Sky Bet League Two, Saturday 25th September 2021
Mansfield Town had a three step plan after weeks of error fraught defeats; stop the rot – keep a clean sheet – win a game of a football, simple. Yesterday’s 0-0 draw at Leyton Orient saw stage two executed ALMOST perfectly, as heroic Nathan Bishop finally claimed his first shutout of the campaign.
In the capital, it’s the Stags who should have been charging for congestion late on, as with ten men thanks to Tyrese Sinclair silly sending off, the divisions second placed team looked certain to break the deadlock and flooded the Stags box.
Nathan Bishop and his back four, which included striker Oli Hawkins, were determined to stand firm and did, roared on by vocally proud Stags fans – with Bishop making a string of fine stops, and the back four throwing themselves at everything, including Elliott Hewitt at right back.
Sinclair’s sending off typified the Stags luck, keen to impress from the bench there was no need to kick-out after he was fouled to win his side a free kick, inexperience cost us the opportunity to perhaps steal all three points, but cost him the golden opportunity to break into the side more frequently, with injuries mounting up and Stephen Quinn still missing for three more games.
He’ll learn from that and to be honest, that’s all we should say – he’s a young and eager player who will bounce back – there’s no need to crucify him for it.
Focus, rightly, should be on the vast improvement defensively – driven in my view by moving Hawkins to centre half. With Kellan Gordon injured (and likely to be out for another 2-3 weeks) and joining the list of absentees at the back – Clough had two choices; play Hawkins at CB and switch Hewitt to the right, or bring in James Clarke for a straight swap.
I’m disappointed he didn’t opt for the latter as I think Clarke is a fantastic talent and has a big future, however we needed authority at the back and as much experience as possible – so in hindsight going with the Hawkins/Hewitt option was the right one.
The two problems Clough now faces are that, firstly, consistency is key. Hawkins was brilliant and brought a calmness, he won 99% of everything and marshalled the game – it’s not a coincidence that we kept a clean sheet which we have to build on, and in order to do that – he has to stay there!
That however brings around the second problem – Hawkins is also the best chance we have of being clinical in attack! He’s a big outlet for us and we have nobody that can do the same job as he can, you can’t ask Bowery to do it, because he’s doing Quinn’s job, you’d then look at Sinclair to do that but he’s now joined Quinn in the banned club – Johnson? He’s not that type of player and without Hawkins to feed off, isn’t firing! So what do you do?
It’s a big question and one only the experience of Clough and his team can solve – but that is what they’re paid for really!
Fundamentally, I think for the short term, we’re better off leaving Hawkins at the back and being more stable there, because if you keep a clean sheet – you’re guaranteed at least a point, and if we can utilise set plays more, Hawkins can be a threat from those so you almost get the best of both worlds.
Stage two of the three stage plan complete – Barrow up next at home, time to complete stage three!
Come on you Stags!
STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, Rawson, Hawkins, McLaughlin, Lapslie, Maris (Charsley 54’), O. Clarke (C), Oates (Burke 88’), Johnson (Sinclair 67’), Bowery. UNUSED SUBS: Shelvey (GK), J. Clarke, Ward, Law.
Attendance: 5,252 (347)
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