Sunday, 26 February 2012

CTA #38 Stags Vs Tamworth

Mansfield Town Vs Tamworth
Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #35)
Field Mill
Date & Time
Saturday 25th February 2012 – 3pm
2221 (134)
Match Referee
Peter Bankes (Merseyside)

The Ex Factor

I know I know – predictable title with potential to be sued by Cowell and his cronies, however this blog isn’t about talentless singers who happily murder classics, it’s all about our beloved Mansfield Town FC and their charge towards the play-offs, so sorry Cher Lloyd & Jedward fans – this blog isn’t for you (and frankly, you need to acquire some taste!)

Moving on, after Tuesday’s emphatic 5-2 victory over struggling Darlington, despite the victory we we’re left wondering how the hole left by the departing John Dempster would be plugged. On Friday our questions we’re answered as big Exodus Geohaghon arrived on emergency loan from Darlington. It’s no secret that the 6 foot 5 inch tall defender has long been on Paul Cox’s wish list and had it not been for the late intervention of league two outfit Dagenham & Redbridge, we may have never of known of the talent of John Dempster. As it happens, Dempster turned out to be a great addition and I’ve no doubt he’d welcome a move back to Field Mill in the summer once he’s escaped the crutches of Steve Evans’ Crawley. However as I mentioned in my match preview on Friday, we can’t look to far ahead and must concentrate on the here and now, taking it one game at a time as we aim for the play-offs.

Yesterday saw us face a difficult test against Marcus Law’s Tamworth side who have defied the critic’s predications sitting in a comfortable mid-table place. The Lambs pressured well and after the game the former Kettering boss posted on his twitter “We were robbed 2 one to Mansfield. One nil up 10 mins to go missed 2 1v1s and a open goal!!! One of them days I think gutted” – If Paul Cox had twitter I’m sure he’d have posted a similar tweet, including the two perfectly good goals being ruled out and numerous fouls which either went unnoticed or the wrong way. That pretty much sums it up really, both sides have cases for a ‘bad day at the office’ but at the end of the day, those who win games take their chances, that’s the difference between sitting mid-table and chasing the play-offs, fight and determination – in my opinion, once Adam Smith netted the leveller, only one team was going to win that game. The return fixture in two weeks time will be a tough test, but as I’ve said – we’ll look at that game when it arrives, next up it’s the arrival of Lincoln and the return of Coronation Streets finest, Reg Holdsworth.

Paul Cox was forced to make the one change to the side that brushed Darlington aside on Tuesday, however the Stags boss made a further two changes, brining in fresh legs on the wing with the influential Louis Briscoe getting his first start in seven games after a fine display from the bench of Tuesday. Ben Hutchinson was the man replaced with Lindon Meikle replacing Adam Smith, who’d started the last five games since his return from Aldershot, on the left. The like for like swap of Geohaghon for Dempster completed the treble change from Tuesday.

Alan Marriott
Luke O’Neill – [#26] Exodus Geohaghon (Dempster) – Ritchie Sutton – Paul Edwards
Louis Briscoe (Hutchinson) – Adam Murray (C) – Gary Roberts – Lindon Meikle (Smith)
Ross Dyer – Matt Green
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Martin Riley – Matt Rhead – Adam Smith – Anthony Howell

With neither side crossing paths until our arrival in the conference, yesterday’s game was only the fourth time the sides had met at Field Mill – the Stags had never been victorious on home soil against the Lambs with defeat in both the league and FA Trophy, plus a goalless draw. Mansfield got the game underway and looked to banish another demon from the off, Gary Roberts switch straight to the left wing caught Tamworth off guard and Lindon Meikle capitalised, weaving his way forward cutting inside then out before feeding Paul Edwards whose low cross was screwed out for a corner. Luke O’Neill took the first of three consecutive corners however Tamworth eventually scrambled clear.

Strong movement between O’Neill and Briscoe on the right hand side on three minutes gave Exodus Geohaghon the first opportunity to demonstrate his powerful long throw ability which has undone many a Stags defence over the past four seasons, his first in the famous Amber and Blue failed to trouble however as Lambs shot stopper Jonathon Hedge easily collected.

At the other end Marcus Law’s side began to create chances of their own, a long ball over the top of the Stags defence from left back Scott Barrow saw Jean-Paul Marna get goal side of Ritchie Sutton and Paul Edwards, with the former playing left side of centre half for only the second time this season following the departure of Dempster. Marna failed to keep his effort down and fired over Marriott’s cross bar, moments later Sutton was involved again, bringing down former Stag Iyseden Christie for a free kick, which Luke O’Neill headed behind for a corner, which ultimately came to nothing.

The two minute pressure spell had woken the Stags up and they pushed forward and created in the final third, Lindon Meikle again left Richard Tate chasing shadows, cutting inside and driving a powerful shot at goal which Hedge palmed away, before Mansfield wrongly had a goal chalked off on 11 minutes. Exodus Geohaghon provided the assist with his bullet throw from the right hand side, new centre half partner Ritchie Sutton nipped in between three defenders to fire home – however the former Port Vale man was prevented celebrating his first career goal by Peter Bankes who ruled the goal out for high boot despite no complaint from the Tamworth defence, or indeed Suttons boot being remotely high, as video evidence has proved.

With the game still locked at 0-0, Mansfield had the next best chance to take the lead on 16 minutes with Matt Green instrumental. Luke O’Neill sparked the move with a wonderfully weighted ball from right back, landing over the top of the flat footed Tamworth back four. Matt Green slipped through and after a cleaver couple of touches, rounded the on rushing keeper Hedge, with the angle against the Stags leading goal scorer, he squared for strike partner Dyer who slid in and fired wide under pressure from centre halves Duane Courtney and Paul Green, who woke up just at the right time.

It was then a familiar face who nearly opened the scoring against his three times former employers. Christie held up the ball well on the edge of the box before laying off the on rushing left back Scott Barrow, his shot was palmed away by Marriott who could do nothing about the rebound as Jean-Paul Marna struck, fortunately for Marriott, Louis Briscoe was back on the line to make the clearance. Marriott was in action again two minutes later as centre half Duane Courtney left fly from distance, the former Lincoln Shot stopper sprang well across to his left to keep out the well hit effort.

Mansfield thought they’d found their feet again on 33 minutes as Gary Roberts, Luke O’Neill and Exodus Geohaghon helped move the ball left for Meikle. However the wingman’s cross was deflected away allowing the visitors to counter; Ritchie Sutton made an excellent recovering challenge as Christie looked to break free. The visitors had another golden chance with six to go before the break; Marna provided the assist to Liam McDonald who, 1 v 1 with Marriott, fired well wide.

The visitors continued to pressure to the break but neither side failed to break the goalless seal, as the players headed in for their half time oranges.

HALF TIME: Stags 0-0 Tamworth

As the second half got underway, it was the Stags who started the brightest with Louis Briscoe registering two shots in three minutes. The first came after Gary Roberts had won a free kick on the left hand side on 57 minutes, Luke O’Neill’s delivery from 30 yards was headed back across goal from deep by Geohaghon, with Briscoe next to connect poking his effort wide on the stretch. The quartet were all involved three minutes later for Briscoe’s next effort, Geohaghon’s throw was this time short to Roberts who teed up O’Neill for a first time swinging cross, with Briscoe heading wide at the far post after a good run to shake off his marker.

Gary Roberts then tried a cheeky lob on 52 minutes when Murray was fouled just over the half way line, taking the free kick quickly – he’d spotted Hedge off his line but failed to embarrass the Lambs keeper who back peddled to collect the dipping effort.

Despite Mansfield’s pressure it was the visitors who bagged the opener in empathic fashion on 54 minutes. Lambs skipper Paul Green provided the assist from the half way line with a hopeful punt forward swinging to the right of the area, Mansfield had time to watch the flight of the ball and clear but failed to do so, being punished by Jean-Paul Marna who struck beautifully into the top corner on the half volley. An excellent strike, one of the best I’ve seen from a visiting player.

Stags 0-1 Tamworth

The Stags tried to respond quickly and on 57 put real pressure on in the final third, Paul Edwards’ cross from the left found Dyer at the back post who cushioned a neat header down into the path of Roberts, who blazed over from the edge of the box. The headed assist from Dyer proved his last action, as he was replaced by Matt Rhead – who took to the field along with Adam Smith who replaced Lindon Meikle.

It was Smith who made an immediate impact creating another Stags chance on the hour mark. Gary Roberts sparked the move with a crisp pass to the left wing for Smith who danced his way past Tate before putting in a perfect cross. Louis Briscoe connected but failed to keep his well struck volley down, firing over from six yards. Smith was again creative five minutes later, cutting inside and crossing from another Roberts pass, Matt Rhead was half an inch away from connecting.

The Stags constant pressure nearly proved their downfall on 67 minutes as the Lambs countered. A quick clearance found Christie on the left hand side, the 33 year old who was leading scorer at Stags in 2002/03, dribbled past Edwards and Roberts before squaring for on rushing Lambs sub Danny Thomas, Alan Marriott stood his ground well and prevent Stags from going two goals behind with a fine save.

Five minutes later Mansfield we’re again left fuming as the referee ruled out another goal. Luke O’Neill pressured with three consecutive corners, the last of which a right footed in swinger from the far side found Geohaghon half a yard out, the burley centre back bundled home but was stopped celebrating his debut with a goal by Bankes, who judged the former Peterborough man to have fouled the goal keeper.

Two minutes later Mansfield’s persistence prevailed as they drew level. The Big Ex’s big throw from the half way line was headed half away by Tamworth, but Adam Smith lurked on the edge of the area and after cutting inside, took a touch to drive into space before letting fly. The ball took a slight deflection, creeping past the wrong footed keeper for Smith’s first goal in Stags colours since his brace against Barrow exactly a year and six days ago.

Stags 1-1 Tamworth

The pace of the game upped another few gears and Gary Roberts was soon in the referees note book for retaliation, going face to face with Scott Barrow after the Lambs left back had hacked him down on the half way line. Adam Murray was the man to come across and calm the water, but it’s fair to say for the rest of the game, Barrow steered well clear of Roberts.  The visitors then had a double chance to regain the lead as the game entered the final eight minutes, with the first coming on the counter following mammoth Stags pressure. Matt Rhead was instrumental in the air flicking the ball on from Marriott’s kick to Smith, who cut inside and saw his shot cleared off the line for a corner. Another corner followed but Stags failed to capitalise and the visitors broke, a one-two between Christie and Thomas saw the latter’s shot blocked by Skipper Murray who was left in considerable pain. As ever Murray carried on and could only watch as the visitors nearly stole the game with six to go. Alan Marriott’s kick was headed dominantly back into Mansfield territory by Paul Green, Kyle Patterson picked it up and rounded Alan Marriott, however a strong challenge by Paul Edwards on the line denied the Lambs a late winner, Edwards tackle in his final game before returning to Fleetwood probably the most vital of the game.

Once Mansfield had levelled, you always felt it would be they who took the game despite the visitor’s chances. The feeling came to life with three minutes left, as Geohaghons’ throws again playing a part. The powerful throw from the right was headed down into Roberts path, just to the left of the area by Rhead. The creative midfielder delivered perfectly for Matt Green, who did the rest from close range, hammering home his 22nd in Mansfield colours, making it eight goals in his last ten games.

Stags 2-1 Tamworth

The Lambs we’re disheartened by still threatened late, another tremendous block by Murray saw the Stags captain injured and helped off the pitch by Physio Ian Pearce, with Anthony Howell his replacement. The five minuets added time came and went, with the full time whistle moving Stags up to 7th place, two points of York in 5th and three points off Southport in 4th, of who they have a game in hand over. The Stags also have a game in hand of 6th place Kidderminster who are also two points ahead of the Stags and play host to Cox’s side on the final day of the season, in what could prove to be the most dramatic and critical game in our recent history.

FULL TIME: Stags 2-1 Tamworth

After the game, Paul Cox helped injured skipper Adam Murray across the pitch towards the tunnel, something picked up by photo man James. A poinient image showing that in these final 13 games, everyone’s in it together to see the Stags home.

Not the best of displays I grant you, but pretty football doesn’t always win you games, you have to be patient and take your chances, which is exactly what we did. This week is again vital for Cox in the transfer market, another defender and maybe a left back is need to fill the void which no doubt will be left by Edwards now he’s returned to Fleetwood following his months loan expiring. Of course he may return should Fleetwood permit it but we’ll have to wait and see.

Yesterday’s victory marks our fourth consecutive home win, something last achieved in the 2008-09 campaign under the leadership of Billy McEwan according to my brief notes. That win stretched to five on the bounce at home with victories over Histon (1-0), Kidderminster (4-2), Northwhich Victoria (3-2), Grays Athletic (1-0) and Eastbourne (3-1) before a 1-1 draw with Cambridge saw that come to an end. Going further back, we achieved for wins on the bounce in 2004/05 with wins over Kidderminster (2-1), Yeovil (4-1), Northampton (4-1) and Rochdale (1-0) before a 2-2 draw with Lincoln City ended that spell. It’s the Imps up next at Field Mill with the return of David Holdsworth, who no doubt will be thrown by the lack of the revolving door outside reception. Stats are all well and good, but in truth – I just want another three points as we take it game by game, step by step – The Mansfield Town FC Train back to Football League Central (Via a short stop at the Play-offs) is slowly gathering speed.

Thanks for reading! Same time next week!
Photos: James Williamson

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

CTA #37 Mansfield Vs Darlington

Mansfield Town Vs Darlington
BSBP Game #31 (Rearranged)
Field Mill, Mansfield
Date & Time
Tuesday 21st February 2012 – 7.45pm
1697 (80)
Match Referee
Rob Merchant (Stoke)

 The weird and the wonderful

It’s strange how in just a few days you can go from be extremely frustrated and down in the dumps, to buzzing with excitement beaming from ear to ear. Om Sunday I found myself sat here writing about how lacklustre and without desire, commitment and energy our performance against Newport was, now I find myself furiously tapping at the keys writing the exact opposite as the Stags bounced back in style, seeing off troubled Darlington 5-2 in one of the most entertaining games I’ve seen for a while, including the most mental four minutes of football I’ve ever witnessed.

Those mental four minutes are only part of the reason today’s piece has the title ‘The Weird and the wonderful’. We’ve all followed the story of Darlington closely and send our best wishes to them, struggling for cash to stay alive and with playing resources stretched the Quakers have plummeted down the league standings – it must be difficult for even the most faithful fans to consider making the journey. I genuinely take my hat off to them and can only begin to imagine what’s going through their heads, over the past week they’ve spent an estimated 14 hours on the road covering over 700 miles to cheer their team on at Southport, Alfreton and Field Mill last night. I’m delighted our fans clapped both the travelling support and the downbeat travelling squad, as ‘The Stag’ read last night ‘United We Stand’. Darlington’s travelling support are in some way an inspiration, as no matter what’s happening they refuse to throw in the towel, faith like that deserves rewards and I hope they find it both in financial investment and on the pitch avoiding the drop – I’ll be keeping an eye on the results and cheering you on, football sometimes is a whole lot more than a game.
In some ways it feels a little harsh to be sat here writing about a dominant victory, some would argue its rubbing salt in the wounds. It almost seems as if I’m painting Darlington’s performance as poor and without hope, it was far from that. Darlington fought bravely and fielded a fairly strong side consisting of just three starting youth team players and a young loanee goalkeeper. From the first whistle the Quakers communicated and worked as a team and we’re, as you’ll read later, rewarded. Mansfield might have got back into the game and played some tight, tidy stuff, but there we’re spells that the Quakers pressured and at the end of the day, should be proud of themselves and keep their heads held high.      

Mansfield’s performance as I’ve mentioned was majorly improved, the grit, the fight, the flare, determination and togetherness was back for a large part of the game. Before the game they knew they’d have to be a little evil and show no soft side, it’s exactly what they did with the reward of three points, a jump up to eight, three points and a game in hand off of the play-offs.
Paul Cox made just the one change from Saturday’s defeat at Newport; Paul Edwards came in for his full debut at the expense of Martin Riley, who had to settle for a place on the bench.

Alan Marriott
Luke O’Neill – Ritchie Sutton – John Dempster – Paul Edwards (Riley)
Ross Dyer – Adam Murray (C) – Gary Roberts – Adam Smith
Matt Green – Ben Hutchinson
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Martin Riley – Louis Briscoe – Matt Rhead – Lindon Meikle.

Darlington’s last goal against the Stags had come on the big Wembley stage back in May last year seeing our dreams shattered, this time round it was an early goal which gave the struggling Quakers a dream start, as they caught the Stags napping just two minutes in. Young midfielder Rob Ramshaw attacked with intent down the right hand side and crossed early before full debutant Paul Edwards closed down the angles, Ramshaw’s deep cross found Marc Bridge-Wilkinson at the far post who squeezed in to divert the ball beyond Marriott, following David Fergusons flick on.

Stags 0-1 Darlington

The Stags were nearly two behind minutes later as the Quakers grew in confidence, a mazy run through the middle from John McReady caught Dempster in a tizz, however centre half partner Ritchie got in well to cover, challenging just as McReady was ready to pull the trigger. Paul Cox’s side then began to canter forward themselves keeping the ball well in the middle before looking to expose the wide areas. Adam Smith, who turned 27 on Monday, controlled well and danced his way past Liam Bagnall before firing a driven effort well over the bar.

Matt Green and Ben Hutchinson ran the channels well latching onto Ross Dyer’s cushioned flick-on’s, however despite the running from the front two, it was Dyer who won the Stags a free kick on 15 minutes on the right hand side. Luke O’Neill delivered a truly excellent ball into the middle towards the back post, John Dempster was first too it and he thundered the resulting header home to level the score in his final Mansfield appearance.

Stags 1-1 Darlington

Four minutes later O’Neill nearly turned from provider to scorer as he embarked on a forceful run forward from right back. The former Leicester man kept his feet well as he cut past Scott Harrison but failed to really test Sunderland loan man Jordan Pickford in the Darlington goal. At the other end Darlington came a whisker away from regaining the lead on 22 minutes when Harrison’s deep cross was headed into the path of Ramshaw on the edge of the area. The young Quaker struck beautifully on the volley but fired just over the bar.

Ross Dyer impressed on the right hand side with a series of bursting runs on the break, on 26 minutes it was Dyer’s quick feet and precise pass which sent Matt Green on his way to the right of the area. Momentum was perhaps against the Stags leading marksman who still managed to keep the ball in play, his driven cross was deflected behind for a throw in which Darlington eventually cleared.

Gary Roberts was next to register a half effort for the Stags with his driven effort from a short O’Neill free kick deflecting away. Paul Edwards was then caught out by a punt downfield, the ball bounced twice before Rob Ramshaw nipped in to steal the ball back, fortunately the Fleetwood loan man was saved by Ramshaws tame shot landing wide. The Stags eventually found the break through with two minutes to go before the break following another prolonged spell inside the Darlington half leading to a Luke O’Neill throw. Taken short O’Neill moved the ball to Murray who lifted a back spinning high cross into the middle, Ben Hutchinson did superbly holding off three markers at the front post before laying off strike partner Matt Green. The former Quaker who scored both goals in the reverse game earlier in the season, made no mistake from around 14 yards, smashing into the top corner with his left boot.

Stags 2-1 Darlington

Straight from the restart Mansfield we’re forceful once more and on the stroke of half time where extremely unlucky not to have a third. Matt Green held up play well on the box after Adam Smith had weaved his way down the left hand side. Green saw the advancing run of skipper Murray and released the ball immediately into Murray’s pass – his thunderous effort cannoned back of the post and somehow stayed out as Darlington frantically cleared there lines.

HALF TIME: Stags 2-1 Darlington

Louis Briscoe came on for Ben Hutchinson at the break and made an immediate impact as Stags flew out of the traps. Matt Green ran the channel well and look to feed Briscoe into the centre, the pass was a little heavy but Briscoe slid in to keep the move alive with the ball finding the advancing Adam Smith. The wing man who has been ever present since his return from Aldershot, took the ball into the box but was hesitant and allowed Darlington to block his eventual effort, had Smith taken on the shot first time he may well have had a belated birthday goal.

Four minutes later Briscoe was involved again as he picked the ball up on the half way line and cantered forward. Last season’s leading hit man sent Green on his way who may have had a half shout for a penalty, when his legs were taken by Pickford who slid into clear the danger.

On 50 minutes Mansfield again continued to flow forwards, this time it was Gary Roberts who sparked the move with a lofted ball over for Matt Green, a good recovering challenge from Kris Taylor saw Stags gain a corner, Matt Green headed over at the far post from O’Neill’s strong delivery.

Two minutes later it was heart in mouth time again for Stags as Alan Marriott fluffed a clearance straight into the path of Ramshaw, fortunately the Stags shot stopper was rescued by his team mates who got quickly back to kill the danger. On the hour mark Mansfield we’re undone again as Darlington stepped things up, Paul Arnison’s chip forward found the advancing Marc Bridge-Wilkinson who got there ahead of the on rushing Marriott. The Quakers midfielder chipped over the Stags shot stopper only to be thwarted by Ritchie Sutton’s goal line clearance and the offside flag.

Eleven minutes later sparked the strangest four minutes of football I’ve ever witnessed at Field Mill, with three goals being produced. The first fell Mansfield’s way as their patience in the final third paid off. Luke O’Neill again played provider with a wonderfully weighted pass down the right hand side, Matt Green raced with Scott Harrison and got there first and embarrassed the teenage centre back with a beautiful turn inside on to his left foot. All that was left to do was fire home past Pickford, which he did with ease collecting goal number 20 of his Mansfield career.

Stags 3-1 Darlington

At the restart Paul Cox introduced Lindon Meikle to the fold for Adam Smith and before the 27 year old had even sat down, he watched on as Darlington nearly pulled one back against the odds. Liam Bagnall’s excellent cross was somehow headed over by the unmarked Ryan Bowman. A minute later, Darlington did get on the scoresheet, with Marc Bridge-Wilkinson the provider after an unchallenged 30 yard central run, before a hard pass to the feet of John McReady. He did the rest spinning past a bemused Dempster before tucking past Marriott.

Stags 3-2 Darlington

With the ink barely dry on my team sheet the game was underway again and Mansfield on the charge with Briscoe down the right hand side, his cross towards the middle found Green who went down under the challenge of Clark Keltie, with strike partner Dyer also going down under Kris Taylors challenge. The referee pointed to the spot for Mansfield’s fourth penalty of the campaign. Matt Green went to hand the ball to Briscoe, the last Stags player to bag a treble, who unselfishly backed away allowing Green the opportunity to seal his hat trick. Green stepped up confidently and sent Pickford the wrong way, grabbing his 21st of the season and the first Stags match ball for his mantel piece.

Stags 4-2 Darlington
The penalty had knocked the stuffing from Darlington and Mansfield to their credit made sure they didn’t rest on their laurels, continuing to pressure and create. Cleaver runs by Briscoe and Meikle, Green and Dyer were all soaked up, however Mansfield did find a fifth goal with five minutes left to play. A directional ball over the top was flicked on by Ross Dyer, Louis Briscoe had made the advancing run and got in behind, emphatically smashing into the roof of the net.

Stags 5-2 Darlington

Matt Rhead replaced Ross Dyer a minute into the four added on, he had two good touches holding the ball up and flicking on as Stags looked for a sixth, however the clock soon ran out and the full time whistle blew, moving Stags up a place in league standings now three points off the play-offs with a game in hand.

FULL TIME: Stags 5-2 Darlington

As Matt Green headed into the tunnel with the match ball, a more poiniant image showed at Field Mill as broken Darlington headed to thank their supporters. Walking back towards the tunnel with the heads down, Craig Liddle’s men received a very warm and heartfelt round of applause from the Mansfield faithful. The applause did not represent arrogance nor did it resemble gloating, it was a honest warm recognition of Darlington’s fight and a genuine wish of good luck. No matter the FA Trophy defeat, no matter the two league wins and the evenings dominance, what mattered was a group of opposing supporters wishing another club and it’s following well.

United We Stand – Football, is more than just a game.

Thanks for reading, see you on Saturday.
Photos: Dan Westwell

Sunday, 19 February 2012

CTA #36 Newport Vs Stags

Newport County Vs Mansfield Town
Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #34)
Spytty Park/ Newport Stadium
Date & Time
Saturday 18th February 2012 – 3PM
1,285 (89)
Match Referee
Tim Robinson (Bognor Regis)


On lampposts up and down the land at the moment there are millions of missing posters, a few are looking for their cat whose gone astray but all the others are searching for Mansfield Town FC, why? Because they failed to show in Newport yesterday. Before anyone panics and does fear for the physical whereabouts of our team, the missing thing is just a half-hearted gag trying to condemn the game to the sewer, never to be spoken of again.

In the entire game there seemed to be no real effort, no desire, no fight, no energy, no passion – basically it was the total opposite from the performances against Luton, Hayes & Yeading and Ebbsfleet from January as we collected a six game unbeaten run and three clean sheets in four games. Describing our performance as lethargically lethargic would be kind, in fact at half time we we’re all wondering whether it had been three weeks or three months without a game.

Reading the above two paragraphs may suggest a hammering, it wasn’t – we only lost 1-0. Not for a second am I taking anything away from Newport, they are a well drilled side turning a corner since the sacking of Anthony Hudson. They are nowhere near as open and exposed as they were in the reverse fixture at Field Mill, which again is credit to Justin Edinburgh and his staff. Our grievance the fact our performance was so lacklustre, so without spark or momentum, that we all sit here angry. Prior to yesterday’s game we we’re on a good steady run slowly picking up the points and putting acceptable shifts in which we’re helping us climb, now it seems like we’re going back to square one, about to lose one of our most influential players with no hint of a replacement. The tactical game of Jenga had a firm structure yesterday, now we’re wobbling and afraid to make that critical move.

I never have been negative about Stags and don’t intend to be today, often after a game it’s easy to let the frustration flow and let your head rule your heart, over shadowing the bigger picture. This week without doubt is huge for Paul Cox, he has to find a replacement for Dempster that doesn’t just tick all the boxes, but that can come in and make his presence felt both on and off the pitch. However the gaffer is no fool, I’m confident we will get a response, Dempster’s replacement will arrive and to quote James ‘Pink Jacket’ Williamson – the game never happened, burn the negatives.

Until that happens those, the photo’s will be shown and the negative’s are flame proof, here’s what happened as Paul Cox’s side returned from a three week weather inflicted to break, travelling to South Wales to take on Justin Edinburgh’s Newport County...              

Paul Cox predictably named an unchanged starting line up to face the exiles, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. New addition Matt Rhead, who played the full 90 minutes at Telford on Tuesday, was the one change to the bench at the expense of Louis Briscoe, who has scored four in his last three against Newport.

Alan Marriott
Ritchie Sutton – Martin Riley – John Dempster – Luke O’Neill
Ross Dyer – Adam Murray (C) – Gary Roberts – Adam Smith
Matt Green – Ben Hutchinson
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Paul Edwards – Matt Rhead – Anthony Howell – Lindon Meikle

The big February freeze had seen our last three scheduled games postponed, around 1pm it was the February flood which threatened to wash the game away to a later day, it belted down with intent and had a noticeable effect on the pitch, both goalmouths, the centre circle and some wide areas became a muddy swamp and I, along with other members of the press, was told by Newport officials that ten more minutes of rain would be too much for the pitch and the game cancelled. Luckily, or unluckily as we look at it now, the rain stopped and in the sun rose drying the pitch in time for kick off, the surface though was a certainty to cut up and anyone coming to watch a pretty game of football would have had a wasted journey.

Both sides had early chances in the opening five minutes or so, arguably it was the Stags who enjoyed the more of the ball in that period, with early runs on the left from Adam Smith putting the hosts under pressure before the hosts survived two penalty shouts. The first came on four minutes as Gary Roberts’ ball forward was perfect for Matt Green, the former exiles man got goal side of Andrew Hughes who fell going for the travelling ball bringing Green down with him. Former Stags goalie Glyn Thompson collected as the referee waved play on. The second shout for a penalty two minutes was one with real conviction and should have been given. Luke O’Neill’s corner led to the shout with his ball in finding Riley at the back post who headed wide; however Riley claimed a clear penalty as he was being pulled from pillar to post by marker Garry Warren.

On 7 minutes, still fuming from the penalty shout, Mansfield we’re extremely luck not to be behind. Nat Jarvis weaved his way down the left hand side and whipped in a dangerous ball which scuffed off Dempster’s head straight into the path of Sam Foley who somehow fired wide of Marriott’s goal from six yards with the Stags shot stopper stranded.

Mansfield had an average spell in which perhaps showed a glimpse of their previous run, first Adam Murray’s beautiful ball wide right found the advancing Ritchie Sutton, who crossed in on the half volley and was unfortunate not to see his cross bundled in by Green who was beaten to it by the home keeper. Then it was Gary Roberts turn to create on 28 minutes after picking the ball up wide right. The former Port Vale midfielder set himself for a well weighted swinging cross, which found Adam Smith unmarked at the far post, unfortunately Smith directed his diving header wide rather than beyond a rooted Thompson. John Dempster converted from a Luke O’Neill smashing home left footed from seven yards, however he couldn’t even celebrate as the whistle had already gone for a foul by a Stags body on Newport’s Gary Warren.

At the other end it was the hosts who again came close; Sam Foley missed another glorious chance, dragging a powerful shot wide of the mark after former Stags trialist Adam Chapman had provided a crisp low assist.  

On 33 minutes it was third time lucky for Foley as the hosts gained the upper hand. Lee Minshull teased the Stags on the edge of the box before threading Foley through, the Newport front man controlled well before firing a shot past Alan Marriott into the bottom corner.

Newport 1-0 Stags

Martin Riley was guilty of a poor clearance with six minutes to go before the break, with the ball falling unhealthy straight into Elliott Buchanan’s path. The Exiles midfielder volleyed wide of the mark but again highlighted the fact that what wasn’t broken before the game, now was.

Half Time: Newport 1-0 Stags

Paul Cox made all three of his changes at the break, giving debuts to Paul Edwards and Matt Rhead, plus introducing Anthony Howell for Ross Dyer, Ben Hutchinson and Adam Smith respectively. What started out as a 4-4-2 lasted a mere minute before the shape settled more into a 5-3-2 / 3-5-2 with O’Neill and Edwards acting as wing backs:

O’Neill – Sutton – Dempster – Riley – Edwards
Murray – Howell – Roberts
Green – Rhead

Despite the changes it was Newport who registered the first effort of the second half; Nat Jarvis turned Paul Edwards with ease before firing straight at Alan Marriott. At the other end Gary Robert’s fired a 30 yard free kick over on 52 minutes, before Luke O’Neill provided a series of long throws. It was an O’Neill throw which led to Mansfield’s next chance, the bullet ball in landed at the feet of Rhead, who held it up before allowing Murray to take over, the Stags captain blazed over around 15 yards from goal.

On 57 minutes the intent from throw ins was clear, O’Neill would be launching everyone into the area. His throw, this time from the left, again caused havoc and the ball found leading hit man Matt Green, swivelling well to take his mark out the game, Green’s hooked half volley lacked any real conviction and was easily plucked out of the air by Thompson, who once kept goal for Stags during a 16 game loan stint from Fulham back in January 2000.

With an hour gone it was again the hosts, who threaten, goal scorer Sam Foley created with a curling cross from the right, winger Nat Jarvis got the lightest of touches but failed to beat Alan Marriott who collected with relative ease in front of the 89 travelling fans. Six minutes later, they along with the players, breathed a huge sigh of relief as Newport enjoyed a prolonged spell inside the Mansfield half. A cross from the right was tamely headed away, straight into the path of Lee Minshull who volleyed with real venom just over the bar from the edge of the box.

Hearts where in mouths again on 75 minutes when the poor surface saw Alan Marriott fluff a clearance following Martin Riley’s back pass. Marriott was under pressure and dropped the ball straight into Nat Jarvis’ path. The skilful wing man opened his body and curled a shot towards the bottom corner, Marriott got back superbly and tipped the goal bound ball around the post for a corner which he collected unchallenged.    

Mansfield had a golden chance to level with five to go before the full time whistle as Matt Green got in behind. In a prime position where usually Green would stroke the ball home, he tried a square ball to Howell who was, to no fault of his own, nowhere near the area Green’s scuffed pass landed in as the midfielder expected Green to finish the job. With six minutes added on due to an early injury, Mansfield threw themselves forward with Dempster heavily involved in the forward line. The soon to be departing Defender controlled well on the edge of the area and turned his marker spectacularly, before being pulled down just as he was about to smash home. Luke O’Neill stepped up to take the free kick but could only get a corner, as the ball deflected off of the seven man wall. The drama wasn’t over as O’Neill delivered the corner; Martin Riley rose highest but saw his header bobble away. The ball dropped at Matt Green’s feet, a back heel through two markers saw Dempster four yards from goal with the ball again at his feet, just as he was about to shoot his feet were taken again by Hughes who for everyone bar the referee, had conceded a clear penalty. However play was waved on and time was against Mansfield, a series of silly fouls from Edwards near the corner flag gave Newport free kick after free kick, and predictably they ran the clock down at the corner flag until the whistle blew.

Full Time: Newport 1-0 Stags

After the game Paul Cox made no excuses and refused to blame the referee for the two missed penalty shouts among other questionable decisions – refreshing and correct. Never shift the blame, we didn’t deserve a goal, we didn’t deserve anything other than to get beat. Newport where very strong and as I said at the top of the piece, credit should go to Justin Edinburgh for turning the ship around after his predecessors poor run of results which took the south Wales side from mid table to second from bottom. Now we need to show our mental strength and again write the wrongs, the season is not over and I refuse to listen to anyone who says it is – if that’s arrogant of me then for once I don’t care. I have seen the potential we have in that dressing room, I have seen the desire and I can feel the willingness to achieve success, we have a manager who is not stupid and will keep working the lads to achieve what we desire.

Keep the faith and show your support again on Tuesday, we have three back to back home matches now against three teams below us. Field Mill must be a fortress, we need to take maximum points and make progress now, at a point in the season where there has been none for the past few seasons.

If you can’t get on Tuesday night, be sure to join me for regular updates on 106.9FM only from 7.30pm.

As ever, thanks for reading.  
Match Photos: James Williamson

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

CTA #35: [Reserves] AFC Telford 5-0 Stags

AFC Telford Reserves Vs Mansfield Town Reserves
Friendly Match – Open to the public
New Bucks Head
Date & Time
Tuesday 14th February 2012 – 7.30PM
Match Referee

Following Mother Nature and Jack Frosts cunning plan to cancel three games in a week for the Stags, I sit here writing a brief report of last night’s game just grateful I got to see a game! The result on valentine’s night left Mansfield feeling rather blue as they slumped to a 5-0 defeat, however it’s just a game of football and only a friendly after all – the first teams 6 game unbeaten record is still untarnished and I still remain in good spirit as we head for Newport on Saturday.

Mansfield included two trialists in the side to face Andy Stinton’s Telford, brother of leading scorer Matt Green, Jake, played the full 90 minutes at right back whilst relatively unknown centre half Lawrence Gaughan also got 90 minutes under his belt. A quick search of google before the show showed up two Lawrence Gaughan’s related to football, one a former Oxford defender the other a former republic of Ireland U19 defender. Going from my pre-match chat with Paul Ogden, I’ve done some ‘investigative journalism’ and think I may have found more information on our latest trialist. Previously of the Liverpool academy and Celtic, the six foot two defender has recently been turning out for Sheffield FC and celebrated his 22nd birthday donning the amber and blue strip last night. More information can be found here, but please don’t quote me this is actually him – I’m just going on the information I got from my brief chat with Paul.       

On a cold evening it was the hosts that struck first blood, a strong run down the right hand side saw Dwane Samuels nip past Fleetwood loanee Paul Edwards before threading Jon Brown into the middle, Brown was close to the goal line as he was bundled over by Gaughan. Former Stags front man Kyle Perry stepped up and converted the resulting penalty to make it 1-0 with eight minutes gone.

Lindon Meikle registered Mansfield’s first shot of the night ten minutes later, cutting inside following good work between the Mansfield midfield and Matt Rhead, however it was Perry who doubled his goal tally for the evening on 36 minutes, heading powerfully home from Dave McDermott’s left sided free kick, after the free kick taker had been fouled by youngster Jake Green.
Perry was involved again with two minutes to go before the break as Mansfield failed to deal with a McDermott Corner. Initially headed away, the ball fell easily back for McDermott who was allowed far too much time on the ball to deliver another cross into the middle. Perry rose highest and was denied a hat-trick thanks to a strong save by Irish shot stopper Shane Redmond, unfortunately for the Stags reserve keeper, he couldn’t keep out the rebound as Bucks skipper tapped home from close range to put his side three goals to the good before the break.

After the break Telford extended their lead to four following a good piece of counter attacking football down the right hand side. Samuels linked up well with Jon Brown and the pair easily skipped past Paul Edwards before playing the ball into space for striker Ryan Brooke. The nippy front man squared first time into the middle finding Dave McDermott who had acres of time and space to control and tuck underneath Shane Redmond.

Lee Stevenson had Mansfield’s best chance on 74 minutes as home keeper Ryan Robinson and centre half Shane Killock got in each other’s way, Robinson’s rushed clearance lacked height, pace and strength – falling straight into the path of Stevenson who curled over the empty net from 25 yards out.

The hosts wrapped up the victory in spectacular fashion with eight minutes to go, a strong cross from McDermott on the left was headed away but only into the path of Telford substitute Nathan Rooney, who controlled well and thumped his effort into the roof of the net.

Stags: Redmond, Green, Shaw (Gregory), Gaughan, Edwards (Todd), Meikle (Somes), Rogers, Worthington (C), Holland (Bisungu), Stevenson, Rhead.