Craig Priest Reports...
Fixture: Mansfield Town V Ebbsfleet United
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #41)
Venue: Field Mill
Date & Time: Saturday 31st March 2012 – 3pm
Attendance: 2630 (55)
Match Referee: Tony Harrington (Hartlepool)
Over the past few weeks I’ve sat here and written about witnessing history, watching fast paced energetic games, seeing demolitions and much, much more – realistically it was only a matter of time before this day would arrive, as I sit here and write about a dull, lacklustre rather lethargic and timid game. But do you know what? I don’t care that that’s the case, at the end of the day we won 1-0, picked up another vital three points and again distanced ourselves from the chasing pack – there’s nothing more I’d have asked for at the start of the day, because at this stage of the season – it’s results that count.
Sorry for using the old footballing cliché, but in this instance it’s the reality of one of the oldest football sound bites which, in five games time, could be the difference between a play-off spot and another season outside the football league.
You can argue that a champion, a team worthy of promotion, should go out week in week out, knock the ball around like Barca, try to entertain and smash in goal after goal after goal, but honestly – for me, there’s something appealing about a team that doesn’t have the best of afternoons, but still digs deep to find a victory – that inner fight is a stronger weapon, a more forceful power than any team who try and dress this beautiful, yet often ugly, game up in ribbons and pretty colours.
Hard work reaps rewards and yet again we have our reward – roll on next Saturday’s trip to Kettering so we can build on it once more.
Anything could have happened yesterday and anything can still happen, our fate is not set in stone, whilst we can no longer rise higher than third, we can still drop dramatically to 11th there’s five game left to go, a lot of twists and turns.
Our next three games see us face relegation threatened teams in Kettering (23rd), Stockport (19th) and Hayes & Yeading (21st) I believe these three fixtures will be the toughest we will play for a very long time. Whilst we of course are looking to cement our play-off place, teams fighting the drop in the final month, often find that extra energy, that extra bit of fire – you know what happens when you play with fire right?
As I’ll write in more depth later in the week, Paul Cox won’t let arrogance sneak in, nor will he let complacency sneak through the door – what I am saying is, don’t see yesterday’s performance or the way it went as a one off, over the next three games, I think they’ll undoubtedly be a timidness, a frustrating spell and, as with Ebbsfleet, a heart in mouth spell on the back foot that we will have to deal with.
We must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
Anyway, I said I’ll write more about that in the coming days – let’s switch our attention back to yesterday’s 1-0 victory over Ebbsfleet United at Field Mill before shelving it in the banks of memory and preparing for the final countdown, cue dramatic music!
Paul Cox made two changes to the side that we’re beaten by league leaders Fleetwood in the glorious sunshine last weekend, after a fine string of seven consecutive starts Anthony Howell made for the bench as Louis Briscoe returned, Lindon Meikle also missed out as Adam Smith made his first start in six, after recovering from a back injury he picked up against Lincoln.
Line Up: Alan Marriott, Luke O’Neill, Exodus Geohaghon, Martin Riley, Ritchie Sutton, Louis Briscoe (Howell), Gary Roberts, Adam Murray (C), Adam Smith (Meikle), Matt Green, Ross Dyer.
Substitutes: Shane Redmond, Matt Rhead, Anthony Howell, Lindon Meikle, Danny Andrew.
Giving credit to Liam Daish’s side, they defended fairly well from the off as a unit, plonking two banks of four in their own half in a gladiators gauntlet style, not allowing Mansfield much room to create many chances. You got the sense even from an early stage that the game wouldn’t produce many goals or ‘pretty’ moments.
Two minutes in Adam Smith got his first touch as he tried to force his way down the left hand side, his eventual cross was headed away by Craig Stone for a throw in, who in turn smashed away Exodus Geohaghon’s first bullet throw of the afternoon. The Stags mopped up the clearance well and kept the ball with O’Neill, Murray and Marriott however despite the host’s early possession, no early reward came.
On four minutes Mansfield built from the back as Martin Riley’s left footed lofted clearance was worked between Smith and Dyer on the left hand side, Smith then burst off the wing to the edge of the box before feeding Dyer a final time. Closed down quickly, the burly front man did well to find Gary Roberts who scored twice in the reverse fixture at Stonebridge Road, his driven effort cannoned off an amber shirt to see Adam Smith flagged offside.
Stags wingman Smith then had the ball in the back of the net three minutes later as Exodus Geohaghon launched in another long throw. Matt Green provided the assist for Smith who didn’t celebrate, as Green was penalized for a high boot, the goal ruled out and the scores still level at 0-0.
Adam Murray then looked like he would have to be substituted on nine minutes after chipping the ball wide right to Louis Briscoe. The Mansfield captain was limping with the reoccurrence of his ankle injury but soon ran off the pain chasing the ball down after Briscoe’s poor left footed half volleyed cross was easily cleared.
The Stags then had Alan Marriott to thank on 14 minutes as Ebbsfleet had the hosts stretching. Craig Stone did well to keep the ball alive for the visitors on the right hand side, putting in a forceful cross which Neil Barrett flicking up into the air at the far post, Nathaniel Pinney rose highest and glanced a tame header towards goal – Alan Marriott was then forced to tip the ball onto the bar before collecting at the second attempt.
A succession of corners for the visitors on 18 minutes saw them keep possession for a while to no effect before Mansfield registered their best chance of the half two minute later, following another spell of Ebbsfleet pressure. Adam Murray was the one who set the move alight, defending resiliently to mop up the second ball from Luke O’Neill’s cushioned defensive header at right back. The Stags skipper emulated the range of midfielder partner Roberts’ passing with a fine ball down the right channel which caught The Fleet at sea, allowing Matt Green to ghost in. The leading front man, searching for his 27th of the season, had Dyer arriving in the middle but opted for the venomous driven shot, which Ebbsfleet shot stopper Lance Cronin did well to palm away.
Martin Riley was then a lick of paint away from putting the Stags in the driving seat on 24 minutes. It all stemmed from an initial Exodus Geohaghon throw on the right hand side, which was scrambled clear by Paul Lorraine. Adam Murray picked up the second ball and chipped back to the edge of the area where Martin Riley flicked wide to Louis Briscoe. The Stags wingman did well under pressure from Ross Smith, flicking the ball up into the air back inside from the goal line before volleying a cross into the middle. Martin Riley made the advancing run and connected beautifully, however the centre half who scored his first goal at Alfreton 10 days ago, saw his header bounce the wrong way off the post for a goal kick.
Adam Murray continued to battle for the hosts in the midfield and was finally awarded a free kick on 32 minutes following a foul by Neil Barrett. Luke O’Neill delivered a better ball into the box which Matt Green headed over following Ross Dyer’s precise headed flick on. Four minutes later the visitors were awarded a free kick of their own however Alan Marriott collected with real ease and sent the Stags on the counter. Finding Ross Dyer in the centre the Stags keeper’s ball was then moved wide for Louis Briscoe, after beating his marker the Stags winger, who grabbed a hat-trick in the last home fixture, got too much on the final cross which drifted harmlessly away for a goal kick.
Gary Roberts was then upended two minutes before the break earning the Stags a free kick, Martin Riley headed wide from O’Neill’s delivery meaning the scores remained level at the break.
Half Time: Stags 0-0 Ebbsfleet
Despite early Ebbsfleet pressure in the second half it was the Stags who again had the first real sight of goal. Louis Briscoe forced a corner after a strong run down the right hand side. Luke O’Neill was prevented from taking the set-piece initially as the referee was called over by his linesman on the far side – after a prolonged chat, Mr Harrington booked both Green and Ebbsfleet Skipper Paul Lorraine although what for remains one of football’s biggest mysteries! As play got back underway Ritchie Sutton made a fine unchallenged run to the front post, where he connected with O’Neill’s corner, nodding into the side netting.
Louis Briscoe was net to spark a Stags chance on 52, chipping in a cross from deep towards Matt Green who held play up well before feeding Briscoe again. A first time cross aimed for Dyer fell for Roberts to the left of the area, good skill followed before his attempted low cross deflected off Stone for another corner which proceeded to drift out for a goal kick.
Danny Andrew then replaced Ritchie Sutton at left back on 56 minutes and a minute later, watched on as Martin Riley made a splendid sliding tackle inside the area to deny the on rushing Nathaniel Pinney following a 1-2 with Michael West. The danger again linger from the resulting corner as West’s delivery put the Stags under pressure – a forceful header from Paul Lorraine again brought Marriott into action palming the ball away, Martin Riley completed the clearance with a big boot down park.
Matt Rhead then entered the fray on 58 minutes and was in action straight away, flicking the ball on forcefully into the middle from Gary Roberts lofted pass. However as the keeper collected it was the visitors who registered half a chance. Good combination play between Neil Barrett and Michael West saw the latter fire tamely wide from 30 yards out, before Lindon Meikle replaced Briscoe on the left.
Danny Andrew demonstrated his dead ball ability well on 67 after Adam Murray was fouled on the half way line. A perfect delivery found Ross Dyer at the back post, but Mansfield’s luck in front of goal refused to change as the front man headed wide.
Mansfield continued to pressure and on 72 minutes put together a neat piece of combination attacking football through O’Neill, Dyer, Rhead and Green. It was Dyer that did most of the hard work picking up play from O’Neill’s pass on the right, after cutting inside he fed Green whose attempted 1-2 with strike partner Rhead was scrambled clear by Michael West.
Ten minutes later the Stags finally broke the deadlock in determined style, breaking down the previously strong two banks of four the visitors had set. The initial move started with a launched Geohaghon throw down the left hand side from his own half which found Gary Roberts in the middle via the heads of Dyer and Rhead. The creative midfielder had Meikle to the left and Green through the middle, opting for the latter, the Stags were suddenly through on goal however several Ebbsfleet shirts blocked Green’s path and scrambled clear. Skipper Adam Murray then played a key part with a vital tackle on Neil Barrett to win back possession 30 from goal. Murray sent the pass through to Green who, on the edge of the box, opened up his body and fired into the bottom corner through a crowd of players to give his side the vital goal.
Stags 1-0 Ebbsfleet
The visitors attempted a late comeback but the Stags did well to hold them at bay. In the final minute of four added on they should have added a second. The intention was for Rhead to hold the ball up in the corner flag from O’Neill’s right sided throw however the tricky full back had ran forward into space and received the ball back from Rhead who battled against three. After turning his marker, O’Neill fired a shot wide of the target on his left foot.
The full time whistle soon followed after Craig Stone had launched a long throw down the right hand side looking for one final chance.
Full Time: Stags 1-0 Ebbsfleet << Click here for audio highlights, commentary from Craig Priest
As I said at the top of the piece it was far from the best performance or game in terms of chances, you can use the term lethargic, timid and lacklustre to describe it but at the end of the day, it’s pointless because it’s all about the result and that’s exactly what the Stags got. A late strike from Julian Owusu at Haig Avenue gifted Hayes & Yeading a win over Southport, doing us a huge favour putting the sandgrounders four points behind us as the final five games approach.
Can you feel it yet? That tingling, that nervousness, that treble speed heartbeat? I can, and I’m loving it! Next up it’s a trip to relegation threatened Kettering, if you can’t get, be sure to join myself and Scott Rogers for full match commentary on 106.9FM and MM-LIVE from 2pm.
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