With the festive upon us, the weather conditions have arrived to play their part in this year’s real life Christmas pantomime. Last year we had snow, evictions, postponements and opponents with scrooge-like defences, that’s scrooge at the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the way, generously giving away goal after goal after goal! So far this year is a contrasting one, as we skipped merrily towards the Butchers Arms Ground yesterday on a five game unbeaten run, we slipped on a huge patch on black ice and as we got up, realised there was no funny ending – we’d fallen through to put ourselves back in the icy waters we’d just seemed to escape from.
Our amazing run in the Trophy last season of course led us to Wembley, we’ve reflected so many times now I’ve lost count, but in terms of yesterday and this season’s competition, I think it’s because of THAT Wembley strike that we’re sat here again spitting feathers. The heartbreaking defeat in the final minute left us not only sobbing, but determined to reach the final and grace the hallowed Wembley turf once more, this time completing the dream by being crowned champions. Whilst we’ve rebuilt with a new manager and virtually a new squad, the hurt and pain will always stay with the name Mansfield Town Football Club, we’ve seen Paul Cox’s side extinguish the ghostly demon at Darlington and whilst we thank them for that, we’ve seen the confidence and ability required to actually win the trophy linger within our ranks. I wonder now weather that expectation and burning desire to better ourselves from last season has bitten us on the backside, as when we drew Droylsden in round one, there were very few who predicted a loss, those that did are now sunning themselves in Spain after winning the lottery, as in true Mansfield fashion – arrogance, under estimation and over confidence proved to be our greatest downfall as Droylsden ran out 2-1 winners, knocking us out at the first hurdle – ending our Wembley dreams once more.
Another icy morning yesterday saw our first game of the season in doubt; however Droylsden’s website continued to provide updates that all was well with the pitch and so our journey over the wood head paths continued – passing snow covered hill sides and icy lakes on route to the Manchester based club. Arriving at the ground proved somewhat a daze as we seemed to circle the Manchester streets in search of signs of the ground – what we found was an old pub sign reading ‘The Butchers Arms’ dripping with rain, surrounded by the dull afternoon mist which kept the main stand which lurks behind the former pub car park hidden.
Once inside the ground, the freezing cold temperature made setting up time consuming, especially with the amount of wires which needed tucking neatly behind seats! The planned recording of a Christmas podcast had to be shelved as we trotted off into the main club building in search of a team sheet, and more importantly a cuppa!
Paul Cox made two changes from Tuesday evenings trip to Grimsby, back from illness Aman Verma regained his place at the expense of Paul Bolland, whilst Marcus Kelly slotted in at left back for Kieron Freeman following an impressive display against Eastwood on Wednesday evening. Matt Green and John Thompson both shook off illness to keep their place in the starting line up.
Ritchie Sutton – John Dempster – John Thompson – Marcus Kelly (Freeman)
Adam Murray (C) – Aman Verma (Bolland)
Ross Dyer – Lee Stevenson – Lindon Meikle
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Louis Briscoe – Paul Bolland – Luke O’Neill – Nialle Rodney
Before even a ball was kicked, you knew it would be a tough afternoon on a very rough surface. The water squished up as you put the faintest footstep on the turf, the mud piled up almost everywhere, making it so bobbeley and uneven – the pitch markings barely visible. Watching the warm up you could see a simple pass would be the hardest technique to execute, less a game of football more a life sized game of pinball. In short, the setting for a proper cup tie story.
The hosts, decked out in there all red strip to go hand in hand with their nickname, got the game underway and it was they who drew first blood as they looked for a response from a 6-3 drubbing the previous weekend. With 12 minutes gone it was the hosts who put Mansfield under pressure after stealing the ball back from Matt Green in their own half, a neat ball from Shaun Holden found Paul Marshall in the centre circle, Marshall threaded the ball to Blue Square Bet North’s November player of the month Danny Rowe who let fly from around 25 yards. Despite the ball pinging off the service, Marriott did enough to keep Rowe’s effort at bay.
Two minutes later the game saw it’s real pivotal moment as Mansfield found there rhythm and really pressured the hosts. Ritchie Suttons throw in was the origin of the move with Aman Verma and Adam Murray providing the connecting pieces for Lee Stevenson. The former Blue Square North star found space to the right of the area and capitalised on Shaun Holden’s slip, delivering a nice ball into the middle. Matt Green arrived perfectly and let fly a seemingly unstoppable half volley, somehow Droylsden shot stopper Paul Phillips pushed the bullet like shot away before watching Lindon Meikle blaze way over the bar. The save gave the hosts confidence and belief whilst Mansfield perhaps lingered on the missed opportunity for too long allowing Droylsden into the fixture.
Mansfield were again left to rue missed chances on 19 minutes as another Droylsden mistake saw Lee Stevenson free. Ross Dyer won the initial flick feeding Lindon Meikle wide left, Meikle cut back inside creating space for Stevenson who ran onto Meikles neat pass, Stevenson then shot left footed but saw his well hit effort zip of the rainy muddy surface and away from a goal kick.
Mansfield then gave away a needless free kick on the half way from the resulting goal kick, Andy Langford’s ball in caused all kinds of trouble, with the deep well hit ball finding the cleaver run of Dale Johnson at the back post. Johnson connected well with the ball and headed beyond Marriott to give the hosts a 19th minute lead.
Droylsden 1-0 Stags
The goal, like the previous save, lifted Droylsden as they went in search of a second. Right back Chris Brown got forward well and fired over the top from Rowe’s square pass before Dan Gardener curled a neat free kick round the wall but into Marriott’s greatful hands after a foul right on the edge of the area with 24 on the clock.
Four minutes later it seemed Mansfield had again found the desired path as they broke the hosts down, Sutton’s deep ball into the box found John Dempster near the goal line, a neat back heel from the Crawley loan man to keep the ball in play found Stevenson. His powerful effort was again well saved by the keeper, had it gone it Stevenson would have been denied his first Mansfield goal anyway as the offside flag had already been raised.
At the other end Droylsden penned the Stags in with neat passing football working the ball well into the gaps. The ball found its way to attacking full back Shaun Holden who, just inside the box, let fly. Marriott had already dived by Ritchie Sutton couldn’t be sure so stuck out his leg, the ball cannoned off Sutton’s leg and nestled into the side netting for a corner – on any other day, Sutton may well have scored an own goal.
The hosts continued to push before the break and late on, saw two chances to extend their lead go begging. First, the lively Danny Rowe sent an effort towards goal from distance which Marriott held onto. A minute later into added on time Alan Marriott produced a double save, first parrying away Steve Hall’s toe poked effort before spreading himself well to deny the impressive Dan Gardeners on the rebound.
With the whistle imminent Mansfield then had a golden chance to draw level. Lindon Meikle won the ball back on the half way line and charged free through the middle, Matt Green lurked to the left of the area but expected Meikle to have a go himself so failed to make a run, Meikle wasn’t on the same wave length though and popped a pass in Green’s direction, however with the Stags leading goal scorer static the ball trickled away for a goal kick and the half time whistle blew. Had Green made the run there’s no doubt he’d have slotted it into the bottom corner – indecision again a factor to Paul Cox’s rapid hair loss as he stood in his technical area tearing it out piece by piece.
Half Time: Droylsden 1-0 Stags
After being read the riot act during the break, Paul Cox’s side were tasked with turning the game on its head in the second half. On 51 minutes the Stags looked to break, Aman Verma collected the loose ball but the Stags had no options inside the Droylsden half for a quick release so were forced to build from the edge of their own penalty area. After combining with Verma, skipper Murray found Green on the half way line. Green did well to turn and progress forward, releasing the ball to his right for the onrushing Verma who saw his low cross deflected away for a throw in.
A minute later at the other end it was Droylsden who again threaten, poor defending from John Dempster allowed Danny Rowe space. Rowe skipped past the challenge of Kelly before seeing his curling show beaten away by Marriott, John Thompson then mistimed his clearance allowing Droylsden in again for a follow up shot; however it was harmless as it sailed out of the ground thundering against a locals window.
Matt Green was the upended on the edge of the box with 56 on the clock. Aman Verma was tasked with taking the free kick, he hit a beautiful shot from 25 yards out beating the wall and flashing half a centre meter wide.
From the resulting goal kick the Stags were again undone and pegged back further. Failing to deal with the keepers boot down park, Mansfield were lack lustre and allowed Dale Johnson to pick up the ball. The burley front man squeezed his way past two Mansfield bodies who made little attempt to stop him, before striking powerfully into the bottom corner beyond a bewildered Marriott for his second of the afternoon.
Droylsden 2-0 Stags
A double switch on the hour mark saw John Thompson and Lee Stevenson replaced by Luke O’Neill and Louis Briscoe respectively. O’Neill moved to right back with Sutton going across to centre half, Briscoe took over the right wing role with Dyer partnering Green upfront in a 4-4-2 formation.
The stags began to find some movement with the 4-4-2 formation seeing them at the most dangerous they’d been all game. Luke O’Neill and Marcus Kelly moved the ball between them well after the formers free kick was headed away by Andy Langford; Kelly cut inside from the right and curled a left footed over from 22 yards with 63 minutes gone.
A minute later the Stags were again on the charge. Dempster showed neat control inside the centre circle before chipping a ball over the top for Green, the lively front man chased it down and soon found himself inside the box. A little drop of the shoulder saw Green leave a defender behind and fool the keeper who went to ground – all Green had to do was lift the ball over the keeper to find the net but failed as he tried to curl in a low effort. Somehow the keeper got a hand to it to palm it away, another splendid save to deny Matt Green.
Mansfield then made their final change bringing on Paul Bolland for Aman Verma. The Stags again continued to press and look to break down the Bloods defence. Lindon Meikle did well to advance following Bolland’s intervention, Luke O’Neill provided the cross into the middle picking out Green – his headed deflected away into the path of Kelly whose effort was cleared frantically off the line after the keeper was beaten with ten minutes to go.
Two minutes later Droylsden again cleared one from the line following a series of Adam Murray corners. Murray’s right footed out swinger lingered in the air but was hacked away close to the goal as it dropped down towards on rushing Stags attack.
Mansfield finally did get a life line on 84 minutes as they kept surging forward in search of the goal. Adam Murray’s dangerous cross found Matt Green at the far post, he headed goal wards and managed to wrong foot the keeper as the ball trickled into give the Stags a much needed life line.
Droylsden 2-1 Stags
From the re-start Mansfield were dominant again, Luke O’Neill, now playing on the right of midfield as stags switched to 3-4-3 with Briscoe up top too, whipped in a delicious cross which found Briscoe. The man who sent Mansfield to Wembley with the late semi-final goal against Luton failed to repeat his late scoring powers though as he headed over.
It looked like game over as the board went up for added on time, yet the reveal of four minutes urged the Stags on again as they desperately searched for a leveller and a midweek replay. Good control from Ross Dyer following Green’s flick on saw the big front man lay off Lindon Meikle, his curling shot was on target and may have sneaked in however a deflection off a red shirt saw the keeper hold on.
In the dyeing seconds Mansfield again pushed the ball well into the Droylsden half however with the clock against them, the Stags seemed hesitant and failed to get a shot away. Marcus Kelly delivered a deep cross but Droylsden threw themselves at it and managed to clear, the full time whistle then sounded to give Droylsden the victory they so deserved and send Mansfield crashing out.
Full Time: Droylsden 2-1 Stags
Mansfield put on the pressure and in fairness did create, however it was way too little way too late. Credit to Droylsden who played the home advantage extremely well, using the pitch against Mansfield playing some genuine football, they deserved there place in round two. The save early on from Greens blistering half volley was definitely the turning point, it took much more important than the goals allowing the lively forward three to tease and expose Mansfield far too easily.
The frustration from me comes from the fact we’re out in round one, in previous years, including last year, we’ve not given the Trophy much thought or made it of high importance, but after last year this is the first time we’ve gone into it with a desire to progress, the fact we haven’t is what frustrates. Now though you have to look beyond it, yes we had unfinished business but nothing in life or football can ever be truley perfect – all we have to do now is provide a reason as to why going out in round one will be a positive.
We can do this through promotion, and as I’ve said from day one of Cox’s tenure, we WILL do it. There’s no doubting our ability, ambition, creativity, skill or passion – our dressing room is bursting to the seams with it. Calling for the manager’s head is not right; we are three points off of the play-offs in a better position on AND off the field than we ever have been before. We can see it through and I firmly believe Paul Cox will endeavour to deliver us success. Questions are always going to be asked, opinions are always going to be had – that’s football, what matters is results in the league now – the message will be sent and apologies made at Southport next weekend – we can make this a happy and successful season, let’s get up off the black ice and find our feet.
Would I have liked trophy success, yes – without a doubt, but having learnt from past seasons I refuse to look back, doing so allows you to talk and say the right things to turn your head. I believe it’s actions, not words that matter – bring on the rest of the season, bring on the football league, bring on the carling cup and JPT. FA Trophy? Who needs that really....
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