Craig Priest writes….
Almost a week ago after the complete capitulation against Forest Green, I sat at this very desk writing with anger, disappointment and a sense of bewilderment – a week on and I have the same feelings, but this time I can’t aim any of that towards the management or playing staff at Mansfield Town FC, unlike some I could mention!
Seriously though, yesterday despite slipping to a 1-0 defeat, 10 man Mansfield gave everything for David Flitcroft and the fans and yet as we enter the penultimate month of the season, find themselves out of the play-offs struggling to understand just what is going wrong.
Let’s address what the problem yesterday was – the subject most of us loath, simple Maths. Playing 10 vs 11 against the League Leaders was never going to end well – did Mal Benning need to go in as strongly as he did, could he not have stood up and pushed the Accrington man further towards the bye-line? Maybe, but what does it matter, it’s done, it was a red card and we move on.
The frustration comes not in Benning’s error but in the inconsistency of the referee throughout the remainder of the game where Mansfield, to Flitcrofts credit, we’re tactically spot on and resilient.
They held their shape, held a high line and pressed well – the Accrington keeper must take tremendous credit for his part in denying the Stags the reward they so richly deserved with a fine display between the sticks when called upon.
From open play we looked the side at the top of the league, we looked the side with 11 men and most importantly we looked the side most likely to do the damage, alas it was all undone by a simple calculation – one extra man at a set-play was always going to prove the difference, and it did on the hour as the Stanley skipper Seamus Conneely broke the deadlock.
The Stags tried and failed to pull level and some questionable finishing paired with a man less and a sharp keeper was the calculation which left us, wrongly, empty handed. I’ll say this right now, if the Stags come out at Luton with the same intensity, purpose and desire for the cause – the long awaited victory for Flitcroft WILL come, and regardless of what happens between now and the end of this turbulent season, if they match that game by game, I’ll draw a close to this campaign satisfied that in the end, they fought for us and eachother.
On paper it’s not looking good for Flitcroft, after the conclusion of Easter Monday’s match at second placed Luton, he’ll have played 50% of the games that were remaining upon the Posh Scotts amendment, it’s a strong possibility he’ll have won none of those games and as a result he’s rapidly losing the support of the faithful, which as bleak as the outlook is, we can’t allow to happen.
What’s that saying – you can’t always wait for the storm to pass, you have to learn to dance in the rain.
I’m getting tired of talking about Evans but it is on him that we’ve been left up a certain creak with a paddle, as I’ve said time after time – ANY manager who walks into that situation needs time, and that is something we don’t have, because it’s not JUST time for the manager to mould his ideas and allow them to set, it’s time for the players too – for example we have four of five key players within the dressing room who can make an impact given two maybe three games to get settled, Miller, Penney, Thomas, Digby to name a few – but time is not something we have, we have to remember that.
In contrast to Forest Green, tactically Flitcroft got things spot on yesterday before and after the red card – just moments before the goal Johnny Hunt was about to come on and shore things up at left back where CJ had done an OK job, but was starting to come unstuck. Had the goal not happened, I think we’d have been sitting here with three points now.
The game however is gone, it’s over, it’s done and we can’t dwell on it much more as we’ve another huge task ahead and can’t afford to focus on anything bar that. Yes we are out of the play-offs but actually that might be a blessing right now, as those around us are expecting us to come unstuck and as such, no longer see us as threats which releases a little pressure – all we can do now, just ONE point outside of the play-offs with a game in hand, is focus on ourselves and apply ourselves with the same determination we did yesterday.
I’d rather play like that and be hurt at the full time whistle than not turn up and not care like at Forest Green. Nothing is lost yet, the maths says so.
With Krystain Pearce suspended, skipper Zander Diamond was back in the heart of the back four, whilst in midfield Jacob Mellis returned alongside CJ Hamilton replacing the injured Danny Rose and Joel Byrom who was on the bench, alongside two surprise names in Jack Thomas, back from his spell at Tamworth, and Johnny Hunt.
The Stags started brightly with Lee Angol trying to fill the goalscoring boots of Danny Rose, he had a second minute effort tipped over by Aaron Chapman in the Accrington goal. At the other end Kayden Jackson hit the side netting on five minutes as he got in behind the back four, two minutes later Conrad Logan was on hand to save from Scott Brown.
The game then took a turn for the worse on 15 minutes as Mal Benning was dismissed for a late challenge on ex-Stag Billy Kee, the resulting free-kick from Sean McConville well held by Logan as Stags re-reshuffled with Hamilton slotting in at left back, Alex MacDonald and Kane Hemmings consistently switching flanks on the legt and right with Angol as the lone front man.
Logan again denied Jackson on the twenty minute mark, three minutes later at the other end Rhys Bennett nodded wide after a well worked corner routine from MacDonald and the impressive Mellis who were really pulling the strings in the middle.
Bennett was at it again on 33 minutes, again following a set play – this time the Stags defender nodded at Chapman, who tipped over to deny a certain goal. From the resulting corner, Lee Angol hit on the volley but could only send his effort into the dark afternoon sky.
The Stags held the visitors well and reduced them to pop shots from distance which caused little trouble, at the other end White, Hemmings and Angol all had chances to open the scoring, but lady luck refused point blank to show her pearly whites.
Kane Hemmings missed a golden chance on 50 minutes from Hayden White’s cut back before ten minutes later, the numerical advantage paid off as Seamus Connelly peeled away to connect with a Stanley corner.
Ricky Miller then replaced Hemmings to partner Angol up front, the Stags opting for a three man midfield with MacDonald moving more central alongside Atkinson and the creative Mellis, the loanee striker nearly made the perfect introduction as he romped towards the by-line on 73 minutes, his cut back scrambled away by a desperate Accrington defence.
Five minutes later Hamilton fed Angol but he couldn’t open up his body quick enough to let fly, with five minutes remaining Conrad Logan was on hand to give the Stags a glimmer of hope as he denied Jackson one v one – time, as is the case at the minute, was against the Stags would this time around failed to get a foothold back into the game.
FULL TIME: Stags 0-1 Accrington Stanley
Hayden White – Zander Diamond © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning [Sent Off 13]
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 66) – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Digby, Paul Anderson, Johnny Hunt, Jack Thomas, Joel Byrom
Referee: Andy Haines Assistants: Steven Rushton, Wade Smith Fourth Official Joe Clark
Craig Priest writes…
Just before midnight on April 14th 1912 the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg at sea and disaster struck as it plummeted to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Just after 5pm on the 27th February the good ship Mansfield Town hit its own iceberg as Steve Evans jumped overboard – well despite attempt after attempt to fix it, yesterday in deepest Nailsworth, the ship, along with its new captain, well and truly sunk.
I often leave writing this blog until the day after a game as I don’t like writing in the heat wave of emotion that comes directly after the full time whistle, I like to reflect and get my head around the situation, and as I do so on the sunny Sunday, I draw two conclusions.
Yesterday we were beyond terrible and that is down to a number of factors which, looked at in isolation, is completely on the shoulders of David Flitcroft – more in a second, bear with me. The fact our promotion and play-off ambitions have, in the majority of people’s opinion, died a slow and painful death as a result of the nightmare in Nailsworth is not however in isolation and there is only one man to blame, he resides in the Peterborough United dugout.
I’ll deal with that first and then we’ll come back to the game in isolation – our season died the moment Evans turned his back, simply because the group of players in that dressing room brought into brand Evans, and no manager – no matter previous success – was EVER going to replicate that. It’s like when you go to Asda or Tesco and buy the home brand twix’s – you know there are practically the same product, but deep down you know there is a very subtle difference and you just can’t shake that off enough to truly enjoy the taste.
Whoever walked through the One Call Stadium door as manager was fighting a losing battle – if you are successful then you might get a little pat on the pack but predominantly people would say “Yeah, but it was Evans’ squad”, whereas with the boot on the other foot as it is right now, a capitulation is on the new man’s shoulders “Well, they were doing alright before, what’s changed, oh yeah – him” It’s lose, lose and I genuinely feel for David Flitcroft because no matter what he does as Mansfield Town manager, he’s always going to be the one who turned solid gold to sloppy runny brown stuff, you know what I mean.
Was it the right choice to appoint Flitcroft, there’s not much point in discussing it because what’s done is done and he’ll have my full backing – as did Evans, but I won’t shy away from highlighting the negatives, I never have and never will. Personally had I been the Radford’s in that situation – I’d have appointed John Dempster until the end of the season and allowed him to build his own experienced back room, and then taken the time and patience to appoint the right man going into next season, regardless of the division we found ourselves in.
I think we panicked, and yet even with Accrington and Luton over the next two games – I still believe deep down in the far corners of my heart, we can turn it around…. And I know how stupid that is right now.
In isolation, and I’d be saying this if the same situation had played out under any manager, Flitcroft simply got it wrong yesterday. In training they’d worked on a 4-3-3 formation to try and play on the front foot, but in my opinion, to play on the front foot means playing out from the back, and that’s 3-4-1-2 (or 3-4-3 depending on your preference) – 4-3-3 is simply, lump, hold up and try and overload bodies.
The system was wrong, as was the starting line-up – Paul Digby has been class when he’s come on and completely changed the game at Notts County by allowing us to play on the front foot, he should have started at centre back alongside Pearce and Bennett. Yes Paul Anderson was poor against County, all be it at right back, but we missed his energy and leadership yesterday, he should have started right side midfield with Atkinson and MacDonald in the middle and Mal Benning on the left, thus allowing the two wide men to drop back and defend in the spells FGR pressed. The front three should have been Hemmings, a hungry and attack minded Miller, along with Rose.
Now there’s another thing Flitcroft got wrong, and his staff in fairness – Rose was hobbling in the warm-up, why did nobody question it and allow a late change to be made? Why on earth did he start, our leading goal scorer could now potentially be done for the season?! And then to stick with 4-3-3 but bring a left winger on up front, and on the right side of the three too, was utter madness – I said when the board went up with CJ’s number, of he’ll go 4-4-2 and Atkinson will go wide….. two seconds later when CJ trotted to the right of the front three, I said “We’ve lost this game”.
I get and applaud trying to put your stamp on the squad and play your way when clearly playing the way of the old boss under a new man hasn’t quite worked, but for goodness sake, if you’re going to play a system and get an early blow, replace like for like – it was like sticking Oljenik up front, utterly pointless (sorry Bobby!)… Square peg, round hole.
The blame now shifts back from the digout to the dressing room, yesterday there was absolutely zero commitment to the cause, zero energy, zero motivation and what sickens me the most is zero desire to play for the shirt and deliver on a promise.
I’ve been a position in my career where a senior manager has left and it’s been up to me to steady the ship and make the best of a bad situation – I managed it, it was challenging and had its moments of no desire, but in the end I was professional enough to pick myself up and get on with it – I’d stick good money on that story being similar if not identical for 99.9% of us – so why can’t professional sportsmen rally around each other and deliver?
Get over yourselves, Evans and his bolshie bull in a china shop management has gone – it’s been replaced by a methodical, quiet and tactical chess player – you couldn’t have more of a difference, but does that really stop you in getting a result? Does that really stop you going out week in, week out, pulling on that shirt and giving your all for the cause? If the answer is yes, I’d love to hear why.
You have got eight games left to play, which includes playing the top two along with three, possibly four, teams in relegation threatened sides – they are not easy games, they are the toughest – all we ask is that from here on in, you come out and give everything you’ve got for Mansfield Town Football Club. Commit to every game for every single millisecond, commit to every tackle, don’t stop running and for fffffffuuuuu (I nearly swore then) sake, commit to having a bloody shot on target. Be brave, have the courage to swim against the tide – that fella jumping onto the Peterborough ship is irrelevant, he hasn’t actually sunk us has he?
Eight games to go, and we are STILL in the play-offs, and actually even though it may seem the most ridiculous of tasks right now hopes of automatic promotion aren’t fully dead, there’s a flicker of light in the distance.
Cling onto it, please. For the sake of the manager who is fighting an inferno at a petrol station with a water pistol. For the sake of the chairman and CEO who work tirelessly to keep the football club ticking over and put food on your table. For the sake of the supporters who travel countless miles and pay questionable prices week in week out to be put through the emotional mire of pain of football, and despite our rantings and frustrations – we love you and want you to succeed because you are OUR players for OUR team.
Last and by no means least, cling onto it for you. You came here and were sold a dream, only YOU have the power to make dreams become reality. Give it a go and don’t stop – then no matter what happens we’ll have your back.
It’s here where I usually skim over the game, but today I’m not going too – I want to leave it with the hope of a happy ending. Click HERE for the club's match report if you want a blow by blow account!
We lost two-nil, the game is over and nothing can be done to change it. We play Accrington Stanley and then Luton next week over Easter Weekend, go and put it right. There’s nothing more to be said.
Hayden White – Krystian Pearce © [Sent Off, second bookable offence 84] – Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald [ © 84] – Joel Byrom (Jimmy Spencer 70) – Will Atkinson
Danny Rose (CJ Hamilton 5) – Lee Angol (Ricky Miller 60) – Kane Hemmings
Unused substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Paul Digby, Paul Anderson, Adam King
Referee: Anthony Coggins Assistants: Ian Smedley, Ian Rathbone Fourth Official Adrian Quelch
Our ship has not yet sunk. Swim.
Craig Priest writes…
With both sides battling for promotion, the Stags just three weeks into a new managerial reign and Notts County’s desperate bid to secure their first league victory over Mansfield since 2005 – yesterday’s lunchtime class was all set to be a classic.
The weather, a horrific blizzard of blustery snow, blinding pockets of sunshine and ice cold strong windy air, meant it was far from a toe to toe classic of fire – but instead one of grit, determination and bravery, as the Stags took home the point they fully deserved, thanks to a 99th minute penalty.
The result keeps Mansfield in fifth and with a firm enough grip on a play-off place going into the final nine matches – but also keeps that tiny chunk of hope of automatic promotion alive too, and given the manor in which the Stags fought back against the elements, it installs a pivotal belief back into the dressing room and of course the terraces.
There’s something ironic about having to battle the elements to achieve what we want to achieve, the consistent change in conditions acted as a barrier we overcome, as does the cloud of doubt left by our manager walking out when he did – so if we can battle against the elements to stay in the chasing pack – I see no reason why we can’t break free and achieve the finish we so desperately crave.
It’s for that reason why Kane Hemming’s successful conversion meant so much – that solitary point could be the different when it comes to the maths, but above all else, I think had we left Meadow Lane on the back of a defeat added to all the other doubts, our season would have been over there and then.
Kevin Nolan, Alan Hardy and all the Magpies can go and wallow and cry in their one for sorrow – the video replays prove a clear hand-ball less than four yards from the vision of the referee, and as for the added on time, you’ve only yourselves and in particular your ball boys to blame for trying to run the clock down.
The first half for me was a right off in terms of a game plan and judging Flitcrofts style, it was woeful for both teams and neither could really get going – Notts County’s goal was typical of the conditions and not dealing with the second ball, credit to them for exploiting the classic smash, grab and attempt to shut up shop tactic after 35 minutes.
On any other Saturday and against any other opposition it would have worked wonders and do you know what, had we actually lost that game I’d be sitting here applauding said tactic. Yet as it happens, Mansfield Town weren’t playing to that particular script and once one subtle change was made, the Blizzard was a Mansfield Town created one – well, the Met Officer did issue an Amber weather warning afterall!
Said change was the withdrawal of Adam King who couldn’t get a foothold in the game and proved, as he did against Lincoln to be fair, more of a hindrance than a help – getting around that comes with experience and game time, which sadly for us because the boy is a great talent begging to flower, we simply have time to allow.
As harsh as that may be, it’s fact and the horrible nature of football – proved by the more experienced Will Atkinson being relatively ineffective as an out and out right winger, but very much key once brought more central upon King’s exist for Angol who moved up top, with Hemmings dropping wide.
Once that change was made, we had momentum and movement about us and we peppered the Notts County back line with attack, fair enough they weathered the storm and some may have questioned why Flitcroft didn’t make any other changes sooner – simply because we couldn’t afford to disrupt the flow of our game and I’ve no problem with that. Bringing Digby on gave them something else to worry about and to be fair to him, he didn’t stop running and created the opening we needed.
However above all else, sending Logan up for the corner was the straw that broke the camels back, or in this case Magpie’s back – they panicked and didn’t know what to do and in the madness, a flailing arm was all it took.
It was far from pretty, it was far from what we’d hoped and anticipated but who cares, seriously who actually cares about being pretty right now. Pretty doesn’t win you points, grit, determination and bravery does – never saying die does – and that is exactly what Mansfield Town did.
Now to do it again, nine – more – times! COME ON!
With skipper Zander Diamond injured and Rhys Bennett back from suspension there was an obvious change made by David Flitcroft, who was dropped Hayden White in favour of Will Atkinson with Anderson reverting to right back – Adam King also replaced Byrom, whilst Ricky Miller was rewarded with a place on the bench, ending speculation he’d be heading back to Peterborough.
With the blustery conditions – it took a while for both sides to get going, the stags had a neat passage of play down the left hand side on seven minutes but Benning’s drive into the area saw him dispossessed – three minutes later at the other end Conrad Logan punched away a cross, only as far as Liam Noble who volleyed high and wide.
Kane Hemmings nearly broke the deadlock on fourteen minutes as his turn and shot in the area hit a trailing leg, the stags had to settle for just a corner before the tackle of the first half on 21 minutes, as Notts County fan leapfrogged the barriers in an attempt to taunt the 4,000+ visiting fans – the steward took no prisoners, the police, presumably, did.
Back to the action a moment of end to end just past the half hour mark, first Conrad Logan won a one vs one race between him and veteran front man Jon Stead, Danny Rose then pulled the trigger at the other end from 20 yards with his left foot, Adam Vollin in the Notts goal behind the shot well.
Conrad Logan then made a fine save on 34minutes as Jorge Grant came forward at a canter and picked out Shola Ameobi, Logan denying the former Newcastle United front man at the expense of a corner – from which, disaster struck as Ameobi headed towards goal only to be denied by Loagn again – former Stag Terry Hawkridge nodded in the rebound to put the hosts ahead.
Notts skipper Richard Duffy then made a vital clearance ahead of Hemmings as Anderson lofted in a cross before the half time whistle blew.
Danny Rose showed his credentials as a centre half as the second half got underway as he got in the way of Ameobi’s flick on towards Stead on 50 minutes – six minutes later the Stags countered beautifully through Hemming’s who reached the edge of the box and let fly – Adam Collin making a solid one handed save to retain the hosts’ lead.
On the hour it was Paul Anderson who hit one from distance following good work from CJ Hamilton, the Stags right back/ right winger/ right beard products endorser a whisker away as his shot curled towards target.
A minute later King was replaced by Angol, Alex MacDonald next to have any real chance on 70 minutes with a long range drive, again well held by Collin via a deflection.
Ten minutes later Will Atkinson picked out Rose with a fine through ball, Rose cut inside and shot but sent his effort wide of target as the clock began to run out.
A succession of corners followed before the Stags introduced an unlikely hero in the form of Paul Digby who replaced Anderson in a tactic commonly known as throwing the kitchen sink at the hosts – Digby’s relentless running saw him pick up the ball in his own half, hammer the ball forward before advancing to link up with Atkinson and then cross beautifully for Alex MacDonald who’s top corner bound header, was well saved by Collin.
The Stags looked to be done but with a corner and about a minute to go, the call came from the bench, and 4,000+ Stags fans, for Conrad Logan to power forward and join the attack for Benning’s corner….
With County under siege from a sea of Amber, Alex MacDonald again connected with the ball, looping a head back into the mix – only for the ball to strike the arm of the County defender inside the box, straight infront of the referee who pointed straight to the spot.
An agonising wait followed before Kane Hemmings placed the ball on the spot and kept his composure, running up and striking the ball with sheer power and placement beyond Collin who guessed correctly, but could only watch on as Hemmings tore away celebrating the goal which could save the season.
Notts County got the game back underway, but soon saw the Stags smash clear to the sound of the full time whistle mixed the eruption of emotional relief, felt by everyone associated with Mansfield Town Football Club, who in securing the point, also retained the Matt Salmon Trophy – long may that be in the hands of the Stags and the memory of a dedicated clubman be honoured.
FULL TIME: Notts County 1-1 Stags
Paul Anderon (Paul Digby 90+1) – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Will Atkinson – Adam King (Lee Angol 61) – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Joel Byrom, Omari Sterling-James, Ricky Miller, Hayden White
Attendance: 12,514 (4,164)
Referee: Andy Woolmer Assistants Daniel Robathan and Mark Russell. Fourth Official Graham Salisbury
Craig Priest writes….
With now ten games to go, the balloon of optimism is slowly deflating after yet another 1-1 draw at the One Call Stadium – but the real question is, who has undone the knot in the first place, does the blame lie with players, is it with the fella who legged in to Peterborough or is it in the hands of David Flitcroft.
There were a pocket after the game as I was leaving that felt it’s the latter – my tongue now has a polo-like hole in it from biting it so hard – how can you blame a man whose had what, ten days in charge?
No matter if it were Flitcroft, Dempster or any of the other names linked with the role – we’d still find ourselves in a whirlwind of bewilderment, the key is rallying together and trying to re-tie the knot and re-inflate.
There’s no shying away from the fact we were poor in the second half yesterday, as soon as the whistle blew to kick-off the second period we looked flat and lacked any energy or conviction – it’s that which dropped us two points, as our lack of flair and energy saw us slowly pulled back and allowed a bang average side a cheap way through.
Joel Byrom’s clearance was poor, but the blame isn’t just on him – why did nobody pick up the run or try and make a challenge? Why at the other end did we not create enough chances? Why were we so poor with the ball and so flat?
I’ve listened to Flitcrofts post-match and he too highlighted that first ten minutes of the second half, if we’d started with some zip and zest about our play we’d be talking about a different result here – and then if Zander hadn’t pulled up injured, we’d have used our third and final substitution to bring on a front man.
Some were saying we should have gone three at the back, but at that point Colchester were coming at us and looking like they had another goal in them, had we swapped Zander for Angol or Spencer, we’d have had one natural centre-half, brining Digby on was the right call – he won every header and worked hard to force passages of play which were never going to trouble us, we looked solid at the back when he came on and were so unlucky at the other end to not win the game, Digby’s height and physical presence looked a threat.
The game, like that Peterborough fella, has gone – we have ten games left to go we have a game in hand on Notts County in third PLUS them to play on Saturday, oh and the small matter of Accrington (1st) and Luton (2nd) to play over Easter – it’s not over, it’s just the long and hard way around!
With Rhys Bennett suspended, skipper Zander Diamond was back into the starting line-up whilst after scoring in midweek, Joel Byrom was introduced for Adam King as David Flitrcoft made two changes from the side which drew with Lincoln in the week.
The returning Stags skipper nearly gave his new boss a dream early start on six minutes, after Danny Rose had won a corner – Diamond steamed in to meet Byrom’s delivery, only to see the visitors hack the ball away from danger.
Six minutes later, Diamond’s defensive partner Pearce made a pivotal flick on to Heammings, who headed back across goal rather than thump an effort towards the net, as the Stags searched for their opener
Alex MacDonald then took the opportunity for a quick throw on twenty minutes which led to a corner through CJ Hamilton – the Stags failed to make it pay, but took a gamble two minutes later as Logan launched the ball long, finding Hemming’s who lofted the ball beyond the keeper to put the Stags into a 1-0 lead.
It should have been two just two minutes later as Byrom picked out Rose – the Stags leading marksman controlled well but couldn’t find the target on this occasion, denied by Sam Walker in the U’s goal.
Alex MacDonald then curled a free-kick from thirty yards wide of the target on 38 minutes as Rose was fouled, at the other end Conrad Logan had to be alert with three minutes to go, denying Drey Wright to send the Stags into the break one goal to the good.
On 50 minutes the Stags felt aggrieved as Logan launched long for Hamilton, he looked to have been fouled by Jackson who also appeared to have handled the ball, yet the referee awarded the visitors a free-kick.
A minute later, in a dase, the Stags conceded a soft equaliser Joel Byrom’s poor clearance saw Brandon Comley advance and place the ball into the back of the net.
A double change then saw Anderson and Byrom replaced by Atkinson and Mellis, before the Stags lost skipper Diamond on 65 minutes through injury – Paul Digby his replacement.
Digby nearly grabbed the Stags a second just four minutes after coming off the bench, his well-timed run saw him connect with MacDonald’s pin point cross – the substitute sent a header crashing against the bar.
With three minutes to go Walker pulled off a tremendous double save – first denying Benning’s top corner destined effort, before palming the rebound – a header from Mellis, away – his back line made sure it was clear, hacking off the line for a corner, from which Pearce thundered in, but headed over.
Six minutes of added on time followed, the Stags couldn’t find a winner and settled for a third consecutive 1-1 draw.
FULL TIME: Stags 1-1 Colchester Utd
Conrad Logan – Kyrstian Parce [CPT 65]– Zander Diamond © (Paul Digby 65) – Mal Benning
Paul Anderson (Will Atkinson 57) – Joel Byrom (Jacob Mellis 57) – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Lee Angol, Jimmy Spencer, Adam King
Referee: Ross Joyce Assistants: Alix Pashley, Chris Ward Fourth Official: Alf Greenwood
Attendance: 4,050 (163)
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)
The Beast from the East left a freezing chill across the country last week, but as snow fell and temperatures dropped – the Mansfield public were left short of breath in bewilderment as Steve Evans resigned with full intention of taking up the vacant managerial post at League One Peterborough United.
It was far from a posh and pleasant move from Evans who rode into Mansfield 15 months previously in a blaze of publicity, promising to turn Mansfield Town into champions, but ultimately allowed his ego to get in the way of real progress as week upon week he singled out a minority of supporters and focused on playing verbal tennis rather than the football.
Results were improving and to be fair, after a stuttered start, Evans had began to find some rhythm – yet still there was always a sense of distance between the nine-time promotion winner and the club faithful, this is something which, now he’s jumped ship, I’ll admit worried me.
Very rarely would Evans be seen applauding the fans after a game home or away, unless of course it was a win in a big game – I also know too from credible sources that the now Peterborough manager was very reluctant to agree to take part in the annual supporters forum, which he cancelled.
Regardless of all of that, Evans left the club in the critical time it needed a leader, seriously jeopardising project promotion – the club’s supporters are lucky that deep down, the Radford’s had a plan for a wee cheeky sneaky move from the Scotsman – and what a move, a masterstroke in poaching David Flitcroft from Swindon.
Flitcroft has achieved promotion from this division before and upon meeting his at last Thursday’s press conference, I got the impression that the missing community feel between management/ players and the supporters had been found.
I was proved right on Sunday when Flitcroft, staff and players brought along their shovels and joined supporters in clearing the snow covered pitch ahead of tomorrow night’s showdown with checkatrade trophy finalists and play-off rivals Lincoln City.
Straight away Flitcroft getting stuck in creates a bond, a lust to support which is pivotal at this stage as there are only twelve league games to go before the full time whistle blows on the 2017-18 campaign – something which in all the drama of the last week, you’d be forgiven for overlooking.
When a manager quits in such a manner on with the sands of time running thin on the season, panic sets in, however a swift appointment has given Flitcroft nearly a week to train with the players and get his feet under the table – couple that with the fact we’re at home tomorrow night for his first game rather than be away (Stevenage having been postponed at the weekend) and add on the togetherness bond, it may just be enough to give us that extra energy and push going into the final twelve games.
That Scottish fella is a thing of the past, and no matter how many articles try and stir the pot we have to 10000000% back Flitcroft’s appointment and HIS team – from now on, it’s HIS team selection, HIS training methods, HIS style of play and HIS guidance through the wild wilderness which is league two.
The new Stags boss inherits Evans’ staff but straight away, even before the ink was dry on his contract, they were working for Flitcroft – clearing a training area for the work to start straight away, once again highlighting that we are in this for Mansfield Town Football Club and not for egos and personal records.
I’m delighted that Lee Taylor has stayed – his work often goes unnoticed and unrecognised, yet it’s no coincidence that the likes of Danny Rose, Alex MacDonald and CJ Hamilton have all be re-born since his arrival – Adam Murray used to talk about (and get wrongly mocked) the missing percentages, those little 1 or 2% extras which win games – and that’s exactly what Taylor brings to the party.
Swindon’s fan base are naturally disappointed with Flitcroft’s switch which ironically is pretty similar to what that Scottish fella did to us – the difference is we’ve done it professionally in the best interest of both clubs – aka we’ve got a manager who I sense has been a target of the Radford’s for a long time, and Swindon have a very decent compensation package, allowing them to address some issues their fans are choosing to ignore.
Lincoln City may well be dreaming to Wembley success, but they’ll also be focussed on progression in Sky Bet League two – four points outside the play-offs with a game in hand on Swindon – they will not roll over and give Flitcroft the traditional easy early ride, there’s no time for honeymoons here, it’s all hands to the pump.
Naturally changes will be made, certain players will be better suited to the way in which the new manager wants to play and certain players may have taken the opportunity to come out of their shell and give that extra 10% which could prove the difference.
This time a week a go there was a sense of unease with the rumour mill in full swing but what followed, few actually believed would happen until the end of the season – and yet it did and once more Mansfield Town Football Club have come through the other side of the water, together as one.
What was it John Radford said? No Individual is bigger than Mansfield Town Football Club – well now, I don’t think we have anyone that fits that bill, just a manager, players and supporters all wanting one single thing, promotion.
Get yourself to the One Call Stadium tomorrow – make as much noise as possible, the sands of time on this season may well be running thin – but they are still flowing, and three points would be the perfect way to start second beginnings.
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