by ROB McNICHOL
Amend your notebooks – Trotman time is now Alessandra time.
After Argyle defender Neal Trotman nicked an injury-time winner at Field Mill when the two teams met in October, Lewis Alessandra became the latest – in more ways that one – to shatter Stags’ hearts.
In the 51st minute of a protracted second half, Alessandra received the ball from substitute Nathan Thomas and, after a step inside to settle himself, fired past despairing Town legs to give Argyle what seemed an unlikely leveller.
After Luke Young’s exploits when emerging from the bench against Cheltenham the previous Saturday, his reward from John Sheridan was a first team berth, with Rommy Boco being the man to make way for the Plymouth-born midfielder.
The change served a dual purpose; Mansfield operate a 3-5-2 system, so Young’s inclusion meant Argyle were matching their visitors’ three men in the middle of the park.
It seemed to pay immediate dividends. Both Young and Conor Hourihane saw plenty of the ball in a multi-player Argyle build-up that eventually allowed Lewis Alessandra, flanking Reuben Reid to the left in the Argyle three-man front-line, to run through. His shot was comfortably saved by Alan Marriott, but it was a promising opening salvo by the Greens.
Young’s – and the Green Army’s – eyes widened when after only 13 minutes Mansfield captain John Dempster cynically blocked Reid and received a caution for his troubles. This left Young lining up a free-kick from around thirty yards out. His swerving effort went wide, striking the stanchion behind the goal, but the buzz around the ground as he stepped up was palpable.
Within three minutes, Stags not learning their lesson, Banton was felled in a very similar area. Young again stepped up, and this time hit the target, but his low drive was gathered up by the grateful Marriott.
The visitors won their own free-kick shortly afterwards, this time in a wide area, and were nearly gifted the opener when Luke McCormick spilled the cross, with only the fast actions of his defenders seeing Argyle win the resulting skirmish and clear their lines. They cleared them so well, in fact, that Reid hurried Dempster into a backpass which looked for a second as though it would drop past Marriott into the net. The goalkeeper, though, spared his defender’s blushes.
The longer half went on, the more the winner of the game seemed likely to be the wind. The swirling, blustery conditions were hampering both sides in their attempts to stamp any authority over the game.
It was nearly Argyle who were the first beneficiaries, though. Martin Riley completely misjudged a through-ball by Young, slicing out for a corner. Before Stags had settled, Young had fizzed a ball in for Reid, but his shot was high.
As half-time approached, Argyle looked to the combination of players that proved so effective at Field Mill in the reverse fixture. In that game, Hourihane’s late, deep free-kick was headed in by Neal Trotman in injury time to give Argyle a 1-0 win. This time, Hourihane’s ball was headed over by Trotman, but it certainly seemed as though set-pieces were looking Argyle’s most likely source of an opener.
Mansfield, for their part, may have thought the same. A free-kick lobbed in from the half-way was nodded down by Ryan Tafazolli for Matt Rhead, but the latter found the Devonport End rather than the net.
From another set-piece, this time a corner, Argyle created another opening. Rather than putting the corner into the danger zone, Young fed Jason Banton just outside the area. The former Crystal Palace man dropped a shoulder, beat his man, and fired a dipping effort just over the frame of the Mansfield goal.
Within two minutes of the restart, Mansfield produced the best chance of the game to that point. Now with the wind behind them, a long ball forward was flicked on by Rhead for the on-running Clucas. With McCormick caught in no-mans-land, Clucas went for a dinked chip, but got too much on his effort, which floated over the bar.
Shortly afterwards, Dempster headed a corner back across goal which set green hearts aflutter, but was ultimate snaffled up by the defenders.
At the other end, again from a dead-ball, Argyle perhaps trumped Mansfield in the best-chance-so-far stakes, but still failed register where it counts. A glorious ball by Hourihane evaded the radar of all visitors, but not Alessandra, coming in on the blind-side. As the ball wobbled on the wind, though, Alessandra couldn’t judge a header, and ended up nodding the ball into the ground and ultimately to safety.
There followed a most curious incident, leading to some even more curious outcomes. A reasonably innocuous cross which McCormick seem destined to catch easily was also contested by Trotman. The ball slipped to the floor and McCormcik recovered, as Clucas dipped a toe to try to retrieve the ball.
A free-kick was given to Argyle, but McCormick and Trotman ended up have a verbal disagreement about the incident, which threatened the spill over as the pair pushed each other in the chest. Referee Peter Bankes, making his Football League debut, was forced to caution the pair for their behaviour.
McCormick then signalled to the bench that he required attention, and after an inspection of what looked to be a finger injury, he was replaced by Jake Cole. In addition, Sheridan made a tactical change, bringing on Tyler Harvey for Dominic Blizzard.
With just under twenty minutes remaining, it was a tale of two centre-forwards, two number nines, with homophonic surnames that led to the game’s first goal.
Argyle broke at pace and with numbers, but with Alessandra haring into space, Reuben Reid couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet and scuffed the crucial pass.
Within a minute, Matt Rhead was the first to react to a loose ball after a whipped cross was knocked down by James Jennings. The burly Stags forward prodded the ball across the six-yard area and into the corner of the Pilgrims’ net.
Argyle attempted to hit back. Following Harvey’s cross-come-shot which stung the gloves of a surprised Marriott, Sheridan introduced Nathan Thomas to spice up Argyle’s attacking options.
Quickly, Banton fed Reid, who beat two men before a low twenty-yard drive that Marriott did well to stop with a full-length dive. The ball, though, fell to Alessandra, who fired across the ball. But, with Thomas lurking, it struck a Mansfield player and was ferried to safety.
Argyle beavered away, but, it seemed to no avail. A Banton bobbler deflected to Reid, who caught his left-foot effort well but could not find the angle to get the ball on target. As the board went up to signal stoppage time, Hourihane caught everyone on the hop with a quick, slid free-kick that only just evaded a clean-through Harvey.
The aforementioned board had indicated six minutes would be played after the ninety had elapsed, mainly due to the Trotman/McCormick flare-up. With thirty seconds of those six remaining, Alessandra took his chance and earned Argyle another last-ditch point.
(4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick (1 Jake Cole 64); 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington (19 Nathan Thomas 81); 14 Luke Young, 11 Dominic Blizzard (18 Tyler Harvey 65), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 20 Jason Banton, 9 Reuben Reid, 7 Lewis Alessandra. Substitutes (not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 15 Paul Wotton, 23 Jamie Richards, 24 Isaac Vassell.
: McCormick 62, Trotman 62.
(3-5-2): 1 Alan Marriott; 6 Martin Riley, 4 John Dempster (capt), 12 Ryan Tafazolli; 28 Darryl Westlake, 19 Chris Clements, 10 Lee Stevenson, 13 Anthony Howell, 16 James Jennings (17 Lee Beevers 86 (30 Colin Daniel 90)); 11 Sam Clucas, 9 Matt Rhead (15 Ross Dyer 87). Substitutes (not used): 2 Ritchie Sutton, 20 Lindon Meikle, 23 Jamie McGuire, 36 Ollie Palmer.
: Dempster 13
: Peter Bankes.
: 6,248 (211 away).