‘Turnaround’A week ago I found myself writing about the strange feeling of a blistering hot October afternoon in leafy Nailsworth, as ten men stags’ took a point from Forest Green Rovers. It’s no surprise that just a week on I’m sat remembering a truly grim & dull day weather-wise as October and its autumn weathers set in.
I am surprised however to be writing about a performance (In the second half at least) which was the exact opposite of what you’d expect from such a dull setting. In past seasons I’d be sat here writing about how Mansfield were ‘washed away in the freezing rain by a dominant opponent’ or about, ‘as the heavens floodgates opened, so did Mansfield’s sloppy defence’. This year I find myself reflecting on a strong turnaround and a team who, rather than fighting each other & passing the buck of blame round, rallied round, came together as one unit to stand up and be counted – catching three juicy points in the process.Paul Cox was again forced into a change following Anthony Howells suspension, bringing Lindon Meikle back into the fold and pushing Ross Dyer back up front to partner Matt Green who’s played as the loan striker for the past two away games. The stag’s boss was boosted with his defensive options too and reintroduced last Saturday’s suspended duo Ben Futcher & Tom Naylor for Martin Riley & Joe Kendrick respectively.
Tom Naylor (Kendrick) – Ben Futcher (Riley) – Ritchie Sutton – Luke O’Neill
Andy Todd – Adam Murray (C) – Jon Worthington – Lindon Meikle (Howell)
Ross Dyer – Matt Green
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Martin Riley – Lee Stevenson – Paul Connor – Paul Bolland.Visitors Grimsby included four ex-stags in their 16, Scott Garner, Rob Duffy & legend Craig Disley made the starting 11, whilst much loved Gary Silk, one of the Wembley 15, had to settle for a place on the bench. Duffy left the stags with a massive cloud hanging over his head, a red card against Fleetwood at Field Mill proved to be Duffy’s last outing in the Amber & Blue before Duncan Russell sent him packing, dummy & pram (which were stuck to a previously favoured Duffy during those last few months) included.
Duffy nearly came back to haunt his former employers less than two minutes into the game as the visitors got the fixture underway attacking the Quarry Lane End, Craig Disley’s ball wide to Robert Eagle was crossed in and fell kindly at the far post for Duffy who scuffed his shot straight into the hands of Alan Marriott. Mansfield then put together a spell of pressure aiming to take an early lead, A long ball down field from Grimsby keeper James McKeown was headed away by Luke O’Neill and picked up by Lindon Meikle who then charged forward through the centre, Ross Dyer lurked on the edge of the box but McKeown was first to the ball. The mariners’ shot stopper booted the ball long but the stags again picked up possession through skipper Murray, his chipped through ball then found Green but the visitors stood strong to clear for a stags throw in, again Grimsby stood strong too clear, Alan Marriott alert at the other end to charge out of his box and deny former team mate Duffy a way through.The visitors then had a decent chance to open the scoring with five minutes on the clock, Craig Disley key to the creating with neat play to earn his side a corner, Robert Eagle’s left footed in-swinger found Darran Kempson at the far post however the Grimsby defenders headers wasn’t strong enough to beat Marriott who was more than equal to it. Five minutes later the stags had a chance of their own, Ross Dyer stealing the ball back as Grimsby moved forward, the burley front man who bagged after 17seconds last Saturday moved the ball wide to Lindon Meikle who in turn cut inside to find Murray. The stag’s captain chipped in a tidy ball towards the far post, Andy Todd was the recipient hitting tamely on the stretch into the keepers hands.
Murray was again at the centre of the action as the half moved on, picking up the ball from Naylor’s throw in before delivering a curling high ball towards Ross Dyer at the back post, Dyer couldn’t connect properly though & the ball ballooned out for a goal kick.With the rain continuing to fall and the temperature becoming colder, the game adopted the Sunday afternoon armchair sleepy feeling, The stags woke the crowd up with 23 minutes gone, Adam Murray pinched the ball back from Disley before finding Green on the half way line, Green turned well and fed Todd brilliantly down the right wing, Todd showed great pace and persistence to get forward and deliver a low cross in search of Dyer, former stags Scott Garner managed to get a vital foot in to end a fine stags move.
Again the game turned dull with neither side putting together a threatening move, the only thing likely to open the scoring would be a moment of genius or a mistake, as it happens the opening goal just shy of the half hour mark was neither, it was a case of bad luck. Grimsby’s Michael Coulson moved inside unchallenged, shooting tamely from the edge of the box – Alan Marriott got a strong hand to it to push the ball onto the post, on any other day the ball would have gone away for a corner, however the slippery football bobbling of the post and trickled, painfully slowly, over the line to put Grimsby ahead.Stags 0-1 Grimsby
Mansfield had two golden chances to level the game before the break, Luke O’Neill’s corner shortly after the opening goal found Murray on the edge of the area; the stags skipper did well to find Meikle who saw his left footed shot curl wide at the second attempt. Then with around 8 minutes of the half remaining, O’Neill struck the bar from a free kick on the edge of the ‘D’, Ben Futcher headed the follow up into the keepers hands.The stags looked the livelier side as the break drew closer, however Paul Cox’s men failed to find the net and headed into the dressing rooms a goal behind at the break.
Half Time: Stags 0-1 GrimsbyIt took the stags a while to get going in the second half but as soon as they did, you sensed something had been said and that a comeback was possibly on the cards, nine minutes into the second half it was Lindon Meikle who broke down the right after switching wings with Andy Todd, the stags earned a corner pressuring Grimsby who just about cleared – Paul Connor then replaced Meikle to partner Green up front with Ross Dyer moving to the vacant right hand side.
Paul Connor was in action almost imeditaly as the stags looked to catch the visitors on the break, Andy Todd & Luke O’Neill combined to clear, with the latter’s long ball brought down by Murray who tucked a neat pass through the gap searching for Connor on the wing, last season’s second top scorer was quick but couldn’t keep the zipping ball in play.The visitors had chances of their own, constantly on the lookout for a second, Liam Hearn cut in from the left channel finding goal scorer Coulson, his shot was charged down by Futcher as the stags refused to buckle.
Mansfield were infuriated throughout the afternoon, mainly by Grimsby keeper McKeown who took every chance he could to waste time, however as the second half moved on it was the referee who moved into the limelight, Adam Murray sent Green on his way through the middle, the Oxford loanee looked sharp as he turned past Garner and into space inside the box, but before he could pull the trigger he was upended by Bradley Wood. It looked a penalty however all Mansfield were given was a corner – Once they’d composed themselves, Luke O’Neill whipped in the ball and found Naylor whose header was held well by McKeown.With the clock running down, Mansfield needed a moment of Magic to revitalise them, it’s exactly what they got on 71 minutes, Luke O’Neill stepped up to riffle home a 40 yard free kick into the top corner, in all the years of watching Mansfield Town at Field Mill, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a free kick struck so beautifully, a truly phenomenal effort worthy of winning any game, never mind drawing it level.
Stags 1-1 GrimsbyMoments later O’Neill fancied his chances from a free kick again, in more of a crossing position, O’Neill struck for goal anyway, denied by a back peddling shocked Grimsby keeper – Mansfield kept the pressure on and soon completed the comeback.
O’Neill delivered a right footed out swinger which was perhaps too deep too cause any real damage, however Adam Murray was determined to keep the ball alive and sprinted powerfully to the bye-line to keep the ball in play, a neat cross park ball opened up Grimsby finding O’Neill again, his chipped cross was headed behind for a second corner from which Mansfield were rewarded. O’Neill delivered, this time a right footed in-swinger – Paul Connor connected unchallenged nodding into the back of the net to delight the Field Mill crowd.Stags 2-1 Grimsby
Mansfield were then in the driving seat and should have really finished the game off, Andy Todd defended brilliantly too send Green on his way, Green covered a massive distance finally cutting in and shooting, unfortunate to see his effort deflect away for a corner which Ben Futcher headed against the bar. Ross Dyer then intercepted former stags favourite Gary Silk’s clearance after the right back had been brought on to shore things up, Green charged through with just the keeper to beat, opting for a chip rather than a drilled effort which the keeper palmed away.Five minutes of additional time saw a nervy end to the game, the Grimsby keeper even ventured forward for a late corner, Alan Marriott collected and despite cries of ‘Shoot’ from the home faithful, stayed down for as long as possible, running down valuable seconds. The final whistle eventually blew, signalling all smiles from the stags camp as they collected all three points.
Full Time: Stags 2-1 GrimsbyThe delight on the players’ faces’ was clear for all to see, seeing Adam Murray punch the air in celebration brought a massive smile to my face, the passion, desire and belief in the Mansfield dressing room had been matched and rightfully rewarded. Bring on next Saturday’s game against Southport!
Thanks for reading – sorry for the late post.Photos: James Williamson