Craig Priest Reports...
Fixture: Hayes & Yeading United Vs Mansfield Town
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier (Game#44)
Venue: Kingfield Stadium (Woking)
Date & Time: Saturday 14th April 2012
Attendance: 487 (Away unknown as no segregation was in place – approx 350)
Match Referee: Andy Davies
You know if you’d have asked me back in December could the Stags get in the play-offs, even with my most optimistic hats on I’d have said it’d be a be a big ask and that we’d need to make a few changes and work our socks off. In fairness we’ve made those changes, assuring the services of leading front man Matt Green on a permanent basis as well as adding quality to the ranks with the likes of Gary Roberts and Matt Rhead. We’ve more than worked our socks off too, picking up 14 wins, three draws and just two defeats since the turn of the year – rising from 9th (New Years Day) to 3rd, sealing our deserved place in the end of the season play-offs with a 3-1 victory over Hayes and Yeading United at the Kingfield Stadium yesterday afternoon.
Out climb has been wonderful and we should be proud of what the lads have achieved so far, anyone wanting to achieve anything in life should use Mansfield Town FC as an example, keep working throughout the rough patches, concentrate on what you’re doing and repeat the feat on a consistent basis and you will begin to feel the benefit and, hopefully, reap the final reward. That said, we as a club have won absolutely nothing yet and if we thought sealing our play-off spot was tough – we’ve seen nothing yet, as getting through the semi’s and to Wembley for a second time in as many seasons, will require one hell of a fight – bring it on!
The obvious discussions start now as to what Paul Cox does for the final two games against teams we’re undoubtedly going to become well acquainted with over the next month, second placed Wrexham and Fourth placed Kidderminster. Our spot is secured and only Luton and York can mathematically knock us from 3rd – a point from out last two games would be enough to seal third spot and the home advantage in the second leg – so with that in mind do you leave the likes of Murray, Roberts, Geohaghon, Green etc out so they don’t pick up injuries or suspensions? I know what I’d do and I’ll share my thoughts later in the week and I know Paul Cox isn’t daft, but on the other hand with two games against potential play-off rivals, will we field full strength sides just to see how we measure up against them? It’s a tough call, one I’m glad I don’t have to make – good luck gaffer!
If sealing a play-off spot wasn’t enough, there are a couple of other little achievements we’ve made following yesterday’s win. The three points which sealed our play-off spot yesterday also saw us clock up our 10th away win of the season, something last achieved in the 1991/92 season when we finished third to gain automatic promotion from the old division four. With one away game left, picking up 11 victories on the road is also achievable, a feat reached only twice before (as far as I can see anyway, forgive my noviceness if I’m wrong) in the 1976/77 old division three title winning season and in the 1974/75 old division four title winning season. Of course we’ve come mightily close to reaching double figures in our away wins column down the years, for example we’ve clocked up eight away wins in the past two seasons and hit nine in our last play-off reaching campaign in 2003/04, however the away losses column over shadowed our wins, so when was the last time Mansfield won more away from home than they lost away from home? *Pause for dramatic effect* ... It was the 1994/95 campaign, we clocked up eight wins to seven defeats away from home – so in contrast this seasons ten victories to just four defeats is brilliant, I don’t know for certain but I’d be willing to gamble on it being one of our best seasons ever on the road – statto’s its over to you.
The next impressive feat is the fact getting three points yesterday means we have a new record for the most points collected in total during a season since the points scoring became three for a win rather than two. Our previous high total was set in the 1985-86 campaign, finishing third again gaining automatic promotion from the old division four, our end of season points total was 81 – Paul Cox’s class of 2011/12 have racked up 83 and could finish on 89 should they beat both Wrexham and Kidderminster in the coming matches – happy days.
Away from stats which we should be proud of, let’s look back on yesterday’s game as we sealed our play-off fate. Paul Cox made four changes to the side which defeated Stockport County 2-1 at the One Call Stadium on Monday – Louis Briscoe, Adam Smith, Matt Rhead and skipper Adam Murray missed out, Ross Dyer, Lindon Meikle, Ben Hutchinson and Gary Roberts came in with Alan Marriott donning the skippers armband for the fifth time this season.
Line Up: Alan Marriott (C), Luke O’Neill, Exodus Geohaghon, Martin Riley, Ritchie Sutton, Ross Dyer (Briscoe), Gary Roberts (Murray), Anthony Howell, Lindon Meikle (Smith), Ben Hutchinson (Rhead), Matt Green.
Substitutes: Shane Redmond, Jon Worthington, Louis Briscoe, Matt Rhead, Danny Andrew.
On a tough pitch made up of long grass and several cut up areas, Mansfield knew they’d have to be cleaver when playing it on the floor and adapted their game fairly well in the opening exchanges. With just thirty seconds on the clock Luke O’Neill’s long ball from the back was flicked on by Ross Dyer but only for a throw to the hosts which in turn led to a Mansfield throw just inside their own half. Exodus Geohaghon launched one from the half way line to the edge of the box where Ross Dyer cushioned the ball on for front man Matt Green, the search for goal number 29 of his season would have to continue though as the offside flag was raised almost too quickly.
With three minutes on the clock Mansfield kept up the early pressure with a well worked more sparked by Gary Roberts. In the centre of the park a neat turn saw the creative midfielder send a delightful ball to the right hand side where Ross Dyer held up under pressure from ex-stag Dan Spence. Dyer eventually got support from the advancing O’Neill however the full backs cross was far too deep and drifted out for a throw. At the other end a minute later Martin Riley git himself in a tiz as his attempted smash downfield just looped up in the air and landed for the hosts Daniel Wishart, who drove forward and earned a corner. Jamie Hand’s deliver was tame and the Stags we’re able to clear their lines.
Prior to the game the Stags we’re the third highest goal scorers from the top division down to the conference, on five minutes they netted their 80th goal of the season after a fine flowing move. Ben Hutchinson, making his first start since the 5-2 win over Darlington, started the move in a central position, picking up play and sending Matt Green on his way down the left channel with a fine crisp pass. Green then did the rest with a dominant drive forward into the area, drawing defenders to him and creating space for others, Anthony Howell made the run off the ball to arrive in space and rewarded Green and Hutchinson’s hard work by tucking home left footed into the bottom corner from Greens well weighted tee up.
Hayes and Yeading 0-1 Stags
Six minutes later the travelling Stags had another opportunity to delight the travelling faithful who without doubt outnumber the home supporters dotted around the ground in a ‘Where’s Wally’ type sketch. A long ball down park in search of Dyer was headed away by Dan Spence, however goal scorer Anthony Howell nipped into collect the second ball and send Green on his way forward. A neat switch of play from central right to wide left followed from Green and saw Lindon Meikle take control, nipping past his markers into the area before teeing up Hutchinson. The former Middlesbrough striker who scored the winner in the reverse fixture at Field Mill failed to keep his shot down and fired into the stand behind the goal.
From the resulting goal kick the Stags were trotting forward once again, Lindon Meikle did well to read the game on the half way line, controlling Steve Arnold’s poor kick, nipping inside under pressure from Jamie Hand before sending Matt Green on his way just to the left of the box. The on fire front man beat the offside trap and the keeper, however the ball nestled in the side netting rather than in the back of the net, meaning the search for goal 29 would have to continue a little while longer.
The hosts then gave Mansfield another scare as the game approached the 20 minute mark, a free kick from deep following a foul by Ritchie Sutton on the advancing Sam Argent saw Jamie Hand whip a strong ball in from the right hand side. Paul Cox’s men who have only conceded 23 times on the road this season, the best goals against (away) in all the conference seasons, stood firm and eventually scrambled clear the looming danger.
Six minutes later another golden chance presented itself at the other end, Ritchie Sutton’s clearance after an O’Neill free kick from deep was cleared saw the set piece taking full back on his way down the right once more. Upended by Tom Cadmore right on the edge of the box, Mansfield we’re awarded a free kick which Gary Roberts stepped up to take whilst O’Neill received treatment off the pitch. Roberts’ ball in was strong and found Ross Dyer at the far post, the burly front man headed down for Howell who scooped an effort just over the bar.
On the half hour mark Exodus Geohaghon looked to provided with a long throw from the right hand side, the thunderously travelling ball made its way to the left hand side where Lindon Meikle drove forward and earned a corner. Luke O’Neill’s delivery was initially headed away but only as far as Roberts who chipped a ball back into the mix, watching on in agony as Green headed marginally wide.
The game had the feel of a pre-season friendly to it in honesty and Mansfield, weather purposely or not, never got out of first gear – had it not been for the wonderful travelling fans doing their best to make some noise, the place would have seemed like a graveyard and a certain commentator we all know may well have fallen asleep, so cheers travelling Staggies! With seven to go before the break, it was the players who seemingly fell asleep as they conceded a soft equalizer, not switching on to a quickly taken free kick after Roberts delightful pass had found Green in an offside position. Tom Cadmore delivered the ball from deep finding Phil Walsh who out jumped Martin Riley on the edge of the box to get the flick on – Piero Mingoia nipped in between Geohaghon and O’Neill to squeeze a sloppy effort beyond the bemused Marriott to level the game and give his side, fighting against relegation, some hope.
Hayes and Yeading 1-1 Stags
With four minutes to go before the half time interval, Ben Hutchinson came alive inside the area and helped create a good move which should have seen Mansfield regain their advantage. Gary Roberts made a mockery of his man in the centre of the park with a neat little turn before chipping forward to the edge of the area, Ross Dyer provided the link to Hutchinson who controlled well on the six yard line, turned back inside and drove looking for an opening. Eventually Hutchinson passed the baton of play to Meikle on the left who cut inside and smashed a wonderful effort towards the top corner, Steve Arnold palmed the ball away but only into the path of Hutchinson who was flagged offside despite Hayes having a man on the line.
The half drew to a close with the Stags camped in the opposition half, Ben Hutchinson’s 1-2 with Meikle saw the former drive narrowly over from the edge of the area before heading off for his half time orange as Referee Andy Davies called town as soon as the resulting goal kick was struck.
Half Time: Hayes and Yeading United 1-1 Stags
Paul Cox gave the lads an absolutely rocket in the dressing room at half time, heard by many through an open window from round the back of the stand – no doubt there would have been tea cups flying had Stags not scored twice to take the game in the second half as the hosts, buoyed by the news relegation Rivals AFC Telford we’re losing, started the much stronger in the opening 10 minutes or so of the second half.
On 52 minutes Alan Marriott had to race off his line to deny the on rushing Phil Walsh after Jamie Hand had sent the wide man on his way following Steve Arnold’s quick release after the keeper held Roberts effort from distance. Three minutes later the hosts were cantering forward following a long throw from Sam Argent, Mark Bentley covered ground but failed to test Marriott, blasting wide from the edge of the box.
Paul Cox then made his first change of the afternoon, introducing Matt Rhead for Ben Hutchinson up top, the former Kilmarnock and Middlesbrough front man did well for me in his role just behind Matt Green, putting in some key passes and getting in the right areas – no doubt we’ll see more of him in the next two fixtures.
Miss communication at the back between Riley and Marriott gave the hosts a corner on the hour mark, however it came to nothing and Mansfield soon made their second chance of the afternoon, introducing Louis Briscoe for Lindon Meikle on the left hand side.
With 67 on the clock the Stag emphatically regained their lead following a free kick on the right hand side. Luke O’Neill’s ball from deep found Matt Rhead in the air, the Stags substitute cushioned down to the edge of the area for Ross Dyer, who struck a sweet left footed volley beyond the crowd and into the back of the net.
Hayes and Yeading 1-2 Stags
The hosts had an opportunity to level three minutes after the restart when Louis Briscoe was harshly penalised for a foul 30 yards from goal. Jamie Hand’s delivery was easy for Alan Marriott to collect and a minute later, Matt Green was on hand to seal the Stags play-off spot, bagging goal 29 of the season.
Luke O’Neill provided the assist down the right hand side with a well weighted long range pass, Green timed his run well and remained onside, rounding the on rushing Steve Arnold before driving home from a tight angle.
Hayes and Yeading 1-3 Stags
Despite the two goal cushion and the quick deflating home morale, the Stags refused to settle with a two goal lead and went on in search of another. Exodus Geohaghon’s bullet throw from the right hand side after good work from O’Neill found its way to Matt Rhead, however the former Corby man, who made his first full Stags start on Monday, saw his connecting header bounce frustratingly wide of the target with Arnold rooted to his spot.
Two minutes later leading front man Green was perhaps a lucky boy as a Hayes corner saw the ball bobble up and brush Green’s hand – play went on though and the Stags attacked with intent. Gary Roberts took over from Green and pinged a ball with a yawn over the top for Briscoe who earned a corner. Luke O’Neill delivered strongly but somehow the hosts dealt with the physical presence of Rhead, Geohaghon and Dyer.
The Stags registered another two efforts in as many minutes with seven left to play. First it was Matt Green and Gary Roberts who interchanged on the left beautifully, the latter made the central run and saw his venomous effort well saved. A minute later Anthony Howell took a Stags free kick quickly on the half way line to send Briscoe on his way down the left, the goal scoring wide man saw his effort saved by the keepers boot and then scrambled away.
With five remaining another O’Neill corner broke down but only as far as the influential Roberts, he switched play with a first time ball to Matt Rhead who controlled well before volleying with his left towards goal, Steve Arnold was at full stretch to keep out the goal bound effort.
In the final minute Alan Marriott was at full stretch to keep out substitute Julian Owusu’s dipping shot following a forceful Tom Cadmore clearance, no sooner had the Stags vice captains defence cleared the resulting corner – the referee blew the full time whistle confirming Stags’ place in the play-offs.
Full Time: Hayes and Yeading United 1-3 Stags << Full Audio with myself and Scott Rogers
The performance as Scott said in commentary replicated that of a pre-season friendly in the first half, the lethargic play from both in the first hour of the game made it very dull to watch at times, something which Paul Cox didn’t shy away from at full time, not that it mattered as our professionalism ensured we got the job done in the end – it’s not the end of our quest, it’s only just begging and boy is it exciting!
Two more league games to go, as I mentioned at the top of the piece, it’ll be a tough call for the gaffer as to who he picks, personally I hope that no matter the line up, we keep our heads and end the season unbeaten and get that one more point needed to seal third place – our home form is delightful, our last defeat came back in November to Cambridge, an unbeaten run of 12 games, in which we’ve collected nine wins and three draws. Our support is amazing, I know it’s going to be rocking for the play-offs – any opposition would be fearful of that regardless of form – keep your eyes posted for an article in the week which will delve deeper into that subject.
Congratulations to Paul Cox, his staff and players for securing the play-off spot – let’s continue to go on and achieve our dream. Be sure to join myself and Wayne Briggs for regular updates on the now penultimate home match of the season following our play-off guarantee. Second placed Wrexham are the visitors to the one call stadium, build up starts at 7pm on 106.9PM and following the acquisition of some “new” kit – at the same time on our MM-LIVE page via USTREAM player.
And so those who dared to dream put in the work and made a bigger dream come within touching distance – rest easy until Friday and let it all continue, as Mansfield Town continue their climb! Good times!
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