Craig Priest writes
With the season’s opener against Newport now two weeks away, Mansfield Town stepped up their preparations by showing their resilience – twice coming from behind to draw 2-2 against a very strong Championship outfit in Hull City.
Whilst the Stags’ part in both Hull goals against left a number of questions, you really couldn’t fault the application and determination of Dempster’s men in working on, and effecting, their counter attacking game – with and without the ball.
Mansfield, naturally against a strong Championship side, had to endure long spells without the ball and had their patience tested – but to not crumble and accept defeat is very pleasing, as it’s those characteristics which could prove the difference between play-off heartbreak… and winning pivotal matches in the latter end of the season to go up automatically!
Pre-Season gives a little leeway to errors, and whilst I won’t dwell on them too much, the defensive mistakes which have gifted teams goals so far will need addressing sooner rather than later, and Dempster will need to be comfortable going into Newport with the system which best suits our defence and keeps us tight.
That said we need to find the balance which also gets the most out of our attack and yesterday as we worked on counter-attacking play, 4-2-3-1 allowed us to soak up pressure but left us exposed in the middle far too often for my liking, where as 4-4-2 (after around 15/20 minutes) really got the most out of Otis Khan, who’s had a good pre-season so far, and CJ Hamilton who really troubled defenders and took his goal well.
Knocks and illness’ aside, Dempster opted to go like-for-like with a League match in naming just seven substitutes, which didn’t include any trialists – Omari Sterling-James had an OK out on the right wing, I’d like to see on Tuesday against Forest Under 23s another 4-4-2 with Rose and Maynard up top, CJ on the left hand side and Khan on the right – seeing if we can go and dominate the game.
Finally with Mellis ill, Tomlinson injured following Wednesday’s game and new signing Dion Donohue still side-lined it was a fantastic opportunity for Alistair Smith to step up and get in 90 minutes. I felt he handled the match really well and controlled the midfield with some well-timed challenges and some good distribution – hopefully he can continue his develop and be a part of the season to come.
Onto Nottingham Forest U23s on Tuesday, some maybe frustrated that Forest aren’t sending a first team – but a test against the U23s will be far more beneficial to us in terms of stepping up the pace and working on shape and game management, a game is a game – so bring on Tuesday!
-- MATCH RECAp --
Fielding a strong side, the Championship side were first to test the water on two minutes as Eaves’ half-volley nestled into the side netting of skipper for the day Conrad Logan’s net, five minutes later front man Andy Cook was unfortunate not to have reward for the Stags’ excellent build up play, seeing an effort well blocked by the visiting defence.
The visitors struck the woodwork on 14 minutes and were then denied by a Sweeney block two minutes later. At the other end Mal Benning and Alistair Smith both had efforts fly over and eventually it was the visitors who opened the scoring on 27 minutes, Bowen left with a tap in following poor defending.
Two minutes later Logan made a fine save to keep the score 1-0 before Otis Khan’s looping cross forced a corner on 32 minutes, the Stags however couldn’t capitalise.
Khan was again involved on 39 minutes when he was denied by Long in the City goal, Four minutes later Khan beat Long with an expert free-kick which hit the bar – Neal Bishop was first to the follow up and thumped resoundingly into the inviting net to level things up, just before the half-time whistle.
James Clarke replaced White at the break as Stags set about trying to get ahead but made a mess of it, Matt Preston’s poor clearance allowed Hull to pounce and then given the chance to push the ball back to Logan, was outmuscled by Dicko, who tucked beyond Logan.
CJ Hamilton finished off a brilliant counter attack in 54 minutes to draw the Stags back on track following a fine pass from Otis Khan, Andy Cook nearly put the Stags ahead on the hour, but it wasn’t to be as the visitors recovered to defend strongly.
The match then fizzled out with few more chances of note for either side, the full time whistle signalling a solid draw for the Stags.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 2-2 Hull City
Conrad Logan © | Hayden White (James Clarke 45), Matt Preston (Krystian Pearce 63), Ryan Sweeney (Lewis Gibbens 80), Mal Benning | Neal Bishop (Alex MacDonald 63), Alistair Smith | Omari Sterling-James, Otis Khan, CJ Hamilton | Andy Cook
Unused Substitutes: Aidan Stone, Danny Rose, Nicky Maynard
Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield Town returned to the One Call Stadium last night [Wednesday 17th] for the first time under the stewardship of John Dempster, but swallowed the taste of defeat against Championship Blackburn Rovers – a match in which the 3-1 score line doesn’t do the Stags’ justice.
The Stags played really well against their Championship counterparts and particularly in the second half were unfortunate to not at least take a draw following a fine display from the visiting shot-stopper; however three sloppy errors allowed Blackburn to routinely take victory.
Former defender Dempster will have been unhappy at the way in which his side conceded the three goals, especially having started the trio of Preston, Pearce and Sweeney for the first time under his stewardship – undoubtedly aiming to replicate the solid defence of last season.
Sloppiness however is both expected and accepted in pre-season, and all in all the Stags gave a good account of themselves and looked on par with Rovers, who fielded a very strong Championship side.
Once again John Dempsters cast his eye over trialists as he looks to add strength to his squad, with the two from the weekends victory at Alfreton both getting 45 minutes each, along with another attacking player – the names of which are fairly common knowledge (see below) but are not confirmed by the club.
The question all fans are asking now is, if I were manager, would I sign either of them? My answer would be a very flat ‘No’ – all three have put in OK displays but I personally believe we have enough cover within those particular areas already at the club in the Academy set-up who I would favour developing over new faces, for the sake of new faces.
It’s only the right side area where I’d be looking to strengthen to give Hayden White some competition defensively, as it looks like Dempster prefers to keep Hamilton in a more advanced left sided role, rather than utilize him as a right wing-back.
‘Trialist A’ hasn’t really overly impressed me so far and I think there are better players out there who we can even loan in or bid-for, whilst young James Clarke who’s been brought into the Under 23 set-up has impressed me during his pre-season game time.
As for the other two, again you’ve got the likes of Otis Khan, Jacob Mellis, Alex MacDonald, and Willem Tomlinson who you’d play over them, with youngsters Alistair Smith, Jason Law, Jimmy Knowles, Tyrese Sinclair and Jordan Graham all exciting prospects who will be pushing to breakthrough – so unless they [the trailists] can offer something really different which we as supporters aren’t seeing yet to Dempsters vision, I’d let them move on elsewhere and avoid being too top heavy.
Reflecting on the match itself, I’ve no major qualms about the result or performance, I’d like to see us have a little more intent to attack and utilize set-plays, but that’s going to come a lot more against Hull City and Nottingham Forest, plus on the training ground as the Stags prepare for the season’s opener at Newport.
-- Match Recap --
Stags fans were treated to the return of the solid back three from last season but saw little in way of early attacks and watched on as the visitors took the lead on ten minutes, working a free kick quickly to deliver an early cross which the Stags weren’t ready for, Matt Preston judged to get the final touch with the goal going down as an own goal.
Conrad Logan then was alert from the restart as he rushed out to deny Butterworth – Jacob Mellis was the first to register an effort of note for the Stags on 14 minutes, smashing over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
Logan then made two good saves, the first on 26 minutes to deny Ben Brereton, then five minutes later parrying away Buckley’s low strike as the visitors began to show the divisional gap.
At the break the Stags were a goal behind and made a number of changes to sit into a 3-5-1-1 formation which included two trialists either side of Willem Tomlinson in the centre of the park, with Hayden White and Mal Benning out wide. Otis Khan then slotted in behind Rose with only the keeper and back three remaining on from the first half.
Blackburn added a second on 52 minutes as Pearce hit a clearance straight at Buckley who reacted quickly to tuck beneath Logan. The Chief wasted no time in making up for his error, a minute later thundering an effort into the top corner following a Stags’ corner.
Three minutes later Pearce nearly drew the match level as he saw a header blocked by a Rovers body after another Stags corner, Otis Khan’s tremendous free kick followed on 58, as he was denied by a fine save from the keeper – who from the resulting corner, watched Pearce’s header go over the bar.
Trialist C nearly claimed an assist on the hour as he fed Danny Rose, his brilliant strike was expertly saved by the keeper as Mansfield began to really dominate the game in their quest for an equaliser, which also saw Khan hit another free kick – denied this time by the post.
Pearce was then denied by the keeper with nine minutes to go, four minutes later Blackburn wrapped things up as Armstrong latched onto a pass which had the Stags defence all over the place, finishing underneath substitute keeper Aiden Stone.
FULL TIME | Mansfield Town 1-3 Blackburn Rovers
Conrad Logan (Aiden Stone 78)
Matt Preston (Alistair Smith 78) – Krystian Pearce © - Ryan Sweeney (Lewis Gibbens 78)
Trialist A [Jak Hickman*] (Hayden White 45) – Alex MacDonald (Willem Tomlinson 45 / Omari Sterling James 76) – Neal Bishop (Trialist B [Arthur Gnahoua*] 45) – CJ Hamilton (Mal Benning 45)
Jacob Mellis (Trialist C [Jose Baxter*] 45)
Andy Cook (Danny Rose 45) – Nicky Maynard (Otis Khan 45)
*Social Media reports, unconfirmed by the club
Craig Priest writes…
The 2019-20 season may still be weeks away, but yesterday John Dempsters men took a step closer to being ready for the opening day with a 1-0 victory over Alfreton – as the integration between Dempsters past and future continued.
Once more several faces from Dempsters time as academy boss were mixed in with the first team, highlighting for me that we’re preparing them for the opportunity of breaking through in times of need, rather than rely on loan players and free agents.
In fairness that’s a big part of the reason the former defender and captain was appointed and I’m glad to see that we’ve not singed 13/14 players over bringing through local talent – because so far the young lads which have been given the chance to shine - are gleaming, a prime example being Alistair Smith whose goal separated the two sides yesterday.
The strength of opposition is going to ramp up massively now that we have our three home friendlies coming up against Blackburn Rovers, Hull City and Nottingham Forest – but we can’t wrap young players up forever and I’m sure they’ll give a good account of themselves, as part of the SQUAD.
Emphasis on the word SQUAD is important at this stage because that’s exactly what we are, it’s not senior pros with a few young ones making up the numbers, it’s a collective group of players striving to achieve one collective aim – promotion to League One.
By no means is it the finished article, there are areas to strengthen and areas to add competition in – hence the two trialists yesterday, the right back known as ‘Jack’ who played around an hour, and the attacking midfielder known as ‘Arthur’ who played in the second half XI, there’s also a question of fitness and I’d expect by the Hull City match next Saturday, Dempster to be giving player 70+ minutes.
Yet again it was two XIs getting 45 minutes each and similarly to Thursday, it was a more sluggish first half with more intensity in the second half – interesting as the personnel was mixed. The Stags also opted for another new style of play in the second half, with a 4-2-3-1 which I liked, I look forward to seeing how things unfold as the intensity certainly ramps up over the next week.
-- Match Recap --
Mansfield made another bright start and were unlucky not to have taken the lead after four minutes, as Jacob Mellis’ teasing cross found the head of Ryan Sweeney, who without his curly hair from last season, was a hair’s width from connecting with the ball.
Conrad Logan then watched a header go wide on 12 minutes and had to be alert again on 26 minutes, getting down low to deny Wilde, who was allowed to get a shot in from distance to test the Stags.
CJ Hamilton sparked the Stags into life twelve minutes later but was denied by a brave red shirt after Hamilton venomously unleashed an effort, the Stags final real opportunity of the first half – going in firmly locked at 0-0 to hand over to the remainder of the squad.
With two men on trial in the amber and blue, the second half saw trialist ‘Arthur’, playing in attacking midfield catch the eye early doors, he skipped the challenge of numerous challenges before firing just side, infront of the travelling Stags faithful.
Alex MacDonald, returning from an injury scare in Portugal, was next to set a chance for the Stags as he delivered from the right hand side in 54 minutes – Otis Khan met the ball with a first time shot, sending the ball narrowly over the bar.
On the hour it was MacDonald himself who came closest to opening the scoring, he was denied by a fine save from the substitute Alfreton keeper at close range.
At the other end new keeper Aiden Stone, expected to be Logan’s understudy until Oljenik is fit, showed his credentials as he got across his line well to deny Brough’s header with ten minutes to go, two minutes later his hard work was rewarded as Mal Benning swung in a cross for the advancing Alistair Smith to convert – giving Mansfield a much deserved 1-0 lead.
The young midfielder nearly made it 2-0 with three minutes remaining, his surging run denied on the edge of the box, as the hosts cleared their lines – the full time whistle followed not long after as Mansfield rounded off their first week back in the UK with their second win in three days.
FULL TIME | Alfreton Town 0-1 Stags
STAGS [First Half] 4-4-2
Trialist ‘Jack’ – Krystian Pearce © - Ryan Sweeney – Kian Sketchley
Omari Sterling-James – Neal Bishop – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Nicky Maynard
STAGS [Second Half] 4-2-3-1
Trialist ‘Jack’ (James Clarke 66) – Matt Preston © - Lewis Gibbens – Mal Benning
Willem Tomlinson – Alistair Smith
Alex MacDonald – Trialist ‘Arthur’ – Otis Khan
They say that football is a results based business and throughout the season, David Flitcroft didn’t shy away from the fact his players were on incentive based contracts – so it’s stands to reason that he’d be on a similar deal, but does a fourth placed finish and play-off semi-final defeat on penalties warrant Flitcroft’s departure?
The news has certainly rocked and divided the Stags faithful, who for the first time in nearly a decade at the clubs helm, are questioning the actions of Stags’ owner and chairman John Radford.
Personally I’m shocked. If I were in John Radford’s position would I have sacked Flitcroft? Probably not, as judged solely on last season I think fourth is a respectable finish having played the best brand of football for years, not to mention transferring players into sellable assets and rebuilding broken bridges between the first team and the academy.
However, Radford I predict will be judging Flitcroft of the entirety of his tenure which ultimately is two failed attempts at promotion, the first having just twelve games at the end of the 2017/18 campaign after Steve Evans quit, the second this season with his own team losing out on automatic promotion on the final day at MK Dons, losing their last three games of the campaign – and looking at it in that light, you have to say the decision, is just about justified especially if, going back to the incentives, promotion is your job remit.
Do I think the Stags board should have stuck with Flitcroft? Yes. Personally I’d have factored in things such as injuries and the fact the play-offs are a lottery and said, we’ll go again next season under review – expecting to be in the top five at Christmas with a certain points target. The fact we now start a fresh has its pros and cons for sure, but today’s news just shows how ruthless football is.
I had planned out a whole blog about an inquest into the seasons failures, which would have included a paragraph or two about stability from top to bottom, using the likes of Lincoln, Luton and Accrington as firm examples.
What comes of perhaps more of a shock in todays news is the immediate appointment of John Dempster as the clubs new manager. Dempster is a club icon for me who on the pitch was pivotal to promotion back into the football league and since hanging up his boots, has done an incredible job in restructuring the academy, however whilst I’m delighted to see him given a shot at first team management – I’m apprehensive and somewhat disappointed it comes where the pressure is more ‘into the inferno’ than ‘into the fire’. I'm not doubting the appointment, from the outside, it just appears rushed - though I'm sure the board and the Radfords have considered the options.
Going back for a moment to Steve Evans’ departure, it was then that Dempster should have been handed the reins as he’d have gone in on the back of a phenomenal time with the academy and had pretty much nothing to lose. Had we finished in the play-offs then great, job done, if not, it’s not a problem we can appoint a new manager to implement new ideas and tactics with his own squad – whilst Dempster returned to the comfort of the Academy.
Whilst Flitcroft did reshape and restructure, he already had a noose hanging loosely around his neck having drank from the poisoned chalice which awaited whoever followed Evans, which I believe now, has ultimately cost him his job.
Dempster will get my complete and utter backing as he should that all of Stags supporters, however I’m under no illusions that he faces a tremendous challenge to decide which of the current crop he wants to keep and now has to rebuild and challenge for automatic promotion – because unless the board have done a complete U-turn in expectation – it would be double standards to achieve anything less without the exact same consequences.
I would expect Dempster to also be tasked with giving more game time to the clubs younger crop of players having coached and managed them so well through the academy process, which could go one of two ways really. I just hope it doesn’t end with it blowing up in our faces.
As many have said Football is so ruthless and it’s 100% a results based business – if me or you weren’t reaching our targets in our jobs after a period of time, we’d be down the job centre too. I would have liked to see Flitcroft given more time to continue to build, but the decision has been made.
To Flitcroft and his staff who follow him out of the door, thank-you for your efforts and putting together a season which, whilst it ended poorly, as a whole was exciting to watch unfold and follow.
To John Dempster, the new manager of Mansfield Town – you know what promotion means to the supporters, go and deliver it and make a name for yourself in the world of senior management, a former manager of yours once said that success is built on strong foundations, you’ve certainly laid some good ones so far.
Football – it never fails to deliver does it!
End of the road: Stags 0-0 Newport (AET, Newport win 5-3 on penaltys) [Play Off Semi Final, Second Leg]
Full Time Score Mansfield Town 0-0 Newport County AET Newport win 5-3 On penalty’s
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg
Venue The One Call Stadium
Stags Goal Scorer(s) / (Penaltys: Ajose SCORED Hamilton SCORED Walker SAVED Benning SCORED)
Attendance 7,361 (1,118)
Craig Priest writes…
Missing out on a trip to Wembley is how the story ends for the 2018/19 season, in the cruellest of ways – a penalty shootout. Honestly I don’t know what else to write whilst holding back the tears – other than I’m incredibly proud of Mansfield Town FC, as yet another season comes to an end.
I’m not going to sit here and look in detail at how it all went wrong, that’s for another day when the emotion is far less raw – but what I will briefly comment on is the future of Stags boss David Flitcroft, and that quite simply is to remain Manager of the club, and finish the job next season.
Flitcroft has built a squad which for 95% of the campaign has delivered tremendous football with a fighting spirit to match, and whilst the other 5% has had detrimental effect on promotion hopes and dreams – I walked away from the One Call Stadium yesterday with a tear or two running down my face, satisfied that the players had given it everything in the end.
Going into the game, the Stags couldn’t afford to reflect on where they’d slipped in the previous weeks, nor get drawn into arguments about the referees display on Thursday – the only thing which could affect potential promotion, was what the boys did on the pitch.
At half time I did wonder how we weren’t on the end of a hammering, as Newport dominated, but after a change in shape at the break Mansfield did everything bar score and had just ONE effort dropped, I’d be writing with the jubilation of a forthcoming visit to Wembley – alas, it wasn’t to be.
When the game goes to a penalty shootout, it becomes a lottery, a slip or stumble here, or a confidence loss there and the pendulum swings widely in the opposite direction – if anything you could say Walker was destined to miss from the spot, having not missed a spot kick all season and taken the golden boot. There is no blame there, anyone who does put blame of those takers, does so out of sheer idiocy.
I’m as frustrated and hurt as the next supporter at failing to achieve promotion or a Wembley visit, and yes I agree that an inquest does need to be made into what went wrong – however, I’ve been watching the Stags for nearly twenty years now and I can honestly say that the class of 2018/19 have produced some wonderful stuff, and I’m proud to have witnessed every game, even that 45 minutes at Forest Green which didn’t bloody count!
I’ll share my views on the season as a whole over the coming days as the pain drains from my system, and of course I’ll have my say on the Mansfield Matters Podcast on Thursday at 6.3pm (ish) over on our Facebook Page in the end of season review show, for now though – the hurt and pain still lives deep, however I’m a firm believer that a manager given time to build on failure can deliver success and I already await the new season.
Thank you to the players who’ve made this season thrilling to follow, and thanks to you guys for reading the blog or watching/listening to the podcast this season – don’t look back in anger. This ain’t my journey, this ain’t the end – I’m waiting here, ‘till I see you again.
David Flitcroft was forced into one chance as Neal Bishop picked up an injury during the first leg, he was replaced by Willem Tomlinson – read how the action unfolded HERE with the clubs official match report
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 0-0 Newport County AET, Newport win 5-3 on penaltys
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones (Jorge Grant 120+1), Alex MacDonald, Willem Tomlinson (Mal Benning HT), Jacob Mellis (Will Atkinson 90), CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Nicky Ajose 105+1)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Full Time Score Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
(Aggregate Stags 1-1 Newport)
Competition Sky Bet League Two – Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg
Venue Rodney Parade
Stags Goal Scorer(s) CJ Hamilton
Craig Priest writes…
With the regular season ending in such a disappointing way, Mansfield Town needed to respond with a freshness as they prepared to face Newport County in the Sky Bet League Two Play Offs, and whilst they head into Sunday’s second leg feeling a tad hard done by, David Flitcroft’s men showed real character to put in a first class display – reinstalling believe that they can finish the job they started.
It was imperative that the Stags rediscovered their flare and let behind any feelings of hurt and disappointment as they came up against a Newport side on a real bounce following a strong finish to the Sky Bet League Two campaign, and that’s something which Flitcroft’s boldness in the team selection enabled to happen with Mal Benning dropped out of the starting line-up for only the second time this season in all competitions.
The long serving defenders absence from the starting line-up allowed CJ Hamilton to occupy the left wing back slot and cause real danger to the hosts as Mansfield played an effective counter attacking game with real fluidity across the park, evident in the wingers 14th goal of the campaign in all competitions.
Whilst Hamilton caused damage at one end of the pitch, the real plaudits should go to shot stopper Conrad Logan, who produced a Gordon Banks style display in the Stags goal with a string of world class saves to keep a hungry Newport at bay – this included a strong penalty save, he was extremely unfortunate to not keep out the rebound, and defender Ben Turner who was solid, coming in for the injured Matt Preston.
A lot of talk before the game was about so called ‘damage limitation’ and trying to still be in the tie for the second leg, which to be fair given recent performances, wasn’t a bad line of conversation – but Mansfield Town delivered far more than that and SHOULD be ahead, with the penalty awarded to Newport an extremely soft call, whilst they should have also been playing with ten men, following a challenge on Tyler Walker within the opening minutes which was a straight red card.
However these squabblings and disgruntled points of conversation mean nothing, the fact is Mansfield produced their best display for weeks, they are still very much in the tie and if they can produce a similar, if not better, display on Sunday in the second leg at the One Call Stadium, then I’ve no doubt that a trip to Wembley will await the Stags.
I believe team selection will be huge on Sunday; however Flitcroft has in my opinion done the right thing in NOT using all three substitutions providing key figures with that extra rest. Had this been a league game with points up from grab, I’d be talking about utilising the likes of Khan and Grant to influence the game – but we have another 90 minutes (minimum) to factor in, plus travel and recovery – game management is where Flitcroft will really earn his money now.
Let’s do this!
Three changes were made by the Stags boss following Saturday’s 1-0 promotion costing loss at MK Dons, Gethin Jones came in at right-wing back moving Alex MacDonald back into the middle as Willem Tomlinson missed out, Ben Turner replaced the injured Matt Preston in the back three, whilst the boldest move of all saw Mal Benning dropped in favour of Danny Rose – CJ Hamilton moved back and wide to the left-wing-back slot, allowing Rose to partner Walker upfront.
Mansfield made a rapid start to proceedings as Rose looked to banish the demons of his last trip to Newport as his ferocious running earned the Stags a first minute corner, CJ Hamilton also troubled down the left hand side as he released Walker on four minutes – the leading front man unable to connect with real venom making it easy for Joe Day in the home goal to collect.
Two minutes later Walker was clean through on goal before being pulled back by O’Brien who appeared to be the last man, and as such, should have received a straight red card – the referee produced only a yellow.
Mellis and Bishop both tested the water but it was a devastating Stags counter attack which opened the scoring on 12 minutes as MacDonald made a fine clearance to send Mellis running through the middle, neat control and a crisp pass saw Hamilton through on goal at pace – Joe Day could do nothing bar pick the ball out of the net as lightening, struck.
Mansfield then soaked up some pressure from Newport but nothing too concerning before as the half hour mark arrived, Rose was unlucky to see his through ball to Walker be a little too heavy, before Mellis danced through before firing over the bar.
On 33 minutes Conrad Logan became a hero and emulated Gordon Banks with a unbelievable save to keep out Matt’s close range header, the Stags remained in the driving seat until the break – but couldn’t add to their well-earned 1-0 lead.
After the break Tyler Walker should have made it 2-0 as he weaved around the keeper but got his foot stuck under the ball as he struck toward the open goal, a Newport defender recovered well to clear the ball before it could cross the line before on 50 minutes Logan was at it again, throwing himself like a sky diving polar bear at Padrig Amond’s goal bound effort – a fine save.
Joe Day denied Walker on 62 minutes as the front man lashed an effort towards goal before the hosts had a goal chalked off for offside after Logan again produced the goods – it was then Day’s turn to produce world class save, as he acrobatically denied Mellis, whose effort was heading to the top corner after a neat bit of build up play from a hungry Stags side.
Danny Rose’s game was over on 76 minutes as he made way for Benning after a phenomenal display which caused Newport endless problems, on 83 minutes Logan was judged to have fouled a Newport player despite replays cleared proving otherwise – he did then save Amond’s spot kick but couldn’t quite recover to keep out the rebound, 1-1 which is how the game stayed, at Full time in the first leg – but half-time in the tie, the stags now come home to try and get the job done.
FULL TIME: Newport County 1-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-5-2] Conrad Logan, Ben Turner, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones, Alex MacDonald, Neal Bishop, Jacob Mellis, , CJ Hamilton , Tyler Walker, Danny Rose (Mal Benning 77)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Otis Khan, Nicky Ajose, Jorge Grant
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Full Time Score MK Dons 1-0 Mansfield Town
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue Stadium MK
Stags Goal Scorer(s) /
Attendance 20,718 (5,227)
Craig Priest writes…
As I walked away from Stadium MK yesterday fighting back the tears and trying desperately not to be sick or let my rage boil over at those “supporters” who said they’d “come back if they got to Wembley” – I couldn’t help but be frustrated at my own heart, because deep, DEEP down – I knew Mansfield Town would throw away the chance of promotion.
The Stags as a whole have been brilliant to watch this season, but over the last two months with the expectation of two games – David Flitcroft’s men have fallen so far from what they used to be that even if the scenario yesterday had been “avoid defeat by three goals or more” – we’d have lost 4-0. I hate myself for typing that, I really do – but there’s a lot of truth to it.
I’m not one to take to social media and start conversations with an undertone of blame – it sickened me yesterday to see posts of “Flitcroft Out” as we’ve come so far but ultimately didn’t have enough about us when it really mattered.
Some internal investigation has to be done from the manager to discover exactly why we’ve let promotion slip away – and that doesn’t just extend to yesterday’s defeat for two reasons, one - in a winner take all game when one team needs to win, they’ll come at you as MK did, and two – in the second half, those players were brilliant and did everything bar get the ONE goal which would have clinched promotion.
You have to look back and ask why we’ve lost at relegated Notts County, why we’ve allowed Crewe to come to the One Call and dominate us, why we’ve not had enough about us to beat average sides in Crawley and Northampton over the last couple of months – because teams who DESERVE to be promoted simply don’t do that.
Those questions, these frustrations, this sickening bloody hurt needs to be flushed out and quickly because whilst we threw away automatic promotion – we can still be playing League One football next season, as we now head into the play-offs against Newport County in the two-legged semi-final, the winner of which faces Tranmere or Forest Green at Wembley for a place in League One.
Finishing in fourth is the hardest place to finish as we’ve lost out on automatic promotion by the skin of our teeth and carry the hurt, anger and disappointment that comes with that – and now we have to take on 7th, who’ve done the polar opposite, got in by the skin of their teeth and carry the joy, buzz and elation that comes with it.
BUT – that actually gives us an advantage because absolutely nobody fancies us anymore – BRILLIANT, because people have fancied us for the last two months and look what happened. We have an opportunity to go and play with more freedom – we start fresh.
Newport is a very tough place to go, especially on a Thursday night – it’s a heavy pitch and they’ll be direct – we’ve got to look at the characters and systems to nullify that, because this is not 90 minutes of football now, its 180 minutes minimum – we’ve got more time to fight.
It’s heart-breaking to think about how we’ve failed and fallen but that is NOT going to get us to Wembley and get us another chance of promotion. Deep, DEEP down, I do believe the Stags can achieve promotion – so let’s head into Newport knowing what’s done is done and focus on righting the wrongs.
In order to fly, you must have the courage to jump – we’ve thrown ourselves off the edge and whilst we’ve dropped lower than we hoped or expected, still have the power to spread those wings and soar to the other side. It’s the Mansfield Town way.
Click HERE for the clubs match report
FULL TIME: MK Dons 1-0 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston (Ben Turner 19), Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Alex MacDonakd, Neal Bishop, Willem Tomlinson (Danny Rose 37), Mal Benning (Jorge Grant 70), Jacob Mellis, Tyler Walker, CJ Hamilton
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Alistair Smith, Gethin Jones
Referee: Lee Probert
Full Time Score Mansfield Town 1-2 Stevenage
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue One Call Stadium
Stags Goal Scorer(s) Tyler Walker
Attendance 6,390 (209)
Craig Priest writes…
Why? That’s the question on every true Stags fans lips this morning. Why do our team do this to us, why can’t things ever be simple and why, when everything is going our way, do the script writers see fit to add in the cruellest of plot twists – 90th minute winners for the opposition?
You invest so much in the drama and accept there will be twists and turns along the way, but when you reach the penultimate episode and you think yo9u’ve got everything sussed – something comes along to leave you gasping for breath, or sunk back in your seat struggling to hold back the tears.
There’s no way to dress up yesterday, there’s no way to come out and try and put a positive filter on the picture – I can’t do it. I’m angry, I’m hurt, I feel let down by those in control of our destiny – because at this critical stage there’s no room for excuses, no room for error, and very little time to do a re-write.
I think David Flitcroft is a fantastic manager and person, and underneath this frustrated collection of ranting words, I believe we’ll get over the line and achieve what’s needed – BUT listening to his post-match interview, I felt let down and his comments were the sake of making them – blaming the conditions, blaming the vulnerability of counter attacks, saying we knew this, we knew that – it’s not good enough ultimately, staff and players need to hold their hands up and above all else – put it right.
I felt, for the sake of reflecting on things rather than just venting, that we coped with the conditions first half and whilst we had Logan to thank for two fine saves, we were on course to take the bull by the horns in the second half. But then a lack of movement, a lack of willingness to make things happen and a lack of killer touch saw the sands of time trickle by and in typical Mansfield fashion, we made it harder for ourselves when we gifted Stevenage the keys to our house, and they found the deeds and sold it from under our feet.
Our only saving grace in the whole situation was that MK Dons were beaten at Colchester which means it’s as you were going into next weekend’s final fixture against the Dons, who sit below us on goal difference.
FAILURE to win yesterday, or at least draw, has allowed other teams to come in to the mix as with Bury’s game at Tranmere getting postponed – the latter could now leapfrog us on the final day if they beat Bury in midweek and then beat Crawley, IF we were to draw – as Tranmere would be on 78 points and us & MK on 77.
Of course that’s not the end of this messy plot as goal difference would also come into play for the final automatic promotion slot, as IF Bury had lost at Tranmere and then lost to Port Vale as that’d put us, MK and Bury all on 77 points – our goal difference, thanks in no small part to the 4-0 win over Morecambe, is better (3rd GD +29) than both Bury (2nd GD +26) and MK (4th GD +21).
Forest Green Rovers could also have a say in things, but are not really a danger to us in terms of the automatics – a win for them plus a defeat for us at MK would only affect the play-off standings and fixtures, as MK would obviously go up having beaten us.
Do I care about any of this? NO. Should you? NO, although as proved yesterday and in previous weeks a lot of fans naturally will do. Should the players and management care? 100% NO! This is merely the messy way that all of this could come to an end – but for once, let’s keep it simple and just win – because a win, wraps it up nicely!
To David Flitcroft and the players, use today to get everything out of your system and come into training ready to give it give it every last bit of energy to gain automatic promotion – because over the course of the season that’s what you deserve.
To fellow supporters, let’s do the same and give unconditional love and support to the players on Saturday and not let anger, disappointment and opinion boil over – because that will NOT hope. To those inevitable band wagon jumpers, welcome, where have you been all season? Actually no my sarcasm doesn’t matter – but PLEASE make a choice, either join the rest of us and back what we’ve all desired, or jump off the band wagon now and don’t even think about jumping on it again.
Yes a cruel plot twist has sent a curve ball right through us, BUT that plot twist is NOT the ending to this story – we’ve one more episode to go, and we hold the pen. Let’s make it a happily ever after yeah?
Does it really matter any more? If it does and you’re reading this from the future and want to know how it all unfolded, click here – because in the present day, reflecting on the plot twist, doesn’t matter to me – only the MK Dons game does, sorry!
Come on you Stags, let’s do this.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 1-2 Stevenage
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones (Jorge Grant 73), Neal Bishop, Willem Tomlinson (Danny Rose 65), Mal Benning (Alex MacDonald 90), Jacob Mellis, Tyler Walker, CJ Hamilton
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Zayn Hakeem, Ben Turner
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Full Time Score Oldham Athletic 3-2 Mansfield Town
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue Boundry Pary
Stags Goal Scorer(s) Tyler Walker, Neal Bishop
Attendance 6,179 (1,334)
Craig Priest writes…
Nearly twenty-four hours on from yesterday’s game, I don’t think I’ve calmed down yet – not from the linesman’s decision to chalk-off Danny Roses’ late equalizer, but how difficult we are making it for ourselves – with the fate of our season now inevitably coming down to the seasons final day at promotion rivals MK Dons.
There’s a saying in life about taking the stairs over using a lift, it’s supposed to teach the value of hard work an effort – appreciating the view more from the top when you get there, IF Mansfield Town reach League One, then they’ll have climbed their fair share of stairs along the way.
Since the end of the game many people have had conversations about the game and the cruelty of the offside flag, and whilst I praise the lads desire to fight back – I have to myself and whoever I’m talking too, why on earth we needed to fight back in the first place, how did we allow ourselves to get into such a negative position and subsequently allow our promotion rivals to gain ground at such a critical stage.
I want to go into a rage, I want to scream and shout and let out the anger – not because we’ve slipped, but because we are way better, way stronger in a fight than we were at Oldham yesterday.
I look back at the games where little moments have cost us and feel myself boiling again, but then I look at the league table and the amount of games left to achieve what we set out to do in the first place and ask – what’s the point in reflecting on the old, questioning the moments, pondering the ifs and buts? Is that going to help, is that going to get us over the line? In a nutshell – NO.
All of it is just footprints in the sand, washed over and wiped clear like they were never there in the first place by the uncontrollable ocean tide, if we stop and stare back over our shoulders then there’s a real danger we’ll get washed away too, having to start all over again.
I don’t think it needs saying that Mansfield were below par and key players were already on a beach enjoying their summer holidays, failing to perform again - going into detail would just add to the bile and negativity which drowns us and I can’t take it anymore.
The ONE thing that I take from yesterday is the fact we did fight, we changed systems and let loose and we do that again – backed by every single one of you whose dreamed of seeing the Stags in League One.
The players have the experienced heads within the dressing room, they have the talent and the ability to cause real damage and deliver on promises – despite everything which went against us on the pitch our support was brilliant, the players will notice that and reward that – let’s give it one last push to fill the One Call Stadium for the final home game of the season and go into the critical decider against MK Dons with a bounce, a buzz and an attitude to be proud of – we’re Mansfield Town and no matter how many punches you throw at us, we’ll be the ones that deliver the decisive blow in our favour.
I don’t care what Bury or MK Dons do on Saturday – I care what we do, realistically a win keeps us in the driving seat so together, let’s get it! To the players – give your all like you’ve never given your all before, to the fans – be loud, proud and remember that patience is a virtue….
…and to the linesman, keep that bloody flag down!
It’s not over, it’s only just begun.
After thrashing Morecambe 4-0 on Friday, David Flitcroft stuck with the same starting line-up, many with fresh trims as the Sky Cameras were present as part of their Bank Holiday Monday triple header.
Mansfield started nervy and were under pressure from the off, taking 17 minutes to find a real opening as Gethin Jones drove forward to find Jorge Grant in the area – his first time half-volley sailed wide of the target.
Four minutes later fellow forest loanee Tyler Walker hit an effort first time from the edge of the area but couldn’t beat Iversen in the Oldham goal as the shot flashed wide of the target – the Stags then enjoyed a number of corners but on 29 minutes, were caught on the counter by the hosts, Gevaro Nepomuceno the fan to add the killer touch as Mansfield took the first dagger to the heart.
Mellis, Benning, Hamilton and Sweeney all had chances to pull the game back on level terms before the break, but after 45 minutes of action – Mansfield were behind and needed to come alive as the second half dawned.
David Flitcroft kept things as they were and was nearly rewarded for his patience as skipper Pearce was denied by Iverson in front of the travelling faithful from Bishops cross a minute into the second half – Jacob Mellis also had an effort blocked before Oldham grabbed a second, capitalising on questionable defending as Maouche turned home with 56 on the clock.
Danny Rose then replaced Sweeney on the hour as Mansfield went 4-3-3, it took just a minute to find a reply as a fine flick from Rose set Mellis free, his ball into Walker set a routine finish for the leading talisman – who converted on his left foot through the keepers legs. 2-1, Game on?
Six minutes of end to end action followed but ultimately it was Oldham who restored their advantage on 67 minutes with a sublime goal, made for the cameras, Nepomuceno throwing another dagger right into the heart of the Stags.
David Flitcroft says you’re never out of a fight until you draw your last breath and the Stags whilst hurt, were still breathing but had Logan to thank on 71 as he denied Lang in a one vs one which would have been game over, five minutes later Neal Bishop scored a left footed spin and turn from the edge of the box to make it 3-2, you sensed Mansfield had another goal coming to rescue a point from the jaws of defeat.
Tyler Walker nearly grabbed it on 80 minutes as Mellis sent him through, Walker fired over the bar much to our despair in the away end. Elation came in the 96th minute as Mellis’ long range effort cannoned back off the post and fell to Rose who bundled home his first goal since October to make it 3-3, however elation soon became sickening despair and anger, as the linesman raised his flagged cancelling out Rose’s heroic effort for offside – the full time whistle followed giving Oldham a 3-2, and I don’t mind admitting that behind vented frustration towards the officials, lay a tear or two building up as results elsewhere saw Mansfield JUST cling onto third on goal difference.
Two games to go, AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
FULL TIME: Oldham Athletic 3-2 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney (Danny Rose 59), Gethin Jones, Neal Bishop, Jacob Mellis, Mal Benning, Jorge Grant (Alex MacDonald 53), Tyler Walker, CJ Hamilton
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Zayn Hakeem, Ben Turner, Willem Tomlinson
Full Time Score Mansfield Town 4-0 Morecambe
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue One Call Stadium
Stags Goal Scorer(s) Jacob Mellis, Krystian Pearce, CJ Hamilton, Mal Benning
Attendance 5,177 (107)
Craig Priest writes…
Buying a Mansfield Town ticket should come with a health warning – I’m thinking increased heart rate, high blood pressure and stress – lots of bloody stress! Alas when the results and performances are like the one against Morecambe, it’s well worth the health risk!
The Stags needed a huge display following a rather nervy weekend at Northampton last time out and really needed to show they had the nerve to challenge for a place in the top three and try and put some breathing space between themselves and the chasing pack.
Did they do that? 1000000000000000000000000000000000% they did with a dominant display full of intent, confidence and the critical key element – a red hot killer touch.
From the very first whistle the Stags fought to win the ball and for a good half an hour didn’t allow Morecambe time to breathe – peppering the goal mouth only to be denied by Barry Roche, who showed keepers really do get better with age, with a goalkeeping master class in the first half.
Jacob Mellis’ opening goal was vital as I feel had we dominated without reward, the frustration would have boiled over and given the heat and occasion, we may well have made a punishable mistake.
There was a time in the second half where I feared that the visitors would get back into the game and Mansfield should be credited for finding their way through that and adding the killer touch to gain a three goal cushion and crush the visitors hopes.
Monday’s game needs to be just as intense from our perspective as the bigger the gap between ourselves and those chasing us, the easier the final two games will be – especially considering we have to play one of the chasing teams!
Nothing, absolutely NOTHING, is sealed yet – three games now to play and it could all change dramatically, all I ask Mansfield Town FC, is to repeat that display of energy, pressure, intent, desire and killer instinct – because THAT is the difference between success and failure! COME ON!
Two changes were made by David Flitcroft as he looked to release the hand break on our attack – introducing Jorge Grant and Jacob Mellis for Alex MacDonald and Willem Tomlinson, who both settled for a place on the bench.
Mansfield started with a real spring in their step and should have taken the lead on five minutes as Jones connected with a left sided cross, denied by a fine save from Roche – whp just a minute later, denied Mellis as he thundered a shot forward.
Jones, Hamilton and Walker all had opportunities for an opening but couldn’t quite force open the door, Roche then made a double save on 21 minutes first denying Walker, and then Hamilton on the follow up.
Four minutes later Roche was at it again, denying Grant’s long range effort before back peddling to tip the spinning ball off of the line – Mansfield were really asking questions and got the answer on the half-hour, as Jacob Mellis’ driven effort from Benning’s cut back, finally got the better of Roche.
Ten minutes later Mellis was denied again this time by a Morecambe defender – Gethin Jones had the final effort of the half, again denied by an on forn Roche, who single handily kept the score to just 1-0 Mansfield.
A change of shape from the visitors at the break made it harder for Mansfield but that didn’t stop Roche being called into action again, denying Grant with his feet on 48 minutes before Walker turned the ball wide on 57 minutes from a Stags corner.
Mansfield then soaked up pressure where Morecambe looked like they would burst Mansfield’s bubble, the chief had other ideas and doubled the Stags lead on 70 minutes – showing great composure to turn inside the box and drill into the net.
Three minutes later the Stags made it 3-0 as Hamilton twisted and turned his way beyond Roche, before the icing was put on the cake with five minutes remaining by knight of the relm Sir Mal Benning, whose long range effort zipped beyond Roche to seal a massive victory for Mansfield Town – lifting them to second as Bury lost 3-1 at Newport, MK Dons move up to third, having beaten Conference bound Notts County 2-1 – Mansfield go one point above MK Dons with the 4-0 victory widening the goal difference to +8 goals over MK. Bury sit fourth two points behind Stags with +7 goals in the Stags’ favour.
It’s still all to play for.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 4-0 Morecambe
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, Gethin Jones, Neal Bishop (Willem Tomlinson 83), Jacob Mellis, Mal Benning, Jorge Grant (Alex MacDonald 72), Tyler Walker (Danny Rose 77), CJ Hamilton
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Will Atkinson, Zayn Hakeem, Ben Turner
Referee: Trevor Kettle
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