Sheffield United delivered an 86th minute killer blow to knock Mansfield Town out of the Capital One Cup last night despite an encouraging and spirited display from Paul Cox’s Stags at Bramall Lane.
In what was a knife edge game, the League One side didn’t have it all their own way as, fresh from the defeat at Northampton, League Two Stags felt they had a point to prove and refused to go out without a fight.
Concerns we’re raised over the Stags defending at times, non-more so than in the 53rd minute as Andy Bulter tucked home the second ball from a corner, however when star man Alex Fisher levelled four minutes later from close range – it looked like an upset could be on the cards. Ultimately the difference in leagues showed as Marc McNulty grabbed the winner four minutes from time, finishing against the run of play as the Stags had been hammering on the door at the other end.
Despite another defeat, Stags can come away with their heads held high – their performance at Northampton was inexcusable whilst in contrast, against the blades their performance was full of heart, passion and determination – if the defensive errors, especially from set plays, can be tweaked then Cox’s men will have no trouble in putting points on the board and a good run of form together.
The match didn’t come without adversity however, striker Liam Hearn was one of four changes but the hit-man lasted a mere 15 minutes on his first start before being withdrawn through injury for Sam Clucas whilst late on, defender Martin Riley was also taken off after getting a knock.
With Matt Rhead suspended and Ollie Palmer and now Hearn injured, this leaves Alex Fisher as the only recognised front man for Saturday’s clash with Oxford, however when Hearn emotionally hobbled off his replacement Clucas looked really sharp in attack alongside Fisher and actually moved Stags into another gear after what was a shaky start.
From the off Sheffield United cut Stags apart with crisp passes and, had it not been for an excellent save from Studer away to his left, Mansfield may well have been in for a long night. However the Stags began to fight back as firm challenges from the back three ensured Stags kept United at bay whilst, after the addition of Clucas, Mansfield began to play some good stuff with Taylor, Clucas and Fisher coming close to opening the scoring.
At the break it was all square and during the second half the match remained on a knife edge until Andy Butler opening the scoring, tucking home the second ball after Sascha Studer had made a fantastic initial save. Bulter should have been picked up and closed down and understandably Studer was left angry with his defence – skipper for the night McGuire played well but helped little as a leader throughout the game, his passion misinterpreted as anger which unfocussed the side at key points.
Alex Fisher then levelled with a well taken effort following Lee Beevers’ drilled assist and Stags then flowed with confidence as we’re unlucky not to have taken the lead, running out of steam towards the end, cut apart on the counter attack where McNulty delivered the killer blow.
Stags’ passion was encouraging as was certain phases of play, if they can channel this into Saturday and tighten up at the back, the good times will soon follow.
STAGS: Sascha Studer, Ritchie Sutton, Martin Riley (John Dempster 72), Ryan Tafazolli, Lee Beevers, Jamie McGuire © (Fergus Bell 68), Simon Heslop, Rob Taylor, Chris Clements, Liam Hearn (Sam Clucas 16), Alex Fisher
UNUSED SUBS: Luke Jones, Jack Thomas, Amari’i Bell, Cameron Belford
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