Mansfield Town 0
C Grant 13
IT has taken Conor Grant 23 games in an injury-interrupted 15 months at Home Park to make an indelible mark on his Pilgrimage, but he has now done so in some style, and with perfect timing.
The sweetest left foot at Home Park secured a valuable victory for Argyle, driving the ball into a net that has riffled to some memorable strikes from Pilgrims’ midfielders in recent years – Graham Carey’s free-kick; David Fox’s FA Cup winner. This topped them all.
As Argyle emerged from some early home-side pressure, he picked the ball up at least 25 yards from goal, looked up, and imperiously smashed it home.
It gave the Pilgrims their first Sky Bet League Two victory in six matches, and their first win in the month of September since 2016, the not so small matter of 16 games ago.
Argyle had made two changes to their starting line-up, recalling defender Scott Wootton at the One Call, as well as Conor Grant.
As one Grant returned, another – defender Josh – made way for Wootton in a three-man defence, while Conor nominally replaced injured striker Dom Telford from the 11 that had lined up a week previously against Cheltenham Town at Home Park.
As well as changing the personnel, manager Ryan Lowe had tweaked the Pilgrims’ shape a touch – still three at the back but with, essentially, a matching fluid three up front, Danny Mayor and George Cooper supporting Joel Grant.
Behind them, Callum McFadzean and Joe Edwards were more wide midfielders, than wing-backs, with Antoni Sarcevic sharing central duties with Conor Grant.
Whether it was the change to the system or a surface saturated by heavy rain, Argyle started uncertainly and were nearly unhinged in the opening minutes after Gary Sawyer lost possession midway inside his own half.
Danny Rose seized on the loose ball and fed CJ Hamilton, racing through the middle at least three yards ahead of the chasing pack. His touch, though, was unforgivably heavy, allowing Alex Palmer to make a save that he really had no right to.
Argyle gradually settled on the puddling pitch and quickly made significant inroads of their own.
McFadzean, overlapping, crashed a shot against the foot of a post, with Joel Grant a pull-back and tap-in from giving Argyle the lead. Mayor then played in Joel, who muscled his way through with an intent that faltered only on some brave goalkeeping by Conrad Logan.
Having gained momentum, the Pilgrims made it count. Sarcevic controlled a clearance and saw Conor Grant advancing on his left, some 30 yards from goal. One touch to control, another to send a rasping oscillating shot past the veteran Logan’s futile attempt to keep the ball out.
It was some way to register your first goal for the club. You always felt he had it – and many more – in him.
Ahead, Argyle maintained control of the game, with Conor Grant, especially, blossoming.
Having bought one ticket for the lottery and walked away with first prize, the young Liverpudlian was not afraid to dip into his pocket again. One shot – left-foot, of course – was blocked on route to goal; another had Logan scrambling full length to make sure the Pilgrims’ advantage stayed at one goal.
Of slight concern was that all three Pilgrims’ centre-backs were shown a yellow with more than half of the game to be played, Wootton for a particularly hard, and somewhat out of character, tackle on Rose; Aimson unluckily, for a challenge on Rose that looked legal.
In time added on to the first half, each side fashioned an opportunity to change the nature of the half-time team-talk. Edwards’ cross found the head of Cooper, in space in the Mansfield penalty area, but the ball went over; at the other end, Kellan Gordon’s drive into the box was cleared for a corner.
The home side came out with a decent lick. Mal Benning had a cross cut out well by Sawyer, and Rose’s drive was deflected over. Meanwhile, McFadzean and Sarcevic joined their defensive colleagues in receiving a caution from referee Anthony Backhouse, who seemed to deem any challenge worthy of a yellow card.
Otis Kahn then made headway in the Argyle box and when his deflected shot looped out to Neal Bishop, Sarcevic’s body block was a pluperfect example of dedication above and beyond.
Palmer and Aimson then teamed up to keep out Gordon’s drive and a rebound which was falling kindly for Hamilton before there was a long break in play to allow attention to Cooper when he was kicked in the face by Benning.
Cooper could not continue and Ryan Taylor – one of only two survivors from the Pilgrims’ previous game at One Call Stadium – came on to play the central of the three striker roles, Joel Grant shuffling out to the wing. Taylor’s height was also useful at the back as Mansfield continued to press and won a succession of corners.
Argyle’s next substation was more surprising, Mayor coming off in favour of Klaidi Lolos, who became the sixth Pilgrim to be booked – for his first foul in what was by no means a dirty game.
Mansfield continued to press and Khan’s close control took him into a threatening position the penalty area before Sarcevic slid in from the side to deprive him of the opportunity to shoot.
Mansfield sent on Ryan Lowe’s main striker at Bury last season, Nicky Maynard, back from injury, for the final ten minutes as the Stags threw the works at Argyle.
The Pilgrims needed Palmer to be at his best to come quickly from his line and spread himself at the feet of Stags’ substitute Andy Cook to block the fine opportunity.
That preceded eight minutes of time added on to the 90, largely because of the on-field treatment to Cooper, during which Palmer did well to keep out Gordon’s deflected shot.
Bring on October.
Mansfield Town (3-5-2): 1 Conrad Logan; 15 Conor Shaugnessy (19 Andy Cook 77), 5 Krystian Pearce (capt), 17 Ryan Sweeney; 20 Kellan Gordon, 6 Neal Bishop, 10 Otis Khan (11 Nicky Maynard 81), 7 Alex MacDonald, 3 Mal Benning; 22 CJ Hamilton (18 Dapo Afolayan 66), 32 Danny Rose. Substitutes (not used): 8 Jacob Mellis, 16 Will Tomlinson, 30 Alistair Smith, 31 Aidan Stone (gk).
Booked: Gordon 45, Benning 63.
Argyle (3-4-3): 24 Alex Palmer; 5 Scott Wootton, 4 Will Aimson, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 8 Joe Edwards, 17 Antoni Sarcevic, 15 Conor Grant, 21 Callum McFadzean; 32 George Cooper (9 Ryan Taylor 66), 16 Joel Grant (2 Joe Riley 79), 10 Danny Mayor (19 Klaidi Lolos 71). Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper, 6 Niall Canavan, 20 Adam Randell, 25 Josh Grant.
Booked: Wootton 22, Sawyer 30, Aimson 45, McFadzean 50, Sarcevic 52, Lolos 75.
Referee: Anthony Backhouse.
Attendance: 4,499 (550 away).