Craig Priest writes…
The only thing worth evening writing about after last night’s frankly pathetic display at Cheltenham is a huge Lorry Fire on the way to the game, a soggy cuppa at the ground, and then horrible diversions on the way home…
Yet that’s quite apt, as Mansfield’s excellent form was burned to ashes like the Lorry on the M5, the players had about as much resilience as the paper cup which leaked out half of my cuppa before I could drink it, and the result was a diversion of the Mansfield Town we hoped would be performing in League Two this season.
I could sit here and blast the referee and question a number of decisions, the second goal certainly was a talking point however, I don’t know if it’s the fumes from that burning lorry combined with the constant beam of light from the motorway’s at night – but for my money, it boils down to this – Mansfield Town were not up for the challenge, Cheltenham were and look who won.
For over 200 supporters to travel over two hours midweek to go and watch their team away from home not be bothered in the slightest is absolutely pathetic – and it’s not even a one-off, the performance was the same Saturday. Clearly Lady Luck got stuck in traffic.
Mansfield were left fuming by the second goal and rightly so, BUT (and I put that in capitals, bold and underlined for emphasis) you should ALWAYS PLAY TO THE BLOODY WHISTLE! Why on earth did Mansfield’s players just stop dead? Stopping dead doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want – Christ if it were that simple every time a pretty girl came close to me I’d stop dead. FACT it doesn’t work, and I’d expect a bunch of professional footballers to know better.
That cost us the game. Not the referee who, YES should have awarded the free-kick, but by us not obeying a basic rule of the game. Surround him later by all means, but until the ball is dead and out of harm’s way – don’t stop!
Tactically I thought we got it wrong last night too, Cheltenham have a tight pitch and have one style of play – smash it long and try and get in behind. I’d have gone three at the back and compacted the midfield with Mellis in a creative attacking role, pinning Cheltenham into their own half and just letting the back three mop up.
But hey, I’m no football manager.
I won’t sit here and lay into players either, I don’t think anybody in particular stood out – ironically I think Digby was our best player winning challenges, yet he’ll be the scapegoat for getting booked and getting hands on with his marker.
The thing is now, the game is done – with only the smouldering remains of once was to pick over, a bit like the poor M5 lorry driver – we sweep up, and move on QUICKLY because one thing that is fact, if we perform like we have done for the past two, maybe even three games – Notts County on Saturday will turn us over.
Steve Evans made a staggering five changes from the weekend’s 2-1 win over Cambridge with Rhys Bennett, Jacob Mellis, Will Atkinson, Lee Angol and Paul Anderson coming in – Pearce kept the armband despite Anderson, also vice-captain, getting his first start since the 1-1 draw at Carlisle.
Struggling Cheltenham knew a good result against the Stags could kick start their season and began brightly, Conrad Logan got his hands to an early free kick as Brian Graham sent a header into the box – moments later Mohamed Eisa swung in a cross but fortunately for a sleepy Mansfield, Carl Winchester’s touch was tame with the game barley five minutes old.
Lee Angol had the Stags first effort as his effort from the edge of the box deflected behind for Mansfield first corner – the hosts did well to clear as Mellis swung in the ball towards Paul Digby.
The hosts had a golden opening on six minutes as David Mirfin failed to clear his lines with a poor header, Graham span clear in the box and lifted the ball over the on rushing Logan – who watched on as the Robins’ front-man’s effort landed wide of the goal.
Jacob Mellis then created a key opening for Mansfield on 11 minutes with a nice touch and low delivery to split the hosts open, Lee Angol was the man who raced through but one on one with Scott Flinders, saw his effort palmed to safety by the former York City and Macclesfield shot stopper.
Angol then turned provider on 24 minutes as he chested the ball down into the path of Danny Rose, the hot hitter couldn’t make it three goals in as many games though, fizzing his effort wide of the post – Rose also put one wide following good work from Mellis on the right hand side three minutes later.
With ten minutes to go before the break Mansfield were enjoying their best spell, Lee Angol was again heavily involved as he drove towards the area and saw an effort blocked – Paul Anderson was first too it and swung the ball back into the mix, Mellis unleashing the final shot via a deflection – but again the Robins back line stood firm to clear the danger.
Three minutes later, Anderson almost got lucky as a misplaced clearance from Flinders saw him smash the ball back towards goal from 40 yards out on the half volley – his effort nestled onto the roof of the net, much to the relief of Flinders.
With two minutes to go before the half time break, Cheltenham found the breakthrough only to be denied by the off-side flag – Kevin Dawson sent a header crashing against the post, before Logan parried away a follow up into the path of the Cheltenham man – a back heel across the line promptly flagged offside.
After the break Mansfield struggled to get going and conceded a free-kick just two minutes into the half on the edge of the box. After taking an age to allow play to go on, the referee blew the whistle and from the resulting delivery, failed to track the run of Graham who turned home Dawson’s deft delivery from 10 yards.
Minutes later it should have been two for the hosts as Winchester was allowed space to get a shot away from the edge of the area, he dragged his effort wide of Logan’s goal as Mansfield completely deflated.
Logan then made a fine save on 63 as Mansfield, despite bringing on two pairs of fresh legs, failed to get going – loanee Joe Morrell denied by a one handed save from Logan, before Mirfin cleared the ball of the line to spare Mansfield’s blushes.
Two minutes later, it was the post which came to Mansfield’s aid as the long serving Harry Pell controlled well on the edge of the box and volleyed towards goal – the Stags scrambled clear the loose ball.
Omari Sterling-James replaced Angol on 68 but despite a chance up front for the Stags, it was the hosts who bagged their second on 70 minutes in controversial circumstances – the fresh Stags sub was fouled twenty-five yards out and Mansfield just stopped, expecting the whistle to be blown, it wasn’t and Morrell curled into the bottom corner beyond Logan who didn’t move.
Steve Evans was then sent to the stands on 75 minutes and disappeared down the tunnel, whilst on the pitch, it was as you were with Cheltenham very much on top and in control. Harry Pell one of many Robins players to nearly grab a third as time ticked on.
Danny Rose nearly halved the scores with five minutes to go – MacDonald played in Mellis who squared to Rose, his first time effort from 25 yards again fizzed wide in front of the 204 visiting supporters who desperately wondered what on earth they were watching unfolded.
That 204 would soon make for the exist as three minutes from time, Cheltenham skipped through the back line and grabbed their third, Daniel Wright the man applying the finish – drilling underneath Logan from just inside the box.
Late on into added on time, Logan denied the hosts a fourth palming Sellars’ effort around the post – but by then, the damage was done and I, along with 90% of the travelling fans – were half way back to the motorway.
FULL TIME: Cheltenham Town 3-0 Stags
Rhys Bennett – Krystain Pearce © - David Mirfin – Johnny Hunt
Paul Anderson (Alex MacDonald 58) – Paul Digby (Calum Butcher 58) – Jacob Mellis – Will Atkinson
Lee Angol (Omari Sterling-James 68) – Danny Rose
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Jimmy Spencer, Alfie Potter, Kane Hemmings
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Attendance: 2,480 (204)
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