They say that football is a results based business and throughout the season, David Flitcroft didn’t shy away from the fact his players were on incentive based contracts – so it’s stands to reason that he’d be on a similar deal, but does a fourth placed finish and play-off semi-final defeat on penalties warrant Flitcroft’s departure?
The news has certainly rocked and divided the Stags faithful, who for the first time in nearly a decade at the clubs helm, are questioning the actions of Stags’ owner and chairman John Radford.
Personally I’m shocked. If I were in John Radford’s position would I have sacked Flitcroft? Probably not, as judged solely on last season I think fourth is a respectable finish having played the best brand of football for years, not to mention transferring players into sellable assets and rebuilding broken bridges between the first team and the academy.
However, Radford I predict will be judging Flitcroft of the entirety of his tenure which ultimately is two failed attempts at promotion, the first having just twelve games at the end of the 2017/18 campaign after Steve Evans quit, the second this season with his own team losing out on automatic promotion on the final day at MK Dons, losing their last three games of the campaign – and looking at it in that light, you have to say the decision, is just about justified especially if, going back to the incentives, promotion is your job remit.
Do I think the Stags board should have stuck with Flitcroft? Yes. Personally I’d have factored in things such as injuries and the fact the play-offs are a lottery and said, we’ll go again next season under review – expecting to be in the top five at Christmas with a certain points target. The fact we now start a fresh has its pros and cons for sure, but today’s news just shows how ruthless football is.
I had planned out a whole blog about an inquest into the seasons failures, which would have included a paragraph or two about stability from top to bottom, using the likes of Lincoln, Luton and Accrington as firm examples.
What comes of perhaps more of a shock in todays news is the immediate appointment of John Dempster as the clubs new manager. Dempster is a club icon for me who on the pitch was pivotal to promotion back into the football league and since hanging up his boots, has done an incredible job in restructuring the academy, however whilst I’m delighted to see him given a shot at first team management – I’m apprehensive and somewhat disappointed it comes where the pressure is more ‘into the inferno’ than ‘into the fire’. I'm not doubting the appointment, from the outside, it just appears rushed - though I'm sure the board and the Radfords have considered the options.
Going back for a moment to Steve Evans’ departure, it was then that Dempster should have been handed the reins as he’d have gone in on the back of a phenomenal time with the academy and had pretty much nothing to lose. Had we finished in the play-offs then great, job done, if not, it’s not a problem we can appoint a new manager to implement new ideas and tactics with his own squad – whilst Dempster returned to the comfort of the Academy.
Whilst Flitcroft did reshape and restructure, he already had a noose hanging loosely around his neck having drank from the poisoned chalice which awaited whoever followed Evans, which I believe now, has ultimately cost him his job.
Dempster will get my complete and utter backing as he should that all of Stags supporters, however I’m under no illusions that he faces a tremendous challenge to decide which of the current crop he wants to keep and now has to rebuild and challenge for automatic promotion – because unless the board have done a complete U-turn in expectation – it would be double standards to achieve anything less without the exact same consequences.
I would expect Dempster to also be tasked with giving more game time to the clubs younger crop of players having coached and managed them so well through the academy process, which could go one of two ways really. I just hope it doesn’t end with it blowing up in our faces.
As many have said Football is so ruthless and it’s 100% a results based business – if me or you weren’t reaching our targets in our jobs after a period of time, we’d be down the job centre too. I would have liked to see Flitcroft given more time to continue to build, but the decision has been made.
To Flitcroft and his staff who follow him out of the door, thank-you for your efforts and putting together a season which, whilst it ended poorly, as a whole was exciting to watch unfold and follow.
To John Dempster, the new manager of Mansfield Town – you know what promotion means to the supporters, go and deliver it and make a name for yourself in the world of senior management, a former manager of yours once said that success is built on strong foundations, you’ve certainly laid some good ones so far.
Football – it never fails to deliver does it!
End of the road: Stags 0-0 Newport (AET, Newport win 5-3 on penaltys) [Play Off Semi Final, Second Leg]
Full Time Score Mansfield Town 0-0 Newport County AET Newport win 5-3 On penalty’s
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg
Venue The One Call Stadium
Stags Goal Scorer(s) / (Penaltys: Ajose SCORED Hamilton SCORED Walker SAVED Benning SCORED)
Attendance 7,361 (1,118)
Craig Priest writes…
Missing out on a trip to Wembley is how the story ends for the 2018/19 season, in the cruellest of ways – a penalty shootout. Honestly I don’t know what else to write whilst holding back the tears – other than I’m incredibly proud of Mansfield Town FC, as yet another season comes to an end.
I’m not going to sit here and look in detail at how it all went wrong, that’s for another day when the emotion is far less raw – but what I will briefly comment on is the future of Stags boss David Flitcroft, and that quite simply is to remain Manager of the club, and finish the job next season.
Flitcroft has built a squad which for 95% of the campaign has delivered tremendous football with a fighting spirit to match, and whilst the other 5% has had detrimental effect on promotion hopes and dreams – I walked away from the One Call Stadium yesterday with a tear or two running down my face, satisfied that the players had given it everything in the end.
Going into the game, the Stags couldn’t afford to reflect on where they’d slipped in the previous weeks, nor get drawn into arguments about the referees display on Thursday – the only thing which could affect potential promotion, was what the boys did on the pitch.
At half time I did wonder how we weren’t on the end of a hammering, as Newport dominated, but after a change in shape at the break Mansfield did everything bar score and had just ONE effort dropped, I’d be writing with the jubilation of a forthcoming visit to Wembley – alas, it wasn’t to be.
When the game goes to a penalty shootout, it becomes a lottery, a slip or stumble here, or a confidence loss there and the pendulum swings widely in the opposite direction – if anything you could say Walker was destined to miss from the spot, having not missed a spot kick all season and taken the golden boot. There is no blame there, anyone who does put blame of those takers, does so out of sheer idiocy.
I’m as frustrated and hurt as the next supporter at failing to achieve promotion or a Wembley visit, and yes I agree that an inquest does need to be made into what went wrong – however, I’ve been watching the Stags for nearly twenty years now and I can honestly say that the class of 2018/19 have produced some wonderful stuff, and I’m proud to have witnessed every game, even that 45 minutes at Forest Green which didn’t bloody count!
I’ll share my views on the season as a whole over the coming days as the pain drains from my system, and of course I’ll have my say on the Mansfield Matters Podcast on Thursday at 6.3pm (ish) over on our Facebook Page in the end of season review show, for now though – the hurt and pain still lives deep, however I’m a firm believer that a manager given time to build on failure can deliver success and I already await the new season.
Thank you to the players who’ve made this season thrilling to follow, and thanks to you guys for reading the blog or watching/listening to the podcast this season – don’t look back in anger. This ain’t my journey, this ain’t the end – I’m waiting here, ‘till I see you again.
David Flitcroft was forced into one chance as Neal Bishop picked up an injury during the first leg, he was replaced by Willem Tomlinson – read how the action unfolded HERE with the clubs official match report
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 0-0 Newport County AET, Newport win 5-3 on penaltys
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones (Jorge Grant 120+1), Alex MacDonald, Willem Tomlinson (Mal Benning HT), Jacob Mellis (Will Atkinson 90), CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Nicky Ajose 105+1)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Full Time Score Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg
Venue Rodney Parade
Stags Goal Scorer(s) CJ Hamilton
Craig Priest writes…
With the regular season ending in such a disappointing way, Mansfield Town needed to respond with a freshness as they prepared to face Newport County in the Sky Bet League Two Play Offs, and whilst they head into Sunday’s second leg feeling a tad hard done by, David Flitcroft’s men showed real character to put in a first class display – reinstalling believe that they can finish the job they started.
It was imperative that the Stags rediscovered their flare and let behind any feelings of hurt and disappointment as they came up against a Newport side on a real bounce following a strong finish to the Sky Bet League Two campaign, and that’s something which Flitcroft’s boldness in the team selection enabled to happen with Mal Benning dropped out of the starting line-up for only the second time this season in all competitions.
The long serving defenders absence from the starting line-up allowed CJ Hamilton to occupy the left wing back slot and cause real danger to the hosts as Mansfield played an effective counter attacking game with real fluidity across the park, evident in the wingers 14th goal of the campaign in all competitions.
Whilst Hamilton caused damage at one end of the pitch, the real plaudits should go to shot stopper Conrad Logan, who produced a Gordon Banks style display in the Stags goal with a string of world class saves to keep a hungry Newport at bay – this included a strong penalty save, he was extremely unfortunate to not keep out the rebound, and defender Ben Turner who was solid, coming in for the injured Matt Preston.
A lot of talk before the game was about so called ‘damage limitation’ and trying to still be in the tie for the second leg, which to be fair given recent performances, wasn’t a bad line of conversation – but Mansfield Town delivered far more than that and SHOULD be ahead, with the penalty awarded to Newport an extremely soft call, whilst they should have also been playing with ten men, following a challenge on Tyler Walker within the opening minutes which was a straight red card.
However these squabblings and disgruntled points of conversation mean nothing, the fact is Mansfield produced their best display for weeks, they are still very much in the tie and if they can produce a similar, if not better, display on Sunday in the second leg at the One Call Stadium, then I’ve no doubt that a trip to Wembley will await the Stags.
I believe team selection will be huge on Sunday; however Flitcroft has in my opinion done the right thing in NOT using all three substitutions providing key figures with that extra rest. Had this been a league game with points up from grab, I’d be talking about utilising the likes of Khan and Grant to influence the game – but we have another 90 minutes (minimum) to factor in, plus travel and recovery – game management is where Flitcroft will really earn his money now.
Let’s do this!
Three changes were made by the Stags boss following Saturday’s 1-0 promotion costing loss at MK Dons, Gethin Jones came in at right-wing back moving Alex MacDonald back into the middle as Willem Tomlinson missed out, Ben Turner replaced the injured Matt Preston in the back three, whilst the boldest move of all saw Mal Benning dropped in favour of Danny Rose – CJ Hamilton moved back and wide to the left-wing-back slot, allowing Rose to partner Walker upfront.
Mansfield made a rapid start to proceedings as Rose looked to banish the demons of his last trip to Newport as his ferocious running earned the Stags a first minute corner, CJ Hamilton also troubled down the left hand side as he released Walker on four minutes – the leading front man unable to connect with real venom making it easy for Joe Day in the home goal to collect.
Two minutes later Walker was clean through on goal before being pulled back by O’Brien who appeared to be the last man, and as such, should have received a straight red card – the referee produced only a yellow.
Mellis and Bishop both tested the water but it was a devastating Stags counter attack which opened the scoring on 12 minutes as MacDonald made a fine clearance to send Mellis running through the middle, neat control and a crisp pass saw Hamilton through on goal at pace – Joe Day could do nothing bar pick the ball out of the net as lightening, struck.
Mansfield then soaked up some pressure from Newport but nothing too concerning before as the half hour mark arrived, Rose was unlucky to see his through ball to Walker be a little too heavy, before Mellis danced through before firing over the bar.
On 33 minutes Conrad Logan became a hero and emulated Gordon Banks with a unbelievable save to keep out Matt’s close range header, the Stags remained in the driving seat until the break – but couldn’t add to their well-earned 1-0 lead.
After the break Tyler Walker should have made it 2-0 as he weaved around the keeper but got his foot stuck under the ball as he struck toward the open goal, a Newport defender recovered well to clear the ball before it could cross the line before on 50 minutes Logan was at it again, throwing himself like a sky diving polar bear at Padrig Amond’s goal bound effort – a fine save.
Joe Day denied Walker on 62 minutes as the front man lashed an effort towards goal before the hosts had a goal chalked off for offside after Logan again produced the goods – it was then Day’s turn to produce world class save, as he acrobatically denied Mellis, whose effort was heading to the top corner after a neat bit of build up play from a hungry Stags side.
Danny Rose’s game was over on 76 minutes as he made way for Benning after a phenomenal display which caused Newport endless problems, on 83 minutes Logan was judged to have fouled a Newport player despite replays cleared proving otherwise – he did then save Amond’s spot kick but couldn’t quite recover to keep out the rebound, 1-1 which is how the game stayed, at Full time in the first leg – but half-time in the tie, the stags now come home to try and get the job done.
FULL TIME: Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones, Alex MacDonald, Neal Bishop, Jacob Mellis, , CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Mal Benning 77)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan, Nicky Ajose, Jorge Grant
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Full Time Score MK Dons 1-0 Mansfield Town
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue Stadium MK
Stags Goal Scorer(s) /
Attendance 20,718 (5,227)
Craig Priest writes…
As I walked away from Stadium MK yesterday fighting back the tears and trying desperately not to be sick or let my rage boil over at those “supporters” who said they’d “come back if they got to Wembley” – I couldn’t help but be frustrated at my own heart, because deep, DEEP down – I knew Mansfield Town would throw away the chance of promotion.
The Stags as a whole have been brilliant to watch this season, but over the last two months with the expectation of two games – David Flitcroft’s men have fallen so far from what they used to be that even if the scenario yesterday had been “avoid defeat by three goals or more” – we’d have lost 4-0. I hate myself for typing that, I really do – but there’s a lot of truth to it.
I’m not one to take to social media and start conversations with an undertone of blame – it sickened me yesterday to see posts of “Flitcroft Out” as we’ve come so far but ultimately didn’t have enough about us when it really mattered.
Some internal investigation has to be done from the manager to discover exactly why we’ve let promotion slip away – and that doesn’t just extend to yesterday’s defeat for two reasons, one - in a winner take all game when one team needs to win, they’ll come at you as MK did, and two – in the second half, those players were brilliant and did everything bar get the ONE goal which would have clinched promotion.
You have to look back and ask why we’ve lost at relegated Notts County, why we’ve allowed Crewe to come to the One Call and dominate us, why we’ve not had enough about us to beat average sides in Crawley and Northampton over the last couple of months – because teams who DESERVE to be promoted simply don’t do that.
Those questions, these frustrations, this sickening bloody hurt needs to be flushed out and quickly because whilst we threw away automatic promotion – we can still be playing League One football next season, as we now head into the play-offs against Newport County in the two-legged semi-final, the winner of which faces Tranmere or Forest Green at Wembley for a place in League One.
Finishing in fourth is the hardest place to finish as we’ve lost out on automatic promotion by the skin of our teeth and carry the hurt, anger and disappointment that comes with that – and now we have to take on 7th, who’ve done the polar opposite, got in by the skin of their teeth and carry the joy, buzz and elation that comes with it.
BUT – that actually gives us an advantage because absolutely nobody fancies us anymore – BRILLIANT, because people have fancied us for the last two months and look what happened. We have an opportunity to go and play with more freedom – we start fresh.
Newport is a very tough place to go, especially on a Thursday night – it’s a heavy pitch and they’ll be direct – we’ve got to look at the characters and systems to nullify that, because this is not 90 minutes of football now, its 180 minutes minimum – we’ve got more time to fight.
It’s heart-breaking to think about how we’ve failed and fallen but that is NOT going to get us to Wembley and get us another chance of promotion. Deep, DEEP down, I do believe the Stags can achieve promotion – so let’s head into Newport knowing what’s done is done and focus on righting the wrongs.
In order to fly, you must have the courage to jump – we’ve thrown ourselves off the edge and whilst we’ve dropped lower than we hoped or expected, still have the power to spread those wings and soar to the other side. It’s the Mansfield Town way.
Click HERE for the clubs match report
FULL TIME: MK Dons 1-0 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston (Ben Turner 19), Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Alex MacDonakd, Neal Bishop, Willem Tomlinson (Danny Rose 37), Mal Benning (Jorge Grant 70), Jacob Mellis, Tyler Walker, CJ Hamilton
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Gethin Jones
Referee: Lee Probert
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