Craig Priest Previews Tomorrow’s home encounter with Hyde FC...
The one thing I’ve enjoyed about following my beloved Stags so far over our conference journey is facing new teams. When I come to pen my memories of following the Stags my fondest will always be discovering new teams and new places, take for example Northwhich Victory, Salisbury and Beautiful Barrow. Whilst tomorrow may not be a road trip to a new place, it’s still a new face, a new team – as for the first time in our history we take on Hyde FC.
Founded in 1885, Hyde have spent their entire footballing life in the non-league pyramid and now are higher than they’ve ever been before after taking the Blue Square Bet North by storm last term, finishing top of the table by a five point margin having lost just six games all season – getting out of the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt collecting a maximum of 30 points from their opening ten games! I’ll talk more about Hyde later on though as my attention now turns back to us and how we approach the game after yet another week of vastly different opinions.
Paul Cox was subject to numerous boo’s when he withdrew Matt Green for Nick Wright during our last match at Kidderminster, whilst the eventual victory will over shadow that I still can’t get my head around why it happened. It’s not just the booing to be honest, it was the whole negative vibe that I was personally starting to feel from the terraces all because we’d lost two on the spin, had a bit of a leaky defence which made some silly mistakes and not picked up from where we’d left off last term – As I said before you can’t move forwards whilst looking backwards. Not in any way is this a dig at the fans, I’ll just always have the ‘negativity gets you nowhere’ philosophy and after two games (prior to Kidderminster) I just felt that we needed to take a step back and look at what stage we’re actually at.
Moving on, another philosophy which is currently on my mind at the minute is, never change a winning team. I said we had foundations to build upon after Saturday’s victory and still sick by that as we head into the match with Hyde tomorrow afternoon, however with Jamie Hand back from suspension and new addition Ryan Tafazolli fighting for a start, Cox could be in for another tough team selection. Andy Todd was instrumental on Saturday and influenced to full effect, for me it’s his place which is the major gamble – If you take him out of the picture do lose that bite, fighting desire and command from the side – I personally feel we can’t afford too loose that yet, what we didn’t have on a constant basis through pre-season was a settled 11, we need to have that as the season’s opening month draws to a close. Last night I was having a debate over Todd as a player with him getting heavy criticism much to my annoyance – sometimes in football you need players who maybe don’t spend much time on the ball but are influencing constantly – Todd fits that description.
The problem is a few people follow the ball and not the shape and game in general; it’s because of this people like Todd get criticism – some people think that because a player spends little time on the ball it makes them a bad player, that’s far from the truth. It’s the same with Ritchie Sutton who I spoke highly of last week, because people saw Riley & Geohaghon on the ball more last term they discredited the efforts of Sutton who worked tirelessly to bellow instructions to the duo, study the opposition and keep things tight – When Marriott captained last term in Murray’s absence, Sutton was the one to relay the messages, Sutton was the one to pull the off ball strings and rally the troops when things weren’t sailing smoothly. Andy Todd does exactly the same, it was he that stood up and made the be counted after we conceded the second, it was he that said relayed messages and got the unseen jobs done – the comment that he looked poor and very tired was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, Todd could play six games in a day and still have energy in the tank to push Mo Farah to the finish line!
Before I lapse off into rant mode, if I haven’t already, I should move on – I personally think that Todd should keep his place and will do as good a job as others, however as much against a tinker to the formation and shape I am, I think one could benefit us against Hyde – maybe 4-2-3-1 to introduce Stevenson and Speight. I spoke of foundations to build upon, the defence is where we start – in my opinion we got caught a little too often at left back last weekend with Junior Daniel a more attack minded player (nothing wrong with that by the way!) so I’d be sending Ritchie Sutton across there to again command that area leaving Dempster and Jones as the centre half pairing as, as time grew, they formed a good pair. At right back with Sutton switching full back roles I’d introduce John Thompson for his first start of the season – his style stops wingers in their tracks and stops players from running through which is exactly what Hyde try and do and how they won the BSBN last term with the likes of Scott Spencer, who score 32 goals in 36 starts last season, the one likely to be a handful. Before you jump on my back, I like Anthony Howell and want to make it clear I’m a big fan of his and have been won over by his work rate since his second arrival last summer; it’s a close call between him and Roberts to make way for Jamie Hand in a defensive midfield two – I think I’d alternate between the three over this bank holiday weekend with Roberts getting the nod tomorrow as Hyde are, from what I’ve seen and read, are weak when teams play hard, quick and low.
Hyde tend to marshal there own box in the air but struggle in the wide areas especially against pace – it’s because of this I’d have to sacrifice Todd for Meikle wide right with Speight going to the vacant left, that said Todd would fit the role perfectly and could even be a contender for a more deeper role. In the middle, Stevenson is a no brainer, his creativity in that hole will have Hyde stretched and create gaps for Speight and Meikle to exploit. As the central front man, I don my tin hat as I pick Matt Rhead over Matt Green! A brave statement, Green has pace and can finish and I rate him very VERY highly – however Matt Rhead has this articulate nature, he’s strong where ever you play him the ball and will run across the front line all day, the trouble he could cause and the way Hyde defend, doubling up on players, could open no end of gaps for Stevenson, Meikle and Speight to exploit and punish to full effect. We need to be ruthless at home and take on a bullishness nature – I think in what could form a 4-2-1-3 formation, Rhead suits that more than Green, it’s time for us to share the burden before we become too Matt Green reliant.
The wonderful thing that you’ll all agree with now is I’m not Paul Cox and I don’t pick the team, I think Cox demonstrated that we can win and play without Green during Saturday’s game and I think he’ll do it again soon. Hyde we’re promoted as worthy champions last term playing the style of football I’ve just described, not only did they keep things firm at home they travelled extremely well and picked up points at all but five grounds on the road last term under the management of Gary Lowe, a trait new boss Scott McNiven will be keen to replicate.
The former Stags right back took the reins of newly promoted Hyde when Lowe stepped down after reading the tigers to promotion, he has strengthened the awarding winning side with numerous free transfers including the recent addition of Matthew Blinkhorn from York City, he scored Hyde’s only goal in their recent 2-1 defeat to Luton. Fleetwood midfielder Stefan Cox and AFC Telford centre half Robbie Williams have also joined the Hyde ranks along with McNiven’s twin brother David as Hyde look to stay safe in their debut season at the top of the non-league pyramid. With regular money from Premier League champions Manchester City and a link with the blues, Hyde are one of those rare stable clubs with a seemingly bright future – so long as City’s Elite Development Squad continue to use Ewan Fields as a base Hyde will not only have a stable income but presumably the first dibs at the talent being breaded through the premier league champions ranks. So far two draws and a defeat are on the board for McNiven’s side, he’ll be hoping for a victory against his former employers tomorrow.
LAST TIME WE MET
As mentioned above tomorrow’s match will be the first meeting between the two sides in a league fixture and as far as I can tell, any competition at all whether it be cup or friendly. One thing you can guarantee is a tough game tomorrow and again donning the tin hate, I need to say that we as a club need to approach the game with the same level of professionalism as usual – over confidence and under estimation will be out greatest downfall.
Let’s stick by whatever side Cox puts to the field and support them from start to finish; it’s true that our success last term was largely down to the noise and atmosphere at the One Call Stadium, time to start that up again.
Jamie Hand has now completed his prolonged four game ban after being sent off in Hayes & Yeading’s penultimate match of last season against Lincoln City whilst Lee Beeers one match ban for a second yellow at Gateshead is now completed, they’ll both be in contention for selection.
Another in the frame is Paul Cox’s latest addition Ryan Tafazolli who arrived on Monday. The 20 year old came through the ranks at Southampton and has had a spell lower down the non-league ladder in recent years with Salisbury City, a tall player who likes a challenge; he’ll be battling for a debut and could add yet more sturdiness to the defence.
Fellow young defender Jobe Shaw could be set to debut for Shepshed Dynamo after joining them on a month’s loan earlier today whilst Ross Dyer remains sidelined with injury.
It will be a personal special landmark tomorrow as I’ll pick up my 100th game collectively for Takeover and Mansfield Matters, they’ll be no celebrations though beside at full time with three points, hopefully, in the bag.
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