet was that of forward Alex MacDonald, who scored six goals in 35 appearances for Argyle in 2012 at the beginning of a career which has since taken in Burton and Oxford, who he left in the January transfer-window to continue his affinity with the colour yellow.
MacDonald almost caught his former employers napping in the opening minutes, sprinting into space to seize on to a quickly-taken free-kick before composing himself and firing in a shot low to Luke McCormick’s near post that the Argyle ’keeper saved well. The move set the pattern for the first half.
McCormick’s alertness was tested soon afterwards as Mansfield sought to hit the Pilgrims with speed of thought and sharpness of movement. Their top pin, Matt Green, chased down Sokolik, facing his own goal, forced him into an imprecise header back to the Greens’ custodian and then nipped in to volley a chip goalwards that McCormick clawed away with the tips of his fingers.
After soaking it up, Argyle started to make some decent headway and nearly went ahead when Donaldson won two free-kicks in quick succession. The first was too far away to make decent use of although the second saw Carey send an exquisite shot curling over the defensive wall that left Stags’ goalkeeper Scott Shearer flat-footed but drifted just wide of the goal.
Mansfield, though, looked the more potent, and Ben Whiteman twice found himself in more space than he should have been afforded, but wasted the opportunities by failing to find the target on either occasion. Centre-back Krystian Pearce did send a header from a corner goalwards, but McCormick was squarely behind the rather tame effort.
Mansfield’s pace and eye for a break continued to cause problems for Argyle and, when CJ Hamilton caught them on their heels ten minutes before the break, Sokolik was obliged to take direct action. His cynically calculated foul summarily halted the danger and earned him a yellow card which, on another day, might have been red. MacDonald’s free-kick beat the wall, but not McCormick.
Argyle limped to the interval, literally in the case of Ryan Taylor and Gary Sawyer, who had suffered knocks during the testing first half, without suffering any more scares and hoping, no doubt, that they had drawn the sting from their eager hosts.