Sheffield United delivered an 86th minute killer blow to knock Mansfield Town out of the Capital One Cup last night despite an encouraging and spirited display from Paul Cox’s Stags at Bramall Lane.
In what was a knife edge game, the League One side didn’t have it all their own way as, fresh from the defeat at Northampton, League Two Stags felt they had a point to prove and refused to go out without a fight.
Concerns we’re raised over the Stags defending at times, non-more so than in the 53rd minute as Andy Bulter tucked home the second ball from a corner, however when star man Alex Fisher levelled four minutes later from close range – it looked like an upset could be on the cards. Ultimately the difference in leagues showed as Marc McNulty grabbed the winner four minutes from time, finishing against the run of play as the Stags had been hammering on the door at the other end.
Despite another defeat, Stags can come away with their heads held high – their performance at Northampton was inexcusable whilst in contrast, against the blades their performance was full of heart, passion and determination – if the defensive errors, especially from set plays, can be tweaked then Cox’s men will have no trouble in putting points on the board and a good run of form together.
The match didn’t come without adversity however, striker Liam Hearn was one of four changes but the hit-man lasted a mere 15 minutes on his first start before being withdrawn through injury for Sam Clucas whilst late on, defender Martin Riley was also taken off after getting a knock.
With Matt Rhead suspended and Ollie Palmer and now Hearn injured, this leaves Alex Fisher as the only recognised front man for Saturday’s clash with Oxford, however when Hearn emotionally hobbled off his replacement Clucas looked really sharp in attack alongside Fisher and actually moved Stags into another gear after what was a shaky start.
From the off Sheffield United cut Stags apart with crisp passes and, had it not been for an excellent save from Studer away to his left, Mansfield may well have been in for a long night. However the Stags began to fight back as firm challenges from the back three ensured Stags kept United at bay whilst, after the addition of Clucas, Mansfield began to play some good stuff with Taylor, Clucas and Fisher coming close to opening the scoring.
At the break it was all square and during the second half the match remained on a knife edge until Andy Butler opening the scoring, tucking home the second ball after Sascha Studer had made a fantastic initial save. Bulter should have been picked up and closed down and understandably Studer was left angry with his defence – skipper for the night McGuire played well but helped little as a leader throughout the game, his passion misinterpreted as anger which unfocussed the side at key points.
Alex Fisher then levelled with a well taken effort following Lee Beevers’ drilled assist and Stags then flowed with confidence as we’re unlucky not to have taken the lead, running out of steam towards the end, cut apart on the counter attack where McNulty delivered the killer blow.
Stags’ passion was encouraging as was certain phases of play, if they can channel this into Saturday and tighten up at the back, the good times will soon follow.
STAGS: Sascha Studer, Ritchie Sutton, Martin Riley (John Dempster 72), Ryan Tafazolli, Lee Beevers, Jamie McGuire © (Fergus Bell 68), Simon Heslop, Rob Taylor, Chris Clements, Liam Hearn (Sam Clucas 16), Alex Fisher
UNUSED SUBS: Luke Jones, Jack Thomas, Amari’i Bell, Cameron Belford
Mansfield Town crashed out of the Capital One Cup tonight at the hands of League One Tranmere Rovers, conceding with the opening and final minute of the first half.
Cox’s men, who endured a nightmare finish at Scunthorpe on Saturday when Louis Briscoe missed a 90th minute penalty, sadly picked up where they left off as poor defending allowed Andy Robinson to nod home the opener following former Bury striker Ryan Lowe’s flick inside the opening minute.
Sam Clucas twice attempted to get Mansfield level in the opening ten minutes but failed to really test Owain Fon Williams in the Tranmere goal before the hosts came close to a second as Ash Taylor nodded wide at the front post from a Robinson corner on 12 minutes.
Tranmere held the reins and Alan Marriott kept Mansfield in the match on 26 minutes as he palmed away a powerful effort from Chris Atkinson, who was called into the Rovers line up late to replace the ill Max Power. Moments later Akpo Sodje was inches away from connecting with a low cross as the League One hosts stepped up the pace.
Four minutes before the break Taylor again came close for the hosts as he headed wide from a corner, Rovers then doubled their lead on the stroke of half time as Chris Atkinson held off the Stags defence to slot home with his left foot at the near post, after opening goal scorer Andy Robinson squeezed a pass through the back line.
Ritchie Sutton replaced John McCombe at the break and Cox’s men began the brighter of the two sides as the advancing James Jennings saw a cross-come-shot palmed away by Fon Williams. Louis Briscoe then earned a Stags corner on 58 minutes as his shot deflected behind, however Stephen Foster was untroubled in heading away Jennings’ clipped delivery.
Seconds later Mansfield had a real chance as Clucas romped down the left flank and took the ball around the advancing Fon Williams before squaring for Briscoe, who continued his poor start to the campaign by firing wide of the inviting empty net – Lindon Meikle also came close heading Beevers’ deep cross straight at Fon Williams as Cox’s men searched for a way back into the cup encounter.
The hosts threw on Jason Koumas on 64 minutes, the arrival of the big front man quietened down the Stags fire, Mansfield had a few half chances but nothing good enough to claw their way back into the tie – the full time whistle a welcome relief in the end for Cox’s men as they were dumped out of the Capital One Cup at the first round stage.
FULL TIME: Tranmere Rovers 2-0 Mansfield Town
STAGS: Alan Marriott, Lee Beevers, John Dempster, John McCombe (Ritchie Sutton HT), James Jennings, Louis Briscoe (Jake Speight 74) Adam Murray ©, Anthony Howell, Lindon Meikle, Sam Clucas, Ollie Palmer (Matt Rhead 79)
UNUSED SUBS: Lee Stevenson, Ross Dyer, Chris Clements, Junior Daniel
Referee: David Webb
Attendance: 3,067 (173)
The second match of the season, away from home and it’s not Gateshead – thank goodness for that! Now, not for a second am I bemoaning or slagging off the trip to the North East but under Paul Cox they never ended well and in truth, when I looked at the fixture list for the second game of the season, my head dropped in dread.
I can’t guarantee a repeat of the Gateshead results, a hammering and a sending off, but a change of scenery will be welcome for our traveling army of Stags fans, a new competition too could open old memories, Portsmouth, Stoke, Millwall et-el.
The Capital One Cup is a competition we’ve been absent from for a while and whilst we may never reach the final, it’s opportunity to test ourselves against tougher opponents with the luck of the draw and potentially bring some additional money into the club.
Naturally after Bradford City’s success last term, there is renewed hope that a league two club could go on a run and reach the final, for me though this would be the smallest of pipe dreams, what I want from tonight is a good performance from Paul Cox’s men against League One opposition.
Tranmere Rovers are the hosts and will be looking to get back on track after Saturday’s league one opening day defeat to Walsall, Ronnie Moore’s men slipped to a 3-1 defeat on the road. Last term Rovers achieved an 11th place finish in league one and have added quality in every area, tonight will be a tough test for Paul Cox’s Conference Champions against a side with promotion and success in mind.
It would be wrong of me to comment on Saturday’s defeat at Scunthorpe having missed it for personal reasons, the same will be said after tonight will work commitments having to take priority, however without what Cox’s sees as recognised striker starting the match you can’t fault the application of those that did play – whatever the result, nine times out of time you can say a Paul Cox side will have battled.
Tonight will be no different against another tough opponent, keep that atmosphere the same and back the boys, who knows we may upset the odds and make it through to round two, where the draw could throw in another big tie.
LAST TIME WE MET
It’s been a while since Stags and Tranmere last locked horns in 2003, a match which will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. The original date was Saturday 25th April 2003 and the sides were at the opposite ends of the table, Tranmere were 13 games unbeaten and had slim hopes of a play-off finish whilst Stags were on a terrible run which saw them all but relegated under new boss Keith Curle. Mansfield needed to win and other results to go their way to stand a slim chance of staying up, although long before the match the management and indeed supporters, had accepted relegation was imminent – the Stags fell behind on 16 minutes when Iain Howe slammed a shot between the legs of a blameless Kevin Pilkington. On the half hour mark a cross from the left hand side led to Tranmere’s second of the match before the drama began during the half time interval.
A man, who was later confirmed as a known psychiatric patient, climbed the floodlight tower and jumped onto the roof of the main stand, parading up and down leading to the stands being evacuated and later, the police match commander, abandoning the match.
Results elsewhere meant Stags were down and Tranmere missed out on the play-offs, with the season near to its end the match had to be slotted in three days after the roof walk. Tranmere’s kind free entrance offer didn’t soften the blow for Stags fans who watched on as there relegated side slumped to a 3-1 defeat.
Earlier in the season it was a completely different feeling as Stags slaughtered Tranmere 6-1 at Field Mill. After conceding a 13th minute opener, strikes from Neil MacKenzie, Scott Sellars, Liam Lawrence, Colin Larkin and a brace from Isden Christie grabbed Stags all the plaudits.
It total the sides have met 75 times, Tranmere lead the victory count 32-23 – they also lead the goal count 120-114 and have restricted Mansfield to only six wins at Prenton Park over the years, a Mansfield’s last victory at Tranmere coming in 1985 when the Stags won by two goals to one.
In recent years the sides have locked horns in pre-season, back in the summer of 2010 Kyle Nix’s 85th minute strike earned David Holdsworth’s Stags side a 1-1 draw.
Following defeat for both sides on opening weekends there could be changes, Paul Cox may well be tempted to hand a full debut to new signing Ollie Palmer up front.
Tranmere boss Moore has vowed to make one or two changes following Saturday’s defeat at Walsall, challenging his new picks to “keep their shirt”.
Should the match finish level after 90 minutes, extra-time and penalties will be used to decide a winner on the night, fingers crossed Briscoe’s got his shooting boots on then!
Written by Craig Priest
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