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
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