Craig Priest writes...
A narrow defeat against a Championship side who were very nearly a Premier League side, isn’t a bad thing, yet a few posts on social media seem to already write off our chances of, at the very least, gaining promotion this season – behave!
Yesterday’s 3-2 defeat against the Owls was a credible result for me in a game which was competitive and will have asked Steve Evans and his staff questions, and perhaps given them some answers too.
Having only played a Maltese Select XI and ourselves in training so far, we haven’t really been properly tested in certain situations, which is exactly what Sheffield Wednesday achieved, keeping the ball for long periods, exposing holes from dead ball situations and being tough to break down.
Obviously I saw three games last season so I can’t compare the old with the new as much, but for me – the first 15 minutes were like watching a contestant enter game on the Crystal Maze and spend two of the three minutes gormlessly looking around for a clue on how to get the prize!
Stags were far from gormless, but there was a bit of hesitance and shyness – nobody really put a stamp on the game during the opening exchanges whilst in contrast the Owls were on it from the first whistle – proven in the manner they scored the opening goal after 12 minutes – Jordan Rhodes heading in a left sided cross from Adam Reach, with the Stags half a yard behind play.
Sometimes though what you need is a nice slap in the face to wake you up, Rhodes’ goal proving that as Stags woke up and played some good stuff, stretching the game cross park with some good diagonal play from Mal Benning looking for Anderson, White and Spencer.
George Taft was the pick of the first half for me, having missed the majority of last season through injury it’s like having another new signing – he proved tough to beat at the back and wasn’t afraid to play the ball out from defence, allowing our shape to alter slightly and create more options – he deserved his goal, prodding home a loose ball following Paul Anderson’s free kick just after the half-hour mark.
Steve Evans changed things up at the break, as you’d expect for this stage of pre-season, with only Paul Digby staying on from the first – however had Alex MacDonald not picked up a niggle, he’d have had 45 minutes. The system altered too from a flat 4-4-2 to more of a diamond, with Byrom in a defensive midfield role, Potter off the shoulder of the front two and Digby and Atkinson in wider roles.
The changes meant that once again it took Stags a little while to get going – Sheffield Wednesday in the interim re-gaining the lead, a free header from a whipped corner saw Tom Lees leave his marker for dead and thunder a header off of the underside of the bar.
Yet again though in a carbon copy of the first half, the goal injected some life into the Stags and they created chances to level, I was very impressed with Johnny Hunt and his movement – he was very unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside in a move he started from one end and finished at the other with some powerful box to box running.
Rhys Bennett nodded Stags level from a corner with nine minutes to go, two goals from set-play’s is encouraging – however later on Wednesday sealed the win as tricky footwork saw Gary Hooper weave past two defenders – the ball landing at the feet of Lucas Joao who did the rest, tucking beneath Olejnik – the Stags second half keeper.
Stags [First Half]
 Conrad Logan,  Hayden White  David Murfin ©  George Taft  Mal Benning,  Paul Anderson  Paul Digby  Jacob Mellis  CJ Hamilton,  Jimmy Spencer  Lee Angol
 Bobby Olejnik,  Rhys Bennett  Zander Diamond ©  Krystian Pearce  Johnny Hunt,  Joel Byrom,  Paul Digby ( A.Trialist [JORDAN SLEW] 63)  Alfie Potter  Will Atkinson,  Danny Rose  Omari Sterling-James ( Jack Thomas, 84)
A fair result in my opinion, three well taken goals from Wednesday which highlighted their pace and two goals from Stags from well worked set-plays, I wouldn’t be too worried about a lack of goals from “open play” or a 25-goal-talisman either, when Mansfield click and find a system to suit – they’ll do so to effect. It’s like painting a wall, you buy a colour from the shop and like it, but get it home and for whatever reason it doesn’t look right – but let it dry, settle and adapt – it’ll grow on you.
Not for a second would I read ANYTHING into which side played in which half, which players performed best in which position or system etc – there’s a lot to be worked out still.
For example I wouldn’t expect to see us play in either a diamond or flat 4-4-2 week in week out, I mentioned earlier about the way we played from the back – I think we’ve players there who allow a back three, allowing Benning, White, Hunt et-el to push on – whilst there are combinations in midfield that will allow more expressive play – Mellis had a good game when he had space to work, it would have been interesting for instance to see him in the second half system (which for me lent itself to expression) rather than the more static first.
On the bus home last night in my head I was putting together an either/or scenario for certain departments, goalkeeper, captain, system, front-two etc –
but then I remembered that we’ve played ONE game [I’m discounting Malta] against a good standard opposition, it’s unfair to say yes or no – this isn’t the football management equivalent of Tinder!
We have assembled a quality bunch of players that will bring out better qualities in the “old guard” too. In my opinion, we don’t need an out and out front man that comes with a 25 goals per season history – Danny Rose looked hungry and didn’t stop running, he’ll be up there. Sterling-James looked sharp, Spencer too – yes he should have buried that chance in the first half but that’ll come in time.
Good teams have one or two good players, champions have a squad full of quality players – I know what we have, and as pre-season goes on and the new season dawns – that’s going to show.
I’d be very surprised to see “two XIs” continue beyond Middlesbrough on Wednesday, Evans will no doubt send at least five senior players to Stocksbridge Park Steels [Tuesday 7.30] and AFC Stamford [Friday] who need minutes and bring more structure to things as the season’s opening day draws closer.
Remember, every journey starts with a single footstep.
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