Mansfield Town 0
by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE drew a blank in a game for the first time this season as they battled to a goalless draw with Mansfield Town, although the game was not as uneventful as the scoreline may suggest.
In truth, the Pilgrims should have been home and dry after an opening half hour that they dominated, but missed several goalscoring opportunities.
As the game wore on each side exchanged changes, and while Argyle always seemed the more threatening of the teams on show, they were never able to get past Mansfield's experienced custodian Brian Jensen.
Argyle boss Derek Adams was forced to name a replacement for the injured Carl McHugh, and it was Josh Simpson who got the nod. What was slightly less expected was the inclusion of Ryan Brunt at the expense of Craig Tanner, although much pre-match chat about how Argyle would shift to accommodate Brunt proved unnecessary. He simply replaced Tanner on the left flank of Argyle's usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
Former Pilgrim Nathan Thomas, who signed for Mansfield in the summer via a short spell at Motherwell, lined up for the Stags on the left side of a four-man midfield, with the home side opting to stick with a 4-4-2 that saw them win their previous home league fixture 4-0.
Just four minutes in, though, they may have thought they had gone behind to a stunning goal. Reuben Reid, before this game, had scored two goals this season, from a combined distance of about three yards. Here, he caught a volley from a Peter Hartley centre with perfect technique from around the edge of the area. However, the ball cannoned off the cross bar and away, with Mansfield feeling blessed to not have fallen behind. The quality of the strike can be best explained by telling you a fair section of the home fans applauded Reid's effort.
An Argyle side overloaded with attacking intent were looking threatening, and a far more orthodox chance fell to Graham Carey to give Argyle the lead on 14 minutes. Reid and Brunt proved a little too much for Town defenders in the centre, and this allowed Carey to drift into space. With the ball at his feet, ten yards out, you would have backed him to score, but Brian Jensen made a strong save with his feet.
The chances kept coming - and they kept getting easier - but Argyle still could not find an opener. A gorgeous move involving several Argyle players culminated in Gary Sawyer picking up the ball on the left from a Hiram Boateng through-ball, and clipping in an inviting near post cross. Brunt accepted the party invitation, but went to the house next door. His flicked header from inside the six-yard area somehow found its way wide.
After the half hour mark, Mansfield brought themselves into the game, typically trying to take advantage of corners or long throws from Adam Chapman, but finding Argyle to resolute. Reminiscent of a fortnight previous, when ex-Pilgrim Jason Banton looked desperate to impress against former employers, so Thomas looked up for the fight. One weave-and-cross move needed Hartley to head clear under pressure, and minutes later Nathan cut inside a little and whizzed a shot wide. It did not trouble Luke McCormick, but it was Town's best chance to that point.
Mansfield certainly finished the first half the stronger of the teams, but without troubling McCormick, and there was surely few suggestions other than Argyle being the better team in the grand scheme of things.
Argyle started the second half as well as they did the first, and after a long period of keeping the ball, earned a free-kick on the right wing. Carey took it, having a cheeky go at sneaking one in at the near post, but Jensen made a good save.
At the other end, Westcarr had Mansfield's first shot on target, but it was meat and drink to McCormick. Argyle quickly got back on the attack, with Brunt's cut-back for Boateng being well cut out, before a floated Jake Jervis cross hit the top of the cross bar. Carey then had another go from a dead-ball, from an even tighter angle, and Jensen again beat the ball out.
Mitchell Rose gave Argyle their first true scare, getting into the area on the right hand side and shooting across McCormick, but the Argyle keeper made an excellent stop. Argyle's response was immediate, and saw Reid run a channel, hold the ball up and tee up Carey. The latter's touch was superb, taking a defender out of play, but his finish was uncharacteristically pulled wide.
In the spirit of exchanging chances, Town were next up, with Green dinking wastefully over the bar after Hartley's miscontrol let him in.
Argyle kept on peppering the Mansfield defence, who stood up resolutely to shots from Jervis, Brunt and Carey in quick succession, but defensive blocks were gratefully watched by the already overworked Jensen.
It was a notable aspect of the last ten minutes that Jensen did not look exactly in a hurry when distributing the ball forward, whereas McCormick looked to get the ball up the park as soon as possible. This was not an Argyle side that had come for the point.
This was not to say that Mansfield would not go for a winner. Substitute Adi Yussuf tried to turn home Rose's near post cross but prodded wide.
Late on, Simpson's low ball in the area may possibly have been blocked by an arm, but nothing was given, and after the Pilgrims regained the ball, Boateng headed into Jensen's grateful hands.
Mansfield Town (4-4-2): 12 Brian Jensen; 6 Lee Collins (capt), 5 Krystian Pearce, 15 Ryan Tafazolli, 3 Malvind Benning; 4 Mitchell Rose, 20 Jack Thomas (19 Reggie Lambe 58), 7 Adam Chapman, 14 Nathan Thomas (17 Matty Blair 79); 11 Craig Westcarr (18 Adi Yussef 52), 10 Matt Green. Substitutes (not used): 1 Scott Shearer (gk), 2 Liam Marsden, 24 Jamie McGuire, 30 Joe Fitzpatrick.
Booked: Rose 80..
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 8 Josh Simpson, 20 Hiram Boateng; 14 Jake Jervis (11 Gregg Wylde 73), 10 Graham Carey (26 Oscar Threlkeld 87), 17 Ryan Brunt; 9 Reuben Reid (27 Craig Tanner 65). Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 30 Cory Harvey (gk).
Booked: Nelson 68, Tanner 90.
Referee: Mark Brown.
Attendance: 3,185 (463 away).