Craig Priest writes….
Mansfield Town continued their tremendous form with a 3-1 win over Barnet, moving ever closer to the automatic places – a vast difference from when the two sides last met when it looked less sweet like honey, and more a sting in the tale.
Since the sides last met back in November, a 1-1 draw, Steve Evans men have lost just once in the subsequent 17 league matches including yesterday’s 3-1 win to send excitement buzzing around the town as to what could be – should they replicate their form.
The difference is somewhat staggering as on that cold Tuesday night at the Hive, the Stags looked disorientated and it genuinely felt like the new group wouldn’t click – yet now the football may not be consistently fluid and beautiful, but it’s dam effective highlighted in every goal scored at the One Call stadium yesterday as the Stags comfortably beat the League’s bottom side.
Steve Evans is right in his post-match comments that it should have been more, intimating that his players need to be more ruthless, but that will come so long as the consistency of team work continues – it’s been a very long time since the Stags have had a set of players so adaptable one player drifting out of position doesn’t detrimentally effect the outcome of the match.
Alex MacDonald for instance can drop off right wing and cover ground in the centre for five/ten minutes to soak up pressure, and players such as Will Atkinson who has shown tremendous attitude in his substitute roles to rightly earn a start, can move wide and comfortably occupy the right wing role.
The same can be said about Krystian Pearce’s runs from the back, the stand-in skipper can wonder into the middle and the likes of Byrom will drop and sit in the hole – it’s refreshing to have that assurance, rather than bite our nails and being exposed.
Visibly you can see that pitches are getting heavier now as we come towards the final months of the season, legs are going to get tired quicker and mistakes are going to be made, ala Rhys Bennett late on, but the way in which Steve Evans’ picks his squad, the players will know that just one error, will cost them their shirt – Bennett is a class act at centre half and Evans rates him highly, he’s fortunate that the error in isolation didn’t cost is the result and will pick himself up – however that said, the importance of a clean sheet is becoming more prominent now – as in the top five we’ve the lowest goal-difference which could be the difference between automatic promotion and the play-offs, as well as that elusive ‘home advantage’ should we require the latter.
Over the next week or so we’ve a lot of football and travelling to do, playing critical teams around us where we cannot afford to play with heavy legs and make mistakes – starting with Swindon on Saturday, who are starting to pick up momentum with one loss in their last six to climb into the play-offs.
Newport naturally will be distracted by their FA Cup exploits however they will not have given up hope on reaching the play-offs, we all know what a good cup-run does for the dressing room – and playing them between a long trip to Swindon and a epically long trip to Exeter, another play-off rival in form, is a dangerous situation.
Those three games are then followed up by Coventry at home, another play-off rival, this is the trickiest part of the season now – if we can come out of the next four games with ten points, eight minimum – we’ll achieve something special, let’s do this together.
Steve Evans opted to the side which effectively won the Morecambe match in the second half; skipper Zander Diamond rightly missing out by heading to his wife’s side as she went into Labour – Alfie Potter taking a place on the bench along with the three new additions Adam King [On loan from Swansea], Matt Penney [On loan from Sheffield Wednesday] and Ricky Miller [On loan from Peterborough United].
Barnet saw the first half sight of goal three minutes in with a long range effort which Conrad Logan held comfortably, at the other end tenacious running from rose and Hemmings had Barnet worried – Rhys Bennett heading into the hands of Barnet glovesman Craig Ross on eight minutes from a Benning set play.
Five minutes later the Stags were left frustrated as Danny Rose was floured inside the area by Richardo Santos – referee Scott Oldham waved the appeals away.
Fluid movement on 16 minutes nearly saw the Stags break the deadlock as Hamilton slotted in MacDonald. A neat give and go with Hemmings followed before the tenacious midfielder curled his foot around the ball just inside the box, clipping the outside of the post with Ross rooted to the spot.
There was a stoppage on 21 minutes as referee Scott Oldham pulled up injured, he was replaced by the fourth official Thomas Bramall with Oldham heading straight down the tunnel with an ice pack.
Back underway and it was the Stags who remained in control and came close on the half hour as Hemmings had two efforts inside a minute go astray, the stags then took the lead in spectacular style on 42 minutes, as fluent football between Byrom, Benning and MacDonald saw the latter on the edge of the box let fly – giving Ross no chance – a beautiful hit.
After the break with a new fourth official in Dave Plowright in place, the Stags showed no signs of settling for just the one goal – no matter how magic it was, MacDonald and Hamilton both testing Ross before Will Atkinson nipped in at the near post from a corner, converting Hemmings’ knock down to double the Stags lead and get his first Stags goal, a decade since his original loan spell as a youngster.
On the hour, frustrated after the dubious goals committee awarded last weekend’s winner to Jimmy Spencer, Mal Benning thumped a volley towards goal which fizzed wide from 25 yards, the Stags then added a third 11 minutes later as Pearce went on a marching run from the back – eventually feeding Hamilton wide who picked out Rose – the rest was routine as the Stags front man swept in his 15th goal of the season with his left foot.
With five minutes to go, rapturous applause rang out as Ricky Miller made his debut from the bench replacing Hemmings, partnering Spencer up top after he’d replaced Rose just moments prior – The Peterborough loan man looked lively but it would be Barnet who were on the scoresheet next, Rhys Bennett’s poor back header towards Logan saw Akinola pounce and tuck beyond Logan, setting up a nervy finish.
FULL TIME: Stags 3-1 Barnet
Paul Anderson – Krystian Pearce © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson (Alfie Potter 90+2) – Joel Byrom – CJ Hamilton
Danny Rose (Jimmy Spencer 83) – Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 85)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Olejnik, Paul Digby,  Adam King,  Matt Penney
Attendance: 3,795 (79)
Referee: Scott Oldham (Thomas Bramall 21) Assistants: Stephen Wade & Richard Wigglesworth Fourth Official Thomas Bramall (Unknown 21, Dave Plowright HT)
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