Carey 19, 23
by Rob McNichol
GRAHAM Carey announced himself to the 2016-17 season with a match-winning performance to inflict Mansfield Town's first defeat of the campaign.
The Irish playmaker scored one goal from a wide direct free-kick that beat everyone and sailed in, before a mesmorising solo effort that effectively put the game to bed long before the half-time interval.
Mansfield had more of the play after the break than they did before it, but Argyle cruised to their second win in succession, and their first at Home Park so far.
Craig Tanner, who returned to Home Park on loan from Reading on Thursday, took a place on the bench, alongside David Fox, who had recovered from his recent injury sustained playing against Tanner's parent club. The men to come out of the squad entirely were Gary Miller and Louis Rooney, with Ryan Donaldson being called up from bench to pitch.
Donaldson took a spot on the left of a three-man support system behind frontman Jimmy Spencer; Jake Jervis, scorer of Argyle's first goal of the season, was down the right flank, with Graham Carey back in his favourite position - central, and floating.
Connor Smith and Yann Songo'o played as deeper lying central midfielders, in front of a back four which comprised Oscar Threlkeld at right back, Gary Sawyer at left back, with Nauris Bulvitis and Sonny Bradley in between. All, of course, protecting goalkeeper and captain Luke McCormick.
The Argyle skipper was not the first goalie in action, though, as Carey, showing early signs of reveling in his assigned role, drifted effectively across the area, and shot low towards the corner. Veteran goalkeeper Brian Jensen, admittedly seeing the ball late, unconvincingly shoveled the ball wide of the post.
Argyle had the better of the early stages, with Carey often at the heart, and the opening goal had everything to do with the Pilgrims' talismanic number 10. Pulling out onto the right flank, the close attention he was receiving,that forced him to the deck, was deemed over-zealous, and Argyle had a free-kick. The Irishman took the dead-ball himself, and swung his delivery towards the far post begging for a flick to send it goalwards.
It was not needed. Legs of players from both sides dangled towards the delivery, as did Jensen's gloves, but the snitch-like ball evaded them all, and nestled in the corner of the net, as footballs are wont to do.
Admittedly one is grading on a curve with 2015-16's Pilgrim of the Year, but one could suggest that Carey's opening to this season was not at the same high standards as last season. Twenty-three minutes into this game, any such thoughts had soon evaporated. Picking the ball up on the right again, Carey drove into box, hurdling tackles as he went. A drop of the shoulder got him totally clear, sending not only the Mansfield defence for a dummy, but the entire Devonport end, most of the stewards, and a woman walking her dog in Beacon Park.
The shimmy left Carey at an acute angle, but this caused no problem either. A clip above Jensen, and Argyle led 2-0.
It was a deserved lead, too. Inspired by Carey, Argyle were clearly the more fluent side though much of the first period. Just after Bradley headed narrowly wide from a corner, a Carey ping from one side to another allowed Jervis to feed Spencer, whose shot was goalbound at the near post until Jensen intervened with two strong hands.
At the interval, Mansfield decided action was necessary, and replaced winger - and former Pilgrim - Ashley Hemmings with experienced forward Darius Henderson, and altered formations to play two up front. It yielded an early chance, and signaled the first time McCormick was called into action to stop a shot, but it was a facile gather for the Argyle captain.
There were not waves of Mansfield attacks for Argyle to deal in the opening 15 minutes of the second period, but Chris Clements' 20-yard effort was the closest Stags had got to Argyle's goal to that point, and the Greens were noticeably defending their area more frequently from crosses and set-plays. The upside to that was that it was typically a green head, or McCormick's shiny white gloves, that dealt with the incoming ball.
Perhaps to combat Mansfield inching their way into the game, Derek Adams acted, and brought on David Goodwillie for Jervis. The alteration saw a shift to a straight 4-4-2, with Goodwillie joining Spencer in the attack, and Argyle immediately attacked, generating a free-kick in a good spot. Mansfield, though, countered, and a snapshot by full-back Mal Benning could have been dangerous had it not struck the jostling pair of Bulvitis and Matt Green.
Carey had a sniff of getting his hat-trick when a dogged piece of keeping possession by Goodwillie was followed by the Scotsman hitting a sumptuous cross-field pass out to the left. Carey controlled and shot from outside the area, but the ball was always rising.
Moments later, Goodwillie was in the thick of it again, wriggling into the area and rolling a ball across the six-yard box that Town just about smuggled away.
Late changes saw Jordan Slew and Ben Purrington come on to help shore things up, but it was akin to putting a coat of paint on a padlocked door. Argyle saw off anything Mansfield had, and picked up a welcome home victory.
A rare midweek off, and then it's off to Blackpool beach. It will be a pleasure.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Connor Smith (16 Ben Purrington 90);14 Jake Jervis (7 David Goodwillie 70), 10 Graham Carey, 11 Ryan Donaldson; 9 Jimmy Spencer (8 Jordan Slew 86). Substitutes (not used): 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 22 David Ijaha, 24 David Fox, 27 Craig Tanner.
Booked: Bradley 20, Smith 44, Slew 88.
Mansfield (4-1-4-1): 12 Brian Jensen; 2 Rhys Bennett, 15 Kyle Howkins, 4 Lee Collins (capt), 3 Mal Benning; 7 Adam Chapman; 14 Kevan Hurst (22 CJ Hamilton 62), 19 Mitchell Rose (6 George Taft 77), 8 Chris Clements, 23 Ashley Hemmings (34 Darius Henderson half-time); 10 Matt Green. Substitutes (not used): 11 James Baxendale, 24 Jamie McGuire, 36 Jason Law, 37 Zayn Hakeem.
Referee: Brendan Malone.
Attendance: 6,935 (209 away).