By Chris Groves
THE One Call Stadium proved to be an unhappy hunting ground for Argyle, as they were defeated 1-0 by the struggling Stags.
The single goal of the game came on the stroke of half time, as Vadaine Oliver latched onto a long ball from Lee Beevers, fended off the challenge of Carl McHugh and had the presence of mind to loop the ball over Luke McCormick and into the net.
Unsurprisingly, manager John Sheridan kept his faith in the same starting XI that comfortably dispatched Portsmouth within half an hour, with Jason Banton also named in the squad after recovering from injury. The hosts, meanwhile, were under the management of player-caretaker manager Adam Murray after the departure of Paul Cox less than 24 hours previous. Murray rung the changes, switching the formation to a 4-3-3 and making six changes from the Stags’ midweek draw against FA Cup opponents Concord Rangers, as well as declining to name himself in the squad.
Fresh with a new, attacking shape, the hosts began the game by creating a good opportunity within the opening minute, but a curled cross from the right flank could not be headed home by an unmarked Oliver.
The Greens looked to settle into the game afterwards, and after Lee Cox earned a corner for his side, a short routine found the midfielder with space to shoot from the edge of the area – his shot blocked by a number of yellow shirts.
After thirteen minutes, the Pilgrims found a way to get behind the back line of Mansfield for the first time, as neat midfield play from Cox and Dominic Blizzard gave Lewis Alessandra a sight of goal, but his left-footed strike was tame and wide of Sacha Studer’s near post.
Four minutes later, Alessandra once again found himself with the ball at his feet inside the penalty area. This time, he cleverly fed through Andy Kellett who squared across the box to his opposite wing back, Kelvin Mellor. From little more than a yard out, scooped his shot against the crossbar, as the cheers from the home faithful more resembled a collective sigh of relief.
Unperturbed, the Greens continued to push for the opener, as a counter attack led by Blizzard and Alessandra led to Kellett blasting shot towards goal which Studer instinctively punched to safety.
Much of Mansfield’s attacking through came through the physical presence of Oliver; his close control and subsequent through ball from a goal kick in the 27th minute seemed to put Rob Taylor one-on-one with Luke McCormick, until an excellent, sliding interception from Mellor.
The breakthrough for Mansfield came a matter of seconds before the One Call Stadium’s illuminating stopwatch. As Mellor looked to put into practice the Pilgrims’ ethos of pressing the ball high up the pitch, a long ball from Beevers set up a tussle between McHugh and Oliver – a battle that the striker won, before cutely lifting the ball over an oncoming McCormick and nestling into the goal.
As the Greens pushed for an equaliser after the restart they left gaps in the midfield and defensive lines for Mansfield to exploit – most prominently the excellent Oliver, showing excellent pace, strength and range of passing.
Sheridan switched things up after 65 minutes, bringing on Ollie Norburn and Deane Smalley and switching to a 4-4-2 formation; a tactic that certainly did the trick when John’s side were behind in their last away league game at Burton Albion.
Now working in a wide left position, Alessandra fired in a low cross that was parried by Studer straight back into his own area, but the ball agonisingly trickled past the feet of Smalley and away from danger.
Reid then created a cross that Smalley looked to get on the end of, but Deane was denied by last-ditch block by his marker. The Greens kept on the pressure, and Banton’s shot nearly found its way through a crowded Mansfield box before being hurried away by the Yellows.
The hosts held on to record an unlikely victory in tough circumstances, against an Argyle side that had been firing on all cylinders prior to this fixture. It is fair to say that the proverbial form-book was less thrown out of the window at the One Call Stadium, and more launched far into the car park of the neighbouring shopping centre.
Mansfield (4-3-3): 1 Sascha Studer, 15 Keiron Freeman, 3 Martin Riley (Capt), 6 Ryan Tafazolli, 18 Lee Beevers; 16 Simon Heslop, 28, Chris Clements (9 Matt Rhead, 80), 29 Jamie Sendles-White; 22 Rob Taylor (7 Bergus Bell 67), 17 Reggie Lambe, 25 Vadaine Oliver. Substitutes (not used): 7 Fergus Bell, 11 Rakkish Bingham, 14 Ollie Palmer, 19 Liam Marsden, 20 Jack Thomas, 23 Dimitar Evitmov (GK)
Booked: Oliver 67, Lambe 90.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh (22 Deane Smalley 67), 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 4 Lee Cox, 28 Anthony O’Connor (6 Ollie Norburn 67), 11 Dominic Blizzard (8 Jason Banton 70), 13 Andy Kellett; 9 Reuben Reid, 7 Lewis Alessandra. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner, 10 Marvin Morgan, 14 Tyler Harvey, 19 Nathan Thomas,
Booked: Reid 51, Hartley 67.
Referee: Mark Brown.
Attendance: 2,926 (581 away).