Exeter City 1-0 Mansfield Town | Sky Bet League Two | Saturday 31st August 2019 | St. James Park, Exeter
Craig Priest writes…
The long journey home followed by a lie-in often gives you time for reflection, but I can honestly say this morning that no matter what I’ve tried, I simply can’t shake my anger and sheer disappointment at Mansfield Town’s performance at Exeter City yesterday, a 1-0 defeat as the season, and life under John Dempster, continued its utterly woeful start.
‘Utterly Woeful’ might be a little harsh as we’re not rock bottom having lost every single game, but *insert expletive here* we’re not half close to that – with one win, two defeats, three draws and a whole host of errors from our opening six games.
I always try to be as positive as possible and it takes a lot for me to hit publish on an article which is predominantly negative – I’ll often vent and delete! Today I’m not pressing delete, because what I’m watching unfold in-front of me is one hell of a nightmare for my beloved club.
Before I fully take the handbrake off on vent-mode, I’ll make a few things abundantly clear – whoever is Mansfield Town manager I will back, and back, and back wholeheartedly. I accept that I’m no manager or coach, just a humble fan sharing my opinion – and in doing so, when in a negative form – I do so in the hope that whoever is on the receiving end of it, prints it off, pins it up on the dressing room wall and proves me wrong – because all we all want is positive success, and WHEN that happens, I’ll say well done.
This feeling of anger, disappointment and being completely let-down doesn’t come from one game it doesn’t come because we travelled all those miles to get beaten by a soft, play-ground goal – it comes from the entirety of the season so far, it comes fear of it getting worse and it comes from the comparison we shouldn’t be making – but just can’t stop ourselves from doing: Flitcroft Vs Dempster, 2018-19 vs 2019-20.
Of course we shouldn’t make the comparisons, I’m guilty of doing that every single day between one thing and other and all it does is make me feel utterly numb and angry at the mistakes and errors I’ve allowed myself to make.
Yesterday’s starting line-up had TWO players difference between last season’s squad and this season’s in Kellan Gordon and Nicky Maynard, two players you would argue are improvements on those they’ve replaced.
We’re playing with the same back three who were so solid but now, look so fragile. We’re playing in the same shape which was so fluid and energetic, but now is lethargic and stuttering, a bit like my old Fiat Punto on a cold morning.
What’s changed? The obvious one is the manager and the coaching team, and as much as I admire and like John Dempster – fabulous player, captain and academy coach who did deserve a shot, naturally it’s he who the spot light shines upon.
Like my own comparisons, both Flitcroft and Dempster have differences, different ideas, ambitions, styles etc etc etc – and whilst we’re watching this frustratingly stale mess unfold, longing for one isn’t going to help the other.
The questions that we have to ask is, when Flitcroft ultimately got sacked for failing to deliver promotion [justified if that was he remit – again if you didn’t deliver your work targets, at some point you’d be visiting the job centre, no matter the margins – fact] was the decision to replace him with the inexperienced Dempster made in haste? Was that appointment made in that period where you know something’s wrong, where you know that saying something or doing something could have detrimental effect long term, but you’re so hurt, broken and angry, you can’t help it.
Dempster fully deserved a shot at being a manager but, and I said this at the time, it felt like the wrong time – it felt like he was being thrown into the inferno, and on what I’ve seen so far – the flames are getting wildly out of control. Dempster’s time should have come when Evans hopped it to China via Peterborough, when the pressure and expectation from the Stags from us as supporters was nothing bar ‘have a go and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen’ with a squad we knew deep down weren’t good enough and not when we’re collectively expecting the world with a squad who should be playing in league bloody one.
This is not a reflection on him whatsoever and at this point I want to point out that this is also not a post wanting him removed as manager, like I said at the top of this rambled bout of frustration he’s got my full support – however it is a post questioning why it simply isn’t working.
Naturally, and he said so post-match yesterday, he’ll get the blame and rightly so in some areas – but my attention now turns to the players who, apart from a VERY small minority, need to take a long hard look at themselves in regards to their professionalism.
Not only does Dempster have one hell of a discipline problem with a red card every two games, not to mention the off-pitch disciplinary nightmare, there’s a real rift forming between the players and a massive attitude problem which is having detrimental effect on performance.
You’ve got the back three and Logan practically doing a life stage version of Jeremy Kyle every time an opponent scores or gets a shot in, you’ve got CJ Hamilton getting rockets (probably deserved sometimes) from all areas after trying to take on the world rather than cross, the latest showdown between him and Macca yesterday another stunning highlight – and you’ve got players just simply being bothered to put in that extra 10% that proves the difference.
There’s no movement, no idea, no instruction, no leadership and no pride anymore – that’s not just yesterday it goes back months. How does that change? I mentioned fear before, I fear the more poor performances, the more bad results follow and the closer we come to going back down there [conference] with them [Notts County, Chesterfield] who we so arrogantly mocked.
One thing we need to do is stopping harping on about bringing back Flitcroft (I’ve not once said within this blog, or others, I’ve just made comparisons) – I’m hoping that now he’s been appointed Keith Hill’s assistant at Bolton, those murmurings will die – I am prepared for bids for CJ, Pearce and Rose within the next week however!
As a Football Club, we must focus on how to improve in the present in order for a better future, rather than dwell on the past, if that means new players and upsetting the old guard then so be it, if that means changing the systems then get it done – if it means coming out and making a statement, then make it – whatever we need to do to end this nightmare and climb in the right direction, let’s do it.
Again I’ll fully back John Dempster, once he gets a run together and the players clicking and working for him – in the long term he’ll gain success, but in football we all know that time is of short supply.
Finally I’ll end on some form of positive, we need to trust the Radford’s and be thankful we have a club to go and watch. Bury supporters are unlikely to ever have this privilege of moaning about poor performances and results ever again – following Mansfield Town has given me a career, friendship and ultimately love, if it wasn’t there my life would be empty and pointless and to think of Bury fans having to life through that saddens me to the core.
Thanks for sticking with me during this journey of anger, hurt and disappointment which is fuelled ultimately by the knowledge of how good and effective the Stags can be when it clicks – let’s get clicking yeah! And quick.
John Dempster was boosted by the return of skipper Pearce, fellow defender Kellan Gordon and striker Nicky Maynard who went straight back into the starting line-up whilst Hayden White also made the bench. New loan signing Dap Afolayan also made the bench with the Stags on paper, looking a lot stronger.
As for the match, what is there to reflect upon other than we had about three shots which caused less trouble than they should have done and were embarrassingly caught out from a throw-in in what was a school boy goal to concede.
In the second half we gave it more of a go, actually no we didn’t – throwing Logan up for a corner in the last minute was just for a laugh I’m sure, because the corner, like every other set play in the game, was never going to beat the first man.
The truth is we were feebly weak throughout and could barely string a pass together; our set plays were nothing short of embarrassing and as ineffective as me taking them and the lack of changes from the bench early left a lot to be desired!
If you really want to read about the match in detail, here’s a link to the clubs report – which is far less sarcastic and written more impartially than I can manage right now. Football eh!
FULL TIME: Exeter City 1-0 Mansfield Town | Attendance 4,316 (232)
STAGS: [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan | Matt Preston (CJ Hamilton 78), Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney [SENT OFF 86] | Kellan Gordon, Willem Tomlinson (Omari Sterling-James 70), Alex MacDonald, Mal Benning | Jacob Mellis | Danny Rose, Nicky Maynard Unused Subs: Aidan Stone, Alistair Smith, Hayden White, Otis Khan, Dapo Afolayan
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