Craig Priest writes…
Conference Champions Mansfield Town last night won the battle of the Champions against Conference North winners Chester. Richard Cooper and Adam Murray played the part of Judge and Jury in the absence of Paul Cox, whilst Nathan Arnold was the executioner – his 75th minute strike earning Stags’ their first win of pre-season.
Winger Arnold has been on trial with Cox’s men wince the start of pre-season and last night was the game for the management to make their mind up on him, his fate will ultimately be left to Murray, Cooper and chief scout Paul Ogden who also watched on as the manager stayed at home with his wife, who is expecting the arrival of their second child in the next few days.
Also on trial were strikers Jordan Robertson and Amari Morgan-Smith, the former netted in the 4-1 defeat at Worksop last week whilst the latter is on the lookout for a new club following his summer exit from Macclesfield – in honesty I dislike trialists after a certain point but would certainly have another look at the former Luton and Macc front man after an impressive game last night in the coveted number 10 shirt.
Defender Julian Kelly, formerly of Notts County, was on trial at right back but had a stinker – I guess the weight of expectation on his shoulders after Murray gave him a name change to Gary Kelly (Famous Leeds Utd right back) was too much to bare! Murray revealed before the match that he said “Gary Kelly” to the club secretary as a joke, which he and ultimately us in the press box, fell for – nice one Muzza!
Chester, to their own press’ admission, we’re under-par in terms of performance but did field the majority of the side which romped to the Conference North title – I was expecting Chester to provide a tough and physical test and have to say I was very disappointed by the blues. On the other hand though, I have to credit Mansfield’s professionalism and commitment, it was a dominant display from the Stags and included fine displays from Clements, Murtagh and George Pilkington who was called into the side late to replace Tafazolli who fell ill after the long journey.
Nathan Arnold also shone in his “make or break match” and came close to opening the scoring in under a minute as he latched onto Meikle’s flick to the left of the box, the narrow angle made it difficult to get a shot away however Arnold did, but failed to keep it down firing over the bar.
Arnold had another pop seven minutes later but this time was denied by Chester legend John Danby, again to the left of the box following a strong challenge by the otherwise absent Jordan Robertson.
At the other end Ian Deakin was counting his blessings that the match was a friendly as he made a strong challenge outside the box on Craig Mahon, a challenge that would have resulted in at least a booking in a competitive fixture. Chester ultimately wasted the resulting free kick, working it short and seeing it fade out for a Stags goal kick.
Mansfield looked the stronger of the two sides and came close again on twenty eight minutes as excellent footwork saw Lindon Meikle beat the Chester full back and cross into the middle for Morgan-Smith, the trialist front man his sweetly on the volley and saw his effort cannon behind for a corner, skipper for the night Ritchie Sutton nodded wide at the far post from Clements’ well weighted delivery.
The golden chance fell four minutes later as Stags split the Chester defence following Murtagh’s clearance, Nathan Arnold latched onto the ball and calmly rounded the on rushing Danby. Arnold needed to cut back inside to shoot and did, however Danby threw himself back up from the floor to block the vicious effort and deny Stags the opener.
Further efforts from Morgan-Smith and Arnold went astray before the break, Stags headed into the dressing room level, but not for the want of trying. The second half was the same story as Stags continued to dominate the match, Morgan-Smith saw an effort saved by Danby on 52 minutes from Arnold’s slotted pass before Meikle lofted in a great cross two minutes later – the cross sat up perfectly for the advancing Paul Black who sadly, couldn’t keep his half volley on target, blasting out of the ground and over the England-Wales border.
The game was going flat until the 75th minute when Murtagh embarked on a solo dominant gauntlet style run down the right hand side. He did well to beat Chester’s Kevin McIntyre before pulling the ball back for Arnold, who drove an effort into the bottom corner beyond the reach of Danby to give Stags the critical lead.
Arnold’s goal was pretty much the final piece of action in front of either goal, the final ten minutes dragged by before the full time whistle, Arnold’s strike wrapping up the Stags first win of pre-season.
FULL TIME: Chester 0-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS: 33 Ian Deakin, 2 Julian Kelly (TRIALIST) (19 Liam Marsden 82), 15 George Pilkington, 6 Ritchie Sutton ©, 3 Paul Black, 7 Lindon Meikle, 8 Chris Clements, 4 Keiran Murtagh, 11 Nathan Arnold (TRIALIST), 9 Jordan Robertson (TRIALIST) (14 Ben Hutchinson 60), 10 Amari Morgan-Smith (TRIALIST) (12 Jack Thomas 87)
UNUSED SUBS: Godfrey Poku, Chris Spencer (Youth Team), Jason Gregory, Harry Waldram (Youth Team GK), Evan Garnett (TRIALIST)
REFEREE: Rob Jones (Wirral)
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