Craig Priest writes….
The dream is almost over. Whilst the mathematics say reaching the play-offs is still possible with two games to go, Mansfield Town know that in reality it’s a very different tale indeed – and what is more sickening to take, the Stags have been the masters of their own downfall as yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Port Vale pretty much sealed another season of League Two action.
As it stands the Stags are three points off of the play-offs with two games remaining, but both Lincoln and Coventry above them have a game in hand – which fortunately, is against each other.
A win for either side would leave the Stags six points behind with six to play for – meaning the Stags need to win their last two games and pray to the footballing gods that whoever won the midweek meeting lost their final two.
A draw for the two sides would be the best outcome for the Stags, meaning David Flitcroft’s men must win both their last games, and hope at the very least, BOTH Lincoln and Coventry fail to win at least one of their last two.
The chances of that are very slim in my view but anything can happen, the fact though that we are in this situation relying on other teams is down completely to ourselves, yet again Mansfield Town Football Club are the masters of their own downfall.
EVERYONE is to blame here, Steve Evans and his mate Dodgy for walking out when they did and leaving a dressing room wondering what they’d done wrong. David Flitcroft for not stamping his authority earlier, for isolating and not selecting key players who can influence the game – I won’t blame his methodical chess player management style though, each to their own on that one. Finally the players who as a bunch of so called professionals should have been professional enough to not care about Steve and Dodgy and work for Mansfield Town FC regardless of the manager, and in doing so – show some bloody hunger and desire to achieve what they set out to achieve in the first place.
Ironically yesterday saw us play the best football we have done consistently under Flitcroft – alas too little too late, especially coupled with in my view a tactical blunder in the first substitution. Not for a second am I against bringing on an attacking player to try and chase the game at 0-0 which for the record WORKED, but to take off the person who was keeping us tight at the back and holding a higher line in Paul Digby, knowing full well Vale would come at us late on, was a monumental error.
Why? Because rather than change the shape, Will Atkinson was dropped in at right back and through no fault of his (other than the fact he’s not a bloody right back) gaps were created and ultimately more players from Vale, ala Tom Pope, were able to exploit. Digby won every header and 99.9% of everything on the ground, the majority of our attacking movement started through him and from set plays, he was causing havoc as decoy – taking him off was madness unless of course he was injured…. In which case, bring an actual right back in Paul Anderson on and keep the momentum.
To our credit we peppered Vale and on any other day would have ran out 6-0 winners, as is it we couldn’t finish and were only ahead thanks to Kyle Howkins forgetting he plays for Port Vale now and not Mansfield – but even then at 1-0 we didn’t focus and gave away a sloppy goal which anyone could see coming…. Alas, that’s the story of our season really.
We we’re left so deflated we couldn’t even celebrate Chesterfield’s excellent season in being relegated to the Conference, and whilst for both personal reasons (google it) and Stags fan reasons I’m delighted to see them plummet out the football league, their failure is matched by ours in having everything we dreamed of in our own hands, and then throwing it all away.
Who’d be a football supporter eh? Anyone for Yeovil away….
With Hayden White injured and skipper Zander Diamond also absent with “a knock” both Paul Digby and Rhys Bennett were brought into the fold, whilst following his excellent from the bench display at National League Chesterfield last week, CJ Hamilton was also back in the starting eleven.
The Stags knowing they needed a win to keep themselves within the play-off hunt started with a real hunger and should have been ahead just two minutes in as MacDonald slotted in Hemmings, thwarted by the offside flag.
Valiant’s keeper Sam Hornby then denied Rose and Potter in quick succession before Alex MacDonald fizzed one wide from distance, however it was Derby Day hero Benning who nearly opening the scoring on 12 minutes as he advanced into the box and hit one which was going wide, Kane Hemmings outstretched foot a mere whisker away from turning the shot home.
Cj Hamilton also hit at the keeper before Hornby was beaten by Hemmings on 16 minutes, although the goal wouldn’t stand as the offside flag went up against the on Loan Oxford United man as the stags controlled the game.
The Stags created a number of other openings which saw Hamilton, Rose, Hemmings and MacDonald go close with no reward, Danny Pugh almost did the Stags a favour on 44 minutes sending a diving headed clearance narrowly wide of the target, but at the whistle – it was goalless.
Alex MacDonald was the first to let fly at the start of the second half but again couldn’t convert – Paul Digby came the closest to opening the scoring with a venomous shot with 56 minutes played.
Six minutes later, bizarrely Digby was replaced by Mellis before Danny Rose headed over from Benning’s left sided cross.
On 72 minutes an Ex-stag popped up to put the current crop ahead as Kyle Howkins turned into his own net, a clearance after a Rose effort, hit the former West Brom loanee and found the net.
Hamilton then found Hemmings but he couldn’t find a second, before being replaced by Angol with seven minutes to go.
Port Vale then spoilt the party, Tom Pope pouncing as the Stags failed to clear their lines in the 89th minute, rendering the dream pretty much over.
FULL TIME: Stags 1-1 Port Vale
Paul Digby (Jacob Mellis 62)- Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alfie Potter – Will Atkinson – Alex MacDonald – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose – Kane Hemmings (Lee Angol 83)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Anderson, Adam King, Jordan Graham, Johnny Hunt
ATTENDANCE: 4,210 (598)
REFEREE: Carl Boyeson Assistants Ken Haycock and Andrew Newbold. FOURTH OFFICIAL Oliver Bickle.
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