Craig Priest Reports....
Fixture: Mansfield Town V Newport County
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier – Game #1
Venue: The One Call Stadium
Date & Time: Saturday 11th August 2012 – 3pm
Match Referee: Chris Cavanagh (Ashton-Under-Lyne)
Attendance: 2924 (357)
After a prolonged pre-season with the games coming thick and fast it felt great to finally see the league action start at a sunny One Call Stadium yesterday, that was four about nine minutes until out of nowhere Newport grabbed the game’s initiative and the tide of the afternoon changed.
Reflecting on defeat is always hard especially in the manor we we’re beaten yesterday afternoon. Picking up the programme pre-match the glossy front cover read ‘On Your Marks’ – clearly our back four hadn’t heard the following ‘Get set... GO’ as they seemed trapped in the starting blocks for the majority of the first half. Maybe I’m being over critical of the boys especially when you consider there are 45 games, a very long way, to go! That said we needed to be solid from the off and stamp our authority on the game, something we failed to do and something which I’ve no doubt Paul Cox will be working on once the boys report in for training tomorrow morning, as he prepares for the long trip to Gateshead Tuesday night followed by a trip to Kidderminster net Saturday – two tough tests.
Paul Cox’s sides famously peak after Christmas and as such there’s no early worry from me, the first game tells us nothing about how the season will shape up, it if anything just highlights what areas need a tweak or two before our rhythm begins to set.
For weeks before the game I’d be talking to a lot of supporters and taking a keen interest how Justin Edinburgh was putting together the FA Trophy runners up. Every side he’s put together has always been strong on the attack and tough to break down at the back, you could see yesterday that that’d be the case from the off, out of all the opening fixtures we could have been handed, it was one of the toughest – if we’ve learned anything from yesterday it’s that any team can surprise you if you’re not fully prepared.
We’d be discussing the captaincy issue for a good few days, it was no surprise George Pilkington handed the armband after skippering the majority of pre-season. It was as a positive and refreshed One Call Stadium as he led the teams out onto a sun soaked pitch yesterday afternoon as the Stags prepared to chase another dream. Paul Cox handed debuts to five players in a side which saw a brand new back four from the one which ended the season last term, the only worrying thing was the fact the defensive quartet had only played in one pre-season match together, the 2-1 victory over Derby on July 25th.
Line Up [4-3-3]: Alan Marriott – Lee Beevers – Luke Jones – George Pilkington (C) – Andy Owens – Jamie Hand – Gary Roberts – Anthony Howell – Ross Dyer – Matt Green – Lindon Meikle
Substitutes: John Thompson – Jake Speight – Nick Wright – Chris Clements – Colin Daniel [#31]
It was the visiting South Wales outfit Newport that got the 2012-13 campaign underway at the One Call Stadium however it was the Stags who made the more lively start registering three efforts in the opening five minutes.
The first came from a Jamie Tolley free kick after Matt Green was fouled as he attempted to cut in from the flanks. It was Tolley himself who registered the effort, getting the ball back after his initial crossed set piece had broken down. The former Wrexham man picked up the ball from Ross Dyer’s lay-off on the edge of the area and shot narrowly wide of Lenny Pidgley’s left hand post.
Gary Roberts was then involved on four minutes as he intercepted play on the half way line to send Lindon Meikle cantering down the left. The lively wide man cut inside the challenge of former Notts County defender David Pipe before driving narrowly wide from the edge of the box. Seconds later there was an exact repeat of the play as Stags won a corner, Jamie Tolley delivering for Luke Jones, who headed wide of the target at the near post.
Despite the opening chances it was the Stags who soon found themselves behind on nine minutes as they gave away a needless free kick just over the half way line as Danny Crowe was tripped. Crowe himself took the free kick from deep with Newport’s Ismail Yakubu rising above the collective challenge of Jones and Pilkington to head dominantly past a stunned Marriott.
Stags 0-1 Newport
The Stags dropped further behind two minutes later as Newport made mistakes pay. After earning a corner, the visitors put in a woeful ball which caused no danger and should have been dealt with, however a scuffed clearance from Lee Beevers saw a second corner, for which the visitors doubled their lead. A short corner was played and Newport delivered towards the back post via a Jake Thompson cross, Aaron O’Connor’s header back into the mix was headed away by Howell but into the path of an unmarked Tony James of the edge of the box. He hit a stunning volley into the top corner past Marriott.
Five minutes later Marriott had to rescue his side as flat footed irresponsive defending saw Aaron O’Connor break the offside trap from a long David Pipe pass, Marriott slammed the ball away to safety. At the other end the Stags nearly got an element of luck as they came close to a leveller on twenty minutes, Andy Owens’ long throw from the right was headed onto the crossbar by Yakubu. Moments later Matt Green came close as he latched onto a hopeful ball from the back, the danger man sprinted forward and drilled narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
The Stags were then dealt a blow on 25 minutes as a beautiful flowing move saw Ross Dyer’s game come to a sad end. As he picked up the right hand side he drove his way past the full back but fell to ground clutching his knee with one hand whilst frantically signalling for medical assistance with the other. Play eventually stopped allowing Dyer treatment, he headed off the pitch with his shirt covering his face and possible tears of agony on a stretcher. Jake Speight came onto replace the injured Dyer in attack.
A number of wasted crosses from Beevers followed before Speight began to find his feet, causing a split opinion with five minutes of the first half remaining. Lee Beevers did well to regain possession for the Stags on the half way line and clipped a strong central pass for Matt Green. Dropping his shoulder, Green played a delightful ball to the onrushing Speight who went down just inside the box under the challenge of James. Mass calls for a penalty from the players, bench and home faithful fell on deaf ears with referee Chris Kavanagh awarding a free kick to Newport and booking Speight for simulation.
The deadly hit man who scored a first half hat trick during his last Stags outing in 2010 then looked to get on the score sheet seeing a bursting run halted by a strong Pipe challenge on 44 before missing a guilt edged chance on 45. Anthony Howell showed Ariel dominance to flick the ball into Speight’s path, free inside the box he opted for a first time tame clip which the keeper collected rather than a tight touch and slotted finish, wish he had time for.
Five minutes of time was added on for the injury to Dyer, however neither side troubled the other and headed into the dressing rooms with Newport ahead.
HALF TIME: Stags 0-2 Newport
Clearly words had been spoken during the half time interval as the Stags finally made the required start, drawing the game level in the opening five minutes of the second half. It took just 54 seconds from the referee’s whistle for the Stags to grab their first goal. Andy Owens clip down the left caused problems and as the visitors failed to clear their lines, Jamie Tolley drove towards goal with a left footed effort from just inside the box, Lenny Pidgley palmed the stinging shot straight into the path of Jake Speight who tucked in the rebound, grabbing the ball and taking it back to the middle whilst the former Chelsea shot stopper, who picked up a premier league and league cup winners medal during his time at Stamford Bridge, sprinted over to the linesman protesting furiously for offside.
Stags 1-2 Newport
Matt Green then looked lively from the restart sending Lindon Meikle down the right, combining with Howell the duo pressured Newport but over ran the ball for a goal kick. Seconds later a trademark Roberts pass from halfway was just too quick for Speight.
The Stags continued to push and soon drew level as the game hit the 50 minute mark. Lee Beevers read a Newport attack well and intercepted play on the half way line and immediately chipped a ball forward. Matt Green soon found himself one on one with the on rushing Pidgley, the latter beaten by a delicate Green lob which bounced once before landing in the back of the net delighting the home crowd.
Stags 2-2 Newport
Mansfield we’re now refuelled with confidence and having drawn level, looked to start again and gain the advantage, Lindon Meikle was causing havoc on 52 minutes as he drove down the right hand side and skipped the challenge of Andy Sandell. Having gained ground Meikle pulled the ball back across the box but agonisingly saw no Stags player connect with Newport still racing back.
The South Wales side we’re soon back ahead three minutes later, Lee Beevers and Danny Crowe collided and it looked like it would be Stags who we’re awarded a free kick, however the referee again threw the cat amongst the pigeons as he awarded Newport the set play and produced a yellow card for Beevers. Taking too long to focus the Stags we’re their own downfall as nobody tracked the run of O’Connor, he rose highest to head home against his former club.
Stags 2-3 Newport
A miscommunication between Jones and Marriott saw Stags concede another needless corner, however the visitors failed to take advantage as the Stags cleared well. At the other end Mansfield we’re wasteful with several crosses far too heavy and trickling away for Newport throws.
On 65 Minutes the Stags were back to square one as another former employee grabbed a goal. Slack marking and hesitant concentration saw Newport surge down the left, a drilled cross into the middle saw Jefferson Louis fire home through a crowd of bodies much to the delight of the 357 travelling fans.
Stags 2-4 Newport
Jamie Tolley departed for Nick Wright after the goal as Paul Cox bolstered his attacking options. It was Gary Roberts next to test the water though as on 71 minutes he received Matt Green’s pass following Alan Marriott’s directional ball. The creative midfielder let fly from the edge of the box and saw his effort palmed away for the first of two corners.
Nick Wright was heavily involved in the Stags next attempt to reduce the deficit, firing a left footed effort against a Newport leg after strong work between Owens and Roberts. The former Kidderminster man making his league debut in the Amber and Blue then battled to win the ball back on the left and did so successfully robbing David Pipe. Wright sent a pass into the path of Roberts who drilled wide.
A minute later Lindon Meikle was creating as he threaded Wright through into the box, Lenny Pidgley the hero for County as he blocked well with his legs, Meikle picked up the second ball but failed to create further damage as the visitors got back to clear.
Soaking up the pressure well, Newport then had another opportunity to grab another as Andy Sandell whipped in a corner. Luke Jones headed away dominantly but the Stags failed to battle for the second ball, Jake Thompson driving narrowly wide from 35 yards with a well hit swirling effort.
Mansfield we’re determined not to throw in the towel and set up a tense finish with two minutes remaining. Gary Roberts took hold of the game in the centre circle and found Meikle with an exquisite chip to the right for Meikle. The wing man fed Green into the box who held off the challenge of the crowded Newport defence before chipping to the back stick. Jake Speight timed his run well and headed powerfully into the net for his second of the match.
Stags 3-4 Newport
From then on in it was all Stags as Cox’s boys sensed a late and dramatic leveller in the season’s opening match. A trio of corner’s saw the visitors on the back foot and nearly concede, as the third corner picked out Luke Jones. The centre back made a delightful run but failed to get his dominant header on target.
Four minutes of added time were enough for the Stags to carry on attacking, the final chance coming when Lindon Meikle was tripped by Newport substitute Andrew Hughes just to the right of the box. The Stags sent everyone bar Marriott forward with only Meikle lurking on the edge of the box. Gary Roberts was set to deliver with Pilkington and Jones bouncing at the back stick – the defensive dup proved decoy as Roberts drilled perfectly low for Speight on the penalty spot. The hit man was denied a hat trick and hero status though as he fluffed his shot and allowed Newport to not only clear, but breathe again and run out winners by the skin of their teeth.
FULL TIME: Stags 3-4 Newport << Click here for Audio Highlights
A disappointing day at the office in the end but the fight shown in the second half was enough of a positive to out-way any negatives. With a squad which has a very strong depth, changes could happen as we head for Gateshead on Tuesday – would I like to see them? Maybe one or two for sure.
If you’re not heading for the Gateshead International Stadium on Tuesday, be sure to join myself and the returning Scott Rogers for full match commentary – build up gets underway at 7pm on Takeover Radio 106.9FM and via our MM-LIVE Page. Get your comments in about the Newport result to @mtfcmaters on Twitter, we’ll read them out during Tuesday’s build up – This is the show for the fans, by the fans.
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