Craig Priest writes…
Just before midnight on April 14th 1912 the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg at sea and disaster struck as it plummeted to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Just after 5pm on the 27th February the good ship Mansfield Town hit its own iceberg as Steve Evans jumped overboard – well despite attempt after attempt to fix it, yesterday in deepest Nailsworth, the ship, along with its new captain, well and truly sunk.
I often leave writing this blog until the day after a game as I don’t like writing in the heat wave of emotion that comes directly after the full time whistle, I like to reflect and get my head around the situation, and as I do so on the sunny Sunday, I draw two conclusions.
Yesterday we were beyond terrible and that is down to a number of factors which, looked at in isolation, is completely on the shoulders of David Flitcroft – more in a second, bear with me. The fact our promotion and play-off ambitions have, in the majority of people’s opinion, died a slow and painful death as a result of the nightmare in Nailsworth is not however in isolation and there is only one man to blame, he resides in the Peterborough United dugout.
I’ll deal with that first and then we’ll come back to the game in isolation – our season died the moment Evans turned his back, simply because the group of players in that dressing room brought into brand Evans, and no manager – no matter previous success – was EVER going to replicate that. It’s like when you go to Asda or Tesco and buy the home brand twix’s – you know there are practically the same product, but deep down you know there is a very subtle difference and you just can’t shake that off enough to truly enjoy the taste.
Whoever walked through the One Call Stadium door as manager was fighting a losing battle – if you are successful then you might get a little pat on the pack but predominantly people would say “Yeah, but it was Evans’ squad”, whereas with the boot on the other foot as it is right now, a capitulation is on the new man’s shoulders “Well, they were doing alright before, what’s changed, oh yeah – him” It’s lose, lose and I genuinely feel for David Flitcroft because no matter what he does as Mansfield Town manager, he’s always going to be the one who turned solid gold to sloppy runny brown stuff, you know what I mean.
Was it the right choice to appoint Flitcroft, there’s not much point in discussing it because what’s done is done and he’ll have my full backing – as did Evans, but I won’t shy away from highlighting the negatives, I never have and never will. Personally had I been the Radford’s in that situation – I’d have appointed John Dempster until the end of the season and allowed him to build his own experienced back room, and then taken the time and patience to appoint the right man going into next season, regardless of the division we found ourselves in.
I think we panicked, and yet even with Accrington and Luton over the next two games – I still believe deep down in the far corners of my heart, we can turn it around…. And I know how stupid that is right now.
In isolation, and I’d be saying this if the same situation had played out under any manager, Flitcroft simply got it wrong yesterday. In training they’d worked on a 4-3-3 formation to try and play on the front foot, but in my opinion, to play on the front foot means playing out from the back, and that’s 3-4-1-2 (or 3-4-3 depending on your preference) – 4-3-3 is simply, lump, hold up and try and overload bodies.
The system was wrong, as was the starting line-up – Paul Digby has been class when he’s come on and completely changed the game at Notts County by allowing us to play on the front foot, he should have started at centre back alongside Pearce and Bennett. Yes Paul Anderson was poor against County, all be it at right back, but we missed his energy and leadership yesterday, he should have started right side midfield with Atkinson and MacDonald in the middle and Mal Benning on the left, thus allowing the two wide men to drop back and defend in the spells FGR pressed. The front three should have been Hemmings, a hungry and attack minded Miller, along with Rose.
Now there’s another thing Flitcroft got wrong, and his staff in fairness – Rose was hobbling in the warm-up, why did nobody question it and allow a late change to be made? Why on earth did he start, our leading goal scorer could now potentially be done for the season?! And then to stick with 4-3-3 but bring a left winger on up front, and on the right side of the three too, was utter madness – I said when the board went up with CJ’s number, of he’ll go 4-4-2 and Atkinson will go wide….. two seconds later when CJ trotted to the right of the front three, I said “We’ve lost this game”.
I get and applaud trying to put your stamp on the squad and play your way when clearly playing the way of the old boss under a new man hasn’t quite worked, but for goodness sake, if you’re going to play a system and get an early blow, replace like for like – it was like sticking Oljenik up front, utterly pointless (sorry Bobby!)… Square peg, round hole.
The blame now shifts back from the digout to the dressing room, yesterday there was absolutely zero commitment to the cause, zero energy, zero motivation and what sickens me the most is zero desire to play for the shirt and deliver on a promise.
I’ve been a position in my career where a senior manager has left and it’s been up to me to steady the ship and make the best of a bad situation – I managed it, it was challenging and had its moments of no desire, but in the end I was professional enough to pick myself up and get on with it – I’d stick good money on that story being similar if not identical for 99.9% of us – so why can’t professional sportsmen rally around each other and deliver?
Get over yourselves, Evans and his bolshie bull in a china shop management has gone – it’s been replaced by a methodical, quiet and tactical chess player – you couldn’t have more of a difference, but does that really stop you in getting a result? Does that really stop you going out week in, week out, pulling on that shirt and giving your all for the cause? If the answer is yes, I’d love to hear why.
You have got eight games left to play, which includes playing the top two along with three, possibly four, teams in relegation threatened sides – they are not easy games, they are the toughest – all we ask is that from here on in, you come out and give everything you’ve got for Mansfield Town Football Club. Commit to every game for every single millisecond, commit to every tackle, don’t stop running and for fffffffuuuuu (I nearly swore then) sake, commit to having a bloody shot on target. Be brave, have the courage to swim against the tide – that fella jumping onto the Peterborough ship is irrelevant, he hasn’t actually sunk us has he?
Eight games to go, and we are STILL in the play-offs, and actually even though it may seem the most ridiculous of tasks right now hopes of automatic promotion aren’t fully dead, there’s a flicker of light in the distance.
Cling onto it, please. For the sake of the manager who is fighting an inferno at a petrol station with a water pistol. For the sake of the chairman and CEO who work tirelessly to keep the football club ticking over and put food on your table. For the sake of the supporters who travel countless miles and pay questionable prices week in week out to be put through the emotional mire of pain of football, and despite our rantings and frustrations – we love you and want you to succeed because you are OUR players for OUR team.
Last and by no means least, cling onto it for you. You came here and were sold a dream, only YOU have the power to make dreams become reality. Give it a go and don’t stop – then no matter what happens we’ll have your back.
It’s here where I usually skim over the game, but today I’m not going too – I want to leave it with the hope of a happy ending. Click HERE for the club's match report if you want a blow by blow account!
We lost two-nil, the game is over and nothing can be done to change it. We play Accrington Stanley and then Luton next week over Easter Weekend, go and put it right. There’s nothing more to be said.
Hayden White – Krystian Pearce © [Sent Off, second bookable offence 84] – Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald [ © 84] – Joel Byrom (Jimmy Spencer 70) – Will Atkinson
Danny Rose (CJ Hamilton 5) – Lee Angol (Ricky Miller 60) – Kane Hemmings
Unused substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Paul Digby, Paul Anderson, Adam King
Referee: Anthony Coggins Assistants: Ian Smedley, Ian Rathbone Fourth Official Adrian Quelch
Our ship has not yet sunk. Swim.
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