Craig Priest Writes...
With the dust still settling on our victory away at Tamworth on Saturday, focus soon switches to our next game as the fixtures keep on coming. Tamworth was labelled as the ‘biggest game of our season so far’ by Paul Cox on Thursday with York and Luton not in action, by grabbing a 1-0 win, we did what was required. Next up we return to Field Mill where we have been victorious in our last five home fixtures, unbeaten since November – a sequence of eight home games without defeat. We will have to battle hard however to stretch our home winning sequence to six, as we face league leaders Fleetwood Town who are without defeat in 22 league outings, picking up 19 victory’s and three draws.
Often spending my Friday’s round at Wayne’s house, I was speaking to my co-commentator prior to our trip to Tamworth about things totally unrelated to football when suddenly he asked me what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object. I’ve thought about for a few days and there has to be a winner, either the unstoppable force will keep going, knocking the immoveable object out of the way or will ground to a sudden halt, in short – there has to be a winner. I was randomly talking to Skipper Adam Murray about this in the Stags office today after training; we both came to a satisfactory conclusion that the whole riddle could actually be a good way to describe tomorrow night’s game. Both the skipper and I agree it would perhaps a step too far to call ourselves an immovable object with our unbeaten record quite tame compared with Fleetwood’s, the principal and logic still applies – something has to give.
Unbeaten in 22, 1st placed Fleetwood travelling to 4th placed unbeaten in five Mansfield on paper says it should be another victory for Micky Mellons men, however looking over the last ten games as we enter our final ten games, we aren’t too far the league leaders when it boils down to the top ten’s form guide over the last ten fixtures, sitting second in the form guide standings.
There’s no doubt that tomorrow night’s game will be one almighty challenge, and as Paul Cox says ‘A big game for big players’ – his statement being more about ability and desire levels rather than a literal one about height, although there could be some logic in that, which we’ll come on to later. Just because Fleetwood are on an almighty run in their second ever season in the blue square premier, doesn’t mean they’re entitled to victory – reputation and past results do not give anyone, ourselves included, the divine right to take home the points. Points have to be earned and whilst many may have already put the game down as a defeat, Paul Cox said at this morning’s press meeting that he and his side are not intimated by the strength in depth that Fleetwood have and that like every other fixture, his side would approach the fixture without fear and go out and earn the right for the result, as in fairness, they have done over the course of the season.
It’s certainly easy to see why some would be fearful of the threat the cod army posses, with former FC Halifax man Jamie Vardy and former Wrexham hit man Andy Mangan in there forward line, Mellons men have bagged 87 goals in the league so far with the combination of the aforementioned duo bagging 45 between them. At the other end a tight defence has seen the millionaire owned Lancashire club keep 16 clean sheets in the league and FA Cup respectively. On the road the Cod Army have won their last seven away games, bagging 18 goals, shipping just two, with their last defeat on the road coming to title rivals Wrexham back in August – it’s this run which see’s them statistically the best away side in the league, a win percentage of 83% from their 18 away games so far is backed up with a goals per game tally of 2.33 per game, finding the net in their last fifteen outings away from Highbury.
Stats are nothing though, we’ll no doubt go into tomorrow’s games as underdogs, but as before – the underdog can prevail. We’ve already faced Fleetwood in the FA Cup this season and matched them at Field Mill, with Ross Dyer’s 70th minute strike cancelling out Jamie Milligan’s brilliant first half free kick, I see no reason why tomorrow at worst can’t be repeat performance – in fact putting it out there, we could sneak a win, although our lads would have to wear woolly hats and a black and white stripped jumper as any win against Fleetwood would be a smash and grab affair. We have the ability within to play as normal and weave the ball in, but against Fleetwood who have probably forgotten what it’s like to lose, I’d be inclined to play rough and ready – match pace and flare with force and authority. They say never change a winning team, but as you saw on Saturday a few legs became tired and we realistically need to keep them fresh ahead of the final nine games (taking tomorrow out of the mixing bowl), I wonder if tomorrow would be the right game to give Matt Rhead his first start, hand loan man Danny Andrews a debut and bring skipper Murray or fellow midfielder Worthington into the fold. I’m probably going against my own philosophy here as I’m the type of person who says never change your side to counteract the opponents, always make them play your game – the two can fuse those. By opting for a back five, becoming a three on the attack, we’d have force a stronger unit to deal with the likes of Vardy, Mangan and Brodie – imagine those three coming up against Exodous Geohaghon, Ritchie Sutton and Martin Riley, the three v three is another example of unstoppable force and immovable object! With Luke O’Neill and the unknown quantity of Andrews at each full back, you don’t lose the attack threat in wide areas and with Adam Murray, Anthony Howell, Jon Worthington and Gary Roberts you have a quartet of players there able not only to break play up, but create play for the likes of Dyer or Rhead to hold up whilst Green or Hutchinson can make attacking runs and grab the goal which could make the difference. SMASH at the back – GRAB up top.
The options are there for Paul Cox and in all honesty, whatever team he puts out will work hard from start to finish to get a job done. Every fixture affects us tomorrow night, but as Paul Cox says often, it’s all about what WE do, let the others get on with things. It is possible for us to slip out of the play-off zone if we lose and York beat 7th placed Grimsby at Blundell Park, the minster men would go above us on goal difference, if this were to happen Southport would have to lose at home to second from bottom Kettering for us to remain in the play-offs, should we be beaten by Fleetwood.
As I’ve said I don’t think we will lose, something has to give and I just have a feeling deep down in my heart that we can sneak victory. I’m not going to predict the other scorers mainly for the fact I agree with the gaffer that we should concentrate on ourselves rather than others, nor am I going to say slipping out of the play-offs tomorrow would end our hopes – It won’t. There is a buzz about Mansfield Town FC and an uncontrollable energy matched with desire and ability – that’s one hell of a combination which having seen all the play-off contenders in action, I don’t think anyone can match.
Tomorrow is just another game, a tough one I grant you, but we approach it as normal, baby steps for a big dream, noise from start to finish, playing the Mansfield Town way ensuring that, no matter the end result, the full time whistle still see’s us smiling with the same buzz, same energy and most importantly same belief that we have right now.
If you can’t get to Field Mill tomorrow, be sure to join myself and Wayne Briggs on 106.9FM only, from 7.30pm for regular updates throughout the night.
Last Time We Met
As mentioned above the two current in from teams have met earlier this season, going toe to toe in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round. A 1-1 draw at Field Mill saw the Stags head for Highbury, only for a 24 hour bug to sweep the camp on match day meaning the Stags we’re only able to name six subs and have no Paul Cox in the dugout as the Stags boss was unfit to travel along with a few of the players.
Fleetwood naturally thrived and ran out comfortable 5-0 winners, a score line that could have been even more had it not been for Alan Marriott, who had a fine game between the sticks. Youth team striker made his professional debut in the final 12 minutes whilst long term injured defender Rhys Day replaced Martin Riley with 7 minutes to go as the former Cheltenham centre half was also struggling to hold back the sick! Nice. The defeat marking the first time Stags were absent from round one proper since 1931.
Yet to meet in the league this season, the sides will meet again at Highbury a week on Saturday – having hopefully earned a lesson, do NOT eat the sandwiches! Last season was the first time the sides had ever met, Fleetwood completed the double over the Stags with a 3-0 win at Highbury and a 5-2 victory at Field Mill.
Fleetwood 5-0 Stags (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round Replay) 1.11.11 Line Up: [4-3-3] Marriott, Sutton, Futcher, Riley (Day), O'Neill, Murray (C), Bolland, Howell (Somes), Dyer, Moult, Meikle SNU Thompson, Connor, Bell
Audio Highlights: Commentary from Craig Priest and Scott Rogers
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