Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield’s maiden journey on the long train ride to the intended destination of League One, nearly started with a derailment against the Railwaymen of Crewe Alexandra, but the Stags fighting spirit saw them take home a point in a well fought 2-2 draw – a match Steve Evans will look back on as simply ‘laying the tracks’ for the long road ahead.
One thing he must sort out and address is the cracks at the back – Crewe’s opening goal a prime example of how not to defend a set-piece, I’ve said it many a time before but first and foremost, if I were a defender, I’d want my goalkeeper [in this case Conrad Logan] to barge me out of the way and claim the ball. Secondly, if he’s not going to do that – let’s not ball watch and allow the opposition to nod the ball across the box and score a simple goal.
In the first half David Murfin impressed me but in the second, Crewe’s experienced Chris Porter read him like an open book and had the beating of him every time – punishing him for Crewe’s second goal.
What I don’t think helped was Diamond and Murfin having not played in a pairing throughout pre-season regularly, it’d pretty much been either or with the exception of the Matlock game, which baring Byrom for Digby – was actually the starting line-up yesterday. Personally I think you need at least two, if not three games to gel as pairing.
Other than defensive errors which needlessly cost us two goals, I felt it was a good performance from Mansfield who played some mouth-watering stuff at times.
Danny Rose looked hungry and his goal highlighted what a talent he is, anticipating the first time delivery and acting accordingly to effect – he was very unfortunate not to have two more and on any other afternoon, may well have done – he for me is why all these “We’re missing Green” comments are a sheer waste of Oxygen. I said this in the Podcast this week, Green is a hero and a tremendous talent – but he’s the past and it’s time we moved on, you WILL see his name pop up regularly on the score sheet for Lincoln, but I guarantee a good 80%, if not 90% of his goals, will be down to Matt Rhead.
Steve Evans picked Joel Byrom as his man of the match in the post match interview, he’d right - Byrom was a joy to watch yesterday, his passing and vision sliced Crewe wide open whilst I left Crewe with a changing opinion on Will Atkinson, he really rallied the side and his movement drew two or three players out of position and allowed Hayden White to get forward down the wing – vocally too he never shut up, attitude and commitment from the very first to the very last whistle is exactly what will carry us through the long season ahead.
On Twitter I noticed Paul Anderson take some stick, personally I felt Anderson held up play well and carried the side forward those extra ten yards, especially when we’re chasing the win late on – Perry NG the Crewe full back couldn’t get near him at times, which, if you watch the extended highlights when they go up on iFollow, will be evident in the opportunity’s created.
A disappointing note was silly bookings, especially the one which substitute Omari Sterling-James picked up right in front of me – he was clearly fouled but there was no need to throw the ball like a five year old denied sweets, especially straight in front of the linesman and referee – it’s those silly bookings that will come back to bite later in the season.
Have a moan, have a shout yes, maybe even have a little pinch off the ball later in the game, but there are ways and means of doing so – it was a very silly card to pick up eight minutes after coming on and meant he couldn’t really battle for the remainder of the game when, really, we needed him too.
All in all, a decent run out for the opening day and to use the Steve Evans analogy – it’s one bag of coal to help fuel the train as we go up that mountain track – let’s make sure we collect all three next weekend at home to Forest Green.
Steve Evans named the same starting XI which beat Matlock 4-0 earlier in pre-season with the exception of Paul Digby, whose place went to Joel Byrom – Digby, according to reports, had been ill and would have started had he been fully fit, as would Rhys Bennett who missed the match at Alfreton with a damaged heel.
Zander Diamond was given the captain’s armband and lead Mansfield out to a roar of yellows from just under 1,400 travelling fans and created the first chance of Mansfield’s season with a deep through ball – Lee Angol raced onto it leaving former Stag Michael Raynes chasing a blue, but fired straight at Ben Garrett in the Crewe goal from a narrowing angle within the opening minute.
Mansfield saw an excellent fluid move down the left hand side nearly break the deadlock on eight minutes as Benning latched onto a sprayed pass following good work from Angol and Byrom, Danny Rose headed over at the far post as Benning’s cross looped in the air.
Straight at the other end, Conrad Logan who was given the nod over Bobby Oljenik after winning an arm wrestle to decide who started [this may not be factually correct] came to Mansfield’s rescue, as Chris Dagnall tried his luck from 20 yards – Logan pushing the ball away before the Stags regrouped to clear.
Three minutes later Logan again had to be on hand as Dagnall pulled the trigger, this time his effort was tame and easy for Logan.
Jacob Mellis and the impressive Will Atkinson combined on twenty-five minutes and earned the Stags a wonderful goal scoring opportunity as Mellis was fouled. In a central position, Lee Angol stepped up and curled a free kick over the wall and was a whisker away from the top corner, a yard further out and Mansfield without doubt would have been ahead.
Just past the half hour Logan again did well to get down quickly and palm away a teasing cross, but it was the Stags who then had the golden chance to take the lead as Danny Rose intercepted a Crewe throw just over the half way line, Roses’ acute back-heel found Byrom who then split the defence to play in Angol – the former Lincoln City loanee pulled the trigger and dragged wide on his right foot, he had time to take a touch and hit across the keeper on his left.
The hosts then grabbed the opener on the stroke of half-time as Mansfield showed how not to defender a corner – George Cooper’s left footed out swinging corner looped in the air and could have been claimed by Logan, instead the ball was headed back across the box by Raynes and Chris Porter got goal side of Murfin to nod into the net, despite the efforts of Anderson on the line.
After the break, no doubt having had a rocket from Evans during the intervak, Stags set about fighting back and just 18 seconds into the second half, Danny Rose fired wide after a neat set from Angol.
Minutes later Ben Garratt made a top draw save to deny Angol after being set by Benning, but on 55 minutes Mansfield were level in a move started and finished by Danny Rose.
The former Bury man collected the ball inside the centre circle and found Mellis, who quickly sprayed the ball wide left to the advancing Anderson who drove forward and held up well, allowing Benning to run forward – a neat spin and speed killing touch to Benning allowed the full back to deliver first time, Rose racing in at the far post – leaping above Eddie Nolan, to head Mansfield back into the game.
A flurry of Stags openings followed by the clinical finishing touch was missing and Crewe, who saw little in front of goal throughout the second half got their noses back in front on 63 minutes, a long punt forward saw Callum Ainley’s cleaver movement drag the defence out of the area, Copper’s sweeping cross headed home by Porter for his second of the match. You can’t get dragged out of position like that and expect not to be punished, very poor defensive play for me – neither centre back was anywhere to be seen when the cross came in, nothing Logan could do about that one.
It took the Stags just three minutes to pull level, Hayden White delivered long down the right and Lee Angol was fouled after a flick on by the deep dropping Rose, earning Mansfield a free kick – Joel Byrom’s curling ball turned home by Murfin at the far post.
Mansfield had the moment and again did well with the ball but couldn’t find a third, Zander Diamond sent a pile driver narrowly wide from around 30 yards, after good movement from Atkinson found Anderson who somehow deflected the ball into a swooping Diamond’s path amidst a melee of players.
Two minutes later Anderson turned provider again as a deep left sided cross was nodded wide by substitute Sterling-James who replaced a tiring Rose, Will Atkinson also saw a powerful effort cannon off a Crewe body after substitutes CJ Hamilton and Paul Digby combined to set the midfielder, making his second Stags debut.
With three minutes to go Crewe got a sight at goal but a fantastic goal line block from Atkinson denied Cooper, then straight at the other end CJ Hamilton danced his way through before seeing an effort deflect up and over the bar.
Conrad Logan, as he did against Gainsborough, rescued Mansfield in the dying embers of the match with a strong save with his legs to deny Dagnall, who then headed over from a Cooper set-play as the game moved into the first of five additional minutes.
Mansfield weren’t finished however and Sterling-James saw an effort blocked from 20 yards whilst in the final minute, Joel Byrom made the challenge he needed to make as the hosts threw themselves forward – the referee then calling an end to a thrilling opening day.
FULL TIME | Crewe Alexandra 2-2 Stags
Hayden White – Zander Diamond © - David Murfin – Mal Benning
Will Atkinson – Jacob Mellis (Paul Digby 77) – Joel Byrom – Paul Anderson
Danny Rose (CJ Hamilton 84) – Lee Angol (Omari Sterling-James 71)
Unused Subs: Bobby Olejnik, Rhys Bennett Krystian Pearce, Alfie Potter
Attendance | 4,933 (1,392 away)
Referee | Graham Salisbury (Assistants L Freeman, K Haycock – Fourth Official R Wild)
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