Hereford United 1-2 Mansfield Town – Tuesday 16th April 2013 7.45pm
Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning” The match against Hereford I guess fits in to a paraphrase of Churchill’s great quote as, for Stags the result sparked the beginning of the end.
It’s a match and evening which will live long in the memory, chosen by you as the first game to review of the Stags conference era it’s also the match which I believe, won Mansfield Town the title.
Let me take you back a mere month or so, Stags had surged from mid-table obscurity to second in the table, going toe to toe with Kidderminster to clinch that elusive title and automatic promotion back to the football league.
Mother nature had saw numerous games called off and in the final month of the season, Paul Cox’s Stags had three games in hand on Kidderminster but had failed to make up the two point gap, losing to Wrexham ending an epic 12 game consecutive winning streak in the first game before beating Macclesfield at home in the second game to lead the table. Beating the Silkmen had left Stags with a tasty task, a win at Braintree coupled with nothing more than a draw for Kidderminster would crown Mansfield champions prior to their third and final game in hand – in typical heart wrenching fashion, Braintree overturned Matt Green’s opener to spoil the Stag-Do before Kidderminster leap-frogged Stags by beating Wrexham in the later kick-off.
All of a sudden, the walls were closing in and Mansfield were running out of chances, the situation was that Stags needed a win at Hereford and nothing less to leave their destiny in their own hands on the season’s final day.
Never have I felt so tense travelling to a match, all the way there alongside my partner Em, my stomach was in knots and my head pounding at what the nights result could mean – I don’t think I’ve ever felt such pressure for my team in any game.
I was shaking all the way through; haunted by the memories of relegation and the numerous “experiences” since, my hand was shaking so much it took me three times as long to set up the radio kit than it normally would. Sometimes I loathe my choice to have become a commentator as I’m away from the fans, as they filtered in that night that feeling returned but as soon as the players came out at the start, it disappeared as through the effects microphone the sheer noise of the supporter flowed through my ears like the smoothest of music, I could feel how much this night and the situation had got to and in turn meant to all in attendance.
Our view of the match was a clear one and the fading sunset over the far side provided the perfect backdrop for a night where hope and faith, never faded.
As the game got underway Stags began in rampant style, eager to take their third and final chance at topping the table Matt Green came close within the opening minute but was frustratingly denied by James Bittner, who had thwarted many a Stags chance over the years.
Every good script writer produces a stabbing twist at some point and on Mansfield Town’s night, they were soon on the wrong end of a sucker punch as Hereford took advantage of, in honesty, some poor defending to lead on eight minutes through former Darlington man Ryan Bowman.
Maybe those memories of hurt were strong enough to keep supporters singing as after the goal, the rallying calls cried from that terrace full of the Mansfield faithful, cries which encouraged a decaying Stags to cling on and soak up everything Hereford trough at them, perhaps knowing that deep down, the chance for a leveller would come soon.
Stags fought on despite the loss of Lee Beevers who this time, failed to fight off another injury, they eventually pulled level on 37 minutes as Matt Green rose high at the back post to nod in Meikle’s sublime assist from the left bye line.
Hereford were still hungry to kill the Stag dream and piled on the pressure after the break but Mansfield, like a true warrior took blow after blow but remained standing at 1-1. Soon they turned the tables, finding the energy to hit harder and harder in every forceful attack, however as time ticked on it ticked against the Stags with the ball refusing to drop.
The game changer came on 62 minutes when Matt Rhead replaced Lee Stevenson, with Hereford unable to handle the front man Stags pushed on, seeing Bittner produce an excellent save to claw away Green’s dipping lob before skipper Adam Murray came oh so close with a thunderous attempt which can only be described as Gascoigne-esc.
Alan Marriott then produced a pivotal late save and sparked the moment which changed Mansfield history for the good. There were seconds left to go as Marriott restarted play with a long punt up park, Rhead flicked the ball on and Matt Green peeled off his marker with the sharpest of spins.
It was over in a split second but at the time seemed like an eternity as the ball sat up for Green, who pulled back his striking leg and let fly, beating the advancing Bittner in the Hereford goal and sending the Stags fans into complete ecstasy. The scenes were wonderful to whiteness as the floodgates of passion burst open.
The full time whistle then blew to more celebrations as supporters danced in the terraces, bellowing their songs deep into the night. Paul Cox and his player sprinted onto the pitch and the entire squad danced with those believing supporters, who had witnessed the comeback to end all comebacks – the result took Mansfield two points clear of Kidderminster with one game remaining, all they had to do was win – the rest, we know.
I have always aimed to be calm and collected with my commentary on games but have on occasion, let the moment and emotion get the better of me – that night was one of them. The pure joy of Green’s dramatic late strike had made my heart pound; I was on my way to join the lads on the pitch to celebrate when my headset pulled me back! I kissed Em on the forehead and danced with those next to me, all of us trying to commentate and remain professional – yeah right!
The game for me on reflection epitomised what Mansfield Town were about and what a champion really is, someone that never gives up and strives to achieve the goal even when the tide is against you in such away, you feel like you’re travelling a million miles in the wrong direction.
A night that will live forever in my memory with the rather embarrassing clip which I’m sure my grandchildren’s children will hear one day, a night that will live forever in your memory too, see below for various links to other related articles, such as audio, video and more.
Written by Craig Priest
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