Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 15th January 2022
There were some concerns that after exiting the FA Cup in the 94th minute, Mansfield Town may begin to implode and undo all their hard work – however, a 3-2 victory over Swindon Town in midweek, followed by yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Walsall – Nigel Clough’s men have made a clean cut, and have jumped into the Sky Bet League Two play-offs.
Nigel Clough’s men have this togetherness and resolve which seems to have grown and grown – they look determined to go out and win every game and play teams off of the park, the results aren’t just showing on the league table, but in the stands as fans flock in and raise the noise level.
It’s hard to really pick fault when you’re winning games, Tuesday you could talk about the way we let two goals in, and yesterday you could argue that we should have had ten, but it’s picky and what matters most is the end result and so long as we’re getting them, there’s nothing more to say!
The next week is going to be the biggest challenge so far for me, we’ve had six home games and enjoyed home comforts backed by big numbers – but those will be reduced significantly considering the amount of miles we’ve got to travel.
On Tuesday we go to the league leaders although there’s little to fear there for me, it’ll still prove a tough test, whilst on Saturday it’s a Barrow side who will want to put more distance between them and the bottom sides.
Add into the mix the outcome of the John-Joe O’Toole contract situation, news due on Monday, that could have one of two impacts – he goes, it’s a BIG blow to how we play and the squad, he stays, it’s a bounce of togetherness and let’s finish the job. Here’s hoping it’s the latter and Mr O’Toole remains a Stag.
Forget ifs and buts, forget looking ahead to finishing here or there, let’s continue to enjoy the moment, it’s much better that way!
COME ON YOU STAGS!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, Rawson, Hawkins (Gale 90’), McLaughlin, O’Toole, Clarke (C) (Charsley 46’), Maris, Quinn, Oates (Johnson 90’), Bowery UNUSUED SUBS: Stech, Nartey, Law, Sinclair,
Attendance: 5,728 (884)
FA Cup Third Round, Saturday 8th January 2022
With two in form teams coming head to head, it was never going to be a dull encounter – and even at 2-0 down following two goals highlighting the difference in levels between the two sides, the Stags refused to lie down and take it.
Yet again Clough’s men fought back to make a real game of it and after shaking off the cobwebs following another two postponements, really clicked around twenty minutes or so and started to open up the Championship side.
With a bumper crowd eager to see a cup upset, you sensed that if Mansfield could get a goal, the roof would come off and the Stags WOULD draw level. It may have taken a while but when Oli Hawkins swooped in to head home Quinn’s inch perfect cross, you knew there was more to come and with five minutes to go, Jason Law’s splitting pass sent Rhys Oates through to do the rest.
Seven minutes of added time were added on and I honestly think, had tiredness (Hawkins out paced) not set it and the unfortunate own goal from the diving bodies of O’Toole and Hewitt, we’d have won it in extra time.
BUT, if you’re going to go out of a cup competition, that’s the way to do it – we gave it everything, we left our fans leaving bursting with pride and importantly, hungry for more.
That can only bode well for the remainder of the season, starting again on Tuesday evening as Swindon come to One Call Stadium – where should the Stags bounce back with a win, could pull themselves into the playoffs.
We’ve seen in previous seasons how much a good cup run can impact you, let’s hope the confidence of taking out two league one clubs and pushing a championship promotion chaser to the absolute brink, is enough to repeat memories of 2013!
COME ON YOU STAGS!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O'Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin (Lapslie 60), Maris, Clarke © (Johnson 60), Stirk (Law 71), Bowery, Quinn, Oates Unused Subs: Stech, Turner, Nartey, Charsley, Burke, Ward
Sky Bet League Two, Sunday 26th December 2021
Script writers put so much effort into the Christmas day specials of soaps, the REAL drama is in Boxing Day football though – case in point? Mansfield Town 3, Hartlepool United 2 – Unbelievable Jeff!
The Stags found themselves two goals down from just two Hartlepool shots despite utter dominance in the first half and it looked like their excellent run would be coming to an abrupt end.
John-Joe O’Toole then sparked a remarkable turnaround of three goals in eleven second half minutes, as Jordan Bowery and then George Maris made like Santa Claus and delivered!
Mansfield were without several key players, Danny Johnson and Ollie Clarke were both on the treatment table still, and pesky Covid wiped out the midfield with Stephen Quinn, George Lapslie, Harry Charsley all falling to the dreaded red line, defender Richard Nartey and goalkeeper George Shelvey were also forced into isolation – leaving the Stags with just five subs.
Thick boxing day fog and horrendous rain also threatened the fixture, the fog especially was a killer and there was only one visible part of the pitch from my seat, which made commentary interesting to say the least!!
Hartlepool equalised in the 91st minute, denied by the offside flag – a huge call by the assistant on the far side who I presume had some view of it!!! After the game, whilst interviewing John-Joe O’Toole, Hartlepool manager Graeme Lee after finishing his Sky Sports interview, passed us and proceeded to shout “IT WAS A GOAL” – He was not a happy man!
O’Toole was incredible again, I asked him after the game about his future – for me we have to bend over backwards to get him what he wants, he’s been critical in our U-turn in our form and would be a massive loss, like a sledgehammer to a nut, if we were to lose him now.
I’d love to see us continue our excellent form and go again on Wednesday at Harrogate – but honestly, if one more player gets the dreaded red line, we’re done for – I don’t see it being on at all, probably the same for Rochdale too sadly.
Either way, three more points in the bag and just a point from the play-offs, a remarkable achievement when you consider how poor we were two months or so ago! Long may it continue!
COME ON YOU STAGS!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, Rawson, Hawkins ©, McLaughlin, Maris (Sinclair 80), O’Toole, Stirk, Bowery, Oates (Gale 77), Law Unused Subs: Stech, Burke, Ward
Attendance: 5,958 (1,010)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 11th December 2021
There’s a saying in football that once the players step over the white line, there’s little managers can do to change things – but that’s not always the case. It could be a key substitution, a bit of information on a player or, in yesterday’s case a change in system midway through a game to nullify the opposition.
The Stags had started with the back three, but with John-Joe O’Toole (illness) and Will Forrester (ankle) both missing, Clough had to change the back three with Hawkins and Rawson coming in and Hewitt going to left side centre half.
Without sounding harsh on Hewitt, he was having a torrid time and after Salford took the lead on nine minutes, it was clear that the Stags needed to change things up and to Clough’s credit, sent the message out for Hewitt to go to right back in a flat back four – from then on, he improved and so did the Stags.
The fluid football began to return and the Stags racked up a number of chances before Rhys Oates turned home McLaughlin’s free kick to level the game, he was then heavily involved in winning another set play, which McLaughlin then bent home to put the Stags back in front.
In the second half the Stags were OK and put enough pressure on and defended well enough to see the game through, although it’s clear Clough needs another striker, or Danny Johnson to be fit enough to return, because after an hour – the lads had given it everything and were really struggling for pace up front.
Mansfield are on a brilliantly remarkable run and still have players to come back, a week of rest will be needed ahead of the trip to Forest Green Rovers, where an immoveable object, meets an unstoppable force!
COME ON YOU STAGS!
STAGS: Bishop, Rawson, Hawkins ©, Hewitt, Bowery, Stirk, Maris, McLaughlin, Quinn (Charsley 87), Lapslie, Oates (Sinclair 81) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey [GK], Burke, Law, Gale, Nartey
Attendance: 4,113 (73)
Sky bet league two, Tuesday 7th December 2021
Sometimes winning a game of football isn’t about playing a team off of the park and scoring goal after goal after goal, it’s about defending something earned, to earn something further. Stephen McLaughlin’s sixth minute goal may have proved the difference in the scoreline, but in the end it was the Stags determined defence who sealed the points.
Playing against a strong wind in the second half thanks to the start of the latest storm, Clough’s men struggled to get the ball forward, but Elliott Hewitt, John-Joe O’Toole and Will Forrester, later Faz Rawson, were all phenomenal in getting stuck in and taking every attempted hammer blow that the visitors had to offer.
Mansfield were without Rhys Oates who picked up an injury on Saturday and skipper Ollie Clarke, Oates was a major loss in attack as whilst Bowery is a good hold up man, he hasn’t got the pace to push us high in the press early – it was needs must up there though with Danny Johnson still out injured, and Oli Hawkins suspended.
Clough stuck with the back three and Mansfield played some beautiful football within the first half hour or so, McLaughlin’s strike typified that as his header from Hewitt’s cross brought an end to a lovely flowing move of what 17/18 passes?
The Stags kept the ball very well at times and looked dangerous in attack, if you add in the aforementioned Oates, Hawkins and Johnson, the Stags are causing real damage and killing the game off, as it was – we didn’t have that but we did have the nerve and resilience to defend the clean sheet which it’s fair to say, we’d have lacked a month or so ago!
The winning feeling is a good one and we keep climbing the table, taking things one step at a time and enjoying the ride!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O’Toole, Forrester (Rawson 57), Charsley, Stirk, Maris (Sinclair 85), McLaughlin, Lapslie, Quinn ©, Bowery UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey [GK], Burke, Law, Gale, Nartey
Attendance: 3,695 (133)
FA Cup Second round, Saturday 4th December 2021
Watching Stephen Quinn dancing and leading the celebrations in front of 3,292 proud Stags fans is a moment that will stay with me for a very long time, as Nigel Clough’s men overcame a 1-0 score line to reach the third round of the FA Cup, slaying yet another League One side in struggling Doncaster Rovers.
Clough was dealt a bitter blow in the build up to the game, losing Farrend Rawson and Oli Hawkins, both through illness, meaning that the excellent back three had to be moved to a back four hours before kick-off.
The Stags started well but after the Rovers’ seventh minute goal against the run of play, struggled to get going and after seeing George Lapslie’s goal chalked off for offside, went into the dressing room 1-0 down and with two key players struggling with injury.
Rhys Oates managed to stay on but Stephen McLaughlin had to be withdrawn, Clough gambled – switched back to a back three but needed someone to play at left wing back, you’d think Ryan Burke would be the obvious choice – but Clough seemingly had a premonition and threw on Jordan Bowery – the rest, as they say, is history!
George Lapslie will get the plaudits for the brace, but Jordan Bowery deserves a huge amount of credit for a phenomenal display, being heavily involved with the goals and our general build up play which Doncaster simply couldn’t cope with.
To the hosts credit, they’d made it to be an entertaining fixture with the goal late on and showing some dangerous moves when they decided to play long, rather try to play out from the back where, with a mixture of our forceful press and their lack of confidence, saw the back four playing in the stands.
Mansfield have to be tighter, but again a month or so ago we’d have crumbled after the first goal, we’re growing closer week by week and that’s driven by O’Toole at the back, Quinn in midfield and Oates up front who is electric!
Fingers crossed for a nice money spinner in round three at home, or a stadium we’ve not been too before to create some memories!
For now though, it’s time to refocus and go again to be ready to face Carlisle in league two on Tuesday!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O’Toole, Forrester, McLaughlin (Bowery 46), Lapslie, O’Clarke © (Charsley 90+1), Maris, Stirk, Quinn, Oates (Sinclair 79) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey [GK], Mason [GK], Burke, Ward, Law
Attendance: 7,020 (3,292)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 27th November 2021
f Nigel Clough ever decides he’s had enough of Football management, then the poker circuit is certainly worth considering – that or the magic circle, shuffling his pack yesterday to bamboozle us all and pull out some ace cards.
The biggest ace of all was for me the formation, Clough switched from what we predicted would be a 4-4-2 diamond to playing with three central defenders, pushing Hewitt and McLaughlin higher and wider as wing-backs in a system designed to be fluid and effective in moving the ball.
It worked a treat too, the Stags lost no experience at the heart of defence with O’Toole playing as the central anchor to Rawson and Forrester either side of him, allowing Hawkins to move back up front – a role he thrived in, scoring one and setting the other with a superb defence breaking pass.
Clough had tough decisions to make with skipper Ollie Clarke and George Maris both of four bookings, a big reason behind them both being dropped to the bench – in their place Lapslie and Stirk did the job, the latter was brilliant in a box to box role, getting stuck in and playing a number of key passes.
The midfield however can run and play passes all day long, but that’s nothing if you’ve not got the strikers to complete the hand – I’ve already mentioned Hawkins, but Rhys Oates too is showing exactly why he’s so highly rated and we’ve certainly missed him. He looks so hungry, so eager to close things down and create – he takes his goal very well from Hawkins’ brilliant pass, but also created a number of other openings yesterday to real turn the thumb screws.
Having the three points will overshadow a slight concern, Crawley were allowed to get back into the game early in the second half and for a good 15-minute spell completely turned the game around – they’ll feel very hard done by in the end, twice hitting the bar, Tyrese Sinclair is a very lucky boy, missing a golden chance in the dying embers to kill them game off, watching on mere seconds later as Crawley hit the bar!
In the end though it was a very good display overall and on any other day may well have been a much higher score line, would I keep working on the 3-4-1-2? 100% yes, it actually makes perfect sense to set up that way with the players we have.
Three points, job done!
STAGS: Bishop, Rawson, O’Toole, Forrester, Hewitt, Stirk, Quinn (Maris 69), McLaughlin, Lapslie (O Clarke 89), Hawkins ©, Oates (Sinclair 79) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Burke, Charsley, Bowery
Sky Bet League Two, Tuesday 23rd November 2021
After a solid run of consecutive wins, Mansfield Town were bound to have a stumble sooner rather than later – with said stumble coming on the long journey to league newcomers Sutton United.
Nigel Clough said after the game that he felt had his side scored at 1-0 down, we’d have taken something home – he’s probably right on reflection, but it wouldn’t have been deserved as Sutton were the better side, and we played right into their hands.
We allowed them to press high and dominate, failing to get the ball under control in the final third and repeat the strong midfield performance we saw against Scunthorpe, with silly errors creeping in for the first goal – we deal with the first set play well enough but don’t deal with the second phase of play, whilst for the second goal – fail to clear our lines from a long punt over the top, again not picking up the second ball.
We’ve swung from being short at the back to being short up front, and that’s the difference – we can manage and cope with giving silly goals away such as the first, but only if we’ve got some pace and energy at the other end which, with Rhys Oates and Danny Johnson both out, and the quick turnaround of games plus the travel, we just don’t have.
I was surprised Clough didn’t change it with that considered and again he admitted post-match that he took a gamble, and I applaud that – we all get things wrong, it’s how you respond to that! Crawley next, time to respond.
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O‘Toole, Hawkins (Forrester 73’), McLaughlin, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris (Sinclair 67’), Quinn (Lapslie 46’), Stirk, Bowery UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Rawson, Law, Gale
Attendance: 2,497 (298)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 20th November 2021
Even after Scunthorpe United had tucked away a cast iron penalty, you sensed that this time, Mansfield Town would not lie down and be beaten – and inspired by captain Ollie Clarke, Nigel Clough’s men fought back beautifully with an iron bar dominating the midfield battle to run out 3-1 winners.
Mansfield are really starting to find their feet and that comes from consistency, I seem to say every week, either in this blog or on the Podcast, that consistency comes from having Hawkins at centre half and to be honest, with a striker shortage with Oates and Johnson both out, I did wonder if Clough would be tempted to set the Hawk free – I’m glad he didn’t.
There’s two reasons for this, firstly – the aforementioned consistency. He’s formed good partnerships with Rawson, and in recent games, O’Toole and despite a lapse in concentration to allow the visitors to beat the offside trap and win a soft, but nailed on, penalty – they looked comfortable again and very difficult to get anything bar scraps from.
Secondly, in Hawkins staying at the back, it gave Jordan Bowery prime opportunity to lead the line through the middle and I felt he did that very well – getting a goal with a powerful enough effort to beat the keeper, he also hit the post and looked dangerous linking up with the hungry attack minded Clarke, Stirk and Charsley.
It’s refreshing to have so many positive to list to be honest, another which I feel must be pointed out, other than the performance of skipper Clarke which goes without saying was needed and subsequent praise deserved – is that of Harry Charsley.
He does a lot of unseen work, he may not be getting goals but I feel makes some forceful runs and plays some delightful flicks – case in point, the assist for both Bowery’s post hit and goal – plus for Ollie Clarke’s first, he creates space for his skipper by peeling into a pocket and taking a defender with him.
We’ve got a big week ahead which will be a tough one on the legs, a midweek trip to league newcomers Sutton United followed by the trip to Crawley on Saturday – let’s get behind the boys and hope for maximum points to propel us back up the table further.
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O’Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris, Quinn (Sinclair 61’), Stirk (Forrester 88’), Bowery (Gale 68’) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Rawson, Gordon, Law
Attendance: 4,904 (528)
Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 13th November 2021
Mansfield Town midfielder Ryan Stirk says that he’s confident that the Stags can continue to climb the league two table, well if the players continue to show the determination they’ve shown over the last few games, the Birmingham City loanee could be spot on.
It’s not so long ago that Mansfield Town would have fallen to pieces when pegged back by the opposition, but yesterday as Stevenage levelled in the 55th minute, something clicked and they sprung back into action – going on to win 2-1 thanks to substitute Stirk netting in front of the travelling fans.
The Stags rise was no doubt down to being Stern at the back – Oli Hawkins has been a brilliant deputy for Perch and had begun to form a strong partnership with Rawson, but since being paired with O’Toole last weekend, has risen up and collectively the Stags have tightened further.
Ironically it was the Stevenage boss who recommended O’Toole to Clough a few weeks ago having been unable to sign the ex Northampton and Burton man for his side, highlighting his attitude and fitness level which so far, he’s showing and the Stags are benefitting from.
O’Toole does not look like he’s been out of the game for six months, his experience and, for want of a better word, bullishness, is what we’ve lacked – he throws himself in front of things, he towers in the air in both boxes and is vocal from the back. PLUS, he can play in a number of roles which will come in handy for Clough – he’s only on a deal until January from what I understand, if this is the case – I’d be looking at extending that until the end of the season.
Mansfield did find it tough at times but showed real togetherness as the game went on, standing firm to ensure their late error, giving the ball away and conceding a dangerous free kick, came to nothing.
Seeing the lads celebrate with the fans after and the passion really kicking in with the players, Quinn, O’Toole, Sinclair in particular, is brilliant – we’ve not had that for a long time, you don’t need me to say when, and that passion – if managed and harnessed in the right way, is a very good tool to have.
Let’s get a good weeks training in and make sure that the One Call Stadium is bouncing next weekend, showing no mercy to a struggling Scunthorpe side as we seek to pull ourselves up another rung on the ladder.
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, O‘Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin, Charsley, O. Clarke, Maris (Rawson 79’), Quinn, Lapslie (Stirk 53’), Oates (Sinclair 62’) UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey, Forrester, Bowery, Gale
Attendance: 2,946 (535)
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