Craig Priest writes….
The worst feeling in football is not defeat, it’s the deflation which comes from what could have been. That’s the feeling I left Kenilworth Road with yesterday, as David Flitcrofts men threw away a one goal lead to be beaten 2-1, by two sloppy goals in a performance which in the end, lacked energy and drive – a polar opposite from how it began.
It’s like when a rock looks solid, but you pick it up and with one tiny squeeze, crumbles to dust and slips through your fingers – all than promise, gone – and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it happening.
I wrote on Saturday of how, if we came out and played like we did against Accrignton, we’d be fine and to be fair we did for sixty minutes. We pressed high, scored a good goal, should have scored at least two more and as a whole, weren’t troubled by Luton at all.
And then on the hour it was like someone flicked a switch and all of our energy drained away whilst Luton’s shot up – our tired legs couldn’t cope with Luton’s increasing pressure and they did what good teams do, exploited weakness and pounced.
For the first goal especially it was a carbon copy of the goals we’ve conceded from open play under Flitcroft in, not strong enough down the left which gives space, a ball cut back across the middle and an easy finish. The second, yes you can blame Logan for spilling the free-kick, but why didn’t we follow it in to make sure? It’s basic school boy defending when you’re tired.
I could debate here if the team selection, the one enforced change, was right given the quick turn around in games – but given the way we played against Accrington, I feel Flitcroft was right in sticking with what worked. I do however feel that from the side lines, changes need to come earlier – a double change is not going to impact the game with a mere three minutes left, it needed to be done a lot earlier.
The players looked sapped of all energy after an hour and crumbled, there is no excuse for that and whoever takes up the post of fitness coach following the departure of Lee Taylor, needs to address this quickly as, despite the fact our next few games are against sides at the wrong end of the table, we need to last the ninety in what is going to be dogfight after dogfight.
Again the issue of ‘is flitcroft the right man for the job’ could be debated time after time, it’s true that in a higher league, no win in six games would be cause for the sack – but we’ve got six games to go and despite the fact the play-offs seem a world a way right now, we’re still only two points away with a game in hand, so it’s not harder – it’s tougher.
Like him or his methods or not, he’s the manager of Mansfield Town Football Club right now – let’s back him and see where we end up. Tired legs keep running, but only when those around are running with them too. Let’s do this.
With Mal Benning suspended, Johnny Hunt was back in at left back after returning to the fold on Friday on the bench, other than that it was as you where, with Alfie Potter returning to the bench alongside the back from suspension Pearce.
It was a nervy start from both sides, the Stags desperate for their first win under David Flitcroft and Luton desperate to regain their title hunt – but the Stags settled the quicker with CJ Hamilton and Kane Hemmings linking up well down the left hand side in the opening ten minutes.
On 15 minutes Luton opened up the Stags but skipper Zander Diamond did well to get a block in whilst Hayden White also stood tall against Danny Hylton. The Luton hit man tried his luck again on 21 minutes, but Conrad Logan watched his effort sail wide.
Rhys Bennett was next to get a block in on 26 minutes as Potts squeezed an effort past Logan, Bennett nipped in behind to scramble away and watch on as at the other end, Kane Hemmings saw a cross defelect into the side netting
Alex MacDonald swung in a teasing ball on the half hour which Zander Diamond nodded just over James Shea’s bar, four minutes later Shea beaten – as Conrad Logan hoofed long for Hemmings who turned his man beautifully to power in the game’s opening goal.
MacDonald nearly made it two nil on 38 minutes as he powered one towards the target, Zander Diamond also saw a follow up blocked as the Stags peppered the Luton goal in a wave of frenzied attack, which also saw Hemmings denied by a smart save.
The Stags ended the first have in control, Jacob Mellis so close to adding a second goal as a long range drive deflected up and onto the bar.
Luton stepped up the pressure after the break and on 53 minutes the Stags had Logan to thank as he denied Olly Lee from close range, the Stags then countered with Mellis, Angol and Hemmings but failed to convert as the hour mark approached.
The hosts were back in the game on 61 minutes as they skipped freely down the left hand side and cut the ball back into the box – former Crawley man James Collins on hand to tuck home.
Lee Angol pulled the trigger from Diamonds knock down at the other end to try and get the Stags back into the lead, but Angol was denied by a block – Luton then struck what proved to be the winner on 70 minutes, Glen Rea pounced in front of Logan to convert Alan Sheehan’s free kick – which Logan spilled.
FULL TIME: Luton 2-1 Stags
Hayden White (Paul Anderson 87) – Zander Diamond © - Rhys Bennett – Johnny Hunt (Ricky Miller 87)
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 71) – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Krystian Pearce, Paul Digby, Joel Byrom
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Attendance: 9,592 (725)
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