_ Going Steady
Craig Priest Writes ahead of tomorrow’s trips to Stonebridge Road...
Sitting just nine points behind our play-off chasing selves, I think Ebbsfleet supporters will be fairly happy with their current position in the league standings, back in the top tier of non-league football following last season’s promotion via the blue square south play-offs. Despite indifferent results over the course of the season, Liam Daish’s men will provide a tough test for Paul Cox’s side tomorrow who of course look for maximum points to wrap up an unbeaten January.
With draws against fellow play-off chasers York (New Year’s Day) and Luton (Wednesday night) plus victories against Forest Green Rovers and Hayes & Yeading, the first month of 2012 hasn’t particularly been a bad one. Many players have impressed and looking back on January, I feel we are in a far better place than when we looked back on November and December. Victory tomorrow at mid table Ebbsfleet and a clean sheet would again reaffirm our stance and let those who linger above us know that we are gathering pace, coming to take their place. With a goalkeeper and back four who have kept two clean sheets in their last three outings, I feel we can be comfortable with our defensive unit – hopefully the addition of former Barrow left back Paul Edwards, on a month’s loan from Fleetwood, will help to boost that rather than hinder it. In midfield we have two central players with ability far too good for this level, Gary Roberts and Adam Murray seemed to have formed a decent partnership together and combine their strengths to drive us on. Out wide we have a healthy number of options to look out, with Lindon Meikle and the recently returned Adam Smith the favourites at the moment adding pace and flair to our attacking play. Up front, we’ve Mat Green – Goal Machine, alongside the burning potential of Ben Hutchinson or the more frequent presence of Ross Dyer, who with the ball at feet is a good weapon to have – he’s not bad in the air either. In reserve we have the likes of John Thompson, Anthony Howell, Lee Stevenson and Louis Briscoe (to name a few) all eager to get another run in the side – hopefully a good 90 minutes against Rainworth tomorrow will be key to keeping these players fresh ahead of February as we face a tough month with all opponents either fighting for their lives or fighting for breathing space at the top.
In the past few weeks Paul Cox has called for the ugly side of the game, which he’s got on a constant basis, whilst he’s also said its results not performances that matter – tomorrow will be another case of combining the two and making sure the Stags get the job done. A key thing for the Stags to do against Daishs’ men will be play to the whistle and see the game through right to the last mili-second, as Fleet have grabbed 11 goals so far this campaign in the final five minutes of the game. At the other end the Stags will either need to be productive early or show patience, as they former FA Trophy winners have only shipped five goals between the 20 minute mark and the break, although their luck hasn’t been in during the second half, conceding a mammoth 30 goals.
Since our last meeting in November 2009, which we lost 2-1, we have become less arrogant and as I wrote for the Chad this week, more accustomed to life in the BSBP. Let’s hope our trip tomorrow see’s us record victory at Stonebridge Road at the third time of asking. Our first trip, as you’ll read briefly about on my Chad article and hopefully at a more exclusive length below, was historic – I hope that despite segregation NOT being in place for tomorrow’s fixture, we can still be as loud and as productive in our support as we always are. I’m on my own in the commentary box tomorrow, so I want to hear lots of noise coming from the Mansfield faithful, spurring the lads onto a memorable victory as we look to close the gap between ourselves and the much sought after play-offs.
Those not going can join me for full match commentary on the fixture from 2.50PM via our MM-LIVE page – please interact throughout via text and twitter, I need your company! You can find details on how to do so via our MM-LIVE page. Incidentally, if you are going to the Rainworth reserve game, boo Scott Rogers from me cheer on the rest of the lads and if you could, text me the team through and any goals that go in – again you’ll find the number via MM-LIVE – that would be greatly appreciated.
For now I must dash, 5-a-side soon! But I leave you with an exclusive trip down memory lane. Back at the start of our conference journey I began to pen a journal about life in the unknown, I have rescued an extract about our first ever game in the conference, our trip to tomorrow’s opponents Ebbsfleet. I apologise in advance for the stench of arrogance and poor grammar!
_Memory Lane: Ebbsfleet Away – Same tires, brand new road.
As Glen Spikey pulled the supporters bus up to the ground, it hit home, this was non-league football and we were in for the long haul. Ebbsfleet, formally Gravesend and Northfleet had a small ground; friendly stewards clearly bemused at all the support we had brought! And one very packed pub stories of stags fans “helping them self’s” because of the lack of bar staff were told on the coach trip home, but to the promise land, non-league football! Over the home entrance turnstile was a sign which ended in “Blue Square Premier Game No.1” A Walk through a small car park led us to the away end and as we emerged inside you could either sit on a wooden bench (out of the rain and £1 extra) or be stood up in the open terrace behind the goal, we stood up and made our self’s known, singing songs about of wonderful club and its players which include some new verses about a bloke called Stallard who is apparently “big and F*****g hard!” and “Better than frank Lampard!” Plus songs about a man with a “pineapple on his head!” As we entered the ground to watch the new crop warm up, it was obvious how Billy McEwan ran a football club, he commands 110% in everything, football played at a quick tempo, a team who would put their life on the line for the team and fellow players, a team who wore the heart on their sleeves and played with balls of steal and this team was run with discipline of the highest manor. The players were all kitted out in new training tops and kit, all with the blue square logo on! As they went back to the dressing room to a loud roar of “Come on You Stags!” and “Yeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllllllooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwssssss!” you could sense the atmosphere and see that McEwan and his men were mentally prepared for the battle ahead. Unfortunately the preparation in the minds did not transfer to the pitch as the stags fans were brought back to memories of last season, defending, badly. Ebbsfleet were confident and had bonded well, this showed with some great passing and team work, it wasn’t long until the stags were 1-0 down, a drive from around 20 yards had beaten keeper gamble who was unlucky not to palm it away, fortunately for him the ball hit the post and his blushes were spared, for about a second when the ball hit the back of his head and started to roll over the line, however gamble did try and claw it away but the cheeky Ebbsfleet forward tapped the ball over the line, 1-0. New left back, Alex Jeannin, was filled with kind words for his keeper, not, he flew of the handle shouting and roaring like a mad man, and even worse it was in French! Not the ideal way the keep up the morale in the team was it Alex?! His outburst didn’t go down to well in the stand either, not the ideal way to become a crowd favourite either! Jeannin’s popularity went from bad to worse as Ebbsfleet had identified him as the “weakest link” constantly attacking our left back and 99.5% of the time, beating him, with ease. The second goal came not long after the first, a thunderbolt shot from the same passion saw gamble beaten again no post this time, back of the net 2-0. Gamble did get back to his best making a string of fine saves and making numerous good catches. Half time came and the stags had hardly created anything the players slummed off to the dressing room for a dressing down by McEwan, there walk was met by a few seconds of boos and then positive encouragement by the loyal, wet through fans!.
As the rain continued to pour down on the stags fans, the players reappeared from the dressing down much more fired up than they looked before the first half, and so they should be, they were attacking towards the stags end. The stags were finally alive! But much to McEwan and the stag’s faithful the lads could not find the back of the net. A popular figure emerged from the bench for his warm to chants of “He’s Got A Pineapple On His Head!” this made Jason lee smile and applaud after all that song had been with him throughout his career, even after the famous hairdo had gone! He was thrown into action much sooner than expected as Aaron O’Connor appeared to have taken a knock and limped off. Lee’s arrival to the pitch not only stirred a positive reaction from the stag’s fans but also the team, Lee won everything in the air linking up well with Mark Stallard, Nathan Arnold, John D’Larea and Mickey Blackwood. Stags kept attacking and were awarded when tricky winger Blackwood cut past 2 defenders and sent over a looping ball, aimed for Stallard but it hit the post and deflected in! 2-1. With confidence now high stags kept on attacking and after a string of unsuccessful set-plays they were level Blackwood turned provider his looping ball from the left flank found Jason lee who nodded it in. Well that’s what it looked like to us! They PA man gave Stallard the goal; maybe he tapped it in, who cares! 2-2 and cue the mass celebrations! With only stoppage time left Ebbsfleet tried to grab a winner again beating left back Jeannin gamble to the rescue fine catch and quick distribution lee nods it down the midfield hold it up and then unleash a show, blocked by a defender, the ball bobbles nicely to the feet of centre half aide Moses, who applied a strikers finish! Blocked and deflected out for a corner, the ball goes into the stag’s fans terrace and was not seen again! The referee had blew his whistle a 2-2 draw. A solid second half performance of commitment, passion and quality football had seen the stags safe. The rain had stopped as fans applauded a retreated to the coaches for Glen Spikey to take us home, non-league football really is a battle and my gosh was that hard, roll on histon on home turf!
Nothing specially to report about the trip home so I skip to Sunday morning and wake up into for ITV’s “The Championship” waiting for the highlights of yesterdays game to come on, just to see who did score, Lee or Stallard? Then I realised that we were no longer on this program and my hour was wasted! A brisk walk round to the shop saw me make my weekly investment of “the Non-League Paper” and “Non-League Today” The NLP is the best paper full colour, match reports from every game, expert views from non-league experts and all the stats and news from the last week in the non-league world all for £1.50 it was in this paper that I first read about Billy McEwans half time team talk, no hair dryer treatment maybe some harsh words and a smack for Alex Jeannin! (Just joking!) Instead Billy told the players about his playing days and how much the supporters valued the team. He compared football to boxing, when your down you must not give in, you must rise to the challenge and give every last bit of energy one thing you must not do is “Throw in the towel” id imagine there to be a few swear words mixed into that statement but if you close your eyes and say that over and over in your head you can see its meaning. The player must have taken notice to his words of wisdom, if not then id drug test the half time oranges! For the first time I can see that Billy is the kind of man and manager who I think are best, he looks to get the best from players, demands team work and commitment and when times are hard he knows exactly what to say. I think state of mind is key to a good footballer and if Billy can get the stags’ squad in the right state of mind then we are destined to succeed. Back To the papers and I notice our relegation counterparts Wrexham had managed a good victory; this no doubt will fill Wrexham fans full of confidence thinking that the BSP is “A Walkover” and an “Easy ride” time will tell.
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