Blue Square Bet Premier Game #9 Barrow AFC vs. Mansfield Town – Holker Street, Saturday 17th September 3PM
‘Over the hills.... In a land far away’
‘Over the hills, in a land far, far away’ is the line you’d often here at the start of a fairytale when you was a young child. Some people say that football itself is a fairytale and reflecting on yesterday’s trip to Holker Street and indeed the last few games & seasons in the rotten yet beautiful league, I can see & understand why.
The grounds you visit, the stories you create, the adventures & obstacles you encounter, the highs, the lows, the wind and the rain, all small little story’s painted on the massive canvas sheet that is a season in the blue square bet premier. Yesterday was no different, in fact it could turn out to be the Mona Lisa of our season’s collection – time will tell.
Over the hills, in a land far away there was a town called Barrow-In-Furness, home to Barrow AFC and Holker Street, the setting for the best story I’ll ever tell – all about that night and my infamous jump over a wall. That maybe the case in 50 years time when I’m boring the grandkids on a Sunday afternoon, but back in the here & now, over the hills in a land far, far away lies Barrow – the place where yet more belief and confidence spread as Mansfield Town Football Club, won once more – displaying another champions characteristic: Grit.
Yesterday was the perfect setting for such a story too, from start to finish the weather swayed and moods & atmospheres changed. Waking up at 5.30am it was still pitch black with no sign of the sun, the coldness cutting & sharp as I dove out of bed and ran towards the central heating controls. The morning sun didn’t appear either as I headed to the shop (superstition rather than need), in fact the rain dribbled in large cold drops making the insanest of supporter question what the hell they were thinking! It didn’t get better as we hit the road towards Barrow, the flashing white lines barely visible as the rain poured violently down, especially over the M6!
It got slightly better as country roads became the followed bath, occasional short showers fought with the sunshine in the midday skyline, on the ground deep puddles lay waiting testing drivers – each car choosing a timid approach (less splash) or the violent approach (basically when the theme park log flume hits the bottom at speed) – it was the latter which the car in front took, spraying the roadside fun running women from head to foot! Funny, yet evil (Welcome to my world!) Twists & turns followed as we drove past Lake Windermere; well I think it was it may have been a field covered in water that much rainwater had fallen around that area you just couldn’t tell! Photo man & driver for the day James is used to rain, having been rained on at virtually every game he’s been too so far this season – he came prepared this time and opted to change into his waterproofs in Barrow’s McDonalds car park... to his horror, our arrival to the Holker Street car park also marked the arrival of the early afternoon sunshine.
Time passed, as did several showers and before I knew it, kick off was upon us – again unsurprisingly Paul Cox stuck with the theory ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ naming an unchanged starting 11, making just one change to the bench to combat Barrow’s narrow physical style of defensive play, Adam Smith withdrawn with Paul Bolland taking the vacant space, the first time he’s been included in a competitive match day squad since his arrival from the other MTFC in the summer.
Luke O’Neill – Ben Futcher – Ritchie Sutton – Joe Kendrick
Lindon Meikle – Adam Murray (C) – Anthony Howell – Louis Briscoe
Matt Green – Ross Dyer
BENCH: Shane Redmond – Tom Naylor – Jon Worthington – Paul Connor – Paul Bolland.
As the stags ran out in all yellow (or Amber – depending on colour preference!) my co-commentator Scott noticed Alan Marriott had swapped his grey goalie top for a pink one, his comments sparked a massive afternoon of innuendoes and cheeky comments, Scott made it worse for himself later in the afternoon whilst speaking about the physique of Ritchie Sutton – in one afternoon Scott revealed he liked wearing pink & stared at men in gyms.... I think the sun have been running the wrong story! Anyway, moving on....
Holker Street has been a bit of a bogey ground for the stags since they began life in the BSBP, with Barrow winning 2 of the 3 encounters that have taken place at the home of the two time FA Trophy Champions, the 3rd & most recent being a draw. In fact, you have to go back to 1969 for the stags’ last win on Barrow soil. The stags started brightly this time round though and looked to rectify past failings, Luke O’Neill winning the Ariel battle to head away Gavin Skelton’s long ball straight from the kick off, Lindon Meikle was first too the loose ball and Mansfield began to move, the lively winger pushing the ball inside for stags skipper Adam Murray who found Matt Green who returned the ball to Murray after driving the stags forward beating two markers – Murray was fouled and Mansfield were awarded a free kick just 22 seconds in. Around 40yards out, Louis Briscoe opted to try his luck blasting an effort towards the target but firing over the top of Danny Hurst’s cross bar.
Mansfield have scored 5 goals in the opening 15 minutes of football this season, Matt Green made that tally 6 with 3minutes on the clock, Adam Murray’s delightful 40 yard chip found the lively front man onside, a neat touch took the ball and momentum away from Barrow’s Adam Quinn and Green made no mistake, firing home a powerful shot from the edge of the box into the top corner to grab his 6th goal of the season.
Barrow 0-1 Stags
Barrow have seen off promotion candidates Fleetwood & Wrexham at Holker Street and the home side were keen to add stags to their scalp list, putting Ritchie Sutton under pressure to force a corner with the game still in it’s opening 10minutes. Paul Rutherford’s delivery was poor and Alan Marriott was able to collect with ease, opting for a quick release as stags tried to counter, Lindon Meikle headed on a little strongly which allowed Gavin Skelton time to clear, Ross Dyer showed tremendous persistence to close the ball down and although the throw-in went Barrow’s way, Mansfield were able to keep the home side penned in.
Mansfield were in search of breaking a club record by winning and keeping a clean sheet, having won last Saturday the current stags set up needed one more win with clean sheet to break the clubs all time record, the home side had other ideas. First Gavin Skelton’s cross wasn’t dealt with, Paul Smith testing Marriott tamely from distance after picking up the second ball, then moments later a Rutherford corner caused all sorts of problems. Former Blackpool youth teamer Louis Almond kept the ball alive at the far post as Rutherford’s corner wasn’t met in the air by stags, Almond’s ball back in cannoned off the bar before finding Rutherford once more, this time stags stopped the cross but couldn’t stop Paul Smith again having a go from the edge of the box, Alan Marriott watched it all the way though, clinging safely onto that hope of breaking the clean sheet record.
With 25 minutes on the clock, a pressuring Barrow finally dirtied Mansfield’s blossoming sheet, Louis Almond receiving a flick on from Gavin Skelton’s left sided throw, opening up his body on the edge of the box to fire low into the bottom corner beyond Marriott who could do nothing about a top draw finish. Despite conceding the stags number 1 & indeed the defence, can take pride in the fact they went an impressive 397 minutes of football without conceding a goal.
Barrow 1-1 Stags
I was then interested to see how stags would react to conceding after such a long time keeping a watertight back line, the answer was fiercely. In fact it took just 3 minutes for Mansfield to regain the lead. Alan Marriott’s driven ball down field was met in the air by Ross Dyer who nodded onto strike partner Green, the oxford loanee turned well and set Meikle wide, the former Eastwood man in hunt of his first for stags fired goal wards, however Kevin Lomax got just enough on it to divert it away for a corner, from which Mansfield scored. Joe Kendrick’s left footed in swinger was met by loanee defender Ben Futcher, rising in a similar fashion to the manager of his parent club Bury (lord Richard of Barker) to nod into the roof of the net, grabbing his first goal in Mansfield colours. Ben punched the air in delight, celebrating not only the goal but the fact his stay with stags has been extended until November 5th.
Barrow 1-2 Stags
Mansfield used the goal to their advantage and should have added a third soon after futcher’s goal, Louis Briscoe’s clearance found its way to Ross Dyer on the half way line, the burley striker showed lightening pace as he raced forwards 1 vs. 3, Dyer soon arrived inside the box and fired towards the bottom corner, beating the keeper but not the uneven surface, the ball bouncing the wrong side of the post just as Dyer was ready to celebrate.
Mansfield had another chance just past the half hour mark, again a Kendrick corner and again a Futcher header as the stags looked to replicate the second goal, this time Futcher’s header was wide of the target and after somehow keeping the ball in, the stags failed to punish the hosts as they scrambled clear.
The hosts didn’t make it plain sailing for the visiting stags though and pushed for a leveller before the half time break, Louis Almond combined well with Paul Smith, with the latter pushing the ball inside to Jack Mackreth who held up the ball long enough to allow Smith to move into space, eventually feeding him and watching on and Paul smith’s shot was held by a grateful Marriott. The home side pushed until the referee’s interval signalling whistling but it was the stags who headed into the dressing rooms ahead.
Half Time: Barrow 1-2 Stags
Seven minutes after the restart the stags had yet another chance to make it 3, a good passage of play eventually saw skipper Murray chip a ball into the box, Matt Green received it and after keeping it in play, played Briscoe into the centre, he tumbled and may have had a case for a penalty but to his credit, got back to his feet to fire at goal, unfortunately firing wide.
Barrow again looked to attack through Paul Rutherford, Luke O’Neill stood up well and after help from Murray & Briscoe, slid in to deny the Barrow winger a way through, Briscoe picked up the loose ball as he switched wings with Meikle for the second half and Mansfield were soon on the attack again, Matt Green stayed onside and raced free taking a shot left footed, his effort was deflected and Ross Dyer somehow was denied before seeing the ball drop back at his feet, slamming wide from an extremely tight angle.
The stags were soon made to pay for their long list of missed opportunities as Barrow again levelled the game, Rutherford found space wide left before sending Louis Almond on his way, his shot was saved well by Marriott but the stags custodian fumbled and the ball fell for the impressive Adam Boyes who made no mistake in smashing home from close range with 56 on the clock.
Barrow 2-2 Stags
With Mansfield’s mentality being tested with every tick of the clock, the stags regained composure and showed grit to create more chances, first Ross Dyer headed straight into the hands of Danny Hurst before the Barrow shot stopper brilliant denied Matt Green with a goal line save. It was Briscoe’s hard work that created it, neat skill and pace saw Briscoe turn Skelton inside out before drilling in the cross for Green who controlled neatly, he opted for the blast rather than placement, the blast straight at Hurst saved rather than a placement which would have seen the stags back in the lead.
Luke O’Neill worked well on the flank too, doing enough to drive a threatening dangerous Mansfield up the pitch before passing inside to Howell who stung a shot against the post. Paul Connor then replaced Ross Dyer and virtually with his first touch 3minutes after coming on, set Lindon Meikle for the winner. It was a brilliant example of end to end football too, Barrow’s long throw down the line from Skelton was controlled neatly by O’Neill, his volleyed pass found Connor in the centre circle, the stags front man played a fine pass wide to Lindon Meikle who raced forward to the edge of the box and fired past Hurst to put Mansfield back in the lead an open his account for the stags with 10 minutes left to play. The fans and players celebrated together, the only downside being Meikle’s yellow card – not that he’ll be fussed as he repays the faith Paul Cox has shown in him.
Barrow 2-3 Stags
Barrow threw everything including the kitchen sink at Mansfield but the stags grit shone through, late subs Jon Worthington (replacing Briscoe) & Debutant Paul Bolland (Meikle) ensured the stags returned to the watertight status and the games egg timer shed its final piece of sand – the full time whistle blowing to signal delight for the 137 travelling fans and for the players who worked tirelessly from start to finish to ensure another 3 points came back to field mill.
Full Time: Barrow 2-3 Stags
Over the hills in a land far away does indeed lay a team called Barrow and a ground named Holker Street. Despite the bursts of rain and the uneven pitch, mighty Mansfield battled on for their 5th consecutive victory, meaning the setting is not for the story of a boy with varied dreams, but actually a setting for a story with one very true moral – hard work, grit, determination and believe can deliver results. I thought of this as we drove home as the blue sky fought to come out and guide Mansfield home.
I smiled remembering my new story, I understood Mansfield Town Football Club actually had a dressing room full of togetherness, belief and ability, I understood that right now, Mansfield Town are true champions again – and will be, come the end of the season. Let’s hope the fairytale season stays a reality on Tuesday evening as AFC Telford visit Field Mill – catch regular updates on 106.9FM & online (see link on the right) from 7.30PM.
Thanks for reading!
Match Photos: James Williamson