Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 27th November 2021
If Nigel Clough ever decides he’s had enough of Football management, then the poker circuit is certainly worth considering – that or the magic circle, shuffling his pack yesterday to bamboozle us all and pull out some ace cards.
The biggest ace of all was for me the formation, Clough switched from what we predicted would be a 4-4-2 diamond to playing with three central defenders, pushing Hewitt and McLaughlin higher and wider as wing-backs in a system designed to be fluid and effective in moving the ball.
It worked a treat too, the Stags lost no experience at the heart of defence with O’Toole playing as the central anchor to Rawson and Forrester either side of him, allowing Hawkins to move back up front – a role he thrived in, scoring one and setting the other with a superb defence breaking pass.
Clough had tough decisions to make with skipper Ollie Clarke and George Maris both of four bookings, a big reason behind them both being dropped to the bench – in their place Lapslie and Stirk did the job, the latter was brilliant in a box to box role, getting stuck in and playing a number of key passes.
The midfield however can run and play passes all day long, but that’s nothing if you’ve not got the strikers to complete the hand – I’ve already mentioned Hawkins, but Rhys Oates too is showing exactly why he’s so highly rated and we’ve certainly missed him. He looks so hungry, so eager to close things down and create – he takes his goal very well from Hawkins’ brilliant pass, but also created a number of other openings yesterday to real turn the thumb screws.
Having the three points will overshadow a slight concern, Crawley were allowed to get back into the game early in the second half and for a good 15-minute spell completely turned the game around – they’ll feel very hard done by in the end, twice hitting the bar, Tyrese Sinclair is a very lucky boy, missing a golden chance in the dying embers to kill them game off, watching on mere seconds later as Crawley hit the bar!
In the end though it was a very good display overall and on any other day may well have been a much higher score line, would I keep working on the 3-4-1-1? 100% yes, it actually makes perfect sense to set up that way with the players we have.
Three points, job done!
STAGS: Bishop, Rawson, O’Toole, Forrester, Hewitt, Stirk, Quinn (Maris 69), McLaughlin, Lapslie (O Clarke 89), Hawkins ©, Oates (Sinclair 79) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Burke, Charsley, Bowery
Sky Bet League Two, Tuesday 23rd November 2021
After a solid run of consecutive wins, Mansfield Town were bound to have a stumble sooner rather than later – with said stumble coming on the long journey to league newcomers Sutton United.
Nigel Clough said after the game that he felt had his side scored at 1-0 down, we’d have taken something home – he’s probably right on reflection, but it wouldn’t have been deserved as Sutton were the better side, and we played right into their hands.
We allowed them to press high and dominate, failing to get the ball under control in the final third and repeat the strong midfield performance we saw against Scunthorpe, with silly errors creeping in for the first goal – we deal with the first set play well enough but don’t deal with the second phase of play, whilst for the second goal – fail to clear our lines from a long punt over the top, again not picking up the second ball.
We’ve swung from being short at the back to being short up front, and that’s the difference – we can manage and cope with giving silly goals away such as the first, but only if we’ve got some pace and energy at the other end which, with Rhys Oates and Danny Johnson both out, and the quick turnaround of games plus the travel, we just don’t have.
I was surprised Clough didn’t change it with that considered and again he admitted post-match that he took a gamble, and I applaud that – we all get things wrong, it’s how you respond to that! Crawley next, time to respond.
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O‘Toole, Hawkins (Forrester 73’), McLaughlin, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris (Sinclair 67’), Quinn (Lapslie 46’), Stirk, Bowery UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Rawson, Law, Gale
Attendance: 2,497 (298)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 20th November 2021
Even after Scunthorpe United had tucked away a cast iron penalty, you sensed that this time, Mansfield Town would not lie down and be beaten – and inspired by captain Ollie Clarke, Nigel Clough’s men fought back beautifully with an iron bar dominating the midfield battle to run out 3-1 winners.
Mansfield are really starting to find their feet and that comes from consistency, I seem to say every week, either in this blog or on the Podcast, that consistency comes from having Hawkins at centre half and to be honest, with a striker shortage with Oates and Johnson both out, I did wonder if Clough would be tempted to set the Hawk free – I’m glad he didn’t.
There’s two reasons for this, firstly – the aforementioned consistency. He’s formed good partnerships with Rawson, and in recent games, O’Toole and despite a lapse in concentration to allow the visitors to beat the offside trap and win a soft, but nailed on, penalty – they looked comfortable again and very difficult to get anything bar scraps from.
Secondly, in Hawkins staying at the back, it gave Jordan Bowery prime opportunity to lead the line through the middle and I felt he did that very well – getting a goal with a powerful enough effort to beat the keeper, he also hit the post and looked dangerous linking up with the hungry attack minded Clarke, Stirk and Charsley.
It’s refreshing to have so many positive to list to be honest, another which I feel must be pointed out, other than the performance of skipper Clarke which goes without saying was needed and subsequent praise deserved – is that of Harry Charsley.
He does a lot of unseen work, he may not be getting goals but I feel makes some forceful runs and plays some delightful flicks – case in point, the assist for both Bowery’s post hit and goal – plus for Ollie Clarke’s first, he creates space for his skipper by peeling into a pocket and taking a defender with him.
We’ve got a big week ahead which will be a tough one on the legs, a midweek trip to league newcomers Sutton United followed by the trip to Crawley on Saturday – let’s get behind the boys and hope for maximum points to propel us back up the table further.
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O’Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris, Quinn (Sinclair 61’), Stirk (Forrester 88’), Bowery (Gale 68’) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Rawson, Gordon, Law
Attendance: 4,904 (528)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 13th November 2021
Mansfield Town midfielder Ryan Stirk says that he’s confident that the Stags can continue to climb the league two table, well if the players continue to show the determination they’ve shown over the last few games, the Birmingham City loanee could be spot on.
It’s not so long ago that Mansfield Town would have fallen to pieces when pegged back by the opposition, but yesterday as Stevenage levelled in the 55th minute, something clicked and they sprung back into action – going on to win 2-1 thanks to substitute Stirk netting in front of the travelling fans.
The Stags rise was no doubt down to being Stern at the back – Oli Hawkins has been a brilliant deputy for Perch and had begun to form a strong partnership with Rawson, but since being paired with O’Toole last weekend, has risen up and collectively the Stags have tightened further.
Ironically it was the Stevenage boss who recommended O’Toole to Clough a few weeks ago having been unable to sign the ex Northampton and Burton man for his side, highlighting his attitude and fitness level which so far, he’s showing and the Stags are benefitting from.
O’Toole does not look like he’s been out of the game for six months, his experience and, for want of a better word, bullishness, is what we’ve lacked – he throws himself in front of things, he towers in the air in both boxes and is vocal from the back. PLUS, he can play in a number of roles which will come in handy for Clough – he’s only on a deal until January from what I understand, if this is the case – I’d be looking at extending that until the end of the season.
Mansfield did find it tough at times but showed real togetherness as the game went on, standing firm to ensure their late error, giving the ball away and conceding a dangerous free kick, came to nothing.
Seeing the lads celebrate with the fans after and the passion really kicking in with the players, Quinn, O’Toole, Sinclair in particular, is brilliant – we’ve not had that for a long time, you don’t need me to say when, and that passion – if managed and harnessed in the right way, is a very good tool to have.
Let’s get a good weeks training in and make sure that the One Call Stadium is bouncing next weekend, showing no mercy to a struggling Scunthorpe side as we seek to pull ourselves up another rung on the ladder.
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O‘Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris (Rawson 79’), Quinn, Lapslie (Stirk 53’), Oates (Sinclair 62’) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Forrester, Bowery, Gale
Attendance: 2,946 (535)
Papa John’s Trophy – Group Stage, Game 3/3 – Tuesday 9th November
A treble for Danny Johnson helped Mansfield Town on their way to netting £10,000 and taking something away from this seasons EFL Trophy campaign, running out 6-3 winners against Newcastle United U21s, in a game which other than minutes and potential prize money, meant little to either club.
Both sides were already out of the competition ahead of kick-off but had to go through the motions and tick the boxes, a prime opportunity for Nigel Clough to give minutes to fringe players and ensure those playing on the fringes, are ready to step in when called upon as the Stags look to push on in the league.
Conceding three goals won’t have pleased Clough, especially given the ease the opposition had in creating those openings – however at the other end, his side were hungry and importantly clinical enough, to win the game, even if the Stags did have to come from 2-1 down.
Danny Johnson will undoubtedly take the headlines netting three goals, including one from the penalty spot banishing his demons from a few weeks previous – however there were a handful of younger players who also caught the eye, particularly 19-year-old James Gale who played alongside Johnson and Bowery in attack.
The small Stags faithful also got their first proper glimpse of Stoke City loanee Will Forrester who had a steady enough game alongside Rawson at the back, it’s nice to know there’s another option there, however personally I think he’ll be used as cover, with O’Toole ahead of him.
Speaking of O’Toole he got 45 minutes in midfield and capped a good display with a goal, again a good utility man to have around who provides cover in a number of areas, he was replaced at the break by the returning Ryan Stirk – it’s nice to have players coming back and options again!
There’s little else to be said really other than well done on getting the job done. Few will care about that result, but I think confidence breads confidence and winning games certainly brings that, regardless of opponent or competition.
STAGS: Shelvey, J.Clarke, Rawson (Cooper 80’), Forrester, Law, O’Toole (Stirk 46’), Ward, Gale, Sinclair, Johnson (Caine 70’), Bowery UNUSED SUBS: Stech, Charsley, Maris
FA Cup First Round, Saturday 6th November 2021
“We saw you cry on the telly” must be a chant Sunderland fans get every week, the fact is for true supporters watching the Netflix documentary, they’ll understand the emotion and pain of being a football fan – but just because you’ve been in the top flight and have a far bigger fan base for the division you’re now stuck in, doesn’t mean you have a right to win a game of football by name only.
It’s actually quite frustrating how the main stream media play on that history too, highlighting the fact Sunderland were knocked out by a side in a lower division – one league lower, it’s not like the dog and duck third XI netting a 90th minute winner against Liverpool. What they should be highlight is that the Stags played their socks off, and were deserved winners, marking Nigel Clough’s first year as boss with a 1-0 win.
It’s no secret that Clough’s men haven’t lived up to expectation this season and have been poor, but like last week, showed their quality and left the noisy travelling faithful beaming and proud – celebrating together as one with passion and desire at full time, which is all we want.
Rhys Oates’ goal within the opening six minutes typified the Stags’ performance, playing on the front foot, closing down everything Sunderland tried and putting them under pressure – credit must go to Clough for going with that more positive approach, when it would have been easier to sit back and soak things up, trying to steal one on the break.
At the back we were hardly troubled too, and let’s not forget neither central defenders were actually central defenders, Hawkins again brilliant and comfortable whilst O’Toole, making his first start, slotted in like he’d never been away from football – but the experience of both is what we’ve lacked and what’s needed to grind those results out.
Nathan Bishop between the sticks was first class again and deserved his second consecutive clean sheet, the more we can make it harder for teams to break us down, the easier it will become for our more creative players to shine and dominate at the other end.
Football is all about days like that, non-stop singing, passion from the players and a decent result miles from home – hopefully it will be a springboard for the league fixtures which come thick and fast this month, pushing us back up the table.
Up the Stags!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O’Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin, Charsley (Forrester 90+4’), O. Clarke, Maris, Quinn, Lapslie (Sinclair 85’), Oates (Bowery 63’). UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Johnson, Burke, Ward, J. Clarke, Law.
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 30th October 2021
When Danny Johnson blasted his second minute penalty into the Mansfield sky, Stags fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst given recent results and performances, credit then to Nigel Clough’s side who dug deep to churn out the type of performance we knew they were capable of, to finally record a long overdue victory.
Rhys Oates got the ball rolling on 18 minutes, scoring a fine goal before turning provider in the second half for Danny Johnson, who turned into an empty net to help the Stags faithful breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Clough was without George Lapslie through suspension but was boosted by the return of Elliott Hewitt and Stephen McLaughlin, meaning there was no room for excuses when it came to having more senior players on the pitch.
Credit where its due too, as the Stags played well, moving the ball and having much more about them in terms of shape and idea – Rhys Oates as an out and out striker alongside Johnson is very dangerous and as more players come back into the fold between now and the next league fixture, a titter of excitement begins to bubble away.
None more so than having Kellan Gordon back down the right hand side, he came off of the bench for the injured McLaughlin (a concern!) and despite the expected rustiness, immediately gave us the option to play wider down the right, thus avoiding playing everything down the left through Quinn.
If we can stretch the game across the middle with both wide players getting forward, the likes of Clarke, Maris, Charsley and Lapslie, when back from suspension, can really cause damage and get on the ball.
The victory will do wonders for the camp and lifts a horrible cloud which was hanging over us, we’ve still got a long way to go but now have the opportunity to press on and collate a good sequence of results during a November period where we’ll spend a lot of time on the road.
A huge well done to Nigel, his staff and the players – all we’ve wanted for weeks is that level of determination and endeavour, because when that happens, positive results happen. That winning feeling, you just can’t beat it!
STAGS: Bishop, McLaughlin (Gordon 62’), Hewitt, Rawson, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris, Johnson (Sinclair 84’), Hawkins, Quinn, Oates (O’Toole 90+2’) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Bowery, Burke, Gale
Attendance: 3,831 (630)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 23rd October 2021
The problem with inflating your expectations like Clough’s men did after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Port Vale, is that it hurt far more when they failed to meet them yesterday, squandering a one goal lead at Exeter City yesterday.
The Stags were vastly improved in midweek but failed to match the standard and again were left cursing their luck as Jordan Bowery missed a golden chance at 1-0 up – a miss which would go on to be a game changer.
It’s difficult to convey how I feel right now – as we’ve been down this road before. I guess it comes down to one question, should Nigel Clough continue as Stags manager?
The simple answer is yes. How long for though is another question entirely because it’s clear to many that something isn’t right, both in the dressing room and out on the pitch. For me, sorting one, will then sort the other.
Clough has a way of managing sides which has been successful and given time here will be successful, he’s been dealt a bad hand in the squad he inherited and with the bizarre injury situation which is why some leeway is given but personally, I don’t think he’s helping himself with his slating of players, especially the younger ones, after a game.
Emotions are high, yes, and I do get the logic of challenging a player publically – the old “stick the review on the dressing room wall” motivation process, but football has changed massively and I think now, that way of doing things will only land once out of ten, rather than nine times.
We are supposed to be a squad of players after all – not just an 11 with individuals who will play when there’s literally nobody else.
If Clough has a problem with playing two young full backs and thinks they aren’t good enough – then change the system, play three at the back, he knew Tuesday/Wednesday that Hewitt and McLaughlin were likely to be out – so work on changing it, who knows – it may have been the change we needed.
Anyway, in more positive news – the short term signing of John-Joe O’Toole is pleasing – he’s exactly the sort of player we need, capable of playing both in midfield which despite being dubbed the best in league two, seems to still be on furlough, or at centre back which doesn’t really need explaining does it?!
I’ve seen a few comments RE not signing him sooner, Clough said a few weeks ago that there wasn’t anyone out there – and that was true, because as the Stags boss said post-match, he’s been training with two other league two clubs, meaning at the time, wouldn’t have been as approachable.
Hopefully we see him in action next weekend, rather than just being another body. We need a victory, we need this tension to die and to breathe again – our league position and form is a major concern and I for one, do not want to see us go down the same road of having to pay off a manager and his staff, to appoint someone else, give them a budget etc only to be here again in a years’ time, it’s not the answer.
STAGS: Bishop, J. Clarke, Rawson, Hawkins, Burke, O. Clarke, Charsley, Quinn, Lapslie (Johnson 85’), Oates (Sinclair 87’), Bowery (Bowery 63’) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Forrester, Law, O'Toole
Attendance: 4,329 (191)
Sky Bet League Two, Tuesday 19th October 2021
The long anticipated return of Stephen Quinn following a lengthy six game ban coincided with the Stags’ best performance in weeks last night, as Nigel Clough’s men showed some fight and desire to come from a goal down to draw 1-1 with promotion hopefuls Port Vale.
On a very wet night at the One Call Stadium, there was a real electricity in the air and on the pitch, as the Stags looked a far cry from the whimpering below par performers from the past few weeks, playing patches of good football which on any other evening, would have resulted in three, well overdue, points.
A point against an in-form and excellent footballing side however is a very good platform and will no doubt burst the bubble of tension that’s been flooding the dressing room. We now need to ensure that we actually do go on and following the performance up with victory.
Quinn’s return really lifted the midfield and gave us much more fire within the middle of the park, with the entire squad showing willing to get stuck in to win the ball back and try and catch Vale on the counter attack – a tactic which led to a number of openings, a penalty which was missed and well taken team goal.
Oli Hawkins’ missed penalty shouldn’t be something we dwell on, it was a good guess and save from the keeper and at that point of the game, typified our luck – had we been awarded the one in the second half, I think we’d have buried it and Mr Radford would have been paying for a new roof for the stadium!
Hawkins’ playing centre back was another reason for our improved performance, I said over the weekend it was a mistake moving him back upfront and whilst he himself will be slightly annoyed to be playing at the back – he brings a calming presence and is very good in the air and on the deck, allowing us to play with calm and fluidity.
I’d leave him there until we’ve either created a solid enough run of form to be able to move him and bring in Forrester, Nartey or Hewitt – or preferably, got to January 1st and signed a commanding central defender – four months between deadline day and the opening of the January window is more than enough time to identify and get a deal done with a club and player – another rant, for another day.
Clough should have Maris back for Saturday which will boost the midfield further and isn’t too far away from having Gordon back in the fold to give us another option down the right hand side – so the troubles for me are very nearly over, it’s time to keep working on playing the counter attacking, fluid way we did last night (and earlier in the season) and push ourselves back up the table.
I wouldn’t say it was the best performance of the season and we clearly still have areas we can improve upon, but we’ve again laid a solid platform to jump from – it’s time to get the landing right, starting with the long trip to Exeter on Saturday.
STAGS: Bishop, McLaughlin, Hewitt (J. Clarke 59’), Rawson, Charsley, O. Clarke, Bowery, Hawkins, Quinn (Sinclair 89’), Oates (Johnson 77’), Lapslie UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Burke, Ward, Law
Attendance: 4,204 (733)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 16th October 2021
Last week I had a sympathetic shoulder for Nigel Clough, but I can honestly say that after a 2-0 defeat to Northampton where more effort was shown by an opposition player to applaud the travelling faithful who’d witnessed 90 minutes of zero effort, that the same old excuses don’t wash anymore.
OK, that player was Danny Rose, absolute hero – what a guy, but still – you get the point!
“I find it very difficult to win games with the players we have out there” – Wow, what a thing to say about your squad, a majority of the players YOU brought in – it’s no wonder the players looked so uncomfortable, there’s a real lack of togetherness and that is worrying.
Another Clough gem was “We had second choice players pretty much everywhere today” – I find that frustrating to hear, nobody should be ranked in terms of number one, two, three etc – it’s a squad game and everybody should be given the opportunity to fight for their shirt, what confidence does that give the likes of James Clarke to know that when someone else is available, they’ll get straight back in ahead of him – I’m singling out James Clarke here either, he’s been excellent!
Clough says it’s a shadow between the team that were out at the start of the season and now, and yes we’ve got players missing – but what frustrates me is the absolute lack of desire and effort from the majority to fight for ball, to dive into a tackle, run at players and that comes from him – he’s the manager, he shouldn’t be blaming the injuries, the missing players and the questionable referee’s – he should be doing his job, managing what he has, motivating what he’s got!
I guess that the frustrating of losing a game can put a perception on a quote, take something with one meaning and give it another one entirely. At the end of the game, a lot of talk was about Clough losing his job – pointless. Woeful results, yes. Awful performances, yes – but if Clough goes, we have to pay him and what, four other staff members off? AND then get someone else in, who gets the SAME GROUP of players and the cycle repeats.
Clough is the right man for the job, his comments will continue to frustrate me as will his lack of reaction within games – but he’s here for the long process and I believe he will get the results and has my backing, but PLEASE acknowledge the fans and change this blame culture of the factors – it’s oozing negativity and sucking us towards the black hole of doom!
We go again Tuesday night at home to Port Vale, with Quinn and Sinclair back in contention, let’s freshen things up completely and get a positive result, something which is long overdue.
Football eh, what a load of cobblers!
STAGS: Bishop, McLaughlin (Burke 66’), Hewitt, Rawson, Charsley (Ward 46’), O. Clarke, Bowery, Johnson (Oates 76’), Hawkins, J. Clarke, Lapslie UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Forrester, Law, Gale
Attendance: 6,034 (1,019)
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