Blue Square Bet Premier Game #7: Darlington Vs Mansfield Town – Northern Echo Arena 3/9/11
‘The True Champion’
Bathing in the glory of winning the FA Trophy & the champagne which came with it – would have been a brilliant feeling to have throughout this season, it sure would have made these nightmare experiences more bearable. However, that last minute strike from Chris Senior underneath the Wembley arch saw the images of bathing in glory, quickly turn into the reality of bathing in our tears and ultimately swimming in the ocean of our misery once more. Every time we look back at the game we’ll feel pain, and despite trying to look past the result to the bigger picture, on paper it always says that Darlington we’re the winners, and our Mansfield Town the losers.
Months on, we’ve rebuilt and after a stuttered start to the 2011-12 campaign, we’re starting to find our rhythm, both on & off the pitch. Life, and indeed football, is cruel though and nothing can ever be totally perfect, anyone whose thinks otherwise is a fool – you just have to embrace the power to battle through the dark tunnels of negativity. What you have to understand is that there will always be someone to remind you of your past failings – just when the going seems to be good. This is what the good ship Mansfield encountered yesterday as it sailed into the North East waters of Darlington – the team responsible for that Wembley heartache.
Darlington of course have every right to be celebrating their victory on the big stage, however there’s a fine line between celebration and rubbing the oppositions face in the dirt – a fine line too between confidence and arrogance, something which has been evident if you look around social networking sites and read various posts by opposition fans. In fact a quote Duncan Russell came out with following the Luton semi-final victory would be quite apt here ‘Humble in victory, gracious in defeat’ over the past months since that late strike, I think we’ve been more than gracious, but the opposing side haven’t been so humble, this perhaps explains the reasoning behind me following everyone of my superstitions yesterday and why, from the moment the car started to the moment it arrived, I had music flooding my ears and the words from my Nicholas Sparks novel swirling around my head – I wanted to remain calm and gracious, keeping the Wembley hurt & pain hidden for when the full time whistle blew, I could appreciate every aspect of my Mansfield’s eminent revenge!
The journey seemed to go quite quickly, weather that’s because I was glued to the drama of my book or because the roads were kind, I don’t know. What I do know is that with every white road marking that flashed by, my hunger for victory grew stronger – despite my best efforts, as we got closer to Darlington, I couldn’t get those images of the Wembley loss out of my mind, nor could I get the sickening feeling from my body. A stop at Scotch Corner saw me complete another ritual – the purchasing of a Galaxy & Jaffa Cake Muffin!
With the taste of Galaxy still in my mouth as we pulled into Darlington’s car park – I knew the day was set to be a good one. It got better as Scott, photographer James & myself walked round the outside of the stadium in search of the ticket office, a mixed feeling then spread as we entered the main entrance – the FA Trophy staring us full in the face. We were saved from frustration as we we’re sent further down to the other ticket office, the mood turned back to a happy one as we joked about stealing the trophy on the way out and flirted our tickets from the hands of a frankly beautiful Geordie lass into my stuffy jacket pocket! The laughter lasted all of a minute as the tickets directed us back to reception, the trophy lay in waiting, and as we waited for the press lounge doors to open, James captured the envious look of myself & Scott perfectly on camera as we studied the list of previous winners, trying to engrave Mansfield’s name over the top of Darlington’s just by the medium of thought. Alas, our thoughts failed and we knew we had to stop lingering in the past.
My travels watching the stags as a broadcaster in the BSBP have thrown up many a strange place, from Tamworth’s porter cabin maze to Braintree’s back row poterloo power supporting turn style powered self made press box! It made a refreshing change on Monday to have space, power & a tiny under the stairs chill out room – it was an amazement to find a proper lounge facility dedicated solely to the media. It was nice to see the FA Trophy winnings had been spent well, a state of the art tea machine (basically a posh kettle) with a selection of tea bags, sugar, coffee and fresh milk – and in answer to your next question, yes – both myself & Scott did abuse the free facility by having numerous cups each! I just wanted my share of the trophy winnings!
It was soon to try and find the actual press box, after we’d fended off the our Darlington tour guide, who told us Ben Futcher had been sent off around 8 times on Darlington’s ground and that their new Spanish signing had marked Lionel Messi in his last competitive game. Anyway, I think that’s what he said, I couldn’t really understand him! Finding a press box is usually easy, you enter the ground through the gate and you can’t miss it – yesterday was quite different as we had to take an escalator to the second floor and stumble through numerous corridors before eventually finding the same old guy (god knows how he beat us upstairs!) and following him to our seats.
After dumping the kit, myself & Scott both got a text from James saying he was lost – so it was back downstairs to the press lounge to find him & guide him to the pitch! The only problem, there were escalators going up, but not down! The lift was the only option and as we discovered at the half time interval (again on the tea run) you will get stuck in a lift at some stage! On our way back to the press box during the half time break, we entered the lift only for it to say ‘Fire – Fire – please exit when the doors next open’ the doors didn’t open for a good two minutes before we pressed every button on the panel and the doors sprung open, with the fire warning getting louder – I’ve never ran up an escalator before – such fun! I’m sure Roadie the road side horse had fun watching our trouble! It’s just a good job the game and all of its outcomes sent us home smiling – an excellent day reaffirming my belief that I love my job!
I realise I’ve rambled on a little more than usual, so I’ll get onto the game. After managing to hold onto Tom Naylor just about during the transfer window, he made a return to the 16 as his 4 game ban was finally over. Tom was one of the 5 players included in yesterdays squad which took part in the Wembley heartbreak, however he and Paul Connor could only settle for a place on the bench as Paul Cox named an unchanged 11.
Luke O’Neill – Ben Futcher – Ritchie Sutton – Joe Kendrick
Lindon Meikle – Adam Murray (C) – Anthony Howell – Louis Briscoe
Ross Dyer – Matt Green
SUBS: Shane Redmond, Tom Naylor, Jon Worthington, Lee Stevenson, Paul Connor.
With all the talk and the build up out of the way, new look Mansfield looked to show Darlington the definition of a true Champion – starting the brightest in the afternoon rain, Joe Kendrick’s early long ball in search of Ross Dyer was headed onto Matt Green who couldn’t get past Ben Purkiss who eventually cleared.
With 5 minutes on the clock, Mansfield hurt Darlington on the attack, former Stag Adam Rundle’s cross park ball found Greg Taylor, who could only watch on as the impressive Luke O’Neill stole the ball from his toes to get Mansfield moving, Matt Green was the intended target by Lindon Meikle picked it up and then did find Green, the Oxford loanee cut into the box onto his left footed and tucked the ball neatly into the bottom corner to put the stags ahead.
Darlington 0-1 Stags
Mansfield looked to press on following the goal, good play between Dyer & Green eventually broke down as Darlington skipper Ian Miller came across to battle strongly, moments later the stags were on the attack again, Sam Russell’s goal kick was pumped back into Mansfield territory after Joe Kendrick headed the initial ball away, Adam Murray picked it up and after the passionate skipper had slid in, stood up and drifted past two players played a neat pass to Matt Green who in turn found Ross Dyer who dropped wide left. With nowhere to go, Dyer laid off Briscoe who’s first time left footed cross was claimed by the keeper.
It wasn’t just Murray worked hard for the cause, Luke O’Neill & Lindon Meikle worked well wide right whilst Anthony Howell did well sat in front of the back four despite slipping a few times on the extremely wet pitch, recovering every time. O’Neill & Meikle worked a move on the right as the game struck the ten minute mark following Howell’s mop up – Greg Taylor managed to clear eventually by Mansfield quickly looked to win the ball back and keep on the pressure, pressure which would see the stags grab a second three minutes later.
Luke O’Neill progressed forwards to give Mansfield space and got lucky with a misplaced pass inside which found Anthony Howell – the former Alfreton man winning the stags a free kick 30 yards out as he looked to play Meikle wide right. Louis Briscoe & Joe Kendrick stood over it, Louis Briscoe had a go but his hit was poor – again Mansfield got lucky as the ball zipped and bobbled into the box finding Matt Green who turned well and fired into the top corner to grab his fourth of the season and Mansfield’s second of the game.
Darlington 0-2 Stags
Moments after the restart Mansfield should have added another, Joe Kendrick delivered a 40 yard left sided in swinging free kick and found Louis Briscoe at the far post, his header just wide as the home side struggled with a dominant Mansfield.
With 25 on the clock, the home side survived another Kendrick free kick, a poorer delivery this time but the ball still bobbled up curtsey of Ross Dyer’s near post boot which was enough to balloon the ball up in the air towards the back post were Anthony Howell let fly with a ferocious volley, cannoning off Graeme Lee for a stags corner, eventually cleared by Miller.
The home side suddenly came to life after the half hour mark, Paul Arnison linking up well with Rundle with the latter shooting wide before being the link between Ryan Bowan & Paul Arnison; the latter booked for going down in the box after Louis Briscoe won the ball. Birthday boy Alan Marriott didn’t really have too much to do bar bellow at Ben Futcher for being a little too slow, allowing Graeme Lee to head tamely towards goal from an Adam Rundle set piece.
The stags swept away the Darlington midfield passing and enjoyed spells of their own, Ross Dyer flagged offside from a Green through ball before both Lindon Meikle & Louis Briscoe put in a series of testing crosses, however as the half time whistle sounded, their was no chance to the score following Matt Greens early brace.
Half Time: Darlington 0-2 Stags
The stags began the second half as brightly as they started the first, quickly winning the ball back and feeding Matt Green through the centre, Green was forced wide but the space encouraged Ross Dyers movement, Dyer unable to get onto Matt Greens deep cross, Louis Briscoe was first to the loose ball, the move ended as Briscoe was judged to have fouled.
Matt Green was in search of his hat-trick and had several opportunities to get it, Lindon Meikle played a sublime ball to Green on 48minutes, Green found himself 1 Vs 1 with Russell but dragged his shot wide of the target in front of the 296 travelling fans.
Matt Green was again at the heart of the action as the game progressed, this time penetrating the wide area to get past Greg Taylor into the area and unselfishly pull the ball back for Ross Dyer, his effort powerfully deflecting towards goal via Adam Rundles face, drawing Russell into a smart save. Ben Futcher headed over from Joe Kendrick’s resulting corner.
Darlington threw on Liam Hatch to inject some spice to their attacking options, Hatch who was quiet at Wembley due to playing centre half, seemed eager to continue his knack of scoring past Mansfield, however this time around he was the provider flicking a ball into the box for fellow sub James Walshaw, Ritchie Sutton dominated defensively and soon cleared sparking another stags attack, Green pushing the ball onto Meikle wide right after picking up Anthony Howells pass. Meikle passed the ball inside to the dropped central Briscoe who rounded the keeper but couldn’t pull the trigger as Greg Taylor nipped into clear the danger. Adam Rundle and John Campbell looked to counter but Campbell’s control was wayward and the ball trickled out for a throw in.
Darlington began to pressure with a number of corners, Joe Kendrick, Ritchie Sutton, Ben Futcher and birthday boy Marriott all saving stags as the home side pushed bodies forwards and kept Mansfield firmly locked inside their own half for a good 10 minute spell. Mansfield needed a third goal an introduced Paul Connor for Lindon Meikle with 68minutes on the clock, Ross Dyer surprisingly dropping to the right wing, the trio combined well five minutes later and it was Greens final shot after skipping past Taylor that cannoned off the post for a goal kick as Green desperately bid for the match ball. Jon Worthington was introduced for the hard working Briscoe with 3minutes to go but Mansfield still couldn’t win the ball back as Darlington looked to pounce later.... Again! Substitute Chris Atkinson delivered a deep cross which caught the stags defence out, fortunately James Walshaw couldn’t repeat the last Darlington #10’s action, firing straight at a grateful Marriott.
The final whistle blew after 3 minutes of additional time, of which 4 were played – sparking scenes of joy from the Mansfield faithful and every member of our section of the press box – the Darlington demon was dead, the trophy defeat had been avenged (ish) and the stags had picked up their 3rd consecutive win for the first time since October 2009. Adam Murray, Alan Marriott, Paul Connor, Louis Briscoe & Tom Naylor’s reactions to the victory was a joy to watch, add to that the joy of Paul Cox & the rest of the squad and you could sense there and then, that THIS Mansfield Town side are going places.
So what is the definition of a true Champion? It’s not someone who feeds from luck, punishes a mistake and bathes in all the glory creating an untrue story just to look good in the limelight. A true Champion is someone who’s experienced hurt and has used the experience to better themselves. A true Champion faces problems head on and isn’t scared of the murky waters of their past. A true Champion embraces hurt & failure and turns into positive energy to soar higher than they’ve ever been before. Most importantly a true champion knows, understands and accepts that our greatest glory is not, in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Remember earlier, I spoke about arrogance & confidence being a thin line, well we bumped into Chris Senior (now of Alfreton) & a few of his team mates at the services on the way home, he noticed the stags stuff in the car and mimicked his last minute header and a baby crying – to which I wound down the window, laughed at him and shouted ‘2-0 to Mansfield today mate, keep your trophy – we’ll take the points thanks! PS Alfreton are going down’.... I know – hypocritical of me but sod it! The look on his face alone made the whole thing worthwhile!
Thanks for reading, next up its Newport at home in front of the TV cameras, don’t miss regular updates on Takeover Radio 106.9FM from around 4.30PM on Saturday afternoon. To listen online, see the link on the right hand side.
Match Photos: James Williamson