Craig Priest writes
With the season’s opener against Newport now two weeks away, Mansfield Town stepped up their preparations by showing their resilience – twice coming from behind to draw 2-2 against a very strong Championship outfit in Hull City.
Whilst the Stags’ part in both Hull goals against left a number of questions, you really couldn’t fault the application and determination of Dempster’s men in working on, and effecting, their counter attacking game – with and without the ball.
Mansfield, naturally against a strong Championship side, had to endure long spells without the ball and had their patience tested – but to not crumble and accept defeat is very pleasing, as it’s those characteristics which could prove the difference between play-off heartbreak… and winning pivotal matches in the latter end of the season to go up automatically!
Pre-Season gives a little leeway to errors, and whilst I won’t dwell on them too much, the defensive mistakes which have gifted teams goals so far will need addressing sooner rather than later, and Dempster will need to be comfortable going into Newport with the system which best suits our defence and keeps us tight.
That said we need to find the balance which also gets the most out of our attack and yesterday as we worked on counter-attacking play, 4-2-3-1 allowed us to soak up pressure but left us exposed in the middle far too often for my liking, where as 4-4-2 (after around 15/20 minutes) really got the most out of Otis Khan, who’s had a good pre-season so far, and CJ Hamilton who really troubled defenders and took his goal well.
Knocks and illness’ aside, Dempster opted to go like-for-like with a League match in naming just seven substitutes, which didn’t include any trialists – Omari Sterling-James had an OK out on the right wing, I’d like to see on Tuesday against Forest Under 23s another 4-4-2 with Rose and Maynard up top, CJ on the left hand side and Khan on the right – seeing if we can go and dominate the game.
Finally with Mellis ill, Tomlinson injured following Wednesday’s game and new signing Dion Donohue still side-lined it was a fantastic opportunity for Alistair Smith to step up and get in 90 minutes. I felt he handled the match really well and controlled the midfield with some well-timed challenges and some good distribution – hopefully he can continue his develop and be a part of the season to come.
Onto Nottingham Forest U23s on Tuesday, some maybe frustrated that Forest aren’t sending a first team – but a test against the U23s will be far more beneficial to us in terms of stepping up the pace and working on shape and game management, a game is a game – so bring on Tuesday!
-- MATCH RECAp --
Fielding a strong side, the Championship side were first to test the water on two minutes as Eaves’ half-volley nestled into the side netting of skipper for the day Conrad Logan’s net, five minutes later front man Andy Cook was unfortunate not to have reward for the Stags’ excellent build up play, seeing an effort well blocked by the visiting defence.
The visitors struck the woodwork on 14 minutes and were then denied by a Sweeney block two minutes later. At the other end Mal Benning and Alistair Smith both had efforts fly over and eventually it was the visitors who opened the scoring on 27 minutes, Bowen left with a tap in following poor defending.
Two minutes later Logan made a fine save to keep the score 1-0 before Otis Khan’s looping cross forced a corner on 32 minutes, the Stags however couldn’t capitalise.
Khan was again involved on 39 minutes when he was denied by Long in the City goal, Four minutes later Khan beat Long with an expert free-kick which hit the bar – Neal Bishop was first to the follow up and thumped resoundingly into the inviting net to level things up, just before the half-time whistle.
James Clarke replaced White at the break as Stags set about trying to get ahead but made a mess of it, Matt Preston’s poor clearance allowed Hull to pounce and then given the chance to push the ball back to Logan, was outmuscled by Dicko, who tucked beyond Logan.
CJ Hamilton finished off a brilliant counter attack in 54 minutes to draw the Stags back on track following a fine pass from Otis Khan, Andy Cook nearly put the Stags ahead on the hour, but it wasn’t to be as the visitors recovered to defend strongly.
The match then fizzled out with few more chances of note for either side, the full time whistle signalling a solid draw for the Stags.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 2-2 Hull City
Conrad Logan © | Hayden White (James Clarke 45), Matt Preston (Krystian Pearce 63), Ryan Sweeney (Lewis Gibbens 80), Mal Benning | Neal Bishop (Alex MacDonald 63), Alistair Smith | Omari Sterling-James, Otis Khan, CJ Hamilton | Andy Cook
Unused Substitutes: Aidan Stone, Danny Rose, Nicky Maynard
Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield Town returned to the One Call Stadium last night [Wednesday 17th] for the first time under the stewardship of John Dempster, but swallowed the taste of defeat against Championship Blackburn Rovers – a match in which the 3-1 score line doesn’t do the Stags’ justice.
The Stags played really well against their Championship counterparts and particularly in the second half were unfortunate to not at least take a draw following a fine display from the visiting shot-stopper; however three sloppy errors allowed Blackburn to routinely take victory.
Former defender Dempster will have been unhappy at the way in which his side conceded the three goals, especially having started the trio of Preston, Pearce and Sweeney for the first time under his stewardship – undoubtedly aiming to replicate the solid defence of last season.
Sloppiness however is both expected and accepted in pre-season, and all in all the Stags gave a good account of themselves and looked on par with Rovers, who fielded a very strong Championship side.
Once again John Dempsters cast his eye over trialists as he looks to add strength to his squad, with the two from the weekends victory at Alfreton both getting 45 minutes each, along with another attacking player – the names of which are fairly common knowledge (see below) but are not confirmed by the club.
The question all fans are asking now is, if I were manager, would I sign either of them? My answer would be a very flat ‘No’ – all three have put in OK displays but I personally believe we have enough cover within those particular areas already at the club in the Academy set-up who I would favour developing over new faces, for the sake of new faces.
It’s only the right side area where I’d be looking to strengthen to give Hayden White some competition defensively, as it looks like Dempster prefers to keep Hamilton in a more advanced left sided role, rather than utilize him as a right wing-back.
‘Trialist A’ hasn’t really overly impressed me so far and I think there are better players out there who we can even loan in or bid-for, whilst young James Clarke who’s been brought into the Under 23 set-up has impressed me during his pre-season game time.
As for the other two, again you’ve got the likes of Otis Khan, Jacob Mellis, Alex MacDonald, and Willem Tomlinson who you’d play over them, with youngsters Alistair Smith, Jason Law, Jimmy Knowles, Tyrese Sinclair and Jordan Graham all exciting prospects who will be pushing to breakthrough – so unless they [the trailists] can offer something really different which we as supporters aren’t seeing yet to Dempsters vision, I’d let them move on elsewhere and avoid being too top heavy.
Reflecting on the match itself, I’ve no major qualms about the result or performance, I’d like to see us have a little more intent to attack and utilize set-plays, but that’s going to come a lot more against Hull City and Nottingham Forest, plus on the training ground as the Stags prepare for the season’s opener at Newport.
-- Match Recap --
Stags fans were treated to the return of the solid back three from last season but saw little in way of early attacks and watched on as the visitors took the lead on ten minutes, working a free kick quickly to deliver an early cross which the Stags weren’t ready for, Matt Preston judged to get the final touch with the goal going down as an own goal.
Conrad Logan then was alert from the restart as he rushed out to deny Butterworth – Jacob Mellis was the first to register an effort of note for the Stags on 14 minutes, smashing over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
Logan then made two good saves, the first on 26 minutes to deny Ben Brereton, then five minutes later parrying away Buckley’s low strike as the visitors began to show the divisional gap.
At the break the Stags were a goal behind and made a number of changes to sit into a 3-5-1-1 formation which included two trialists either side of Willem Tomlinson in the centre of the park, with Hayden White and Mal Benning out wide. Otis Khan then slotted in behind Rose with only the keeper and back three remaining on from the first half.
Blackburn added a second on 52 minutes as Pearce hit a clearance straight at Buckley who reacted quickly to tuck beneath Logan. The Chief wasted no time in making up for his error, a minute later thundering an effort into the top corner following a Stags’ corner.
Three minutes later Pearce nearly drew the match level as he saw a header blocked by a Rovers body after another Stags corner, Otis Khan’s tremendous free kick followed on 58, as he was denied by a fine save from the keeper – who from the resulting corner, watched Pearce’s header go over the bar.
Trialist C nearly claimed an assist on the hour as he fed Danny Rose, his brilliant strike was expertly saved by the keeper as Mansfield began to really dominate the game in their quest for an equaliser, which also saw Khan hit another free kick – denied this time by the post.
Pearce was then denied by the keeper with nine minutes to go, four minutes later Blackburn wrapped things up as Armstrong latched onto a pass which had the Stags defence all over the place, finishing underneath substitute keeper Aiden Stone.
FULL TIME | Mansfield Town 1-3 Blackburn Rovers
Conrad Logan (Aiden Stone 78)
Matt Preston (Alistair Smith 78) – Krystian Pearce © - Ryan Sweeney (Lewis Gibbens 78)
Trialist A [Jak Hickman*] (Hayden White 45) – Alex MacDonald (Willem Tomlinson 45 / Omari Sterling James 76) – Neal Bishop (Trialist B [Arthur Gnahoua*] 45) – CJ Hamilton (Mal Benning 45)
Jacob Mellis (Trialist C [Jose Baxter*] 45)
Andy Cook (Danny Rose 45) – Nicky Maynard (Otis Khan 45)
*Social Media reports, unconfirmed by the club
Craig Priest writes…
The 2019-20 season may still be weeks away, but yesterday John Dempsters men took a step closer to being ready for the opening day with a 1-0 victory over Alfreton – as the integration between Dempsters past and future continued.
Once more several faces from Dempsters time as academy boss were mixed in with the first team, highlighting for me that we’re preparing them for the opportunity of breaking through in times of need, rather than rely on loan players and free agents.
In fairness that’s a big part of the reason the former defender and captain was appointed and I’m glad to see that we’ve not singed 13/14 players over bringing through local talent – because so far the young lads which have been given the chance to shine - are gleaming, a prime example being Alistair Smith whose goal separated the two sides yesterday.
The strength of opposition is going to ramp up massively now that we have our three home friendlies coming up against Blackburn Rovers, Hull City and Nottingham Forest – but we can’t wrap young players up forever and I’m sure they’ll give a good account of themselves, as part of the SQUAD.
Emphasis on the word SQUAD is important at this stage because that’s exactly what we are, it’s not senior pros with a few young ones making up the numbers, it’s a collective group of players striving to achieve one collective aim – promotion to League One.
By no means is it the finished article, there are areas to strengthen and areas to add competition in – hence the two trialists yesterday, the right back known as ‘Jack’ who played around an hour, and the attacking midfielder known as ‘Arthur’ who played in the second half XI, there’s also a question of fitness and I’d expect by the Hull City match next Saturday, Dempster to be giving player 70+ minutes.
Yet again it was two XIs getting 45 minutes each and similarly to Thursday, it was a more sluggish first half with more intensity in the second half – interesting as the personnel was mixed. The Stags also opted for another new style of play in the second half, with a 4-2-3-1 which I liked, I look forward to seeing how things unfold as the intensity certainly ramps up over the next week.
-- Match Recap --
Mansfield made another bright start and were unlucky not to have taken the lead after four minutes, as Jacob Mellis’ teasing cross found the head of Ryan Sweeney, who without his curly hair from last season, was a hair’s width from connecting with the ball.
Conrad Logan then watched a header go wide on 12 minutes and had to be alert again on 26 minutes, getting down low to deny Wilde, who was allowed to get a shot in from distance to test the Stags.
CJ Hamilton sparked the Stags into life twelve minutes later but was denied by a brave red shirt after Hamilton venomously unleashed an effort, the Stags final real opportunity of the first half – going in firmly locked at 0-0 to hand over to the remainder of the squad.
With two men on trial in the amber and blue, the second half saw trialist ‘Arthur’, playing in attacking midfield catch the eye early doors, he skipped the challenge of numerous challenges before firing just side, infront of the travelling Stags faithful.
Alex MacDonald, returning from an injury scare in Portugal, was next to set a chance for the Stags as he delivered from the right hand side in 54 minutes – Otis Khan met the ball with a first time shot, sending the ball narrowly over the bar.
On the hour it was MacDonald himself who came closest to opening the scoring, he was denied by a fine save from the substitute Alfreton keeper at close range.
At the other end new keeper Aiden Stone, expected to be Logan’s understudy until Oljenik is fit, showed his credentials as he got across his line well to deny Brough’s header with ten minutes to go, two minutes later his hard work was rewarded as Mal Benning swung in a cross for the advancing Alistair Smith to convert – giving Mansfield a much deserved 1-0 lead.
The young midfielder nearly made it 2-0 with three minutes remaining, his surging run denied on the edge of the box, as the hosts cleared their lines – the full time whistle followed not long after as Mansfield rounded off their first week back in the UK with their second win in three days.
FULL TIME | Alfreton Town 0-1 Stags
STAGS [First Half] 4-4-2
Trialist ‘Jack’ – Krystian Pearce © - Ryan Sweeney – Kian Sketchley
Omari Sterling-James – Neal Bishop – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Nicky Maynard
STAGS [Second Half] 4-2-3-1
Trialist ‘Jack’ (James Clarke 66) – Matt Preston © - Lewis Gibbens – Mal Benning
Willem Tomlinson – Alistair Smith
Alex MacDonald – Trialist ‘Arthur’ – Otis Khan
Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield Town’s first team played their first game back on UK soil under the guidance of John Dempster last night, as they ran out 4-2 victors over Bradford Park Avenue – with new marquee signing Nicky Maynard at the heart of the action.
Dempster’s men sat out of Tuesday night’s match at Retford, allowing supporters to catch a glimpse of the work of the new managers past, with the Under 21s running out 2-0 winners – whereas last night, work began on Dempsters future, with two elevens taking on their non-league counterparts.
For a first pre-season work-out the Stags impressed the traveling faithful, particularly in the second half, as the players upped the intensity and worked hard to implement a more free-flowing 4-4-2 system, as the new Stags boss looks to best utilise his squad ahead of the new campaign.
I was eager to see how the new signings would fit into a dressing room brimming with quality, but more importantly, how the old guard would react to a new man at the reins – and despite a hesitant first half display, was pleased to see the hunger and desire still burning away, and that glimpses of untapped potential from certain players, were finally getting the chance to blossom thanks to tweaks in systems and style.
Naturally everyone will be looking at Nicky Maynard, and having scored two and set another, there right too – yet you shouldn’t ignore the performances of a hungry Danny Rose, forgotten man Omari Sterling-James and midfielder Willem Tomlinson to name just three – in a match which marked the dawn of a new era for the promotion-seeking Stags.
Much debate has been had about Rose, and I feel like I could write a novel on the subject, however playing in the 4-4-2 with Maynard, allowed him the creative freedom to not only push on and get on the score-sheet, but drop deeper and create opportunities for wingers, full backs and central players to push on and dictate play – I certainly saw a glimpse of the most effective Danny Rose.
Omari Sterling-James has been unlucky during his Stags career and never really given an opportunity, with Maynard, Rose and Cook certainly ahead of him as an out and out striker he really needs to find a place to shine and playing as a right winger in the second half certainly gave him that chance, which for me he took and should continue to do so, as his movement and pace is a natural fit for an area where we are weak, whilst he has a good range of passing and vision really opened up Bradford (Park Avenue) and brought James Clarke (signed for the Under 21s from Bournemouth) into play and allowed him to shine too.
Naturally there is work to do and certainly one or two additions to be made, but I was certainly pleased with what I saw from Mansfield last night and look forward to seeing things progress up a level over the next few weeks.
What will be interesting is what system Dempster implements the most going forward, I’m a huge fan of 3-4-1-2 and the record of the three central defenders of Pearce, Preston and Sweeney can’t be ignored – yet the 4-4-2 gave much more fluidity to our attacking play and really seemed to bring the best out of key players who, especially towards the end of the last campaign, were just numbers in the 3-4-1-2 system.
Finally pre-season has its drawbacks and whilst it’s extremely exciting to see the players Dempster has developed through the youth system be given game time and the opportunity to grow into a first team, it’s sad and disappointing that such an innocuous moment has caused injury to young defender Noah Stokes, who played well during the win at Retford and was again playing well, prior to his injury – here’s to a speedy recovery.
It’s far too early to make any judgement yet and the next two or three weeks are about growing and learning, not about results. I’m just delighted to have football back really, even if it was a kick about in the park!
-- Match RecaP--
Having been back in the UK less than a week following the pre-season training camp in Portugal where the Stags took on Rangers and Swansea City, John Dempster opted for an easy introduction for his players – putting out two sides to take on Bradford (Park Avenue), with only Omari Sterling-James and Lewis Gibbens getting more than 45 minutes, due to injury and fitness monitoring.
Neal Bishop captained the first half XI in a 3-4-1-2 which included new signing Aiden Stone in goal, and striker Andy Cook leading the line, meanwhile it was a welcome return at right wing-back for Hayden White after the broken leg suffered at Colchester last season, he was restricted to half-an-hour by the medical staff.
The Stags nearly made it a dream start when Cook teamed up Otis Khan within the opening two minutes, Khan, playing in attacking midfield, nearly opened the scoring but was denied by the crossbar which came to the aid of one of the Bradford (Park Avenue) keeper, who was one of about 14,000 trialists!
John Dempster wasn’t the only new manager on show as former Bradford City and Notts County man Garry Thompson took charge of the hosts, unlike Dempster, Thompson still had his boots on and put the hosts ahead after 12 minutes, converting beyond Stone from close range.
Andy Cook was closest to levelling for the Stags from a Jason Law corner but in truth, the first half side struggled to create many clear cut opportunities and played slightly too deep, with what seemed like a resilience to go and hurt the opposition.
At half-time the Stags were 1-0 down but a new team and new system would be implemented in the second period, with new front man Nicky Maynard partnering Rose in a two-pronged attack.
It was an old face in Omari Sterling-James however that levelled the scores, four minutes into the second half, as he latched onto Jacob Mellis’ crisp pass to convert beyond the keeper.
Another old face was on hand to put the Stags in the driving seat as Rose peeled away from his marker to drill in his first goal in nine months – yet it was the hard work of new boy Maynard which created the goal, the ex-Bury man’s run and cut back from the byeline a joy to watch.
Cometh the hour and cometh the goal Maynard fans had been eagerly awaiting as the Stags made it 3-1, Maynard with a neat front post run to glance Benning’s pin point chipped free kick into the top corner.
Elliott Holmes pulled on back from Bradford on 74 minutes as he captitalised on a lapse at the back, but it was very much Mansfield in the driving seat – Hamilton and Tomlinson had efforts blocked before Maynard restored the two goal cushion with his second of the night, and third in two games – racing onto Mellis’ glorious pass with seven minutes to go, thumping low under the keeper one vs one.
A hat-trick was deserved but sadly didn’t come for Maynard just moments later in an identical move, this time Maynard’s effort was without as much venom – allowing the keeper to do just enough for the ball to squirm away from goal.
Jacob Mellis also left the cross bar rattling late on, but in the end it was a 4-2 victory for John Dempster’s Stags – who travel to Alfreton Town tomorrow (Saturday).
FULL TIME | Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-4 Mansfield Town
STAGS [First Half] (3-4-1-2)
Matt Preston – Noah Stokes (Lewis Gibbens 43) – Ryan Sweeney
Hayden White (Omari Sterling-James 30) – Neal Bishop © - Alistair Smith – Jason Law
Jimmy Knowles – Andy Cook
STAGS [Second Half] (4-4-2)
James Clarke – Krystian Pearce © - Lewis Gibbens – Mal Benning
Omari Sterling-James – Jacob Mellis – Willem Tomlinson – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Nicky Maynard
Former Mansfield Town striker Paul Connor says he’s delighted to see how far Chairman John Radford and CEO Carolyn Radford have guided the Stags, having followed the clubs development closely since his departure.
Connor, who signed in the summer of 2010 prior to the Radford’s arrival thanks to invest from supporters group “the 12th Stag”, believes the now Chairman has performed the kiss of life on the club – which is now going in the right direction.
Speaking in the latest Mansfield Matters ‘Stags Stories’ the fans favourite said “I still follow it [the club] closely through twitter etc, I have to laugh to be honest because when John [Radford] took over the pre-season when Paul Cox came in, I look at the lads now and they’re getting picked up in Rolls Royce’s enjoying ten days in Portugal – in our pre-season, we played Boston and had a night in Skegness! so the difference there straight away even in that sort of thing, the players must be loving it!
“The club was having a hard time [prior to John Radford’s takeover] but the players didn’t really realise it until the season got going.
“I don’t think it’s a secret at how close Mansfield were to maybe going into administration if they [the former owners] didn’t get a buyer and it had started to drip feed into the players.
“I remember the whole takeover. We played York City I believe and the manager at the time David Holdsworth actually said ‘look lads the clubs close to folding here – it’s that bad, but there’s a guy coming to watch you tonight whose thinking about buying the club’ and that was in the team talk.
“He more or less said you’ve got to play well tonight and put on a performance otherwise this guy might not buy it [the club] – we went out and played like Brazil, beat York 5-0, I think it was one of the best performances of the season!
“It was John [Radford] who was in the crowd, he came down to training the next day and it [the takeover] was starting to go through – I don’t think we won a game after that! I think at the time he [John Radford] watching that game thought this is good but with the results which followed, it started to really hit home how hard it [rebuilding the club] was and how hard the club had been hit.”
Now aged 40, Connor is still playing part time and is beginning a transition into management as player/ assistant at West Auckland Town – with the Stags being his last full time professional club.
During his hour long interview on the Mansfield Matters Podcast, the front man reflect on his decision to move into the part time game, plus speaks openly about the heartbreak suffered by the players on the big stage in the FA Trophy Final, which came at the end of Mr Radford’s first season as Stags boss.
Since the Trophy final, Connor has watched the Stags gain promotion to the Football League and says he was gutted promotion to League One didn’t quite happen last time around, a feat he believes can be achieved this season.
Stags Stories with Paul Connor will be out via all podcast apps at 5pm on Friday 5th July.
Former Mansfield Town defender Martin Riley says he’s never known an opponent like Ilkeston’s Gary Rickets, as he reflected on being one of three Stags players injured by Rickets during a pre-season friendly in 2011, as part of a brand new Mansfield Matters podcast ‘Stags Stories’.
Riley had just joined following spells with Kidderminster Harriers and Cheltenham Town, when Paul Cox’s Mansfield took on Ilkeston Town during preparations from the 2011-12 season, a match which would send shockwaves across the footballing scene as one player put three Stags players in hospital.
Now 32, Riley has just joined Conference North outfit Hereford, but despite a number of honours and highs during his playing career – can’t shake the memories of that ill-fated night, where Cox withdrew his team from the field of play after 73 minutes following a horrific injury to John Thompson.
“I’ve never had an experience like that in my life, three players sent to hospital in one pre-season match was just crazy. He [Ilkeston’s Gary Rickets] was out to hurt people for whatever reason, he had one on him, and I’ve not played against many Footballers in my whole career really who I can say ‘Yeah, he was out to hurt people’ but he was definitely out to hurt people – and he did”
The popular central defender required five stiches just above the eye, whilst fellow defender Richie Sutton ripped two tendons in his shoulder. However the worst was still to come when former Nottingham Forest and Notts County man Thompson was sent crashing at pace into the metal pitch-side advertising hoardings requiring several stitches to the inside of his mouth along with damage to his nose – an injury from which Riley feels Thompson never fully recovered.
“Mine and Sutts’ [Richie Sutton] injury you can kind of take on the chin to a certain extent but what happened to John was disgusting and ultimately, and I think he’d probably admit this as well, it probably finished his career.”
Thompson did eventually recover and went on to help the Stags back into the Football league but after a prolonged lay-off, whilst Riley was back in time for the season’s opener against Bath City – helping the Stags to achieve a play-off finish, before he moved onto pastures new.
Riley didn’t stay away too long, spending a season at Wrexham before returning to the Stags who were now a football league side, spending two further seasons with the club.
Speaking in the brand new ‘Stags Stories’ podcast – the defender who became a firm fans favourite reveals all about his two spells with the club, revealing stories from within the dressing room which included how he, Richie Sutton, defender James Jennings and the rest of the squad taught the youth team a lesson for not following ‘footballers food etiquette’ – how midfielder Gary Roberts enjoyed a cigarette or two on the team coach, how an innocent cup of coffee got him ejected from York City, and how the Stags rampage towards the play-offs, earned Riley a pretty penny!
They say that football is a results based business and throughout the season, David Flitcroft didn’t shy away from the fact his players were on incentive based contracts – so it’s stands to reason that he’d be on a similar deal, but does a fourth placed finish and play-off semi-final defeat on penalties warrant Flitcroft’s departure?
The news has certainly rocked and divided the Stags faithful, who for the first time in nearly a decade at the clubs helm, are questioning the actions of Stags’ owner and chairman John Radford.
Personally I’m shocked. If I were in John Radford’s position would I have sacked Flitcroft? Probably not, as judged solely on last season I think fourth is a respectable finish having played the best brand of football for years, not to mention transferring players into sellable assets and rebuilding broken bridges between the first team and the academy.
However, Radford I predict will be judging Flitcroft of the entirety of his tenure which ultimately is two failed attempts at promotion, the first having just twelve games at the end of the 2017/18 campaign after Steve Evans quit, the second this season with his own team losing out on automatic promotion on the final day at MK Dons, losing their last three games of the campaign – and looking at it in that light, you have to say the decision, is just about justified especially if, going back to the incentives, promotion is your job remit.
Do I think the Stags board should have stuck with Flitcroft? Yes. Personally I’d have factored in things such as injuries and the fact the play-offs are a lottery and said, we’ll go again next season under review – expecting to be in the top five at Christmas with a certain points target. The fact we now start a fresh has its pros and cons for sure, but today’s news just shows how ruthless football is.
I had planned out a whole blog about an inquest into the seasons failures, which would have included a paragraph or two about stability from top to bottom, using the likes of Lincoln, Luton and Accrington as firm examples.
What comes of perhaps more of a shock in todays news is the immediate appointment of John Dempster as the clubs new manager. Dempster is a club icon for me who on the pitch was pivotal to promotion back into the football league and since hanging up his boots, has done an incredible job in restructuring the academy, however whilst I’m delighted to see him given a shot at first team management – I’m apprehensive and somewhat disappointed it comes where the pressure is more ‘into the inferno’ than ‘into the fire’. I'm not doubting the appointment, from the outside, it just appears rushed - though I'm sure the board and the Radfords have considered the options.
Going back for a moment to Steve Evans’ departure, it was then that Dempster should have been handed the reins as he’d have gone in on the back of a phenomenal time with the academy and had pretty much nothing to lose. Had we finished in the play-offs then great, job done, if not, it’s not a problem we can appoint a new manager to implement new ideas and tactics with his own squad – whilst Dempster returned to the comfort of the Academy.
Whilst Flitcroft did reshape and restructure, he already had a noose hanging loosely around his neck having drank from the poisoned chalice which awaited whoever followed Evans, which I believe now, has ultimately cost him his job.
Dempster will get my complete and utter backing as he should that all of Stags supporters, however I’m under no illusions that he faces a tremendous challenge to decide which of the current crop he wants to keep and now has to rebuild and challenge for automatic promotion – because unless the board have done a complete U-turn in expectation – it would be double standards to achieve anything less without the exact same consequences.
I would expect Dempster to also be tasked with giving more game time to the clubs younger crop of players having coached and managed them so well through the academy process, which could go one of two ways really. I just hope it doesn’t end with it blowing up in our faces.
As many have said Football is so ruthless and it’s 100% a results based business – if me or you weren’t reaching our targets in our jobs after a period of time, we’d be down the job centre too. I would have liked to see Flitcroft given more time to continue to build, but the decision has been made.
To Flitcroft and his staff who follow him out of the door, thank-you for your efforts and putting together a season which, whilst it ended poorly, as a whole was exciting to watch unfold and follow.
To John Dempster, the new manager of Mansfield Town – you know what promotion means to the supporters, go and deliver it and make a name for yourself in the world of senior management, a former manager of yours once said that success is built on strong foundations, you’ve certainly laid some good ones so far.
Football – it never fails to deliver does it!
End of the road: Stags 0-0 Newport (AET, Newport win 5-3 on penaltys) [Play Off Semi Final, Second Leg]
Full Time Score Mansfield Town 0-0 Newport County AET Newport win 5-3 On penalty’s
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg
Venue The One Call Stadium
Stags Goal Scorer(s) / (Penaltys: Ajose SCORED Hamilton SCORED Walker SAVED Benning SCORED)
Attendance 7,361 (1,118)
Craig Priest writes…
Missing out on a trip to Wembley is how the story ends for the 2018/19 season, in the cruellest of ways – a penalty shootout. Honestly I don’t know what else to write whilst holding back the tears – other than I’m incredibly proud of Mansfield Town FC, as yet another season comes to an end.
I’m not going to sit here and look in detail at how it all went wrong, that’s for another day when the emotion is far less raw – but what I will briefly comment on is the future of Stags boss David Flitcroft, and that quite simply is to remain Manager of the club, and finish the job next season.
Flitcroft has built a squad which for 95% of the campaign has delivered tremendous football with a fighting spirit to match, and whilst the other 5% has had detrimental effect on promotion hopes and dreams – I walked away from the One Call Stadium yesterday with a tear or two running down my face, satisfied that the players had given it everything in the end.
Going into the game, the Stags couldn’t afford to reflect on where they’d slipped in the previous weeks, nor get drawn into arguments about the referees display on Thursday – the only thing which could affect potential promotion, was what the boys did on the pitch.
At half time I did wonder how we weren’t on the end of a hammering, as Newport dominated, but after a change in shape at the break Mansfield did everything bar score and had just ONE effort dropped, I’d be writing with the jubilation of a forthcoming visit to Wembley – alas, it wasn’t to be.
When the game goes to a penalty shootout, it becomes a lottery, a slip or stumble here, or a confidence loss there and the pendulum swings widely in the opposite direction – if anything you could say Walker was destined to miss from the spot, having not missed a spot kick all season and taken the golden boot. There is no blame there, anyone who does put blame of those takers, does so out of sheer idiocy.
I’m as frustrated and hurt as the next supporter at failing to achieve promotion or a Wembley visit, and yes I agree that an inquest does need to be made into what went wrong – however, I’ve been watching the Stags for nearly twenty years now and I can honestly say that the class of 2018/19 have produced some wonderful stuff, and I’m proud to have witnessed every game, even that 45 minutes at Forest Green which didn’t bloody count!
I’ll share my views on the season as a whole over the coming days as the pain drains from my system, and of course I’ll have my say on the Mansfield Matters Podcast on Thursday at 6.3pm (ish) over on our Facebook Page in the end of season review show, for now though – the hurt and pain still lives deep, however I’m a firm believer that a manager given time to build on failure can deliver success and I already await the new season.
Thank you to the players who’ve made this season thrilling to follow, and thanks to you guys for reading the blog or watching/listening to the podcast this season – don’t look back in anger. This ain’t my journey, this ain’t the end – I’m waiting here, ‘till I see you again.
David Flitcroft was forced into one chance as Neal Bishop picked up an injury during the first leg, he was replaced by Willem Tomlinson – read how the action unfolded HERE with the clubs official match report
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 0-0 Newport County AET, Newport win 5-3 on penaltys
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones (Jorge Grant 120+1), Alex MacDonald, Willem Tomlinson (Mal Benning HT), Jacob Mellis (Will Atkinson 90), CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Nicky Ajose 105+1)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Full Time Score Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg
Venue Rodney Parade
Stags Goal Scorer(s) CJ Hamilton
Craig Priest writes…
With the regular season ending in such a disappointing way, Mansfield Town needed to respond with a freshness as they prepared to face Newport County in the Sky Bet League Two Play Offs, and whilst they head into Sunday’s second leg feeling a tad hard done by, David Flitcroft’s men showed real character to put in a first class display – reinstalling believe that they can finish the job they started.
It was imperative that the Stags rediscovered their flare and let behind any feelings of hurt and disappointment as they came up against a Newport side on a real bounce following a strong finish to the Sky Bet League Two campaign, and that’s something which Flitcroft’s boldness in the team selection enabled to happen with Mal Benning dropped out of the starting line-up for only the second time this season in all competitions.
The long serving defenders absence from the starting line-up allowed CJ Hamilton to occupy the left wing back slot and cause real danger to the hosts as Mansfield played an effective counter attacking game with real fluidity across the park, evident in the wingers 14th goal of the campaign in all competitions.
Whilst Hamilton caused damage at one end of the pitch, the real plaudits should go to shot stopper Conrad Logan, who produced a Gordon Banks style display in the Stags goal with a string of world class saves to keep a hungry Newport at bay – this included a strong penalty save, he was extremely unfortunate to not keep out the rebound, and defender Ben Turner who was solid, coming in for the injured Matt Preston.
A lot of talk before the game was about so called ‘damage limitation’ and trying to still be in the tie for the second leg, which to be fair given recent performances, wasn’t a bad line of conversation – but Mansfield Town delivered far more than that and SHOULD be ahead, with the penalty awarded to Newport an extremely soft call, whilst they should have also been playing with ten men, following a challenge on Tyler Walker within the opening minutes which was a straight red card.
However these squabblings and disgruntled points of conversation mean nothing, the fact is Mansfield produced their best display for weeks, they are still very much in the tie and if they can produce a similar, if not better, display on Sunday in the second leg at the One Call Stadium, then I’ve no doubt that a trip to Wembley will await the Stags.
I believe team selection will be huge on Sunday; however Flitcroft has in my opinion done the right thing in NOT using all three substitutions providing key figures with that extra rest. Had this been a league game with points up from grab, I’d be talking about utilising the likes of Khan and Grant to influence the game – but we have another 90 minutes (minimum) to factor in, plus travel and recovery – game management is where Flitcroft will really earn his money now.
Let’s do this!
Three changes were made by the Stags boss following Saturday’s 1-0 promotion costing loss at MK Dons, Gethin Jones came in at right-wing back moving Alex MacDonald back into the middle as Willem Tomlinson missed out, Ben Turner replaced the injured Matt Preston in the back three, whilst the boldest move of all saw Mal Benning dropped in favour of Danny Rose – CJ Hamilton moved back and wide to the left-wing-back slot, allowing Rose to partner Walker upfront.
Mansfield made a rapid start to proceedings as Rose looked to banish the demons of his last trip to Newport as his ferocious running earned the Stags a first minute corner, CJ Hamilton also troubled down the left hand side as he released Walker on four minutes – the leading front man unable to connect with real venom making it easy for Joe Day in the home goal to collect.
Two minutes later Walker was clean through on goal before being pulled back by O’Brien who appeared to be the last man, and as such, should have received a straight red card – the referee produced only a yellow.
Mellis and Bishop both tested the water but it was a devastating Stags counter attack which opened the scoring on 12 minutes as MacDonald made a fine clearance to send Mellis running through the middle, neat control and a crisp pass saw Hamilton through on goal at pace – Joe Day could do nothing bar pick the ball out of the net as lightening, struck.
Mansfield then soaked up some pressure from Newport but nothing too concerning before as the half hour mark arrived, Rose was unlucky to see his through ball to Walker be a little too heavy, before Mellis danced through before firing over the bar.
On 33 minutes Conrad Logan became a hero and emulated Gordon Banks with a unbelievable save to keep out Matt’s close range header, the Stags remained in the driving seat until the break – but couldn’t add to their well-earned 1-0 lead.
After the break Tyler Walker should have made it 2-0 as he weaved around the keeper but got his foot stuck under the ball as he struck toward the open goal, a Newport defender recovered well to clear the ball before it could cross the line before on 50 minutes Logan was at it again, throwing himself like a sky diving polar bear at Padrig Amond’s goal bound effort – a fine save.
Joe Day denied Walker on 62 minutes as the front man lashed an effort towards goal before the hosts had a goal chalked off for offside after Logan again produced the goods – it was then Day’s turn to produce world class save, as he acrobatically denied Mellis, whose effort was heading to the top corner after a neat bit of build up play from a hungry Stags side.
Danny Rose’s game was over on 76 minutes as he made way for Benning after a phenomenal display which caused Newport endless problems, on 83 minutes Logan was judged to have fouled a Newport player despite replays cleared proving otherwise – he did then save Amond’s spot kick but couldn’t quite recover to keep out the rebound, 1-1 which is how the game stayed, at Full time in the first leg – but half-time in the tie, the stags now come home to try and get the job done.
FULL TIME: Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones, Alex MacDonald, Neal Bishop, Jacob Mellis, , CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Mal Benning 77)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan, Nicky Ajose, Jorge Grant
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Full Time Score MK Dons 1-0 Mansfield Town
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue Stadium MK
Stags Goal Scorer(s) /
Attendance 20,718 (5,227)
Craig Priest writes…
As I walked away from Stadium MK yesterday fighting back the tears and trying desperately not to be sick or let my rage boil over at those “supporters” who said they’d “come back if they got to Wembley” – I couldn’t help but be frustrated at my own heart, because deep, DEEP down – I knew Mansfield Town would throw away the chance of promotion.
The Stags as a whole have been brilliant to watch this season, but over the last two months with the expectation of two games – David Flitcroft’s men have fallen so far from what they used to be that even if the scenario yesterday had been “avoid defeat by three goals or more” – we’d have lost 4-0. I hate myself for typing that, I really do – but there’s a lot of truth to it.
I’m not one to take to social media and start conversations with an undertone of blame – it sickened me yesterday to see posts of “Flitcroft Out” as we’ve come so far but ultimately didn’t have enough about us when it really mattered.
Some internal investigation has to be done from the manager to discover exactly why we’ve let promotion slip away – and that doesn’t just extend to yesterday’s defeat for two reasons, one - in a winner take all game when one team needs to win, they’ll come at you as MK did, and two – in the second half, those players were brilliant and did everything bar get the ONE goal which would have clinched promotion.
You have to look back and ask why we’ve lost at relegated Notts County, why we’ve allowed Crewe to come to the One Call and dominate us, why we’ve not had enough about us to beat average sides in Crawley and Northampton over the last couple of months – because teams who DESERVE to be promoted simply don’t do that.
Those questions, these frustrations, this sickening bloody hurt needs to be flushed out and quickly because whilst we threw away automatic promotion – we can still be playing League One football next season, as we now head into the play-offs against Newport County in the two-legged semi-final, the winner of which faces Tranmere or Forest Green at Wembley for a place in League One.
Finishing in fourth is the hardest place to finish as we’ve lost out on automatic promotion by the skin of our teeth and carry the hurt, anger and disappointment that comes with that – and now we have to take on 7th, who’ve done the polar opposite, got in by the skin of their teeth and carry the joy, buzz and elation that comes with it.
BUT – that actually gives us an advantage because absolutely nobody fancies us anymore – BRILLIANT, because people have fancied us for the last two months and look what happened. We have an opportunity to go and play with more freedom – we start fresh.
Newport is a very tough place to go, especially on a Thursday night – it’s a heavy pitch and they’ll be direct – we’ve got to look at the characters and systems to nullify that, because this is not 90 minutes of football now, its 180 minutes minimum – we’ve got more time to fight.
It’s heart-breaking to think about how we’ve failed and fallen but that is NOT going to get us to Wembley and get us another chance of promotion. Deep, DEEP down, I do believe the Stags can achieve promotion – so let’s head into Newport knowing what’s done is done and focus on righting the wrongs.
In order to fly, you must have the courage to jump – we’ve thrown ourselves off the edge and whilst we’ve dropped lower than we hoped or expected, still have the power to spread those wings and soar to the other side. It’s the Mansfield Town way.
Click HERE for the clubs match report
FULL TIME: MK Dons 1-0 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston (Ben Turner 19), Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Alex MacDonakd, Neal Bishop, Willem Tomlinson (Danny Rose 37), Mal Benning (Jorge Grant 70), Jacob Mellis, Tyler Walker, CJ Hamilton
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Gethin Jones
Referee: Lee Probert
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