Craig Priest writes…
The funny thing about dreams is, just when you picture the perfect ending, the plot line twists in a completely random direction and within the blink of an eye – the perfect dream is gone.
A 4-1 score line in favour of Championship side Cardiff City completely flattered the visitors and looks very harsh on Steve Evans men who exit the FA Cup with the bitter taste of what could have been, however for my money – they can be very proud of their efforts and endeavours.
For 65 minutes the Stags really held their own and in fairness, they should have been comfortably leading at half-time as they outplayed the visitors with some promising football which, if they can replicate it consistently, will set league two alight at last.
Yet as has been Mansfield problem far too frequently, the energy ran short and the cracks began to show – cracks which sides like Cardiff are going to exploit and did so with two playground goals and one hit and hope wonder from slack marking when Mansfield, disappointingly, had long since gone home mentally.
Obviously not playing Manchester City and gaining the riches which accompany it is a bitter, bitter blow – but on the flip side, we have practically packed out the One Call Stadium and showed some of the “non-regular supporters” what we can deliver for the most part, hopefully enticing them to return and back the boys to a play-off and possible promotion charge, in a similar way the Liverpool defeat did back in the conference days.
Looking at the game out of isolation and you could tell how much we have missed Joel Byrom’s set-plays and his creativity in midfield, I’m not particularly a fan of compacting midfield with a five but having Byrom sit alongside Mellis and MacDonald really worked and opened Cardiff up.
The pedantic will say that at no point was it an out and out midfield five, but with MacDonald having pretty much free reign – there were times we prevented Cardiff from punishing us in the first half by MacDonald sitting deeper, thus becoming a five.
MacDonald continues to flourish in that central role too his tenacity and energy is the driving force to Mansfield Town right now, he didn’t top running from start to finish yet again and plugged a lot of gaps – allowing the likes of Byrom, Melliss and Hamilton to have space to work and attack – he thoroughly deserved his man of the match award.
If I were being pedantic myself and picking the holes out of it, I’d lambast our defending for allowing simplicity to unravel it – but it’s the FA Cup and in the grand scheme of things doesn’t matter one little bit, a team from a higher level will have that extra bit about them to exploit us – we learn from it and ensure those mistakes don’t spill into the league.
It’s disappointing to exit the cup so close to getting a dream tie – but overall I look back with pride rather than frustration, as we matched a very good Championship side for the best part of 150 minutes of football.
We learn, we move on and we do NOT for a second think ‘Manchester City this and Manchester City that’ – we simply focus on the bread and butter and complete a longer, but more satisfactory dream – Project Promotion.
Steve Evans made two changes from Saturday’s goalless draw at Cambridge as Hayden White returned to the back four in place of Alfie Potter pushing Paul Anderson forward, whilst Joel Byrom replaced Lee Angol, taking up a spot in the centre of midfield with Alex MacDonald given a more higher and free role in supporting Rose.
It was a nervy start from the Stags as Cardiff looked to establish their dominance – a miscued volley from Junior Hoilett on two minutes gave the Stags the wake up call they needed as they clicked into gear with some neat football.
Twelve minutes in saw Mansfield test the palms of Neil Etheridge as CJ Hamilton weaved his way through, however the end shot was tame after such a good bit of movement from the tricky wing man.
A minute later Joel Byrom brilliantly picked out Hayden White who nodded into the path of Pearce, the visiting back line scrambling away as the Stags skipper looked to pull the trigger – the hosts then had Logan to thank at the other end on 18 minutes, as Hoilett was allowed too much space on the right hand side, Logan palmed the ball away as the Bluebirds front man cut inside and pulled the trigger.
Mal Benning then missed a golden chance to open the scoring on 26 minutes as MacDonald was fouled 25 yards from goal to the right. Byrom sent a square ball into space for Benning who charged forwards unmarked, but side footed the ball over the bar, rather than drill into the bottom corner – a move straight from the training ground which richly deserved a goal.
Five minutes later Mellis found Hamilton who cut the ball across for Danny Rose, the Stags leading scorer saw his effort deflected wide as Mansfield continued to turn up the heat.
The visitors then grabbed an undeserved lead on 34 minutes as Logan failed to claim a corner on his line – Steve Evans claimed a foul from the dugout, but as the ball dropped to Manga, the referee ignored the claims and allowed the ball to crash into the back of the net and put Cardiff into the lead.
Mansfield responded immediately as the Stags pilled on pressure, a cross into the box wasn’t dealt with by the visitors and as the ball dropped for Rose, there was only one place that was ending up – in the back of the net, a well-executed left footed finish to reignite the crowd.
Despite the Stags then dominating the majority of play before the half-time whistle, after 45 minutes of football – it was all square between the two sides.
After the break the visitors stepped things up a level but Mansfield stood firm as Pearce blocked Anthony Pilkington’s effort inside the area, Mal Benning also got in the way of a Zohore effort as the hour mark approached.
Simple football then undid the Stags as two goals inside five minutes put the Stags out of the tie, first a simple ball into the box saw Hoilett peel away from his markers for an easy tap in following Patterson’s low cut back on 66 minutes, before the Stags failed to deal with the second ball from a throw in on the left hand side on 71, Anthony Pilkington this time exploiting space to convert beyond Logan for 3-1.
With two minutes to go, the game was put beyond doubt in style as the Stags practically stopped dead, allowing Hoilett to pick up the ball 25 yards from goal in what seemed like a huge gap of space – he fizzed past Logan who stood no chance.
FULL TIME: Stags 1-4 Cardiff City
Hayden White – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Paul Anderson (Alfie Potter 79) – Jacob Mellis – Joel Byrom (Lee Angol 74) – CJ Hamilton
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Digby, Zander Diamond, Will Atkinson, Jimmy Spencer
Referee: Geoff Eltringham Assistants Duncan Street & Wayne Grunnill Fourth Official Peter Banks
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