Craig Priest writes…
Mansfield Town returned from the capital last night with the annoying sensation you get after you’ve been stung, but after a 1-1 draw against the struggling Londoners – I sit here pondering if, in the grand scheme of things, a point is a bad one or not?
Naturally it is, we should have beaten Barnet and we should have closed the game out at one-nil up, however after the way we’ve performed in recent weeks (nothing short of tooth-extractingly painfull) a point SHOULD heal some dressing room wounds.
Steve Evans gambled last night switching from a flat 4-4-2 to a 3-4-1-2 /3-5-2 depending on your preference system. I’d say it was the former with MacDonald playing centrally off the shoulder off of the front two, argue away.
The system lends itself beautifully to counter-attacking play and if you watch the game back, there were a number of opportunities we created on the counter which Barnet couldn’t cope with, we just needed a little bit more creativity and luck to make them count. It’s obvious that we miss Joel Byrom and Alfie Potter, those two in that system would have a field day.
Because we’d changed the system it took us a while to find our rhythm but the important thing is that we didn’t concede early doors and cause the fracture in the thin ice – Digby slotted into the back three well, no surprise considering that’s where he played prior to signing here, whilst Bennings inclusion highlights the importance of the reserves, as he’d been playing as wing back in the same system for the last few games – a safer choice than asking Hunt to play what is a different role higher up the pitch.
Now for the negative, we only took a point home because we didn’t play 90 minutes AGAIN! After 60 minutes it was clear to see we we’re struggling to find a second goal and when Mirfin pulled up injured on 53, we perhaps should have dropped back into a 4-4-2 moving Atkinson and MacDonald out wide as Barnet came at us – because to be fair to them, they were the only team in the game for the last quarter of the game, the goal was always coming – especially with return of the shaq up front. The headline writers dream really.
The frustration comes too from the two final substitutions coming after Barnet’s 85th minute leveller, we needed fresh legs long before that as we were getting run into the ground, but hey – I’m no football manager, I’m just a humble fan watching like the rest of you.
Newport is a tough place to go, but I’d stick with a 3-4-1-2 (3-5-2 depending on your preference) the only tweaks I’d make is the aforementioned Byrom/ Potter in one of the central roles, pushing MacDonald to right wing back as he’s very good at playing the defensive role – or maybe Anderson, with White making way. Digby is very good at mopping up – see ‘The interceptor’ blog for reference, but White leaves that side exposed and too often Digby has to revert from being the ‘sweep up and smash it’ role to playing out and out right back.
A final note on that, there were some critical comments over ‘long ball’ – three at the back is purposely a ‘directional’ ball system – your back three are there to do nothing but smash it long if they’re sitting deep, it’s the front two’s job to hold play up and get the midfield into play, once they have the ball – quick, fluid movement opens teams up and creates chances whereas ‘long ball’ is basically Sunday league hit and hope, watch back the video of some of our chances, we didn’t do that – there’s a sly difference between the two.
Hopefully Evans sticks with the system as we go to Newport which has become a must win game, purely for confidence, but we must not take two steps back – a point, albeit it frustrating and disappointing, is a point of progressing – taking the sting from the tale of defeats.
Three changes were made by Evans as he switched the system, to a back three, with Paul Digby, Mal Benning and Kane Hemmings introduced – White and Benning played as wing backs with Digby the right side of the back three with Pearce and Mirfin – MacDonald and Atkinson interchanged as the centre attacking midfielder, playing just off the shoulder of Rose and Hemmings.
The Stags took time to settle into their new formation but critically face few early Barnet onslaughts, Mauro Vilhete failed to make an early cross count in the opening minute, before Conrad Logan held onto a 25 yard effort from the much travelled ex-Jamaican international Jamal Campbell-Ryce five minutes later.
Former Stag Shaq Coulthirst dragged an effort wide from distance but it would soon be his ex-strike partner Danny Rose that would test the water for the Stags at the other end, Rose curling a shot into the palms of Craig Ross after Atkinson had opened up space on the left hand side.
On fifteen minutes the Bee’s claimed a penalty as Simeon Akinola went to ground following a Pearce challenge, Craig Hicks waved played on deeming the Stags skipper to have fairly won the ball – five minutes later the referee switched sides and awarded the hosts a free-kick, this time Pearce pulled back Akinola, fortunately outside the area.
However it was at the other end where Mansfield’s fluency in the new system shone, Danny Rose was first to try his luck as the ball was swung into the box – the leading hit man’s effort was hacked away but only as far as MacDonald, his well struck shot cannoned away off of the legs of Ross with 21 on the clock.
Six minutes later Rose held a directional ball well before feeding in Hemmings, the Oxford loanee very unlucky to see the pass cut out on his toes, on 32 after Mirfin was felled – MacDonald then set-up Hemmings from the resulting free-kick 25 yards from goal, the effort flew narrowly wide of Ross’ goal.
There was concern for Mirfin with ten to go before the break as he looked to have dislocated a finger, it was quickly popped back into place and taped up before the towering defender returned to the pitch, meeting MacDonald’s corner two minutes later but heading over the bar.
The hosts headed wide a corner at the other end but on the stroke of half-time, Mansfield found the breakthrough as Hayden white cut across park before being brought to the ground. Alex MacDonald stepped up to whip the ball in, Kane Hemmings stuck out his left boot in the middle to convert beyond Ross, finally getting his first goal in Stags colours.
After the restart Mansfield started well in search of a second as MacDonald was hurled to the floor on 48 minutes, Pearce nodded the ball towards the far post for Danny Rose from the resulting set-play, the front man judged to have the final touch as the ball landed wide.
Mansfield’s system again opened up Barnet on the counter two minutes later as playing from back to front, White cantered forward picking out Hemmings, Campbell-Ryce got back well to cover and nip the ball away before directly at the other end, Logan has to palm away a dipping effort from Vilhete.
Mirfin had to be replaced by Bennett on 52 minutes, the switch Barnet needed to spark them into life as they applied the pressure. The Stags did well to soak it up and at the other end did have the ball in the net a second time as Atkinson drove one into the top corner, the goal not allowed as Rose was penalised for a foul as he backed into his marker before laying the ball to the Stags number 11.
‘Shaq-attack’ nearly grabbed the leveller on 70 minutes as he got the better of Pearce but two minutes later, Craig Ross saved the game for the hosts as Mansfield wonderfully countered, Rose picked out Hemmings free in the box, his curling low effort palmed away by Ross – had that gone in, it would have been game over.
However the save inspired Barnet again and after attack after attack, Barnet got their reward with five minutes to go, Conrad Logan made a good stop to an initial Barnet effort inside a mele of players, the former Stags loanee was first on hand to grab his seventh of the season against his former club.
Barnet then should have gone onto win the game but fortunately the Stags did just enough to see the game out, thanks in no small part o Paul Digby, Mal Benning and a top draw save from Logan who tipped over Charlie Clough’s looping header as the Stags failed to deal with a right sided long throw.
FULL TIME: Barnet 1-1 Stags
Paul Digby – Krystain Pearce © – David Mirfin (Rhys Bennet 53)
Hayden White – Calum Butcher – Will Atkinson – Mal Benning
Danny Rose (Jimmy Spencer 90+3) – Kane Hemmings (Omari Sterling-James 88)
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Jacob Mellis, Lee Angol, CJ Hamilton (Replaced Paul Anderson in the warm-up)
Referee: Craig Hicks Assistants Abdrew Aylott, Louis Marks Fourth Offical Nigel Lugg
Attendance 1,262 (223)
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