Full Time Score Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg
Venue Rodney Parade
Stags Goal Scorer(s) CJ Hamilton
Craig Priest writes…
With the regular season ending in such a disappointing way, Mansfield Town needed to respond with a freshness as they prepared to face Newport County in the Sky Bet League Two Play Offs, and whilst they head into Sunday’s second leg feeling a tad hard done by, David Flitcroft’s men showed real character to put in a first class display – reinstalling believe that they can finish the job they started.
It was imperative that the Stags rediscovered their flare and let behind any feelings of hurt and disappointment as they came up against a Newport side on a real bounce following a strong finish to the Sky Bet League Two campaign, and that’s something which Flitcroft’s boldness in the team selection enabled to happen with Mal Benning dropped out of the starting line-up for only the second time this season in all competitions.
The long serving defenders absence from the starting line-up allowed CJ Hamilton to occupy the left wing back slot and cause real danger to the hosts as Mansfield played an effective counter attacking game with real fluidity across the park, evident in the wingers 14th goal of the campaign in all competitions.
Whilst Hamilton caused damage at one end of the pitch, the real plaudits should go to shot stopper Conrad Logan, who produced a Gordon Banks style display in the Stags goal with a string of world class saves to keep a hungry Newport at bay – this included a strong penalty save, he was extremely unfortunate to not keep out the rebound, and defender Ben Turner who was solid, coming in for the injured Matt Preston.
A lot of talk before the game was about so called ‘damage limitation’ and trying to still be in the tie for the second leg, which to be fair given recent performances, wasn’t a bad line of conversation – but Mansfield Town delivered far more than that and SHOULD be ahead, with the penalty awarded to Newport an extremely soft call, whilst they should have also been playing with ten men, following a challenge on Tyler Walker within the opening minutes which was a straight red card.
However these squabblings and disgruntled points of conversation mean nothing, the fact is Mansfield produced their best display for weeks, they are still very much in the tie and if they can produce a similar, if not better, display on Sunday in the second leg at the One Call Stadium, then I’ve no doubt that a trip to Wembley will await the Stags.
I believe team selection will be huge on Sunday; however Flitcroft has in my opinion done the right thing in NOT using all three substitutions providing key figures with that extra rest. Had this been a league game with points up from grab, I’d be talking about utilising the likes of Khan and Grant to influence the game – but we have another 90 minutes (minimum) to factor in, plus travel and recovery – game management is where Flitcroft will really earn his money now.
Let’s do this!
Three changes were made by the Stags boss following Saturday’s 1-0 promotion costing loss at MK Dons, Gethin Jones came in at right-wing back moving Alex MacDonald back into the middle as Willem Tomlinson missed out, Ben Turner replaced the injured Matt Preston in the back three, whilst the boldest move of all saw Mal Benning dropped in favour of Danny Rose – CJ Hamilton moved back and wide to the left-wing-back slot, allowing Rose to partner Walker upfront.
Mansfield made a rapid start to proceedings as Rose looked to banish the demons of his last trip to Newport as his ferocious running earned the Stags a first minute corner, CJ Hamilton also troubled down the left hand side as he released Walker on four minutes – the leading front man unable to connect with real venom making it easy for Joe Day in the home goal to collect.
Two minutes later Walker was clean through on goal before being pulled back by O’Brien who appeared to be the last man, and as such, should have received a straight red card – the referee produced only a yellow.
Mellis and Bishop both tested the water but it was a devastating Stags counter attack which opened the scoring on 12 minutes as MacDonald made a fine clearance to send Mellis running through the middle, neat control and a crisp pass saw Hamilton through on goal at pace – Joe Day could do nothing bar pick the ball out of the net as lightening, struck.
Mansfield then soaked up some pressure from Newport but nothing too concerning before as the half hour mark arrived, Rose was unlucky to see his through ball to Walker be a little too heavy, before Mellis danced through before firing over the bar.
On 33 minutes Conrad Logan became a hero and emulated Gordon Banks with a unbelievable save to keep out Matt’s close range header, the Stags remained in the driving seat until the break – but couldn’t add to their well-earned 1-0 lead.
After the break Tyler Walker should have made it 2-0 as he weaved around the keeper but got his foot stuck under the ball as he struck toward the open goal, a Newport defender recovered well to clear the ball before it could cross the line before on 50 minutes Logan was at it again, throwing himself like a sky diving polar bear at Padrig Amond’s goal bound effort – a fine save.
Joe Day denied Walker on 62 minutes as the front man lashed an effort towards goal before the hosts had a goal chalked off for offside after Logan again produced the goods – it was then Day’s turn to produce world class save, as he acrobatically denied Mellis, whose effort was heading to the top corner after a neat bit of build up play from a hungry Stags side.
Danny Rose’s game was over on 76 minutes as he made way for Benning after a phenomenal display which caused Newport endless problems, on 83 minutes Logan was judged to have fouled a Newport player despite replays cleared proving otherwise – he did then save Amond’s spot kick but couldn’t quite recover to keep out the rebound, 1-1 which is how the game stayed, at Full time in the first leg – but half-time in the tie, the stags now come home to try and get the job done.
FULL TIME: Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones, Alex MacDonald, Neal Bishop, Jacob Mellis, , CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Mal Benning 77)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan, Nicky Ajose, Jorge Grant
Referee: Charles Breakspear
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