Mansfield Town 2-2 Morecambe (Pearce, Sterling James) – Morecambe win 6-5 on Penalties | Carabao Cup First Round |Tuesday 13th August 2019 | One Call Stadium, Mansfield
Craig Priest writes…
Three games into the John Dempster era at Mansfield Town and already questions are being asked about the rookie manager’s capability to deliver the goods. Whilst it’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotion and frustration of not winning games, I think it’s time to take a step back and look at the two different perspectives, before we all implode.
Last night’s cup exit to Morecambe, via a penalty shootout, puts more pressure on the already thinning ice of the Stags support – and I’ll come to that in a minute, but first, lets look at the two perspectives rather than get caught in the headlines.
It all boils down to if three draws from three games is good enough or not? I think I’ve got serious splinters where I don’t want them, because on the one hand it’s a rookie manager coming in to manager a senior team for the first time with a large proportion of players who aren’t his – and yet despite some woeful errors at the back, the team has fought back and been very close to winning all three games.
Yet on the other hand, there’s a massive hangover from last season – did Flitcroft really deserve to go, would he deliver with this squad? Should we have appointed a more experienced manager? Do last season’s players want to play under this manager? The questions go on.
I will always support whoever is the manager of Mansfield Town FC, unless it’s David Holdsworth, and give John Dempster my 100% backing to erase the errors and get some wins on the board – however I do believe he’s got a big task on his hands to eradicate those errors, because whilst we may have an unbeaten start and some fight about us – something isn’t right, especially at the back.
Like I said after the league game with Morecambe, I’ll never target one particular player – but I can’t ignore that Conrad Logan is taking a fair amount of abuse at the moment. His performances haven’t been up to scratch for me and the defence don’t entirely look comfortable, yes they need to shoulder the blame too somewhat, but the root of every team is the goalkeeper, and Logan’s form at the moment – similar to a star striker unable to find the net or a midfielder who can’t pass or tackle – has to be questioned.
Aidan Stone was brought in to provide some competition until Oljenik is ready to compete, I honestly felt he may get an opportunity last night being a cup game but wasn’t – if the management team feel he [Stone] isn’t ready for first team football, then I’d possibly look at brining another keeper in on loan who has that extra layer of experience to at least make Logan fight for his shirt – serious competition is healthy and could have a positive effect on the Stags number one as it did towards the back end of last season, bringing out some of his best displays.
I’m not targeting Logan, I simply want to see him at his best for his sake as much as ours because being jeered by your own supporters must be woeful to take, and is embarrassing from our perspective. Have an opinion by all means, but it’s no wonder players snap and react when things like that are happening.
Honestly reading this blog back so far is reminding me how much of a toxic environment we’re creating at the moment and that makes me sick, I’ve not felt like that since we were relegated and we’re creating it ourselves through this pent-up frustration and hurt which has been created since promotion failed and Flitcroft was sacked.
We’ve got to get over it and quick, this is a new season with a new manager with new ideas. We 100% should be winning a game in normal time playing against ten men for 70+ minutes but for whatever reason this EARLY in the season just can’t get that click – the important thing for the league games is that we don’t lose and that we fight to turn draws into wins – just as we did under the old regime.
This attitude goes for us as supporters, but likewise the players, many of whom – to end on something which resembles positivity – have already showed signs of moving on and getting better.
Otis Khan and Danny Rose are two examples of that in more senior terms, but as last night’s showing proved – the younger players are going to develop too with Alistair Smith having a fine game in the middle of the park last night, looking composed on the ball.
We have a good opportunity now to up our game and create a good run of form as we head to Carlisle on Saturday, I for one thoroughly believe the management and the squad have enough about them to iron out the creases – who knows in a weeks’ time, our perspective could be very different indeed, in a positive way.
You know, I found a £10 note this morning, crumpled in an old coat pocket. I’ve not thrown it because it looks tired or doesn’t have the feel of a new one – it still has the same value and the same possibilities for me as a new one – that’s the same for the Stags, we may be a tad crumpled and disjointed right now to what we expect and desire it doesn’t mean we can’t thrive.
With Matt Preston joining Jacob Mellis in the stands suspended, a tweak in formation saw Hayden White reintroduced as one of five changes from Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the same opponents – as Ryan Sweeney, Dion Donohue, Alistair Smith and Andy Cook were also brought into the starting line-up.
Mansfield began well with Andy Cook particularly impressing, with the front man having a couple of early chances to test the visiting keeper but as has become customary, the visitors took the lead on 18 minutes as Steve Old nodded in from a corner which Mansfield should have dealt with.
A red card then followed, shock, not for Mansfield! Morecambe’s Conlan shown a straight red card for a challenge on Gordon.
Against ten men the Stags should have fought their way back into the game sooner but were denied by the crossbar on 25 minutes as Cook connected with Benning’s delivery. Further efforts from Cook, Gordon, Smith and Benning followed, but at the break Mansfield trailed by a goal to nil.
Willem Tomlinson replaced Donohue as the second half got underway but despite having a number of chances, the Stags couldn’t beat the visiting keeper nor break down the visiting back line, marshalled expertly by former Stag Richie Sutton.
Logan then did well to deny Cranston on 54 minutes before two minutes later Pearce levelled things for the Stags, converting the loose ball from Sweeney’s saved header.
Mansfield being level lasted a matter of two minutes, as Steve Old was allowed another free header to restore the ten-man visitors advantage – Mansfield were all over the place.
Danny Rose and Omari Sterling-James were brought on with 66 minutes played and it was the latter who drew Mansfield back level three minutes later with a fine low strike.
The Stags then set about trying to find a winner but desire a man advantage couldn’t find away through – Alistair Smith came the closest to finding a winner with seconds remaining as his long range drive grazed the top of the bar.
A penalty shootout then followed and for the second shoot-out in a row, Mansfield were beaten, this time the Stags spot-kicks were better than the ill-fated Newport shootout which ended the 2018-19 campaign, but ultimately a poor penalty from Sweeney which sailed over the bar during sudden death, saw Mansfield dumped out of the cup at round one.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 2-2 Morecambe | PENS Mansfield Town 5-6 Morecambe | Attendance 1,884 (66)
Shootout | Khan SAVED, Sterling-James MISSED, Benning SCORED, Rose SCORED, Pearce SCORED, Tomlinson SCORED, Smith SCORED, Sweeney MISSED
STAGS: [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan | Hayden White, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney | Kellan Gordon, Alistair Smith, Dion Donohue (Willem Tomlinson 46), Mal Benning | Otis Khan | CJ Hamilton (Omari Sterling-James 66), Andy Cook (Danny Rose 66) Unused Subs: Aidan Stone, James Clarke, Tyrese Sinclair, Lewis Gibbens
Full Time Score West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Mansfield Town
Competition EFL Cup (Carabao Cup) – Second Roubd
Venue The Hawthornes, West Brom
Stags Goal Scorers Neal Bishop
Attendance 10,574 (1,183)
Craig Priest writes…
After the Stags’ static and lacklustre second half display at Macclesfield, a visit to the Hawthornes to face Championship outfit West Brom could have ended in disaster, and whilst that’s true in terms of the fact we lost – we’ve walked away proud and with the potential to really kick on as a unit in Sky Bet League Two.
A 2-1 defeat is nothing to be down about, as out of the two sides, West Brom will be walking away wondering how they’ve won that – we’ve done everything bar score.
The critical side of me wants to write here about how that’s been the case in a few games this season, but I’ll silence him in the knowledge that you could see how the players reacted to our support last night and rallied for us – I’d be far more concerned and critical if we’d have just stopped fighting after West Brom scored.
In the first half I think that’s something we were guilty of however I think a lot of that comes down to the system and management – it’s here where David Flitcroft deserves praise. He’s tried too, and I applaud this, implement the 3-4-1-2 system which has worked well – but it only works when you’ve got the players available to comfortably play the roles required to adapt to the opposition – we didn’t at Macclesfield and got punished, but last night learnt our lesson.
It was clear that (as good as these players are) Ryan Sweeney and Mal Benning were playing out of passion and were getting pulled from pillar to post – West Brom’s opening goal a prime example as Benning (and this is NOT a blame culture) was caught hogging the touch line – a central defender does not need to be there. It left us short, out numbered and exposed – and for once, we were punished.
The same can be said with Sweeney who just didn’t look comfortable playing on the right side, as a left sided player he couldn’t adjust his positioning to play the right sided role – fortunately Pearce, Atkinson and Bobby Oljenik swept up.
In the second half, Flitcroft opted for a four-four-two later four-three-three with Sweeney going to left side centre half, his natural passion and was then a rock, whilst Atkinson pushed to right back, Benning across to his natural left back.
With that structure in place and that stability and confidence within ourselves we were able to play and really threaten West Brom – adding the tenacity of Alex MacDonald and the hunger of Danny Rose to the mix where the ingredients to our success in going forward, levelling and then nearly stealing the game.
Conceding the second I’ve no qualms about whatsoever, Atkinson is not a right back and therefore pushed up higher to try and put us in front, in league two his missed header would nine times out of ten go unpunished – but we were up against a good, sharp, quick and attack-minded Championship side and the difference in class, rightly showed.
Neal Bishop’s equalizer will live long in the memory and was fully deserved, both for him in the team, but what will not be forgotten for me is the fight, enthusiasm and desire from everyone involved after we went 2-1 down – we MUST show the same in the league, week in week out.
I hope the players saw last night that our only frustration as supporters is that we, like them, want them to succeed – we applaud and appreciate wholeheartedly their efforts to fight and run, to push and never give up – and regardless of the end result, 99% of the time that is enough. Sometimes I think players stop running, stop caring out of fear of our anger, our disappointments perhaps as a hangover from last season – which was born, and is always born, from us knowing how good and effective they can be.
If anything last night showed we are together, we are one entity wanting the same thing – to one day make fixtures like last night, our bread and butter. We love you through the good times and the bad, there’s nothing in this world that will ever change that – so let’s channel that pride, passion, desire and spark and set league two alight, starting Saturday at home to Carlisle.
On the back of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Macclesfield, David Flitcroft made a few changes – but on paper it looked very mismatched as he stuck with the 3-4-1-2 system playing left wing back Mal Benning at left side centre back, Ryan Sweeney on the right of the back three, with CJ Hamilton switched from right wing back to the left, to accommodate the incoming Will Atkinson. In midfield, Calum Butcher replaced Alex MacDonald whilst Oljenik kept his place between the sticks.
Both sides saw early chances as the game got underway – naturally it was the hosts who threatened first as Conor Townsend got in behind but failed to beat Oljenik, putting the ball over the bar – whilst at the other end, Craig Davies fired wide from Hamilton’s left sided cross.
Former Nottingham Forest man Oliver Burke put an effort wide for the hosts on eight minutes with the angle against him, two minutes later the dangerous former Red had another chance – this time nodding wide as the Baggies opened up the Stags.
On 18 minutes the Stags nearly grabbed the opener as Boaz Myhill kept out a certain own goal but parried the ball into the path of Davies – the Stags front man rasped his effort narrowly wide.
Otis Khan was next to test Myhill but couldn’t beat the former Hull glovesman who was equal to the attacking midfielder’s free kick with twenty-two on the clock, four minutes later the Stags were caught on the counter with a directional ball. Benning temporarily forgot he was playing as a central defender and not an attacking wing-back and hogged the touch line, as the Stags lost the ball – a long ball saw the Stags with two at the back – a cut back to Jonathan Leko saw the baggies man open the scoring from close range.
Bobby Olejnik then came to the Stags rescue on the half hour to deny the advancing Burke, the last real chance of the half.
After the break David Flitcroft switched systems to a 4-4-2, Atkinson at right back – Benning across to his natural left back with Pearce (right) and Sweeney (left) in the middle, Tyler Walker occupied the right wing, CJ Hamilton the left, whilst Khan partnered Davies upfront.
Calum Butcher nearly headed the Stags level on 52 minutes as he rose to meet Walkers cross, however a clash of heads saw that be Butchers last action – replaced by MacDonald who immediately tightened the Stags midfield and pushed the players forward.
Oljenik then denied Kyle Edwards, before then tipping a free header over the bar from a corner – after Sweeney made an inch perfect tackle to stop the hosts progressing.
Danny Rose replaced Davies on 64 minutes and made an instant difference with tenacious running and just a minute after coming on, cut inside well and curled a beautiful effort beyond Myhill, who could only watch the ball cannon off the bar and post and away.
Rose then set MacDonald for an effort which flew wide and you knew it would take something special – step up Neal Biship, who on 70 minutes reacted to Hamilton’s pull back to lean back and curl an un-stoppable effort into the top corner from long range.
Rose had claims for a spot kick turned down before volleying over the bar, determined to score – but it was West Brom who would strike what proved to be the winner on 75 minutes as Will Atkinson missed his header on the half way line to allow the hosts space down the left hand side, a neat run from Edwards evaded the challenge of Pearce, Walker and Sweeney to curl beyond an unsighted Oljenik.
Mansfield were not down and not out just yet and began a barrage of attack which, on any other day pays off. Rose was twice denied by Myhill, MacDonald curled a free kick wide and substitute Jordan Graham’s cut back picked out Walker – only to be denied by the experience Myhill.
Time was fast running out by the Stags were peppering the home goal – Graham looped an effort just beyond the far post as the game entered five additional minutes. Rose tamely nodded an effort wide before the Stags won a corner – which Bobby Oljenik raced forward for – the ball fell for him after Myhill saved a first effort – the shot from the Stags glovesman was heading into the bottom corner, a block saw it land at the feet of Pearce – who slotted wide!
Moments later another corner and up came Bobby O again – this time going toe to toe with Myhill, the ball ran loose but the hosts scrambled clear as the referee put the whistle to the lips and brought a thrilling piece of drama to a close, West Brom putting the stags out and ending an unbeaten run – but only just.
FULL TIME: West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2]: Bobby Oljenik, Ryan Sweeney, Krystian Pearce ©, Mal Benning (Jordan Graham 85), Will Atkinson, Neal Bishop, Calum Butcher (Alex MacDonald 53), CJ Hamilton, Otis Khan, Tyler Walker, Craig Davies (Danny Rose 65)
Unused Subs: Conrad Logan, Lewis Gibbens, Jacob Mellis, Omari Sterling-James
Referee: Stephen Martin
Full Time Score Mansfield Town 6-1 Accrington Stanley
Competition EFL Cup (Carabao Cup) – first round
Venue The One Call Stadium, Mansfield
Stags Goal Scorers Tyler Walker 3 (2x Pens) Otis Khan, Danny Rose, CJ Hamilton
Attendance 1,565 (76)
Craig Priest writes…
Coming up against a side that the Stags hadn’t won against since 2006 in the FA Cup, it would have been easy to write off the Stags chances last night – but those who did, did so at their peril as Mansfield Town shocked everyone, coming back from a goal down to beat Accrington Stanley by SIX goals to one.
David Flitcrofts men were hungry, rampant and meticulous in their play, which saw the League One side and last seasons League Two winners torn apart on an evening all about writing the wrongs.
Naturally the talk on the terraces was all about Danny Rose, who after scoring the fifth goal of the night a minute after coming on, couldn’t have had a better reintroduction into the pack. Far too much has been said about Rose for me to talk about it here, but in a nutshell – his participation alone last night ends the talk of a fall out and a move – the post match comments of an emotional and proud David Flitcroft underline and support that, Rose’s goal – the cherry on the cake.
With that done let us focus on beauty itself – aka, Mansfield’s stunning performance as they showed real character to fight back from a goal down to produce Mansfield Magic – highlighting how far the dressing room has come, as had the Stags gone behind three/four months ago – I’d be writing about the Stags being battered, not them doing the battering.
There were, as you’d expect in a game with such a score-line, several standout displays – Tyler Walker deserved the match-ball with his first half hat-trick highlighting what an acquisition he is, whilst Otis Khan’s skilfulness had Accrington all over the place and in all kinds of trouble.
Alex MacDonald too covered every blade of grass at lease thrice, whilst Pearce was steady at the heart of the back three – yet there are two other names who deserve full recognition and in the drama of it all, have gone slightly under the raider – they are Calum Butcher, and loanee Ryan Sweeney.
Sweeney showed that he’s comfortable in playing in the air, getting stuck in or moving with the ball which complements our system – on his display the solid Matt Preston who missed out through concussion, will have a hard job getting his place back.
Onto Butcher who simply since his arrival nearly a year ago now hasn’t served up the goods – but last night, playing on the right side of an attacking two, showed his class, drive and enthusiasm, playing a key role in three of the Stags four first half goals.
The loan window is still ofcourse open but, and I’m saying this based on what I’ve seen over the past month from Butcher, if I were Flitcroft I would be sitting down with the former Milwall man and telling him his future is at Mansfield Town and that he’ll play a key role.
The way he played last night gave us that added zest and zip in attack, he showed some nice little touches in our passing movement and wasn’t afraid to drop deeper to help defend or allow Mellis or MacDonald to advance. Judging by our opening two league games I do feel that’s something we’ve missed a little, we’ve been caught too high sometimes and punished and that little tactical tweak of going 3-4-2-1 rather than 3-5-2 helped us to dominate the game and cause our opponents to implode.
Naturally it’s easy to get carried away with all the hype such an emphatic victory brings BUT here’s the fundamentals which we need to remember and take into future games – our attitude and application in going down is not a blame game, it’s one of togetherness and desire to win football matches, playing possession based football along the way.
Off the pitch nonsense is over, done, finished, dead and buried – what we do now is progress game by game and water this delicate seed and watch it grow into something really blooming good.
David Flitcroft made four changes to the side which drew with Yeovil, Goalkeeper Conrad Logan was rested with Oljenik getting his first competitive start under Flitcroft. Defender Matt Preston missed out through concussion giving loanee Ryan Sweeney a debut, whilst Jacob Mellis and Calum Butcher replaced Bishop and Davies, who had a place on the bench.
The stags actually started brightly with Mal Benning nearly capping a wonderful flowing move with a goal – his shot hitting the side netting on four minutes.
Two minutes later with pretty much their first effort of the game Accrington took the lead, Sam Finley danced beyond Hamilton and White before turning past Oljenik.
The Stags didn’t let their heads drop and like they did twice on Saturday, fought back and were given a life-line on eight minutes as Butcher found Walker in the box – he was brought down by Jonny Maxted with Walker dusting himself down to convert the subsequent penalty to level the match.
Walker would then face Maxted again on 12 minutes as Butcher was judged to have been fouled in the area for the Stags second spot-kick of the night, Walker again coming out on top – leaving the Accrington keeper no chance as he drilled into the bottom corner.
Jacob Mellis sent one riffling over the bar before Otis Khan made it three on 16 minutes, Calum Butcher again with the assist down the right hand side, sending Khan into box to shoot with ease beyond the Accrington glovesman.
The game then settled for a while before coming back to life with a minute to go before the break – Maxted denying Walker a hat-trick on 44 minutes, he’d soon be picking the ball out of the bet again however – as a minute later, Khan’s low cross was back heeled in by Walker for his third, and the Stags fourth.
At the break Flitcroft gave Mal Benning a rest, bringing on Will Atkinson at right wing back, moving CJ Hamilton over to the left to inflict more damage, and that he did – playing part in the build up for MacDonald and Walker to try their luck on 51 minutes – both denied.
Walker hit another over the bar on 56 minutes before Oljenik had to be on his toes, back peddling well to tip over a cheeky effort from Mingoia who tried lobbing the Stags number twelve.
Sterling-James replace Khan on the hour before five minutes later, Rose returned to action – replacing Walker who received a standing ovation.
Within a minute of Rose’s come back – destiny happened – CJ Hamilton jogged down the left and squared the ball into the box, Rose knew exactly where to be to smash the ball home for Mansfield’s fifth goal of the night, reigniting the chants of ‘Danny, Danny Roooooooooossssssssssseeeeeeee’ – The beaming smile on Flitcrofts face said everything.
Butcher, Mellis and Rose all had chances to make it six but couldn’t quite get the finishing touch right – but right at the death, CJ Hamilton capped one of the best team passing moves I’ve ever witnessed – a 26 pass move without the opposition touching the ball – to make it 6-1 and put Mansfield into round two for this first time in over a decade.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 6-1 Accrington Stanley
STAGS [3-4-2-1]: Bobby Oljenik, Hayden White, Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney, CJ Hamilton, Jacob Mellis, Alex MacDonald, Mal Benning (Will Atkinson HT), Calum Butcher, Otis Khan (Omari Sterling-James 60), Tyler Walker (Danny Rose 65)
Unused Subs: Conrad Logan, Lewis Gibbens, Craig Davies, Neal Bishop
Referee: Seb Stocksbridge
Mansfield Town exited the league cup on a wet Tuesday night courtesy of a Callum Camps wonder goal in the first half.
Their was 6 changes from the side that drew against Crewe Alexandra with the likes of Oljenik, Bennett, Pearce, Digby and Sterling James. Their were plenty of chances for the Stags to progress through to the next round of the cup but it wasn't enough for Steve Evans men.
The first half saw Anderson (captain for the match) with a fine shot just outside the box, that had the keeper beaten all ends up but his shot could only find the woodwork. Dale then took the lead when from a resulting corner the ball got cleared out to Callum Camps whose shot ended up in the top corner, leaving Oljenik no chance. Shortly afterwards the Stags nearly equalised, when Spencer intercepted a pass from Dales defence towards goal, which saw his shot just wide of the keepers goal.
Mansfield kept on pushing for that elusive equaliser but they had to withstand pressure from the league one side, who tested the former Exeter City man, hoping to impress the gaffer. As the half progressed the Stags grew into the game by playing good attacking football but couldn't find a way past the Dale keeper. The second half started quickly with good work from Atkinson down the wing, who cut back to see his shot hit the side netting. Rochdale also came close when a cross got whipped in and hitting the bar, much to the delight of Stag fans. Sterling James also looked a dangerous threat going forward, causing Dales defenders problems by cutting inside and out pacing the on rushing defenders. Benning also had a chance from outside the box, with the cries of "shoot" from Stag fans (including myself) only to see his effort go high above the net.
The Stags were huffing and puffing and was awarded a penalty when Rose was tripped inside the box, up he stepped to take the penalty, hoping it would be the equaliser to get the Stags back into the game only to see his shot well saved by the Dale keeper to keep the scoring 1-0. Evans also introduced CJ Hamilton and Alfie Potter respectively to try and have an impact on the game.
Sterling James also had half a chance to score when his half volley shot when wide across goal, much to frustration of the Stag fans. In the dying seconds of the game Evans sended Oljenik forward with a last roll of the dice by ordering him up for the corner, only for it to be cleared away and end of preceding. It was a frustrating night, knowing we could have easily have won the game with the amount of chances we created in the match but the positive thing, for me to have come for tonight's defeat was Sterling James performance, as I mentioned above he looked a threat every time he went forward, skillful and hungry for improving.
On another night we would have easily have won but comfortably 3-1 but football can be a cruel game to us all. Onwards and Upwards UP THE STAGS !!!!
Mansfield Town were washed out of the Carabao Cup in the first round last night, but put in a hard fought display against a good league one side on a night where conditions were simply woeful.
A torrential down pour and a bitter chill made it feel more like a mid-November night in Hyde or Barrow than an early August evening in Mansfield – so much so Stags grounds-man ‘Mez’ was fighting a losing battle in repeatedly re-painting the pitch markings!
Mansfield threw everything at their league one counterparts and any neutral who didn’t know watching the game, would say it were the Stags who were the higher division club – such was their energy and tenacity, pretty much from the off.
The way in which the second goal was conceded was my only critique from last night, we have to close down the second ball from corners and set-plays – although you can’t take anything from Camps it was a fantastic effort.
A few around me bemoaned Danny Rose for missing the penalty, two things to note here – ONE, Lillis is a phenomenal goalkeeper and read it very well, and TWO – on a night like that with the ball zipping anywhere, a placed spot-kick was not the option to take – it had to be driven hard and low, Rose did everything right.
In open play I felt we we’re very unfortunate not to grab a goal, had we done so especially in the second had – we’d have opened the flood gates and won comfortably and avoided extra-time and the ABBA style penalties and resulting puns – but hey, when all is said and done, we really did put Rochdale under attack, only one of us could be the winner who took it all – I could go on (and on and on).
Puns aside, the most important thing for me – answer this, how many times on nights such as that, with the biting cold night and rain pouring it down – have Mansfield Town sides given up and frankly not cared? Last night couldn’t be further than that, we have battlers, we have fighters, we have committed players and even though the penny didn’t drop in front of goal – we never gave up, and that – is the name of the game.
Steve Evans made six changes to the starting line-up from Saturday, with Rhys Bennett returning to face his former manager and club, whilst shot-stopper Bobby Olejnik, defender Krystian Pearce, Midfielder Paul Digby and front men Jimmy Spencer and Omari Sterling-James also made the cut.
Stags struggled early doors to adapt to the conditions, Callum Camps got the early beating of Benning only to see his cross nodded over by Williams in the opening minute. At the other end once Mansfield found their feet, Will Atkinson continued his good form from the weekend – opening up the Rochdale back line before sending a testing ball across the face of goal, had it gone maybe a touch earlier – Mansfield may well have taken the lead.
Mansfield were starting to bite into challenges, with Joel Byrom & Paul Digby particularly not holding back – the latter on fourteen minutes won the ball in the interceptor role he plays so well, striding his way forward before slipping in captain Paul Anderson – he took a touch and saw an effort saved by Josh Lillis in the Rochdale goal – again had Anderson struck first time, the Stags may well have found the opener.
Instead it was an old mistake which reared its ugly head once more as the visitors grabbed the opener on 17 minutes – as Dale swung in a corner the Stags failed to deal with the second ball and as the visitors nodded the ball to the edge of the area, nobody closed down the excellent Callum Camps in time, allowing him to curl into the postage stamp – despite the best efforts of Olejnik who flung his way through the air to try and stop a technically good finish.
Matt Done fizzed an effort wide of the Stags goal as Rochdale went in search of a second before on the half hour mark, skipper Paul Anderson struck the post with a venomous strike, following a mazey run, twisting and turning before clipping the ball over a defenders head and striking at goal.
Anderson again came close on the stroke of half time, but again saw his effort blocked after a strong run down the right channel saw Bennett’s low cross palmed into Anderson’s path by the Rochdale glovesman Lillis.
After the break and a re-paint of the lines, the Stags looked hungry to level the match and stepped things up a gear with Paul Digby showing his strength in midfield four minutes in, winning back possession and laying a crisp pass into Anderson – the Stags skipper this time firing into the side netting.
Omari Sterling-James went on a mazey run on 55 minutes which earned the Stags a corner which was headed into the path of Mal Benning around 40 yards from goal – the left back has ‘Benning Belters’ in his locker, but this time zipped his effort high into the empty Quarry Lane stand.
Rochdale then saw a flash of goal and almost grabbed a freak second, left-back Ntlhe's cross looped up in the air and over Olejnik's outstretched arm - fortunately rattling the crossbar and bouncing away before minutes later, winger Oliver Rathbone's fierce shot clipped the outside of the post.
Mansfield soon regained their grip and created a number of opening,s the best chance to take the game into extra time and set-up some ABBA puns, came with seven minutes remaining as Danny Rose, off the bench, advanced into the area and had his legs taken by Niall. The striker agonisingly saw his penalty saved by the legs of Lillis as he attempted to drill it straight down the middle, Lillis for me doing well to stand up for as long as possible and Rose doing little wrong in going for power over placement – the latter would have ended badly on a wet night.
With captain Paul Anderson taken off, Krystian Pearce took the armband and nearly levelled things = however a dramatic block from Dale substitute Steven Davies denied the defender what looked e a certain goal.
Mansfield threw the kitchen sink at Rochdale, and in the final minute – Bobby Olejnik got the call from Evans and Raynor and pelted it forward to attack a corner, he very nearly won his header too and was spared a sprint back to his goal, by the referee’s full time whistle.
FULL TIME | Stags 0-1 Rochdale
Rhys Bennett, Krystian Pearce, David Murfin, Mal Benning
Will Atkinson, Joel Byrom (CJ Hamilton 70), Paul Digby, Paul Anderson © (Alfie Potter 79)
Omari Sterling-James, Jimmy Spencer (Danny Rose 77)
Unused Substitutes: Conrad Logan, George Taft, Lee Angol, Johnny Hunt
Attendance |1,457 (121)
Referee | Andy Madley
As Mansfield Town prepare to welcome League One Rochdale to the One Call Stadium in the Carabao Cup First Round, there’s just one question on everyone’s lips – how much will Steve Evans rotate the squad following Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Crewe.
Paul Raynor’s comment of the Stags “will field a very strong side” goes no way to solving the conundrum as the Stags have strength from top to bottom, you’d expect a few tweaks but other than the traditional cup game goalkeeper switch, it’s anyone’s guess really!
Speaking this morning, Raynor said "We've always put cup ties right up there – we don't play weakened teams, as such,"
"We don't believe that any team we put out there is weak anyway. We'll put a team out there that will be very strong; there might be one or two changes and we might tweak it a little bit because people might deserve to play as well.”
"It's the next game; we want to win just like any other game. Obviously, the league is the top priority throughout the season but when these cup games come around we certainly want to put a team out to try and progress.”
"It's a great competition. Every game for us is important – we'd like to get that first win under our belt so why not let it be in the League Cup against Rochdale?"
And that’s the point I want to focus on really – Rochdale are a class side that narrowly missed out on reaching the play-offs – losing steam towards the end, they’re a stable club with a good fan base – basically the club we would like to be, no longer looked at as a League Two outfit and as a decent league one side with an ambitious – long standing and committed manager.
A win tomorrow night is not about progressing to secure a lifetime supply of what’s basically a cross between power-aid and red-bull – it’s about sending a message to the other clubs in our division to show we can compete with and beat sides in a higher division than ourselves – and that we are not just backed to go up because of Steve Evans CV.
Reflecting again on Saturday I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slight change to the back line, Rhys Bennett would have started Saturday had he been fit so it’d be no surprise to see him face his former club, either at right back [although White barley put a foot wrong] or centre back, potentially partnering Pearce [replacing Diamond and Murfin] and thus seeing the back line which did so well last season – if it isn’t broken etc….
In midfield with the way Rochdale would shape up, the more defensive minded Digby would be a better choice than Mellis as they’ll be periods where the Stags are having to work hard off the ball – there’s absolutely no way Byrom being dropped would be acceptable after his excellent display on Saturday.
Either way which ever Steve Evans and Paul Raynor choose to go, Rochdale are a tough side to play but we have the quality to win it all – hopefully in 90 minutes, although there’s a sadistic side to me that wouldn’t mid to see us compete in a shootout, especially the new ABBA style where apparently, the winner really does take it all, so long as the penalty takers take a chance… OK I’ll stop!
So there are no bags of coal to collect this time around, but a welcome distraction all the same – and it’s true what they say, a champion has more than one dimension to his game, would a nice little cup run suffice?
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