Mansfield Town and Plymouth Argyle were among League Two’s pre-season promotion favourites, but both currently find themselves in the bottom half.

 

Mansfield under pressure

Mansfield will have been disappointed to draw 2-2 at Port Vale last time out, because their performance was arguably one of the best of their season to date.

It’s been a difficult time for John Dempster, because he is learning all about senior management and possibly learning the hard way.

For somebody inexperienced, the ideal would be to have a period of grace to get a feel for the difference in requirements in terms of motivation, tactics and preparation in the senior game, in comparison with life in the academy.

Unfortunately for him, that is not the nature of football and certainly not at a club like Mansfield, who have spent a lot of money over the last three years under John and Carolyn Radford to try to get promoted.

In fact, after the 1-0 loss at Crawley in mid-September, John’s programme statement from the following game read: “Whilst nothing is won or lost after 10 matches, it is certainly a time where progress, or lack thereof, can be measured.”

That statement was after eight games, since which the Stags have lost one and drawn one, remaining 19th – so although the statement also offered “unwavering” support to Dempster, one imagines that he as well as the team will enter this match under pressure.

It is completely understandable that Dempster is coming under criticism from Mansfield fans, who are doubtful as to whether he has the credentials to lead them to promotion – which remains the aim for this season.

At the same time, when being targeted to an extent it may be difficult psychologically for Dempster to maintain the belief and positivity required, he will have to be particularly thick-skinned to get through this phase.

 

More to come from Argyle

Plymouth Argyle are currently 14th in the table, which on paper is not where they want to be.

However, there are plenty of reasons to believe in what manager Ryan Lowe is doing, especially when we consider what he achieved last season at Bury.

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When any club suffers relegation, there are generally three steps to accomplish to undo the damage.

Firstly, guarantee that there will be 11 players fighting for the cause for 90 minutes every week. Secondly, establish a clear playing identity; and thirdly, fine-tune small details in both boxes.

In just three months, Lowe has taken the first two steps.

Argyle are never found wanting for heart or desire, and they are a controlling influence on most of their games, due to the coherence of the 3-1-4-2 system that their manager has implemented.

The Green Army have not quite been finishing their chances and had one or two difficulties defending balls into the box, as we saw in the 2-0 home loss to Cheltenham last time out.

However, because they have sorted two of the three major issues, one could argue that, with a longer-term perspective, they are in a better position than any of the relegated clubs because they have a clear playing identity, where other clubs don’t.

 

The tactics board

Mansfield do not appear to be imposing themselves on games to the extent one might expect from what is, on paper, one of the best squads in this division.

Their best chances in their last home game, a 4-0 loss to Cambridge catalysed by Matt Preston’s red card, came in opportunistic counter-attacks through CJ Hamilton – and that was at 11 v 11.

They will hope that Hamilton’s pace can exploit defensive gaps in an expansive Argyle side, but because they appear to rely heavily on one outlet, the likely scenario is that the visitors are able to cut out the passing lanes into him.

Lowe’s side will pose a direct threat via Danny Mayor, who has been among League Two’s stand-out players in his last two seasons at this level and forms a great left-sided partnership with Callum MacFadzean.

The latter, brought by Lowe from Bury, stretches play with his all-action energy down the left, creating space for Mayor to jink inside and either play a killer through ball or curl a right-footed shot for the far corner.

Mayor has only scored one league goal to date, but that is bound to change given the volume of shots that he is having – 23 already this season.

 

The betting angle

Argyle look underrated at 2/1 for the victory – the visitors can enter the top-three argument once they fine-tune glitches in both boxes, starting in Nottinghamshire.

Tip: Plymouth Argyle to win

Any odds mentioned in this article are correct at the time of posting

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