Plymouth Argyle put their poor run of form to one side to secure a hard-fought 1-0 win away at Mansfield. Conor Grant was the hero for Ryan Lowe’s side, with his superb long-range drive in the 13th minute enough to secure the win. It was the Greens’ first league victory in the month of September since 2016.

Argyle fans were treated to a surprise before the game even kicked off, as Lowe moved away from his trusted 3-1-4-2 formation from the start. A risk? Most certainly, especially for a manager whose whole ethos revolves around one system. But it got the job done, and ultimately propelled Argyle back to the top half of League Two.

Managerial evolution?

Despite a relatively poor run of recent results, the mood around Home Park has generally been positive since Lowe arrived back in June. However, if there has been one criticism that some supporters have thrown his way, it’s the supposed impression that he doesn’t possess a “plan B” when things aren’t quite going Argyle’s way.

Given that Argyle have generally been on top in games in spite of not getting the desired results, the calls for a complete tactical overhaul certainly were not well founded. Nonetheless, some supporters wanted to be safe in the knowledge that Lowe at least had the ability to change the shape of his side. After all, who knows when an injury crisis may hit, and a change in shape will become vital?

On Saturday, Lowe proved that he wasn’t tied to his standard system. He did away with having one man deep in midfield, preferring the use of a flat four with Conor Grant and Antoni Sarvevic in the centre. It meant that Joe Edwards was once more deployed on the right, a position he excelled in against Crawley earlier in the season, but perhaps not the position from which he can offer the most to this Argyle side.

Furthermore, after playing two strikers in every game so far this season, Lowe opted to trim that down to one at the weekend. Joel Grant played as a lone striker, which allowed Argyle to continue playing with two ‘attacking’ midfield players, though Danny Mayor and George Cooper who occupied the positions operated much more like inside forwards. Of course, that’s something Argyle fans will be familiar with thanks to the recent exploits of Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras.

In the end, Argyle’s formation was more of a 3-4-3, or 3-4-2-1, rather than Lowe’s conventional 3-1-4-2. The change wasn’t huge – in essence Lowe simply mixed around the shape of his central attacking players – but it was change nonetheless. It shows a certain amount of evolution in the Liverpudlian’s style of management and suggests that, when he considers it necessary, he is willing to change his style to suit the team’s needs. That can only bode well for the future.

Impact on the game

In truth, there were both good and bad aspects of Argyle’s altered formation on display at the weekend.

The positives, as they often do with this Argyle side, came in attack. The formation allowed both Danny Mayor and George Cooper to start in positions from which they could threaten, whilst also allowing the creative talents of Conor Grant to feature. It was perhaps more by luck than intelligent design, but starting Grant in a deeper position gave him the space to fire in the delicious driven shot that ultimately won Argyle the game.

Argyle’s defence also seemed to cope well with Mansfield’s attack. Fears of Otis Khan, CJ Hamilton and Danny Rose dominating the Argyle back line were pushed to one side as Gary Sawyer, Will Aimson and Scott Wootton generally stopped them playing the game on their terms. Things weren’t flawless, however – Hamilton really ought to have given the hosts the lead early in the game, but took a touch too many after Sawyer’s misplaced pass allowed Rose to set him clear.

That was symptomatic of a few problems Argyle had in possession across the game. Perhaps stemming from the fact Edwards was not deployed in the central position that could have allowed him to control proceedings, Argyle only had 43% of the ball against Mansfield. It’s a far cry from what we’d generally expect from a Ryan Lowe side, known to enjoy playing on the front foot.

Whilst Argyle were able to create good quality chances, the higher quantity of chances went to their opponents. Goalkeeper Alex Palmer, back to his best this weekend, had to come up big in the dying embers of the game to preserve Argyle’s slender advantage. Ultimately, the Greens’ lack of possession didn’t cost them the game. But it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

So was this a perfect display? No. Frankly that would be an unrealistic expectation. But ending a 7-game winless run away from home against one of the early season promotion favourites is certainly sufficient for Argyle at this time.

Sign of things to come?

One suspects we will learn an awful lot about Ryan Lowe over the coming fortnight.

Next weekend, the Greens will be expected to win at home against a Scunthorpe side sitting second bottom of the league with a solitary victory to their name. It’ll also be the first time Scunthorpe return to Home Park since the final day of last season, when both sides were relegated and the visitors scored a hugely controversial equalising goal. There’s every chance, therefore, that the atmosphere will be highly-charged.

With the desire to win so great, and expected, Lowe has decisions to make. We know he has a preferred style, but he has seen results fail to fall his way whilst using it. Meanwhile, his first game using a different formation has seen Argyle deliver a victory. Will he be able to see past the results, judge games on the performances, and pick his side based on the demands of the day? Or will Saturday’s 1-0 win be enough to see him stick with the same side?

If Derek Adams still found himself in the Home Park hotseat, it would be almost certain that Argyle would line up with an unchanged side; the Scot was always reluctant to tinker after a win, regularly to his detriment. Will Lowe do the same? It’s certainly going to be interesting to find out just how much he has in common with his predecessor.