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
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