Time flies when you’re having fun, it moves even quicker in football! Can you believe that TEN years ago today (January 7th) Mansfield Town of League Two, made the trip up North to face Premier League Newcastle United in the FA Cup Third Round.
I was fourteen at the time and back then, a much skinner, far ginger and much more awkward me, regularly skipped school (I mean attended lots of dentist, hospital and optician appointments) to watch Mansfield Town FC without fail.
I didn’t have a season ticket so was petrified I wouldn’t get a ticket for the game so I was naturally buzzing when I was presented with tickets. Dressed in a horrible pair of jeans with a longsalde jacket I’d got for Christmas covering my home shirt (with COKE 15 on the back), I remember the excitement of matchday and how much of an awesome experience going to Newcastle was.
I remember little of the journey, other than a gang of us all congregating together as coach up on coach lined all the way down quarry lane to ferry the population of Mansfield to St James in the hope of a giant killing. We all stuck together as “the regulars” and managed to get on the same coach, I slept and listened to my Alba MP3 Player all the way – changing the pound shop batteries every two minutes whilst chatter and excitement built.
The experience was epic and was unlike any pre-match build up I’d experienced before, the play-off final in Cardiff had far too much worry and expectation attached, this time we were there for the ride. I still remember the sound of excited gasps followed by admirable silence as the coaches drove past St James’ to the drop of point.
Before hand a group of us crammed into Shearers Bar, constantly turning to anyone who could translate the native tone in order to have a conversation with our Premier League hosts.
I have to be honest, I hated the pub before hand – I’ve always wanted to see the warm ups and study the coaching drills, so was pleased when we headed back up a slight hilly incline towards the entrance.
We stopped half way and had a photo to show my dad, it was outside the St James Park welcome sign and taken on an old white phone which I’ve since lost! After going through the turnstyles, we headed up numerous flights of stairs to our stated destination – at which point my brother said to me “this isn’t high” – I walked out first, took one look and turn around, even more pale than usual and said, “wanna bet” (or words to that effect!). It was HIGH! Even higher when we reached our seats which were on the edge of the row.
My day was temporary ruined when a drunk supporter tripped UP the step and spilt a bottle of Coke on my COKE shirt – oh the irony. A sulk later, it was game time.
I remember little else, the players were dots, which perhaps explains why I still don’t use 3D mode on Football Manager. We played well, perhaps the best we played that entire season, but were inevitably beaten by a Historic goal from a footballing god – Alan Shearer, spinning midway through the second half to drill low beyond Pressman in the Stags goal to end a goal drought and pull level with Newcastle’s all time goal scorer, Jackie Milburn. That was a brilliant moment to witness to be fair.
Giles Coke came close to levelling things late on, but with Shay Given between the sticks, one of my goalkeeping heroes, it was never on the cards. The full time whistle was one of relief for Newcastle and one of pride for us.
In the ten years that passed for me, Stags stayed as the number one in my life, fell from grace and rose again. But what of the Stags side that day, I consulted the internet to attempt to find out….
Kevin Pressman – The Sheffield Wednesday legend joined Stags in the summer of 2005, linking up with his old team mate Carlton Palmer who was of course the man in charge at the beginning of the campaign. Owls Favourite ‘Big Kev’ joined after spells with Leeds and Coventry acting as cover and quickly established himself as Stags Number One with Jason White as his understudy.
I recall his display at St James’ Park to be one of his best in a Stags shirt, being extremely unfortunate to be beaten by that piece of Alan Shearer magic. I remember him as a very vocal shot stopper and, having attended every game that season, only recall him ever coming out of his box once – at Shrewbury away at Gay Meadow, Mark Stallard (who of coruse later went onto play and briefly co-manage us) was put through with a long ball over the top and left the back four stranded (the norm for that season!) – Pressman came racing out and slammed the ball into touch, whilst Stallard, sensisble, darted out of the way to avoid being booted with the ball!
Pressman left Stags at the end of that season and hung up his boots, although not for long as he turned out the following season for Northern Irish Side Portadown following a keeper crisis – he went onto win a player of the season award, aged 39 and his since moved into coaching, currently at Millwall working with their keepers after an ill-fated spell as Scunthorpe United assistant and a spell with Bradford.
Jake Buxton – Local Lad Jake had risen through the youth team and established himself in the side, either on the right side or in the middle of the back four. As we know, Jake went onto captain Mansfield during our darkest hour of relegation, moving on at the end of that season to join Nigel Clough at Burton Albion despite being on Paul Holland’s squad list for our conference debut season, had he got the job, according to Holland’s autobiography.
Buxton, despite being heavily criticised by most fans during our “season of death” went on to have a fairly successful career, winning promotion from the conference with Burton, as captain if memory serves me correct, before linking up with Clough for a second time at Championship Derby County and has since made over 130 appearances for the Rams where he still remains, albeit nursing an injury.
Alex-John Baptise – Like Buxton, Baptise was another local lad who regularly attracted the attention of higher division clubs, and numerous Soccer AM segments. Baptise left Stags after handing in a transfer request following our demise to the conference (I know, it’s like rats leaving a sinking ship!) and subsequently joined then Championship side Blackpool.
Baptise enjoyed life by the seaside and after breaking into the first team, established himself as a decent championship, and briefly, premier-league defender! That was weird watching a part of the worst back four ever (arguably) popped up on match of the day whilst we were roaming around the likes of Ebbsfleet!
Post Blackpool, ‘Bap’ has enjoyed spells as Bolton and Blackburn before joining Middlesbrough in the summer, suffering an injury in the early stages of a pre-season friendly against York City.
Rhys Day – Mansfield legend Rhys was in his first of two spells with Stags when we headed to St James Park. The much loved dominant welsh centre-back was well established in the Stags side and supporters hearts at this point, after Keith Curle had made Day’s loan switch from Manchester City permanent back in the summer of 2003.
Following the Newcastle game, where he earned praise for his talents from many including Shearer, Day remained with Stags until the end of the season where then Manager Peter Shirtliff failed to offer Day a new deal allowing him to join Conference side Aldershot Town.
Day did eventually return to the Stags, as one of David Holdsworths many loan signings from Oxford United during the 2010-11 season – making the switch permanent in the January window. Day shared the captains armband with now boss Adam Murray, predominately under the management of Duncan Russell. Sadly Day wouldn’t feature as much as supporters hoped, suffering numerous injury setbacks which forced him to retire with his final appearance being in his testimonial at the One Call Stadium, which brought back many of the players Day had played with throughout the years.
A momentary return from retirement came for Day as he joined Hyde, as player coach, in 2013, departing in the summer of 2015 after a handful of appearances to pursue a coaching career and supporting retiring sports man.
Gareth Jellyman – Curly haired Welsh left back Gareth joined in 2005 and stayed with the club until, yes you guessed it, our relegation in 2008. Highly rated by Billy Dearden during his tenure as boss, Jellyman has since become a journeyman of Non-League football and, perhaps more famously, the subject title of Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling’s book “Jellyman’s Thrown A Wobbley” which refers to the formers reporting of the left backs sending off against Oxford whilst at Stags.
Gus Uhlenbeek – Able to operate at Right Back or as a winger, Dutchman Gus who has two appearances for Alax to his name – joined the Stags under Palmer at the start of the 2005-06 campaign, departing on a Free to FC Halifax at the end of the same season.
Ten years on from playing 79 minutes at St James in the amber and blue, Gus is now back in Amsterdam, posting the occastional happy birthday message to ex-teams on twitter… he had a few during the years….
Stephen Dawson – Tough tackling midfielder Dawson was outstanding against Newcastle, although less said about his chance to level the game from 40 yards after Shay Given’s misplaced clearance the better! I always remember Dawson at being a constant performer for Stags in the centre of the park and since his departure in 2008, yes another one, he moved onto Bury, Leyton Orient, Barnsley and Rochdale before joining his current club Scunthorpe United. He’s been a transfer rumour for re-joining Stags, where he made his professional debut, a few times but nothing has ever come of them.
Giles Coke – One of a few names I’ve had printed on the back of my Stags tops down the years (the others for reference being Neil Mackenzie and most recently Brian Jensen, well BEAST), Giles was a talented youngster ten years ago and alongside Dawson, had a decent game on the big stage.
After being snapped up by Carlton Palmer from Non-League Kingstonian, the playmaking midfielder has gone onto forge a decent career for himself with spells at Northampton, Motherwell, Sheffield Wednesday and now Ipswich.
SUBS Adam Birchall and Nathan Arnold were the only two to feature from the bench, Birchall now combines a playing career turning out regularly for Maidstone (Thanks to Martin Shaw for the heads up) whilst also works as a coach within the Arsenal set-up after hanging up his playing boots whilst Nathan Arnold, practically still in nappies at the time, is at Grimsby in the conference, although he could be wearing the amber and blue again, had Paul Cox not done a U-turn on offering him a contract following a trail at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
Of those who warmed the bench as pure spectators, goalkeeper Jason White became an unwilling villain as number one during the relegation season, he’s now at AFC Mansfield. Islandic defender John Olav Hjelde put of a move back to Norway to stay with Stags until the end of the 2005-06 season, departing and retiring a year later. And as for midfielder Frazer McLachlan, he was last seen eating turkey at Carlton Palmer’s Christmas Dinner Table (this may not be entirely 100% accurate).
On New Year’s Eve people often make a list of resolutions, whether that be to stop smoking, cut down on the booze or get fit – these resolutions give the people who make them a sense of optimism and hope. Alright if we’re being honest, 99% of our resolutions are broken probably before the twelfth chime of Big Ben – but sometimes those resolutions are stuck too…
Here I am, attempting to stick to mine – It’s just a dam shame that as I sit down to blog for the first time in what seems like an eternity about Football and in particular Stags, I’m sat having to reflect on a defeat.
In my opinion, we’ve made real progress under Adam Murray (since he’s had the chance to mould his own squad in the summer) and that has shown with a patch of good form, some positive results and prior to the festive/new year fixtures – a healthy position in the league table within touching distance of the play-offs.
What comes with that teetering league position is a sense of optimism and that age old question of “can we do it?” If I were to give a direct answer, I’d say yes providing we make the right additions, but having reflected on the last few games (that I’ve seen – I’m not going to be hypercritical and talk about games I’ve not been at) I’d say that our early season form has lulled us all into a false sense of security and that without Murray making the right additions, we will again be an average mid-table side.
From the get-go I’ve been supportive of Murray as Manager (and for the record will continue to be), however I believe at this stage of the season, we will see if he has the mentality to see the job through – the answer to this for me will lay in the transfer market.
I don’t think there is a question of “Is the backing from the chairman?” He’s stated on a number of occasions across a number of platforms that if Murray wants a player, the money will be there. When Mal Benning’s fine form was cut short, straight away Murray swooped for Blair Adams from Notts County – I can’t help but wonder why the same action wasn’t taken when skipper Nicky Hunt picked up his injury.
OK if you were Murray, you could argue that adequate cover was NOT available in the Benning situation it WAS with Hunt – Collins being the obvious choice along with Rose and Marsden, however it seems clear to me that Murray has very little intention on playing Marsden this season which leaves two. Collins for me performs much better in the middle whilst Rose is not a natural right back and admits so himself.
I like Rose and I can see why Murray fancies him as a Right Back; however his positional inexperience as a Right Back is something which should be nurtured in the reserves and not in senior first team action when you are going for a play-off push. We’ve been conceding early, and from the right hand side, and with that we’ve made it so difficult to turn things around – especially with Green isolated on his own up top.
We’ll come to that another time. Rustiness (and the fact I’m half watching LiarLiar on ITV2) is leading me astray. What I want to focus on is three things which, if improved and built upon, can reignite that sense of dying hope about a play-off push.
The first is something I flirted with above – the reserves. The fact Mansfield opted out of having a regular reserve team this season is a tragedy. The powers that be will argue about the finance and costing of competing in the reserve league, but does that really outweigh the importance of having regular competitive football against similar opposition for players on the fringes of the first team that are crying out for game time. The likes of Nathan Thomas, Adi Yusseff, Chris Beardsley and Jamie McGuire – all players than can positively affect the first team and provide that pivotal boost, but all players being made to wait for Nike Academy to agree to another friendly run out to get some game time.
Tactical tweaks (such as developing Rose as a right back) and injury recoveries (Benning, Hunt, Beardsley et el) are again something the reserve team is made for, yet without it tactical tweaks are having to happen at senior level (where at this stage of the season, the mistakes which WILL happen as part of the process, prove costly) and players returning to fitness are perhaps a good 3-4 weeks behind where they would be with a reserve team in place.
Secondly, and I’m disappointed to be writing this about a team with Murray at the helm – commitment, desire and urgency. Today against Accrington from the very first whistle, it was obvious that we weren’t up for the fight. We wasted valuable time, especially chasing the game, with throw-ins and set-plays. Accrington had fire in their belly and we allowed them to dictate the game, Josh Windass was outstanding for the visitors box to box and dragged us all over the place whilst Terry Gornell completely changed the game for Stanley from the bench, teeing up Billy Kee and netting himself. His running was powerful; he closed play down and limited our options of getting forward – who have we got that is capable of that at the moment?
Those types of players, a box to box midfielder and a determined “get up your nose” front man was the difference today – if we want to pursue a playoff charge, then we need these characters.
Thirdly, and I won’t harp on about it too long, is the isolation of Green. He played well today on his birthday, the Green of old – latching on to little reverse passes and directional through balls, but that’s not a regular occurrence – it would be if he had support. We tried it against York with a 4-4-2 starting Westcarr alongside Green, only for Murray to moan to the press afterwards saying “we gave it a go but it didn’t work” – we tried it for about ten minutes before reverting to type, hardly time to find a rhythm really, also – why not Beardsley (a strong physical target man ala Rhead who Green himself has a burning desire to play with again) or Yusseff?
Anyway, there’s no point me angrily typing rhetorical question after rhetorical question – the proof will be in the pudding. I don’t think I sit here typing this out of anger/ disappointment from one negative result though either, I type in hope.
That’s it for now, come on Mansfield give me some positives to keep the resolution from joining the long list of broken ones and reach that potential you have within.
Until next time, whenever that may be!
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