Full Time Score: Retford Utd 0-5 Mansfield Town XI
Competition: Pre-Season Friendly
Venue Cannon: Park, Retford
Goal Scorers: Lee Angol (P) Omari-Sterling James [2 (1P)] Krystian Pearce, Nyle Blake
Craig Priest writes…
A second half-flurry of goals helped one of two Mansfield Town sides onto victory yesterday (Saturday 14th) as impressive displays from Omari Sterling-James, new signing Neal Bishop and youngster Lewis Gibbens saw the Stags XI beat Retford Utd by five goals to nil.
Manager David Flitcroft cast his eye over this Stags XI with assistant Ben Futcher overseeing the 0-0 draw at Hednesford in the afternoons other senior fixture.
Having missed the trip to Bradford Park Avenue on Thursday due to other commitments, it was the first time I’d seen the new look Stags, and whilst I wanted to see the likes of Otis Khan and Tyler Walker who were playing in the Hednesford match, I was more than satisfied with the players I did see, Neal Bishop and youngster Lewis Gibbens particularly impressing.
Out of the summer signings, Bishop is the one who has gone under the excitement radar a little, but 100% he is the type of player we need in the engine-room of midfielder – putting in a puppeteer-like performance yesterday… pulling all the strings.
The former Scunthorpe man did a lot of work box-to-box off the ball, closing play down and keeping the Stags shape, which in similar fashion to the pre-season matches thus far, was a 3-5-2/ 3-4-3 system – playing out from the back and enjoying long, fluid, spells with the ball.
Bishop, flanked by Will Atkinson and the transfer listed Calum Butcher with sterling-James and Anderson in the wider positions, controlled the middle of the park well and was the buffer between the back three of Pearce, Paul Digby and youngster Lewis Gibbens and the Stags attacking threat of Angol and youngster Jordan Graham.
It will be interesting to see where the 36 year old fits in Flitcroft’s plans going into the season, but his drive across 90 minutes is something we’ve lacked along with the experience of playing at a higher level – he looked comfortable in sitting back at allowing the wide players to push on, but also in lurking on the edge of the opponents box to redistribute moves which break down – he was actually very unlucky to not score with a well saved long-range effort during the second half.
Moving from the experienced head of Bishop to the youthful promise of Lewis Gibbens, who played on the left-side of the back three, Gibbens had a fine game and I believe will be one to watch over the next six-months – if he can’t break the first team, which given the lack of defensive signings so far could actually be a possibility, then a loan as a regular in a conference national side is a must to maintain his development.
The youngster was strong in the air and was a real threat from attacking set-plays, during the first half alone he had three opportunities to score, crashing one header against the bar and nodding two over. At the other end he was very comfortable in playing out from the back and playing with a high-line, he very rarely lost an Ariel battle – marshalled through the game by Bishop and the very vocal Paul Digby.
David Flitcroft included two more youngsters in the Stags XI, with Jordan Graham starting up-front alongside Lee Angol, he had a quieter game than the other too but looked sharp enough.
The other youngster was Nyle Blake came off of the bench to replace Paul Anderson during the second half and capped a fine display with a goal. Playing right side of the midfield five, Blake looked quick and had a few tricks in his locker – creating a number of opportunities, he’s certainly another whose development should be statically planned and monitored, as the Stags face four Championship sides over the next fortnight before their League Two opener, at home to Newport County
The recent heat-wave had done the Retford Utd pitch no favours and it took the Stags a while to get settle, but it was the Stags who enjoyed the best chance early on – Omari sterling-James sent in a pin point corner in the 6th minute which found Lewis Gibbens at the far post – the youngster unlucky not to score as his thunderous header cannoned off the bar and out for a goal-kick.
An error of judgement from Paul Digby moments later at the other end nearly let the hosts in, however Bobby Oljenik was alert and stood firm to deny the hosts an opening.
From then on in it was pretty much one-way traffic with the Stags bossing possession and creating chance after chance after chance without reward, Sterling-James particularly impressing with a number of corners which saw Gibbben twice head wide, along with captain Krystain Pearce and Calum Butcher – who both sent headers off target.
Paul Anderson nearly opened the scoring with an audacious left footed lob which was heading from the top corner after the home keepers poor clearance, fortunately for the home glovesman, he scuttled back and made a fine save to deny the Stags’ adaptable midfielder, playing in a left wing-back role.
Lee Angol and Jordan Graham also saw efforts blocked, but the Stags dominance paid off with three minutes to go before the break as Will Atkinson was comically bundled over inside the area – Lee Angol stepped up to take the spot-kick and converted successfully.
The Stags continued their dominance after the break and didn’t seem to tire, Sterling-James and Atkinson both saw chances denied as Mansfield looked for a second – something they found through Sterling-James on 63 minutes from close range.
Skipper Pearce then made it three on 70 minutes as he tore away from his marker to covert a Sterling-James corner, five minutes later Sterling-James turned goal scorer, converting the Stags second spot-kick of the afternoon, which he won after a crazy left-sided run which left the hoists chasing a blur.
Youngster Jordan Graham saw an effort blocked before Neal Bishop was also denied by a fine save, however Sterling-James grabbed another assist with three minutes to go, his left sided cross finding youngster Nyle Blake, who converted the Stags’ fifth from close range.
FULL TIME: Retford Utd 0-5 Stags XI
STAGS: Bobby Oljenik, Krystian Pearce ©, Paul Digby, Lewis Gibbens, Omari Sterling-James, Will Atkinson, Neal Bishop, Calum Butcher, Paul Anderson (Nyle Blake 64), Lee Angol, Jordan Graham.
When the retained list was revealed at the end of last season, there were three names I wasn’t happy to see in the category of ‘players under contact and made available for transfer’.
Anyone whose read my blogs over the last year will know two of those names in Paul Anderson and Paul Digby – the other is a man who has just been taken off the list, and rightly so in my view, Will Atkinson.
Digby and Anderson remain on the transfer list although Anderson IS currently out in Portugal whilst it would appear Digby is not, but that is a discussion for another time.
Removing 29 year old Atkinson from the list is a positive move from David Flitcroft, as Atkinson, in my opinion, provides adaptability across the midfield and fits with the type of play Flitcroft will impose this forthcoming season.
Able to play right, left and centre, Atkinson can really deliver when called upon and does a lot of the “unseen” work closing play down and creating space – I think he’s tenacity will really shine and get the best out of the likes of Tyler Walker and CJ Hamilton.
I’ve written numerous articles over the years about finding a set position for a player who can player in a number, Paul Digby and Alex MacDonald were prime examples – but with Atkinson, I think it’s the opposite, let him roam, allow him space and freedom, let him be the engine and watch us progress.
At the same time of confirming the removal of Atkinson from the transfer list, the club confirmed that former bury skipper Nathan Cameron has joined the club out in Portugal for the training camp.
The long serving Bury man is exactly the type of commanding central defender need and could fill the void left by Rhys Bennett, however much like David Mirfin, Cameron has a recent injury history and in the last two season has appeared for the shakers less than ten times which is a worry.
If however the Stags medical team can get Cameron match fit, it’s certainly worth taking a punt on the 26 year old as we really do lack cover and back up in that area with Zander Diamond, similarly to Paul Digby, being nowhere to been seen in Portugal and transfer listed.
Staying with the transfer listed players, Paul Anderson IS out in Portugal and training with the first team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken off that list in the coming weeks and playing a key part next season.
Anderson’s transfer listing was no shock after he wasn’t fancied by Flitcroft upon his arrival, we know from our Memory lane episode with Bobby Hassell that Flitcroft is prone to targeting the older players in favour of blooding youth.
However that doesn’t mean the versatile former Forest man can’t win over Flitcroft and get the first team football he so desperately wants in order to stay at Mansfield – another fact he’s made clear to anyone whose spoken to him.
The final player listed is Calum Butcher who has also been spotted out in Portugal training with the squad – it’s an interesting one where the 27 year old is concerned as he was only loaned out last season as he couldn’t settle up here without his young family who, according to the world of rumours (I know you should never do this but still) were meant to be moving closer to Mansfield during this summer.
Who knows with that one, but for me, Butcher does has a talent and the ability to play at a much higher by very much falls into the category of performing well in a certain role, set system and style of play.
The excitement is certainly building more and from the signings we’ve made so far – Flitcroft looks to be shaping a good spine of the team, and putting together a squad who be physically fitter and more focussed for the challenge ahead which is still very much promotion.
With constant speculation over an exit to another club coupled with the arrival of three new signings, two being front man and one a very attack minded midfielder, you’d be forgiven for worrying that the rumours of his exit have an element of truth to them – but for me, I think Danny Rose can actually blossom, thanks to arrival of the attacking trio.
The popular 24 year old front man enjoyed his best season for the Stags last term finishing as top scorer, but since being injured early doors at Forest Green Rovers in March – Rose wasn’t quite the same and his goals dried up – some better bloggers than me may even suggest the Rose, wilted.
Personally I am a big believer in players reacting better to some managers than others, almost like a jigsaw puzzle – isolated you’re looking at a funny shaped coloured square, but put together with the others and you end up looking at a beautiful landscape.
Looking at Roses’ Mansfield career you could argue that Peterborough’s finest Steve Evans got the best out of him which statistically thus far is true – but over the course of his career, ask yourself who has developed Rose the most with senior opportunities? The answer, David Flitcroft.
Flitcroft brought Rose through at Barnsley and then secured the young front man’s services again upon joining Bury, where Rose played much more of a part and flourished into the talent which Adam Murray then brought to the Stags.
I think sometimes people forget that mild-mannered Rose is just 24 and towards the tail end of last season, I think the long season of carrying the Stags front line in the Evans system had taken its toll – hence why the injury occurred and the goals dried up, for me he needed help.
Rose really impressed me with his conduct and his game, in cricketing terms I would class him as an all-rounder – he’d not an out and out target man, he’d not a six-yard box poacher – he’d good with both feet and in the air and clever with it, looking at the players David Flitcroft has brought into the squad in the attacking ranks, I can only see Rose starting to flourish.
He’ll be allowed to play his game again and keep defenders guessing learning from the experience of Craig Davies who is practically a more experienced Rose, as well as benefiting from the pace and flair of Tyler Walker and Otis Khan, both players who like to run at defenders, create pockets of space and exploit from ridiculous angles.
Rose, like any young player, is about confidence – you can see how much Mansfield Town means to him and how much the crowd rally him, I can think of countless chances last season he spurned and then let that frustration grow on him as, other than Hemmings there were few around him contributing and that expectation in a side chasing promoting can carry a huge weight.
Another issue was fitness, especially again towards the last part of the season, Rose would visibly tire after 75 minutes when we really needed a 95 plus minute player – I personally think that will improve this term and the return will be extremely valuable.
I almost wrote the return would be goals there, but we should know better – strikers shouldn’t be judged entirely on goals but on contribution and work rate – Rose is certainly up in that bracket of players who would probably play with two broken legs and still positively contribute.
Having Davies and Walker to call upon around him, plus let us not forget Lee Angol and the un-tapped raw ability of Omari Sterling-James, can only be described as a positive and hungry strike force - one which a character such as Rose can really bloom in.
I’m sure I will touch upon this more over the coming weeks, but this is a clean sheet for all involved here – the failure to reach the play-offs is done and gone, it can’t be changed and some of the personnel involved with that have moved on – what we have is a squad who are being worked hard and who create the right environment for us to be successful, and for players like Rose to really shine.
David Flitcroft has to be commended on his approach to pre-season, it hasn’t been a case of “off you go lads, we’ll see you on this date” – there has been continuous work over the summer and this trip to Portugal will not be an easy ride, highlighted by the fact we’re playing Dundee United who will provide a proper work out, rather than having a kick about with a bunch of random fellas, picked for a one-off match.
Flitcroft’s work with the team will pay off, as it will with Rose – speculation is just that and will always be there with your key players, sometimes you’ve got to ignore the hearsay and gossip and somewhere down the line – everything will come up Roses!
“You’ve got to make sure players come here for footballing reasons” – they were the words of Stags boss David Flitcroft this morning as Mansfield Town’s squad of twenty returned for the second day of pre-season training, and comparing the two close-season activities between Flitcroft and his predecessor – I can’t help but put another tick in the box of positives for the Stags manager heading into the new campaign.
Only two new additions were made by Flitcroft during the period of boredom for football fans, whereas by this stage last season, Steve Evans pretty much had all deals signed sealed and delivered.
But which approach is best? Whilst we may be frustrated at a perceived lack of action from Flitcroft, he appears to me to be taking his time over signings and not dishing out big money deals – admitting he’s met with a number of players who have looked at Mansfield Town FC as a big paying team, wanting to sign for that reason rather than footballing ambition.
Evans, in contrast, had pretty much every deal done without seeing the players merge together – I’m a big believer that a player may be one of the best around, but only when they play in a certain formation, in a set style, with two or three others who set the ground work for them.
By getting the players together as a unit, not only can Flitcroft see who is good technically, but he and his staff can see who is bonding with who, who will fit in the variant of systems and most importantly who will display the right attitude to perform for Mansfield Town Football Club and its supporters.
The Stags boss in my opinion is under massive pressure to deliver quickly after last season’s capitulation, where it is clear that on reflection he walked into a dressing room split and a dressing room who were happy to collect their inflated wage packets and not deliver.
His silence throughout the summer has also frustrated the fans, I’ve met David at his first press conference and spoke to both him and Ben Futcher at length, he’s not afraid to come out and talk but he is a big believer of getting work done on the training ground – press conferences aren’t a short thing, so that in reality hour and a bit could be spent on the training ground – and if that extra hour is going to be the difference between winning and losing, then silence is speaking volumes.
I’d very much expect to see three more faces be revealed before the end of the week ahead of the Stags trip to Portugal where they’ll face Dundee United, another positive – this will not be a week of frolicking around in a pool with a bit of running thrown in, ending with a game against 11 random blokes, it will be the professional intensity required for a full season of challenge.
With the boys back in training, the new kit on sale and pre-season matches just around the corner – the excitement is building. Let’s just remember though as the heat gets to us and things, probably, stay quiet – swans appear gracious on the surface but underneath are kicking for their life, sometimes it’s the bits you can’t see which makes the difference!
Football’s back – it’s great!
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
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