Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 28th August | Swindon Town 1-0 Mansfield Town
Down in lowly league two, instinct is still very much the match officials best friend and worst enemy – that split second judgement perhaps cost the Stags yesterday, as Tyrese Sinclair was denied what seemed a clear goal from a free kick, as Clough’s men fell to a 1-0 defeat at Swindon Town.
The Stags never seem to do well at Swindon but should have taken a point home – however it wasn’t just the officials’ split second decision making Clough’s men can blame, they need to take a harder look much closer to home.
Personally, I can pin point THREE other points in the game where split second decisions need to be questioned.
The first comes in the way we conceded the goal – Clough not as angry as last week, but again mistakes were plenty in the build-up, as Mansfield’s clear reluctance to press early and step-up late cost them.
First skipper Ollie Clarke doesn’t close down options for the full back as Swindon played out from the back, before a miss timed tackle from Maris saw Rawson needlessly step up and away from his marker – who happily ran through and put in the fatal cross.
That for me, and I’m not pinning all blame on Rawson, is why we desperately need a central defender who can read the game – there’s no need to step up, stick with your man and allow others to see him down the line, ensuring you’re there to try and win a header or put a challenge in, if a cross comes in.
Second comes at the other end, Hawkins does really well to beat his man and skip a challenge to go one vs one – fair enough, he’s perhaps over ran the opportunity to get a shot off with the keeper quick off of his line, so rightly squares it for Johnson.
Sadly, he over hits the ball but the opportunity is still there – Johnson then needed to look up when he cuts back inside to his left – Lapslie is on rushing, un marked on the edge of the box – lay it off and we probably score.
Finally comes the management – Clough has his plan but for me is very reluctant to tinker and be reactive, that’s both in systems and in making changes. We start with more of a front three and control the game, we drop back into the diamond and get out played and ultimately end up conceding – before finishing, strongly, as a front three!
When they score, why aren’t we freshening things up – Lapslie wasn’t having his best game and Charsley is chomping at the bit to get on, he could have stripped in front of Clough with a big neon sign saying “bring me on” and he’d have still been sat down!
Don’t even get me started on Sinclair’s long throw – he comes on after 72 minutes, we have numerous throws in key areas with three/four players over six foot on the pitch, yet don’t utilise the throw until the 94th minute!
Remember what they say, if you’ve got it – flaunt it!!
James Perch missed out through injury and we missed his authority, he’s likely to be missing next week’s double header with Harrogate – we really need some cover, competition and strength there, imagine if Hewitt or Rawson get injured or sent off? Maybe we’ll register Bowery as number five!!
The gaffer say’s we’re after two defenders before Tuesday’s deadline, let’s hope that we can get both done otherwise this could be a frustrating season of what ifs! We have a talented squad capable of doing serious damage, but we’re relying on our front line to score two/three a game – they have off days and that, coupled with our obvious ability to make stupid errors, will prove our undoing.
It’ll be an interesting few days for sure!!
STAGS: Nathan Bishop | Kellan Gordon, Farrend Rawson, Elliott Hewitt, Stephen McLaughlin | George Maris, Ollie Clarke © (Tyrese Sinclair 72), Stephen Quinn, George Lapslie (Jordan Bowery 86) | Danny Johnson (Rhys Oates 64), Oli Hawkins UNUSED SUBS: George Shelvey [GK], Ryan Burke, James Clarke, Harry Charsley
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 21st August – One Call Stadium | Mansfield Town 2 (Hawkins x2) Bradford City 3
Scoring twice at home should, nine times out of ten, ensure victory – however old habits refuse to go away for Mansfield Town as old acquaintances played a pivotal part in Bradford City inflicted the Stags’ first defeat of the season – coming from 2-1 down to win 3-2.
Boss Nigel Clough was not a happy man at the full time whistle and refreshingly threw his players under the bus for throwing away the lead – Elliott Hewitt in particular will have wanted to avoid the interview, accused of being “very good friends” with Bradford winger, because he [Hewitt] “has not tackled him all game”!
Clough also quested Rawson and the defence for not doing their jobs, and he’s right – again far too many times, balls were pumped forward from the opposition keeper and getting in behind, whilst every time Bradford came down their left hand side, they looked dangerous and sliced us apart.
You can’t give wingers that much space because eventually they’ll get shots off and we’ll get punished, he’s unmarked for Bradford’s second goal, and for the third, is allowed to step inside and get a good shot off, which is saved well by Bishop – but followed up instinctively by Andy Cook – who was destined to score against his former club!
I felt at the other end that we were a little timid at times, we didn’t test the keeper enough who was susceptible to spilling the ball and miss-kicking, yet the pressure on him was minimal.
Hawkins was fantastic and as expected, hungry after missing out at Colchester, both goals showed what a competent all-rounder he is, peeling off at the far post to head home Ollie Clarke’s thunderous cross, dropping back into a pocket of space to volley home the second.
In midfield I have little complaints, it’s a shame Maris picked up a knock and probably should have gone off earlier, but Stirk is a good young player with a calmness and composure that we need – I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and to see what the returning Charsley can add to the mix and dynamic upon his return.
A manager pulling no punches can go one of two ways, but we’re not here to be wrapped in cotton wool, we’re set up to be successful and to be fair, were going forward – but the overall success rate is measured by EVERYONE doing their jobs and not making stupid, timid, school boy errors.
We are STILL screaming out for a commanding central defender to come in and take command of that back line, Clough said we’re getting closer last week, but with the window closing soon, we need to push on and get it sorted.
Right now we’ve got a gazebo up to protect us from the rain – it’s doing it’s job, but it’s not firm or stable enough to withstand a strong wind – if we want to compete for that top seven, we need to address that, because (and this is not the defeat talking) we’re not stable enough to go the distance with what we have.
A week to stew, a week to argue, fight and put it right – watch out Swindon, there SHOULD be a Stags backlash coming.
STAGS: Nathan Bishop | Elliott Hewitt, Farrend Rawson, James Perch, Stephen McLaughlin | George Maris (Ryan Stirk 59), Ollie Clarke © (Tyrese Sinclair 88), Stephen Quinn, Rhys Oates (George Lapslie 72) | Oli Hawkins, Danny Johnson UNUSED SUBS: George Shelvy [GK], Ryan Burke, Kellan Gordon, Jordan Bowery
Attendance: 6,058 (1,589)
Sky Bet League Two, Tuesday 17th August | Colchester Utd 1-1 Mansfield Town (Hewitt)
Getting back at gone midnight, getting stuck in traffic and freezing your bits off – all things we’ve not missed about midweek away games! Those things are balanced out by winning, so when you concede in the last minute – it’s a huge downer and makes the journey home even longer.
What makes it worse is when you’ve played well and fully deserve to win, but that said – could Mansfield have done more to see the game out, as Colchester were awarded a soft last minute spot kick, to tie the game 1-1 and take a share of the spoils.
For me we have to take some of the blame, questions over if it was a penalty or not are irrelevant, as Colchester should have got nowhere near our area!
A minute or so before the incident, the Stags are awarded a free kick on the half way line, but rather than ping it into the corner flag with both Hawkins and Bowery on at this point, we play it short and give the ball away. Fair enough, it then goes out for a throw – a Colchester throw which they take quickly, we don’t respond too quickly enough to stop a deep ball being pinged into our area, from which – the penalty is awarded.
Yes, we can question if it was a foul or not, they didn’t really appeal and it did seem soft – BUT, we have TWO opportunities to stop the ball being pumped into our box and FAIL to take them both – we left ourselves open to that possibility and really need to address that.
I’m sure will be as frustrated at that as he will the questionable call from the referee, but also pleased, as I am, with the rest of our play – we struggled to be consistently fluid, but when we got the openings, we looked dangerous – only the Colchester keeper prevented us from doing real damage, especially in the first half with a fantastic save from Johnson’s header.
Our goal typified the way we play, good quick build-up followed by a delivery from the left – credit to Hewitt for getting forward from right back to turn a simple header home, I thought he played very well and deserved the goal.
Colchester are a good side with a way of playing which works for them and Clough mentioned he was worried we wouldn’t have the height to match, with Hawkins benched due to illness – but that may play in our favour on Saturday against Bradford, where we need to be dominant in the air.
Other than the mentioned focus issues, the only concern I have is Perch who had to be bandaged up in the second half, we only have Hewitt as cover as a natural central defender – we really need another body in there!
Back at home on Saturday, let’s make some noise and send Bradford home empty handed – seven points from nine so far – I’m happy at that!
STAGS: Nathan Bishop | Elliott Hewitt, Farrend Rawson, James Perch, Stephen McLaughlin | George Maris, Ollie Clarke ©, Stephen Quinn, George Lapslie (Ryan Stirk 79) | Danny Johnson (Oli Hawkins 82), Rhys Oates (Jordan Bowery 87) UNUSED SUBS: George Shelvy [GK], Ryan Burke, Kellan Gordon, Tyrese Sinclair
Attendance: 2,354 (224)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 7th August | Mansfield Town 2 (Maris, Clarke) Newport County 1
Goals from midfielders George Maris and skipper Ollie Clarke were enough to see off Newport County, sealing back to back league two wins for Clough’s men – making home turf feel very comfortable indeed.
Yet the manner the Stags exited the cup in midweek against Preston North End had sent ripples through the squad, with Newport County capitalising on another defence error to get back into the game immediately after the Stags had scored the first.
The error saw a goal kick from Newport bounce straight over both central defenders in Perch and Rawson – both at fault, however we should not ever be vulnerable from an opponent’s goal kick, and if one misses the first header, the other must be switched on enough to sweep up – rather than play the role of a mimic!
I do rate both Perch and Rawson, the latter has shown tremendous improvement since Clough came in – BUT, he’s still a relatively young centre half at 25, I’m not for a second saying I want him out of the team, I just think, he and the other young members of the squad, would benefit from another experienced (29+) commanding defender whose played consistently at a higher level – and that’s not doing Perch a disservice either, it’s easy to forget that up until last season, Perch was predominantly a central midfielder who would occasionally fill in at right back.
Negatives out of the way, yes that’s all I have bar the fact the club REALLY need to utilise the space on the car park for a new club shop / programme booth, it’s time for the positives!
Our counter attacking play was sublime to watch and every time we went forward I genuinely felt we could score, and that’s not just from the front two of Johnson and Hawkins – they really compliment the midfield with the cleverness to hold and drop deep – almost like a coiled spring in the Stags armoury ready to ping.
What that does is really allow George Maris to showcase what he made his name for, albeit in a far deeper role than the one he operated so successfully at Cambridge United. He’s the heartbeat to our side when we counter, finding pockets of space to come, collect and move the ball on from – winning tackles all over the pitch, almost like a coin pusher, trying to tip the Stags over the edge.
Proof was in the pudding for his goal, Clough has given his midfielders (and front line) licence to get shots off from outside of the box, even if the Newport keeper gets a clean save on Maris’ shot – he pushes back out into play and you’ve got four or five bodies who probably tuck home the rebound.
There’s still work to do and other options to play, Colchester and Bradford will prove tough opponents – I’d be happy at four points from those games. I’d be even happier with those errors being rectified and a new face to come in and take the number five shirt! For now though – I’ll take yesterday’s three points, and a third place standing in the league table – it’s great having football back isn’t it!
STAGS: Nathan Bishop | Kellan Gordon (Elliott Hewitt 72), Farrend Rawson, James Perch, Stephen McLaughlin | George Maris, Ollie Clarke ©, Stephen Quinn (Jordan Bowery 90), Rhys Oates (George Lapslie 65) | Danny Johnson, Oli Hawkins UNUSED SUBS: George Shelvy [GK], Ryan Birk, Ryan Strirk, Tyrese Sinclair
Attendance: 3,793 (156)
Carabao Cup first round, Tuesday 10th August | Mansfield Town 0-3 Preston North End
What I’ve really missed about going to games, is the walk out of the ground! As strange as that may seem, you get to hear so many people’s conversations about the game and result you’ve just witnessed – it’s amazing how many different views there are!
Last night, as Mansfield Town were knocked out of the Carabao Cup again by Preston North End at the first round stage – in the five/ten minutes it took me to walk from my seat in the IGU, to the car – It went from Saturday (against Bristol Rovers) being a ‘one off’ to Preston ‘playing us off the park’ – Oh, and Danny Rose was ‘Woeful’, they meant George Lapslie – come on people, learn the squad numbers!!
For me, I’m disappointed in the manner in which we give away the first two goals – but am I that bothered we lost? Not really, I’d rather get those errors out of the way in a nothing cup game, than on Saturday against Newport.
Players have to stand up and take responsibility which I’m sure they will – Gordon and Clarke giving the ball away leading to the first, Bishop and Rawson at fault for the second – but again you’re making errors against a good championship outfit, make those in League Two I don’t think you’re punished as often.
What’s concerning is a lack of depth at the back, we really need that extra central defender – Hewitt is out injured and Perch was left out as, in Clough’s words “he’s the best centre half we’ve got and we can’t risk him” (or words to that effect, don’t come at me quote police!) – but imagine Perch starts Saturday, is sent off or worse, injured – we’ve no cover and we lose a big part of how we play.
McLaughlin deputised at centre half and did well to be fair, but again if you move him from left back, we lose our shape and become a player light in that area.
I was pleased with loanee Ryan Stirk who for me was joint man of the match with Rhys Oates – the Birmingham City youngster looked comfortable on the ball, centrally and out wide and given more game time will become a really good asset to have in the squad – proving cover for Quinn on the left, but also pushing the likes of Maris and Clarke in the middle.
We should have taken our chances and fought a little more, but again at 2-0 down with twenty minutes to go in that scenario, I’d rather go at half pace, conserve energy for Saturday and get a good result where it really matters.
There were errors as mentioned, but we move on – we’ve got a game against Salford today for predominantly an under 23s side – Richard Cooper, according to Clough, has entered a side into the Premier League Cup, the likes of Law, Sinclair, James Clarke, Charles, Knowles etc will play to get minutes, where should the Stags win, they’ll progress to a group stage.
Even being a cup game with 3-4K less fans last night, the atmosphere was still decent, let’s keep that going on Saturday when Newport come to town.
STAGS: Nathan Bishop | Kellan Gordon, Farrend Rawson, Stephen McLaughlin, Ryan Burke | George Maris (Jason Law 73), Ollie Clarke © (Danny Johnson 78), Ryan Stirk, George Lapslie | Rhys Oates (Tyrese Sinclair 64), Jordan Bowery UNUSED SUBS: George Shelvy [GK], James Clarke, Oli Hawkins, James Perch
Attendance: 2,526 (456)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 7th August | Mansfield Town 2 (Hawkins, Johnson [P]) Bristol Rovers 1
Apparently a house party is only as good as it’s DJ – Danny Johnson ensured the Stags’ house party was absolutely bouncing, coolly netting a 90th minute penalty at the Quarry Lane end to seal opening day victory for Nigel Clough’s men.
Strike partner Oli Hawkins had swooped in to nod home a well worked set-play between Ollie Clarke and Stephen McLaughlin to start the party in the first half – however a well hit strike levelled things for Rovers in the second swung the game back into balance.
However, when Johnson was judged to have been struck by Paul Coutts with fourteen minutes to play – the Rovers skipper was given his marching orders and the Stags the prime opportunity to take all three points.
Overall, a Mansfield victory was deserved as Rovers’ offered very little and Clough’s men racked up the chances – however despite the euphoria, Clough, his players and the majority of fans know that performances must be a lot better, if the Stags want to challenge consistently.
Clough has worked hard to build a style of play which brings fluidity through the midfield and hunger to counter – for whatever reason that was lacking from Mansfield’s performance which in turn, led to a handful of ‘sharp intake of breath’ moments which on another day, the visitors may have capitalised on.
We’re still a central defender short in my view, someone experienced and commanding – mainly to put that added bit of authority into our play, adding fuel to the fiery approach of our challenges – Stephen Quinn especially has this ‘no way through’ attitude which is brilliant to see.
It was so good to see the One Call Stadium full and hear fans singing and cheering throughout – I’ve no doubt that contributed towards the players’ nervousness and eagerness to impress, we have to remember that not only is this a new group still trying to gel, but that players haven’t played in front of crowds for as long as we’ve been stuck on the sofa! For both parties, it’ll take some getting used too!
Harness that winning feeling, soak in those matchday rituals and get ready for a long, but exciting season! They do say start as you mean to go on afterall!
STAGS: Nathan Bishop | Kellan Gordon, Farrend Rawson, James Perch, Stephen McLaughlin | George Maris (Ryan Stirk 90+1), Ollie Clarke ©, Stephen Quinn, Rhys Oates (George Lapslie 70) | Danny Johnson, Oli Hawkins UNUSED SUBS: George Shelvy [GK], Jordan Bowery, Ryan Burke, Tyrese Sinclair, James Clarke
Attendance: 6,436 (1,388)
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