Craig Priest writes…
When you’re riding on the crest of a wave, there’s always a niggling feeling that one wrong move could land you splashing in the water struggling to find your feet, that’s exactly the feeling the Stags experienced at Swindon as their rich vein of form was brought to a crashing halt by fellow play-off chaser Swindon Town.
Steve Evans in his post match analysis labelled it the ‘toughest defeat to take’ and whilst he’s right by virtue of the fact we we’re the better side for periods of the game, especially late on when we peppered the Swindon back line, there was nothing about us in three key areas for me – energy, conviction, and communication.
When I saw the team sheet at 2pm I had a horrible feeling, I felt we lacked a bit of energy in midfield last weekend and would have liked to have seen fresh legs in the wide areas to drive us forward as we did towards the end of the game in young Matt Penney and Alfie Potter, but by then – too little, too late.
Moving Alex MacDonald back out wide in the past two games hasn’t worked for me, he is a fighter and wins every battle going – at this critical stage of the season he needs to be the central pivot and let the likes of Potter, Anderson, Atkinson and to a degree Sterling-James and White do the running out wide – Without MacDonald in the middle we’ve not got that clink, like in air hockey when the puck deflects with zip back towards the other end.
It’s because of that that we lack conviction, no buffer has seen us get penned in our own half and we are finding it increasingly difficult to get out, especially as the points become more precious to everyone and the pitches get heavier.
When we had a buffer, you could see how teams reacted with fear, you knew that a goal was coming – we could still be playing now and whilst Swindon may be soaking up blow after blow, we still wouldn’t score.
Finally and this is the real bug bear for me, we seriously lack communication and have been punished for it – and if it wasn’t for some sharp keeping from Logan, would have been punished a whole lot more.
Pearce and Bennett are a good pairing but they’ve become too relaxed about their selection together (which stems back to this time last season) that they are making silly mistakes. There both as guilty as each other for going wondering and straying out of position – all it takes is a long ball over the top and teams are in behind and we’re fire fighting a potential inferno.
We need Zander Diamond back in the mix and potentially Digby too (I’m not sure how far away Mirfin is or how match fit he would be, that’d be too much of a risk for me in the next three games) – those two are hungry for minutes and game time, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see those two paired together on Tuesday – especially when you consider Newport’s height, physicality and way of playing…. Pump it long, cross from deep, launch in a long throw.
Evans is right that we need to not dwell on this match, we’ve three more huge games against teams around us where we need to pick up wins and keep the momentum going – we can’t afford to do now what we did after Swindon’s win in the reverse fixture – three consecutive draws – if that happens we’ll be starting from the back of the pack again desperately playing catch-up.
Swindon left us frustrated and with a bitter taste of frustration, let’s channel that into vocal support on Tuesday night and hope the players as a collective regardless of the number of changes, I sense at least six, channel losing as a unit into fire and show league two we are serious contenders.
An unchanged 18 from Evans was no real surprise, Ricky Miller again settling for a place on the bench despite scoring in a behind closed doors friendly against Parent Club Peterborough United in midweek.
An even start saw both sides have a sight of goal within the opening five minutes, Matt Taylor swung in an early cross from the hosts which Luke Norris vollied over the bar, Danny Rose at the end other end had an effort held by Charles-Cook in the Swindon goal following a neat spin from 16 yards.
The Stags threatened from an 11th minute corner as Hemmings’ chested down the teasing delivery to Rose, his half-volley blocked by a crowd of red shirts, three minutes later it was Hemmings who found himself in behind after a long ball saw the on-loan hit man onside – sadly Hemmings lob over the on rushing keeper looped over.
Will Atkinson had the games next big chance on 23 minutes as Benning swung in a cross, Atkinson’s diving header falling just wide – a neat burst of pace from Atkinson who came so close to two goals in as many games.
Five minutes later Conrad Logan had to palm away Keshi Anderson’s thumping effort from the edge of the box, MacDonald at the other end on the half hour drove one narrowly wide after a good bit of link up play with Atkinson.
Six minutes before the break the stags found themselves behind as following a corner and then throw at the other end, the Stags lost possession and allowed Swindon to clinically break – with Stags pulled left right and centre Matt Taylor did the damage once inside the Stags box, firing beneath Logan who Evans says should have done better – difficult to tell from our view in the far corner at the other end of the pitch.
With the Stags being a goal down and all over the place at the back, I expected a change at the break but it didn’t come as the second half got under way, Logan pulling off a point blank range save to deny Richards on 51 – not that it would have stood with the offside flag already up, as the stags continued to look shaky at the back.
On 53 minutes MacDonald let one fly from 30 yards but saw the ball zip over the bar, three minutes later he’d stayed central and fed Hemmings who saw an effort blocked.
On the hour Ricky Miller was introduced for Joel Byrom as Steve Evans tweaked the formation to 4-3-3 – Fellow deadline day arrival Matt Penney also made his debut eight minutes later, replacing Hamilton.
The hosts should have sealed the game on 71 minutes as Keshi Anderson thundered a header towards goal, cleared off the line by Rhys Bennett – it gave the Stags a bit of a wake up but the clock seemed against them.
Mind games then started as the ball boys failed to retrieve the ball for any Stags throw or goal kick – Conrad Logan the expert hurdler jumped advertising boards behind the goal and vented his anger at the lack of help from behind the goal. This led to Evans getting talking to from Kevin Friend as things began to get heated.
With less than ten to go, Mansfield came forward in numbers and introduced Alfie Potter for Hemmings as the looked for pace, Rose, Atkinsonson Miller and Penney all struck efforts – but the sands of time faded away as the hosts recorded victory and did the double of the Stags.
FULL TIME Swindon 1-0 Stags
Paul; Anderson – Krystain Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald – Joel Byrom (Ricky Miller 60) – Will Atkinson – CJ Hamilton (Matt Penney 68)
Kane Hemmings (Alfie Potter 82) – Danny Rose
Unused Susbtitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Digby, Jimmy Spencer, Adam King
Referee: Kevin Friend Assistants Stephen child, Nicholas Hopton Fourth Official Keith Stroud
Attendance: 6,031 (unknown)
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