VIDEO - LOMAS ON STAGS: Cup exit offers hope as Stags prove they can live with the best
Despite another early FA Cup exit at the weekend, Mansfield Town at least turned in a decent, entertaining home performance against the best side in League Two to offer hope for the rest of the season.
On another day they would have come out winners and Plymouth, unbeaten in 13 games, could have had no complaints.
But, in the end, luck once again deserted the Stags as they were rocked by a sucker punch breakaway goal for a second game in a row and then beaten by a late strike which saw a handball and foul by Plymouth in the build-up, both missed by the officials.
Click HERE to see video of the match highlights
Click HERE to read a match report
Click HERE to read boss Adam Murray’s thoughts
Click HERE to read Plymouth boss Derek Adams’ thoughts
Click HERE to read Tim Morris’ blog on the game
Click HERE to read Martin Shaw’s blog on the game
Click HERE to read matchwinner David Fox’s opinion on the game
It did mean Stags’ rocky home record now extends to two wins out of 11, but after the joyless home clashes against Wycombe and Stevenage over the past month, Saturday saw Adam Murray’s side not only live with the best the division has to offer but create more chances and have more possession.
Sadly less than 1,900 home fans turned out to witness the improved display, though they did stick behind their team and rightly applauded them off at the end.
Paying due respect to the in-form Pilgrims, Murray chose to play Matt Green as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, which worked well as Chris Clements, alongside Jamie McGuire as one of the deep pair in midfield, completely ran the show.
Clements was an absolute joy to watch as he twisted and turned, slippery as an eel, and left Argyle chasing his shadow.
McGuire, restored to the side after injury, as usual gave his all and could not be faulted for failing to catch the fleet-footed Jordan Slew after Stags were caught on the counter for a second successive home game.
Slew picked up the ball not far from his own penalty box and ran the length of the field to slot home across Brian Jensen on 14 minutes.
Returning winger Ashley Hemmings had a poor first half but was the star of the second as he smashed home the equaliser at the far post on 54 minutes and then had a succession of chances to grab a winner, keeper Luke McCormick having to turn one effort against a post.
Hemmings’ acrobatic goal celebration was worth the admission fee alone!
Also, James Baxendale, out in the cold for so long this season, made an energetic and surprise return to the side to stake a claim for a regular place in the 18.
Stags’ previous four FA Cup ties had gone to replays, and Saturday looked to be heading the same way. But 10 minutes from time Yann Song’o got away with a handball and Jimmy Spencer was not penalised for flooring McGuire in the box off the ball to help make space for David Fox to bury his first goal for Plymouth.
It was cruel, but boss Murray was happy to see his side live with and almost match the best and knows that same energy and passion will be needed down at Portsmouth this weekend – a ground on which Stags have never lost in their four visits.