Blue Square Bet Premier Game #1 Mansfield Town Vs Bath City, Field Mill – Saturday 13th August 2011
‘The First Page’
After 9 pre-season games, 8 involving the 1st team and one involving a team of trialists, I’ve become used to the match day morning feeling, however waking up yesterday morning the match day morning feeling of excitement, wonder and hope was a million times stronger, infact it was like being 7 years old on Christmas morning. Yes, pre-season games provide some form of excitement as you know you’re not stuck at home watching repeats of Murder She Wrote, but they don’t have the same buzz as a proper competitive fixture, one involving points and of course, that often secret thrill of Chasing a dream.
Regardless of what type of fortunes your team endured during the last campaign, the expectations when you jump out of bed and skip towards the kitchen for a cup of tea are always high. Your team may have conceded the most goals away from home for the past 3 seasons running, your striker may have only bagged 6 goals in 35 appearances and your left back may have been beaten by every winger on the planet last season, but there is just something about opening day, which makes you believe you’re going to go from whipping boys to run away league leaders. That’s the beauty of opening day, every fan up and down the country has the same dream – this year, is going to be there year, in a way it’s sad that 3PM has to come along and ruin things!
Obviously in the last few seasons I’ve moved on from fan to journalist and by doing so, my routines prior to the games have changed. There was a moment yesterday in the press box after setting up the equipment, were I stood up and took a look around. I saw 2 people walk over in the distance from the bridge and over the retail park towards the ground – this reminded me of my first visit to Field Mill. I remember all the feelings of excitement that rushed through my body as I saw Field Mill appear in the distance, I wondered what football I would see, would I be cheering or sulking? Who would I meet and most importantly (& ironically with the situation I’m in with the stations future at the moment) would I ever return? I remember, as a young boy of around 11/12 turning the corner of the North Stand and heading towards the club shop, the turnstiles were already open and with each click as another body entered the ground, the excitement grew. I remember buying a programme and smelling the fresh print of each page. I remember my first walk into the ground itself, walking up and down the stand searching for a suitable seat, I remember running around with the other kids, trying to get a header of Sammy The Stag – shyly asking the players for their autograph. I smiled as I returned to the present day, watching on as several others made that same walk towards field mill, possibly for the very first time. I know there are plenty of other games that this will be done – but nothing quite beats that opening game, nothing beats being there when everything is brand new and sparkling. The opening day experience is bigger than Christmas day, is a feeling and a moment which is in a league of its own – simply because, next week when the routines are repeated the dreams and hopes may have changed from lifting the title on the final day to staying up! The opening day is a level playing field, pretty much like a first kiss – enjoy it whilst it lasts and then hope to god things work in your favour, in my experience so far – they very rarely do!
As if the buzz and excitement from the first day wasn’t enough, Paul Cox threw some petrol onto the excitement fire by offering Louis Briscoe a contract extension. It was revealed on the clubs website prior to kick off that Louis had accepted the deal and will now remain at the club until 2013.
Of course a new season brings lots of ‘New’ stuff, new kits, new players, new prices, new pitches, new look match day programmes and this season – a new look team sheet. On it, 6 new names in the starting 11 and 5 new names listed under substitutes. John Worthington, Martin Riley, Matt Green, Luke O’Neill, Matt Bell and Andy Todd were the 6 making their official debut in a 4-4-2 system yesterday afternoon.
Luke O’Neill – Tom Naylor – Martin Riley – Matt Bell
Louis Briscoe – Adam Murray (C) – Jon Worthington – Andy Todd
Matt Green – Paul Connor
BENCH: Shane Redmond – Lee Stevenson – Nick Wood (Signed a 1 month deal following his trial) – Lindon Meikle – Ross Dyer.
Due to many fans taking up the Wembley £2 ticket offer, kick off was delayed by 10minutes to allow fans time to get into the ground, usually Mansfield don’t deal well with big crowds, I remember the ‘Pay What You Want’ deal against Gateshead a few seasons back – all the excitement and all the buzz, gone as soon as the referee blew his whistle, Mansfield lost 2-0.
When the season did finally get underway, the new look Mansfield took firm control and grabbed their first goal of the BSBP campaign, Matt Bells left sided throw in was return to him by debutant loanee Matt Green, Bells pinpoint cross found Paul Connor who leapt highest and headed down into the bottom corner past Glyn Garner – sprinting off to celebrate to an eruption of noise from the home faithful.
Stags 1-0 Bath
Being in front first on opening day always gives you that extra bit of confidence, sooner rather than later your brought back down to earth with a bump, however yesterday all the early signs suggested Mansfield’s confidence would keep growing as the new look stags seemed to dominate the early stages.
A minute after taking the lead, Mansfield should have had a second, Louis Briscoe’s chip forward saw Matt Green latch onto the through ball, His shot was deflected behind for a corner; Martin Riley headed Matt Bells strong in swinger just wide.
The game progressed and as the ten minute mark Mansfield found themselves through again, leading scorer Paul Connor slipped partner Green through on Goal, the hit mans powerful shot was well saved by Garner.
At the other end, Bath created little chances but did manage to give Mansfield a scare or two, Sekani Simpson’s ball over the top should of been easy to deal with, however a slip from Luke O’Neill saw Lee Phillips latch onto the ball inside the box, Phillips thankfully dragged his shot well wide of the target. 8 minutes later a deep free kick from the visitors was headed goal wards by Gethin Jones, the resulting corner was wasted however and Mansfield rebuilt.
How Mansfield didn’t double their tally with 22 gone is a mystery even the Scooby Doo team would fail to solve, Matt Greens powerful running earning Mansfield another corner which was the catalyst to the great stag no goal mystery. Matt Bell delivered a strong ball left footed; Martin Riley’s powerfully struck the post, rebounding back far enough for Tom Naylor’s boot was the one to connect amongst 6 others, his shot thundering against the bar – the ball stayed in play and Paul Connor chipped back into the box, Tom Naylor again the recipient thundering a seemingly unstoppable header towards goal, Glyn Garner sprung from nowhere to tip over for another corner, a truly wonderful save.
The game got a little heated just past the half hour mark, Mark Preece getting a booking on his return to Field Mill as his studs appeared high on former team mate, skipper Adam Murray. Matt Bells ball in from the resulting free kick floated harmless away, the first one of the game not to cause Bath any problems, I know we’ve been a little critical of Bells defensive abilities during pre-season, however his left foot is one of the strongest at the club.
With Mansfield seemingly dominating the first half play, it came as a bit of a surprise when Bath levelled on 34, Paul Stonehouse’s right footed pass inside found Adam Connolly on the edge of the box, stags failed to close down and Connolly struck, the ball took a deflection on the way through, wrong footing Marriott and nestling in the back of the net to level the game and bring the confident smiling faces to a more familiar, frown of ‘Oh god, here we go again’
Stags 1-1 Bath
The goal came as a blow to both the players and the enthusiastic crowd, flashes of what could be followed until the half time break, but ultimately neither side could make a change to the score line and so the teams headed into the dressing rooms as they’d started the game – Level.
Half Time: Stags 1-1 Bath
Mansfield seemed to dominate the first half and keep Bath off the ball for long periods, any hope of doing so in the second half was snuffed out virtually from the first whistle, the visitors sticking every man behind the ball and slowly passing it round, forcing a frustrated Matt Green into silly challenges, eventually picking up a booking.
Mansfield did have opportunities to regain the lead though, ten minutes into the second half Paul Connor found himself free after a mistake by Garner, perhaps taking one touch too many whilst bearing down on goal, with Bath skipper Gethin Jones sliding in well to prevent the danger. Connor was lively once again four minutes later, Luke O’Neill threaded a pass into the box, the stags hit man pulled the trigger and his shot was blocked by Mark Preece, whose intervention was spotted by everyone but the officials as a goal kick was awarded.
At the other end, Bath had their chances too, Alex Russell causing problems chipping a ball into the area for Phillips, his header straight into the hands of Alan Marriott.
The game needed some sparkle and something fresh, with 69 minutes gone Ross Dyer made his debut replacing goal scorer Paul Connor upfront, the former Forest Green Rovers man grabbed a brace at Chasetown last weekend and made an instant impact, first Dyer latched onto Greens pass wide right, cutting into the area and forcing Stonehouse into conceding a corner. 2 minutes later, Dyer rounded the keeper following Adam Murrays pass, Dyer shot and would have opened his account for the season had it not been for Mark Preeces goal line clearance.
Lindon Meikle made his debut shortly after Dyer’s introduction, replacing Matt Green upfront with many miffed as to why Green, who’d looked lively throughout, was replaced rather than Andy Todd who was flagging out on the left wing.
Mansfield continued to push late and Dyer was again at the heart of the action with 5 minutes to go, Chesting down Marriott’s long kick perfectly for Adam Murray who side footed his shot over the top of the bar under pressure on the edge of the box. Straight from the goal kick, Bath had a chance themselves, substitute Scott Murray crossed in for Lee Phillips, thwarted again by Marriott who easy caught the Bath front mans header.
Mansfield pushed until the very end, Naylor heading over a Bell corner before strong running by Briscoe earned the stags another corner deep into injury time, Bells delivery again causing trouble, landing at the far post for anyone to have a go, Bath clearing up as Mansfield complained to the referee about persistent shirt pulling.
Neither side could grab a late winner and eventually had to settle for a point as the referee called an end to a thrilling, then boring, then averagely ok game.
Full Time: Stags 1-1 Bath.
Attendance: 3,997 (80 Away) / League Position 13th
On reflection, I feel that had we not achieved those 5 consecutive victories at the back end of pre-season or scored at least 3 in each of those games, we’d have been happy yesterdays result and performance. We have to forget pre-season now and focus on the long road ahead of us. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, it’s always nice to win on opening day but at the same time, I’m not gutted and I’m certainly not crushing the dream. Our last 2 seasons we’ve won our opening games on home turf and it’s been downhill from there as we’ve got over confident and shot ourselves in the foot. Let’s take this season steadily and keep our heads, the foundations are still setting and we’ve players to come back from injuries and suspensions who will strengthen our weaker areas.
We’re off, not necessarily running, but we are moving – hopefully in the right direction. Next up, two long away trips, first Gateshead on Tuesday night then Braintree next Saturday, if you can’t get be sure to join me on Takeover Radio 106.9FM for full match commentary on both. Join me from 7.30PM Tuesday night for the Gateshead game; see the link on the right hand side to listen online and be sure to interact with us by visit our facebook and twitter. www.facebook.com/mtfcmatters or www.twitter.com/mtfcmatters
Thanks for reading, see you soon.
Photo Credits: Dan Westwell & James Williamson
Podcast: Mansfield Matters #1