‘Delusions of the sun’As I drew back the curtains at 6.30 yesterday morning, I expected to see brown leaves falling from the trees onto the dewy grass, old Beryl & Barry from number 27 leaving the house for a morning paper watching their breath linger in the cold morning air – basically everything detail you’d expect to see from an October scene as Autumn set in, however strangely I found myself staring out to a mid-summer Scene, the sun beaming down making the grass look crisp & sharp, the leaves still green on the trees, Beryl shaking her head in embarrassment as Barry came out the house wearing a straw hat, a Caribbean style shirt & cream coloured shorts – I checked the calendar a few times, woke myself up with a sharp slap to the face wondering if I was dreaming, however I wasn’t & as reality set in that we we’re faced with a hot summers day at the start of October, I got the feeling the day ahead would be another beautiful entry into our Blue Square Bet Premier story book.
Talking of books, as you all know I enjoy reading to make the journeys pass quicker (don’t judge a book by its cover!). I was recently in WH Smith looking for a new book, this time about football & what other fans experience on a match day. All I could find was autobiographies from top flight players, I browsed a few pages & was instantly put off by mentions of money, fast cars, easily seduced women in posh hotel bars etc, I realised that there was nothing anywhere about the proper beauty of the game – the lower leagues, especially the conference & below. Looking back, yesterday was another story to add to the collection, no not frilly knickers hanging from the bar’s pool table lights with a bottle of champagne wedged into every pocket with £50 notes littering the floor like waste paper, I’m talking Sunshine, autumn leaves, fields of green, a ‘Take That’ CD on loop, buckets of swet & much more – all for the love of Mansfield Town FC...The journey down wasn’t so action packed in contrast to the high octane opening chapter of the ‘premier league story however a twist in the tale soon followed as we arrived in Stroud around 11.15. Myself & photo-man James were travelling along nicely until the lack of directions set in, after diverting up & round the steepest hill I’ve ever seen we found country roads which I know you have to follow in parts to reach Forest Green’s New Lawn ground, however something seemed wrong as we went 3 separate ways, all of which led nowhere. Stuck at a cross roads (literally) we decided to head back the way we came & after accidently on purpose stopping at McDonalds – we discovered that we we’re on the right path & did eventually end up at the ground around 12.30.
The sun was beaming down on the New Lawn, fans sat outside the bar and the temptation for a beer was stronger than it’s been for a long time, being the ultimate professional however I thought it best to avoid a cheeky beer! Into the ground & to the press box which has moved from the corner flag to the half way line since my last visit, the views of the surrounding Fields & surrounding landscape more beautiful than I remember, the blazing afternoon sun mixed with a clear blue sky making it one to savour. It’s a tight space in the Forest Green press box and on a hot day, it’s certainly not what you need, I also kindly moved from the back row to allow the senior summariser for the opposition’s radio station a seat, however with things cramped I was left sitting on the concrete steps, something which didn’t go down to well with one local who placed his hand a little too forcefully on the back of my neck whilst walking past me – it’s a good job I was on air at the time, I don’t handle sunshine & angry stress well, especially when the background music is a Take That CD which has been on loop for the last hour & a half!On the pitch the players were woken up from their pre-warm up daze as the pitch sprinklers came on, the spray from the water reflected the sunshine well to create an on pitch rainbow. In the distance people kicked a ball around from the fields a far, watching the teams warm up before making the short walk to the ground to the game. The stands began to fill, the away especially – Mansfield flags draped across seats whilst the travelling fans embraced the heat & made the end colourful & noisy – a great image to remove the one which enters your head when the fixture list comes out, you always remember previous trips and find yourself saying ‘Forest Green Away, at the start of October – Wind, Rain, Cold & Misery’ not anymore. The question is, could the stags go & get all three points & match the beautiful setting with a heart-warming show of passion and belief?
Paul Cox was forced into two changes from the side that beat Wrexham midweek, defensive duo Ben Futcher & Tom Naylor were both suspended so Martin Riley & Joe Kendrick came into the starting 11. On paper we we’re defensively stretched and we feared we may not be able to name an out & out defender on the bench, our fears were washed away when the team sheet arrived, as Rhys Day was named amongst the subs.
Luke O’Neill – Martin Riley (Futcher) – Ritchie Sutton – Joe Kendrick (Naylor)
Ross Dyer – Anthony Howell – Jon Worthington – Andy Todd
Adam Murray (C)
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Paul Connor – Paul Bolland – Rhys Day – Lindon Meikle.
Mansfield have made many bright starts so far this season, I doubt they’ll make one quicker than they did yesterday though, taking the lead after 17seconds. Forest Green got the game underway & the usual ball over the top was headed away by Martin Riley, Luke O’Neill who moved back to right back picked the ball up & ventured over the half way before finding skipper Adam Murray who celebrated his birthday on Friday, Murray chipped the ball over the onrushing defender to send former Forest Green front man Ross Dyer on his way, Dyer struck perfectly sending the ball past James Bittner into the bottom corner, bagging his third goal of the season and quite possibly writing his name into the stags history books for scoring Mansfield’s quickest ever goal.Forest Green Rovers 0-1 Mansfield
Dyer’s early striker had sent the scoreboard opposite into meltdown, by the time it recovered 10minutes later the stags could have been further in front as they kept piling on the pressure. With 5 minutes on the clock, Martin Riley sent a strong ball through the centre which Bittner picked up, however stags soon won the ball back from his kick, Anthony Howell found Murray with a neat header, the stags skipper looked to repeat the opening goal by again sending a ball over the top for Dyer, this time Dyer was wide right rather than central and was forced back but kept the ball, chipping it forward in search of Green, the Oxford front man wasn’t the recipient though as O’Neill charged trough into the space, arriving a split second too late as Bittner raced off his line to pick up the loose ball. Mansfield continued to pressure with early high octane play despite the rising temperature, O’Neill intercepted Bittner’s clearance & stags were on the charge again, Murray & Dyer interchanged play before O’Neill was fed down the right channel, his first time cross just a little too deep for Matt Green to connect with, Andy Todd did well to keep the home side penned in from the resulting throw.The game then turned from open passing to a game of free kicks as the clock crept past the 10 minute mark, first Mansfield threatened as Adam Murray chipped in a dangerous ball which the home side somehow cleared for a corner as a melee of stags body’s arrived. Luke O’Neill’s right footed in swinger was strong & bobbled off Anthony Howell at the far post, he knew nothing about it to get a clear shot away & the hosts cleared around half a yard from the line. Three minutes later it was the home side who were awarded a free kick, taken quickly Jake Thompson found himself in the box and pulled a neat ball back across the face of goal, Charlie Griffin couldn’t connect & a slow responding Mansfield got a let off as the ball trickled out for a stags throw. At the other end the stags were again awarded a free kick just to the right of the area, Joe Kendrick delivered a left footed in swinger, Martin Riley connected at the far post but could only head wide of the target.
Both sides began to have spells on the ball but each move seemed to fizzle out to nothing as the afternoon’s heat took its toll on all involved, credit to the referee for allowing what normally would be short stoppages in play to become slightly longer, allowing players to take fluids on board. The stags still looked comfortable but the home side continued to look for a way back into the game, James Rowe’s free kick was easily dealt with by Anthony Howell in the air but rover’s were first too the second ball, a neat switch from Hodgkiss to Stokes saw the latter drill another ball into the area which was headed away once more, James Norwood then floated another cross in but Martin Riley made sure there was enough power on his header to allow Mansfield to push out & build themselves.You could sense a goal was coming and it did 5 minutes from time, unfortunately for the stags it went Forest Green’s way. Chris Stokes’ directional ball was controlled well by Griffin who combined with Forbes who eventually hammered home to level the game.
Forest Green 1-1 MansfieldThe stags looked for a response shortly before the break, Matt Green & Ross Dyer worrying former stag Luke Graham & Keiron Forbes with powerful running, with a minute left before the break, it was Green who was stopping in his tracked by Forbes, as the Forest Green made looked to play his way out of trouble, Anthony Howell lunged in with a late challenge and could have no complaints as the referee produced a straight red card, Mansfield’s third in as many games. Howell made his way of the pitch walking past the stags fans holding an apologetic hand up and had barely made it into the visiting dressing room as the half time whistle was blown.
Half Time: Forest Green Rovers 1-1 Mansfield TownPlaying with 10men for the entire second half was always going to be a tough ask, Mansfield were going to have to dig in deep & soak up everything the hosts threw at them, surprisingly Paul Cox made no changes at the break, but a sluggish opening 6 minutes from both sides prompted the stags chief into a change to spark Mansfield into life, Paul Bolland replaced Andy Todd as Mansfield dropped to a 4-3-2 with Bolland joining Murray & Worthington in the middle whilst Dyer joined Green up front. It nearly worked too as Mansfield sensed an opening, Bolland collected the ball in the middle & pushed back to Luke O’Neill, it was his through ball which found Murray who then played a delicate chip in search of Green, however Bittner was first too it & collected well under pressure.
Forest Green then looked to use their one man advantage to full affect with a series of chances, Bittner’s long throw found Hodgkiss on the half way line who turned well & switched to Stokes, his cross was headed away by Riley before Jake Thompson saw his shot charged down by Worthington in the same phase of play. Forest Green were soon on the move again as James Norwood found Stokes on the overlap, James Rowe soon found himself free to shoot but couldn’t beat Marriott who did well to push the ball away for Kendrick to eventually clear.As the hour mark past it was the stags who threatened once more, Luke O’Neill’s free kick found Ross Dyer at the far post, his header was blocked near the line by Graham but the ball ran perfectly for Murray who struck venomously, denied by a fine save from James Bittner. The resulting corner came to nothing as Martin Riley was judged to have fouled his marker as they jumped for Kendrick’s delivery. At the other end Mansfield had a minor scare of their own, James Norwood cut past O’Neill well but fortunately screwed his shot miles wide.
End to end action followed with 70minutes gone, it the stags enjoying the better of the chances, look-a-like midfielders Worthington & Bolland combined well to feed Murray on the edge of the box, the stags skipper held the ball up long enough for Green to takeover, progressing into the box before seeing his on target left footed effort deflect over for a corner. Kendrick’s left footed in swinger in front of the vocal stags support was headed behind for a second corner on the opposite side, O’Neill delivered it right footed Ross Dyer met it at the back post & saw his header cruelly cannon back of the bar & allow his former club to break, Luke O’Neill & Joe Kendrick raced back to combine & mop up any danger.Eight minutes later the stags were left confused & annoyed as referee Andy Davies bottled out of awarding Mansfield a seemingly clear cut penalty. Alan Marriott’s save at one end started the attack & Green eventually received the through ball, Green was about to pull the trigger when he was upended by ex-stag Luke Graham. The referee looked to award a penalty bringing his whistle to his mouth to no real complaint from the hosts, however at the last second, changed his mind and awarded the stags a throw. Green & Dyer were then replaced by Paul Connor & Lindon Meikle who caused trouble with a few late bursts, however it was the referee who again took centre stage in the last minute of additional time. Mansfield swept up more Forest Green pressure & the ball ran to Meikle who lurked on the left wing, he collected the ball & nipped it past Jared Hodgkiss, the forest green skipper preventing Meikle from following though with an extremely late challenge which everyone thought would be a straight red, Hodgkiss escaping with a booking for being as it took place it the Mansfield half, however he was the last man & Meikle would have had a clear goal scoring opportunity. The stags didn’t have time to mount a late attack with the resulting free kick as the full time whistle was blown.
Full Time: Forest Green Rovers 1-1 StagsPlaying 46 minutes with 10men in heat like that was a huge challenge & the stags have a right to feel aggrieved with things not going their way, i.e. the penalty & the late challenge – however the stags kept a clean sheet in the second half and really stood up to be counted, they may have been guilty of not taking a few chances as people will say you should be winning at places such as Forest Green if you’re serious about promotion. The thing to remember is that at the start of each game, before a ball is kicked each team has a point – it’s up to you to protect yours and that’s exactly what the stags did. Next up, Grimsby at home, lets grab three points and climb back into those play offs and see if we can get another unbeaten run going. Join me for regular updates on 106.9FM from 2PM on Saturday.
Thanks for reading.Match Photos: James Williamson