Craig Priest Writes…
Steve Evans made no secret that he wasn’t fussed about winning this evening’s game at Meadow Lane, and in fairness in the grand scheme of things we can understand that – however the one thing we wanted for the players who came in, to stand up, be counted and get a win under their belts.
And that they did, running out 2-1 winners at Meadow Lane in what was actually one of the, if not THE, best display of the season thus far.
From the off, the players looked up for the game, they wanted to play for the shirt and given recent weeks that was my big worry tonight, that we wouldn’t want it and get pummelled into the ground.
But we played with confidence and hunger and even when Notts County grabbed a goal back to level the game, I felt we had more in us and that we could go on and win it.
The competition may not matter to many, although again I’ll highlight the fact the additional money wouldn’t go a miss, and whilst tonight’s result puts the ball in our court – above all else it breeds confidence back into the dressing room and makes us unbeaten in three games on the road, perfect for Saturday against Exeter at the One Call Stadium.
Evans will no doubt have some questions to answer too over some players and positions, Joel Byrom I fear would be a risk to start him again in such a short space of time, but it was evident how much we’d missed his flare in the middle of the park. Paul Digby was excellent at centre back alongside Bennett whilst Paul Anderson was solid at right back and led the side well.
Mellis and Angol obviously deserve mentions but the player who gives Evans the biggest headache for me is CJ Hamilton, who showed his quality and pace throughout and capped the display with a wonderfully taken, and well deserved goal, if anyone deserves a run in the league it’s him.
Overall that was the Mansfield Town I’ve wanted to see for a long time, a team who moves the ball with fluidity, a team who defends well from start to finish and a team above all else who want to play regardless of the competition and who want to bring home success. The important thing now is just too go on, manage it within the squad and keep the momentum flowing.
Steve Evans said ‘significant changes’ would be made and stuck to his word, Rhys Bennett the only made who kept his place following Saturday’s rain swept draw at Newport. Bobby Oljenik, Paul Anderson, Paul Digby, Mal Benning, Omari Sterling-James, Joel Byrom, Jacob Melliss, CJ Hamilton, Lee Angol and Jimmy Spencer all came in – Jack Thomas was also named on the bench, having been recalled from Boston earlier in the day.
Mansfield got off to a flyer with Lee Angol staking his claim for a league start within the opening minute, the hungry front man capitalised on Haydn Hollis’ mistake on the edge of the county box, opening up his body and driving low into the bottom corner, being Branislav Pindroch in the county goal.
Four minutes later it should have been two-nil to rampant Mansfield as Joel Byrom’s deep cross was turned behind for a corner, Byrom himself delivered into the middle and Paul Digby met the inviting ball with a forceful header – Pindroch somehow clinging onto the ball on the line.
Jimmy Spencer then saw an effort blocked by Dan Jones, and it was he who tested the water for the hosts on 14 minutes, dragging an effort wide of Olejnik’s goal from 20 yards.
Spencer again then nearly doubled the Stags tally on 27 minutes as he was played into the area, Omari Sterling-James with the assist with a soft lob over the top, Spencer spun his marker well and fired a fierce effort against the woodwork – the loose ball fell to Angol who was robbed of an open goal as Shaun Brisley put in a brave challenge.
The Stags had a spot kick turned down on the half hour, before five minutes later were pegged level as the experienced Alan Smith converted from a corner with a well timed run, Mansfield however claimed a foul on Digby as Smith appeared to throw him to the ground, but as always – play to the whistle!
From the restart the Stags looked to regain their advantage as Sterling-James came close with a low effort, Mellis and Spencer also saw efforts fail to find the net before the referee drew a close to a first half which the Stags pretty much controlled.
CJ Hamilton was causing Notts County all sorts of problems and sent in a testing cross which Sterling-James connected with, turned behind for a corner by Jones from which Byroms’ delivery nearly caught Pindoch out.
Liam Walker dragged one towards goal on 55 minutes which Oljenik turned behind, the Stags survived the set-play as County failed to find a way back into the game.
At the other end Hamilton saw a header held by Pindoch on 68 minutes as the ball zipped about in the area, the home keeper nay have won that battle but it was a role reversal just five minutes later, as Anderson’s cross was punched out into the path of Hamilton, who controlled with his chest, span his marked and blazed into the top corner with his right foot from 14 yards – a thunderous strike to put the Stags back in front.
Mal Benning nearly added the Stags third with 11 minutes to go as a free kick zipped up off the surface, Pindroch quick to push the ball up and away – the home keeper was on hand again a minute later, this time Hamilton curling one from 25 yards towards the top corner.
The Stags saw out the final moments of the match with solid defending, Evans men now can still qualify for the knockout stages – if they beat Everton U23s next Tuesday, it’ll then all depend on the outcome of the Lincoln V Notts County match the following week.
Full Time: Notts County 1-2 Stags
Paul Anderson © - Paul Digby – Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Omari Sterling-James (Alfie Potter 89) – Jacob Mellis – Joel Byrom (Jack Thomas 58) – CJ Hamilton
Lee Angol (Kane Hemmings 90) – Jimmy Spencer
Unused Substitutes: Conrad Logan, Krystian Pearce, Danny Rose, Will Atkinson
Referee: Graham Horwood Assistants Duncan Street, Joe Simpson Fourth Official John Brooks
Attendance 2,290 (405)
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