Full Time Score West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Mansfield Town
Competition EFL Cup (Carabao Cup) – Second Roubd
Venue The Hawthornes, West Brom
Stags Goal Scorers Neal Bishop
Attendance 10,574 (1,183)
Craig Priest writes…
After the Stags’ static and lacklustre second half display at Macclesfield, a visit to the Hawthornes to face Championship outfit West Brom could have ended in disaster, and whilst that’s true in terms of the fact we lost – we’ve walked away proud and with the potential to really kick on as a unit in Sky Bet League Two.
A 2-1 defeat is nothing to be down about, as out of the two sides, West Brom will be walking away wondering how they’ve won that – we’ve done everything bar score.
The critical side of me wants to write here about how that’s been the case in a few games this season, but I’ll silence him in the knowledge that you could see how the players reacted to our support last night and rallied for us – I’d be far more concerned and critical if we’d have just stopped fighting after West Brom scored.
In the first half I think that’s something we were guilty of however I think a lot of that comes down to the system and management – it’s here where David Flitcroft deserves praise. He’s tried too, and I applaud this, implement the 3-4-1-2 system which has worked well – but it only works when you’ve got the players available to comfortably play the roles required to adapt to the opposition – we didn’t at Macclesfield and got punished, but last night learnt our lesson.
It was clear that (as good as these players are) Ryan Sweeney and Mal Benning were playing out of passion and were getting pulled from pillar to post – West Brom’s opening goal a prime example as Benning (and this is NOT a blame culture) was caught hogging the touch line – a central defender does not need to be there. It left us short, out numbered and exposed – and for once, we were punished.
The same can be said with Sweeney who just didn’t look comfortable playing on the right side, as a left sided player he couldn’t adjust his positioning to play the right sided role – fortunately Pearce, Atkinson and Bobby Oljenik swept up.
In the second half, Flitcroft opted for a four-four-two later four-three-three with Sweeney going to left side centre half, his natural passion and was then a rock, whilst Atkinson pushed to right back, Benning across to his natural left back.
With that structure in place and that stability and confidence within ourselves we were able to play and really threaten West Brom – adding the tenacity of Alex MacDonald and the hunger of Danny Rose to the mix where the ingredients to our success in going forward, levelling and then nearly stealing the game.
Conceding the second I’ve no qualms about whatsoever, Atkinson is not a right back and therefore pushed up higher to try and put us in front, in league two his missed header would nine times out of ten go unpunished – but we were up against a good, sharp, quick and attack-minded Championship side and the difference in class, rightly showed.
Neal Bishop’s equalizer will live long in the memory and was fully deserved, both for him in the team, but what will not be forgotten for me is the fight, enthusiasm and desire from everyone involved after we went 2-1 down – we MUST show the same in the league, week in week out.
I hope the players saw last night that our only frustration as supporters is that we, like them, want them to succeed – we applaud and appreciate wholeheartedly their efforts to fight and run, to push and never give up – and regardless of the end result, 99% of the time that is enough. Sometimes I think players stop running, stop caring out of fear of our anger, our disappointments perhaps as a hangover from last season – which was born, and is always born, from us knowing how good and effective they can be.
If anything last night showed we are together, we are one entity wanting the same thing – to one day make fixtures like last night, our bread and butter. We love you through the good times and the bad, there’s nothing in this world that will ever change that – so let’s channel that pride, passion, desire and spark and set league two alight, starting Saturday at home to Carlisle.
On the back of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Macclesfield, David Flitcroft made a few changes – but on paper it looked very mismatched as he stuck with the 3-4-1-2 system playing left wing back Mal Benning at left side centre back, Ryan Sweeney on the right of the back three, with CJ Hamilton switched from right wing back to the left, to accommodate the incoming Will Atkinson. In midfield, Calum Butcher replaced Alex MacDonald whilst Oljenik kept his place between the sticks.
Both sides saw early chances as the game got underway – naturally it was the hosts who threatened first as Conor Townsend got in behind but failed to beat Oljenik, putting the ball over the bar – whilst at the other end, Craig Davies fired wide from Hamilton’s left sided cross.
Former Nottingham Forest man Oliver Burke put an effort wide for the hosts on eight minutes with the angle against him, two minutes later the dangerous former Red had another chance – this time nodding wide as the Baggies opened up the Stags.
On 18 minutes the Stags nearly grabbed the opener as Boaz Myhill kept out a certain own goal but parried the ball into the path of Davies – the Stags front man rasped his effort narrowly wide.
Otis Khan was next to test Myhill but couldn’t beat the former Hull glovesman who was equal to the attacking midfielder’s free kick with twenty-two on the clock, four minutes later the Stags were caught on the counter with a directional ball. Benning temporarily forgot he was playing as a central defender and not an attacking wing-back and hogged the touch line, as the Stags lost the ball – a long ball saw the Stags with two at the back – a cut back to Jonathan Leko saw the baggies man open the scoring from close range.
Bobby Olejnik then came to the Stags rescue on the half hour to deny the advancing Burke, the last real chance of the half.
After the break David Flitcroft switched systems to a 4-4-2, Atkinson at right back – Benning across to his natural left back with Pearce (right) and Sweeney (left) in the middle, Tyler Walker occupied the right wing, CJ Hamilton the left, whilst Khan partnered Davies upfront.
Calum Butcher nearly headed the Stags level on 52 minutes as he rose to meet Walkers cross, however a clash of heads saw that be Butchers last action – replaced by MacDonald who immediately tightened the Stags midfield and pushed the players forward.
Oljenik then denied Kyle Edwards, before then tipping a free header over the bar from a corner – after Sweeney made an inch perfect tackle to stop the hosts progressing.
Danny Rose replaced Davies on 64 minutes and made an instant difference with tenacious running and just a minute after coming on, cut inside well and curled a beautiful effort beyond Myhill, who could only watch the ball cannon off the bar and post and away.
Rose then set MacDonald for an effort which flew wide and you knew it would take something special – step up Neal Biship, who on 70 minutes reacted to Hamilton’s pull back to lean back and curl an un-stoppable effort into the top corner from long range.
Rose had claims for a spot kick turned down before volleying over the bar, determined to score – but it was West Brom who would strike what proved to be the winner on 75 minutes as Will Atkinson missed his header on the half way line to allow the hosts space down the left hand side, a neat run from Edwards evaded the challenge of Pearce, Walker and Sweeney to curl beyond an unsighted Oljenik.
Mansfield were not down and not out just yet and began a barrage of attack which, on any other day pays off. Rose was twice denied by Myhill, MacDonald curled a free kick wide and substitute Jordan Graham’s cut back picked out Walker – only to be denied by the experience Myhill.
Time was fast running out by the Stags were peppering the home goal – Graham looped an effort just beyond the far post as the game entered five additional minutes. Rose tamely nodded an effort wide before the Stags won a corner – which Bobby Oljenik raced forward for – the ball fell for him after Myhill saved a first effort – the shot from the Stags glovesman was heading into the bottom corner, a block saw it land at the feet of Pearce – who slotted wide!
Moments later another corner and up came Bobby O again – this time going toe to toe with Myhill, the ball ran loose but the hosts scrambled clear as the referee put the whistle to the lips and brought a thrilling piece of drama to a close, West Brom putting the stags out and ending an unbeaten run – but only just.
FULL TIME: West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2]: Bobby Oljenik, Ryan Sweeney, Krystian Pearce ©, Mal Benning (Jordan Graham 85), Will Atkinson, Neal Bishop, Calum Butcher (Alex MacDonald 53), CJ Hamilton, Otis Khan, Tyler Walker, Craig Davies (Danny Rose 65)
Unused Subs: Conrad Logan, Lewis Gibbens, Jacob Mellis, Omari Sterling-James
Referee: Stephen Martin
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