Craig Priest writes….
With the spring afternoons starting to break through the clouds, the end of the season is approaching in the distance – and with supporters up and down the land knowing what the run-in means for their team, it’s on afternoon’s such as Saturday where reactions could prove the critical difference.
In the grand scheme of things a point against Coventry is far better than capitulating and losing – however playing for a good percentage of the game against ten men, there’s a frustratingly chilling bite of air in the otherwise sunny landscape.
It’s naturally that stutters and stumbles will happen and you can’t fault the players endeavours as sometimes things just don’t fall your way, for example the penalty shout on Ricky Miller for which he was booked for simulation. Teams like Coventry won’t sit back and die with ten men, they’ll make it hard for you in every way they can – it’s how you react to that and then how your react the following week which counts.
Personally I don’t think we were clinical enough and with the early man advantage should have gambled to get that extra cushion to take the game, ultimately using just two substitutes rather than all three proved the undoing as we ran out of legs and ideas.
I can see why Evans opted for Mellis but having not played centrally with Alex MacDonald in a match situation, it hindered rather than helped as Coventry moved bodies into the middle and despite having a man less, made it difficult for us to get going.
Also, why not use that final substitution we had to get Atkinson alongside Mellis (thus solving the pairing issue) and get MacDonald wide, as Potter wasn’t having his greatest afternoon up against Ryan Haynes.
Alas though it’s all hindsight and a point onto our tally is better than all three onto someone else’s – we have momentum on our side and must just react, using the full energy of the squad to focus game by game, with our next being Stevenage away on Saturday.
It was as you were once again for Steve Evans who named the same starting line-up and bench as the previous two games, it was start as you finished too for the Stags, who found themselves under emended pressure from the first whistle as the visitors enjoyed three successive corners, Conrad Logan on hand with the second to beat away Rod McDonald’s powerful header.
The Stags nearly caught the visitors out over the top on ten minutes as Benning and MacDonald combined to feed CJ Hamilton, the pacey winger just unable to get a boot around the body of Jordan Willis who watched the ball out of play.
Direct play then saw the visitors down to ten men as Logan’s long punt found Rose free on goal, the leading marksman was brought down on the edge of the box by Willis who was the last defender, and as such protested little at the sight of the straight red card.
The resulting free-kick gave Mansfield another advantage – a goal! Alex MacDonald whipped one low through the wall, Kane Hemmings’ boot the one which was judged to have had the last touch, as the set play dribbled into the bottom corner.
A man up and a goal up saw the Stags take a foot hold of the game, but with it came fe clear cut chances – as good possession coupled with poor touches from Hamilton, Anderson and Potter equalled squandered opportunities for a second – Alex MacDonald’s long range drive caused little trouble for Lee Burge on 23 minutes, seven minutes later Rhys Bennett headed over an Alfie Potter cross.
The excellent Lee Burge then denied the Stags a second with five to go before the break as Hamilton countered down the right hand side following a poor Coventry corner – Hamilton, just inside the box, fired straight at a grounded Burge – rather than try and lift the ball over the Sky Blues number one.
Kane Hemmings also spurned a chance three minutes later, after Anderson had delivered from the right, heading wide of the target.
Mansfield started the second half with fire and hunger as Hamilton and Anderson caused problem after problem down either side, on 62 minutes Lee Burge again came to Coventry’s rescue as Hamilton picked out Hemmings’ – the Oxford loanee’s shot cannoned off the legs of Burge and away.
Alex MacDonald whistled one wide on 65 minutes from distance but five minutes later the visitors had a golden chance to draw level – as MacDonald bundled over Clarke-Harris inside the box – Conrad Logan was left with egg on his face after failed attempts at mind game with Clarke-Harris, who subsequently converted the spot-kick for 1-1 – after Logan had been yellow carded.
At 1-1 the game was balanced despite the stags numerical advantage, the introduction of Miller and Mellis did little and the Stags had to wait until the 82nd minute for another chance – MacDonald again stepping up top hit a free-kick, denied however by a good save from Burge.
With three minutes to go Miller went down in the box by got nothing bar a yellow card for simulation, whilst after four minutes of stoppage time, the game ended level and with results elsewhere – the Stags dropped a place to fifth with a game in hand.
FULL TIME: Stags 1-1 Coventry
Paul Anderson – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alfie Potter – Adam King (Jacob Mellis 80) – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 74)
Unused substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Zander Diamond, Will Atkinson, Jimmy Spencer, Matt Penney
Referee: Michael Salisbury Assistants: Peter Gooch & Duncan Street Fourth Official Mark Dwyer
Attendance 6,105 (1,523)
Craig Priest writes….
There’s an old saying in life and in football of ‘after the Lord Mayors Show’ which is one of warning to expect a come down after experience such a high. Following Tuesday’s epic 5-0 thumping of Newport County, the Stags faced their longest trip to the season to promotion rivals Exter and ensured they went the extra mile to prevent another stutter in their season.
Danny Roses’ first half goal proved the difference on an afternoon where both attacking and defensive play can take full applause and high praise as it proved that the luck won’t always be on your side when it comes to raining goals.
Mansfield really did pick up where they left off in the first half with wave after wave of attack, I couldn’t help but think at half-time that had we started with Miller or Spencer, we may have had a more comfortable cushion in terms of score line, as we lacked that physicality in the box to connect with the excellence provided by the likes of Potter, Hamilton and MacDonald.
As it is, we got the goal we deserved and naturally, as we expected, Exeter didn’t say die and had us penned in for the majority of the second half – although for all their possession, they did nothing with it – Conrad Logan a mere spectator. That’s not to say that Exeter were poor, far from it, it’s in the majority down to our defensive focus and determination to go the extra mile, keep a clean sheet and bring a massive three points the long way home.
The win opens up a six point cushion over us and Lincoln who occupy the last play-off space, they have played the same number of matches now and have us still to play – so in that respect, it’s ours to lose. The victory also creates another buffer over Exeter in 8th who despite having two games in hand, remain seven points behind – whilst we have still got teams around us to play with the points gaps tightening – automatic promotion is well within our sights, thanks in no small part to our professionalism in seeing a game out for all three points, rather than collapsing as we were doing October/November/December time.
As always it’s onto the next game with both eye’s fixed on that game and that game only, start to worry about what others are doing and we’ll trip ourselves up, start to focus on games more than one in the future and we’ll trip ourselves up – let’s not try and predict what’s around the corner because, as in every great drama or novel, experiencing the unexpected in the moment is a far greater thrill than knowing how it all works out.
Did anyone REALLY believe Steve Evans when he said changes were going to be made? No, me neither – and so no surprise to see it was as you were for the entire 18, although Joel Byrom and Paul Digby did travel with the squad, the latter didn’t drive so no speeding ticket required!
The Stags started as they did in midweek against Newport – Hungry and rampant (There’s a valentines joke in there somewhere), as Alex MacDonald and Alfie Potter both put early crosses in which Exeter scrambled away.
The Stags were denied by a great save on five minutes as a ball found its way into the mix, Danny Rose the man to strike but saw Christy Pym turn the ball onto the post and away from danger – eight minutes later the hosts again hanging on as Rose just couldn’t get MacDonald’s ball into the middle out of his feet.
Rose thrice was denied by Pym as the Stags created yet more openings on 16 minutes, before three minutes later Rose picked out Hemmings who in turn fed Potter who won a corner, this time the short routine saw the hosts turn the ball away.
Home skipper Jordan Moore-Taylor was on hand to block a goal bound effort from Hemmings on 25 minutes, three minutes later another effort from the Oxford loan man, this time on the half volley, was deflected over by Troy Brown.
Mansfield found the breakthrough they deserved on 38 minutes as Potter twisted and turned down the right following some excellent football across the park, Potter delivered in to the middle to find Hemmings who struck the bar – the rebound fell for Rose who thundered at Pym, who could do nothing bar turn the ball into the back of the net.
The hosts made two changes at the break to put an extra man forward and try to get a way back into the match, yet on 47 minutes it was the Stags again in control, as a long ball was cushioned by Hemmings into the path of Rose, who agonisingly dragged his effort wide of Pyms goal.
Kane Wilson dragged in a cross for the hosts on 52, the hosts first sight of goal since the break, but couldn’t pick out a red and white shirt – before on the hour, vice-captain Pearce, cushioned a header out of play as the hosts looked to feed leading scorer Jaden Stockley over the top.
The hosts were coming forward more and more to little effect, yet Steve Evans opted to withdraw a striker to help soak up the pressure, Will Atkinson replacing Hemmings on 62 minutes – Mal Benning the next to have a sight of goal for Stags on 66, his drive and shot, turned behind.
Jimmy Spencer replaced Danny Rose on 75 to provide some much needed ariel outlet for the Stags who were soaking up more and more pressure, on 85 minutes Logan raced out to smash away a long ball forward before substitute Kyle Edwards could pounce.
Exeter to be fair to them were relentless in their pursuit of a goal but the Stags stuck 11 men behind the ball and into the first of four minutes added time, which ended up being about seven, skipper Zander Diamond replaced Alex MacDonald as the Stags went five at the back - the full time whistle took an eternity to arrive, but eventually did as the Stags took home a huge three points.
Full Time: Exeter City 0-1 Stags
Paul Anderson – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alfie Potter – Alex MacDonald (Zander Diamond 90+1) – Adam King – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose (Jimmy Spencer 75) – Kane Hemmings (Will Atkinson 62)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Jacob Mellis, Matt Penney, Ricky Miller
Referee: Chris Saringson Assistants: Dean Treleaven & Marvyn Amphlett Fourth Official Ronald Ganfield
Attendance: 3,680 (244)
Craig Priest writes….
It isn’t about how or why you fall, it’s about how you stand – words heeded by Mansfield Town in empathic fashion as they delivered the thumping they’d been promising for months – play-off rivals Newport County the unfortunate souls to receive the wrath of the Stag.
In truth it wasn’t even a pasting, it was simply a professional and disciplined performance from Steve Evans men who would have ran up a cricket score had it not been for a few fine saves from Joe Day in the Newport goal – it’s easy to get carried away with the score-line and become arrogant but there wasn’t a drop of that in the air last night, as Stags remained composed and focussed from the first whistle to the very last.
Newport had a free Saturday at the weekend but looked far from rested, if anything the boot seemed to be on the other foot as Mansfield’s players came out hungry like they hadn’t played football for decades.
Alfie Potter was lethal on the right hand side and will undoubtedly cherish the match ball that will live in his downstairs loo for eternity, the injection of pace and flair was exactly what was lacking at Swindon – and do you know what? Actually it’s great to have players like Potter coming in and putting in such a display almost to say to Evans “This is why you should pick me”.
CJ Hamilton had arguably the worst game of his Stags career on Saturday and last night, one glance at Matt Penney waiting to take his place was enjoy to wake him up – what a performance from CJ who will be in David Pipe’s nightmares for weeks.
Above all else though there was one thing which won us that game, one factor which I’ll continue to bang on about for months – Alex MacDonald in central midfield. Forget him as an out and out winger, look at him as someone as a player who can move out there and do a job if needed – he is missed when he’s not playing a central role. Barnet and Swindon are fine examples of that, yes we beat Barnet with him wide but we lacked a lot in the middle that game and against a better side, we’d have been punished for it – proven at Swindon.
MacDonald is a sublime box to box midfielder and his talent shone last night as he covered every blade of grass yet again – what is more, youngster Adam King really compliments MacDonald’s style which was highlighted not only in the Stags attacking movements, but in soaking up the pockets of pressure Newport applied and in MacDonald’s excellent goal.
Keeping things fresh is the key now to sustaining our fortune, two or three subtle changes a game will be the difference between winning and losing I feel now, especially with teams still around us to play – it’s important to enjoyed nights such as Tuesday but also not get carried away, we won’t smash every team we play despite being capable of doing so, we won’t score five game in game out – but what we will do, is tackle every game with the professional attitude it deserves and that in itself will reap the rewards.
Steve Evans made just two changes from Saturday’s loss at Swindon, the back four stayed the same meaning no place for Hayden White or Zander Diamond, the latter back on the bench – whilst Alfie Potter took the place of Atkinson moving MacDonald back to the middle, alongside debutant Adam King, replacing an ill Joel Byrom.
The Stags started rampant the night before Valentines as Alfie Potter swung in a first minute cross which CJ Hamilton narrowly missed, two minutes later it was Hemmings who caused Newport to put the ball behind for a corner as Benning delivered with fizz from the left, Potter cut in following the corner but failed to keep his shot on target.
Joe Day then kept the scored level with a smart save with his legs on five minutes as Pearce flicked the ball into the path of Hemmings, the Oxford loan man denied – as was strike partner Rose mere seconds later from Hemmings’ set – Rose’s effort deflected behind.
The Stags and Rose wouldn’t have to wait long, as moments later skipper Pearce did well to keep the ball alive in the box and dribble to the bye-line, his cut back to the back post picked out Rose who converted for his 16th of the season.
Mansfield were only getting started and we’re quickly two ahead on nine minutes as CJ Hamilton’s lightening pace left Newport chasing a mere blur down the left hand side, Hamilton took on three before squaring into the mix for Potter, who fired home from ten yards.
Frank Nouble registered Newport’s first shot on 17 minutes but Conrad Logan collected with ease after Anderson had taken the sting out of the ball – three minutes later it was back to the other end as Hamilton once more opened up the visitors – this time his cut back turned wide at full stretch by Rose.
The offside flag denied Newport a goal on 22 minutes following a set-play and from then on the visitors saw little action in the Mansfield half, as Steve Evans men looked for a third – Mal Benning zipped one over the bar on 27 minutes before Potter provided the magic touch to add the Stags third a mere minute later – after Rose had been thwarted by three Newport bodies and then the bar – Potter lofting the ball over a grounded Day to ignite one hell of a night at the One Call Stadium.
A rare corner for Newport on 33 was cleared and rapid on the counter attack the Stags won their own corner, Alfie Potter delivered into the mix and Alex MacDonald converted, drilling the loose ball through the crowd Neil MacKenzie style for 4-0.
Rose, Anderson and Potter all saw chances for a fifth spurned before the break but even as the Stags were applauded off for the break – you sensed a lot more to come.
Two changes for Newport calmed the game down a little but the Stags would soon regain full control, Alex MacDonald’s 54th minute free kick turned towards goal by Rhys Bennett, denied the games fifth goal by the base of the post.
A minute later Danny Rose created a brilliant chance for Hemmings who peeled free in the box, the front man failed to hit the back of the back of the net, well with the ball anyway, lifting his effort over as forceful momentum sent him into the netting.
Cometh the hour, cometh the hat-trick (well the 61st minute but that doesn't flow as well does it!) – Alfie Potter unmarked at the back post to collect Hamilton’s cross via a Rose, let’s say flick but I think miscued shot, to drill into the bottom corner – the ball took a deflection but Potter walked home, quite rightly, with the match ball tucked safely underneath his arm.
It should have been six on 69 as MacDonald curled a free-kick into the side netting from the edge of the box, Alfie Potter then got a heroes send-off as he was replaced by Penney on 76 minutes.
Rose was then provider for substitute Ricky Miller, denied his first Stags goal by the legs of Day with nine minutes to go, after Rose did well to keep the ball alive of the bye-line and square to a hungry Miller.
Two minutes later Day raced out to clear a long ball and was nearly caught out as the poor clearance dropped to King, just inside the Newport half, who responded to cries of shoot – lobbing the ball towards the top corner – Day back peddled well to palm the ball over at the very last second.
Third and final Stags substitute Jimmy Spencer won a free-kick in the 90th minute, MacDonald this time curling into the arms of Day, who was very happy to call it a night at the sound of the referee’s whistle moments later.
FULL TIME: Stags 5-0 Newport
Paul Anderson – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alfie Potter (Matt Penney 76) – Alex MacDonald – Adam King – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose (Jimmy Spencer 89) – Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 79)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Zander Diamond, Jacob Mellis, Will Atkinson
Referee: Ben Toner Assistants: Declan Ford, Andrew Hendley Fourth Official Anthony Tankard
Attendance: 2,866 (57)
Craig Priest writes…
When you’re riding on the crest of a wave, there’s always a niggling feeling that one wrong move could land you splashing in the water struggling to find your feet, that’s exactly the feeling the Stags experienced at Swindon as their rich vein of form was brought to a crashing halt by fellow play-off chaser Swindon Town.
Steve Evans in his post match analysis labelled it the ‘toughest defeat to take’ and whilst he’s right by virtue of the fact we we’re the better side for periods of the game, especially late on when we peppered the Swindon back line, there was nothing about us in three key areas for me – energy, conviction, and communication.
When I saw the team sheet at 2pm I had a horrible feeling, I felt we lacked a bit of energy in midfield last weekend and would have liked to have seen fresh legs in the wide areas to drive us forward as we did towards the end of the game in young Matt Penney and Alfie Potter, but by then – too little, too late.
Moving Alex MacDonald back out wide in the past two games hasn’t worked for me, he is a fighter and wins every battle going – at this critical stage of the season he needs to be the central pivot and let the likes of Potter, Anderson, Atkinson and to a degree Sterling-James and White do the running out wide – Without MacDonald in the middle we’ve not got that clink, like in air hockey when the puck deflects with zip back towards the other end.
It’s because of that that we lack conviction, no buffer has seen us get penned in our own half and we are finding it increasingly difficult to get out, especially as the points become more precious to everyone and the pitches get heavier.
When we had a buffer, you could see how teams reacted with fear, you knew that a goal was coming – we could still be playing now and whilst Swindon may be soaking up blow after blow, we still wouldn’t score.
Finally and this is the real bug bear for me, we seriously lack communication and have been punished for it – and if it wasn’t for some sharp keeping from Logan, would have been punished a whole lot more.
Pearce and Bennett are a good pairing but they’ve become too relaxed about their selection together (which stems back to this time last season) that they are making silly mistakes. There both as guilty as each other for going wondering and straying out of position – all it takes is a long ball over the top and teams are in behind and we’re fire fighting a potential inferno.
We need Zander Diamond back in the mix and potentially Digby too (I’m not sure how far away Mirfin is or how match fit he would be, that’d be too much of a risk for me in the next three games) – those two are hungry for minutes and game time, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see those two paired together on Tuesday – especially when you consider Newport’s height, physicality and way of playing…. Pump it long, cross from deep, launch in a long throw.
Evans is right that we need to not dwell on this match, we’ve three more huge games against teams around us where we need to pick up wins and keep the momentum going – we can’t afford to do now what we did after Swindon’s win in the reverse fixture – three consecutive draws – if that happens we’ll be starting from the back of the pack again desperately playing catch-up.
Swindon left us frustrated and with a bitter taste of frustration, let’s channel that into vocal support on Tuesday night and hope the players as a collective regardless of the number of changes, I sense at least six, channel losing as a unit into fire and show league two we are serious contenders.
An unchanged 18 from Evans was no real surprise, Ricky Miller again settling for a place on the bench despite scoring in a behind closed doors friendly against Parent Club Peterborough United in midweek.
An even start saw both sides have a sight of goal within the opening five minutes, Matt Taylor swung in an early cross from the hosts which Luke Norris vollied over the bar, Danny Rose at the end other end had an effort held by Charles-Cook in the Swindon goal following a neat spin from 16 yards.
The Stags threatened from an 11th minute corner as Hemmings’ chested down the teasing delivery to Rose, his half-volley blocked by a crowd of red shirts, three minutes later it was Hemmings who found himself in behind after a long ball saw the on-loan hit man onside – sadly Hemmings lob over the on rushing keeper looped over.
Will Atkinson had the games next big chance on 23 minutes as Benning swung in a cross, Atkinson’s diving header falling just wide – a neat burst of pace from Atkinson who came so close to two goals in as many games.
Five minutes later Conrad Logan had to palm away Keshi Anderson’s thumping effort from the edge of the box, MacDonald at the other end on the half hour drove one narrowly wide after a good bit of link up play with Atkinson.
Six minutes before the break the stags found themselves behind as following a corner and then throw at the other end, the Stags lost possession and allowed Swindon to clinically break – with Stags pulled left right and centre Matt Taylor did the damage once inside the Stags box, firing beneath Logan who Evans says should have done better – difficult to tell from our view in the far corner at the other end of the pitch.
With the Stags being a goal down and all over the place at the back, I expected a change at the break but it didn’t come as the second half got under way, Logan pulling off a point blank range save to deny Richards on 51 – not that it would have stood with the offside flag already up, as the stags continued to look shaky at the back.
On 53 minutes MacDonald let one fly from 30 yards but saw the ball zip over the bar, three minutes later he’d stayed central and fed Hemmings who saw an effort blocked.
On the hour Ricky Miller was introduced for Joel Byrom as Steve Evans tweaked the formation to 4-3-3 – Fellow deadline day arrival Matt Penney also made his debut eight minutes later, replacing Hamilton.
The hosts should have sealed the game on 71 minutes as Keshi Anderson thundered a header towards goal, cleared off the line by Rhys Bennett – it gave the Stags a bit of a wake up but the clock seemed against them.
Mind games then started as the ball boys failed to retrieve the ball for any Stags throw or goal kick – Conrad Logan the expert hurdler jumped advertising boards behind the goal and vented his anger at the lack of help from behind the goal. This led to Evans getting talking to from Kevin Friend as things began to get heated.
With less than ten to go, Mansfield came forward in numbers and introduced Alfie Potter for Hemmings as the looked for pace, Rose, Atkinsonson Miller and Penney all struck efforts – but the sands of time faded away as the hosts recorded victory and did the double of the Stags.
FULL TIME Swindon 1-0 Stags
Paul; Anderson – Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald – Joel Byrom (Ricky Miller 60) – Will Atkinson – CJ Hamilton (Matt Penney 68)
Kane Hemmings (Alfie Potter 82) – Danny Rose
Unused Susbtitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Digby, Jimmy Spencer, Adam King
Referee: Kevin Friend Assistants Stephen child, Nicholas Hopton Fourth Official Keith Stroud
Attendance: 6,031 (unknown)
Craig Priest writes….
Mansfield Town continued their tremendous form with a 3-1 win over Barnet, moving ever closer to the automatic places – a vast difference from when the two sides last met when it looked less sweet like honey, and more a sting in the tale.
Since the sides last met back in November, a 1-1 draw, Steve Evans men have lost just once in the subsequent 17 league matches including yesterday’s 3-1 win to send excitement buzzing around the town as to what could be – should they replicate their form.
The difference is somewhat staggering as on that cold Tuesday night at the Hive, the Stags looked disorientated and it genuinely felt like the new group wouldn’t click – yet now the football may not be consistently fluid and beautiful, but it’s dam effective highlighted in every goal scored at the One Call stadium yesterday as the Stags comfortably beat the League’s bottom side.
Steve Evans is right in his post-match comments that it should have been more, intimating that his players need to be more ruthless, but that will come so long as the consistency of team work continues – it’s been a very long time since the Stags have had a set of players so adaptable one player drifting out of position doesn’t detrimentally effect the outcome of the match.
Alex MacDonald for instance can drop off right wing and cover ground in the centre for five/ten minutes to soak up pressure, and players such as Will Atkinson who has shown tremendous attitude in his substitute roles to rightly earn a start, can move wide and comfortably occupy the right wing role.
The same can be said about Krystian Pearce’s runs from the back, the stand-in skipper can wonder into the middle and the likes of Byrom will drop and sit in the hole – it’s refreshing to have that assurance, rather than bite our nails and being exposed.
Visibly you can see that pitches are getting heavier now as we come towards the final months of the season, legs are going to get tired quicker and mistakes are going to be made, ala Rhys Bennett late on, but the way in which Steve Evans’ picks his squad, the players will know that just one error, will cost them their shirt – Bennett is a class act at centre half and Evans rates him highly, he’s fortunate that the error in isolation didn’t cost is the result and will pick himself up – however that said, the importance of a clean sheet is becoming more prominent now – as in the top five we’ve the lowest goal-difference which could be the difference between automatic promotion and the play-offs, as well as that elusive ‘home advantage’ should we require the latter.
Over the next week or so we’ve a lot of football and travelling to do, playing critical teams around us where we cannot afford to play with heavy legs and make mistakes – starting with Swindon on Saturday, who are starting to pick up momentum with one loss in their last six to climb into the play-offs.
Newport naturally will be distracted by their FA Cup exploits however they will not have given up hope on reaching the play-offs, we all know what a good cup-run does for the dressing room – and playing them between a long trip to Swindon and a epically long trip to Exeter, another play-off rival in form, is a dangerous situation.
Those three games are then followed up by Coventry at home, another play-off rival, this is the trickiest part of the season now – if we can come out of the next four games with ten points, eight minimum – we’ll achieve something special, let’s do this together.
Steve Evans opted to the side which effectively won the Morecambe match in the second half; skipper Zander Diamond rightly missing out by heading to his wife’s side as she went into Labour – Alfie Potter taking a place on the bench along with the three new additions Adam King [On loan from Swansea], Matt Penney [On loan from Sheffield Wednesday] and Ricky Miller [On loan from Peterborough United].
Barnet saw the first half sight of goal three minutes in with a long range effort which Conrad Logan held comfortably, at the other end tenacious running from rose and Hemmings had Barnet worried – Rhys Bennett heading into the hands of Barnet glovesman Craig Ross on eight minutes from a Benning set play.
Five minutes later the Stags were left frustrated as Danny Rose was floured inside the area by Richardo Santos – referee Scott Oldham waved the appeals away.
Fluid movement on 16 minutes nearly saw the Stags break the deadlock as Hamilton slotted in MacDonald. A neat give and go with Hemmings followed before the tenacious midfielder curled his foot around the ball just inside the box, clipping the outside of the post with Ross rooted to the spot.
There was a stoppage on 21 minutes as referee Scott Oldham pulled up injured, he was replaced by the fourth official Thomas Bramall with Oldham heading straight down the tunnel with an ice pack.
Back underway and it was the Stags who remained in control and came close on the half hour as Hemmings had two efforts inside a minute go astray, the stags then took the lead in spectacular style on 42 minutes, as fluent football between Byrom, Benning and MacDonald saw the latter on the edge of the box let fly – giving Ross no chance – a beautiful hit.
After the break with a new fourth official in Dave Plowright in place, the Stags showed no signs of settling for just the one goal – no matter how magic it was, MacDonald and Hamilton both testing Ross before Will Atkinson nipped in at the near post from a corner, converting Hemmings’ knock down to double the Stags lead and get his first Stags goal, a decade since his original loan spell as a youngster.
On the hour, frustrated after the dubious goals committee awarded last weekend’s winner to Jimmy Spencer, Mal Benning thumped a volley towards goal which fizzed wide from 25 yards, the Stags then added a third 11 minutes later as Pearce went on a marching run from the back – eventually feeding Hamilton wide who picked out Rose – the rest was routine as the Stags front man swept in his 15th goal of the season with his left foot.
With five minutes to go, rapturous applause rang out as Ricky Miller made his debut from the bench replacing Hemmings, partnering Spencer up top after he’d replaced Rose just moments prior – The Peterborough loan man looked lively but it would be Barnet who were on the scoresheet next, Rhys Bennett’s poor back header towards Logan saw Akinola pounce and tuck beyond Logan, setting up a nervy finish.
FULL TIME: Stags 3-1 Barnet
Paul Anderson – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 90+2) – Joel Byrom – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose (Jimmy Spencer 83) – Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 85)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Paul Digby,  Adam King,  Matt Penney
Attendance: 3,795 (79)
Referee: Scott Oldham (Thomas Bramall 21) Assistants: Stephen Wade & Richard Wigglesworth Fourth Official Thomas Bramall (Unknown 21, Dave Plowright HT)
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