Ahead of the Game - Pomp and Circumstance
WITH a huge week looming, Liam Spence takes a look at what the next seven days may hold...
With just six games remaining and 18 precious points left to contest for, Argyle’s pursuit of securing a spot in the play-off finals is well and truly gathering pace, especially after Carl McHugh’s 86th-minute equalising header against table-topping Burton Albion secured the Pilgrims a crucial point that saw us maintain our place among the all important top seven, at Home Park.
Despite the Green Army hunting for and indulging on their Easter eggs, all eyes will now be cast on our double bill of fixtures against Portsmouth and Mansfield Town.
John Sheridan’s Argyle will be looking to strengthen their grip on a play-off place and secure back-to-back-victories over dockyard rivals Portsmouth when they travel to Fratton Park, on Bank Holiday Monday.
The last time Argyle locked horns with Pompey at Fratton Park – despite it being a dead rubber on the last day of the season – it ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Argyle showing resiliency to come back on three occasions to cancel out a Danny Hollands hat-trick.
However, this time round it is anything but a flavourless fixture as Argyle will be looking to take that grit and determination shown in the last trip to the South Coast and transfer it into three sweet-tasting points.
Argyle can also take confidence from their triumphant 3-0 win over Pompey this season. The Greens put the game to bed after just 30 minutes on that occasion, as a brace from Reuben Reid and a precise finish from Lewi Alessandra condemned Andy Awford’s men to defeat at Home Park, in a game broadcast live on Sky Sports.
Pompey, who currently sit in 14th place in Sky Bet League 2, come into this one on the back of a 2-2 away draw at Carlisle United. Kyle Dempsey opened the scoring for the Cumbrians before goals from Jed Wallace and Matt Tubbs gave Awford’s men the lead. However, a 90th-minute equaliser from Charlie Wyke rescued a point for Carlisle.
This out-of-sorts form has seen Pompey fail to secure a win in their last four matches and this fragility is something Argyle will be looking to exploit.
Likewise, Mansfield have not boasted the greatest form of late. The Stags have won just one of their last six matches which gives us a lot of encouragement going into our 42nd game of the season, on Saturday.
The Stags' most recent knock in confidence came at the hands of Argyle’s fellow promotion chasers Southend, with the Shrimpers bagging the points with goals from Barry Corr and former Pilgrim Will Atkinson.
Another positive to take ahead of our meeting with the Stags that could put further dents into their hopes of safety is their meeting with promotion-chasing Shrewsbury on the Bank Holiday; especially if we are buoyed by getting a result at Portsmouth.
Although Adam Murray’s side have show signs of vulnerability, they did inflict a 1-0 defeat upon us this season with a Vadaine Oliver lob securing an unlikely win for the player-manager on his first game in charge, at the One Call Stadium.
The last time the Nottinghamshire club travelled down to the Theatre of Greens it ended in a 1-1 draw with Matt Rhead giving Mansfield the lead, but we rescued a point in the dying embers of the game when Lewi smashed his effort into the left corner of the net at the Devonport End.
If Argyle were to secure maximum points from the next two games it could see us rise to as high as 5th and will be hugely significant in our push for a concrete play-off place. As for Portsmouth and Mansfield, a victory for Pompey will help them keep their increasingly thin hopes of a play-off place alive, while a win for Mansfield would help cool fears of being sucked into the relegation places.