Craig Priest writes…
As I sit and look out across country hillside, a solitary tractor mows a field in the distance – all is calm and quaint around, yet in despite being surrounded by all this beauty – I can’t help but feel like there’s a rain cloud hanging over Mansfield Town’s season, following this afternoon’s 1-1 draw with Carlisle.
Yet again one silly mistake has cost us points as the hosts caught the Stags on the counter attack, again raising question marks over our ability to defend – I make that now seven points dropped from five league games due to errors, two at Crewe, one against Accrington, two last weekend at home to Luton and two again this afternoon, as once we got going, as per the case all season long, the mouth has started to water at the glimpses of what we can do.
To drop seven points in five league game is very disheartening as those points would have given us not only a stronger foothold as the league table begins to form, but also some much needed confidence within the dressing room.
I wrote yesterday about desire, commitment and a lust to explore – why did it take two substitutions midway through the second half to do that for more than a 30 second flash? The new travel policy gives no excuses to tiredness or stiff legs, so why did we start so sluggish like we’d be sat in a thirty mile long traffic jam crawling at 0.5MPH?
Trust is another big issue, the back line again we’re indecisive and didn’t trust Conrad Logan at all, leading to mistakes, misjudgement and play-ground errors which, had it not been for the post and crossbar, may have saw us take a thumping.
We have to come out of the blocks wanting to win a game and we have to come out the blocks ready to rile the opposition, rather than be friendly and give them the run of our half because that’s three games [four now if you include Lincoln] where teams will hit long passes and be allowed to keep it, or we try and play our way out of trouble – against teams such as Carlisle, that won’t wash.
When we did get the ball down, we looked fluid and to be fair – had we not come up against the excellent Jack Bonham in the United goal, I could be sitting here enjoying the countryside air with three points well and truly secured, he was outstanding.
I think what we lack the most is an identity, we are squabbling between ourselves far too much – we look like a coach load of spoilt brats at times, it’s embarrassing – the penalty showed just that, petty squabbles allowed Carlisle to get in our heads and look at the result, Kane Hemmings becoming the third Stags player this season to miss from 12 yards.
Calum Butcher looks a solid addition to the team, perhaps a little over eager with that crunching two footed challenge – but hey, when you’re wearing Jamie McGuire’s old shirt number…. It’s to be expected! His goal too showed his quality, to lob the keeper from that distance takes some doing, and to do so with a light, deft touch, takes something special – let’s home unlike previous debut goal scorers, he can be consistent.
Above all else, as I take in the evening scenery and many supporters do so too on the long drive back to Mansfield – my thoughts turn to Grimsby next weekend, we’ve lacked a consistent fire and hunger throughout the entirety of a match, what better time to ignite that fire than next weekend.
Despite solid performances from the likes of Alfie Potter and Alex MacDonald in midweek, Steve Evans reverted back to the same starting eleven that spectacularly threw away a two goal lead against Luton last weekend, meaning ten changes from midweek as Krystain Pearce again kept his place.
The Stags began under the cost, as David Murfin was adjudged to have fouled Ritchie Bennett within the opening minute – the dangerous Danny Grainger swung in the free kick, which Pearce displaced away from danger well.
Mansfield we’re out of jail yet though as a punt down the united right a minute later led too a long throw, hurled in long by Tom Miller, Conrad Logan did well to claim, just underneath his bar as the ball was nodded freely towards goal by Mark Elliss – a worrying sign that the Stags were so flat footed from the throw.
The Stags showed their first glimpse of excellence on seven minutes, as quick and fluent football saw Mellis pick out captain Paul Anderson down the left hand side – the skippers cross had the home defence at sea, but sadly no Stags boot could apply the clinical touch.
Four minutes later, Lee Angol swung the pendulum of play as a strong challenge saw him rob Gary Liddle of the ball, his pass to strike partner Kane Hemmings proved just too strong for the Oxford loanee.
On 14 minutes the long throw of Miller again caused danger and the Stags were given a huge let off as once again, nobody reacted the the missile which was flung in by the united full back – Mark Ellis’ header thundered back off the crossbar as Stags supporters in the far corner – watched on through their fingers.
Inevitably the goal which the hosts were due after hitting tha bar followed just a minute later as frankly abysmal defender by Mal Benning saw the Stags cut through like a sword through melting butter.
It all stemmed from a Stags free kick on the left hand side, but as the hosts dealt with the delivery from Byrom, Hallam Hope burst away – Benning was on the half way line but completely lost out in the challenge allowing Hope to spring – he raced forwards and slotted beneath Conrad Logan who came out to try and narrow the angle.
Two minutes after the restart from the goal, Lee Angol came close to pulling things level, but was denied by an excellent save from the home keeper, Paul Anderson also tested the home shot stopper on twenty-two minutes – but saw his long range effort comfortably held.
As the half hour approached, a long punt over the top was chased down by Kane Hemmings – he was a matter of inches away from connecting, but again a brave Bonham was out to collect without fear.
Paul Anderson saw an effort blocked by the home defence following a neat piece of combination play between Atkinson and Hemmings – A Joel Byrom corner also found its way to Mellis, who had a stinging effort deflected behind as the Stags searched for a way back into the game.
With two minutes to go before the break, Kane Hemming’s hit a beautiful curling free kick after Pearce was barged over following a dominant run forward – the dead ball hit by Hemmings palmed away by the keeper.
On the stroke of half time, Mansfield were given yet another let off, Luke Joyce was left unmarked in the box – but his acrobatic effort flew high, much to the Stags relief.
After the break, the home keeper was certainly earning his wage – claiming an early teasing cross from the advancing Benning, before watching on as his back line blocked a thunderous Anderson effort – Jacob Mellis’ follow up sailed over.
Bonham then sealed, what should have been, his man of the match award – as on 51 minutes, a charging run by Anderson saw the Stags skipper felled inside the box by Miller – after a two minute squabble between Hemmings, Angol and the Stags bench – Kane Hemming’s stepped up – only to be denied by Bonham, who thumped the ball away across to his right – the follow up from Hemmings flew over.
On 56 minutes, Steve Evans made a double change as Atkinson was replaced by the excellent Alfie Potter, whilst Jacob Mellis was taken off in place of deadline day signing Calum Butcher.
It took just two minutes for the changes to take effect as Stags drew themselves back into the game, thanks to a magnificent deft lob over Bonham from Butcher – as the keeper came out to punch away a testing cross, like a Butcher’s dog – the midfield debutant sniffed pout the sausages and pounced to level the game.
Kane Hemmings earned Stags a corner from Angol’s cut back on 68 minutes – from which Butcher nearly added his and Stags second – his volley after neat chest control rose over the bar.
With half an hour left Stags were nearly caught napping and owe David Murfin credit, as he raced back to slide in on an advancing Joyce – just as he looked to pull the trigger, then straight at the other end as Potter delivered into the box, the loose ball fell to Anderson, who had time for a touch but saw Bonham off his line – opting for the left footed first time attempt, Anderson fired over – much to his own viable frustration.
David Murfin, who’d been a hero at the other end seven minutes earlier, nearly became a hero in front of goal as Byrom’s corner fell to the defender at the far post – he didn’t expect it and hacked at air, as the hosts scrambled clear.
United substitute Shaun Miller nearly made himself the hero for the hosts, he rattled the post with his first touch shot – with nine minutes remaining, the Stags had been given another let off as Logan stood bewildered and rooted to his line.
Logan then pulled off a smart save with three remaining as Jason Kennedy clipped towards goal – Logan palmed the ball behind, incidentally the offside flag was up against the home substitute all the same.
In the dying embers of the match, Hemming’s nearly got a hopeful toe onto Byrom’s through ball, but the referee soon called halt to the match – one in which, had it not been for one simple error – the Stags would have won.
FULL TIME: Carlisle United 1-1 Stags
Rhys Bennett – Kyrstain Pearce – David Murfin – Mal Benning
Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 56) – Joel Byrom – Jacob Mellis (Calum Butcher 56) – Paul Anderson ©
Lee Angol (Danny Rose 86) – Kane Hemmings
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Alex MacDonald, Jimmy Spencer, Hayden White
ATTENDANCE: 2,277 (280)
REFEREE: Darren Handley, Assistants: Geofrey Liddle, Neil Sharp. Fourth Official: Marc Edwards
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