Craig Priest writes
With the season’s opener against Newport now two weeks away, Mansfield Town stepped up their preparations by showing their resilience – twice coming from behind to draw 2-2 against a very strong Championship outfit in Hull City.
Whilst the Stags’ part in both Hull goals against left a number of questions, you really couldn’t fault the application and determination of Dempster’s men in working on, and effecting, their counter attacking game – with and without the ball.
Mansfield, naturally against a strong Championship side, had to endure long spells without the ball and had their patience tested – but to not crumble and accept defeat is very pleasing, as it’s those characteristics which could prove the difference between play-off heartbreak… and winning pivotal matches in the latter end of the season to go up automatically!
Pre-Season gives a little leeway to errors, and whilst I won’t dwell on them too much, the defensive mistakes which have gifted teams goals so far will need addressing sooner rather than later, and Dempster will need to be comfortable going into Newport with the system which best suits our defence and keeps us tight.
That said we need to find the balance which also gets the most out of our attack and yesterday as we worked on counter-attacking play, 4-2-3-1 allowed us to soak up pressure but left us exposed in the middle far too often for my liking, where as 4-4-2 (after around 15/20 minutes) really got the most out of Otis Khan, who’s had a good pre-season so far, and CJ Hamilton who really troubled defenders and took his goal well.
Knocks and illness’ aside, Dempster opted to go like-for-like with a League match in naming just seven substitutes, which didn’t include any trialists – Omari Sterling-James had an OK out on the right wing, I’d like to see on Tuesday against Forest Under 23s another 4-4-2 with Rose and Maynard up top, CJ on the left hand side and Khan on the right – seeing if we can go and dominate the game.
Finally with Mellis ill, Tomlinson injured following Wednesday’s game and new signing Dion Donohue still side-lined it was a fantastic opportunity for Alistair Smith to step up and get in 90 minutes. I felt he handled the match really well and controlled the midfield with some well-timed challenges and some good distribution – hopefully he can continue his develop and be a part of the season to come.
Onto Nottingham Forest U23s on Tuesday, some maybe frustrated that Forest aren’t sending a first team – but a test against the U23s will be far more beneficial to us in terms of stepping up the pace and working on shape and game management, a game is a game – so bring on Tuesday!
-- MATCH RECAp --
Fielding a strong side, the Championship side were first to test the water on two minutes as Eaves’ half-volley nestled into the side netting of skipper for the day Conrad Logan’s net, five minutes later front man Andy Cook was unfortunate not to have reward for the Stags’ excellent build up play, seeing an effort well blocked by the visiting defence.
The visitors struck the woodwork on 14 minutes and were then denied by a Sweeney block two minutes later. At the other end Mal Benning and Alistair Smith both had efforts fly over and eventually it was the visitors who opened the scoring on 27 minutes, Bowen left with a tap in following poor defending.
Two minutes later Logan made a fine save to keep the score 1-0 before Otis Khan’s looping cross forced a corner on 32 minutes, the Stags however couldn’t capitalise.
Khan was again involved on 39 minutes when he was denied by Long in the City goal, Four minutes later Khan beat Long with an expert free-kick which hit the bar – Neal Bishop was first to the follow up and thumped resoundingly into the inviting net to level things up, just before the half-time whistle.
James Clarke replaced White at the break as Stags set about trying to get ahead but made a mess of it, Matt Preston’s poor clearance allowed Hull to pounce and then given the chance to push the ball back to Logan, was outmuscled by Dicko, who tucked beyond Logan.
CJ Hamilton finished off a brilliant counter attack in 54 minutes to draw the Stags back on track following a fine pass from Otis Khan, Andy Cook nearly put the Stags ahead on the hour, but it wasn’t to be as the visitors recovered to defend strongly.
The match then fizzled out with few more chances of note for either side, the full time whistle signalling a solid draw for the Stags.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 2-2 Hull City
Conrad Logan © | Hayden White (James Clarke 45), Matt Preston (Krystian Pearce 63), Ryan Sweeney (Lewis Gibbens 80), Mal Benning | Neal Bishop (Alex MacDonald 63), Alistair Smith | Omari Sterling-James, Otis Khan, CJ Hamilton | Andy Cook
Unused Substitutes: Aidan Stone, Danny Rose, Nicky Maynard
Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield Town returned to the One Call Stadium last night [Wednesday 17th] for the first time under the stewardship of John Dempster, but swallowed the taste of defeat against Championship Blackburn Rovers – a match in which the 3-1 score line doesn’t do the Stags’ justice.
The Stags played really well against their Championship counterparts and particularly in the second half were unfortunate to not at least take a draw following a fine display from the visiting shot-stopper; however three sloppy errors allowed Blackburn to routinely take victory.
Former defender Dempster will have been unhappy at the way in which his side conceded the three goals, especially having started the trio of Preston, Pearce and Sweeney for the first time under his stewardship – undoubtedly aiming to replicate the solid defence of last season.
Sloppiness however is both expected and accepted in pre-season, and all in all the Stags gave a good account of themselves and looked on par with Rovers, who fielded a very strong Championship side.
Once again John Dempsters cast his eye over trialists as he looks to add strength to his squad, with the two from the weekends victory at Alfreton both getting 45 minutes each, along with another attacking player – the names of which are fairly common knowledge (see below) but are not confirmed by the club.
The question all fans are asking now is, if I were manager, would I sign either of them? My answer would be a very flat ‘No’ – all three have put in OK displays but I personally believe we have enough cover within those particular areas already at the club in the Academy set-up who I would favour developing over new faces, for the sake of new faces.
It’s only the right side area where I’d be looking to strengthen to give Hayden White some competition defensively, as it looks like Dempster prefers to keep Hamilton in a more advanced left sided role, rather than utilize him as a right wing-back.
‘Trialist A’ hasn’t really overly impressed me so far and I think there are better players out there who we can even loan in or bid-for, whilst young James Clarke who’s been brought into the Under 23 set-up has impressed me during his pre-season game time.
As for the other two, again you’ve got the likes of Otis Khan, Jacob Mellis, Alex MacDonald, and Willem Tomlinson who you’d play over them, with youngsters Alistair Smith, Jason Law, Jimmy Knowles, Tyrese Sinclair and Jordan Graham all exciting prospects who will be pushing to breakthrough – so unless they [the trailists] can offer something really different which we as supporters aren’t seeing yet to Dempsters vision, I’d let them move on elsewhere and avoid being too top heavy.
Reflecting on the match itself, I’ve no major qualms about the result or performance, I’d like to see us have a little more intent to attack and utilize set-plays, but that’s going to come a lot more against Hull City and Nottingham Forest, plus on the training ground as the Stags prepare for the season’s opener at Newport.
-- Match Recap --
Stags fans were treated to the return of the solid back three from last season but saw little in way of early attacks and watched on as the visitors took the lead on ten minutes, working a free kick quickly to deliver an early cross which the Stags weren’t ready for, Matt Preston judged to get the final touch with the goal going down as an own goal.
Conrad Logan then was alert from the restart as he rushed out to deny Butterworth – Jacob Mellis was the first to register an effort of note for the Stags on 14 minutes, smashing over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
Logan then made two good saves, the first on 26 minutes to deny Ben Brereton, then five minutes later parrying away Buckley’s low strike as the visitors began to show the divisional gap.
At the break the Stags were a goal behind and made a number of changes to sit into a 3-5-1-1 formation which included two trialists either side of Willem Tomlinson in the centre of the park, with Hayden White and Mal Benning out wide. Otis Khan then slotted in behind Rose with only the keeper and back three remaining on from the first half.
Blackburn added a second on 52 minutes as Pearce hit a clearance straight at Buckley who reacted quickly to tuck beneath Logan. The Chief wasted no time in making up for his error, a minute later thundering an effort into the top corner following a Stags’ corner.
Three minutes later Pearce nearly drew the match level as he saw a header blocked by a Rovers body after another Stags corner, Otis Khan’s tremendous free kick followed on 58, as he was denied by a fine save from the keeper – who from the resulting corner, watched Pearce’s header go over the bar.
Trialist C nearly claimed an assist on the hour as he fed Danny Rose, his brilliant strike was expertly saved by the keeper as Mansfield began to really dominate the game in their quest for an equaliser, which also saw Khan hit another free kick – denied this time by the post.
Pearce was then denied by the keeper with nine minutes to go, four minutes later Blackburn wrapped things up as Armstrong latched onto a pass which had the Stags defence all over the place, finishing underneath substitute keeper Aiden Stone.
FULL TIME | Mansfield Town 1-3 Blackburn Rovers
Conrad Logan (Aiden Stone 78)
Matt Preston (Alistair Smith 78) – Krystian Pearce © - Ryan Sweeney (Lewis Gibbens 78)
Trialist A [Jak Hickman*] (Hayden White 45) – Alex MacDonald (Willem Tomlinson 45 / Omari Sterling James 76) – Neal Bishop (Trialist B [Arthur Gnahoua*] 45) – CJ Hamilton (Mal Benning 45)
Jacob Mellis (Trialist C [Jose Baxter*] 45)
Andy Cook (Danny Rose 45) – Nicky Maynard (Otis Khan 45)
*Social Media reports, unconfirmed by the club
Craig Priest writes…
The 2019-20 season may still be weeks away, but yesterday John Dempsters men took a step closer to being ready for the opening day with a 1-0 victory over Alfreton – as the integration between Dempsters past and future continued.
Once more several faces from Dempsters time as academy boss were mixed in with the first team, highlighting for me that we’re preparing them for the opportunity of breaking through in times of need, rather than rely on loan players and free agents.
In fairness that’s a big part of the reason the former defender and captain was appointed and I’m glad to see that we’ve not singed 13/14 players over bringing through local talent – because so far the young lads which have been given the chance to shine - are gleaming, a prime example being Alistair Smith whose goal separated the two sides yesterday.
The strength of opposition is going to ramp up massively now that we have our three home friendlies coming up against Blackburn Rovers, Hull City and Nottingham Forest – but we can’t wrap young players up forever and I’m sure they’ll give a good account of themselves, as part of the SQUAD.
Emphasis on the word SQUAD is important at this stage because that’s exactly what we are, it’s not senior pros with a few young ones making up the numbers, it’s a collective group of players striving to achieve one collective aim – promotion to League One.
By no means is it the finished article, there are areas to strengthen and areas to add competition in – hence the two trialists yesterday, the right back known as ‘Jack’ who played around an hour, and the attacking midfielder known as ‘Arthur’ who played in the second half XI, there’s also a question of fitness and I’d expect by the Hull City match next Saturday, Dempster to be giving player 70+ minutes.
Yet again it was two XIs getting 45 minutes each and similarly to Thursday, it was a more sluggish first half with more intensity in the second half – interesting as the personnel was mixed. The Stags also opted for another new style of play in the second half, with a 4-2-3-1 which I liked, I look forward to seeing how things unfold as the intensity certainly ramps up over the next week.
-- Match Recap --
Mansfield made another bright start and were unlucky not to have taken the lead after four minutes, as Jacob Mellis’ teasing cross found the head of Ryan Sweeney, who without his curly hair from last season, was a hair’s width from connecting with the ball.
Conrad Logan then watched a header go wide on 12 minutes and had to be alert again on 26 minutes, getting down low to deny Wilde, who was allowed to get a shot in from distance to test the Stags.
CJ Hamilton sparked the Stags into life twelve minutes later but was denied by a brave red shirt after Hamilton venomously unleashed an effort, the Stags final real opportunity of the first half – going in firmly locked at 0-0 to hand over to the remainder of the squad.
With two men on trial in the amber and blue, the second half saw trialist ‘Arthur’, playing in attacking midfield catch the eye early doors, he skipped the challenge of numerous challenges before firing just side, infront of the travelling Stags faithful.
Alex MacDonald, returning from an injury scare in Portugal, was next to set a chance for the Stags as he delivered from the right hand side in 54 minutes – Otis Khan met the ball with a first time shot, sending the ball narrowly over the bar.
On the hour it was MacDonald himself who came closest to opening the scoring, he was denied by a fine save from the substitute Alfreton keeper at close range.
At the other end new keeper Aiden Stone, expected to be Logan’s understudy until Oljenik is fit, showed his credentials as he got across his line well to deny Brough’s header with ten minutes to go, two minutes later his hard work was rewarded as Mal Benning swung in a cross for the advancing Alistair Smith to convert – giving Mansfield a much deserved 1-0 lead.
The young midfielder nearly made it 2-0 with three minutes remaining, his surging run denied on the edge of the box, as the hosts cleared their lines – the full time whistle followed not long after as Mansfield rounded off their first week back in the UK with their second win in three days.
FULL TIME | Alfreton Town 0-1 Stags
STAGS [First Half] 4-4-2
Trialist ‘Jack’ – Krystian Pearce © - Ryan Sweeney – Kian Sketchley
Omari Sterling-James – Neal Bishop – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Nicky Maynard
STAGS [Second Half] 4-2-3-1
Trialist ‘Jack’ (James Clarke 66) – Matt Preston © - Lewis Gibbens – Mal Benning
Willem Tomlinson – Alistair Smith
Alex MacDonald – Trialist ‘Arthur’ – Otis Khan
Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield Town’s first team played their first game back on UK soil under the guidance of John Dempster last night, as they ran out 4-2 victors over Bradford Park Avenue – with new marquee signing Nicky Maynard at the heart of the action.
Dempster’s men sat out of Tuesday night’s match at Retford, allowing supporters to catch a glimpse of the work of the new managers past, with the Under 21s running out 2-0 winners – whereas last night, work began on Dempsters future, with two elevens taking on their non-league counterparts.
For a first pre-season work-out the Stags impressed the traveling faithful, particularly in the second half, as the players upped the intensity and worked hard to implement a more free-flowing 4-4-2 system, as the new Stags boss looks to best utilise his squad ahead of the new campaign.
I was eager to see how the new signings would fit into a dressing room brimming with quality, but more importantly, how the old guard would react to a new man at the reins – and despite a hesitant first half display, was pleased to see the hunger and desire still burning away, and that glimpses of untapped potential from certain players, were finally getting the chance to blossom thanks to tweaks in systems and style.
Naturally everyone will be looking at Nicky Maynard, and having scored two and set another, there right too – yet you shouldn’t ignore the performances of a hungry Danny Rose, forgotten man Omari Sterling-James and midfielder Willem Tomlinson to name just three – in a match which marked the dawn of a new era for the promotion-seeking Stags.
Much debate has been had about Rose, and I feel like I could write a novel on the subject, however playing in the 4-4-2 with Maynard, allowed him the creative freedom to not only push on and get on the score-sheet, but drop deeper and create opportunities for wingers, full backs and central players to push on and dictate play – I certainly saw a glimpse of the most effective Danny Rose.
Omari Sterling-James has been unlucky during his Stags career and never really given an opportunity, with Maynard, Rose and Cook certainly ahead of him as an out and out striker he really needs to find a place to shine and playing as a right winger in the second half certainly gave him that chance, which for me he took and should continue to do so, as his movement and pace is a natural fit for an area where we are weak, whilst he has a good range of passing and vision really opened up Bradford (Park Avenue) and brought James Clarke (signed for the Under 21s from Bournemouth) into play and allowed him to shine too.
Naturally there is work to do and certainly one or two additions to be made, but I was certainly pleased with what I saw from Mansfield last night and look forward to seeing things progress up a level over the next few weeks.
What will be interesting is what system Dempster implements the most going forward, I’m a huge fan of 3-4-1-2 and the record of the three central defenders of Pearce, Preston and Sweeney can’t be ignored – yet the 4-4-2 gave much more fluidity to our attacking play and really seemed to bring the best out of key players who, especially towards the end of the last campaign, were just numbers in the 3-4-1-2 system.
Finally pre-season has its drawbacks and whilst it’s extremely exciting to see the players Dempster has developed through the youth system be given game time and the opportunity to grow into a first team, it’s sad and disappointing that such an innocuous moment has caused injury to young defender Noah Stokes, who played well during the win at Retford and was again playing well, prior to his injury – here’s to a speedy recovery.
It’s far too early to make any judgement yet and the next two or three weeks are about growing and learning, not about results. I’m just delighted to have football back really, even if it was a kick about in the park!
-- Match RecaP--
Having been back in the UK less than a week following the pre-season training camp in Portugal where the Stags took on Rangers and Swansea City, John Dempster opted for an easy introduction for his players – putting out two sides to take on Bradford (Park Avenue), with only Omari Sterling-James and Lewis Gibbens getting more than 45 minutes, due to injury and fitness monitoring.
Neal Bishop captained the first half XI in a 3-4-1-2 which included new signing Aiden Stone in goal, and striker Andy Cook leading the line, meanwhile it was a welcome return at right wing-back for Hayden White after the broken leg suffered at Colchester last season, he was restricted to half-an-hour by the medical staff.
The Stags nearly made it a dream start when Cook teamed up Otis Khan within the opening two minutes, Khan, playing in attacking midfield, nearly opened the scoring but was denied by the crossbar which came to the aid of one of the Bradford (Park Avenue) keeper, who was one of about 14,000 trialists!
John Dempster wasn’t the only new manager on show as former Bradford City and Notts County man Garry Thompson took charge of the hosts, unlike Dempster, Thompson still had his boots on and put the hosts ahead after 12 minutes, converting beyond Stone from close range.
Andy Cook was closest to levelling for the Stags from a Jason Law corner but in truth, the first half side struggled to create many clear cut opportunities and played slightly too deep, with what seemed like a resilience to go and hurt the opposition.
At half-time the Stags were 1-0 down but a new team and new system would be implemented in the second period, with new front man Nicky Maynard partnering Rose in a two-pronged attack.
It was an old face in Omari Sterling-James however that levelled the scores, four minutes into the second half, as he latched onto Jacob Mellis’ crisp pass to convert beyond the keeper.
Another old face was on hand to put the Stags in the driving seat as Rose peeled away from his marker to drill in his first goal in nine months – yet it was the hard work of new boy Maynard which created the goal, the ex-Bury man’s run and cut back from the byeline a joy to watch.
Cometh the hour and cometh the goal Maynard fans had been eagerly awaiting as the Stags made it 3-1, Maynard with a neat front post run to glance Benning’s pin point chipped free kick into the top corner.
Elliott Holmes pulled on back from Bradford on 74 minutes as he captitalised on a lapse at the back, but it was very much Mansfield in the driving seat – Hamilton and Tomlinson had efforts blocked before Maynard restored the two goal cushion with his second of the night, and third in two games – racing onto Mellis’ glorious pass with seven minutes to go, thumping low under the keeper one vs one.
A hat-trick was deserved but sadly didn’t come for Maynard just moments later in an identical move, this time Maynard’s effort was without as much venom – allowing the keeper to do just enough for the ball to squirm away from goal.
Jacob Mellis also left the cross bar rattling late on, but in the end it was a 4-2 victory for John Dempster’s Stags – who travel to Alfreton Town tomorrow (Saturday).
FULL TIME | Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-4 Mansfield Town
STAGS [First Half] (3-4-1-2)
Matt Preston – Noah Stokes (Lewis Gibbens 43) – Ryan Sweeney
Hayden White (Omari Sterling-James 30) – Neal Bishop © - Alistair Smith – Jason Law
Jimmy Knowles – Andy Cook
STAGS [Second Half] (4-4-2)
James Clarke – Krystian Pearce © - Lewis Gibbens – Mal Benning
Omari Sterling-James – Jacob Mellis – Willem Tomlinson – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Nicky Maynard
Former Mansfield Town striker Paul Connor says he’s delighted to see how far Chairman John Radford and CEO Carolyn Radford have guided the Stags, having followed the clubs development closely since his departure.
Connor, who signed in the summer of 2010 prior to the Radford’s arrival thanks to invest from supporters group “the 12th Stag”, believes the now Chairman has performed the kiss of life on the club – which is now going in the right direction.
Speaking in the latest Mansfield Matters ‘Stags Stories’ the fans favourite said “I still follow it [the club] closely through twitter etc, I have to laugh to be honest because when John [Radford] took over the pre-season when Paul Cox came in, I look at the lads now and they’re getting picked up in Rolls Royce’s enjoying ten days in Portugal – in our pre-season, we played Boston and had a night in Skegness! so the difference there straight away even in that sort of thing, the players must be loving it!
“The club was having a hard time [prior to John Radford’s takeover] but the players didn’t really realise it until the season got going.
“I don’t think it’s a secret at how close Mansfield were to maybe going into administration if they [the former owners] didn’t get a buyer and it had started to drip feed into the players.
“I remember the whole takeover. We played York City I believe and the manager at the time David Holdsworth actually said ‘look lads the clubs close to folding here – it’s that bad, but there’s a guy coming to watch you tonight whose thinking about buying the club’ and that was in the team talk.
“He more or less said you’ve got to play well tonight and put on a performance otherwise this guy might not buy it [the club] – we went out and played like Brazil, beat York 5-0, I think it was one of the best performances of the season!
“It was John [Radford] who was in the crowd, he came down to training the next day and it [the takeover] was starting to go through – I don’t think we won a game after that! I think at the time he [John Radford] watching that game thought this is good but with the results which followed, it started to really hit home how hard it [rebuilding the club] was and how hard the club had been hit.”
Now aged 40, Connor is still playing part time and is beginning a transition into management as player/ assistant at West Auckland Town – with the Stags being his last full time professional club.
During his hour long interview on the Mansfield Matters Podcast, the front man reflect on his decision to move into the part time game, plus speaks openly about the heartbreak suffered by the players on the big stage in the FA Trophy Final, which came at the end of Mr Radford’s first season as Stags boss.
Since the Trophy final, Connor has watched the Stags gain promotion to the Football League and says he was gutted promotion to League One didn’t quite happen last time around, a feat he believes can be achieved this season.
Stags Stories with Paul Connor will be out via all podcast apps at 5pm on Friday 5th July.
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