Full Time Score Exeter City 1-4 Mansfield Town
Competition Sky Bet League Two
Venue St James Park
Stags Goal Scorer(s) CJ Hamilton (2), Tyler Walker (2)
Attendance 5,017 (356)
Craig Priest writes…
Anyone can pick a team of eleven players and send them out to play – but it takes leadership and trust to acknowledge when things are going wrong and then take action to put things right. Fortunately Mansfield Town have a man at the helm capable of doing just that – which is why we made the long journey back from Exeter with all three points and our hopes still very much alive.
Men in the main have a reluctance to talk openly about their feelings, to talk about who and what drives and inspires them. Sportsmen even more so, but the fact is if you’re open about that you can look beyond winning and losing and not get stuck in a rut of poor form – so for David Flitcroft to open up to his players this week and in turn, get them to follow suit, that has to be admired.
Football IS just a game and you can very easily get swept up in its emotion which means sometimes you lose focus of what you’re trying to achieve – Mansfield Town’s players needed that purpose and focus bringing back to the forefront of their minds, and regardless of performance and style of play – I for one, put yesterday’s vital victory down to that focus, a word which can never be over used at this stage of the season.
A happy and focussed dressing room is a winning dressing room.
I’ve felt for weeks (alright, months) that there’s been a darkness creeping in, something sucking the life out of our play and confidence and if you look back at the way we started last weekend at home to Crewe, I don’t think you can disagree it firmly took hold and has damaged our chances.
What was key was going on a journey of discovery within ourselves to say this is what we are good at it, this is how we can hurt teams, this is how we can progress – and then putting that into practise, which is exactly what we did with, in my view, the best footballing display from a Flitcroft side for months.
You could sense the want to run at the opposition, to play for each other and cause damage with intent. We have the players within our ranks which thrive off of that, which is why every single player walked off that pitch yesterday buzzing having put in a real shift.
Naturally CJ Hamilton and Tyler Walker get the plaudits and headlines with two goals each – CJ is a real danger when the handbrake is released, the Exeter back four will be having nightmares for weeks about his pace, movement and running across the line – highlighted none more so than in his two first half goals.
Walker’s talent was clear too, dropping deep to allow CJ to drive and attack, the finish for our third was sublime and the penalty composed – however you must tip your hat to CJ for the unselfish pass to win the spot kick and then to walk away from the chance to seal a hat-trick from the spot.
Alex MacDonald, Neal Bishop and Will ‘Mini-Bish’ Tomlinson were fantastic behind them in midfield and adapted well to cover each other and make it tough for the hosts to find an outlet, whilst at the back – the back six (Logan included) were solid enough, bar for the one slip for Exeter to score and make it 1-1.
Off of the pitch, it was great to see Rose back in the fold, infectiously smiling and laughing – lapping up the crowd, after such a bad injury which could have really dented his self-confidence, having him within the dressing room lifts everyone and it gives us another attacking option with games running out.
The inclusion of Zayn Hakeem and 17 Year Old Jimmy Knowles is testament to the links forged between academy and first team over the past year, Hakeem gave a very good account of himself and I’m sure for Knowles it was a brilliant experience – certainly ones to keep an eye on in the future.
As for the here and now, Mansfield appear to have their mojo back and whilst it’s now a hard task to get into the top three, it’s not impossible as they sit two points behind Bury, although they have a game in hand over us on Tuesday.
Whatever the other teams do as I said weeks ago is somewhat irrelevant because if we focus on us and play the way we did yesterday – the pendulum swings into our court again, with us mentally refreshed and hungry to succeed – nobody will fancy coming up against that, so come on you Stags – show me that you miss that top three, show me that you want success and go and bloody get it, after all, we’re all on this journey together.
Changes were bound to happen after a poor showing the previous weekend, Jorge Grant missed the trip completely through an on-going ankle issue, whilst defender Ryan Sweeney did travel, but was kept out of the squad due to a sickness bug picked up on route.
Logan replaced Smith in goal, Ben Turner replaced the sick Sweeney, whilst in midfield Alex MacDonald replaced Grant, with Mellis also missing out – replaced by mini-bish, Will Tomlinson.
Mansfield stared well in the Devon sunshine and put pressure on the hosts with early set-plays, Alex MacDonald the first to register a shot on four minutes – his long range effort whistled beyond Christy Pym but landed wide of the target.
Pym was then forced into two saves from Hamilton as he weaved his way through the city defence and on twenty minutes, his persistent running earned him and Mansfield the opening goal, Hamitlon flashed his way around Pym and turned into the empty net with twenty minutes on the clock.
The Stags lead lasted just a minutes however as the hosts attacked and Mansfield failed to stop the right sided cross – a mix up between Logan and the defence allowed Matt Jay to prod home.
Mansfield were not going to allow Exeter further opportunity and fought hard to regain their lead – Walker was denied by Pym before on 33 minutes Hamilton proved that lightening does strike twice, finishing a thirty yard run with a cool finish.
Tyler Walker clipped a free-kick just over the bar with three minutes of the first half remaining before Mal Benning stepped up with a free kick of his own, Benning’s dead ball landed a whisker wide before the referee called time on the first half.
Mansfield made it 3-1 in style on 57 minutes as Walker controlled the ball from Benning’s throw, shrugged off his marker and curled from distance a peach of a shot beyond a stunned Pym into the net.
Jacob Mellis replaced Bishop on 72 minutes and a minute later watched on as CJ Hamilton tore down the left wing and into the box – he was just about to let fly and seal his hat-trick when at the last second, he pulled the ball back to Walker who was upended for a penalty. Walker stepped up and made no mistake to make it 4-1 and two goals each for him and Hamilton, who terrorised the Exeter back line all afternoon.
Mansfield had a moment of heart in mouth when the hosts were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box but Randell Williams’ effort was watched over by Logan, Zayn Hakeem was hand a debut in the second of three additional minutes replacing Hamilton who received a great ovation from the Stags faithful – not to mention a cute kiss of the forehead from a proud Flitcroft, who was just as jubilant moments later when Ben Toner called an end to proceedings, a well-earned and overdue three points.
FULL TIME: Exeter City 1-4 Mansfield Town
STAGS [3-4-1-2] Conrad Logan, Matt Preston, Krystian Pearce ©, Ben Turner, Gethin Jones, Neal Bishop (Jacob Mellis 72), Willem Tomlinson, Mal Benning, Alex MacDonald, Tyler Walker, CJ Hamilton (Zayn Hakeem 90+2)
Unused Subs: Jordan Smith, Otis Khan, Will Atkinson, Danny Rose, [#38] Jimmy Knowles
Referee: Ben Toner
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