Craig Priest preview’s tomorrow night’s trip to Alfreton...
After such an empathic win on Saturday afternoon, it won’t be hard to motivate yourself for tomorrow night’s trip to relegation threatened Alfreton in a match dubbed as a local derby. It is with caution and with a full coat of body armour that I write this next sentence, if we are to beat Alfreton – we must pretend the Barrow game never happened.
Before you all pop round to Mansfield Matters HQ with rotten tomatoes to launch at me, let me again get on record how proud and how good I’m feeling following Saturday’s win, not for a minute am I saying forget the day forever, It will undoubtedly be the game of the season and result of the season for many years to come, what I am saying is, just forget it for tomorrow night’s fixture. The over analytical part of me is smashing trying to get out, it can sense the overwhelming stench of arrogance after picking up just one defeat in our last 14 outings. One of my biggest fears in football is arrogance, with such a record our heads can perhaps sway a little too much and as we begin to look at what’s above we fail to see the sucker punch coming.
Yes we can beat Alfreton, yes if we play as we know we can, we could slaughter Alfreton (and any other team that we may face in this league) but we are forgetting one critical thing – anything can happen in a game of football, Alfreton are no different to ourselves. We (players, supporters, staff, press, big Steve next door and his dog etc) must head into tomorrow night’s game at the impact arena showing Alfreton respect remembering who they are and who, deep inside, we are. Nicky Law’s side are as I say no different to our good selves, they are unbeaten in 3 games and have too enjoyed the joys of scoring big (a 6-1 win over relegation rivals Stockport in their last home fixture). They too have a dream, this one to avoid the drop at the first time of asking after taking the Blue Square North title last term. Believe me when I say at this stage of the season, a team fighting for relegation is the team you actually need to avoid, especially when you’re travelling to their home. Former C**********d centre half Law will know what it takes to prepare a team for a fight, something he’s demonstrated over the last few games and indeed, the previous few seasons when the Reds have been looking to achieve promotion. Law’s team will put their bodies on the line to prevent further damage at the back, shipping 73 goals so far this term, the third worse goals against record in the division. In the last four games, Alfreton have conceded once keeping three clean sheets (two consecutive) something which pushes confidence to the front men as they look to take the strain and rescue the reds from the dreaded drop.
After taking the Blue Square North title by storm last season, a year after third and losing in the play-offs, Nicky Law’s reds who were often on our pre-season friendly list, struggled to adapt to life at the top level of conference football. In the reds’ opening two months they fell to seven defeats, scraped three draws and managed just two very tight victories. The form of our impact arena based neighbours failed to get any better before Christmas, Law’s side won a further two more, falling to eight defeats and picking up just three draws – On Christmas day the Reds sat second bottom. Boxing Day delivered the gift of a 5-2 home win over Tamworth which has been used as mini-effective fuel to the fire, as since Boxing Day they have been beaten only four times, picking up two draws and five wins – a run which has taken them from second bottom to 16th, five points clear of the drop zone with nine games left to go.
Law’s side will be spurred on by the fact that over the last eight games, they sit in the play-offs in terms of form, a ranking of 5th place (2 places behind ourselves in 3rd) the reds have won five, drawn one and lost two of their last eight games in which they have found the net on 15 occasions. Their run is to be admired in some-ways as it’s just as easy to throw in the towel especially as their run in see’s them face ourselves, Cambridge, Wrexham, York and Luton – it’s the fighting spirit which in some ways worries me, we have it in our locker and have demonstrated it, plus like Alfreton we have the spirit and obvious belief. If drawing with the unstoppable league leaders wasn’t enough to inflate our confidence then a seven goal demolition is combine the two together and you, not by any fault of your own, get that little bit of cockiness in your walk, that ‘we can beat anyone because we’ve done this, this and this’ type attitude and again that arrogance.
Let me again highlight the fact I’m not calling any of our supporter arrogant nor am I calling it the players, I love every Mansfield Town supporter and believe that every player will be key to our success. I’m saying that arrogance and confidence are very like minded and that the line between the two is extremely thin – we are happy for a reason, we are smiling for a reason, our hearts beet twice as fast at games for a reason, we sing loud for a reason, we are proud for a reason – not because we are Mansfield Town, ex football league one loss in 14 and we smash ‘smaller clubs’ for fun, we are all of these things because we respect sides, we work to chase our dreams – we are Mansfield Town Football Club, together as one.
Flock to the impact arena in numbers tomorrow night, just like you did when we played them in the trophy a year or so ago. Pack the terrace like you did at Tamworth, raise the roof like you do week in week out. Follow our dream and remember, over confidence and under estimation will be our greatest downfall. Let us respect our opponents, not just in Alfreton but wherever we go, let us remember every side is fighting for something somehow and last but by no means least – let us continue to be ourselves: honest but ruthless, proud but not arrogant, winners not losers.
Tomorrow night’s game will be a fight, in my opinion it’s not a local derby just another game, however several factors will make it fierce and passionate like a derby. Alfreton will scrap for every tiny piece of the ball, they won’t be afraid to tackle nor will they be afraid to have a pop at goal – it’s a cup final for them as much as us, they need victory as much, if not more than us – we have to expect the unexpected, keep our feet grounded rather than floating high above watching over yesterday. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on a red card just like in the reverse fixture where there were two, both for tomorrow’s hosts. They’ll be controversy and no doubt some uneasy moment, but hey, that’s football – that’s the beautiful game: bring it on!
If you can’t get to Alfreton tomorrow night, turn your radio dials to 106.9FM or log onto our MM-LIVE page, where there will be commentary and build up with myself and Scott Rogers from 7.30pm – you won’t miss a kick of the action.
Last Time We Met:
Earlier in the season history was made as the two sides locked horns for the first time in league action, having met for the first time in competitive action the previous season, on the road to Wembley. The sides are no strangers to each other and have often played each other in pre-season friendlies at the Impact Arena, usually a week before the season starts. Mansfield usually run out winners playing the team to ‘start the season’ however Alfreton have sprung a surprise a time or two, always showing qualities, which despite the end results, leaves us all saying ‘they’ll do something good this year’ and wishing the Impact Arena locals well.
As mentioned it was in the FA Trophy where the two first met in competitive action, a 1-1 draw on a war like pitch at Field Mill was followed by a 2-1 come from behind Stags win at the Impact Arena to reach the quarter finals of the competition.
Earlier this term it was a similar encounter, very feisty and a game in which the Stags we’re probably second for the opening 60 minutes. Two red cards for the visitors within nine minutes of each other saw the Stags needing to overturn a 2-0 score line against nine men. It proved harder than it seemed and until Matt Green converted a 74th minute penalty – many believed Mansfield would go onto loose. A fine equalizer from Lindon Meikle three minutes from time was enough to settle the majority’s nerves and send them home slightly happy – however substitute Andy Todd made sure Stags sealed a remarkable comeback, tapping home from half a yard in added on time. The Stags we’re very poor and got extremely lucky, fortunately since the turn of the calendar year, there has been no signs of repeating such awful displays.
Stags 3-2 Alfreton 22.10.11 Line Up: [4-4-2] Marriott, O'Neill, Riley, Sutton, Kendrick (Todd ), Meikle , Murray (C), Bolland, Dyer, Green [1p], Connor. SNU Redmond, Worthington, Howell, Day.
Podcast: Commentary from Craig Priest and Scott Rogers
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