Craig Priest writes…
So year yet so far is perhaps the best and most appropriate way of summing up the 2017-18 campaign as it comes to an end, a conclusion reached as the Stags fall short on the sky bet league two play-offs on the final day of the season.
It was a finish which in isolation was partly there fault, Crawley having practically one shot on target and scoring from it, and partly that of others – a late Lincoln goal putting the Umps well on course for a second trip to Wembley this season and a second promotion in as many years.
Those of you who’ve clicked on this in anticipation of a ‘who’s to blame’ rant are going to be disappointed, that’s for another day when the dust has settled a little more on this thoroughly frustrating season. Likewise I’m yet to listen to David Flitcroft’s post match interview, which if rumours are true, is one where he doesn’t hold back – so I won’t be talking about that.
Over the course of the season as a collective, regardless of the man in the dugout, we’ve not been good enough or clinical enough to reach the play-offs, I can only hope that those who stay with the club use the stinging and sour tasting hurt to achieve a top three finish next time around.
Whenever something is in the hands of someone else I always feel extremely pessimistic about an outcome, I’ve always maintained you can’t rely on others to do something for you and as such, whilst I went to the One Call fully believing – there was a part of me that wanted to be sent home knowing we’d given it our all by winning with passion and desire.
With that, I left 80% happy – obviously we didn’t win which meant, even had Lincoln or Coventry lost, it wouldn’t have been enough anyway – but we did show some fight, some energy and determination to get the required result so that was pleasing enough, it’s just a shame the whole place went from bouncing to flat, on AND off the pitch, in a matter of seconds once news filtered through of Lincolns 77th minute goal to level with Yeovil – a goal which meant no matter what we did, it was game over – and that last 13 minutes were hell to watch, because it highlighted our season…. We gave up trying because there seemed no point.
We’d gone so flat and lacked energy a goal seemed highly unlikely, so even if Yeovil had scored or even Morecambe, just to make sure of safety in their game with Coventry, we’d have left it too late to take advantage. That’s what hurts the most.
It’s been an hour to watch every single game unfold and be a part of the twists and turns, the highs and lows, the pain and joy of watching Mansfield Town Football Club again – and in turn be able to write and create content for you and this website when a year ago, that seemed impossible for me personally. Will I do it all again next year? You bet I will – because that’s what we all do, we hope to watch something good unfold, something to be proud of – nine times out of ten we’re left disappointed, hurt and heartbroken … and yet we keep going back because, whilst players and managers come and go like a common cold, our club remains and we follow the journey out of love, loyalty….. and sheer bloody stupidity!
Thanks for reading, thanks for listening to the podcast too – the season may be over, but I’m not putting down my pen or switching off the microphones, there’s plenty more content to come over the summer until we do it all over again next season – why? Because Mansfield ALWAYS Matters!
CJ Hamilton was back in the starting line-up in place of Alfie Potter as David Flitcroft surprisingly stayed with four at the back, me personally given what was required, I’d have risked three at the back and chucked everything at Crawley – but I’m not the manager and without it being played out on a laptop… never will be! (a promotions, on the verge of a second, and two checkatrade trophies though… John & Carolyn I’ll wait by the phone)! Danny Rose was also omitted from the side as Lee Angol took his place, and with Rose injured, it was a return to the bench for Sterling-James after a loan spell with Solihull.
The Stags needed to win and hope either Lincoln lost at home to Yeovil or Coventry lost at home to Morecambe, who needed a point to stay up unless Barnet put more than six past Chesterfield.
Mansfield started with the required intent but were denied by the visiting keeper on two minutes as Hemmings slotted Angol through – last week’s hero denied by the keeper.
And then the inevitable – a Crawley goal, as on seven minutes the Stags lost the ball in midfield and allowed a cross to come into the box, Ahearne-Grant quickest to react to turn home and make the Stags job a mountainous climb.
News then filtered through of a Yeovil goal meaning the Stags needed to score twice to sneak into 7th place, Crawley had other ideas and nearly doubled their lead on 15 minutes, but Conrad Logan, who scopped Chad Readers player of the year prior to kick off, pulled off another fine stop to keep the stags in the game.
Lee Angol and skipper Krystain Perace, another multiple award winner, both came close with no reward before Flitcroft withdrew Digby and Atkinson for Potter and White, the double change bemusing so early.
MacDonald, Benning and Mellis all tried their luck before half time but neither could get lucky and at the break, the Stags were 1-0 down, but with Lincoln still losing, had a chance to turn things around.
Kane Hemmings and CJ Hamilton both had efforts within the opening two minutes of the second half but denied by the keeper who was clearly a Lincoln fan, Hemmings also put one wide of the post as the Stags pilled forward with hunger and intent.
Pearce was next to try his luck but saw a dominant header held on 51, two minutes later Alfie Potter delivered for Hemmings, who to his own agony, put the ball wide.
Rhys Bennett was next to put one wide as the Stags threw bodies into the box before Angol smashed one into the evening sky – but on 63 minutes, the Stags pulled level as Kane Hemmings got the final touch.
The Stags needed one more goal to leapfrog Lincoln and Hayden White came close with a header which was cleared off the line, before Kane Hemmings flashed one wide – and then disaster, a goal for Lincoln at Sincil Bank drew there game level, meaning no matter what the Stags did, they couldn’t sneak into the play-offs as it stood.
The ground fell silent and despite a succession of corners coming in, which even saw Conrad Logan venter forward, the dream was over – confirmed by Ben Toner’s full time whistle – confirming another season of League Two football.
FULL TIME Stags 1-1 Crawley
Paul Digby (Hayden White 27) – Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 27) – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olenjik, Joel Byrom, Adam King, Omari Sterling-James, Jordan Graham
Referee: Ben Toner
With the dramatic scenario surrounding the season’s final game about to take centre stage, in the clam before the storm I thought I’d take a look at my top five contenders for ‘Player of the season’
My choices are not based on any sort of rating, I don’t really believe in that – my choices are based on the contributions each player has made in my own opinion and how they’ve developed over the course of the season.
The fiery Irish shot stopper arrived in the summer and a quick glance at his stats hinted that he might be playing second fiddle to Bobby Oljenik, as apart from a season on loan at Stockport he’s never really been a regular (judged on a regular playing 30 games plus over the course of a season).
That said Logan was handed the number one shirt and despite a shaky start, proved that time is all you need to hit a rich vein of form and become pretty much a fan favourite and solid choice between the sticks.
Having missed just one League Two game, Wycombe away, Logan has contributed with pivotal save after pivotal save at critical moments – winning us points in the process.
With 13 clean sheets in 48 appearances the former Hibs man has helped the Stags put together a tight enough defence to push up the table, and if we did make the play-offs – I’m sure he would emerge as a hero, stable keepers are hard to come by – I think Logan has more to give and would welcome him committing another year to the cause.
The clubs joint longest serving player along with Mal Benning has once again been a rock this season at the heart of the Stags defence and in my opinion, should be given some recognition for his service – I was delighted to see him sign a contract extension earlier this season.
Most suited alongside side last season’s player of the season Rhys Bennett, Pearce has perhaps been lucky given the long term injury to David Mirfin, who started the season and whom many predicted to take Pearces’ mantle as one of the clubs most loved defenders.
As captain in the absence of Zander Diamond, Pearce has really shone and whilst he may not be the most vocal of leaders, his calm character and consistent solid play, both in the air and on the floor – yes everyone loves a KP box to box rampage – has impressed me and feel confident in our backline, something I struggled with when Pearce was out of the side.
Despite having only scored twice, Pearce is a constant threat in both boxes and I believe will be the anker to our side for many years to come, I’d certainly welcome him becoming captain on a full time basis.
The tenacious midfielder has a lot to thank former fitness and rehabilitation coach Lee Taylor for, as Taylors influence has turned MacDonald’s promise into reality – and it’s really showed this season.
The Stags number seven has had a season of two halves really, starting off on the right hand side of midfield and contributing with a good work rate to create opportunities as Mansfield played predominantly down the right, but since mid-November time, it’s been the middle for Macca, where his tenacity and energy gave us something we we’re desperately missing and allowed the focus to switch flanks, with CJ Hamilton taking the role of the creative wide man.
MacDonald perhaps hasn’t been at his complete best since the arrival of David Flitcroft and has been weighed down with rumours of a move to join Steve and Dodgy at Peterborough in the summer, but which player hasn’t to be fair! Over the course of the season, I’ve been impressed with his drive and attitude – he’s one of few who have seemed to want to play for the cause – and players who have pride in the badge on the front of the shirt rather than the name on the back, will always be praised by me.
Hemmings, like Logan, is another who is proof of time being a great healer. In a similar fashion to Matt Green, Hemmings arrived on loan from Oxford United a little broken and in need of games to recapture his best form – and since late November he’s found that, scoring some important goals but also contributing with dangerous runs and link-up play.
Whilst Danny Roses’ goals seemed to have dried up of late, Hemmings has continued to find the net contributing with 14 goals – some from the spot including that cool as you like 9000000th minute equaliser at Notts County, going into the final game of the season, just how important has that point proven!
Hemmings has showed passion and commitment to Mansfield Town and we were fortunate to keep hold of him during January when Oxford had the brief opportunity to recall him – he’d be the main target in the summer for me and could go onto become a legendary striker at the club.
An obvious choice, the leading front man and fans favourite has been in good form this season and despite not scoring yet under his old gaffer David Flitcroft, has still been a regular figure and key contributor to the Stags cause.
Strikers can often been defined by their type of play or by the goals they score, for example Matt Green very rarely scored from outside the box or with a header, whilst Jimmy Spencer is seen as a target man – Rose offers something a little different, he offers a bit of everything and I look forward to another transfer window of worry that he’ll leave, knowing full well the Radfords won’t sell their prize asset.
Some of the goals he’s scored have been simply breath-taking, people talk often of his volley in the Shaw Lane FA Cup match which won him goal of the round – his header in the same match was even more special in my view.
Off the pitch Rose is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, his interaction with fans means he’s a true club man – highlighted on Saturday at Yeovil when a young fan had a bit of paper saying “Rose, Can I have your shirt?” – he spotted it and handed it over with a smile.
At only 24, Rose is still a young talent and will continue to grow, the goals will start to flow again – and long that nay continue for season after season.
There are a few names I’ve missed off my top five list, some obvious some not so. Rhys Bennett, last year’s winner, I’ve missed off by virtue of the fact he won it last year and perhaps hasn’t been as consistent as last season, not to say he hasn’t still been excellent though!
Bennett, who played every single game last season, is a future captain in my opinion but needs to stop being looked at as a right back playing centre back, in my view he’s a more accomplished central defender who can play right back – him and Pearce have a solid understanding and I full believe the former Rochdale man will be back in League One, with Mansfield, in the future and next season, will be another key figure.
CJ Hamilton was a tough one to miss out, he’d certainly win the most improved player award and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did get some form of accolade at the end of season awards night. His lightening pace and flair scares teams to death and whenever he’s not in the starting line-up, we miss him – Chesterfield and Yeovil being fine examples.
He’s still got a lot to learn and having signed a new deal, I believe he will continues to flourish over the next two seasons and go one of two ways, either stay at the club for years or be sold in a year’s time for big money and play at a very high level, he’s got bags of potential.
Paul Anderson would have been in the top five, if it hadn’t been for David Flitcroft. Anderson must be wondering what on earth he’s done to not get a look in, capable pretty much anywhere on the pitch, he clearly loves the club and will want to stay – but won’t if he’s not getting football which is a crying shame. I liked him as a captain, I rate him very highly and let’s be honest, should win an award for that beard. First class
AKA The award for Paul Digby.
You knew I’d include him somewhere! The adaptable defender/ midfielder was brought in by Steve Evans in the summer and despite playing predominately across the back line, was given a new role just infront of the back four and following impressive displays in pre-season was dubbed ‘The Interceptor’ by yours truly.
Yet once the season began Big Steve changed the system meaning Digby’s interceptor role soon became an out and out central midfielder which he is not, leading to the majority of fans disliking the former Barnsley and Ipswich man.
The 23 year old has a lot of promise and has shone over the last two games coming in at Right Back, he’s excellent in the air and will get better on the floor – I hope that Flitcroft sticks with him because if played at the back, can become a lynch pin for us giving us options in both boxes and to play with three at the back without opening ourselves up too much.
A final nod is to Ricky Miller, I feel for him really given the saga of his personal life, him not getting a look in and then his injury. He seems to show remorse for his well documented off the pitch actions and when he has appeared, looks hungry. I think it’d be worth taking a gamble of Miller next season, get him settled and the goals will follow.
Craig Priest writes….
When you take a long journey but get diverted off of track, sometimes you start to panic, worry and generally get anxious about when the diversion will end and normality can be restored. The scenic route, as it’s sometimes known, contains many twists and turns of the completely unexpected – and no matter how hard I try, I can’t think of any better way than to sum up yesterday’s 3-2 win at Yeovil.
Somehow the victory has given us two opportunities to finish the 2017/18 campaign IN the League Two play-offs, one-nil down and playing with no real conviction at half-time, I did not see that coming at all.
Deep down I think we’ve left it too late as personally I think Lincoln contain more fight than ourselves and will therefore beat Yeovil next weekend at Sincil Bank, where they are always backed by a great support – whilst Coventry host Morecambe who need to win to keep distance between themselves and Barnet who will beat already relegated Chesterfield. I think the pressure will be too much for Morecambe and Barnet have something about them under Martin Allen who have lost only twice since Martin Allen’s 140th return.
BUT! Anything can happen in football and IF Mansfield Town can show the same fight and desire as they did in the second half yesterday, then this season may not be over afterall – all we can do is our job.
And do you know what, so long as the Stags come out next Saturday and fight from the first second to the last and give EVERYTHING they’ve got – I won’t care if they don’t make it, because they’ll have ended collectively fighting for the cause and that means more to me than anything else.
That’s what I saw yesterday afternoon in Yeovil – Character. FINALLY throwing bodies in front of things in an attacking situation, not folding when things went against us and importantly, having a go!
A lot is said about the pressure on the players and manager and next weekend it will be huge, Flitcroft has to get it tactically right next weekend which he didn’t yesterday – Alfie Potter must have been furious to be subbed when he was, but why on earth was CJ Hamilton NOT in the starting line-up in the first place?! That said, at least he had the gumption to throw on Angol at half-time and push bodies forward.
Next weekend needs to be the same; I do not want to see us setting up in a 4-4-2 – I want the kitchen sink being thrown at Crawley, 3-4-3 and if things aren’t happening with twenty minutes to go, let’s click the classic ‘OVERLOAD’ button and play 1-10!
Seriously though, us supporters have watched several twists and turns – and whilst sometimes we may get angry, it’s just deflation because we know good that group of players can be when you put the effort in. We’re 10000000000000000000000% behind you week in week out, YES we should have been celebrating automatic promotion now like Luton or Wycombe BUT we’re not and as such must believe in our own abilities to go on and FIGHT for the finish we want.
So from here on in, let’s banish talk of who should be in charge next season [Yes, I know we are guilty of that on the podcast] and about any dressing room fall-outs. The only talk should be 100% about how we support Mansfield Town FC and how we back them to defy the odds and deliver the play-offs.
Together we can do this – I mean, are you really ready to spend your Saturday’s WITHOUT football?
Despite penning a new deal, CJ Hamilton was left out of the starting eleven in favour of Jacob Mellis, thus moving Alex MacDonald back out wide to the right, and Potter to the left.
It was MacDonald who tried to open the scoring early with a long range first minute effort, but it was more of a range finder than anything else as the Stags knew they needed three points to stay in the play-off hunt – Danny Rose then won a Stags corner which Benning floated in beautifully for the excellent Paul Digby, who sent a header crashing into the side netting.
Another corner on 13 minutes came close to picking out Rose but the in-swinging ball was too heavy for the leading front man who is yet to score his first Stags goal since being reunited with old boss from his Bury scoring days, David Flitcroft.
Five minutes later disaster, and yet the inevitable, struck – as Yeovil took the lead through Bevis Mugabi, able to convert practically unmarked after Omar Sowunmi’s run had taken two Stags markers with him.
The Stags needed to turn the game on its head and quickly, as news filtered through that Coventry were tearing Cheltenham into the ground. Rhys Bennett came close to levelling things up but was denied by the offside flag before the tenacious Paul Digby lofted a beautiful cross into Rose, a Yeovil body getting a vital touch to divert it away for a corner as Rose loomed.
CJ Hamilton then replaced Potter on 34 minutes as the Stags looked to open up the hosts, and just four minutes later good interchanging play between the lightening quick winger and Mal Benning saw the latter send in a cross, Artur Krysiak equal to it in the home goal however.
Lee Angol replaced Will Atkinson at the break as the stags went 4-3-3 and it nearly paid off as Rose hammered towards goal, his effort was always rising though – but on 49 minutes, an absolute scramble saw Angol get the vital final touch as the ball scopped over the line to pull the Stags level.
GAME ON! Actually, the referee had other ideas and soon awarded Yeovil a penalty as Pearce appeared to foul his marker following a home corner, Francois Zoko showed no mercy as he sent Logan the wrong way and restored the hosts’ lead.
Angol then saw an effort blocked on the hour before Rose volleyed through the crowd four minutes later, sadly Roses’ effort was way off target but we all felt his frustration and the venom in which it was hit – the Stags were not quitting this time around.
Sure enough on 70 minutes the Stags pressure paid off and as a Lee Angol free kick struck a hand in the wall inside the box, a penalty was awarded – Kane Hemmings made no mistake in making it 2-2. Little celebration from the Stags front man, a draw was not enough.
The Stags needed a hero and were coming forward at a canter and were finally rewarded after CJ Hamilton was cropped on the edge of the box on 75 minutes, up stepped Lee Angol who finally converted with an excellent hit, finding the net via the underside of the bar to put the Stags 3-2 up.
Another would have made things comfortable and not require 338 travelling fans to have heart surgery but to the Stags players credit, the tried and made sure, through nine minutes of added on time which saw a red card for Sowunmi, that the job was done.
Coventry had beaten Cheltenham in style but a defeat for Lincoln at Champions Accrington Stanley meant the Stags have TWO chances to get in the play-offs, all they need to do is win and hope either Coventry OR Lincoln lose – it’s then down to goal difference STAGS are on +15, Lincoln on +16 and Coventry, thanks to their pummelling of Cheltenham, are on +17. A win for the Stags plus a DRAW for either side is NOT enough. COME ON!
FULL TIME: Yeovil Town 2-3 Stags
STAGS [4-4-2 / 4-3-3 SECOND HALF]
Paul Digby (Adam King 90) – Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alfie Potter (CJ Hamilton 34) – Jacob Mellis – Will Atkinson (Lee Angol HT) – Alex MacDonald
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Johnny Hunt, Joel Byrom, Jordan Graham
Attendance: 3,500 (388)
Referee: Charles Breakspear, Assistants: Michael Webb and Simon Shaw. Fourth Official: Samuel Ogles.
Craig Priest writes….
The dream is almost over. Whilst the mathematics say reaching the play-offs is still possible with two games to go, Mansfield Town know that in reality it’s a very different tale indeed – and what is more sickening to take, the Stags have been the masters of their own downfall as yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Port Vale pretty much sealed another season of League Two action.
As it stands the Stags are three points off of the play-offs with two games remaining, but both Lincoln and Coventry above them have a game in hand – which fortunately, is against each other.
A win for either side would leave the Stags six points behind with six to play for – meaning the Stags need to win their last two games and pray to the footballing gods that whoever won the midweek meeting lost their final two.
A draw for the two sides would be the best outcome for the Stags, meaning David Flitcroft’s men must win both their last games, and hope at the very least, BOTH Lincoln and Coventry fail to win at least one of their last two.
The chances of that are very slim in my view but anything can happen, the fact though that we are in this situation relying on other teams is down completely to ourselves, yet again Mansfield Town Football Club are the masters of their own downfall.
EVERYONE is to blame here, Steve Evans and his mate Dodgy for walking out when they did and leaving a dressing room wondering what they’d done wrong. David Flitcroft for not stamping his authority earlier, for isolating and not selecting key players who can influence the game – I won’t blame his methodical chess player management style though, each to their own on that one. Finally the players who as a bunch of so called professionals should have been professional enough to not care about Steve and Dodgy and work for Mansfield Town FC regardless of the manager, and in doing so – show some bloody hunger and desire to achieve what they set out to achieve in the first place.
Ironically yesterday saw us play the best football we have done consistently under Flitcroft – alas too little too late, especially coupled with in my view a tactical blunder in the first substitution. Not for a second am I against bringing on an attacking player to try and chase the game at 0-0 which for the record WORKED, but to take off the person who was keeping us tight at the back and holding a higher line in Paul Digby, knowing full well Vale would come at us late on, was a monumental error.
Why? Because rather than change the shape, Will Atkinson was dropped in at right back and through no fault of his (other than the fact he’s not a bloody right back) gaps were created and ultimately more players from Vale, ala Tom Pope, were able to exploit. Digby won every header and 99.9% of everything on the ground, the majority of our attacking movement started through him and from set plays, he was causing havoc as decoy – taking him off was madness unless of course he was injured…. In which case, bring an actual right back in Paul Anderson on and keep the momentum.
To our credit we peppered Vale and on any other day would have ran out 6-0 winners, as is it we couldn’t finish and were only ahead thanks to Kyle Howkins forgetting he plays for Port Vale now and not Mansfield – but even then at 1-0 we didn’t focus and gave away a sloppy goal which anyone could see coming…. Alas, that’s the story of our season really.
We we’re left so deflated we couldn’t even celebrate Chesterfield’s excellent season in being relegated to the Conference, and whilst for both personal reasons (google it) and Stags fan reasons I’m delighted to see them plummet out the football league, their failure is matched by ours in having everything we dreamed of in our own hands, and then throwing it all away.
Who’d be a football supporter eh? Anyone for Yeovil away….
With Hayden White injured and skipper Zander Diamond also absent with “a knock” both Paul Digby and Rhys Bennett were brought into the fold, whilst following his excellent from the bench display at National League Chesterfield last week, CJ Hamilton was also back in the starting eleven.
The Stags knowing they needed a win to keep themselves within the play-off hunt started with a real hunger and should have been ahead just two minutes in as MacDonald slotted in Hemmings, thwarted by the offside flag.
Valiant’s keeper Sam Hornby then denied Rose and Potter in quick succession before Alex MacDonald fizzed one wide from distance, however it was Derby Day hero Benning who nearly opening the scoring on 12 minutes as he advanced into the box and hit one which was going wide, Kane Hemmings outstretched foot a mere whisker away from turning the shot home.
Cj Hamilton also hit at the keeper before Hornby was beaten by Hemmings on 16 minutes, although the goal wouldn’t stand as the offside flag went up against the on Loan Oxford United man as the stags controlled the game.
The Stags created a number of other openings which saw Hamilton, Rose, Hemmings and MacDonald go close with no reward, Danny Pugh almost did the Stags a favour on 44 minutes sending a diving headed clearance narrowly wide of the target, but at the whistle – it was goalless.
Alex MacDonald was the first to let fly at the start of the second half but again couldn’t convert – Paul Digby came the closest to opening the scoring with a venomous shot with 56 minutes played.
Six minutes later, bizarrely Digby was replaced by Mellis before Danny Rose headed over from Benning’s left sided cross.
On 72 minutes an Ex-stag popped up to put the current crop ahead as Kyle Howkins turned into his own net, a clearance after a Rose effort, hit the former West Brom loanee and found the net.
Hamilton then found Hemmings but he couldn’t find a second, before being replaced by Angol with seven minutes to go.
Port Vale then spoilt the party, Tom Pope pouncing as the Stags failed to clear their lines in the 89th minute, rendering the dream pretty much over.
FULL TIME: Stags 1-1 Port Vale
Paul Digby (Jacob Mellis 62)- Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alfie Potter – Will Atkinson – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings (Lee Angol 83)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Anderson, Adam King, Jordan Graham, Johnny Hunt
ATTENDANCE: 4,210 (598)
REFEREE: Carl Boyeson Assistants Ken Haycock and Andrew Newbold. FOURTH OFFICIAL Oliver Bickle.
Craig Priest writes….
Approaching a local derby with a manager at the helm who was yet to win a game of football, coupled with the fact that our rivals were rock bottom of the football league in desperate need of victory to mount a survival bid – it’s fair to say that yesterday could have gone very badly indeed in the eyes of a Mansfield Town supporter.
Alas no, Mal Benning had other ideas and not only wrote himself into folk law with his second half goal and knee slide, but also etched his name onto our hearts with the comment post-match we needed to hear after weeks of agonisingly watching our heroes capitulate “I don’t know how I’m feeling at the moment, I don’t know what to think – but first of all – that’s for the fans” Yes Mal, we know what you mean my friend, and from us all – thank you!
Over recent week we have all questioned the Stags players commitment to the cause and just last weekend, I sat at this very desk not knowing how to write my feelings after we fell apart without a care in the world at home to Crewe, but yesterday they put their bodies on the line and didn’t stop until the final whistle was long gone – boy did we need that.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t as comfortable as it should have been, the strange over-turn of the Chesterfield red card added to the anguish as had the free kick gone our way, the final second would have played out in front of us – miles from our goal! What matters most is the victory and what psychologically that can do to the players going into three massive games.
The victory coupled with results elsewhere has put us back into the play-offs but only just – Lincoln are breathing down our necks and, thanks to their Checkatrade Trophy exploits, have two games in hand. In my personal view, they have momentum on their side where as we are once again the target to be shot at.
Of the teams below us, I’ll never discount the maths but I think some strange goings on would be needed for Cambridge or Newport to sneak in with their games in hand whilst Carlise, I don’t think they have enough about them to do it. Which then makes it between us, Lincoln and Swindon for the final play-off place – add in Coventry if we want to aim for 6th – but for me, 7th will do – let’s just get in there and see what happens.
Can we do it? My heart will always say YES, my head says no – I’m useless at following either so let’s just let the drama play-out!
One thing I want to credit from ON the pitch yesterday is the fact the players finally tried to play Flitcrofts way a little more and that reflected in the goal – get us out to the half-way line and then play, pass and move, drag defenders out with you if you can and exploit the gaps which we did to devastating effect.
I’d have liked us to defend a little higher and take some of the pressure off; sometimes I do think we’re the masters of our own downfall, but we stood firm enough to get the job done and lifted a massive weight off of our shoulders and helped the sun to peak through the clouds, and in doing so put a nail into the coffin of our rivals – a decade after the revelled in joy at our own demise, whose laughing now eh?! Cheers Mal!
Skipper Zander Diamond returned to the line-up in the place of Rhys Bennett whilst Mal Benning returned from suspension to replace Johnny Hunt – Alfie Potter also got a start in place of CJ Hamilton on the left hand side, whilst completing the four changes from Stevenage, Jacob Mellis replaced Joel Byrom.
Backed by a loud vocal support, it was the Stags who nearly struck first as Alfie Potter found a way through to latch onto a rebounding ball after a parry from Ramsdale in the home goal, Potter shot though was always rising – Kane Hemmings also dragged one wide during the opening exchanges with the Stags in control.
The pendulum swung in the hosts favour as Logan had to be alert to a cross, he also watched on as Jacob Brown fizzed an effort wide, before at the other end Danny Rose saw an effort palmed away by Ramsdale as the game hit the twenty minute mark.
Seven minutes later Logan was the hero as Chesterfield came on the charge, he then had Potter to thank as he slid away to prevent Zavon Hines from turning home the rebound.
Rhys Bennett replaced the injured Hayden White on 32 minutes before Logan was again on hand to rescue the Stags three minutes later – diving through a sea of bodies to claim the ball.
After the break the Stags had the better start with a freekick which just evaded the head of Zander Diamond, Danny Rose was also unlucky to not connect with Hemmings’ cross on 57 minutes, just after CJ Hamilton had been introduced for Mellis, with MacDonald going back into the middle and Potter switching to the right.
Hamilton was the pace the Stags needed to stretch the hosts and it nearly paid off on 62 as he romped down the left hand side, his cut back to heavy and quick for anyone to convert as the Stags looked to break the deadlock.
Four minutes later a hero was born and a left back knighted as fluent play saw Mal Benning able to drive into box and hit one, his effort zipped beneath the keeper and into the bottom corner to give the Stags the lead they deserved.
On 70 minutes Danny Rose squandered the chance to make it two-nil as his effort cannoned off a blue shirt, four minutes later it was Potter who weaved his way through – again a blue shirt made the block to deny a second goal of the afternoon for the Stags.
Hearts were in mouths on 79 minutes as Kristian Dennis poked an effort through the crowd, fortunately it landed wide of Logan’s post – Jak McCourt hit a volley 10 minutes later as the hosts went in search of a goal to pull the match level – the referee bringing the game to a close after overturning his own decision to send off Louis Reed for hacking down Rose – the Stags stood firm as Chesterfield pumped forward the resulting free-kick for offside against Rose, the away end erupting to the sound of the full time whistle as FINALLY, David Flitcroft sealed his first win, as Mansfield Town manager.
FULL TIME: Chesterfield 0-1 Stags
Hayden white (Rhys Bennett 32) – Zander Diamond © - Krystian Pearce – Sir Mal Benning
Alfie Potter – Will Atkinson – Jacob Mellis (CJ Hamilton 53) – Alex MacDonald
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings (Adam King 85)
Unused substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Lee Angol, Johnny Hunt, Joel Byrom
Referee: Darren Drysdale Assistants Marvyn Amphlett, Kevin Mulraine Fourth Official Nick Greenhalgh
Attendance: 7,967 (2,617)
Craig Priest writes….
Over the past eighteen or so years of following the Stags, football has been played with many an interesting backdrop – but not as ironically apt as last night at Stevenage where the circus came to town.
The Stags have become their own circus in recent weeks and have been walking a tightrope….. Badly - giving us, the fascinated on-looking audience heart palpitations as our beloved artists look like they are about to fall from a great height.
The second half on Saturday at home to Crewe gave us some hope that we could turn something around, but yet again I’m left feeling frustrated that we haven’t killed a team off and that, yet again, we’ve had to go a goal down to start caring.
The first half last night was completely unacceptable in my book and there are clear problems starting to boil over, the goal was a playground set play where we lost a runner and allowed a shot to come in – but rather than rally, we stood for a good two minutes hands on knee’s looking like we wanted to walk off and go home.
Performance wise in the first half there were only a few times where we got going and strung more than two passes together, our clearances were flat as was our energy – and if you add to that Alex MacDonald ignoring the game to argue with fans, something is not right there.
And yet, the second half was a vast contrast which was highlighted in our excellent play for Will Atkinson’s goal – pass and move! If we play like that constantly for 90+ minutes on Saturday and for the remainder of the season, we might JUST sneak in – and it feels crazy to say that when you look at our results and performances.
Over the last eight games, no wins obviously gives Flitcroft the worst start of any Stags manager – but we’ve shipped 13 goals, scored eight in reply as you’d expect with the form, but the concerning thing over all is the change in discipline.
According to my records over the last eight games we’ve picked up 23 yellow cards and three reds (2.8 bookings a game, so round that up to three) in vast contrast to just the eight yellows and one red picked up in the last eight games under Evans [all competitions] which, doesn’t take a genius to work out, is an average of one booking a game.
If discipline is slipping on the pitch, which as stats show is very much the case, then what about behind the scenes within the dressing room, I personally believe the two go hand in hand, I can’t be the only one who is concerned with that.
You can only put so much blame onto a manager, at the end of the day this is the same squad who only two months ago were being ruthless in their quest for points, ala Newport at home – and fighting back to the death to carry on, ala Morecambe away – other than the big Scot, his mate dodgy and fitness coach Lee Taylor leaving and being replaced by the chess player, big ben and the interim coach – what has changed? Why has their professionalism and work ethic swung on a trapeze from one side of the tent to the other? The ring master’s hat may have been passed on, but the acts are still the same, so please get out there against Chesterfield and put in the show we know you’re capable of!
Four games to go, four wins and the chance to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat – anything less, league two it is for another year! We believe, we back you – believe in yourselves and back yourselves boys!
Striker Ricky Miller dealt the first blow of the evening tweeting that he was injured and would be out for about two weeks, so a deserved start for him didn’t happen – but FOUR other changes did, as Krystain Pearce replaced captain Zander Diamond, Will Atkinson and Joel Byrom replaced Potter and Mellis, both benched, whilst leading scorer Danny Rose replaced Lee Angol, also benched.
The Stags started well with Kane Hemmings’ attempted lift over home keeper Tom King earning an early corner which the hosts cleared, Hayden white also earned a corner with a testing cross but again the stags couldn’t convert
Stevenage then had a corner of their own on 14 minutes an inevitably took the lead, as Danny Newton pealed away from his marked, to hammer home to low corner routine.
Kane Hemmings then nodded Hayden White’s cross over the bar with twenty minutes on the clock, CJ Hamilton and Alex MacDonald also had pop shots which caused little damage – at the other end, Conrad Logan on hand to palm away another effort from Newton with two minutes to go before the break.
The Stags seemed fired up after the break and in act two of the circus display, scored a fine team goal on 51 minutes to pull level as Hamilton and Hunt linked up on the left hand side – Hunt squaring into the mix for Atkinson to latch onto and fire into the roof of the net.
Joel Byrom was then replaced by Jacob Mellis as Flitcroft tried to give the Stags a more attacking edge, Danny Rose denied on 53 minutes as Hemmings tried to feed him in on goal before four minutes later, Hemmings hit over on the volley as the ball zipped around the area like pinball on heat.
Cometh the hour cometh the save from Conrad Logan to keep the scores level, before substitute Alie Potter went on a mazey run which nearly led to a goal, moments after replacing CJ Hamilton.
Mansfield peppered the hosts box but Stevenage remained firm to keep the game finely balanced before heading down the other end to put on pressure, to their credit the Stags turned the screw back and defended well amidst a barrage of shots.
Into the final ten minutes and the stags had two chances to win the game, first Kane Hemmings was denied by a fine save from King, before Alex MacDonald zipped one wide of the post with a minute to go, the full time whistle calling time on a fair result – but the Stags search for victory goes on as they prepare to face rivals Chesterfield on Saturday.
FULL TIME: Stevenage 1-1 Stags
Hayden White – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Johnny Hunt
Alex MacDonald – Joel Byrom (Jacob Mellis 52) – Will Atkinson – CJ Hamilton (Alfie Potter 58)
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Paul Digby, Zander Diamond, Lee Angol, Adam King
Attendance: 2,294 (274)
Referee: Seb Stocksbridge Assistants Carl Fitch-Jackson, Paul Yates Fourth Official Kevin Howick
Craig Priest writes….
You know it’s funny this writing lark, there are many days where you know exactly what you want to say, and then you get the polar opposite of staring longingly at a blank screen. But also there are those rare occasions where you know exactly what to say, but what for whatever reason the words are held back – almost as is if, if you don’t write them – then it never happened.
Today is one of those days.
You know, of all the scenarios that were swirling around my head prior to kick-off yesterday being two-nil down inside ten minutes and then four-one down inside half-an-hour was not one I saw happening, and yet here we are – reflecting on the oldest cliché in football “a game of two halves”.
Firstly there’s something I want to address in brief – the reason for the snap poll on Flitcroft’s future is not me being negative or saying I want him gone, it’s merely for the purpose of judging the raw reaction of supporters after such a turbulent afternoon, in retrospect I broke my own rule of allowing emotion and anger take over when thinking ahead to the next podcast [Today (Sunday) 5pm on our facebook page] – it retrospect I shouldn’t have posted that and for that I hold my hands up and apologise – I’m not usually a negative supporters, I’m quite the opposite, but yesterday for once, emotion and hurt won.
Since his appointment I have backed Flitcroft and still believe that deep down he will come good for us, I also still believe a lot of the situation we find ourselves in, is on the head of Steve Evans. That said, and I’m calling myself out here, yesterday I wouldn’t have battered an eye-lid if the news of his departure had come out – because that Mansfield Town performance was beyond dreadful.
Again I think he got his team selection wrong, as proved by the second half turn-around which I’ll stand and applaud – Ricky Miller should have started, and we as a collective should have started with the rampant lust for victory – trailing 4-1 at half-time should NEVER be the catalyst for that.
What I question, and no player regardless of the effort they show is exempt from this, is collectively has David Flitcroft got the backing of the dressing room – because every time teams come forward we look like we are about to crumble and these tiny cracks are starting to break into gigantic holes which just make me question if any of that dressing room actually want to achieve the play-offs and deliver on what they signed up for?
I’ve said it before, it matters not who the conductor of the band is, just how good collectively the music sounds. Seven games into his tenure and Flictroft should in my view have installed some direction into the music he wants his band to play, and yet we sit here on the back of another defeat having listened to racket of out of tune, lost souls.
Are there injuries in the camp that are preventing certain players from getting a start or in the match-day side, what for instance has happened to Paul Anderson whose leadership and desire we have missed? Jimmy Spencer too seems to have evaporated from thin air when, certainly in games like yesterday when you’re throwing the kitchen sink at sides, he’s be a pivotal part?
Above all else, was Zander Diamond injured yesterday when he was taken off – or is there something more there, because if it’s the latter, then to take your captain off after half-an-hour says to me there is something very wrong in the dressing room.
Several times writing this today I’ve had to walk away and go and have five minutes in fear of welling up because we as supporters know that we are being the masters of our own downfall right now. I have full faith in John and Carolyn Radford’s appointment and I feel sick to my stomach that I crossed the divide into wanting Flitcroft to go yesterday, what sickens me more is that I know that anything less than victory on Tuesday at Stevenage I’ll want exactly the same thing and will find it even harder to drag myself back to the rational thinking of the bigger picture – which is a summer rebuild, his squad, his players, his methods, his way – basically promotion, just a year later than planned.
The reason for that is simple, having travelled countless miles this season in not missing a game – I’ve watched this bunch of individuals become a squad on the brink of achieving something special, and over the past seven games I watched that crumble away like a melting flake.
Within that dressing room the ability to achieve THIS SEASON, is still there – Ok 7th is perhaps the best we can hope for right now, maybe 6th at a push, but it’s still there, but time is against us and a failure to beat Stevenage on Tuesday puts the final nail in the coffin for me, as it’d leave David Flitcroft without a win heading into a game against our relegation threatened rivals, and that fills me with utter dread.
What is baffling about this whole situation is the ability to fight back – we lost the game 4-3 in the end and in truth should have won it, how crazy is that considering how utterly woeful we were in the first half?! I will back Mansfield Town Football Club to the death, I’ll stay with them through the good, the bad and the ugly – but please boys, for the sake of all our sanity, sort whatever issues there are out right now and get out there and deliver what you are capable of.
As I said I let anger and emotion rule yesterday with the Snap Poll, and I hold my hands up to that – can you do the same? Can you as a collective say “we are not good enough, but we WILL put it right” rather than “Ah well, it’s just not dropping” or “it’ll come soon enough” – Nothing happens in this game until you make it happen. You got us into this position, it’s upto you all – regardless of whatever underlying issues you have, to get us out of it. We’re behind you, never think otherwise – you’re Mansfield Town Football club afterall.
Winger Alfie Potter was back in the fold after an appearance from the bench of Monday as he replaced Will Atkinson in the one change to the starting eleven. Striker Ricky Miller was on the bench despite his hat-trick for the reserves in midweek, whilst Youngster Jordan Graham was also a surprise addition – showing that, long term, a partnership and development strategy is in place with the academy.
The Stags started well but were left shell shocked on seven minutes as Crewe grabbed the game’s opening goal as Alex MacDonald’s miss placed pass was picked up and swept forward to James Jones who centrally, evaded the challenge of the Stags defence and hammered beyond Logan.
Three minutes later the visitors doubled their lead as Mansfield fell apart at the back, a cross from the left hand side wasn’t dealt with by Hunt and then Diamond – allowing a shot which Logan half-palmed away, into the path of Jordan Bowery who tapped home.
The stags pulled one back on 14 minutes as Kane Hemmings dropped deep to cross from the left hand side, Lee Angol rose highest but sent his header against the post, he reacted quickest however to turn home the rebound on the stretch for 2-1.
Any hope of a Mansfield comeback was dented once more on 25 minutes as Crewe netted their third of the afternoon, Alfie Potter was disposed inside the centre circle by Charlie Kirk who sent Harry Pickering on his way down the Crewe left – unmarked and unchallenged, Pickering set himself and drilled past Logan.
A fourth followed just two minutes later, Kirk turned from provider into goal scorer as he went untracked and unmarked by White and Potter as the Stags failed to clear their lines from an initial long throw.
Pearce then replaced Diamond with the damage somewhat done already, the Stags did however limp towards the half-time whistle without sustaining any further damage – Rose and Miller then introduced at the break for Potter and Angol as the Stags went 4-3-3 in an attempt to mount what at the time, seemed like the impossible comeback.
And yet they nearly managed it, with Ricky Miller setting up Kane Hemmings on 50 minutes to make it 4-2, Miller’s right sided left footed cross nodded in at the far post by Hemmings.
Danny Rose then had two chances to narrow the scoreline in as many minutes but failed to do so, Hayden White also flashed one across the face of goal but with no end reward.
Conrad Logan then made a fine stop on 70 minutes to prevent a Crewe fifth, before Danny Rose tried to recreate his volley at Shaw Lane in the FA Cup – this time hitting narrowly over.
The Stags to their credit were finally having a go and made it 4-3 on 77 minutes as Ricky Miller got the goal he deserved, turning his man well to anticipate CJ Hamilton’s cut inside and pass – chipping over the grounded keeper from an acute angle.
At 4-3 the Stags deserved another, but despite efforts from Miller, Hamilton, Rose and Mellis to name just a few, couldn’t grab a point from the jaws of destruction – Rose the closest as he struck the underside of the bar.
FULL TIME: Stags 3-4 Crewe Alexandra
Hayden White – Zander Diamond © (Krystian Pearce 31 ©) – Rhys Bennett – Johnny Hunt
Alfie Potter (Ricky Miller HT) – Jacob Mellis – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Lee Angol (Danny Rose HT) – Kane Hemmings
Unused Subtitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Will Atkinson, Adam King [#29] Jordan Graham
Attendance: 3,480 (238)
Referee: Richard Clark Assistants: Paul Graham and Mark Cunliffe. Fourth Official Richard Wild.
Craig Priest writes….
The worst feeling in football is not defeat, it’s the deflation which comes from what could have been. That’s the feeling I left Kenilworth Road with yesterday, as David Flitcrofts men threw away a one goal lead to be beaten 2-1, by two sloppy goals in a performance which in the end, lacked energy and drive – a polar opposite from how it began.
It’s like when a rock looks solid, but you pick it up and with one tiny squeeze, crumbles to dust and slips through your fingers – all than promise, gone – and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it happening.
I wrote on Saturday of how, if we came out and played like we did against Accrignton, we’d be fine and to be fair we did for sixty minutes. We pressed high, scored a good goal, should have scored at least two more and as a whole, weren’t troubled by Luton at all.
And then on the hour it was like someone flicked a switch and all of our energy drained away whilst Luton’s shot up – our tired legs couldn’t cope with Luton’s increasing pressure and they did what good teams do, exploited weakness and pounced.
For the first goal especially it was a carbon copy of the goals we’ve conceded from open play under Flitcroft in, not strong enough down the left which gives space, a ball cut back across the middle and an easy finish. The second, yes you can blame Logan for spilling the free-kick, but why didn’t we follow it in to make sure? It’s basic school boy defending when you’re tired.
I could debate here if the team selection, the one enforced change, was right given the quick turn around in games – but given the way we played against Accrington, I feel Flitcroft was right in sticking with what worked. I do however feel that from the side lines, changes need to come earlier – a double change is not going to impact the game with a mere three minutes left, it needed to be done a lot earlier.
The players looked sapped of all energy after an hour and crumbled, there is no excuse for that and whoever takes up the post of fitness coach following the departure of Lee Taylor, needs to address this quickly as, despite the fact our next few games are against sides at the wrong end of the table, we need to last the ninety in what is going to be dogfight after dogfight.
Again the issue of ‘is flitcroft the right man for the job’ could be debated time after time, it’s true that in a higher league, no win in six games would be cause for the sack – but we’ve got six games to go and despite the fact the play-offs seem a world a way right now, we’re still only two points away with a game in hand, so it’s not harder – it’s tougher.
Like him or his methods or not, he’s the manager of Mansfield Town Football Club right now – let’s back him and see where we end up. Tired legs keep running, but only when those around are running with them too. Let’s do this.
With Mal Benning suspended, Johnny Hunt was back in at left back after returning to the fold on Friday on the bench, other than that it was as you where, with Alfie Potter returning to the bench alongside the back from suspension Pearce.
It was a nervy start from both sides, the Stags desperate for their first win under David Flitcroft and Luton desperate to regain their title hunt – but the Stags settled the quicker with CJ Hamilton and Kane Hemmings linking up well down the left hand side in the opening ten minutes.
On 15 minutes Luton opened up the Stags but skipper Zander Diamond did well to get a block in whilst Hayden White also stood tall against Danny Hylton. The Luton hit man tried his luck again on 21 minutes, but Conrad Logan watched his effort sail wide.
Rhys Bennett was next to get a block in on 26 minutes as Potts squeezed an effort past Logan, Bennett nipped in behind to scramble away and watch on as at the other end, Kane Hemmings saw a cross defelect into the side netting
Alex MacDonald swung in a teasing ball on the half hour which Zander Diamond nodded just over James Shea’s bar, four minutes later Shea beaten – as Conrad Logan hoofed long for Hemmings who turned his man beautifully to power in the game’s opening goal.
MacDonald nearly made it two nil on 38 minutes as he powered one towards the target, Zander Diamond also saw a follow up blocked as the Stags peppered the Luton goal in a wave of frenzied attack, which also saw Hemmings denied by a smart save.
The Stags ended the first have in control, Jacob Mellis so close to adding a second goal as a long range drive deflected up and onto the bar.
Luton stepped up the pressure after the break and on 53 minutes the Stags had Logan to thank as he denied Olly Lee from close range, the Stags then countered with Mellis, Angol and Hemmings but failed to convert as the hour mark approached.
The hosts were back in the game on 61 minutes as they skipped freely down the left hand side and cut the ball back into the box – former Crawley man James Collins on hand to tuck home.
Lee Angol pulled the trigger from Diamonds knock down at the other end to try and get the Stags back into the lead, but Angol was denied by a block – Luton then struck what proved to be the winner on 70 minutes, Glen Rea pounced in front of Logan to convert Alan Sheehan’s free kick – which Logan spilled.
FULL TIME: Luton 2-1 Stags
Hayden White (Paul Anderson 87) – Zander Diamond © - Rhys Bennett – Johnny Hunt (Ricky Miller 87)
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 71) – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Krystian Pearce, Paul Digby, Joel Byrom
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Attendance: 9,592 (725)
Craig Priest writes….
Almost a week ago after the complete capitulation against Forest Green, I sat at this very desk writing with anger, disappointment and a sense of bewilderment – a week on and I have the same feelings, but this time I can’t aim any of that towards the management or playing staff at Mansfield Town FC, unlike some I could mention!
Seriously though, yesterday despite slipping to a 1-0 defeat, 10 man Mansfield gave everything for David Flitcroft and the fans and yet as we enter the penultimate month of the season, find themselves out of the play-offs struggling to understand just what is going wrong.
Let’s address what the problem yesterday was – the subject most of us loath, simple Maths. Playing 10 vs 11 against the League Leaders was never going to end well – did Mal Benning need to go in as strongly as he did, could he not have stood up and pushed the Accrington man further towards the bye-line? Maybe, but what does it matter, it’s done, it was a red card and we move on.
The frustration comes not in Benning’s error but in the inconsistency of the referee throughout the remainder of the game where Mansfield, to Flitcrofts credit, we’re tactically spot on and resilient.
They held their shape, held a high line and pressed well – the Accrington keeper must take tremendous credit for his part in denying the Stags the reward they so richly deserved with a fine display between the sticks when called upon.
From open play we looked the side at the top of the league, we looked the side with 11 men and most importantly we looked the side most likely to do the damage, alas it was all undone by a simple calculation – one extra man at a set-play was always going to prove the difference, and it did on the hour as the Stanley skipper Seamus Conneely broke the deadlock.
The Stags tried and failed to pull level and some questionable finishing paired with a man less and a sharp keeper was the calculation which left us, wrongly, empty handed. I’ll say this right now, if the Stags come out at Luton with the same intensity, purpose and desire for the cause – the long awaited victory for Flitcroft WILL come, and regardless of what happens between now and the end of this turbulent season, if they match that game by game, I’ll draw a close to this campaign satisfied that in the end, they fought for us and eachother.
On paper it’s not looking good for Flitcroft, after the conclusion of Easter Monday’s match at second placed Luton, he’ll have played 50% of the games that were remaining upon the Posh Scotts amendment, it’s a strong possibility he’ll have won none of those games and as a result he’s rapidly losing the support of the faithful, which as bleak as the outlook is, we can’t allow to happen.
What’s that saying – you can’t always wait for the storm to pass, you have to learn to dance in the rain.
I’m getting tired of talking about Evans but it is on him that we’ve been left up a certain creak with a paddle, as I’ve said time after time – ANY manager who walks into that situation needs time, and that is something we don’t have, because it’s not JUST time for the manager to mould his ideas and allow them to set, it’s time for the players too – for example we have four of five key players within the dressing room who can make an impact given two maybe three games to get settled, Miller, Penney, Thomas, Digby to name a few – but time is not something we have, we have to remember that.
In contrast to Forest Green, tactically Flitcroft got things spot on yesterday before and after the red card – just moments before the goal Johnny Hunt was about to come on and shore things up at left back where CJ had done an OK job, but was starting to come unstuck. Had the goal not happened, I think we’d have been sitting here with three points now.
The game however is gone, it’s over, it’s done and we can’t dwell on it much more as we’ve another huge task ahead and can’t afford to focus on anything bar that. Yes we are out of the play-offs but actually that might be a blessing right now, as those around us are expecting us to come unstuck and as such, no longer see us as threats which releases a little pressure – all we can do now, just ONE point outside of the play-offs with a game in hand, is focus on ourselves and apply ourselves with the same determination we did yesterday.
I’d rather play like that and be hurt at the full time whistle than not turn up and not care like at Forest Green. Nothing is lost yet, the maths says so.
With Krystain Pearce suspended, skipper Zander Diamond was back in the heart of the back four, whilst in midfield Jacob Mellis returned alongside CJ Hamilton replacing the injured Danny Rose and Joel Byrom who was on the bench, alongside two surprise names in Jack Thomas, back from his spell at Tamworth, and Johnny Hunt.
The Stags started brightly with Lee Angol trying to fill the goalscoring boots of Danny Rose, he had a second minute effort tipped over by Aaron Chapman in the Accrington goal. At the other end Kayden Jackson hit the side netting on five minutes as he got in behind the back four, two minutes later Conrad Logan was on hand to save from Scott Brown.
The game then took a turn for the worse on 15 minutes as Mal Benning was dismissed for a late challenge on ex-Stag Billy Kee, the resulting free-kick from Sean McConville well held by Logan as Stags re-reshuffled with Hamilton slotting in at left back, Alex MacDonald and Kane Hemmings consistently switching flanks on the legt and right with Angol as the lone front man.
Logan again denied Jackson on the twenty minute mark, three minutes later at the other end Rhys Bennett nodded wide after a well worked corner routine from MacDonald and the impressive Mellis who were really pulling the strings in the middle.
Bennett was at it again on 33 minutes, again following a set play – this time the Stags defender nodded at Chapman, who tipped over to deny a certain goal. From the resulting corner, Lee Angol hit on the volley but could only send his effort into the dark afternoon sky.
The Stags held the visitors well and reduced them to pop shots from distance which caused little trouble, at the other end White, Hemmings and Angol all had chances to open the scoring, but lady luck refused point blank to show her pearly whites.
Kane Hemmings missed a golden chance on 50 minutes from Hayden White’s cut back before ten minutes later, the numerical advantage paid off as Seamus Connelly peeled away to connect with a Stanley corner.
Ricky Miller then replaced Hemmings to partner Angol up front, the Stags opting for a three man midfield with MacDonald moving more central alongside Atkinson and the creative Mellis, the loanee striker nearly made the perfect introduction as he romped towards the by-line on 73 minutes, his cut back scrambled away by a desperate Accrington defence.
Five minutes later Hamilton fed Angol but he couldn’t open up his body quick enough to let fly, with five minutes remaining Conrad Logan was on hand to give the Stags a glimmer of hope as he denied Jackson one v one – time, as is the case at the minute, was against the Stags would this time around failed to get a foothold back into the game.
FULL TIME: Stags 0-1 Accrington Stanley
Hayden White – Zander Diamond © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning [Sent Off 13]
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 66) – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Digby, Paul Anderson, Johnny Hunt, Jack Thomas, Joel Byrom
Referee: Andy Haines Assistants: Steven Rushton, Wade Smith Fourth Official Joe Clark
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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