Craig Priest Reports...
Fixture: York City V Mansfield Town
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier; Play-off semi-final leg one
Venue: Bootham Crescent
Date & Time: Wednesday 2nd May 2012 – 7.30pm
Attendance: 6,057 (1352)
Match Referee: Richard Clark
After the scheduled season had drawn to a close with a 3-0 win at Kidderminster on Saturday afternoon, our attentions soon turned to the play-off show down with York City. As the minutes, hours and days passed, nerves began to grow – I woke up yesterday morning in a cold swet, shivering and shaking like the weakest tree in a force ten gale, my stomach with more knots than a scout group’s guide rope and feeling sicker than a kid after too many Christmas Day sweats. The play-off fever had hit hard, I knew that come the end of the night we’d be closer to seeing if our remarkable run since the turn of the year would guide us to promotion – alas after a 1-1 draw we are still no closer to finding out our answers, setting up a tense second leg at the One Call Stadium on Monday and taking me, and no doubt the majority of you, to the verge of a nervous breakdown!
Last night’s game at Bootham Crescent was certainly a hotly contested one and not only do we spend the next few days wondering about the outcome of the final score line, but we wonder if Matt Green’s very dubious red card will be rescinded and also wait on the fitness of Martin Riley and Lindon Meikle, two of our most outstanding players over recent weeks.
In commentary last night, Scott Rogers myself and Wayne Briggs called the sending off of Green as silly on his part, having watched the video replay from various angles I can’t make my mind up as to whether Green did purposely handle and try to knock the ball past Ingham, or if he tried to get his hand out of the way – it looks different from every angle and as such poses the question what does Paul Cox do, risk the appeal being turned down and another game being added to the one game ban or accept footballing fate and rely on other members of his strike force such as Matt Rhead and Ben Hutchinson? Matt Green is a huge player and psychologically not having him in our 16 is a major blow, but on the flip side play-off games are unique in the fact that at any given moment, the unlikeliest of heroes can be born, it’s a tough call and one I’m glad I do not have to make.
Onto the injury worries, I have to say that when he first had a run in the side I wasn’t over impressed with Martin Riley, however since the turn of the year he’s settled in and has started the last 14 games (including last night’s trip to York), former a strong partnership with Exodus Geohaghon since his arrival at the club. If Riley is forced to miss out the dilemma is then about his replacement, is Danny Andrew the man to come in at left back with the outstanding Sutton to centre half or does Sutton remain in his now accustomed spot of left back and allow a return to centre half for John Thompson, whose torrid season of injury has limited him to only seven starts. Whoever the manager chooses will do a good job individually however they will have to learn quickly as neither Thompson nor Sutton have really played in a partnership with Geohaghon. In terms of Meikle he should be ok for Monday fingers crossed, he has proved a real key factor throughout the campaign with his attacking flare and skill but of late, I’ve been impressed with his ability to read the game which helps with the dynamic of how we play – do Smith or Briscoe offer the same, and could either of the two play as a wide striker in a forward three line which we started with last night?
Anyway the questions that are creating themselves here are just adding to cauldron of nerves really, I have total faith in our management team and indeed our squad, the depth of which sends a tingle down my spine when I compare it to previous MTFC sides – I don’t think I’ve ever seen us this strong or this powerful, that is a wonderful feeling to have in such a vital and pressurised competition.
As I wrote I my late night Chad Column straight after the game, for a while I didn’t think we we’re true to ourselves as we let the hosts dictate how we played for a while, that said when things we’re beginning to strain to much our character stepped up and our leader took the bull by the horns and got us playing on our terms, hats off to Adam Murray who defined the term captain to a tee last night, marshalling every move – on and off the ball, he’s missed a few games but has come back strong as ever fighting for the cause, fighting for the team he loves, fighting for the team WE love – following the dream of promotion.
We knew before the game that stats counted for nothing, that it would be the team that showed the more hunger, the more desire, the more aggression, passion and fight, rather than played the better football that would prevail. We knew that it would be a fight at every corner, proved with controversy and questionable decisions – it will be the same at the One Call Stadium Monday, the drama is what we live for – BRING IT ON.
Paul Cox swept the changes at the weekend and did the same again as we prepared to face York, only Luke O’Neill, Martin Riley and Gary Roberts retained their places in the starting eleven as eight changes were made. Shane Redmond, John Thompson, Danny Andrew, Louis Briscoe, Jon Worthington, Andy Todd, Lee Stevenson and Matt Rhead all missed out as Alan Marriott, Exodus Geohaghon, Ritchie Sutton, Adam Murray, Anthony Howell, Lindon Meikle, Ross Dyer and Matt Green all returned.
Line Up: Alan Marriott, Luke O’Neill, Martin Riley, Exodus Geohaghon, Ritchie Sutton, Anthony Howell, Adam Murray (C), Gary Roberts, Ross Dyer, Matt Green, Lindon Meikle.
Substitutes: Shane Redmond, Louis Briscoe, Lee Stevenson, Matt Rhead, Danny Andrew
In any game of such important nature, you’d expect the home side backed by a bumper support to come out fighting, that’s exactly what happened as the hosts grabbed the first corner of the game less than a minute in, Martin Riley the man to make an inch perfect sliding intervention followed a lofted ball from the back. Patrick McLaughlin whipped in a strong set piece from the right hand side which Chris Doig connected with, heading over at the back post.
York’s bright start continued and after a second corner on two minutes, it was Matty Blair trying to stretch the game on the right hand side a minute later, left back Ritchie Sutton had other ideas and stood firm to deny Blair. The pressure pendulum swung the other way on five minutes as Exodus Geohaghon launched in two consecutive throws from either side before Matt Green was flagged offside two minutes later.
The Stags then took hold of the game on the ten minute mark and began to play the frightening football which saw them surge into the play-offs, Luke O’Neill turned his marker well at right back to launch a directional ball over the top for Matt Green, the 30 goal front man held up on the right against Jamal Fyfield before teeing up Ross Dyer for a cross – James Meredith got a block in and the hosts cleared the resulting throw.
Four minutes later the night got its first controversial moment, Adam Murray, playing in a holding midfield role alongside Howell as Stags dropped into a 4-2-3-1, intercepted a York attack well and sent a delightful ball over the top for Lindon Meikle to chase. Minster men shot stopper Michael Ingham raced off his line to collect the loose ball, seemingly handling outside the box before stepping back inside the area. Referee Richard Clark was having none of it despite appeals from every Mansfield player and some of the York bench turning away expecting the worse.
Murray was involved again on 16 minutes sparking another attack with a wonderful clearing pass from the edge of his own box to the left wing. Lindon Meikle drove forwards against former Stags man Jon Challinor who back heeled a clearance straight to the advancing Howell who’d covered ground well. Former Alfreton man Howell whipped a ball in however the home defence regrouped and scrambled clear.
Two minutes later the Stags we’re forced into a change as the impressive Martin Riley went down injured, physio Ian Pearce signalled for an immediate change, Danny Andrew replaced a distraught Riley, slotting in at left back with Sutton moving to centre half alongside Geohaghon. At the other end on twenty minutes Lindon Meikle’s cross field ball was intercepted by Chris Smith, however the ex-stag gave possession straight to Geohaghon who in turn found Roberts on the left hand side. It was the creative midfielder that provided the assist, delivering a teasing ball into the middle for Anthony Howell who nodded marginally wide of the post.
With the Stags defence still disorganised following the loss of Riley, the hosts thought they’d grabbed the advantage on 22 minutes. Exodus Geohaghon made a silly challenge on Danny Parslow, McLaughlin floated in the resulting free kick which was bundled in by Matty Blair after Marriott had completely missed the ball, the Stags shot stopper was given a let-off as York’s joy was short lived, the off-side straight up on the near side.
Two minutes later another York corner led to a Stags chance as McLaughlin’s delivery for the hosts was poor, Matt Green cleared from the edge of his own box and ran forward before finding Meikle who covered ground at pace. Meikle then pulled play back into the middle finding Roberts who went down right on the edge of the box, Luke O’Neill hit the resulting free kick but it lacked imagination and conviction, rising over the bar and out of the ground.
The deadlock was finally broken on 26 minutes as the Stags took the lead. Adam Murray controlled play well in the centre circle before feeding Meikle, back on the right, his forceful run earned a throw which the Stags used to perfection. Changing the trajectory from a looping back spin to a flat bullet, Geohaghon added another assist to his name, his throw finding Ross Dyer at the front post, the former Forest Green man guided the ball beyond a static Ingham into the bottom corner to send the travelling support into raptures.
York 0-1 Stags
The game then saw two moments of controversy in as many minutes as the hosts looked for a response straight from the restart. Parslow’s crisp pass through the middle saw Matty Blair advancing into the area, Ritchie Sutton smashed clear before Blair auditioned for a place in the Olympic diving squad, the referee waved away the appeals but stopped the game as Sutton and Blair went face to face. Play restarted and Marriott’s lofted ball down field dropped to Matt Green just over the half way line, Chris Smith charged across and lunged in with both feet, getting nothing of the ball and leaving Green needing treatment, the former Stags man who made 15 consecutive starts and the beginning of the last campaign before being sent out on loan to his current club York, received just a booking for his challenge. Luke O’Neill floated a fine free kick into the mix, Ross Dyer headed back into the area from the left, finding Gary Roberts in the air whose goal bound header was kept out well by Ingham.
At the other end Gary Roberts was disposed by Jason Walker 30 yards from his own goal, dangerous hit man Walker found Ashley Chambers who saw his well hit effort palmed away by Marriott. Four minutes later Chris Smith looked to build from the back finding Blair who turned play quickly back into the middle for McLaughlin, it was he who opted for goal – failing to keep his effort down the ball whizzed out for a goal kick.
With five minutes to go before the break Gary Roberts launched a long ball over the top for Matt Green gave chase too, Michael Ingham raced out and the duo clashed, Green was the one penalised, picking up a booking for a high boot. Two minutes later the hosts we’re level as miscommunication again proved the Stags down fall. Jon Challinor linked up with Matty Blair down the right, the former cutting past Danny Andrew and delivering into the middle, Alan Marriott should have come to collect however he was beaten to the ball by Geohaghon who bundled into his own net.
York 1-1 Stags
The goal had shaken the Stags and rallied the hosts, who pressed on looking for a second. Geohaghon missed timed his jump to clear the quick off, Alan Marriott had to back pedal to keep out Chambers’ looping effort. With two minutes to go before the break, the hosts missed a glorious chance to take the lead, a fast paced 1-2 interchange between Walker and Blair saw the former in space inside the area, with 18 goals to his name he missed the chance to grab number 19 of his season, dragging wide of Marriott’s goal.
Into added time of the first half it was the Stags who registered two chances in as many minutes, first Geohaghon launched in another bullet which fell for Matt Green, the leading front man connected weakly and allowed the hosts to clear. Lindon Meikle then intercepted a York clearance and drove forwards down the right hand side, his attempted cross cannoned back to him, the resulting shot was over the bar for a goal kick, the two sides ending the first quarter of the two-legged semi-final on level terms.
HALF TIME York 1-1 Stags
Both sides had chances to grab the early second half advantage, Anthony Howell and Matt Green played a neat 1-2 on 48 minutes, however Howell was denied by Ingham who released play quickly allowing the hosts to counter. Matty Blair made ground but failed to finish the job, firing straight at an alert Marriott from the edge of the box. A minute later the Stags played a really smart move, again sparked by Adam Murray who was phenomenal in the middle. The Mansfield skippers low pass sent Ross Dyer on his way down the right hand side, an acute turn saw Jamal Fyfield beaten, Dyer then squared for Green who agonisingly blazed over from the edge of the box with a first time effort despite a pocket of space to his right, had he taken a touch.
Gary Roberts then slid in well on McLaughlin on 51 setting another Stags move, Matt Green picked up the loose ball finding the hungry Anthony Howell whose forceful effort was again palmed away by Ingham. Two minutes later Mansfield we’re left shell shocked at their failure to score with a truly epic goal mouth scramble. Luke O’Neill’s deep free kick was the starting flame, Ross Dyer headed down into the mix, a blur of Amber and Red followed two yards from goal before York cleared, only as far as Geohaghon who’d back peddled to the right hand side of the box. The big defender skipped the challenge of three before seeing his ferocious cross deflect behind for a corner, Luke O’Neill’s delivery was easily cleared and Danny Andrew had to take one for the team as McLaughlin burst down the left, Andrew charged across to slam the ball out of play and picked up a booking as he caught the York man.
Just past the hour mark Matt Green was piling on the pressure as he drove forward, Chris Doig stood firm and play went on despite Green’s appeal for a free kick. Jason Walker charged through the middle but failed to beat last man standing Ritchie Sutton, who made a tackle worthy of a place in the premier league.
The games goal mouth action then went quiet for a prolonged spell as the midfield battle intensified, Jamal Fyfield upended the advancing Luke O’Neill on 65 minutes but remarkably escaped a second yellow card, there were bookings for James Meredith on 69 minutes and Gary Roberts a minute later.
The card count was becoming high and there was no surprise to see a red be shown with 16 minutes remaining, there was a surprise at the player and incident however – Matt Green gave chase to a long ball and as Ingham advanced, was judged to have knocked the ball into space with his hand. TV Replays what I’ve seen since have proved inconclusive, however others that have studied the footage in more depth say that Green was moving his hand out of the way and that the referee was wrong to show the hit man a second yellow and reduce the Stags to ten men.
Naturally York with the man advantage upped the ante in search of the advantage, crosses from Matty Blair, Jon Challinor and James Meredith we’re all defended well before the Stags made a second change, introducing Briscoe for Meikle who appeared to be moving uneasily. With six minutes to go Briscoe played a huge part in a Stags move which should have seen them ahead, charging down the right flank Briscoe fed Ross Dyer who held up well looking for support. Anthony Howell made his way into the box but Dyer’s cross was plucked out of the air by Ingham ahead of Howell. From Ingham’s kick down field the hosts we’re awarded a free kick on the edge of the Stags box, Patrick McLaughlin’s delivery was headed away as far as Challinor who hit a sweet volley wide of the target from 30 yards.
With a minute to go Jon Challinor had appeals for a penalty turned down after he went down easily in the area from Walker’s reverse pass before Gary Roberts linked up with Dyer a minute into the four added. Roberts’ central sprayed the ball wide right for Dyer who, after turning pas Fyfield should have drilled one into the middle for the advancing Briscoe, however Dyer got the connection wrong and a pass intended for the penalty spot spun back to the edge of the box for an un-expecting Roberts, which in turn allowed York to clear.
Matt Rhead then replaced Dyer heading away a corner before holding play up at the other end, in the dying seconds it was York with the final say – substitute Adriano Moke received Ashley Chambers’ pass but fired straight at Marriott who held on and cleared to the sound of the full time whistle, the teams level as Monday’s second leg approaches!
FULL TIME: York 1-1 Stags Full Audio Below with myself, Scott & Wayne...
The second leg will be a tight affair and the Stags will have to wait on the fitness of Riley and Meikle plus the fate of Matt Green. Before the game I’d have defiantly taken a draw, whilst you want to head into a home game with an aggregate lead a draw is just as good, especially when you consider our home record and phenomenal support.
If you can’t get to the second leg on Monday or are going but want to listen along and calm the nerves, tune yourselves into 106.9FM or get on our MM-LIVE page, myself, Scott Rogers and Wayne Briggs are live from 12.30pm with extended highlights from Wednesday’s first leg plus lots more!
I’m feeling nervous again, but hey that’s part of the fun right?! These next few days will be interesting to say the least – let’s keep believing, keep that support coming and not let the occasion get the better of us, it’s time to be brave, it’s time to be heroes.
COME ON YOU STAGS
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