Junior Daniel’s 36th minute goal not only relegated Bristol Rovers on Saturday but drew a close to the Stags first season back in the football league. Today, as players leave their futures in the hands of their agents and jet off to somewhere sunny, memories draw me back to two games of heartbreak as I wonder, how the times have changed in such a short time.
Three years ago today, Mansfield was a ghost town as we all flocked to Wembley Stadium to see Duncan Russell’s depleted Stags attempt to spread some joy on a miserable year or so of conference and financial woe as they took on Darlington for the FA Trophy.
Reaching Wembley was an achievement itself for Russell’s men who started the road to Wembley by thumping Worksop Town 5-0 at The New Manor Ground, Ilkeston, amidst an off the pitch row which saw Stags, recently taken off by John Radford, locked out of Field Mill by owner an controversial ex-chairman Keith Haslam.
Stags were written off pretty much until after the first leg off the semi-final, Danny Mitchley had scored to give the underdogs an unexpected advantage over favourites Luton, but still, there was a second leg standing between supporters and a dream trip to Wembley. The second leg as we, hopefully haven’t forgotten, was special but went to the wire, a 120th minute Louis Briscoe penalty rebound saw the dream become reality.
May 7thwas the date for the diary, exactly three years ago today – three years on from what was, in honesty, one of the worst games of football in history and Stags are now a football league club again with a good manager, committed board and decent squad. Standing at Wembley with tears flooding down our faces following Chris Seniors late winner for Darlington that’s something we couldn’t begin to imagine.
Alright, this season that has just reached its conclusion hasn’t been the best and for a while, it looked like a return to the conference was on the cards. However Paul Cox and the players turned it around and secured safety, giving the opportunity to go again next time around. One of the first things Cox said upon his arrival was “Success is built on strong foundations” – I believe you can take that in a number of ways, foundations doesn’t have to mean an experienced squad made up of medal winners, it can simply mean looking at what was and learning from what went wrong.
Wembley was just a taste of things to come for us supporters both in terms of heartbreak and in success, exactly a year later Cox’s men were full of energy and on the cusp of a Wembley return and a potential Football League return. This time the One Call Stadium was the setting for a play-off semi-final second leg against York City, the scores level following the first leg where Ross Dyer had scored a thumping header and Exodus Geohaghon an unfortunate own goal, Mansfield though had one chink in the armoury as 30 goal striker Matt Green had been dismissed in the first leg for two bookable offences.
A year on from the Wembley tears, heartbreak was to come back again as Matty Blair scored deep into the second half of extra-time to send York on their way to Wembley and ultimately promotion. Images of Adam Murray inconsolable on the pitch as City celebrated in the distance still remain and were perhaps the catalyst to the following seasons title win where the May 7th curse was replaced by two magical dates in April as Matt Green scored late at Hereford and then netted from the spot against Wrexham to deliver the goods of promotion to the Football League.
They say remember the victories as they will always out way the defeats, I don’t think that’s always true – May 7th 2011 and May 7th 2012 should always be remembered as the spark that started the fire, with that below you can take a look back at some of the moments from both May 7th heartaches, hopefully they’ll be more good times to come in the future!
Wembley 2011 - Audio
The Wembley 15 – Where are they now?
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