Craig Priest writes...
Fixture: Hereford United FC Vs Mansfield Town FC
Competition: Blue Square Bet Premier – Game #21 [Re-Arranged]
Venue: Edger Street
Date & Time: Tuesday 16th April 2013 – 7.45pm
Match Referee: Lee Swabey
Attendance: 2,141 (627)
You know even if the world’s greatest writers from throughout history all got together in one room and were told to look back on last night’s events, I don’t think they’d manage to do it justice. It was a night which took all the twists and turns of a gripping TV murder case, mixed in with the emotion of a will they won’t they love saga.
The task was simple, win to keep our title hopes alive. However after the slip at Braintree on Saturday the confidence had been severely dented and when hosts Hereford grabbed an eight minute lead after some, in truth, woeful defending which was relegation like defending – Stags we’re on the ropes, taking the last breath and watching on as their blood drained away.
Something inside must have burnt away as the travelling support kept singing, hoping that a song could spark their side back into life, the reward coming on 37 minutes as marksman Green nodded Mansfield level. An even keel gave Stags hope and despite scares from a surging Hereford side, they stood strong and following the introduction of Rhead especially in 64 minutes, charged at the Bulls with a battering ram, like the police on a drugs raid!
Controversy ensued as Stags saw efforts palmed off the line, decisions go against them and efforts land wide of the mark. The clocked ticked down and Stags’ hope seemingly faded, yet they never gave up – they showed the mark of champions, fighting until the end to get the better sweet ending the so desperately craved and duly deserved.
I can still picture it now, Alan Marriott with a long punt forward, Matt Rhead rises above Luke Graham and flicks the ball on. Matt Green drops off the shoulder of his marker and swings his lethal boot at the inviting ball, it happened in a split second yet in that instant seemed to take an eternity to go in – CRASH, the ball hits the back of the net, Stags are 2-1 up and the pandemonium begins.
The fans spill out onto the pitch as Green wheels away leaving a distraught Hereford and a heartbroken Kidderminster in his wake. The players and bench sprint over to join the celebrations as Matt Rhead, the man who changed the game and set the most precious goal of our recent history, jumps onto a steward’s back – his emotion roar and bursting at the seams.
For the rest of my life I will remember those scenes of jubilation, the belief of players and supporters, the desire to get that goal and the bitter sweet moment when we stop our destiny falling into the hands of others. We’ve worked hard for it and came strong when it mattered – ONE MORE STEP now.
As the ball nestled in the net late last night, all that angst and emotion came flooding out – from that night we stood in the rain and heard we’d been relegated, to the final minute against Darlington & York and the subsequent heartache. The mine-field of splinter filled wooden benches we’ve sat on at Grounds and watched some part-timer stuff us 4-0 to the cracked, weed overgrowing terraces in the freezing cold – each and every game we’ve been there and hoped that one day, our day will come – because of last night’s heroics, we could be back in the Football League by 7pm On Saturday 20th April, spookily the same date as Stags last sealed promotion at the One Call Stadium, known then as Field Mill.
We are NOT there yet, we HAVE to get a result against Wrexham on Saturday, keep levelled headed folks and do what you did that night, channel that passion into noise – BELIEVE as our day will come, it’s so close now, BRING IT ON!
Paul Cox made two changes from the side which slipped up at Braintree on Saturday, Adam Chapman and Lindon Meikle came in as Anthony Howell and Junior Daniel went out. There was also a shock return to the bench for Jake Speight, having played no football since his injury in January Paul Cox was taking a huge gamble.
Line Up [4-4-1-1] Alan Marriott, Lee Beevers, Luke Jones, John Dempster, Greg Taylor, Louis Briscoe, Adam Murray (C), Adam Chapman, Lindon Meikle, Lee Stevenson, Matt Green
Substitutes Ritchie Sutton, Jake Speight, Anthony Howell, Matt Rhead, Junior Daniel
Stags, knowing they needed to respond from Saturday’s unacceptable defeat, began well and should have scored inside the opening minute as the lightening Green latched onto Meikle’s through ball before being denied by the legs of the excellent James Bittner. Meikle was first to the second ball and again teed up a hungry Green, only for the front man to be denied again by Bittner who smothered the ball into his chest.
Mansfield’s fiery start had the visiting fans of 627 bouncing, the sang louder as Green again saw an effort stopped by Bittner a minute later and then a Briscoe cross go agonisingly astray on four minutes.
The visiting Staggies were then silenced four minutes later as Hereford went against the script and opened the scoring, with a little help of some lacklustre defending from Stags as they allowed Chris Sharp to cut the ball inside left and gift Ryan Bowman space to drill home from twelve yards.
Stags were on the ropes as Hereford, spurred on by their opening goal and the on-watching Kidderminster players, came forward in search of a second. John Dempster came to the rescue on twenty minutes, slamming away a Chris Bush long throw before Stags were dealt a bitter blow as Lee Beevers tussled with Marley Watkins and stayed down in pain. It was clear that Beevers’ had again dislocated his shoulder and was in sheer agony, despite the best efforts of Simon Murphy the Stags physio and the Hereford staff, Beevers was unable to continue and as he headed down the tunnel, replaced by Ritchie Sutton, shed a tear as the battle with injuries had finally beaten him.
The blow had taken Stags’ best player from the game and Paul Cox’s men were disorientated, allowing Watkins and Sharp far too much space to put crosses in whilst in midfield, Adam Chapman looked uninterested in closing down his Hereford counterparts as the Bulls began to take the game by its horns.
Mansfield survived two quick set-plays on 35 minutes and were then back in the game two minutes later. Green and Meikle were again excellent down the left hand side, the latter driving backwards, forwards, inside then out before floating in the cross from the bye line, which Green rose to nod in goal 25 of his season and, more critically, get Mansfield back level.
Adam Murray took one for the team with five minutes of the half remaining as he clearly rammed the advancing Chris Sharp off the ball, picking up just a booking. With seconds of the half remaining John Dempster was again the hero as he cleared an effort from Josh O’Keefe off the line, the second ball fell back for O’Keefe who was denied by Marriott who was also fouled by the Hereford man.
HALF TIME: Hereford 1-1 Stags
The hosts continued to pile on the pressure at the start of the second half although the Stags fans failed to stop singing, a powerful run from O’Keefe on 48 minutes was eventually halted, Dempster also nodded clear a succession of corners on 49 minutes before the lively Sam Clucas fired wide a minute later.
Matt Green & Lindon Meikle were again the unstoppable pair on 53 minutes as quick passes saw Green doubly denied by Bittner and the offside flag.
Paul Cox then made the game changing substitution on 62 minutes as Matt Rhead came on in place of Stevenson, Hereford were unsure how to handle Rhead and with Stags in a flat 4-4-2 now, something clicked as they began their quest for a winner.
Two minutes later Greg Taylor sparked pressure as he whipped in from the left hand side, Green kept the ball alive but the move broke down seconds later as Murray tried just too hard as he attempted to pick out Briscoe on the right.
Controversy arose on 65 minutes when Taylor again crossed for Green; this time an ambitious effort looked to have crossed the line however it wasn’t given as Bittner looked to have palmed away. Lindon Meikle and Matt Rhead also registered efforts but couldn’t find the target.
Hereford looked dangerous on the attack and were handed an unfair free kick on 73 minutes as Meikle tussled with his man on the edge of the Stags box. Sam Clucas stepped up and wasn’t far off finding the back of Marriott’s net.
Mansfield, attacking like contenders on Gladiators Gauntlet, saw further efforts from Rhead, Meikle and substitute Junior Daniel kept out before Alan Marriott made a critical stop five minutes from time, getting his body behind the ball to deny Watkins who sprinted from box to box as Stags threw pretty much everything forward.
It didn’t look like it was going to come as Stags again charged but were knocked back, however the Stags fans remained focused and the players too, getting the just reward in the first of four added minutes, just seconds after Adam Murray’s shot had bounced agonisingly wide of the mark from a Chapman free kick.
The ball had ran all the way back to Marriott who restarted play with a long punt up park, Rhead flicked the ball on and Matt Green peeled off his marker with the sharpest of spins. The ball sat up for Green who pulled back his striking leg and let fly, beating the advancing Bittner in the Hereford goal and sending the Stags fans into complete ecstasy. The scenes were wonderful to whiteness as the floodgates of passion burst open.
The full time whistle then blew to more celebrations as supporters danced in the terraces, bellowing their songs deep into the night. Paul Cox and his player sprinted onto the pitch and the entire squad danced with those believing supporters. One more game now! It sends a shiver down my spine – GET IN!
FULL TIME: Hereford 1-2 Stags
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