OPINION: Consolation in Cup defeat for Mansfield

Mansfield Town v Plymouth Argyle.
Ashley Hemmings in the thick of it in the second half.
Mansfield Town v Plymouth Argyle. Ashley Hemmings in the thick of it in the second half.
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Mansfield Town bowed out of the FA Cup on Saturday but put in a really good performance against high-flying Plymouth Argyle - and that was some consolation.

You have to go back nearly nine years, to January 2008, against Brighton at the Withdean Stadium, for the last time Mansfield defeated a Football League club in the FA Cup.

But that run could so easily have ended, as the Stags had more than enough good chances to have won the game.

Plymouth arrived on a superb run, unbeaten for 13 games, with 11 wins and two draws, including of course the 2-0 win over the Stags at Home Park in August.

Plymouth found themselves 1-0 ahead at the break with their only chance of the first half, and that came from a Mansfield free kick well inside the Plymouth half.

From that Stags free kick, Jordan Slew picked the ball up and ran fully 70 yards with Jamie McGuire unable to catch him, before firing past Brian Jensen in the Stags goal.

The Stags meanwhile went close five times in the first half, as Matt Green was put through on goal by a brilliant ball from James Baxendale and fired straight at the keeper, Baxendale brought a good save from the keeper who tipped just wide from a curling shot from the left, Ashley Hemmings fired in a fine shot from 25 yards which the keeper just about pushed wide, Mitch Rose fired wide from 20 yards, and a cross from Chris Clements from the right was caught by the wind, completely misjudged and missed by the keeper, and nearly ended up creeping in at the far post.

There was good applause for Mansfield at the break. However, it was the 11th first half out of 11 this season in which the Stags have failed to score at home.

The second half continued in the same vein.

Hemmings knocked a good chance over the bar before Mansfield were deservedly level as Hemmings emphatically belted a shot into the top right corner of the net from eight yards and celebrated with a double somersault - it was his first goal for Mansfield.

Then twice more he came close as he sent a shot straight at the keeper before he fired in a great shot from 22 yards that looked destined for the corner of the net until the keeper tipped it onto the post.

But Mansfield were hit by a sucker punch on 80 minutes as David Fox fired home a winner for the visitors from 16 yards.

The goal was highly controversial as there was a blatant handball by Songo’o in the build-up, badly missed by the officials but not by our pitchside video footage, and then Jamie McGuire appeared to be wrestled to the ground off the ball just before the ball was put into the net.

The Stags were unable to find another equaliser and it was gutting to exit the competition.

It was tough to take for Mansfield, but at least the players were rightly applauded off the pitch.

There were plenty of good performances from Mansfield players, particularly pleasing to see from the midfield, with McGuire, Clements, Mitch Rose, Baxendale and Hemmings all contributing plenty to the game.

McGuire added such much-needed leadership and Clements dictated much of the game from a deep midfield position.

Mitch Rose provided a good cross for the goal while Baxendale, in for just his second start of the season, was very impressive in first half, though faded in the second half, perhaps not surprising with his lack of game time.

And it was great to see Hemmings finally fulfilling the sort of form he showed previously for Dagenham.

In total he had six decent shots on goal, including the goal, and brought two fine saves from the keeper, one of which was tipped onto the post.

Hopefully Hemmings can follow this performance up with a good run of form.