Craig Priest writes…
So year yet so far is perhaps the best and most appropriate way of summing up the 2017-18 campaign as it comes to an end, a conclusion reached as the Stags fall short on the sky bet league two play-offs on the final day of the season.
It was a finish which in isolation was partly there fault, Crawley having practically one shot on target and scoring from it, and partly that of others – a late Lincoln goal putting the Umps well on course for a second trip to Wembley this season and a second promotion in as many years.
Those of you who’ve clicked on this in anticipation of a ‘who’s to blame’ rant are going to be disappointed, that’s for another day when the dust has settled a little more on this thoroughly frustrating season. Likewise I’m yet to listen to David Flitcroft’s post match interview, which if rumours are true, is one where he doesn’t hold back – so I won’t be talking about that.
Over the course of the season as a collective, regardless of the man in the dugout, we’ve not been good enough or clinical enough to reach the play-offs, I can only hope that those who stay with the club use the stinging and sour tasting hurt to achieve a top three finish next time around.
Whenever something is in the hands of someone else I always feel extremely pessimistic about an outcome, I’ve always maintained you can’t rely on others to do something for you and as such, whilst I went to the One Call fully believing – there was a part of me that wanted to be sent home knowing we’d given it our all by winning with passion and desire.
With that, I left 80% happy – obviously we didn’t win which meant, even had Lincoln or Coventry lost, it wouldn’t have been enough anyway – but we did show some fight, some energy and determination to get the required result so that was pleasing enough, it’s just a shame the whole place went from bouncing to flat, on AND off the pitch, in a matter of seconds once news filtered through of Lincolns 77th minute goal to level with Yeovil – a goal which meant no matter what we did, it was game over – and that last 13 minutes were hell to watch, because it highlighted our season…. We gave up trying because there seemed no point.
We’d gone so flat and lacked energy a goal seemed highly unlikely, so even if Yeovil had scored or even Morecambe, just to make sure of safety in their game with Coventry, we’d have left it too late to take advantage. That’s what hurts the most.
It’s been an hour to watch every single game unfold and be a part of the twists and turns, the highs and lows, the pain and joy of watching Mansfield Town Football Club again – and in turn be able to write and create content for you and this website when a year ago, that seemed impossible for me personally. Will I do it all again next year? You bet I will – because that’s what we all do, we hope to watch something good unfold, something to be proud of – nine times out of ten we’re left disappointed, hurt and heartbroken … and yet we keep going back because, whilst players and managers come and go like a common cold, our club remains and we follow the journey out of love, loyalty….. and sheer bloody stupidity!
Thanks for reading, thanks for listening to the podcast too – the season may be over, but I’m not putting down my pen or switching off the microphones, there’s plenty more content to come over the summer until we do it all over again next season – why? Because Mansfield ALWAYS Matters!
CJ Hamilton was back in the starting line-up in place of Alfie Potter as David Flitcroft surprisingly stayed with four at the back, me personally given what was required, I’d have risked three at the back and chucked everything at Crawley – but I’m not the manager and without it being played out on a laptop… never will be! (a promotions, on the verge of a second, and two checkatrade trophies though… John & Carolyn I’ll wait by the phone)! Danny Rose was also omitted from the side as Lee Angol took his place, and with Rose injured, it was a return to the bench for Sterling-James after a loan spell with Solihull.
The Stags needed to win and hope either Lincoln lost at home to Yeovil or Coventry lost at home to Morecambe, who needed a point to stay up unless Barnet put more than six past Chesterfield.
Mansfield started with the required intent but were denied by the visiting keeper on two minutes as Hemmings slotted Angol through – last week’s hero denied by the keeper.
And then the inevitable – a Crawley goal, as on seven minutes the Stags lost the ball in midfield and allowed a cross to come into the box, Ahearne-Grant quickest to react to turn home and make the Stags job a mountainous climb.
News then filtered through of a Yeovil goal meaning the Stags needed to score twice to sneak into 7th place, Crawley had other ideas and nearly doubled their lead on 15 minutes, but Conrad Logan, who scopped Chad Readers player of the year prior to kick off, pulled off another fine stop to keep the stags in the game.
Lee Angol and skipper Krystain Perace, another multiple award winner, both came close with no reward before Flitcroft withdrew Digby and Atkinson for Potter and White, the double change bemusing so early.
MacDonald, Benning and Mellis all tried their luck before half time but neither could get lucky and at the break, the Stags were 1-0 down, but with Lincoln still losing, had a chance to turn things around.
Kane Hemmings and CJ Hamilton both had efforts within the opening two minutes of the second half but denied by the keeper who was clearly a Lincoln fan, Hemmings also put one wide of the post as the Stags pilled forward with hunger and intent.
Pearce was next to try his luck but saw a dominant header held on 51, two minutes later Alfie Potter delivered for Hemmings, who to his own agony, put the ball wide.
Rhys Bennett was next to put one wide as the Stags threw bodies into the box before Angol smashed one into the evening sky – but on 63 minutes, the Stags pulled level as Kane Hemmings got the final touch.
The Stags needed one more goal to leapfrog Lincoln and Hayden White came close with a header which was cleared off the line, before Kane Hemmings flashed one wide – and then disaster, a goal for Lincoln at Sincil Bank drew there game level, meaning no matter what the Stags did, they couldn’t sneak into the play-offs as it stood.
The ground fell silent and despite a succession of corners coming in, which even saw Conrad Logan venter forward, the dream was over – confirmed by Ben Toner’s full time whistle – confirming another season of League Two football.
FULL TIME Stags 1-1 Crawley
Paul Digby (Hayden White 27) – Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 27) – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olenjik, Joel Byrom, Adam King, Omari Sterling-James, Jordan Graham
Referee: Ben Toner
With the end of the season just around the corner, here at Mansfield Matters as always we want you to have your say on your team, by voting for your 'Player of the Season' 'Most Improved Player' and 'Unsung Hero' in our listeners choice awards.
We'll be revealing the winner in our end of season review show, which will either be next Thursday at 6.30pm (ish) or at a later date, should the Stags make the play-offs. Voting is free and will close Next Thursday at 6pm with all players (who ahve made one more starts for the club, bar for those out on loan) eligible for 'Player of the season' - A shortlist has been drawn up for 'Most Improved' and you have free reign over the 'unsung hero'. Get voting below!
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With the dramatic scenario surrounding the season’s final game about to take centre stage, in the clam before the storm I thought I’d take a look at my top five contenders for ‘Player of the season’
My choices are not based on any sort of rating, I don’t really believe in that – my choices are based on the contributions each player has made in my own opinion and how they’ve developed over the course of the season.
The fiery Irish shot stopper arrived in the summer and a quick glance at his stats hinted that he might be playing second fiddle to Bobby Oljenik, as apart from a season on loan at Stockport he’s never really been a regular (judged on a regular playing 30 games plus over the course of a season).
That said Logan was handed the number one shirt and despite a shaky start, proved that time is all you need to hit a rich vein of form and become pretty much a fan favourite and solid choice between the sticks.
Having missed just one League Two game, Wycombe away, Logan has contributed with pivotal save after pivotal save at critical moments – winning us points in the process.
With 13 clean sheets in 48 appearances the former Hibs man has helped the Stags put together a tight enough defence to push up the table, and if we did make the play-offs – I’m sure he would emerge as a hero, stable keepers are hard to come by – I think Logan has more to give and would welcome him committing another year to the cause.
The clubs joint longest serving player along with Mal Benning has once again been a rock this season at the heart of the Stags defence and in my opinion, should be given some recognition for his service – I was delighted to see him sign a contract extension earlier this season.
Most suited alongside side last season’s player of the season Rhys Bennett, Pearce has perhaps been lucky given the long term injury to David Mirfin, who started the season and whom many predicted to take Pearces’ mantle as one of the clubs most loved defenders.
As captain in the absence of Zander Diamond, Pearce has really shone and whilst he may not be the most vocal of leaders, his calm character and consistent solid play, both in the air and on the floor – yes everyone loves a KP box to box rampage – has impressed me and feel confident in our backline, something I struggled with when Pearce was out of the side.
Despite having only scored twice, Pearce is a constant threat in both boxes and I believe will be the anker to our side for many years to come, I’d certainly welcome him becoming captain on a full time basis.
The tenacious midfielder has a lot to thank former fitness and rehabilitation coach Lee Taylor for, as Taylors influence has turned MacDonald’s promise into reality – and it’s really showed this season.
The Stags number seven has had a season of two halves really, starting off on the right hand side of midfield and contributing with a good work rate to create opportunities as Mansfield played predominantly down the right, but since mid-November time, it’s been the middle for Macca, where his tenacity and energy gave us something we we’re desperately missing and allowed the focus to switch flanks, with CJ Hamilton taking the role of the creative wide man.
MacDonald perhaps hasn’t been at his complete best since the arrival of David Flitcroft and has been weighed down with rumours of a move to join Steve and Dodgy at Peterborough in the summer, but which player hasn’t to be fair! Over the course of the season, I’ve been impressed with his drive and attitude – he’s one of few who have seemed to want to play for the cause – and players who have pride in the badge on the front of the shirt rather than the name on the back, will always be praised by me.
Hemmings, like Logan, is another who is proof of time being a great healer. In a similar fashion to Matt Green, Hemmings arrived on loan from Oxford United a little broken and in need of games to recapture his best form – and since late November he’s found that, scoring some important goals but also contributing with dangerous runs and link-up play.
Whilst Danny Roses’ goals seemed to have dried up of late, Hemmings has continued to find the net contributing with 14 goals – some from the spot including that cool as you like 9000000th minute equaliser at Notts County, going into the final game of the season, just how important has that point proven!
Hemmings has showed passion and commitment to Mansfield Town and we were fortunate to keep hold of him during January when Oxford had the brief opportunity to recall him – he’d be the main target in the summer for me and could go onto become a legendary striker at the club.
An obvious choice, the leading front man and fans favourite has been in good form this season and despite not scoring yet under his old gaffer David Flitcroft, has still been a regular figure and key contributor to the Stags cause.
Strikers can often been defined by their type of play or by the goals they score, for example Matt Green very rarely scored from outside the box or with a header, whilst Jimmy Spencer is seen as a target man – Rose offers something a little different, he offers a bit of everything and I look forward to another transfer window of worry that he’ll leave, knowing full well the Radfords won’t sell their prize asset.
Some of the goals he’s scored have been simply breath-taking, people talk often of his volley in the Shaw Lane FA Cup match which won him goal of the round – his header in the same match was even more special in my view.
Off the pitch Rose is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, his interaction with fans means he’s a true club man – highlighted on Saturday at Yeovil when a young fan had a bit of paper saying “Rose, Can I have your shirt?” – he spotted it and handed it over with a smile.
At only 24, Rose is still a young talent and will continue to grow, the goals will start to flow again – and long that nay continue for season after season.
There are a few names I’ve missed off my top five list, some obvious some not so. Rhys Bennett, last year’s winner, I’ve missed off by virtue of the fact he won it last year and perhaps hasn’t been as consistent as last season, not to say he hasn’t still been excellent though!
Bennett, who played every single game last season, is a future captain in my opinion but needs to stop being looked at as a right back playing centre back, in my view he’s a more accomplished central defender who can play right back – him and Pearce have a solid understanding and I full believe the former Rochdale man will be back in League One, with Mansfield, in the future and next season, will be another key figure.
CJ Hamilton was a tough one to miss out, he’d certainly win the most improved player award and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did get some form of accolade at the end of season awards night. His lightening pace and flair scares teams to death and whenever he’s not in the starting line-up, we miss him – Chesterfield and Yeovil being fine examples.
He’s still got a lot to learn and having signed a new deal, I believe he will continues to flourish over the next two seasons and go one of two ways, either stay at the club for years or be sold in a year’s time for big money and play at a very high level, he’s got bags of potential.
Paul Anderson would have been in the top five, if it hadn’t been for David Flitcroft. Anderson must be wondering what on earth he’s done to not get a look in, capable pretty much anywhere on the pitch, he clearly loves the club and will want to stay – but won’t if he’s not getting football which is a crying shame. I liked him as a captain, I rate him very highly and let’s be honest, should win an award for that beard. First class
AKA The award for Paul Digby.
You knew I’d include him somewhere! The adaptable defender/ midfielder was brought in by Steve Evans in the summer and despite playing predominately across the back line, was given a new role just infront of the back four and following impressive displays in pre-season was dubbed ‘The Interceptor’ by yours truly.
Yet once the season began Big Steve changed the system meaning Digby’s interceptor role soon became an out and out central midfielder which he is not, leading to the majority of fans disliking the former Barnsley and Ipswich man.
The 23 year old has a lot of promise and has shone over the last two games coming in at Right Back, he’s excellent in the air and will get better on the floor – I hope that Flitcroft sticks with him because if played at the back, can become a lynch pin for us giving us options in both boxes and to play with three at the back without opening ourselves up too much.
A final nod is to Ricky Miller, I feel for him really given the saga of his personal life, him not getting a look in and then his injury. He seems to show remorse for his well documented off the pitch actions and when he has appeared, looks hungry. I think it’d be worth taking a gamble of Miller next season, get him settled and the goals will follow.
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