Craig Priest writes....
Ah nearly game time again, the only difference between tomorrow’s match and a usual week is the amount of negativity which lingers in the air. Already a few have put the result down as a foregone conclusion considering our poor start to the season and Forest Green flying start, however I may to some seem over optimistic but I genuinely feel our bad patch is nearing its conclusion.
I’ve just watched the highlights back from Tuesday’s midweek draw at home to Lincoln and its triggered more memories of the game, we’ve got the ball on the floor, created space, used the width, got crosses into the area and worked the keeper – the only bugbear is the fact we didn’t score, the first game all season we’ve failed to register a goal. On another night Matt Green’s effort stands rather than gets ruled out for offside, the foul on Murray is given inside the box rather than on the line and the visiting keeper has a shocker rather than a storming game – that’s football, sometimes it doesn’t go your way, especially when you’re in a poor run of form.
The positives are we’ve kept a clean sheet and continued our unbeaten home record – the negative really is we’ve not beaten a poor away side and our rivals, I’ve been wondering all week what the reaction would have been had we found the net at some point and grabbed a 1-0 win. Forest Green Rovers, our visitors tomorrow, will be aware of the fact at full time the players and management were booed off and, by the small minority, abused – this play’s into their hands, if they can find away to aggravate us then they pretty much have the win before a ball is kicked. Rather than let a stranger come into our living room and re-arrange the furniture, we should remind Forest Green that in four league matches at Field Mill, Mansfield have been victorious every time – we, to their own admission, are there bogey side, let’s ensure that continues and get our season back on track at the same time.
Selection wise I thought Cox put out a solid side considering the number of injuries midweek, tomorrow is a difficult one with birthday boy John Thompson and giant Exodus Geohaghon both available after surviving injury scares, the same applies in midfield with training ground victims Howell and Clements both now fine. I know I will take some stick here again, personally tomorrow to try and maintain the consistency I’d be making only the one change, reverting to a 4-4-2 and dropping Jake Speight in favour of John Thompson, leaving Dempster, who despite one mistake was solid midweek, and Tafazolli as the centre backs moving Sutton across to left back. That leaves a midfield of Andy Todd who without a doubt should be the first name on the team sheet after an assured display, Murray, Roberts and Daniel. If you’re looking for fresh legs then Meikle or Briscoe for Daniel is the obvious choice. Rhead and Green together is a no brainer, I personally don’t think Speight and Rhead can play together to the affect Rhead and Green can, Speight’s partner without doubt is Nick Wright.
Another option to explore is Ben Hutchinson for Rhead, yes we’d lose the target man factor but gain a striker that drops deep to collect and create, effectively giving you one extra in the centre of the park to push Meikle and Todd further forward into the channels. As I said though it would be one change only for me as on Tuesday I thought as a unit we played some good stuff, hardly giving Lincoln a sniff – the first three minutes of the second half a prime example. I know people will scream that we haven’t score and have been held to a lacklustre draw, but I’d love to get hold of a copy of the game just to watch and pick out a couple of the spells of possession we had, how we moved on and off the ball, especially in the second phase of play when Lincoln have cleared the first cross. Speaking from a coaching perspective or an analytic view, during certain spells of the game watching it again, we didn’t look likely a crumbling, nervous team, we looked hungry and like a unit that we’re on the edge of clicking – I guess it’s like trying to crack an egg or squeeze juice from an orange, you apply the pressure and go about it the right way, but sometimes it doesn’t happen at the first attempt, the desire to keep going and crack the code is often more vital and pivotal than the application itself.
Some will say I’m being far too optimistic now, I’m really not, I won’t dress the performance up as something it wasn’t, if you re-read what I wrote above you’ll see the phrase “Sometimes” or “There were Spells” – not everything was perfect, but it wasn’t as bad as some made it out to be, it certainly didn’t warrant boo’s or the rumoured other actions which, frankly is a disgrace – remember the players are human beings, treat people how you wish to be treated. I won’t elaborate further on that, I’ll go back to my original point – not everything is what it looks.
For example if you put a dot on a blank piece of paper and stare at it a while, ask yourself is it a plain dot or is it a tiny circle with a flicker of light and life in the middle?
I went into Tuesday with Saturday’s woeful show still in my head; I came out of Tuesday pleased, encouraged but not delighted with the performance – something not everyone understood. Tomorrow I’ll go into the game with Tuesday’s game in my head, remembering how we kept the ball and worked with it – I’ll come out of the game and will judge on whether or not we’ve made progress. The fact is in football good, successful sides, progress from their mistakes whilst bad, unsuccessful sides, wallow on their failings – something we need to STOP doing because we HAVE done it. We have to buy into the ‘baby steps’ progress theory which saw us good last year, both as fans and as players! We got to where we were last season by progressing after the turn of New Year, we failed because we dwelled and panicked.
At the top of the piece I mentioned some have written tomorrow off because of the two teams form, Forest Green are smashing expectation so far whilst we aren’t reaching it so naturally there going to win? Oh please its defeatist! How about we spin the coin, they’ve lost their last two games and as mentioned, have NEVER beaten Mansfield at Field Mill in a league encounter, in short they’re about to enter their rough patch, how about we give them some hard, rough stones to land on rather than provide a spring board back into a positive spell of form? Remember, we have to be nasty at some stage – the time is now!
LAST TIME WE MET
The sides last met in January in the midst of our turning point, it was a crappy affair but one in which the Stags got the required result through Lindon Meikle who netted the game’s only goal at the One Call Stadium. The Reverse fixture took place just over a year ago on October 1st on what was a glorious day at the New Lawn. The sun burnt all in attendance whilst local wild stock escaped certain death when James Williamson got us lost, click the ‘Road Trips’ category for a reminder! On the pitch Ross Dyer netted the Stags quickest conference goal after some 15 seconds or so, however Anthony Howell was shown a red card and the hosts drew level for a 1-1 draw.
The sides first met in November 2008, the Stags were given a look at the scenic Rovers set up around beautiful Nailsworth but we’re given another taste of life in non-league football, as they were beaten 1-0. In total the sides have met ten times which includes an FA Cup first round tie in 2009 at the New Lawn, a 1-1 draw thanks to a late Scott Garner goal; Rovers won the replay 2-1, their only victory at the One Call Stadium.
Paul Cox could have more options to pick from tomorrow, John Thompson, Exodus Geohaghon, Anthony Howell and Chris Clements look like they have shaken off their respective injuries. Nobody new is definitely out however Ryan Tafazolli again pulled a hamstring late on so could miss out.
If you can’t make it to the One Call tomorrow, join me for regular updates throughout the afternoon on 106.9FM and via our MM-LIVE page, build up starts at 2pm
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