‘The home coming’
After two friendly’s on the road, there was only one place we all wanted to go – home! I’m lucky in some ways as I get to visit our beloved Field Mill virtually every week for the press conferences, I get to look out of the control room / press meeting room window to a beautiful field mill pitch, however it’s not the same as being there on a match day, it’s not even close if I’m totally honest.
There’s just something about match day’s which make visiting Field Mill that extra bit special. The press meetings have a work feeling to them, formal and depending on the circumstances, nervy / awkward, and although match days are also work for me now, it’s less formal, less awkward & nervy – it’s more routine, it feels more right.
Why? Because I’m not there with a couple of other journalists (top guys by the way), I’m there with you, 2,000+ stags fans, all watching on hoping for the same, a win, a moment of magic, a memory to savour, a story to share in years to come. We all head for our church every other week and meet up with others, we smile, we laugh, we have a drink and a bite to eat. We read the award winning programme (well done Stevo!), chat to opposition fans, sing songs, cheer, celebrate and embrace the beautiful game. For 90minutes, we’re away from the toil and trouble that life away from football can bring, during the close season, those tiny 2hours or so of life are greatly missed, which is why it was great to be back last night as we played host to old foes, Notts County.
After buying my programme and getting a waft of that fresh print paper, I stood at the Gates of Quarry Lane for a second watching stags fans go in different directions, some heading for the club shop, some heading for the turnstiles and others heading for the bar. It was great to see so many familiar faces, the memories came flooding back. I then got on with my ‘routine’ fetch the kit from the car, and head into the ground. Signing my name on the press sheet is my alternative to tearing the voucher from the season ticket book, as I put my ticket & information sheet in my pocket, I looked up at the flight of stairs I was about to climb for the millionth time and said ‘here goes the first climb of many’ I wonder how many people said or thought this, standing at the turnstile opening. A long journey in the hunt for success and we’re all on it together, weather we go through the turnstiles or climb the winding stairs to the press box – we’re all heading in the same direction.
As I walked out the door to the press area, housed above the director’s box, I stood for a second to admire the pitch. It looked beautiful as ever, the perfect carpet for the football we hope to put on show. For a split second, I had the vision of fans storming onto the pitch at the final whistle, 21st April. We’ve beaten Wrexham 2-1 in a nervous end to end encounter, we’ve heard news that Luton have lost crowning us league champions, I don’t see myself down there though, I stop, turn around and look at the press area, ah there I am, microphone in hand tears of pride running down my face, all is good.
Day dreaming over, I climbed the steep side steps to the press box, unpacked my kit and got set up, once I’d done so, I sat back in my chair (number 103), slightly to the right of the half way line (looking down onto the pitch from the back of the WSU), the sun was shining still, there was a cool evening breeze – I was home at last.
Fans filtered into the ground slowly but surely, the click of the turnstiles low but evident in my mind, the PA system providing background music. The players completed their warm up, kick off was upon us – the first team sheet of many arrived.
1st Half line up [Players shirt numbers in brackets]
 Alan Marriott
 Ritchie Sutton –  Martin Riley –  Steven Watt (Trialist) –  Alan Goodall (Trialist)
 Lindon Meikle –  Adam Murray (C) –  Jon Worthington –  Adam Smith
 Paul Connor –  Louis Briscoe
Subs:  Shane Redmond –  Steven Kinniburgh (Trialist) –  Lee Stevenson –  Andy Todd –  Anthony Howell –  Ross Dyer –  Oliver Nicholas (Trialist) –  Rhema Obed (Trialist) –  Luke O’Neill –  Matt Bell –  Danny Mitchley.
Although dubbed as a friendly, everyone inside Field Mill knew the game was everything but! When these two sides meet, there is no such thing as a friendly, there is always some controversy, and at the final whistle, the winning side takes away more than points or the satisfaction of winning. The last time the sides met at Field Mill, it was in league action during our heartbreaking relegation season, the previous game Mansfield had managed a solitary point away at Barnet to put an end to a dismal consecutive 7 game losing run, however the point meant Mansfield we’re without a win in eight games, Micky Boulding put a stop to that with a brace, sending County home empty handed giving the stags the bragging rights. The return game at Meadow Lane ended goalless meaning the stags still had the bragging rights as last night’s game got underway.
Notts County have risen up the league ladder whilst Mansfield have fallen, the away fans were keen to remind the home faithful of that fact with constant taunting throughout. The start was timid, a tad slow with both sides trying to find the right rhythm.
After county made a substitution for an early injury, it was them who build and created the first real chance of the encounter, Julian Kelly’s 16th minute cross after an initial corner was headed clear fell kindly for Neilson, his effort smashed against the bar and created an epic goal mouth scramble with saw about 6 players fighting for the same ball, a county boot got on the end of it but the ever reliable Alan Marriott was on hand to block and happily give county a second corner.
The corner was headed clear and Mansfield managed to get their first break of the game, the impressive Lindon Meikle linked up well with Worthington in the centre, Meikle getting the ball back and quickly pushed it wide to Briscoe, last season’s top scorer started up top but once more found himself magnetized to the wing, pushed it back to Meikle who again showed quick feet and would have been 1 vs. 1 had it not been for Kelly’s recovery.
Mansfield continued to throw some good passing football together, Briscoe again pulled off from a forward role switching with Meikle who adopted a much more central role. It was Meikle’s running which earned the stags a free kick with 18 on the clock, Skipper Murray’s delivery was too deep and quick for the on rushing Alan Goodall up from the back giving county an easy let off.
A good phase of play for the stags followed, Smith, Murray, Worthington & Meikle all combining in and around the box to earn the stags a corner, Murray’s right footed in swinger nearly ran for Briscoe at the far post but county managed to scramble clear. Adam Smith picked up the loose ball on the edge of the box, a quick burst of pace saw him leave his defender chasing shadows, he was brought down by Neal Bishop and Russell Booth pointed to the spot shortly after the advantage through Briscoe didn’t come. Adam Smith dusted himself down and stepped up, his 21st minute spot kick saved by County shot stopper Stuart Nelson down to his right, it was a tame hit by Smith who didn’t look to be moving well as the game progressed – clearly injury, confirmed later by my Adam Smith spy! His ankle, not a pretty picture.
With 26 minutes on the clock, an excellent break saw Mansfield break the dead lock, Lindon Meikle’s fine run left was just enough to allow Paul Connor to make a run, Meikle found Connor with a defence splitting ball with last season’s second top scorer making no mistake 1 vs. 1 with Nelson just inside the area, firing low into the bottom corner to put the stags ahead.
Mansfield 1-0 Notts County
Mansfield’s enjoyment of the County silence lasted a mere 2 minutes, failure to pick up the second ball saw Craig Westcarr ping in an easy to deal with curling cross, Trialist Steven Watt seemed to react slowly, a costly error as Neal Bishop connected with a swooping header to nod past Marriott to level the game with 28 on the clock.
Mansfield 1-1 Notts County
The Mansfield-Notts derby has thrown up many incident over the years, whether it be Christies blatant offside (love it!) or Chris Beardsley’s broken leg inflicted by former stag’s hero Kevin Pilkington, it was a matter of time before this encounter created another. Hard & late tackles on the far side of the pitch in front of the dugouts saw Martin Allen show why he’s called ‘Mad Dog’ furiously reacting to a stags challenge, Louis Briscoe’s challenge on Charlie Allen saw the Notts managers son receive lengthy treatment before departing Field Mill by ambulance. He may be a Notts player but having seen the photos from photo man Dan (whose work is on show in this blog) he looked in a lot of pain, I wish him all the best.
Mansfield had a golden chance to take the lead as the game moved into first half stoppage time, Paul Connor was judged to be offside after rounding the keeper and slotting home following another Meikle pass.
Half Time: Mansfield 1-1 Notts County
Mansfield made just two changes at the start of the second half, Shane Redmond replacing Alan Marriott between the sticks, whilst Andy Todd replaced Briscoe on the right wing. I’d write down how they lined up for the second half but after the 3rd sub around 10 minutes in, all sense of shape disappeared as with every move, it seemed to change!
The visitors started the brighter and would have been ahead just 2 minutes into the second period had it not been for Ritchie Sutton’s last ditch intervention. A county cross was flicked on by Edwards and Krystian Pearce let fly only to be denied by a flying Sutton who took the ball full power in the chest leaving the impressive ex-port vale man winded.
It was soon substitution time which saw the stags become shape shifters formation wise, Ross Dyer, trialist Steve Kinniburgh & goal machine midfielder Lee Stevenson came off, Paul Connor, impressive trialist Alan Goodall & a clearly injured Adam Smith all departed the action.
Shane Redmond was soon called into action as County attempted to use there weaponry to maximum effect Alex Wall heading an extremely long throw goal wards, the ex forest shot stopper flew across to his left to push the goal bound header away for a corner.
Stags made two more changes, introducing trialist right back Rhema Obed to the action for Ritchie Sutton, with Anthony Howell replacing Jon Worthington. The home side then showed another flash of what could be, Skipper Murray thread Ross Dyer into the area with a fine pass, the ex forest green rovers man was about to pull the trigger but was denied the final bullet by a perfectly timed challenge from Mike Edwards, the resulting corner saw Mansfield briefly pen county in, ex stag Alan Sheehan ending that phase of play with a powerful boot down field.
The visitors threatened throughout the second period with snap shots and those lethal long throws, it was a matter of time before they grabbed the advantage. Sheehan’s deep cross field ball was headed on into the area by Alex Wall, Hamza Bencherif latched onto the loose ball and pulled the trigger, Redmond made himself big and denied Bencherif but could do nothing about the rebound which the 6ft 3 Algerian slotted into the back of the net to give County a 75th minute lead.
Mansfield 1-2 Notts County
Former Arsenal trainee Oliver Nicholas saw the remainder of the game replacing Martin Riley whilst Danny Mitchley came on up front replacing the impressive Meikle. Chances for both sides in the final 15 minutes we’re few and far between, a few crosses from Stevenson who seemed to slot onto the left wing were cleared, whilst Ross Dyer & Mitchley were easily dealt with by the county defence.
The final whistle blew to signal the end of the stags bragging rights and more County fans taunts, the result meaningless in the history books as it’s a friendly yet still slightly painful losing to your rivals.
Full Time: Mansfield 1-2 Notts County.
Some encouraging signs came from the Mansfield Town set up, but again they were balanced with evident weakness too. The centre of defence looked loose throughout, however I think that weakness has been addressed with the capture of John Thompson (see previous blog post). I was impressed with Ritchie Sutton who played as well at right back as his did at centre half of Tuesday, both him & Luke O’Neill who was an unused sub last night will be fighting it out week in week out for a starting place, both as solid as each other. Trialist Rhema Obed didn’t get enough minutes for me again, but showed flashed of quick feet, strong passing and off the ball movement going forward, the question you have to ask yourself is, do we need another right back with Sutton, O’Neill, Riley & now Thompson in the squad? I don’t think so. I’d like to see him given a shot, but this season is not one for experiments, we need to be the finished article throughout the side now in order to get back were we belong.
With this in mind, I don’t wish to see any more trialists pulling on the Amber & Blue, we need to be finding a rhythm now, we need to get that combination right for the opening game against Bath City. We’re still some way off the finished article, we need a left back the three guys on trial over the last two games have been good enough, the question is who? Chris Caruthers may be out of the picture after not featuring last night, that said he may have been left out for the stag’s management to have a look at the others. Alan Goodall comes with good pedigree and did well before being replaced by Kinniburgh who also did ok. I’d personally like to see Caruthers sign as I feel he can offer us options at centre half, left back & left midfield. If we need to give all three another look as well as look at the other striker I feel we need to add, The FC Halifax game would be the cut off for trialists for me, giving us 4 games against 4 varying standards of oppositions to get things perfect.
We may have lost once more, but remember, it’s not about the fall, it’s all about the climb back up. Thanks for reading, see you soon.