Craig Priest Reports...
Fixture: Mansfield Town V Fleetwood Town
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #33 – Rearranged)
Venue: Field Mill
Date & Time: Tuesday 13th March 2012 – 7.45pm
Attendance: 3132 (104)
Match Referee: Ross Joyce (Middlesbrough)
Walking around with a smile on your face, beaming again from ear to ear, whistling the tune to some happy-go-lucky song, singing along to the radio a little too loudly on the way to work, tapping your foot ferociously on the floor in anticipation of the next game or being unable to sleep at 3am reflecting on the events from Field Mill a few hours earlier – whatever it is this feeling, this uncontrollable burst of energy is phenomenal.... something I never thought I’d write after a 1-1 draw, bar just over a year ago when we drew with Luton to get to Wembley of course, although in fairness that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
Last night was magical, energetic, fluent, passionate and resilient as the league’s two inform teams came head to head at Field Mill as Stags, with eight wins a draw and defeat from their last ten, came up against Fleetwood unbeaten in 22 having picked up 9 wins and a draw in their last 10 games. I’ve been mulling it over trying to think of the best way to describe the game, so far I’ve got a comparison to TV Classic ‘Gladiators’ and it’s infamous ‘Gauntlet’ game, along with a game of table tennis or the mobile phone classic ‘blocks breaking’. There are probably a million more ways to describe last night’s clash of the titans and I’ll leave that down to you, what I want to look at is what the result means for Paul Cox’s side and what it represents.
In front of goal throughout the game we didn’t offer too much but we did create chances and at the death, when it mattered most, hit the target. I don’t think you can use the gladiators gauntlet comparison in terms of our attacking play, I think that comparison lies with the league leaders, our attacks are better compared to running against a bungee rope, putting every effort it to reach the target only to get dragged back by the elastic at the final moment, the thing is if you drive hard enough and dig deep – elastic will snap and for us it did, finally charging forward at a canter in the end and reaching our target. In doing so we sent a message to those around us that, although we can be dented, we can never be broken – there is the belief, desire and ability within our squad to bite back. Last night we may have not seen too much of the ball and we’re chasing for small periods but we recovered, we defended well and did so with real venom and intent showing that we can be b******s when we need to be, we weren’t afraid to fight fire with fire and stood strong to force away any attack the league leaders threw at us, whether it be over the top, down the wings or through the middle. A successful team like Fleetwood is built on having more than one method of attack and as mentioned, Fleetwood used their options well, however successful teams are also built on being able to combat such threats, which we did for 90% of the game – our foundations we’re there. I’m not going to paint this as if Fleetwood didn’t break the resistance and have us stretched – they did, but we had a goal keeper who commanded well and kept guard well with some smart saves, backed up by the entire team being there to mop up anything loose. Fleetwood’s front line of Mangan, Vardy and Brodie had scored 52 goals between them, just over HALF of Fleetwood’s 101 goals in all competitions, so naturally there’d be a goal as you’ll read later – but despite the setback, the Stags dug deep and refused to buckle and as mentioned, we’re rewarded. Throughout the game Mansfield had good spells on the ball and despite having just 1 upfront, threatened – any neutral watching on would compare the game perhaps to a well sewn pattern of fast paced flowing football – I loved every second.
So, to recap – the point has shown teams around us that we intend to finish in the play-offs and get back to the football league; it has shown we will stamp our authority on the game and match, maybe even better, whatever our opponents throw at us. The game highlighted a never give up attitude and that despite the setbacks, we will find a way through. Two things I’ve not mentioned yet are perhaps the most important. The first is the strength in depth we have in our ranks, Gary Roberts missed out through suspension and will do again on Saturday with Jon Worthington coming in for his first start since October. The 28 year old summer signing has had a seemingly rough time at Field Mill, missing out on a starting place to Aman Verma, Anthony Howell, Lee Stevenson and of late Gary Roberts to name a few, however the former Huddersfield captain has kept his head down got on with his work and taken his chance well, before I get wrapped up in writing the match report let me credit Worthington for this attitude, successful clubs are made of players with this kind of professional behaviour – last night was in my opinion Jon’s best game in the Amber and Blue, he will be a vital cog with now nine games left to play. The second thing to highlight is the atmosphere at Field Mill was electric, it has been brilliant for some time now but last night was something special, we made Field Mill a true fortress and for that, along with the boys battling performance – you should be proud.
Paul Cox made two changes from the side that saw off Tamworth 1-0 on Saturday, Louis Briscoe dropped to the bench for skipper Murray to return whilst Jon Worthington stepped into replaced suspended Gary Roberts.
Line Up: [4-5-1] Alan Marriott, Luke O’Neill, Exodus Geohaghon, Martin Riley, Ritchie Sutton, Ross Dyer, Adam Murray (C) (Briscoe), Jon Worthington (Roberts), Anthony Howell, Lindon Meikle, Matt Green.
Substitutes: Shane Redmond, Louis Briscoe, Matt Rhead, Ben Hutchinson, Danny Andrews [#29]
Stags got the game underway at Field Mill to an electrifying roar of ‘Yellows’ which was seemingly non-stop throughout the game, Luke O’Neill’s long ball from right back saw Dyer and the returning Murray play a game of head tennis before the ball trickled forward for visiting keeper Scott Davies to collect in the opening 30 seconds. The high tempo start continued and rarely went flat, despite the referee twice giving a drop ball for reasons unbeknown to all but him, both sides enjoyed spells of the ball.
It was the hosts that has perhaps the best chance of the opening exchanges on 10 minutes, Nathan Pond’s low pass central for the visitors was smashed away by Geohaghon, with Matt Green lively at the other end to chase the ball down, he could have gone through himself however miscommunication between the leading front man and Anthony Howell saw the latter take over and despite battling well, couldn’t keep the ball under control allowing Fleetwood to mop up. A minute later the visitors had a chance themselves countering from an Exodus Geohaghon bullet throw after Lindon Meikle lost possession on the left. Shaun Beeley’s driven low pass found Brodie, who then looked to play in former FC Halifax man Jamie Vardy, however the Cod Army’s leading man was prevented a way through by excellent defensive play from O’Neill.
With 22 gone it was nearly a case of mistakes will pay as the Stags looked to trigger an attack over the top, Good work between Dyer and Green on the right saw former Stags trailist Alan Goodall scramble clear only for the ball to be picked up by Luke O’Neill. With two men closing him down the Stags full back turned tightly and lofted a hopeful ball over the top, it was slightly heavy but Anthony Howell gave chase and was unlucky not to bundle home when Scott Davies made a mess of his attempted catch, dropping the ball into the path of Howell but smothering the ball tightly on the rebound to keep things on an even keel.
Two minutes later a looping ball was brought down comfortably by Geohaghon who decided to try and play Mansfield out of trouble unable to get a full clearance away and spotting Meikle who lurked on the left, the Darlington loan man was disposed by Brodie and despite a forceful recovering tackle the loose ball was picked up by Vardy. The highly rated striker weaved through the middle eventually shooting, only to be denied by Marriott who made a fine save down low to his left.
Both sides we’re forceful with the ball and when not in possession, the Stags kept tight and made a number of crunching well timed tackles to stop any potential breaks, a field in which Jon Worthington thrived despite picking up an early booking.
The best chance of the half came with on 32, as Mansfield won a free kick right on the edge of the box on the left hand side. Adam Murray’s defence splitting pass sparked the initial move with Matt Green holding up on the left of the box before playing in Meikle, the quick footed winger looked to cut past Beeley but was soon upended for a free kick. Luke O’Neill delivered it towards the back post finding Dyer, whose goal bound header was well saved by Davies before deflecting off Dyer for a goal kick.
With seven to go before the break tempers flared as Ritchie Sutton was wrongly accused of fouling Jamie Vardy on the edge of the Mansfield box, the referee awarded the visitors a free kick despite it being Vardy who was pulling Sutton back, something which saw the pair go face to face before being pulled apart by team mates and match officials. The duo escaped a card and as play went on, Vardy’s short free kick to Brodie saw the former Crawley man screw the ball miles wide of Marriott’s goal.
Half Time: Stags 0-0 Fleetwood
After the break it was the visitors, kicking towards there 104 travelling fans, that enjoyed the brighter start. Good movement on the left between Mangan and Brodie saw the latter drill a low ball to the edge of the box for Peter Cavanagh who smashed well over Alan Marriott’s bar on 47 minutes, before two minutes later a Lee Fowler free kick caused Mansfield problems in the air, Alan Marriott was again assured to keep out Andy Mangan’s looping header.
The game then went end to end as both sides enjoyed a chance within quick succession, Luke O’Neill’s lofted ball over the static Fleetwood midfield saw Matt Green pick up play, however as Green looked to break the referee had stopped play for a foul by Green on Nathan Pond. The free kick was taken quickly by Davies and caught Mansfield unawares, Geohaghon managed to connect with the ball but his clearance was wayward and allowed Vardy in behind, the front man struck with venom but was denied by Marriott who parried the ball and had to be brave as Vardy looked to connect with the loose ball, clattering accidently with the stags shot stopper.
A cross by Dyer on the right hand side after great work from O’Neill was headed wide by Howell under considerable pressure from Steve McNulty, before Marriott and Riley combined at the other end to scramble the ball away after Brodie had broken free following a driven pass from Lee Fowler on the hour mark.
Three minutes later it was the Stags who had a marvellous attack, Adam Murray was again creator winning the ball back in the centre circle, turning well before playing a blind ball to the right hand side for Ross Dyer. The burley front man held up play well and drove forward before playing Luke O’Neill inside, unfortunately the Stags right backs cross come shot failed to dip in time and went over the bar. Moments later Alan Marriott saved well with his legs as Jamie Vardy latched onto a route one ball from Davies.
Matt Green screwed an effort wide from inside the box with 11 to go, however it would be the visitors who broke the deadlock, netting their 102nd goal in all competitions with nine minutes to go. Peter Cavanagh picked up play central before taking the ball into space on the right hand side, lofting a neat ball over the top finding Vardy, who snook through the tight challenges of Geohaghon and Sutton, bundling past the on rushing Marriott, who was a tad unfortunate to see the ball squirm through.
Stags 0-1 Fleetwood
Mansfield looked for an immediate response and withdrew Jon Worthington for Matt Rhead, who made an instant impact. Louis Briscoe, who’d replaced Lindon Meikle moments before the opening goal, switched play neatly seeing Ross Dyer head the ball into the area. Matt Rhead swivelled well and unleashed a thunderous shot, only to be denied by Davies as he pushed the ball around the post for a corner.
A series of long throws and fast paced movement would follow as the Stags then refused to let Fleetwood have the ball going in search of a leveller. As the game entered four minutes of stoppage time Alan Marriott launched a ball up field, finding Rhead who flicked on for Matt Green. The Stags leading front man turned well and earned a corner in front of the QLE, who banged the drum and sang loud anticipating what was to come. Luke O’Neill’s right footed ball into the middle was met by Geohaghon who thundered his header beyond Davies into the back of the net, grabbing his first goal in Stags colours and sending Field Mill into pandemonium.
Stags 1-1 Fleetwood
Mansfield defended sharply in the remaining three minutes and as Field Mill’s electric noise bellowed out, you could hardly hear the full time whistle blow, as the Stags took a well earned point from the league leaders who wondered off the pitch in disbelief.
Full Time: Stags 1-1 Fleetwood << Highlights, with commentary from Craig Priest & Wayne Briggs
The sides will meet again a week on Saturday, but first the Stags have two games to slot in, first it’s Barrow at Field Mill on Saturday (regular updates on 106.9FM only with myself and Wayne Briggs) before a trip to neighbours Alfreton on Tuesday night (full commentary on 106.9FM and MM-LIVE from 7.30pm with myself and Scott Rogers).
Photos: Dan Westwell
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