‘Missing Piece of The Jigsaw?’
Saturday’s game at Rainworth MW certainly did enough to provide the football fix, however with it being a team made predominately of trialists, we were still hunger for a taste of 1st team action.
I knew every virtually every player would play some part along with three fresh trialist players, those who featured at Rainworth had already been shown the way out of Field Mill. I also knew that come the full time whistle, the result on this occasion would come second to the manager’s expert eye & notepad.
I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of Nuneaton’s ground, a very neat little set up with friendly and helpful staff. The press area at the back of the main stand was of better standard than some in the BSBP, although the angle of the desk (set up for old fashioned handwriting onto a notepad) made it a wiring nightmare!
It was a joy to watch on as the new look stags came out to do their pre-match warm up, trying to figure out who was who didn’t go quite as planned though! Even though its light training, it always gives you an indication of whose kept themselves fit over the summer, as well as giving you a look at the coaching style & way the team may play! I secretly enjoy that part of a match day!
A picturesque evening accrued over Nuneaton, a nice blue sky with shiny white cloud, the sun shone in the corner behind the main stand and as the evening would go on, it would set calmly acting as a sand timer to the referees watch.
The team sheet arrived around 5 minutes before kickoff, on paper the team had a strong look to it, my earlier meeting with Paul Cox paid dividends as those names on the sheet slotted perfectly into the 4-3-3 formation Cox said he would employ.
1st half line up, squad numbers in brackets.
 Alan Marriott
 Luke O’Neill –  Ritchie Sutton –  Tom Naylor –  Chris Caruthers (Trialist)
 Jon Worthington –  Adam Murray (C) –  Lee Stevenson
 Ross Dyer –  Paul Connor –  Louis Briscoe
Subs:  Shane Redmond –  Adam Smith –  Anthony Howell –  Andy Todd –  Matt Bell –  Lindon Meikle –  Nathan Craig (Trialist) –  Rhema Obed (Trialist) –  Danny Mitchley (Mitchley was NOT named on the team sheet)
The home side started the game and both sides looked to find the right gear early on, trying to shrug off the close season stiffness and covert the dreaded bleep test fitness into strong running on & off the ball, it was tactics which played a part early on, the host tried a long ball over the top which Tom Naylor & Ritchie Sutton both read well, stepping up at the right time to prompt the linesman into raising his flag, from the resulting kick from Alan Marriott the stags were also flagged offside, the home defence too quick for Ross Dyer after Paul Connors strong header on.
Nuneaton were playoff semi finalists last season, they kept showing there equal pedigree during the early stages and nearly found away in front, another long ball over the top caught a rather static stags back line out, James Armson looked to shoot but a fine intervention from Tom Naylor saw the scores remain level. Naylor was strong in the air too, heading away Armson’s corner.
At the other end, Mansfield looked to find there feet, a tight midfield three of Murray, Worthington & Stevenson helped to prevent any Nuneaton central attacks and get the stags passing, Ross Dyer collected from Stevenson and looked to cut a ball into the area for Paul Connor, the defence managed to clear but didn’t bank on Caruthers pouncing on the loose ball, his first time left sided cross met the left boot of Lee Stevenson at the far post who slotted home on the half volley to put the new look stags ahead after 5minutes.
Nuneaton 0-1 Stags
The goal seemed to give Mansfield that little more energy and although it wasn’t outstanding, there were little flashes of what could be, the bubble began to burst just 4 minutes after the goal, young defender Tom Naylor pulled up with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Matt Bell.
Nuneaton managed to find tiny pockets of space to exploit and soon found themselves back on level terms, Fresh on Matt Bell stood up well to the on rushing home attack but back tracking midfielder Jon Worthington’s challenge was deemed too strong by the referee Grant Taylor & the home side worked the resulting set piece to their advantage. James Armson’s right footed delivery eluded the stags defence and an unmarked Gary Hadland headed home to level the game.
Nuneaton 1-1 Stags
A neat passing move from Mansfield’s midfield trip broke down with 20minutes on the clock, Danny Glover found himself 1 vs 1 with Alan Marriott, who did well to drive Glover wide allowing defenders to backtrack, Glovers low cross was half cleared by Ritchie Sutton with the loose ball falling for James Armson who thankfully fired miles over the top of Marriott’s bar. If Paul Cox was highlighting weak spots in his side, the defence certainly was one.
Louis Briscoe seemed to playing on the left hand side of the front three, as the game hit the half hour mark it seemed like Briscoe had been attracted back to the left flank, receiving the ball wide & doing what he does best, cutting past two players before firing a shot goal wards from the edge of the box, this one bobbled through the gap and was inches away from connecting with Ross Dyer’s boot at the back post.
A minute later Paul Cox’s highlighter pen must have run low on ink, a long ball over the top was woefully missed by substitute Matt Bell, former Forest Green Rover marksman Lee Smith slipped though the gap and tapped underneath the on rushing Marriott to put the home side ahead.
Nuneaton 2-1 Stags
The lack of wingers may have worried the Mansfield faithful, however the strong runs of full backs Chris Caruthers & Luke O’Neill made up for the lack of midfield wide men, both delivered numerous crosses which the forward line failed to connect with and also got forward to offer options to the tightly marked midfield.
Both sides had half chances to add another goal to the fixture but the clock kept ticking and before we knew it, the half time whistle had blown.
Half Time: Nuneaton 2-1 Stags
Paul Cox made no changes to the line up as the second half got underway, but did make a change to the way the lads lined up, trialists defender Chris Caruthers slotted in at centre half whilst Matt Bell, who looked uncomfortable at the heart of the defence during the first half, switched to his natural left back.
The first real change of the second period fell in Mansfield’s favour, Lee Stevenson’s cleverly weighted pass found Ross Dyer wide right who was brought down by Aaron James. Louis Briscoe delivered a pinpoint ball from the free kick & Ross Dyer came within an inch of levelling the game, heading narrowly wide.
Mansfield continued to press and the short flashes of what Mansfield could do became longer snippets, Luke O’Neill found Briscoe wide right before the stags top scorer from last season pushed inside to Stevenson, the former Eastwood man returned beautifully and Briscoe had space to put in a cross, the keeper collected as no real challenge inside the box came.
With the hour mark fast approaching, it was time for 5 changes to be made by the stags management. On Came Shane Redmond, Lindon Meikle, Andy Todd, Anthony Howell & Adam Smith, with Alan Marriott, Louis Briscoe, Jon Worthington, Lee Stevenson & Paul Connor going off.
5 minutes of a 4-3-3 was enough to see the game stretched wide as Cox instructed player coach to mould the lads into a 4-4-2.
 Shane Redmond
 Luke O’Neill –  Ritchie Sutton –  Chris Caruthers –  Matt Bell
 Andy Todd –  Adam Murray (C) –  Anthony Howell –  Adam Smith
 Ross Dyer –  Lindon Meikle
Lindon Meikle was keen to prove his worth with a number of strong quick runs, Luke O’Neill moved up the park & threaded Meikle wide with a delightful pass wide right, his cross after beating his marker with ease was nodded wide by Anthony Howell.
At the other end, Paul Cox’s highlighter pen was still hovering over the word ‘defence’ Matt Bell was beaten by pacey sub Adam Walker who delivered a telling cross, half cleared by Sutton, Shane Redmond came to the rescue standing up well to the final driven effort. Redmond released the ball quickly and Mansfield charged towards the Nuneaton goal, Andy Todd’s final ball was easily collected by the home keeper.
The game moved on and the stags we’re denied a stone wall penalty, Ross Dyer got on the end of Todd’s flick on following a long punt from Redmond, finding himself free in the box, Dyer went to pull the trigger but was brought down from behind, Grant Taylor looked for a second like he was going to give it but play went on, Adam Smith’s eventual cross was collected despite smith showing great power to open a massive gap in the Nuneaton side.
Shane Redmond then kept Mansfield in the game with a stunning save at the other end, Robbie Burns’ free kick hammered against the wall but the second ball in set up nicely for Walker at the far post; his thunderous volley was palmed away by the Irish shot stopper.
Mansfield introduced two more trialists and Saturday’s skipper for the final 10 minutes, Danny Mitchley replaced Ross Dyer upfront whilst Matt Bell & Luke O’Neill were replaced by Nathan Craig & Rhema Obed respectively.
Mansfield kept searching for a leveller with Andy Todd at the heart of the action after combining with the trialist right back Rhema Obed & Skipper Adam Murray, First Todd teed up Howell who headed wide before a similar faze of play saw Mitchley nod wide.
Adam Smith kept powering his way down the left hand side and really calving an opening, however Meikle & Mitchley didn’t arrive in time to meet Smith’s crosses. Smith then linked up with Howell who floated a delightful ball towards the far post, the towering Andy Todd smashed a header towards the top corner by home keeper Danny Alcock kept it out with a fine reaction stop.
A number of late corners floated in by Murray & Todd proved a tough test for the home defence, but to their credit they hung on and as the sun set behind the main stand, the final whistle signalled the end of the first, first team pre-season friendly, a disappointing defeat against a very tough side – exactly what Paul Cox wanted.
Full Time: Nuneaton 2-1 Mansfield.
I somehow managed to pack up as darkness descended on Nuneaton’s press area, that’s something I’ve not missed, hoping to god I’ve picked up all the little vital wires! God help me when it’s freezing cold and you’re miles from home!
Looking back on last night’s fixture, there were a few stand out players for me yet one massive ‘foundation’ of the team which is yet to set. Luke O’Neill impressed me with his movement up the pitch, his passing was a delight to watch as the game got older. Ritchie Sutton looked assured at times, not the best technically gifted player in our ranks but a man with a presence, who puts himself about. Chris Caruthers, the trialist left back needs to hurry up and sign a contract, a number of strong runs left including the cross to set the goal. He also looked assured at centre back which provides us with a vital element – versatility. The first half midfield movement showed flashes of talent, Stevenson & skipper Murray especially giving us that boost of having too energetic, ball playing box to box tough tackling midfielders. After Paul Connor & Louis Briscoe went off, Ross Dyer really started to impress me, he had more space and showed more awareness of the space around him, denied a penalty & was unfortunate not to grab a goal.
That said, the team I saw last night are nowhere near what they can be, there’s so much potential within that set up this can be something good, however potential is no good when the weakness is of equal value – it will be interesting to see what Paul Cox does in these next few weeks.
For now, I look forward to renewing old rivals with Notts County and the place we all long to be – Field Mill! Bring on Friday night.