Craig Priest Reports...
Fixture: Mansfield Town V York City
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier; Play-off semi-final leg two
Venue: One Call Stadium
Date & Time: Monday 7th May 2012 – 2pm
Attendance: 7294 (1490)
Match Referee: Andy Davies
Don’t you just hate it when you gain ground, begin to gather pace and momentum and can see the finishing line ahead? It’s been a long hard slog and you’ve had to fight a mental battle to get to where you are, all you need to do is take that one last jump and boom your there, on the home straight with prize in sight. You jump, higher than you’ve ever jumped before but just as you’re about to be clear, the sucker punch hits and you fall at the last hurdle, allowing you’re competitor to take the lead and progress. Hurts doesn’t it.
All season long we’ve been dreaming of promotion and, if truth be told, at some stage, wake up in a cold swet thinking it may never happen. Something magical kept the dream alive, something inside kept driving us on and we truly believed our dream would come true at last, alas no, this morning we wake up in a swet colder than anything we’ve ever felt before, tears streaming down our faces, our hearts and sighs so heavy, shocked, hurt, disappointed and once again, heartbroken.
Football is a truly beautiful game, but boy it can be ugly sometimes – a year ago today I was here writing about FA Trophy heartbreak, having pictured Chris Seniors goal over and over, this time I can barley muster the energy to write, I don’t see the point – all I can see is Matty Blair sprint of after converting past Alan Marriott, all I can hear is the York fans sing in celebration, all I can think is, will it ever be our time? It’s going to be a long hard summer – AGAIN.
I have to say though that through all this anger and pain I’ve got burning inside me after yesterday’s result, I am immensely proud – Proud of Paul Cox, his coaching staff, his players and us supporters, despite the bitter ending I think this seasons story has been a sweet one. Following Mansfield Town FC this season has not felt like a frustrating drag, instead it’s been a refreshing, enjoyable, happy and adrenaline rushing experience – I will not forget this season, even though we’ve achieved nothing in terms of silverware or accolades, we’ve achieved so much to warm our hearts and help us in the long run, get to where we want to be. This chapter of Mansfield Town FC may well be over, but I can’t help but wonder if in fact it’s not a chapter, but more an introduction for what’s to come – success.
To sell out of tickets for the game well in advance is phenomenal, as myself and Wayne Briggs were walking into the One Call Stadium yesterday, the cues were already starting to form and spirits high, everyone talking about the season just gone and what could be was marvellous, I got a much better vibe from the crowd than I did when we we’re last full, the pay what you want scheme against Gateshead a couple of seasons back. It was wonderful to see so many faces supporting MTFC, families, friends, all coming together as one – I hope that some return and back us next season as we start again, I’ll write my thoughts on that over the coming weeks.
Coming into the game we knew it’d be tough without leading hit man Matt Green following his dismissal in the first leg on Wednesday night, however the scores we’re level at 1-1 meaning it was all or nothing – 90 minutes of football between another year in the conference or another trip to Wembley and a 50/50 shot at promotion back to league two.
All the talk since the first leg was about believing; skipper Adam Murray penned an emotional blog prior to the second leg which helped build the atmosphere and again reiterate how much he and the rest of the squad wanted promotion.
Both sides man one change ahead of the second leg, Lanre Oyebanjo replaced Jamal Fyfield for the visitors whilst Louis Briscoe replaced the suspended Green as the Stags opted for a 4-4-1-1 with Anthony Howell playing just behind Ross Dyer in attack.
Line Up: Alan Marriott, Luke O’Neill, Martin Riley, Exodus Geohaghon, Ritchie Sutton, Adam Murray (C), Gary Roberts, Louis Briscoe (Green), Anthony Howell, Lindon Meikle, Ross Dyer.
Substitutes: Shane Redmond, John Thompson, Lee Stevenson, Matt Rhead, Danny Andrew.
After a level first leg, the game was any ones for the taking with both sides enjoying half chances in the opening ten minutes, former Stag Chris Smith headed well wide from a deep Lanre Oyebanjo free kick after two minutes, before York keeper Micheal Ingham hung onto a forceful Ross Dyer header from a Geohaghon throw as many minutes later.
On 11 minutes the Stags grabbed there first corner of the afternoon following good work between Howell and Roberts, Luke O’Neill’s delivery caused mischief and found Martin Riley whose forceful header through the crowd was scrambled cleared through Matty Blair, stopped in his tracks by Gary Roberts who did extremely well to get back and time the challenge well. Two minutes later the duo collided again, this time York getting a corner following a strong Gary Roberts tackle on Blair, whipped in by Oyebanjo, Exodus Geohaghon headed partly away with the ball landing for Patrick McLaughlin who volleyed well over into the packed QLE from 18 yards.
Exodus Geohaghon got his side in trouble of 15 minutes when he was judged to have put his arm across Jason Walker. Thirty yards from goal the visitors were awarded a free kick which Walker smashed against the wall, sensing opportunity on the break Lindon Meikle covered ground and soon fed the advancing Adam Murray, the passionate skippers shot deflected just wide of Michael Ingham’s post for a corner which was easily dealt with.
Three minutes later Lindon Meikle excelled again down the left flank following strong interchanging play between Briscoe and Roberts, the former the man to send Meikle on his mazy run. The quick footed former Eastwood wide man stepped inside Jon Challinor but failed to beat Ingham, who watched the stinging effort safely into his hands.
Mansfield have excited over the top all season and were at it again in 26 minutes as Luke O’Neill delivered from deep. Ross Dyer had to hold play up with a lack of support but did well to win a free kick right on the edge of the box after spinning past Chris Doig. Gary Roberts’ tryed the spectacular but could only fire against the wall for a throw in, Exodus Geohaghon’s bullet plucked out of the air by the strong Michael Ingham.
As the half hour mark approached, Luke O’Neill had to be at full stretch to cut out Chris Smith’s directional pass from the York defence before two minutes later, his free kick from deep sailed harmlessly away for a goal kick after Anthony Howell was sandwiched on the left hand side.
With ten minutes of the first half to go, Gary Roberts’ attempted switch of play was intercepted by the advancing Lanre Oyebanjo, the York man upended on the edge of the Stags box by Murray who again stood his ground. Patrick McLaughlin stepped up to take the resulting free kick but curled way over the top of Marriott’s cross bar.
Lanre Oyebanjo then showed the Stags it’s not just they who have a long throw weapon, launching one into the middle. Alan Marriott plucked it out the air and immediately sent the ball down field finding Ross Dyer, his pass to put Meikle 1 V 1 with Michael Ingham was just a tad too forceful and the York shot stopper claimed the ball, the story of the first half as it ended as it began, 0-0.
Half Time: Stags 0-0 York (Aggregate 1-1)
Five minutes after the restart it was the visitors that pilled on the pressure, looking to break the deadlock. Alan Marriott didn’t look comfortable as he came to collect a left sided cross from James Meredith, the stags shot stopper spilt the ball into the path of Walker whose effort cannoned away off Martin Riley who read the situation superbly. The move wasn’t dead and it was Jon Challinor who whipped back into the box, Martin Riley was again dominant in the air but seemingly nodded towards goal, Alan Marriott plucked the header out of the air to keep things on an even keel.
Ross Dyer was then guilty of a bit of greed four minutes later as Stags stretched the game from deep. Louis Briscoe provided the chip which put Ross Dyer through, the burley front man got past one before firing straight at Ingham rather than feeding an onside, unmarked Lindon Meikle – however playing the out and out front man role in Green’s absence, you can’t blame Dyer for testing the water.
On the hour mark the game still remained deadlock, Luke O’Neill chipped a free kick from 35 yards out towards the back post for Geohaghon, his header was cleared as far as Briscoe who failed to beat an alert Ingham with the attempted spectacular from the edge of the box. Four minutes later Adam Murray sparked a delightful move on the half way line, turning three before sending the advancing O’Neill down the right, the young full back played a 1-2 with Briscoe and earned a corner with York substitute Adriano Moke making the block. O’Neill’s delivery was strong and again found Geohaghon, his thunderous headed effort from the back post was headed off the line into the path of Briscoe who then fired over on the half volley.
Matt Rhead replaced Anthony Howell as the Stags switched to 4-4-2, the ex Corby man caused trouble but his efforts weren’t matched by his team as, too their credit, the visitors defended a series of O’Neill set pieces resiliently. With 20 remaining Matty Blair did well to take the ball from Lindon Meikle on the left hand side and burst down the wing, the low ball caught both Geohaghon and Riley in a tizz and fell kindly for Adriano Moke, however the York substitute thankfully blazed well over Marriott’s goal, losing his head at the final second.
With the nerves becoming stronger and the passion becoming more and more evident, the referee had to intervene when Chris Smith went in strongly on Meikle, showing the former Stag a yellow card. Louis Briscoe failed to deliver from the resulting free kick right on the edge of the box before Adam Murray volleyed into the hands of Ingham from a Geohaghon throw.
Matt Rhead, Lindon Meikle and Ross Dyer all saw efforts blocked or saved, a final burst of energy in the last minute from Meikle earned the Stags a throw, everyone bar Marriott and Sutton went forward but nobody bar Ingham got to the throw, the minster men keeper collecting un challenged to the sound of the full time whistle, meaning the game headed into extra time, still level both in the second leg and on aggregate.
Full Time: Stags 0-0 York (Aggregate 1-1)
The opening exchanges of the first half of extra time belonged to the visitors as Matty Blair caused havoc on the right hand side, Ritchie Sutton blocked for a corner which was cleared before Blair again weaved through, getting a corner from Geohaghon’s headed clearance. Worked short the visitors tried their luck through substitute Michael Potts, however the shot lacked conviction and was easy for Marriott.
In the pick of the chances at the other end, Lindon Meikle burst clean through with 101 minutes of football played at the One Call, after beating his markers for pace and skill Meikle let a ferocious shot fly, heading towards the top corner Michael Ingham proved the hero to palm away for a corner. Luke O’Neill delivered for Martin Riley who headed agonisingly over the bar.
Lee Stevenson then replaced Louis Briscoe as the Stags again looked to change the dynamic of the game, his first action would come after the turn around – the two teams still level as Marriott palmed away Ashley Chambers’ 105th minute effort.
Extra Time – Half Time Stags 0-0 York (Aggregate 1-1)
Straight from the restart the Stags looked to take advantage as York gave the ball away, Gary Roberts provided the directional ball to Matt Rhead who held up well before feeding Stevenson 25 yards from goal, the former Eastwood goal machine who opened his Stags account at Kidderminster on the final day of the season let fly first time, his shot well collected by Ingham as Lindon Meikle and Ross Dyer both called for a pass.
With time running out legs began to become heavier and the Stags momentary loss of focus stung them as three consecutive throws for York down the left saw them break our hearts in the 110th minute. Jason Walker received Meredith’s throw and whipped in the cross which caught Stags napping, Matty Blair was the villain of the piece for us, as he bundled past Marriott from six yards.
Stags 0-1 York
Buoyed by their goal, York attacked from the restart as the Stags gave it away, goal scorer Blair was free down the right and had to be stopped, Ritchie Sutton did the job but already on a booking, he was shown the second yellow and then a red, his second of the season, reducing Mansfield to ten men, after the game on twitter, a few “supporters” (I use the term very loosely) blamed Sutton for the defeat, something totally wrong and unacceptable.
The Stags refused to take the double blow laying down and with seven to go, nearly saw a repeat of the ties opening goal back from the first leg as Geohaghon launched another throw into the mix for Dyer. This time Micheal Ingham was alert and kept out the header which was heading for the top corner, splendid goalkeeper – I know he got booed and is hated by the majority, but you have to say, he was outstanding for York.
Jason Walker then missed a guilt edge chance to seal the deal with minutes to go, Alan Marriott making a tremendous double save from the deadly striker following Moke’s through ball, Luke O’Neill cleared the third shot from the line as Stags played with just two at the back in desperate search of a leveller. However it just wasn’t to be as the clock ticked down, Michael Ingham and the York back line hung on as Geohaghon, Stevenson, Meikle, Rhead, Dyer and captain fantastic Murray all fired towards goal.
The full time whistle once again brought tears, York City had defeated the Stags, the first team to win at the One Call since November 5th to book their place in the play-off final against Luton, who triumphed over Wrexham 3-2 on aggregate.
Extra Time: Full Time: Stags 0-1 York (Aggregate 1-2)
After the full time whistle had long since blown, the City players danced in celebration in front of their supporters who we’re vocal throughout, at the other end looking back at the photos this morning the Stags players fell to the floor in disbelief, skipper Adam Murray who was phenomenal throughout couldn’t hold back the tears whilst fellow team mates also wept as they headed down the tunnel. Murray’s passion and love for the club is second to none, just looking back at the photos I started to cry again – a true leader, fights for everything with desire and passion, never gave up – a player deserving of so much more than a man of the match award. Looking through the photos, you supporters were the same, tears flowing, faces of disbelief and pain – the evening rain couldn’t hide the tears of sorrow, which on any other day would have been tears of joy. In honesty I saw nothing of the crowd as soon as the final whistle blew, I fell to the ground and again began to sob, I’ve not listened to the audio and I don’t intend too – I just know that in that moment, I couldn’t hold it anymore. To come so far and rise so high only to be dragged right back down at the last knockings is a pain becoming far too familiar – I found myself saying the same words as I did a year ago ‘How long will this misery continue’.
All the best to York City in the final, we must remember to always be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
I don’t want to end my final match report of the season on a sour note with everyone having lumps in there throat, I want to say that I am tremendously proud of the season just gone, the players, management, staff and supporters have all pulled together to make this season really wonderful deep down, following the club this season I’ve felt like never before, it’s been frightening but bloody wonderful! Once the dust has settled and the anger has been drained from my system I’ll sit down and write once more, but until then – thanks for reading and have a wonderful summer.
Before I do go, I’d just like to express my thanks to each and every one of you for not only viewing this website and making it popular, but for listening to our podcasts and live coverage, we could not and would not do all of this without your support – you are all wonderful people, I hope you’ve enjoyed listening etc as much as I’ve enjoyed commentating and writing. A few names that I need to thank too, Scott Rogers and Wayne Briggs, both excellent co-commentators and good friends it’s been a privilege working with you both. Thanks also to James Williamson for his marvellous match pictures and ability to get us lost when following two sat navs, a map and printed directions! To Dan Westwell for the use of his pictures, Martin Shaw for his confirmation of stats and to all my colleagues in the press who’ve been there to share the journey, and if quick enough, steal my half time Rocky’s. To one person who shall remain nameless for her constant RT’s on twitter helping to spread the Mansfield Matters love and for keeping me entertained on those long journeys, you know who you are :) and finally, once again to you for reading.
It’s been a pleasure, until next time...
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