Caretaker Manager Adam Murray got his time in the One Call Stadium hot-seat off to a sublime start as magnificent Mansfield Town produced a tremendous display to beat play-off chasing Plymouth Argyle, 1-0.
Vadaine Oliver was the hero – scoring the only goal of a gripping match on the brink of half-time when he lobbed Luke McCormick, following a long ball down the line by Lee Beevers.
The Stags were the better team throughout, expressing courage and character in abundance, and this fantastic victory – and three points – will undoubtedly lift spirits ahead of Tuesday’s FA Cup first round replay at Concord Rangers.
Following the news last night that Paul Cox had left the club by mutual consent, Adam Murray was placed in caretaker charge and he made six changes to the starting xi.
The Stags attacked towards the North Stand in the first half and played some energetic fast-flowing football, which met with roars of approval from the home faithful.
Reggie Lambe, on his first home start since joining the club, played on the right side of a three-pronged attack and was at the heart of everything in the early exchanges.
Although the Pilgrims had a couple of early corners, it was Mansfield that dominated territorially and they almost got a reward for their efforts on the quarter-hour mark when the lively Lambe had a low shot blocked, before Kieron Freeman’s subsequent low cross into the area was cleared away.
Argyle also played some exciting football at times and knocked the ball around on the edge of the Stags’ area in the build-up to their first opening when Lewis Alessandra fired into the side-netting in their first attack.
The fleet-footed attacker, who played under Argyle boss John Sheridan at Oldham Athletic, then went closer to an opener as he tested Sascha Studer with a well-struck effort which the Stags’ ‘keeper did well to save.
The Pilgrims then squandered a golden opportunity, which will probably be shown in football bloopers highlights for years to come – a miss that by the end of the game would prove extremely costly.
The move began wide out on the left channel with Alessandra, who linked up with Andy Kellett and he worked his way to the by-line and got past his maker, then squared an inviting ball across the face of goal.
With the goal absolutely gaping, Kelvin Mellor rushed in and it seemed inevitable that the Pilgrims’ player would score, but he unleashed a powerful effort which incredibly rattled the woodwork from just three yards.
John Sheridan’s high-flying side, unbeaten in their previous seven league games, continued to apply pressure and Reuben Reid was next to try his luck with a 20-yard right-foot effort that drew Sascha Studer into a routine stop.
The Swiss custodian then dealt with a teasing left-wing cross into the area, opting to punch the ball away to safety, as Plymouth remained on the front foot over the course of the next few minutes.
Mansfield’s biggest threat going forward was through both Lambe and Vadaine Oliver, who drew an untimely and wreckless challenge from Argyle’s Lee Cox in a counter-attack on the half-hour mark.
Despite the incident being right under the nose of referee Mark Brown, the official opted not to book the offender – something which infuriated the Stags’ fans, who voiced their displeasure.
At this point, the pendulum started to swing in favour of the hosts, who dominated up to half-time.
Rob Taylor showed glimpses of pure quality at times and went close with a long-range effort on 33 minutes, which had to be closely watched by the Argyle ‘keeper as it narrowly cleared the upright.
Lambe then let with a 25-yard strike that was narrowly off-target as the Stags continued to press forward, before McCormick was called into action when he kept out a header by Oliver from Lee Beevers’ cross.
The Argyle custodian had to dive full-stretch across his goal just a couple of minutes later to prevent Peter Hartley’s attempted headed clearance from Lambe’s right-sided cross from going in the net.
However, on the stroke of half-time, the Stags faithful erupted with unadulterated joy as Murray’s men got a deserved reward for their efforts and breached the tightest defence in the Football League.
On an afternoon of so much good, sharp, high octane attacking football, it was a route one move by Mansfield, which Plymouth were left to rue.
Ryan Tafazolli played a low pass to Beevers, who hooked an inviting ball down the line for Oliver. The on loan forward took one glance goalwards and lobbed an advancing ‘keeper from the edge of the area, to spark celebrations.
The second half began with lots of vocal support for Mansfield, who nearly had more to celebrate when Taylor showed superb strength to carry the ball 30 yards in a mazy run, before he was eventually outmuscled inside the visitors’ area.
At the opposite end, Reid became the first player to go in the referee’s notebook as he needlessly used his hands to bring down a long ball and was correctly cautioned.
Mansfield continued to rattle Plymouth with their high-tempo style of play and nearly doubled their lead just after the hour mark. Oliver squared a ball through to Chris Clements, who shared a one-two as the Stags advanced, before Carl McHugh slid in with a last-ditch tackle to deny Taylor.
Plymouth’s next attack came through Dominic Blizzard, but what looked a promising cross into the area was calmly plucked out of the air by Studer.
With a quarter of the match left to play, both teams decided to freshen things up. The hosts made one change as Fergus Bell came on for the impressive Taylor, whilst Plymouth made two substitutions – Ollie Norburn and Deane Smalley replacing O’Connor and McHugh respectively.
Chances continued to be created, mainly by Mansfield, and Lambe should have done better when he unleashed a low drive straight at McCormick, following Oliver’s flick on from Studer’s long set-piece.
Plymouth then enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure, arguably their best of the match, and came close to netting an equaliser on a couple of occasions.
Tafazolli demonstrated some excellent defensive skills as he intercepted a loose ball with Lee Cox in close proximity, when Reid had managed to find space inside the area.
Before Argyle’s next attack, the Stags applied some pressure of their own – Clements’ playing a teasing free-kick through the area which nobody latched onto, whilst Freeman burst past two players to get to the by-line and played a low ball back across goal that drew Hartley into a clearance.
Amidst more Plymouth pressure, Reid went within only a few inches of an equaliser when he let fly with a sumptuous right-foot strike that flew narrowly past Studer’s right-hand post, whilst Riley had to intervene as Reid, the second-highest scorer at this level, nearly latched onto a cross at the near-post.
With seven minutes remaining, Mansfield could have put the game beyond doubt. In a route one attack, Studer’s long downfield ball was flicked on by substitute Matt Rhead towards Oliver, who stretched his legs to get away from his marker and saw a low effort tipped wide – but a goal-kick was incredibly awarded.
Mansfield continued to hold firm against an increasing wave of pressure by the promotion-chasing Pilgrims, who dominated territorially in the closing stages without causing too much danger.
During four tense minutes of injury-time, the visitors went close, however, as Lambe accidentally tangled with Kellett inside the Stags’ half – a result of which was a free-kick to the visitors.
Nevertheless, Adam Murray’s charges dealt with the danger and it was enough as the player/caretaker boss was able to see his team get off to a winning start.