Craig Priest writes…
“There’s still a lot of work to do on the training ground” Those were the words of new boss David Flictroft speaking after the 1-1 draw against Lincoln City, his first since taking over the reins from Steve Evans last week – those words refreshing to hear from a manager determined to battle against the sands of time and deliver project promotion, with now just eleven games to go.
Each manager comes with their own style of play and own ideas, Flitcroft has inherited a team who are used to playing deep and putting us supporters through a rough final ten minutes with back against the wall, sometimes (often actually) panic station defending – yet as a manager he likes his teams to not invite pressure and close the game out in midfield.
You could see Ben Futcher (the new assistant manager for anyone hearing about these changes for the first time!) screaming (encouragingly and not in a Paul Raynor way) for the back line to push higher and force Lincoln back and as Flitcroft said in his refreshingly honest and referee abusing free post match interview – for 89 minutes the boys did just that and credit to them, but football is a game longer than that and we fell into Lincoln’s trap, we fell back into the Evans ‘soak up the punches’ mentality and we’re punished as The imps did what the imps do best.
I’m not going to sit here and be angry at that, it’s natural to play a certain way after so long – and in such a quick turnaround between the flying Scotsman leaving and Flitcroft arriving, I have no complaints about it, in fact I expected it, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in that situation in four or five games time…. The worry is we don’t have four or five games to tinker!
I want to pick up on a few things, firstly if you haven’t already guessed I’m happy with the result, no doubt I’ll go into more detail Thursday in the Podcast, under Evans I’d have feared a capitulation ala Luton.
Secondly I want to highlight Flitcroft and Futcher’s professionalism in applauding for the gentleman who sadly passed away recently during the match, the way in which they handled the fans and finally the post-match interview – not ONE word about the referee and the sending’s off late on. Luke Waterfall, another blast from the Stags past, rightly dismissed for hurling that bottle into the crowd – BUT whoever launched it FROM the crowd in the first place needs to be ejected from the ground too, I could totally understand his anger at the card but by the letter of the law, it’s a red card – as was Rhys Bennett’s second yellow – no complaints there.
Team and shape wise you could already see the difference, when we were on the attack the system became much more of a 4-2-3-1/ 4-3-3 with MacDonald and King (Later Byrom) sitting in deeper roles with Rose also dropping deeper, allowing Hemmings, Hamilton and the impressive Anderson to play freely around him – Anderson also dropped into that role just off the front two which encouraged the full backs to push forward and thus play a higher attacking game, which again given a few more games will start to really pay off.
It was natural that Ollie Palmer was going to score, but let it be – our focus is now on the final 11 games with our fate in our own hands, Flitcroft knows and admitted it wasn’t the greatest spectacle to watch, he also knows where the work needs to be done. We’re fortunate that we are at home again on Saturday so don’t have to waste time travelling – I believe that every possible second will be spent on the training ground getting things right, this is ours to lose and in David Flitcroft and Ben Futcher, we have two footballing people that are determined to battle against the sands of time and deliver on broken promises.
New boss David Flitcroft made just the one change, one I expected in Paul Anderson not playing right back – Hayden White brought back in for Alfie Potter, allowing Anderson to move forward. Interestingly there was no place on the bench for Ricky Miller, of course on loan from Peterborough – a few whispers around me suggested Evans would recall him – but then again, we could be putting two and two together and making seven thousand and four.
A tentative start from both sides saw the Stags try and find their groove against a hungry Lincoln side full of old faces – Matt Rhead the first old face to head into Logan’s arms, the offside flag up however on six minutes against a man who made the most critical flick-on in the clubs history.
Five minutes later it was one of the newest faces to be involved as Adam King picked up a yellow card for a strong, but fair, challenge on Alex Woodyard – however from then on with King on ice, he looked shaky and vulnerable.
Rhead was again in the thick of the action as he struck towards goal, Mal Benning on hand to turn the ball away near the line as the burley front man’s effort trickled goalwards, Benning again in the thick of the action on 17 minutes as another ex-Stag in Luke Waterfall hit towards goal, the Imps skipper denied by Benning before nodding the looping loose follow up wide of the target.
At the other end a minute later the first sight of flowing attacking football as Rose flicked into the path of Kane Hemmings – the Oxford loanee picked out the run of Anderson who duly delivered on a plate for Rose, who couldn’t find his former and now reunited boss a first Stags goal, as he volleyed over the bar.
The Stags kept on the pressure as Hamilton began to unpick the City back line – his weaving movement set MacDonald from a long range drive on twenty minutes, the ball zipping just wide of Ryan Allsop’s goal.
Club legend (remember that when you’re booing him the small minority!) Matt Green popped up to say hello on 29 minutes as he set up Waterfall for a stinging volley – Conrad Logan equal to it, down low in the centre of his goal.
Danny Rose again then squandered the chance for an opener on 31 minutes as Hemmings fed Hamilton – the pacey wide man squared the ball from Rose who fired over on his left foot.
At the break Adam King was withdrawn for Joel Byrom, Flitcroft admitting after the match he wanted some calm in the middle predicating a feisty second half – he wasn’t wrong with the fuel added by Bryom on 49 minutes as he tore away inside the box to head home Hayden’s White’s chipped cross, after Paul Anderson had created a gap for the anticipating White.
With the stags a goal to the good, Lincoln upped the intensity determined as they do to not go home empty handed, Matt Rhead flicking on for Matt Green (that sound’s familiar!) on 57 minutes, Green hitting over from close range.
Jimmy Spencer was introduced for Hemmings on 76 minutes, instructed to chase down everything and be the hold-up man – Will Atkinson then replaced Paul Anderson who looked shattered with ten minutes to go before Lincoln made the change which was bound to impact the game, Ollie Palmer replaced Green.
Rhys Bennett picked up his first yellow card for time wasting on 82 minutes as a tense finish lingered in the air – Jimmy Spencer unlucky not to seal the game with two minutes to go as Rose sent him on his way, the front man just lacked that extra half a yards pace to round the advancing Allsop – the Lincoln glovesman just clearing the lines.
Lincoln, with Rhead as the puppet master, pushed the Stags further back despite instructions to push out and as predicted got their reward as Ollie Palmer latched onto the loose ball unmarked to slam home and celebrate in front of the home support.
It was then it turned ugly as a bottle was launched towards the celebrating crop of Imps players and ex-Stags, Luke Waterwall the City captain and brief former Stag launched the bottle back into the crowd – spotted by the referee who subsequently produced a straight red.
The game calmed for a minute, before Rhys Bennett brought down a Lincoln player, picking up his second yellow card and taking one for the team – fortunately the sands of time in this particular encounter ran out before any more damage could be done.
Work to do, yes – is it over, grow up! A fair result between two competitive sides – the Stags remain in 5th – one point behind Notts County in the last automatic place in third with a game in hand on them AND them still to play.
This story isn’t over, this is chapter one of twelve in 'twelve against time'
FULL TIME: Stags 1-1 Lincoln
Hayden White – Krystian Pearce – Rhys Bennet [Sent Off, two bookings 90+4] – Mal Benning
Paul Anderson (Will Atkinson 80) - Adam King (Joel Byrom HT) – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings (Jimmy Spencer 75)
Unused substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Zander Diamond, Jacob Mellis, Lee Angol
Referee: Graham Salisbury Assistants: Gary Hilton and Grant Taylor Fourth Official Peter Gibbons
Attendance 6,091 (unknown)
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