Craig Priest writes ahead of tomorrow night’s crunch battle with York City...
The wait is almost over, the first leg of the play-off battle is just one sleep away – are you nervous yet? I am, I can barely keep a steady hand as I type this preview, my head is pounding trying to keep out the visions of what could be and my heart rate beating faster than a bullet train – a nervy feeling but one I’m delighted I’m experiencing as after years of nothingness, this season is coming ever closer to being the one which see’s our promotion dreams come true.
Since starting these match previews on the request of you the readers to help provide more content for our Mansfield Matters show, I’ve included stats on both sides and tried to balance the scales when it comes to information and thoughts of my inner fan – today I shall include some stats to keep the continuity going however, this won’t be the first time I say this either, I write them with a half heartedness because stats, achievements etc count for absolutely nothing now. The next two games will be settled on the pitch, regardless of rank, it’s about who keeps there nerve, who shows the most desire, who keeps running when the tank is empty, who keeps on believing to the death and ultimately as the storm comes – stops waiting for it to pass and learns to dance in the rain. The story book has reached its next chapter and the ending will depend on what we do from here on in – if our time has come as folk have predicted, it’s time to go and prove it.
I know that many of you will look back down the years and try to compare this play-off battle to those from the past, the most recent being 2003-04 when we faced Northampton. I’m not going to do that, for one it’s a football conference play-off rather than football league and for two, who and indeed what we are now is totally different to anything we’ve been before – this something which scares me to the point of joyful tears.
We all have our reasons for watching Mansfield Town FC and we all have our reasons for coming back week in week out to experience the highs and the lows, whether it be a long standing family tradition to follow the Stags, a parent/child activity or maybe just chance – I believe that we we’re drawn to Mansfield Town for a purpose, like destiny. As a Stags fan, at some point we have all experience the bad, just like in life nothings perfect, but for some reason we haven’t walked away when everything’s gone wrong, we’ve kept coming back believing that something goods going to happen. In fairness we thought it had happened with the FA Trophy final last year, I think that despite everything said at the time, we all knew it wasn’t our true piece of good fortune. This year’s play-off achievement could be, so long as we keep believing and keep supporting like we have been doing – looking at the bigger picture things have slotted into place to guide us to this point – two games away from a shot at a return to the football league after four long seasons away.
I feel very privileged to have the job I do, something I would never have had, had I not been bullied at school, dived into some mud and discovered the joy of the beautiful game thanks to saving a penalty: Destiny. I was asked earlier today if I miss being in the away end for games, the answer is without a doubt yes, it will torture me not being able to stand amongst my fellow fans, smiling and singing loud, friends I’d never have met and experiences I’d never have tasted if I hadn’t fallen in love with Mansfield Town FC: Destiny. A sentence or so I mentioned by job, in truth media work is the only thing I’ve ever been half decent at and feel totally happy with wanting to pursue it as a career, something that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for those friends, met through Mansfield Town FC because of that one moment: Destiny. I miss the terrace experiences but at the same time, every week I get to do what I love and get inspired to do so by looking across to the masses of Stags supporters, laughing, smiling, singing and having a good time following the club that destiny brought them too – it’s a beautiful sight and when those songs start, a wonderful feeling. My point, so not to ramble on in an arrogant nature, is that for whatever reason we are preparing for a trip to York City tomorrow night following the one collective dream: Promotion and success.
We may be the best team home and away over the last six games, we may have scored 87 goals and set a record points total on the pitch this season but players and managers come and go, records will eventually be broken and the bar raised higher but only ONE thing remains constant: US, the supporters – that’s what truly defines Mansfield Town FC and that’s what will go half of the way to seeing us achieve our dreams – Stats, frankly, can do one!
When I speak about how privileged I’ve been this season, it’s less about the football, although there have been many spectacular moments, but more about the support. After years of hurt and in some ways hate, we’ve finally come together as a club getting behind the boys and letting the footballing cancer of politics and off field issues wither away. Yes there were some nervy moments when ground lease deadline day approached and some split opinions when there was a proposed move to Rainworth but in the end the chairman, CEO and legal team did their job to allow us to enjoy the football and give the lads a push. The atmosphere at the Lincoln game was unbelievable, nothing was ever going to ruin that – the emotion, the noise, the result all merging together into one core – one team. The Fleetwood home game which won the listeners game of the season last week is another that sticks in my mind, against the seemingly unbeatable we believed and with the lads on the pitch maintaining the pace and matching the league champions inch for inch, pass for pass, shot for shot – in the stands the noise, the passion and emotion never stopped and eventually our reward came through Exodus Geohaghon’s last minute header.
Tomorrow night I will be privileged to hopefully whiteness such support again, so long as you, the travelling 1,600 are in full voice our Mansfield Town will give their all and play with the belief and desire which has been present throughout this magnificent run. Now more than ever we need to prove why MTFC are where they are, it’s going to be emotional, it’s going to be nerve wracking and difficult to watch, but as long as we keep believing, keep singing, keep smiling, we CAN get to where we want to be – power to achieve comes from within the heart, the heart to Mansfield Town FC is on the terraces.
I could write all evening about what being in the play-off means but I know if I do I’ll trail off into some emotional mush which nobody wants to read! I think I’ve said what needs saying and no doubt tomorrow, when it arrives, will be magical in so many ways.
I said at the top the stats are irrelevant and to me personally they are, as it’s two games, two battles we need to win before we can face the final war on the big stage, however for those who want to see what each team offers and how they’ve finished where they are, this bit is for you.
In reality the outcome of tomorrow’s opponents teetered like a sea saw on Saturday as Luton, under the fresh impetus of Paul Buckle, condemned champions Fleetwood to their second successive defeat after so long without defeat. Prior to the game a 1-0 win for Luton plus a draw for York would have seen York finish fourth on goals scored with goal difference level, however when Luton grabbed a second on 70 minutes they moved ahead of York in live table on goal difference. Over at Bootham Crescent the game against Forest Green Rovers looked to be heading for a goalless draw that was until Adriano Moke popped up to score the winner eight minutes from time, sealing a fourth placed finish by two points, setting up a two legged play off semi-final with ourselves.
Like us at Kidderminster, the minster men rang the changes with six players including goal scoring trio Jason Walker, Matty Blair and Ashley Chambers who have 44 goals between them being rested after a long run in which has seen them not only achieve a play-off slot, but replicate our FA Trophy run of last season, defeating Luton over two legs to reach the Wembley final, which will take just five days after the play-off second leg at the One Call Stadium on Monday! The hot shot trio’s goal have played a massive part in earning York 5th place in the seasons average goal scoring table, netting an average of 1.76 goals per game. Whilst the minster men’s attack is impressive, being the 7th best attacking team and home and 2nd best attacking team away – it’s bettered by our own record – we finished second in the overall average goals attacking table, netting an average of 1.89 a game, bettered only by champions Fleetwood – an omen? At the back both teams have a similar record, York finished 4th in the overall defensive table worked out on average goals conceding, whilst Stags finished two places below in 6th conceding an average of 1.04 goals per game to the minster men’s 0.98goals per game.
In terms of the last six games, the Stags having only the league to focus on has worked wonders, seeing them finish top of the last six overall form guide with six consecutive victories, the impressive feat matched by the last six home and away form, finishing top of both with five wins and a draw from the last six at home, away it’s five wins and one defeat.
Despite how impressive that is and how impressive OUR season on a whole has been, it’s the same for both now – STATS COUNT FOR NOTHING!
With only 1,600 tickets on offer for the first leg tomorrow night and at the last count, only 500 left, I imagine it will be a sell out and as such an awesome atmosphere. Some of you will be disappointed to miss out and of course be eager to know what’s happening. As we have done since pre-season, we make it our aim to deliver you the best coverage around and can promise a passionate, honest and emotional account of the evening live on 106.9FM and our MM-LIVE page from 7pm. We’ve got unrivalled build up followed by full match commentary, with youth team player of the season Scott Rogers and pundit Wayne Briggs sitting alongside me in the commentary box.
As always we encourage you to get involved with the chat as Mansfield Matters is the show for the fans by the fans – tweet us @mtfcmatters or text 07982 865 624 (costs your standard network rate).
Last Time We Met
It was Christmas and New Year when the sides last did battle in a festive double header, with both games ending level, Matt Green’s 11th minute strike was cancelled out by Liam Henderson just past the hour mark at Field Mill on Boxing Day whilst on New Year’s day, goals from Green and loanee Aman Verma put Stags two ahead, however Matty Blair and Jamal Fyfield completed a late comeback for a 2-2 draw.
The two sides have a lengthy history which began with a 4-3 York City win back in September 1932, with a total of 86 league and cup fixtures played, not including the now defunct Setanta Shield tie which the Stags lost on penalties back in 2008 – tomorrows hosts have clocked up 38 wins to our 32, the other 16 matches ended level. At Bootham Crescent York have racked up 24 victories to just seven defeats against the Stags, only seven games have ended level, The Stags last win at York was during our last play-off run in 2003-04 when we won 2-1. In terms of goals at York’s home, the minster men have bagged 83 to a reply of 49 from the Stags.
To add to the spice of the fixture, during their time in the conference York have twice finished in the play-offs, a 4th placed finish in 2006/07 saw them beaten over two legs by Morecambe who finished in third place and went onto win the final – an omen? More recently in the 2009/10 campaign York finished 5th and saw off Luton over two legs, winning 2-0 on aggregate to reach Wembley where they faced Oxford United, who finished in third! Current Stags players Rhys Day, Skipper Adam Murray and on fire Matt Green were all part of the promoted Oxford squad, with the latter netting the opening goal at Wembley to send Oxford on the way to a 3-1 victory over York in their famous yellow shirt – an omen?
26.12.11 Stags 1-1 York Line Up: [4-3-3] Marriott, O'Neill, Riley, Dempster, Freeman, Verma, Murray (C), Howell, Dyer, Green  (Briscoe), Meikle SNU Redmond, Stevenson, Day, Kelly
Click here for audio highlights
1.1.12 York 2-2 Stags Line Up: [4-3-3] Marriott, O'Neill, Riley, Sutton, Freeman, Roberts (Stevenson), Murray (C), Howell (Verma ), Dyer, Green  (Worthington), Meikle SNU Redmond, Briscoe.
Audio highlights can be found via our MM-Extra page
Well that’s it for this extended preview, thank you all for reading; I hope you’ll join us tomorrow from 7pm if you can’t get to Bootham Crescent – ladies and gents DARE TO DREAM!
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