Craig Priest writes…
In every journey there comes a time where all the testing, tweaking and reflections on previous failures has to stop, and a time where you must leap forward and try again – that time for John Dempsters’ Mansfield Town is now, following the pre-season schedule concluding with a 4-2 victory over Rangers U23s.
The question though, is are we ready? To be honest I wouldn’t have been fully convinced of an answer prior to the Rangers game, however given the addition of Kellan Gordan to the squad and seeing Dion Donohue get some minutes rather than be another body clogging up the physio room, the levels of satisfaction in having a plan B and strength in depth – has certainly been raised.
Looking back over what went wrong and making comparisons on former squads is a recipe for disaster, however I’m positive that we have a squad in a far better shape in terms of numbers and the ability to adapt to whatever is thrown at us – and now look forward to the big kick off against Newport next weekend.
Our recruitment has not been rushed, it’s been a methodical approach and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s paid off with Cook and Maynard really showing what they’re capable of in terms of nullifying the worry of replacing Tyler Walker.
Whilst we only got a glimpse of Dion Donohue, his distribution from the centre of the park really stretched Rangers U23s and helped proved the difference in the final third of the game – new boy Kellan Gordan too will not only provide competition for White once fit, but would prove a first class addition with the ability to play in a number of roles down the right hand side.
The new additions and new regime appear so far to have brought more quality out of other players too, Danny Rose is starting to grow in confidence and become even more effective, Otis Khan likewise proving that players are not just here to make up the numbers, but create a really competitive squad.
Reflecting on the match itself, I think it was the best game of pre-season having to manage conditions more suited to a long season of football. The screw can still be tighten at the back but that will come, what was more pleasing is the way we scored the four goals and created chances throughout, utilising set plays, but also getting the ball wide and overloading key areas with the right balance.
If I was being made to be uber critical, I’d want to see a little more intensity with our pressing in the opponents half and I’d like to see Bishop drop a little deeper to get more out of him and those around him – but, what’s important at this stage, is managing minutes, getting the shape right and being in the right place mentally and physically to start a new season, and FINALLY achieve our dream.
There’s a long road ahead, are we ready? There’s only one way to find out – it’s time to jump!
John Dempster again opted to stick with the three central defenders, with new signing Kellan Gordon from derby, taking up the right wing back slot with Hayden White expected to be out for 2-3 weeks – fellow new boy Dion Donohue was named on the bench after missing the last few games through injury.
The Stags started brightly with Mellis and Maynard combining within the open ten minutes, whilst Gordan showed some good movement on the right hand side. Mellis had the first real effort on 14 minutes, zipping the all narrowly past the post from the edge of the area.
Two minutes later Logan made a big save to deny Hastie after he found his way through the middle, Bishop, Maynard and Gordon all had opportunities for the Stags but the game remained locked at 0-0 as the half-hour mark passed.
Logan then kept the scores level on 35 minutes denying Dorrans’ curling effort, before the Stags grabbed the opening goal three minutes later, Andy Cook finishing off a neat set-play from Benning, whose delivery was nodded down into Cook’s path by Sweeney at the back stick.
Rangers’ youngsters drew level on 41 minutes as Houston found space on the edge of the Stags’ box, beating Logan with a low drive into the bottom corner.
At the break Dempster made a few changes as Danny Rose replaced the goal scorer Cook up front, CJ Hamilton came on at right wing-back, replacing Gordon.
It took the Stags just three minutes of the second half to regain the lead in style, Danny Rose won a free-kick outside of the area – Jacob Mellis did the rest with a rocket into the top corner.
Rangers levelled again on 54 minutes through an almighty deflection, as Stewarts effort looped over Logan.
Mansfield were forced into a change on the hour as Preston, who’d been in the wars in the first half, was replaced by James Clarke as the Stags went into a flat 4-4-2, five minutes later Dion Donohue made his Stags’ bow, replacing Bishop in the middle with MacDonald wide right, and Hamilton left.
Khan and Sterling-James then replaced MacDonald and Maynard, with Khan taking up a role alongside Rose up front, the latter finally on the score sheet on 74 minutes as Hamilton’s pace opened Rangers up, the pull-back saw Rose control and finish a neat Stags move!
A minute later it was 4-2, Otis Khan set free to the left of the box to finish with confidence, one vs one with the keeper.
Mellis and Khan both had further efforts before Logan made a strong save with seven minutes to go to deny McPake, the Stags earning a well deserved win to round off pre-season.
FULL TIME: Mansfield Town 4-2 Rangers U23s
Conrad Logan | Matt Preston (James Clarke 60), Krystian Pearce ©, Ryan Sweeney | Kellan Gordan (CJ Hamilton 45), Neal Bishop (Dion Donohue 65), Alex MacDonald (Otis Khan 72), Jacob Mellis (Alistair Smith 81) | Andy Cook (Danny Rose 45), Nicky Maynard (Omari Sterling-James 72)
Unused Substitutes: Aidan Stone, Lewis Gibbens
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