Mansfield Town’s near impossible task of finishing in the top seven of League Two proved one step too far, as a resurgent Crawley Town came from two-goals behind to ensure the Stags’ season finished in a disappointing whimper.
With the odds stacked heavily against Steve Evans’ men, yesterday was always going to be a tall order, but even for me, watching from the outside for the majority of the campaign, it was plain as day that this Mansfield Town were missing the key ingredients that make a side successful.
At 2-0 up with two well worked and well taken goals, you could argue I was talking rubbish – but the fact of the matter is, on reflection, from the very first whistle – Crawley had Mansfield sussed and got under their skin – good teams don’t allow that or find a way to fight back, for my money the Stags had no fight in them, the cracks starting to show when Crawley reduced the score to 2-1.
At 2-1 the hill to climb became a mountain, in fact – it was like watching 90s classic gladiators on the pyramid game and a five-feet-nothing average Joe going up against the seven-foot-twelve muscle and brute force of warrior or hunter – in short, there was no way Mansfield were making it beyond the first step, and they didn’t.
The fact they didn’t isn’t all down to players’ lack of energy or enthusiasm, it’s also down to a Crawley side who after sacking their manager on Thursday evening, were determined to end the season on a positive note and battled from the first whistle to the very last – and to be honest, had they had a few more ingredients themselves in key areas, they may have finished in a higher position.
You look at players like Dean Cox and James Collins, both twenty-goal a season front men with pace and power, both players who get under defenders’ skins and make things happen – I look at Mansfield’s front line and other than Danny Rose, who I think will continue to grow under Evans, I can’t see any striker that has enough about them too make the difference when it comes to the crunch.
Matt Green, forever a legend, but nowhere near the Matt Green we need – Shaq Coulhirst, too much of a one-man band from what I’ve seen – I could continue but once again, I only want to write about what I’ve seen, it’d be unfair to do so otherwise.
On reflection a 12th placed finish doesn’t look great, but it’s so tight, anything could have happened and so nearly did. John Radford has to get the cheque book out and let Evans do what Evans does – create a winning team, failure to do so and I don’t see Steve Evans remaining Stags boss for long – another post for another time really, as is the fact we as a town need to put bums on seats and watch another season of League Two football, which is looking on paper like another intriguing tale.
REPORT | CRAWLEY TOWN 2-2 MANSFIELD TOWN
Venue | Checkatrade.com Stadium, Crawley
Date | Saturday 6th May – 5.30pm Kick-Off
Competition | Sky Bet League Two
Referee | Carl Boyeson
The odds were truly stacked against the Stags, they HAD to win and then hope FOUR of FIVE games elsewhere went their way to creep into 7th place – most people knew it was perhaps a step too far, however nobody gave Leicester City a shot at being Premier League Champions and that happened so, there was always hope.
Steve Evans made two changes from the side which lost to Portsmouth, Alfie Potter and Matt Green replaced Lee Collins and Shaq Coulthirst respectively, and whilst some were perhaps surprised to see a less attacking line-up, the options Evans had allowed a transition from a flat 4-4-2 to a 3-4-1-2 with Hayden White dropping into a back three, Mal Benning moving to left-side-midfield and Alex MacDonald and Alfie Potter alternating between the centre-attacking-midfield role off the shoulder of Green and Rose.
Hosts Crawley had the better start as Stags failed to settle early nerves, Dean Cox with the pick of the chances for the hosts, his fourth minute effort pushed away by Jake Kean in the Stags goal, before a good recovering challenge from Rhys Bennett prevented another opening for James Collins two minutes later.
The Stags did eventually settle and enjoyed by far their best spell of the game, Krystian Pearce and Alex MacDonald both saw efforts go over before Danny Rose gave Mansfield a much needed lead on eleven minutes.
Hosts Crawley couldn’t keep hold of the ball in midfield as Joel Byrom won possession back, playing a ball low into the area into the feet of Danny Rose who made no mistake in keeping his composure, setting himself and firing low beneath Glenn Morris in the home goal.
Boyed by the opening goal, the Stags continued to press a wonderful cross from MacDonald on the left paved the way for Ben Whiteman to head over on 17 minutes before two minutes later, Matt Green turned provider with neat control inside the box to tee-up an advancing Whiteman, his effort cannoning back off of the post.
On Twenty-Two minutes Whiteman made it third time lucky as, following an excellent peace of fluid counter-attacking football, he drove from the half way line to around 25 yards from goal, firing beyond Morris who could do nothing bar fetch the ball from the back of the net.
Three minutes later, Mal Benning arrived from nowhere to blaze over a left-footed volley from a Hayden White cross before Matt Green also saw an effort palmed away expertly by Morris – questions remain however over if Green should have teeded up Whiteman who was in a far better passion and unmarked.
The cracks then began to show as Stags, in search of a much needed goal number three with all results bar Stevenage in their favour, threw bodies forward and saw their 3-4-1-2 formation unpicked by a cleaver Crawley, who drawing Hayden White out of position to allow a low first-time left sided cross – pulled a goal back. Dean Cox converting five yards from goals as the Mansfield back line failed to track runners and looked all at sea.
A final chance of the half saw Matt Green and Alex MacDonald combine but fail to find the target, and as results began to go against them, the deflation set-in and despite a 2-1 half time lead, you sensed the second half may not be the one Mansfield were dreaming off.
Crawley put the pressure on right from the off as the second half got underway, two corners in quick succession had Mansfield on the back foot and looked by far the side in control, levelling the game with an outstanding net-buster on 54 minutes.
It all stemmed from lapse defending from Mansfield who failed at the basics, not reacting to a short Dean Cox corner who simply rolled the ball to the edge of the Stags box to Jordan Roberts, who pulled the trigger and slammed the ball beyond Jake Kean.
The Collins-Cox combination looked dangerous and had Mansfield at sixes and sevens throughout the second half, a chance on the hour saw Cox fire wide before four minutes later, Collins was inches away from converting at the far post following a Cox low cross.
With 67 played Crawley should have taken a three-two lead, James Collins took advantage of an unusually static Pearce, winning the ball before racing through 1 v 1 with Jake Kean who did well to deny Collins with his legs.
Kean again came to the rescue four minutes later, as another Cox corner found its way to Collins at the near post, the Crawley front man’s effort palmed away one-handed by Kean as the hosts pilled on the pressure.
Stags substitute George Taft and fellow defender Pearce both had efforts fly up and over alongside the Gatwick Planes either side of Collins hitting the woodwork for Crawley as the game entered its final stages, and Stags season end on a whimper.
FULL TIME | Crawley 2-2 Stags
STAGS: Kean, White (Taft), Pearce [C], Bennett, Benning, Whiteman, Byrom, Potter (Coulthirst), MacDonald, Rose (Hamilton), Green
UNUSED SUBS: Jensen, McGuire, Lee Collins, Lewis Collins
Report & Blog | Craig Priest
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