‘The weighing scales’
I’ve said before how much I enjoy the work I do, it’s not just going to watch & report about stags every week, there’s another part of my job which I’m really enjoying at the moment – the weekly press meetings.
Monday’s was perhaps the most enjoyable one I’ve been too yet, not because I got the first interview with the gaffer, but because I got a real insight into the type of manager we have at the helm of our club. Paul Cox is the type of manager that will watch and study players’ body language, he will use physiological tactics to help his side achieve and get the best of them. He uses the science of the game and strikes me as the type of manager who see’s mental & physiological strength on an equal playing field to physical & technical ability. He strikes me as the type of guy would say that winning doesn’t always come in finishing first, but achieving something within.
Paul admitted his side we’re yet to be properly tested mentally & physiologically, which is why he introduced last night’s trip to Hednesford to the pre-season calendar, his focus was less on the outcome of the score, but how his squad would react to pitch conditioning, certain phases of play, battles against varying types of players – without sounding to nerdy, you get the picture!
The journey down to Hednesford was a pleasant one, good company; good laughs from good jokes made the journey down seem rather short – arriving at Keys Park in plenty of time to get set up ahead of another night on the radio.
With the ground belonging to a team in the lower realms of the football pyramid, I didn’t expect much and so was pleasantly surprised to see the standard of the keys park facilities, despite the fact the press box not having any permanent power access, the staff were very helpful, offering me a plug socket in the board room and 1st aid room underneath the stand – it’s a good job I took along the big 50M extension cable though!
As the players warmed up on a bright & calmly breezy evening, I stood pitch side chatting to Paul Cox once more – he seemed confident the test the stags were set to face would be the toughest yet, describing the pitch as long, spongy and like a freshly cut farmers field were the cut grass lays scattered on the roughly cut surface. The stag’s boss spoke openly about why he’d chosen the fixture and how it would help, the only disappointment from my point of view was that time was against me; it was 7.28PM as we chatted away - I was on air in 2 minutes! Paul gladly gave me the team and we wished each other well for the evening.
Paul explained to me that with a mixture of illness, injury and what players could offer, were the main factors behind a first half experimental formation; he would line up his side to face Hednesford in a 4-3-1-2 formation. [Shirt Numbers in brackets]
 Alan Marriott
 Ritchie Sutton –  Martin Riley –  Tom Naylor
 Andy Todd –  Adam Murray (C) –  Paul Bolland –  Matt Bell
 Lee Stevenson
 Ross Dyer –  Matt Green
SUBS: Shane Redmond,  Louis Briscoe,  Nick Wood (Trialist),  Adam Smith,  Anthony Howell,  Luke O’Neill,  Danny Mitchley.
It was a rather sloppy to start to last night’s encounter, the spongy & rough pitch was a difficult stage for the teams to come up with an opening act, naturally it was the side most suited to playing the venue that create the first chance. Ross Dyer flicked the ball onto Lee Stevenson but the home defence hoofed clear and nearly hurt Mansfield on the counter, Marvin Robinson doing well to hold off the challenge of Tom Naylor, but was foiled by Alan Marriott who was quick to come off his line to collect.
Alan Marriott had to be alert again as the game became 5 minutes old, a through ball over the top saw the ball hold up on the tricky pitch, Marriott racing off his line smashing clear and averting the danger.
With 7 minutes on the clock, Mansfield were a hairs with away from opening the scoring, Matt Bells left sided throw in found its way to Ross Dyer, who managed to play Bolland on the edge of the box despite a heavy first touch, Bollands snap snot thunderous drive from distance crashed just wide.
A minute later the hosts had their first real effort, Chris Clements right footed delivery from wide left was deep towards the far post, a missed header saw the ball spring up and bounce towards Cheyenne Dunkley who headed the loose ball towards goal, denied by a fine save from Alan Marriott who, diving backwards through a mêlée of players, scooped the ball away to safety allowing Andy Todd to hammer clear.
The scare was enough to spark Mansfield into their own attacks, aided by Tom Naylor’s long throws to get Mansfield out of their own half, the stags found their feet by a combination of chipped cross field balls and powerful passing. Lee Stevenson cushioned down a cross park ball from Sutton, Matt Bell was first too it, beating his marker before crossing into the box for Ross Dyer, his turn inside the box saw him go away from goal and the ex forest green man opted to shoot rather than pass to Stevenson who lurked around the edge of the box – the home keeper, brother of former stags defender Luke Jones, Zak, gathered the loose ball.
With 25 minutes gone, Lee Stevenson had the perfect opportunity to prove his worth playing just behind the front two, Martin Riley’s lofted central ball was controlled well by Matt Green just to the right of the area, spotting Stevenson, Green played a perfect inside pass which Stevenson latched onto, striking with venom crashing a shot against the post – the home side cleared but Mansfield quickly built once more, Ross Dyer found himself inside the area just left of the goal, pulling back for Stevenson who ballooned his final curling shot over the bar and out of the ground.
Ritchie Sutton powered his way forward as the game became half an hour old, despite having Todd on the overlap and Skipper Murray inside, Sutton gambled and powered a right footed effort at goal from 30 yards, Jones saw it late but got down well, a good effort from Sutton.
The first half took a disappointing turn for Mansfield 5 minutes later, Paul Bolland recently back from a shoulder injury took the brunt of a forceful challenge, limping off for treatment – two minutes later he was replaced by Anthony Howell, Bollands injury a big blow looking in pain as he limped back towards the dressing room during the break, his ankle twice the size it was when he first arrived at Keys Park.
Half Time: Hednesford 0-0 Stags
Paul Cox made two changes at the break; Luke O’Neill replaced Ritchie Sutton whilst Louis Briscoe came on for Lee Stevenson as Mansfield opted for a 4-4-2:
 Alan Marriott
 Luke O’Neill –  Martin Riley –  Tom Naylor –  Matt Bell
 Andy Todd –  Adam Murray (C) –  Anthony Howell –  Louis Briscoe
 Matt Green –  Ross Dyer
With the second half underway, it took less than 60 seconds for the hosts to create the first opportunity, Matt Green was beaten at left back by Cliff Moyo who cut a decent ball back inside for Nick Wellecomme, Tom Naylor getting in a vital block as the Hednesford front man was about to pull the trigger.
Five minutes later, the hosts, who put on a decent performance throughout on their own stage, temporarily lapsed into comedy of errors – Anthony Howell pushed the ball wide left to Briscoe, whose chipped ball looking for Green should have been easy to defend. However, miss communication between Jones & Gomes saw the pair collide and the ball sneak through – Matt Green taking full advantage tapping into the empty net to grab his first Mansfield goal since joining on loan from Oxford
Hednesford 0-1 Stags
The home side had the perfect chance to respond as a long ball once again stretched Mansfield’s defence, Marvin Robinson found himself 1 Vs 1 with Marriott but ballooned his effort miles wide, Marriott pressuring well springing off his line to narrow the angles.
Mansfield continued to search for a second goal, Tom Naylor played an excellent high cross pitch ball to Andy Todd from the left side of defence, Todd’s header into space found the on rushing Luke O’Neill, the former foxes man drilled in a low cross which Ross Dyer latched onto, blasting powerfully towards goal, only to be denied by an excellent save by Jones.
So far under Paul Cox, the stags have failed to score more than once in a game this trend ended with 64 minutes gone. Good work from Matt Green wide left saw Briscoe come inside and advance into the area, Briscoe was fouled and the referee Danny Gratton pointed to the spot, Briscoe stepped up and fired low underneath Jones who guessed correctly diving to his right. A powerful effort, finally Mansfield (& Briscoe) net from the spot!
Hednesford 0-2 Stags
Paul Cox wanted the players mentality testing, what better way to do so than by seeing your lead cut, Danny Quinn headed home from close range after Alex Melbourne got the better of Bell to whip in a cross, Cox then withdrew Todd & Green with 20 to go – Adam smith & Danny Mitchley the respective replacements.
Hednesford 1-2 Stags
A couple of minutes later, Mansfield restored their two goal cushion following string set piece play. A corner on the near side was floated in left footed by Bell, The home defence failed to clear and Louis Briscoe smashed the ball towards goal, a fine save from Jones saw another corner. Bell again delivered from the same side, the ball landed in the same place and after Jones had dropped his attempted collection of the ball, Tom Naylor was left with the simple task of tapping home to net his second ever stags goal.
Hednesford 1-3 Stags
Mansfield made their final change on 75, Trialist Nick Wood replaced Martin Riley at centre half, a change which didn’t disrupt the flow of the game as Mansfield attacked once more. Ross Dyer, returning to his first ever club, found his way into the area but ran into trouble, the former Hednesford hit man did well to turn and find Howell on the edge of the box, Howells left footed effort saved well by Zak Jones.
It was a nervy end for Mansfield though proving another test of mentality – Danny Quinn’s 85th minute goal saw the stags’ lead reduced once more. Marvin Robinson headed on another long ball from the back, Quinn first to the loose ball powerfully beating Marriott with a neat left footed finish.
Hednesford 2-3 Stags
The home side pushed Mansfield to the end, Alan Marriott the savoir as he held on to Chris Clements 90th minute 25 yard blast, before Marriott could boot the ball down field, the final whistle blew giving Mansfield another victory but seeing the scales on negative & positives still worryingly well balanced as the big kick off approaches.
Full Time: Hednesford 2-3 Mansfield.
It wasn’t the most convincing of wins but it’s a win all the same, as the ground descended into darkness I had a feeling Paul Cox would have got exactly what he wanted from the encounter – however it was clear from the shout from the tunnel he wasn’t entirely happy! Packing up in the darkest of darkness was an experience I wasn’t expecting until mid November, however I classed it as my own pre-season training! My worries about how Paul would react to questions in the post interview were silly; it was another insightful and honest interview.
I have utter confidence that when a few players return, these errors will be banished and the cogs will begin to smoothly turn. Yes last night raised many question marks, but on balance, it was a weaker side, and there was one massive positive we should consider before moving on. We took advantage of three separate phrases of play and worked them extremely well, the first goal a perfect example of closing down and pressuring opponents – the second, a perfect example of good combination play and positional awareness – the third, something we’ve not done for a long time: scored from a corner.
In other news, Paul Cox revealed to me after the game that goalkeeper Neil Collett has joined Nuneaton on a month’s loan. Neil is one of two players not to have been given a squad number for the forthcoming season, will Danny Mitchley be on the move soon? The 2011/12 Squad list now looks as follows.
1. Alan Marriott
2. Tom Naylor
3. Joe Kendrick
4. Jon Worthington
5. John Thompson
6. Martin Riley
7. Louis Briscoe
8. Lee Stevenson
9. Paul Connor
10. Matt Green (Loan – Oxford United)
11. Adam Murray
14. Paul Bolland
15. Ross Dyer
16. Luke O’Neill
17. Ritchie Sutton
18. Matt Bell
19. Adam Smith
20. Andy Todd (Player Coach)
21. Anthony Howell
22. Rhys Day
23. Shane Redmond
24. Lindon Meikle
Manager: Paul Cox
Assistant Manager: Micky Moore
Chief Scout: Paul Ogden
Neil Collett (Loaned out – Nuneaton)
Danny Mitchley (No number given)
Next up, Boston United – Full match commentary on Takeover Radio 106.9FM & online, see link on the right, build up starts from 2PM. Thanks for reading.
Podcast & Post Match Interview With Paul Cox: