Craig Priest reports....
Fixture: Hednesford Town V Mansfield Town
Competition: Pre-Season Friendly (#2)
Venue: Keys Park, Hednesford
Date & Time: Tuesday 17th July – 7.30pm
Match Referee: M D’Aguilar
Now two games into our pre-season schedule, we are still no closer to figuring out what Paul Cox’s preferred eleven is as last night he again opted to field two different sides, very similar to those who took on Leamington on Saturday. However the fact we still have no clear picture on what side will start the season doesn’t bother me, these warm up matches are all about finding the key, whether it be the key partnership, the key set piece movement or the key to the ground – oh sorry that’s just for me and James Williamson who came very close to being locked inside Keys Park last night!
That’s another story for another day as I sit here and reflect on what was another tough test for the Stags against strong opposition who have achieved a play-off finish in the last three seasons.
Again there were those that stood out and areas that didn’t but in general things had stepped up a level in the improvement stakes which is pleasing, as I’ll write in the Shepshead preview later it will be interesting to see some of those yet to feature get a run out and then things begin to build on Friday at Gainsborough.
Back to last night’s game and after enjoying a peaceful build up to the game it was soon kick off time without a team sheet, fortunately Paul Cox as ever was on hand to give me the team, after trying to claim we had Steve Messi on trial – I will never fall for that, not after last time anyway!
As mentioned it was two sides taking to the park, the first half side was the second half team from Leamington bar one as Anthony Howell came in for Jamie Tolley, who took his place in the other eleven.
FIRST HALF LINE UP [4-3-1-2] Alan Marriott – Andy Todd – Luke Jones – George Pilkington (C) – Andy Owens – Chris Clements – Anthony Howell – Jamie Hand – Lee Stevenson – Matt Green – Matt Rhead
Once again it took a while for Stags to settle into the game with the lively hosts applying early pressure three minutes in. Andy Todd’s looping clearance was controlled well by former pitmen star Chris Clements on the half way line however he gave possession away with a misplaced pass and allowed his former employers to attack down the left flank. The initial cross was two deep but the Stags hesitance allowed Hednesford to put another square ball to the edge of the box, fortunately the snap shot from the Hednesford man was over the top of Marriott’s bar.
Four minutes later it was the Stags on the charge after Alan Marriott had collected a deep free kick from the hosts. His quick release down field was headed away but picked up y the assured Todd who chipped a well weighted pass over for Matt Green, the nippy front man raced onto the ball and rounded the onrushing keeper however the move was brought to an end as Stevenson volleyed the loose ball wide for offside against Green.
End to end action then followed on 12 minutes as the Stags failed to make the most of an Andy Owen long throw. The looping ball was flicked up into the air by Rhead before both Stevenson and Green saw shots blocked. Hednesford played the ball out of trouble in quick fashion and soon outnumbered the Stags on the attack, a cross park ball had Mansfield stretched however George Pilkington, who donned the captain’s armband for the evening, read the situation well and mopped up with a strong clearance.
With time ticking on Mansfield began to control things a lot more in the Hednesford half and on 16 minutes registered another effort following a strong flowing move left to right with Jamie Hand getting the ball wide for the advancing Todd. Despite his cross being a poor one he still picked out Lee Stevenson ho kept possession well to the right of the box before finding Clements central. It was the former Hednesford man that then struck, his effort landing narrowly over the bar from 18 yards.
Two minutes later the first goal did arrived as the long throw proved affective once more. Lee Stevenson earned the throw on the left hand side and it was he who converted, Andy Ownes provided the danger from the left with Matt Rhead nodding into space for Pilkington who got the faintest of touches to Stevenson, the former Eastwood man watched the flight of the ball well and stuck left footed into the bottom left hand corner for the Stags first of the evening.
Hednesford 0-1 Stags
Three minutes after the restart the Stags had opportunity for a second when Anthony Howell won possession back on the half way line. Chris Clements picked up the second ball and clipped a ball to Green who dropped off the defenders shoulder well to remain onside inside the box. The hit man who bagged the winner at Leamington on Saturday pulled the trigger with venom but was denied by the keeper who got down low to keep the drilled effort at bay.
Crane could do nothing two minutes later as another Owens throw, this time from the right, caused all sorts of problems. Matt Rhead was a menace inside the area moving away from two markers to connect with the ball, thundering his header against the bar before the hosts scrambled away for a corner. Chris Clements delivered well to the back stick where Andy Owens had opportunity for a shot following Jones’ knock down, the left back failed to keep his shot down though and blazed over.
Matt Rhead showed good composure to progress through the middle from Howell’s low pass before curling narrowly over on 24 minutes, roles we’re reversed three minutes later as Rhead battled well on the left to fend off his marker and deliver into the middle. Anthony Howell was furthest forward unmarked inside the box but failed to find the target, side footing wide.
As the first half moved into the final three minutes, numerous Hednesford crosses put Mansfield under the cosh, George Pilkington and Andy Todd the two on hand to rescue the Stags and maintain that one goal lead as the half time whistle blew.
The linkup between Green, Stevenson and Rhead particularly impressive with Rhead again looking agile and beneficial of the move from part time to full time football, at the other end Luke Jones and George Pilkington again played well together with Jamie Hand having a quieter game than Saturday but still influencing many of the first half moves.
HALF TIME: Hednesford 0-1 Stags
Once again it was all change at the break as Paul Cox fielded the side bar two that started against Leamington, Louis Briscoe and Ben Hutchinson the ones to miss out.
SECOND HALF LINE UP [4-3-3]: Shane Redmond – Lee Beevers – John Dempster – Ritchie Sutton – Sam Benjamin (Trialist) – Gary Roberts – Jamie Tolley – Godfrey Poku – Ross Dyer – Lindon Meikle – Nick Wright
Good movement from Meikle saw the second half begin as he earned a throw in following the flick from Ross Dyer, however the Stags failed to register a chance from the resulting throw with the second half two minutes old.
Three minutes later good movement from Nick Wright, on the left of the front three, opened up space which he moved into. With Dyer and Meikle in support for a threaded pass into the box Wright opted for glory and saw his shot cannon away off the Hednesford man – Jamie Tolley was first to the loose ball some thirty yards from goal, thundering an effort into the top corner with his right boot, a wonderful finish to double the lead for the Stags.
Hednesford 0-2 Stags
The hosts had opportunity to get a goal back two minute after the restart earning a corner, however Shane Redmond was more than equal to it and collected with ease. Nick Wright was then looking hungry at the other end linking up with Meikle, the latter’s chipped return pass a little too strong with an hour on the clock.
Shane Redmond was the more tested keeper in the second half, and he was the hero with seven minutes to go as John Dempster gave away a free kick 23 yards from goal. Redmond sprang across to his left to tip over the goal bound set piece.
Gary Roberts, Nick Wright, Ross Dyer and Lindon Meikle all registered efforts as the clock ticked down but none were close enough to effect the game, the Stags keeping hold of their two goal cushion by controlling the ball well in the middle and keeping play flowing.
FULL TIME: Hednesford 0-2 Stags
The second half may have been light in chances but it did again prove a worthwhile 45 minutes of football, Shane Redmond one of the standout performers – he looks to have returned with a refreshed mid set and looks capable of fighting for the number one shirt. Jamie Tolley and Gary Roberts did ok together with Poku the most impressive of the trio in my opinion, several strong challenges were key to winning possession back for Stags.
After the game as I mentioned at the top of the piece myself and James we’re nearly locked inside the stadium, escape through the boardroom was on hand though and it’s next stop Shepshed as the busy pre-season schedule continues – stay tuned for the match preview!
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