Mansfield Town 0-1 Darlington (AET) – Saturday 7th May 2011 3.00pm
After years of turbulence it was always difficult to foresee light at the end of the tunnel, however on Saturday 7th May 2011 Mansfield Town found that light and whilst it didn’t shine completely, the glimpse was enough to kill that stabbing pain of prolonged misery.
It had been a season which provided little highs but several lows including the club being locked out of The One Call Stadium and several beatings by part time and lesser ranked sides. Poor performances and lack lustre effort went hand in hand, the only saviour being the plucky FA Trophy campaign which somehow unbelievably led to the Wembley final.
It all began in turbulent circumstances as the club were locked out of their One Call Stadium home by then landlord Keith Haslam. The area was awash with snow and naturally games were few and far between, along with the Stags off field troubles they were also without a manager following the sacking of David Holdsworth – you can see now why nobody cared or gave much hope about a first round tie in a meaningless competition, played on a below freezing Tuesday night on a ground which belonged to nor us or our opponents.
Officially Worksop Town were the home side as their home at the time couldn’t facilitate the demand of the supporters, Stags on the other hand were facing the prospect of Ilkeston’s New Manor Ground becoming their temporary home – it didn’t feel very homely amongst the crowd.
Duncan Russell’s side came through the fixture with ease against their lower ranked opponents with a 5-0 victory. A month or so later with ground issues resolved and Duncan Russell appointed until the end of the season it was Newport County who the Stags passed in round two before replay victories against Alfreton and Chasetown set up a tasty semi-final with Luton, we all know what happened there.
Somehow Stags had made it to Wembley and from the second that Briscoe’s winner hit the net at Luton, Wembley fever swept the Town. Commemorative t-shirts were made to an excellent standard by one of us whilst the other hosted a weeks’ worth of preview shows in the build up to the big day. On the pitch League results suffered as players aimed to avoid injury or suspension in their bid to play on the hallowed turf – whilst this was frustrating at the time you can understand why now.
The two of us hadn’t met at this stage and so had totally separate perspectives and views on the day, one travelled down covered in amber and blue with their family, the elders reminiscing about old times with fellow travellers whilst the younger dreamt of witnessing a day of Stags success. The other one of us barely slept and at 6am stood nervously buttoning the shirt of their suit shaking at the prospect of commentating on their beloved side after less than two months as a commentator. The journey with their dad and work colleague passed watching the flocks of amber and blue descend on Wembley Way.
The pre match atmosphere came and went Craig recalls walking in to the press box with Wembley empty and watching each seat be filled at a steady pace – by the time the teams came out one half of Wembley had turned amber and blue. Seconds before going on air Craig recalls looking up to the sky and then around looking for family and friends hoping that this would be the day. Meanwhile mixed in with the supporters Em sat with family, proud at seeing her work displayed on so many again wondering if this would be the day.
The match itself was one of the poorest finals ever played as it involved two tired and low on energy patchwork sides – Stags failed to fill their bench whilst Darlington had numerous injuries, they were forced to play players out of position.
Mansfield had the honour of getting the FA Trophy Final underway and registered the first chance early on as proud Skipper Adam Murray created space and slotted the ball into a pocket of space for the returning Paul Connor to run onto, Connor timed his run to perfection to beat the offside trap but his first touch was heavy which allowed Darlington keeper Sam Russell to race from his line and smother up the loose ball before Connor could pull the trigger.
Darlington tested the water with an 11th minute corner which Marriott dealt with calmly before Stags forced their first corner four minutes later. Adam Murray found Louis Briscoe wide right with an excellent pass, Briscoe burst into the box and Darlington skipper Ian Miller had no option but to concede a corner. Kyle Nix floated the ball in with his left foot and as Darlington keeper Russell came for the ball, Steve Foster jumped too – Foster won the Ariel battle but failed to direct hit the target and nodded over the bar.
The pendulum of chances kept swinging from side to side but neither team managed to convert any chances as half time drew closer, Paul Connor just needed that extra half a yard of pace and the story could have been extremely different.
HALF TIME: Mansfield Town 0-0 Darlington.
After the break it was Stags who created the first clear cut chance on 51 minutes as Adam Smith picked up the ball wide left and showing some nifty foot work to come inside and shoot from the edge of the box right footed, his shot nestling into the side netting much to the disappointment of the Stags fans behind the goal, preparing to jump up in celebration!
Moments later the Stags faithful were on their feet once more as semi-final hero Louis Briscoe danced his way past his marker on the right after a neat pass by Murray, Briscoe cut inside and moving neatly into the area pulled the trigger left footed, instinctively Paul Connor had arrived waiting for a chance, he stuck his boot out and Briscoe’s effort became Connor’s effort – landing a hairs with over the top of the bar – agony as another chance went begging.
Typically the pendulum swing the other way as the game progressed with Darlington in search of Trophy glory for the first time ever in their history, With 56 minutes gone John Campbell drifted wide and shrugged off the challenge from Gary Silk, comfortably teeing up the advancing Tommy Wright, Dan Spence prevented Wright from scoring with a timed to perfection strong challenge inside the area after racing back from the half way line.
With half an hour remaining skipper Murray needed options as he became pressured in the centre, with a neat turn he opened up and found space for Paul Connor, threading the ball through the defence like threading cotton through the eye of a needle – Connor latched onto the excellent ball but tiredness and frustration showed over adrenaline, with the former Lincoln front man timely firing at Russell who saved well.
Stuart Atwell lost complete control of the game in the last five minutes as extra time loomed, first he penalised Tom Naylor during an Ariel battle when in fact it was Naylor who was the victim, not the offender. With two minutes left Atwell then got another decision wrong, Darlington surged forwards and Tyrone Thompson raced back to help out, sliding in to prevent Aman Verma a way through – Atwell deemed Thompson to take nothing of the ball, yet big screen replays showed that Thompson too ALL of the ball and nothing of the player, the only thing taking Verma down was momentum.
Marc Bridge-Wilkinson stepped up to take the resulting free kick and curled the ball well over & round the 5man Mansfield wall, Marriott was beaten and could only watch on as the ball smashed the post and luckily bounced back out far enough for Mansfield to scramble clear.
Two minutes of additional time followed and Mansfield burst forwards, the impressive Adam Smith never stopped running and his quick feet opened up a crossing opportunity wide left, Briscoe lurked at the far post and had Russell not punched the cross over Briscoe’s head and out for a throw – Briscoe would have smashed home in front of the Mansfield support. Atwell again caused Mansfield frustration penalising Briscoe for shirt pulling after getting the ball from the resulting throw, however Darlington were not allowed time to take the kick as Atwell condemned the game to extra time.
FULL TIME: Mansfield 0-0 Darlington.
Mansfield knew it would take something or someone special to break the painfully tense deadlock, having done it to reach Wembley it the first place the Mansfield support remained positive but wondered when Duncan Russell would introduce fresh legs.
Just four minutes into the first half of extra time, Ashley Cain came onto replace the outstanding Adam Smith who covered every bit of the Wembley grass fighting for his team, Cain’s first action was to tee up Briscoe for an effort however again it was off target, at the other end Tommy Wright also struck wide as the first additional fifteen minutes came to an end.
EXTRA TIME – HALF TIME: Mansfield 0-0 Darlington!
With both sides now 15minutes of football away from the painful lottery of penalties, they were given a boost by attacking the goals which hosted their respective supporters. Darlington used this boost first as Chris Senior broke free pulling the trigger inside the box, however Veteran Steve Foster got a vital touch and diverted the goal bound ball into the grateful hands of Alan Marriott.
With 107 minutes of football played at Wembley stadium, Duncan Russell made a second change introducing Danny Mitchley for skipper Adam Murray who was seemingly unable to carry on after several late knocks had literally taken the stuffing out of Mansfield’s heroic captain.
Murray’s replacement Mitchley continued the high standard of passing movement set, releasing Cain wide right whose electric pace saw him float the ball into the box, Paul Connor was first too it and headed over the bar from around 3 yards out.
Tommy Wright continued to be a threat inside the Mansfield box, heading past Marriott from a corner, Thompson undid several wrong decisions from early in the game by scrambling clear from the goal line, the loose ball fell in the air to Chris Senior who powered a header towards goal, Alan Marriott sprung himself up well and with the finger tip of his glove pushed the ball over for another corner.
With 118 minutes gone, the same time Mansfield scored at Luton; Cain flashed forwards again and earned a corner in front of the Mansfield faithful – his right footed out swinger flashed over the penalty box and away for a throw in.
Two minutes later with everybody awaiting penalties, the goal pendulum finally landed – in Darlington’s court. Aaron Browns long through from the left touch line wasn’t dealt with and amongst a number of players, Alan Marriott couldn’t punch clear, an inch away from goal Chris Senior got the final touch, Mansfield tried to clear but too little too late as the ball crossed the line and broke Mansfield hearts – winning Darlington the FA Trophy with seconds left.
Mansfield 0-1 Darlington.
Two minutes of additional time passed like mille-seconds but the drama wasn’t over, the pain got deeper as Mansfield attacked, earning a free kick just off the right flank, Cain took it and the stags threw everyone bar foster forward, including Alan Marriott. Cain’s delivery was pinpoint and had Marriott been an inch taller he would have connected, however Darlington rode the last Mansfield wave with ease and as the less than impressive Stewart Atwell blew his whistle, tears of pain returned as Mansfield’s dreams where cruelly crushed.
EXTRA TIME – FULL TIME: Mansfield 0-1 Darlington.
There were tears from the majority of Stags fans as that late pain stabbed into the heart, Craig recalls talking on air with tears streaming down his face whilst Em recalls a long journey home wondering if the good times would ever come.
With time comes appreciation and it’s only now years on that we can fully appreciate that day, after so much hurt following the club and numerous dark times, we had a day at the national stadium watching our club battle for glory. Defeat doesn’t matter as each and every person that went to Wembley that day has a story to tell and an everlasting memory – through all the darkness, light can be found.
Below enjoy an additional look down memory lane with video and audio from the day.
Written by Craig Priest and Emily Sykes – The views expressed in this blog are those of the writers and not those of Mansfield Matters or its related organisations, to submit a blog email email@example.com
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