_ Going Steady
Craig Priest Writes ahead of tomorrow’s trips to Stonebridge Road...
Sitting just nine points behind our play-off chasing selves, I think Ebbsfleet supporters will be fairly happy with their current position in the league standings, back in the top tier of non-league football following last season’s promotion via the blue square south play-offs. Despite indifferent results over the course of the season, Liam Daish’s men will provide a tough test for Paul Cox’s side tomorrow who of course look for maximum points to wrap up an unbeaten January.
With draws against fellow play-off chasers York (New Year’s Day) and Luton (Wednesday night) plus victories against Forest Green Rovers and Hayes & Yeading, the first month of 2012 hasn’t particularly been a bad one. Many players have impressed and looking back on January, I feel we are in a far better place than when we looked back on November and December. Victory tomorrow at mid table Ebbsfleet and a clean sheet would again reaffirm our stance and let those who linger above us know that we are gathering pace, coming to take their place. With a goalkeeper and back four who have kept two clean sheets in their last three outings, I feel we can be comfortable with our defensive unit – hopefully the addition of former Barrow left back Paul Edwards, on a month’s loan from Fleetwood, will help to boost that rather than hinder it. In midfield we have two central players with ability far too good for this level, Gary Roberts and Adam Murray seemed to have formed a decent partnership together and combine their strengths to drive us on. Out wide we have a healthy number of options to look out, with Lindon Meikle and the recently returned Adam Smith the favourites at the moment adding pace and flair to our attacking play. Up front, we’ve Mat Green – Goal Machine, alongside the burning potential of Ben Hutchinson or the more frequent presence of Ross Dyer, who with the ball at feet is a good weapon to have – he’s not bad in the air either. In reserve we have the likes of John Thompson, Anthony Howell, Lee Stevenson and Louis Briscoe (to name a few) all eager to get another run in the side – hopefully a good 90 minutes against Rainworth tomorrow will be key to keeping these players fresh ahead of February as we face a tough month with all opponents either fighting for their lives or fighting for breathing space at the top.
In the past few weeks Paul Cox has called for the ugly side of the game, which he’s got on a constant basis, whilst he’s also said its results not performances that matter – tomorrow will be another case of combining the two and making sure the Stags get the job done. A key thing for the Stags to do against Daishs’ men will be play to the whistle and see the game through right to the last mili-second, as Fleet have grabbed 11 goals so far this campaign in the final five minutes of the game. At the other end the Stags will either need to be productive early or show patience, as they former FA Trophy winners have only shipped five goals between the 20 minute mark and the break, although their luck hasn’t been in during the second half, conceding a mammoth 30 goals.
Since our last meeting in November 2009, which we lost 2-1, we have become less arrogant and as I wrote for the Chad this week, more accustomed to life in the BSBP. Let’s hope our trip tomorrow see’s us record victory at Stonebridge Road at the third time of asking. Our first trip, as you’ll read briefly about on my Chad article and hopefully at a more exclusive length below, was historic – I hope that despite segregation NOT being in place for tomorrow’s fixture, we can still be as loud and as productive in our support as we always are. I’m on my own in the commentary box tomorrow, so I want to hear lots of noise coming from the Mansfield faithful, spurring the lads onto a memorable victory as we look to close the gap between ourselves and the much sought after play-offs.
Those not going can join me for full match commentary on the fixture from 2.50PM via our MM-LIVE page – please interact throughout via text and twitter, I need your company! You can find details on how to do so via our MM-LIVE page. Incidentally, if you are going to the Rainworth reserve game, boo Scott Rogers from me cheer on the rest of the lads and if you could, text me the team through and any goals that go in – again you’ll find the number via MM-LIVE – that would be greatly appreciated.
For now I must dash, 5-a-side soon! But I leave you with an exclusive trip down memory lane. Back at the start of our conference journey I began to pen a journal about life in the unknown, I have rescued an extract about our first ever game in the conference, our trip to tomorrow’s opponents Ebbsfleet. I apologise in advance for the stench of arrogance and poor grammar!
_Memory Lane: Ebbsfleet Away – Same tires, brand new road.
As Glen Spikey pulled the supporters bus up to the ground, it hit home, this was non-league football and we were in for the long haul. Ebbsfleet, formally Gravesend and Northfleet had a small ground; friendly stewards clearly bemused at all the support we had brought! And one very packed pub stories of stags fans “helping them self’s” because of the lack of bar staff were told on the coach trip home, but to the promise land, non-league football! Over the home entrance turnstile was a sign which ended in “Blue Square Premier Game No.1” A Walk through a small car park led us to the away end and as we emerged inside you could either sit on a wooden bench (out of the rain and £1 extra) or be stood up in the open terrace behind the goal, we stood up and made our self’s known, singing songs about of wonderful club and its players which include some new verses about a bloke called Stallard who is apparently “big and F*****g hard!” and “Better than frank Lampard!” Plus songs about a man with a “pineapple on his head!” As we entered the ground to watch the new crop warm up, it was obvious how Billy McEwan ran a football club, he commands 110% in everything, football played at a quick tempo, a team who would put their life on the line for the team and fellow players, a team who wore the heart on their sleeves and played with balls of steal and this team was run with discipline of the highest manor. The players were all kitted out in new training tops and kit, all with the blue square logo on! As they went back to the dressing room to a loud roar of “Come on You Stags!” and “Yeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllllllooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwssssss!” you could sense the atmosphere and see that McEwan and his men were mentally prepared for the battle ahead. Unfortunately the preparation in the minds did not transfer to the pitch as the stags fans were brought back to memories of last season, defending, badly. Ebbsfleet were confident and had bonded well, this showed with some great passing and team work, it wasn’t long until the stags were 1-0 down, a drive from around 20 yards had beaten keeper gamble who was unlucky not to palm it away, fortunately for him the ball hit the post and his blushes were spared, for about a second when the ball hit the back of his head and started to roll over the line, however gamble did try and claw it away but the cheeky Ebbsfleet forward tapped the ball over the line, 1-0. New left back, Alex Jeannin, was filled with kind words for his keeper, not, he flew of the handle shouting and roaring like a mad man, and even worse it was in French! Not the ideal way the keep up the morale in the team was it Alex?! His outburst didn’t go down to well in the stand either, not the ideal way to become a crowd favourite either! Jeannin’s popularity went from bad to worse as Ebbsfleet had identified him as the “weakest link” constantly attacking our left back and 99.5% of the time, beating him, with ease. The second goal came not long after the first, a thunderbolt shot from the same passion saw gamble beaten again no post this time, back of the net 2-0. Gamble did get back to his best making a string of fine saves and making numerous good catches. Half time came and the stags had hardly created anything the players slummed off to the dressing room for a dressing down by McEwan, there walk was met by a few seconds of boos and then positive encouragement by the loyal, wet through fans!.
As the rain continued to pour down on the stags fans, the players reappeared from the dressing down much more fired up than they looked before the first half, and so they should be, they were attacking towards the stags end. The stags were finally alive! But much to McEwan and the stag’s faithful the lads could not find the back of the net. A popular figure emerged from the bench for his warm to chants of “He’s Got A Pineapple On His Head!” this made Jason lee smile and applaud after all that song had been with him throughout his career, even after the famous hairdo had gone! He was thrown into action much sooner than expected as Aaron O’Connor appeared to have taken a knock and limped off. Lee’s arrival to the pitch not only stirred a positive reaction from the stag’s fans but also the team, Lee won everything in the air linking up well with Mark Stallard, Nathan Arnold, John D’Larea and Mickey Blackwood. Stags kept attacking and were awarded when tricky winger Blackwood cut past 2 defenders and sent over a looping ball, aimed for Stallard but it hit the post and deflected in! 2-1. With confidence now high stags kept on attacking and after a string of unsuccessful set-plays they were level Blackwood turned provider his looping ball from the left flank found Jason lee who nodded it in. Well that’s what it looked like to us! They PA man gave Stallard the goal; maybe he tapped it in, who cares! 2-2 and cue the mass celebrations! With only stoppage time left Ebbsfleet tried to grab a winner again beating left back Jeannin gamble to the rescue fine catch and quick distribution lee nods it down the midfield hold it up and then unleash a show, blocked by a defender, the ball bobbles nicely to the feet of centre half aide Moses, who applied a strikers finish! Blocked and deflected out for a corner, the ball goes into the stag’s fans terrace and was not seen again! The referee had blew his whistle a 2-2 draw. A solid second half performance of commitment, passion and quality football had seen the stags safe. The rain had stopped as fans applauded a retreated to the coaches for Glen Spikey to take us home, non-league football really is a battle and my gosh was that hard, roll on histon on home turf!
Nothing specially to report about the trip home so I skip to Sunday morning and wake up into for ITV’s “The Championship” waiting for the highlights of yesterdays game to come on, just to see who did score, Lee or Stallard? Then I realised that we were no longer on this program and my hour was wasted! A brisk walk round to the shop saw me make my weekly investment of “the Non-League Paper” and “Non-League Today” The NLP is the best paper full colour, match reports from every game, expert views from non-league experts and all the stats and news from the last week in the non-league world all for £1.50 it was in this paper that I first read about Billy McEwans half time team talk, no hair dryer treatment maybe some harsh words and a smack for Alex Jeannin! (Just joking!) Instead Billy told the players about his playing days and how much the supporters valued the team. He compared football to boxing, when your down you must not give in, you must rise to the challenge and give every last bit of energy one thing you must not do is “Throw in the towel” id imagine there to be a few swear words mixed into that statement but if you close your eyes and say that over and over in your head you can see its meaning. The player must have taken notice to his words of wisdom, if not then id drug test the half time oranges! For the first time I can see that Billy is the kind of man and manager who I think are best, he looks to get the best from players, demands team work and commitment and when times are hard he knows exactly what to say. I think state of mind is key to a good footballer and if Billy can get the stags’ squad in the right state of mind then we are destined to succeed. Back To the papers and I notice our relegation counterparts Wrexham had managed a good victory; this no doubt will fill Wrexham fans full of confidence thinking that the BSP is “A Walkover” and an “Easy ride” time will tell.
_ Fear is gone
Some may look at the title of the piece and wonder about its logic, fact is there will always be fixtures you least look forward to and grounds you don’t enjoy visiting – every football fan is the same. Luton, until last march, was certainly one of them for a high percentage of Stags fans writes Craig Priest.
I can’t exactly pinpoint why we feared Luton at all, clutching at straws I’d say it’s perhaps during both sides’ time in the conference together, Luton had been too strong for Mansfield – especially at Kenilworth Road recording a 4-1 victory in 2009 and a 2-0 victory in 2010, both fixtures being quite hostile with red cards involved in both. With my tin hat on ready for potential Luton missiles, I personally don’t think we feared Luton as a footballing unit, I think we took a disgust to their attitude towards life in the BSBP – one of arrogance. Admittedly during our first month or so in the conference we had a similar attitude towards sides such as Lewes, Grays Athletic, Forest Green Rovers etc, in some cases we may still have a tiny drop – however we soon adapted to life outside the football league and begrudgingly accepted our position. I’m not saying every hatters fan had the hostile ‘we’re better than you, we’re a football league club’ attitude, some shared the pain of relegation but relished the new challenge, what I am saying however is that the sense and smell of arrogance lingered around Kenilworth Road from the first moment I stepped off the coach to whiteness that 4-1 defeat back in 2009 and in my further two visits, rather than fade away with the evening sun – it’s grown somewhat stronger, proved by my visit in last season’s FA Trophy semi-final.
We’ll come to that shortly but I refer now back to the explanation of the blog title, Fear is gone. After beating Chasetown in the quarter final replay of the FA Trophy, we faced Luton over two legs in the semi-final, as soon as the full time whistle blew against Chasetown a good 50% of us, plus a huge majority of those in the footballing network immediately gave us know hope of reaching the Wembley final. By the time match-day had arrived (Sunday 13th March) that 50% had risen to a good 80% if not higher, very few believed in Duncan Russell’s side. I remember waking up that morning so nervous I spilt a good pint of milk onto the sideboard making my morning cup of tea, I shook uncontrollably and had it not been for a large amount of Galaxy chocolate in my fridge would have probably bitten my fingers off rather than just my nails. I wasn’t nervous about the prospect of facing Luton, I fear no team because I firmly believe that the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. I was on edge, bouncing around at the opportunity to silence the doubters who, in all honesty, had become scream voices/ taunts, inside my head. In those few short months prior to the semi-final I’d personally been given a second shot at achieving a dream, which is something the voices said impossible – from this I knew that the underdog could prevail, alas nobody would believe me. On the bus to town on that Sunday, I remember vividly being in conversation with fellow Stags fans about our chances, out of the three, two said we’d get hammered, the other was unsure. It was pointless arguing with the two that firmly believed we’d lose because when somebody’s so repetitive and without doubt, it becomes less about the subject matter and more about personal egos. What you can do though is plant the seeds of inner-doubt and in a weird, physiological way, get your points across without them initially noticing – this is what I opted for. During the well mannered conversation there had been a lot of ‘he’s not good enough’ type moments, so as I got up to leave I said my goodbyes and dropped in ‘on May 7th we can be at Wembley, it’ll be tough but doable, so long as today we all pull together rather than push ourselves a part’. Weather it worked, I’ll never know – but what I’d said we as a team needed transpired throughout that game, as Field Mill rocked with a positive energy.
We took a one goal lead to Kenilworth Road thanks to Danny Mitchley’s well hit strike, yes looking back David Grof was certainly the busier of the two keepers and chances weren’t fluent for us, but we’d finally got one up on Luton for the first time since 2003. The second leg as we all know was crazy, the atmosphere nasty and hostile. In the middle of the home fans in the press box, I was seated without the comfort of headphones – the abuse, hatred chants, pure cockiness and sheer arrogance from a large section of the support knocked me for six and, I’ll hold my hands up, riled me. Prior to the game a large percentage still didn’t believe and put our one goal advantage down to part of an evil writers plot to suck the life out of us at the very end. We matched Luton throughout the first half with standout performances from Tom Naylor and especially David Grof, who could do nothing about the thunderous aggregate equalizer milliseconds into the second half. Luton, like the big bad wolf, huffed and huffed, but failed to blow the house down and predictably resulted to bully boy tactics, as they had done in the previous two games at Kenilworth Road leading to the dismissals of Scott Gardener and Steve Foster respectively. This time round the hatters we’re caught and paid the price – twice. Despite the two red cards, the hosts still pushed but with 900+ Stags fans in fine voice and believing spirit behind the goal, failed to find a way through. Mansfield tired and somehow kept going through extra time, with those final moments memorable to us all, rather than be lethargic we ran and got the reward – eternal thanks to Luke Graham for giving his former employers a helping hand – literally. Louis Briscoe might have seen his spot kick saved by Pilkington but in smashing home the rebound – broke the fear forever, proving that the underdog can be victorious.
The hate, the arrogance, the threats of physical violence continued far after the full time whistle from one or two Luton fans, one in particular took a blatant dislike to me and launched a torrent of abuse like no other – I still remember wrapping the radio show up at full time before joining in the chants of ‘Que Sera Sera’ whilst the guy behind threw flaming daggers at me (metaphorical ones people – fortunately all he had to physically throw was a programme, which missed by miles and was aimed at the pitch rather than me!) Duncan Russell also got abuse as he headed up for the post match interviews alongside David Grof, Louis Briscoe and Tom Naylor – his response brilliant “nice to see your gracious in defeat”.
I’m sure we all have a personal memory from that day – remember them tomorrow, our first visit back to Kenilworth Road since Louis historic goal.
The sides have met twice since the trophy of course, both at Field Mill – with last season’s league fixture coming weeks after the trophy showdown and in august as this season got steadily underway. Both games we’re draws but the result less important, in both fixtures the fear I’d previously seen had gone completely, almost as if Barry Scott from those dreadful adverts had come along with his pink spray.
Tomorrow night’s game is a totally different fixture from the trophy game, or any other games against Luton for that matter, the principal of believing still applies though. We’re not chasing Wembley, but we are chasing the play-offs and we need to be beating teams like Luton (and Fleetwood etc, just to balance things) in order to achieve what we desire. We have players oozing the ability to succeed with our beloved club, from Luke O’Neill to Gary Roberts, from Alan Marriott to Ross Dyer – every area is essential. Of late we have been getting the results we need with two consecutive victories at Field Mill, yes there have been mistakes costing us goals but as Paul Cox says its results, not performances that counts. Tomorrow we must do what we never seem to do, transfer our home form onto the road. We’ve not won on the road since the end of September when we saw off league leaders Wrexham 3-1, however in the nine away games since (including cup) Cox’s side have only been beaten three times, twice in the cup, now is the perfect time to turn those other draws into wins.
As I’ve mentioned, tomorrow’s trip to Kenilworth Road will be tough and again they’ll be a percentage that have already written the game off – all I ask is, for whatever clicked in our last visit to one of the strangest grounds in the league, to click one more. We’ve done it before and we can do it again, perhaps this time, rather than be the final piece of the Wembley trail jigsaw, it can be the first leap on our way back to the football league via the playoffs.
To those going, enjoy your trip and wave to the person in the flat above the turnstiles – oh and make some noise throughout, maybe not Que Sera Sera but a nice chorus of ‘Yellows’ wouldn’t go a miss! To those not going, well be sure to join myself and Scott Rogers from 7.20PM for full match commentary.
*Views expressed in this blog are those of the writer, Craig Priest, and not those of Mansfield Matters or its sister organisations.
AUDIO: Last Time at Kenilworth Road
As mentioned in the blog above, the Stags produced a memorable display to reach the FA Trophy final, thanks to Louis Briscoe's late strike, bundling home after Kevin Pilkington had saved his penalty.
TEAM: David Grof, Gary Silk, Tom Naylor, Kevin Sandwith, Dan Spence, Ashley Cain (Adam Smith), Tyrone Thompson (C), Kyle Nix (Stevie Istead), Louis Briscoe , Paul Connor, Danny Mitchley
Audio Highlights can be found below, with commentary (some of it screamed) from Craig Priest and Gareth Hussey.
_ I’m delighted to be able to update you that ‘Mansfield Matters’ will return to the FM Airways via Takeover in the coming weeks, following the appointment of a station manager and station assistant.
An exact date cannot yet be confirmed for our return to the station, however having spoken to station directors and staff, I am confident our return will be within the next three weeks – updates will be posted on here.
We broadcast our final ‘Mansfield Matters’ show on November 26th due to a staffing matter at the station and since then, having been broadcasting live games via our USTREAM channel on this website. This was always going to be an interim thing and once the station was given a finical boost in late December thanks to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, it would only be a matter of time until things could return to normal.
I would like to personally thank everybody for their support and the fantastic number of listeners on the games broadcast via USTREAM, most notably when the Stags faced Droyslden in the FA Trophy, when just over 2,000 people tuned in.
As I say, the return to FM will not be straight away but it is just around the corner – please see below for details of coverage on forthcoming fixtures.
Thanks again for your wonderful support – Craig.
DATE FIXTURE DETAILS
21/1 Stags Vs Hayes & Yeading Twitter updates via @mansfieldtownfc
25/1 Luton Vs Stags Full Match Commentary via USTREAM PLAYER from 7.20PM with Craig Priest, Scott Rogers and Wayne Briggs
28/1 Ebbsfleet Vs Stags Full Match Commentary via USTREAM PLAYER from 2.50PM with Craig Priest and Scott Rogers
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