Sunday, 23 October 2011

CTA #17 Stags Vs Alfreton

Blue Square Bet Premier Game #17 Mansfield Town Vs Alfreton Town – Field Mill, Saturday 22nd October 2011 3PM
‘Every Picture Tells A Story.... And Every Story Paints a Picture’

Reflecting on yesterday’s victory over neighbours Alfreton, there is no other title I could really use to sum up the events of yesterday afternoon. The title is not one I’ve made up; it’s an infamous quote which is used by some many as a view on life. It’s a common saying which has the same meaning as ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and you may wonder why I’ve not chosen that as a title, the answers simple really – it’s not about having the wrong perception of someone or something as suggested by don’t judge a book by its cover, it’s more about perception. The story of yesterday is exactly what the cover (below) says and suggests – a Mansfield Victory, but the perception of how the story is told and more importantly viewed, fits nicely, hence the title ‘Every Picture Tells A Story, And Every Story Paints a Picture’.

Before you carry on reading, it’s important you understand that I’m writing as I viewed the game, you may have a different perspective of things and that’s fine as at the end of the day, the result shows a Mansfield victory. I’m not here to get a reaction, nor am I here to slate people or have a dig, I’m a passionate fan (proved by the audio at the bottom!) writing as I do each week, for the history books so in years to come we can look back and remember properly what happened rather than make assumptions based on what the photo’s and short facts of results tables suggests. All I’m trying to do is share my views and hopefully make the picture clearer for all as we reach a vital point in the season.

Whilst dubbed as a ‘local derby’ because of the clubs geographical closeness, it didn’t have the same feel as a Mansfield Vs C**********d game brings, as far as I was concerned it was just another game, with another set of points on offer.

Paul Cox chose to stick with the same 11 that drew with Lincoln during the week; however the stag’s boss did reintroduce midfielder Anthony Howell to the mix following his three game ban, with the ex-reds man taking his place on the bench in place of Louis Briscoe.

Alan Marriott
Luke O’Neill – Martin Riley – Ritchie Sutton – Joe Kendrick
Lindon Meikle – Adam Murray (C) – Paul Bolland – Ross Dyer
Matt Green – Paul Connor
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Jon Worthington – Andy Todd – Anthony Howell – Rhys Day

Mansfield got the game underway and we’re on the attack from the start, Skipper Murray looked to feed Ross Dyer wide left Alfreton’s Josh Law scrambled clear but Paul Bolland picked up we’re he left off against Lincoln, winning the ball back to send Dyer on his way again, his attempted cross was blocked and bounced away for a stags throw with 15 seconds gone. Luke O’Neill came across to the left hand side and launched a long throw into the box, the visitors 3 man back line headed away, however it was Joe Kendrick who put the stags in danger with a sloppy pass back to Ritchie Sutton. The ball cannoned off Anthony Wilson and stags we’re soon in trouble as Paul Clayton burst free through the middle – stopped at the last second thanks to a suburb challenge from Sutton.

With Alfreton fighting for the lives, sitting second bottom, a lot of people put money on a Mansfield onslaught, in fairness the opening 10 minutes suggested it would be. The first golden chance to put Mansfield ahead fell to leading front man Matt Green, he found himself 1 vs. 1 with Alfreton’s loanee shot stopper Joe Day, Green blazed over right footed from around eight yards – a left footed roll in would have been the better option as Green had plenty of the goal to aim for.

On six minutes, Dyer, who played well out of position on the left wing, dropped central and won the ball back strongly as lively Alfreton creped forward, Dyer slotted a neat ball through to Green who cut in from just left of the area before curling a testing shot wide, however with Connor and Meikle free in the box, Alfreton sensed their luck maybe in. Two minutes later the stags we’re pressing again, A combination of Murray, O’Neill and Meikle saw the latter weave forward, before being brought down for a stags free kick. O’Neill’s delivery found Green who was denied by Joe Day who made a smart save to tip over for a corer.

Mansfield had already seen at least 4 goal worthy chances fail and they had already seen Alan Marriott deny Wilson a header from a free kick just before Mansfield’s double chance, sloppy defending was the reason behind the free header and on 13 minutes it was to blame again as Alfreton grabbed the lead. Greg Young’s throw caused problems and as the ball was delivered into the box, the stags defence stood static allowing Anton Brown space to head past Marriott.

Stags 0-1 Alfreton

Mansfield seemed so lively up front but a lack of finishing touch saw the visitors stay ahead, proved once more on 17 minutes as Joe Kendrick blazed over from close range following a Connor cross, the Irish full back had Matt Green and Lindon Meikle screaming for a pass as they both had a tap in waiting for them. It was Mansfield’s indecision, lack of finishing touch and evident abysmal defending which saw Alfreton double their lead with just over 20 minutes gone. Annoyingly it came on the break as well, Luke O’Neill’s corner was poor and easily cleared, despite Meikle winning the second ball, his header back to O’Neill was tame and the visitors broke, Jamie Mullan’s swift cross field ball found Wilson who delivered a testing cross, the usually reliable Alan Marriott made an error of judgement flapping at the cross – he was made to pay as Mullan kept the ball in and pulled back for Paul Clayton, who made no mistake in rolling the ball into the gaping empty net. Truly awful defending, they type you’d expect from a bottom four side, rather than a side supposedly chasing the playoffs.

Stags 0-2 Alfreton

Mansfield again had chances to get back in the game before the break; Matt Green turned on the edge of the area and fired wide after a neat run from O’Neill. Paul Connor was also manhandled inside the area for what was a blatant penalty, even the Alfreton fans were bemused to why the referee awarded them a free kick rather than us a penalty. Ritchie Sutton also saw his header from an O’Neill free kick cleared off the line – all of these chances irrelevant and as the half time whistle blew, it was the visitors who we’re ahead.

It may sound like Mansfield we’re the dominant side and didn’t get the rub of the green, yes we created chances but there is no way we can shy away from the fact we didn’t take them, nor can we shy away from the fact that at the back we we’re going down quicker than the titanic, or to use another metaphor – we we’re like melting butter as the Alfreton blunt knife eased its way through. The fact is, we we’re two nil down at half time against one of the leagues whipping boys on home soil, we we’re losing in a league fixture to a side we’ve ALWAYS played in a pre-season fixture. The boo’s of frustrating that sounded loudly around Field Mill we’re more than acceptable and more than understood. How the mighty had fallen.

Half Time: Mansfield 0-2 Alfreton

The crowd we’re treated to entertainment curtsey of my co-commentator Scott attempting the cross bar challenge, had it not been for the wind I’ve a feeling he’d have been in the money! However as he and his boots made their way back up to the press box, the Field Mill crowd all knew the second half needed to be a massive improvement and that the ‘star quality, belief and ability’ myself and Scott speak about on air week in week out, including yesterday, would transpire on the pitch. We believed the comeback could happen – question is, did the players, those who had the opportunity to change things?

What Mansfield needed first and foremost was someone to stand up and take control, but if we’re being totally truthful – they needed help too. Three minutes into the second half, help a helping hand arrived; Martin Riley clattered a headed effort against the bar from O’Neill’s free kick and from the resulting goal kick, collided with Anthony Wilson. Wilson was judged to have fouled and was shown a second yellow card of the game, the first came during the first half for exactly the same offence. The Alfreton man had no complaints as he headed off the pitch, it’s just a shame the same couldn’t be said on the hour mark as Greg Young received the same fate as his team mate.

You may be wondering we’re the write up of incidents is from the 12 minute spell between each red card, truth is there isn’t any bar Paul Connor getting booked, nothing had changed from Mansfield’s point of view – they were still awful.

Anyway, back to Young’s 60th minute dismissal, it came as Mansfield actually put together a sharp move on the attack, Adam Murray quickly took a stags throw in, with Green and O’Neill working a 1-2 with the latter then sending Meikle on his way down the right hand side. The former Eastwood winger was taken down by Young who instantly received his 2nd yellow, taking his frustration out on the tunnel as he made his disgraced exit leaving his team with nine men – could they cope and get a precious victory. Luke O’Neill delivered another testing ball from the resulting free kick which was headed behind for a corner, Andy Todd replaced Joe Kendrick as the stags searched for more attacking options. O’Neill’s corner was scurried clear and with no Alfreton man forward to attack, Alan Marriott trotted out to the half way line to sweep up.

The clock continued to tick in the wrong direction for Mansfield and the fact is, Alfreton may have been two men down, they we’re still two goals ahead. On 75 minutes, Paul Connor took a tumble inside the box after great movement between Green and Bolland – with stags’ designated penalty taker again not on the park (Briscoe), it was leading scorer Green who took centre stage. The pressure was immense, miss the penalty and the mind set would be at an all time low, whilst brave and deservingly leading Alfreton would grow in confidence, score and the game was back on. Left, Right or down the middle – high or low, soft or drilled – goal or miss, it really was that simple. Field Mill fell quiet and Green began his staggered run up, his final effort saw the ball lifted high past the keeper and bulge in the top corner of the net – Field Mill let out a cry of relief. However, the stags we’re still behind and the clock still ticking.

Stags 1-2 Alfreton

The stags then went hell for leather, switching from 4-4-2 to a 2-4-4 even at times a 2-3-5 Paul Cox and Mansfield needed to level the score, Andy Todd covered every blade of grass from the moment he came on, it was he who then embarked on an unchallenged run, finally cutting inside and curling a shot wide – but the leveller still wouldn’t come, frustration grew again.

On 78 minutes, Ross Dyer slammed a shot into the side netting from two yards after great work from O’Neill, Meikle and Connor; his blushes sparred just by the offside flag, a minute later O’Neill and Murray combined to feed Green who swivelled on the edge of the box before firing over, Mansfield needed something to click as the final 10 minutes approached.

Four minutes remained and you could hear some frustrated footsteps thump out of field mill early with Alfreton still in the lead, Martin Riley trotted forwards unchallenged as any sense of formation disappeared for the stags, Lindon Meikle received the final pass and cut past his man on to the edge of the box, you could hear the collective gasp as Meikle swung back his boot, the connection was sweet and the ball crashed into the top corner to a massive roar of celebration – The stags we’re level against 9 men, all that was left to do was grab a winner.

Stags 2-2 Alfreton

Alfreton had thrown on Chris Senior in the mist of the stags storm, the hatred for him and his heartbreaking Wembley antics still evident as boo’s rang out. Strangely, he restarted the game with a shot from kick off, this time Marriott was watching it all the way into his hands to a wry smile ‘you’ve beaten me once, never again’

Skipper Murray was instrumental in Mansfield’s last comeback from 2-0 down at half time (Gateshead at home at the end of last season), it was he who tested the water once more from the edge of the box, this time his effort was just wide of the target and it looked as if Mansfield would have to settle for a draw.

As the attendance was being read out, 2982, Mansfield we’re on the attack again – Matt Green let fly from the angle and missed the target by some distance, however Todd fought and kept it alive, letting fly from the tightest of angles – somehow the ball bobbled in off Joe Day, Field Mill erupted with Joy, with myself and Scott Rogers unable to contain our delight live on air, cheering along with the fans as Todd was mobbed by team mates in the far corner of the pitch. Mansfield didn’t deserve it by any stretch of the imagination but all the same, the lead was theirs at last deep into injury time.

Stags 3-2 Alfreton

With a minute left of additional time left, goal scorer and forever a legend now Todd sent Dyer on his way forward, at the last second Dyer fed Connor who fired wide missing a golden chance to put the game beyond doubt, soon after the full time blew and Mansfield had sealed the points – unbelievably and frankly undeservedly.

Full Time: Mansfield 3-2 Alfreton

My comments may seem negative and admittedly they are, however having witnessed the same unacceptably poor defensive display for the past four games, I refuse to let three points paper over the cracks – you can only put so many skeletons in the closet before it over flows and bursts open. We should have had the game dead, buried and well beyond reach before the 10 minute mark, if you don’t take your chances you will get punished, and that’s exactly what happened.
Alfreton weren’t particularly brilliant, but they were persistent and made the most of our failings. They’ll feel hard done by with the penalty and two red cards, I’m sure the video will show they’ve no room for complaints – many will say we got lucky, I won’t argue with that, we didn’t come alive until we had two men more – how many sides win a league by relying on sending’s off? None.
We need someone to take control at the back, we need to stand up and be counted in that back four, we’ve become too much of a calm ocean which teams are using to sail smoothly to the land of easy goals. What we need is a volcano type figure in there, someone to spread the message ‘if you come at us, you will get burnt’ Until John Thompson is fit enough for his debut, Rhys Day should be lacing up his boots and pulling his shirt on.

Ranting over and looking at the other side, we grabbed the goals required and completed the turnaround, the history books will forever show a stags victory – I just hope that when this group of players look back and read this story, they can look beyond the points and build on a very plucky, below par, unacceptable performance. Please do not do that to me again, but thank you for the points and one hell of a memory – my love for you will never die.

In previous years, I’d be worried that the cracks would reappear, this season has a different feel to it, yes I’m cautious but I believe in my Mansfield Town – the bigger picture is still in sight. Roll on the next game, an FA Cup home tie against Fleetwood! Regular updates with me from 2PM 106.9FM & online – see the link on the right hand side.

Thanks for reading, extended podcast below.
Photos: Dan Westwell & James Williamson

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