‘Play Your Cards Right’
Sir Brucie, telly legend adored by billions with a bucket load of catchphrases even Roy ‘say what you see’ Walker is jealous of. From ‘It’s nice to see you to see you nice’ to ‘good game good game’ we’ve all laughed and played along (no matter the amount of repeats on Challenge!) but we’ve never used one of his best loved catchphrases and game show’s to sum up the Stags ... Until now.
Reflecting on yesterdays defeat at Southport it’s the classic catchphrase ‘you get nothing for a pair’ we’re disputing, whilst saying ‘play your cards right’ to referee Seb Stocksbridge, whose decision to dismiss Ritchie Sutton on 63 minutes proved to be the turning point in seeing Stags go home with the infamous nothing rather than at least the points consolation prize.
Away from the game show analogies’ I don’t think anyone could complain about the penalty or the way in which the third goal was conceded, some will argue that we should have taken our chances early on as the pendulum of blame and reflection swings both ways. I like to think I write with my heart on my sleeve and tell it how it is, if we’ve been poor I say we’ve been poor, likewise if we’ve been excellent. My view on the loss yesterday is that we, for the first time this season, we’re honestly unlucky and undeserved losers – I accept that it’s defeat and have a desire to move on quickly, however I’m left miffed that once more the blame culture continues, the shouts of ‘Cox Out’ and hammerings of individual players goes on. Everyone has the right to express opinion and share their grievances about the teams’ inconstancy, I have no problem with that – it’s part and parcel of football, I’m just miffed that the shutters come crashing down on the blast of the whistle without a real look ahead. I say this not out of anger or to stir up trouble and controversy – I say this as a supporter desperately wanting my team to succeed, I say this as it seems that after just our second league away defeat all season, the mood suggests it’s all over for another year.
Is it? Is it really? As an optimist, dreamer and believer I say no – the dreams still alive and will come true in 2012. Hopefully you’ll read about that more as next year (and my 21st Birthday a month today if anyone wants to send a card...) approaches ever faster, however for now all I can offer is words describing defeat, sorry.
Following last weekend’s unacceptable exit from the FA Trophy, Paul Cox made four changes as the Stags looked to concentrate all their efforts on league football. Aman Verma, Lee Stevenson, Marcus Kelly and John Thompson went out whilst Anthony Howell, Louis Briscoe, Luke O’Neill and Kieron Freeman came in.
Luke O’Neill (Thompson) – Ritchie Sutton – John Dempster – Kieron Freeman (Kelly)
Louis Briscoe (Stevenson) – Anthony Howell (Verma) – Adam Murray (C) – Lindon Meikle
Matt Green – Ross Dyer
SUBS: Shane Redmond – John Thompson – Lee Stevenson –Marcus Kelly – Aman Verma
Back in January the Stags changed kits to a third dark blue strip after two defeats which kicked off the year, the strip which we now use as our away kit was a lucky omen as we ran out 3-1 winners at Eastbourne. Yesterday we tried the same feat again as we introduced a light sky blue top, it nearly proved to be a lucky omen too as we started with intent and were unlucky not be ahead just a minute in.
Kieron Freeman’s long throw was headed away by Southport but only as far as Murray who played a delightful ball back into the area. Ross Dyer was the target but it fell for Matt Green who under pressure flicked the ball away for Howell, his deflected found the attack minded centre half John Dempster on the edge of the area, the Crawley loanee unleashed a powerful effort which deflected just behind for a corner.
On seven minutes it was route one which nearly found the Stags a way through, Marriott’s ball down field was flicked onto Matt Green by Ross Dyer, Mansfield’s leading front man progressed into space before linking up with Meikle on the left, Meikle showed quick pace to nip inside before being upended for a free kick around 22 yards from goal. Luke O’Neill struck the deal ball brilliantly, beating the wall and the keeper but not finding the net as the effort brushed against the bar and out for a goal kick.
In the opening ten minutes or so play-off side Southport offered barley nothing in attack and registered their first bit of danger on the 10 minute mark. Andy Owens powerfully long throw in caused Mansfield trouble however Alan Marriott looked assured as he punched the ball to safety as they looked to go and create more chances, doing so on 12 minutes when Briscoe headed over from O’Neill’s well hit corner.
Looking refreshed and lively in the light sky blue, Mansfield continued to attack and use Freeman’s long throws to their advantage with 16 gone. The Forest youngster whose loan spell ends soon launched another great ball into the box which somehow found skipper Murray; his left footed effort was wide.
Arguably the Stags’ best chance and move of the first half came on 33 minutes. Adam Murray and Louis Briscoe played a neat 1-2 inside the centre circle before Murray stretched the game finding O’Neill with a well weighted pass, the young right back delivered a neat low cross into the middle finding Green who cheekily back heeled a shot towards goal. Despite Green’s trickery he couldn’t fool Tony McMillian in the Southport goal as he held onto the ball.
The hosts then enjoyed a good spell of pressure registering two of their three first half shots within three minutes. Shaun Whalley blazed over from the edge of the area before hitting an effort tamely wide. The first half action ended with Stags again pressuring the hosts, Matt Green’s left footed blast stung the legs of the home defence as the teams retreated to the dressing rooms at half time with the score locked at 0-0.
Half Time: Southport 0-0 Stags
Mansfield began the second half in mirrored fashion to the first starting extremely brightly with Matt Green the chief tormentor. The lively striker weaved his way to the edge of the area cutting from right foot to left foot before unleashing a goal worthy shot, Tony McMillan was the saviour though as he palmed away the effort which was destined for the bottom corner. Luke O’Neill delivered the resulting corner and added another assist to his name as John Dempster rose above the crowd to convert with a bullet header, his 47th minute goal his second in four games.
Southport 0-1 Stags
Mansfield’s festive joy lasted just two minutes, as Southport pegged the Stags back with a very soft and fortunate goal. After giving away a free kick 23 yards from goal, the Stags looked to be off the hook as Andy Owens’ strike hit the wall, however the deflection directed the ball into the area as opposed to away from danger, Southport’s Chris Lever was first to it and scuffed a scooped effort beyond Marriott to level the game.
Southport 1-1 Stags
The hosts saw a 52nd minute effort rightly ruled out for offside before the Stags again put on the pressure in search of a second. First Matt Green saw an effort from inside the box scrambled clear after great interchanging play with Meikle, however it was strike partner Dyer who had the best chance on 62 minutes. The burley hit man showed neat pace and control to latch onto Kieron Freeman’s central clearance, Dyer found himself 1 v 1 with McMillian who denied Dyer with a powerful save.
Two minutes later Mansfield had no complaints as they conceded a free kick in dangerous territory following a shirt pull on Shaun Whalley, there would have been no complaints either had the referee booked John Dempster who appeared to the majority to be the culprit. What followed was the referee showing a yellow to Ritchie Sutton, who already on a booking from the first half was dismissed reducing the Stags to ten. Mansfield pleaded innocence with Dempster after the game saying it was he who committed the foul, everyone including the majority of the Southport players looked miffed.
With Stags down to ten Lindon Meikle was sacrificed for John Thompson, Ross Dyer dropped to the right wing whilst Louis Briscoe switched to the left in a 4-4-1 formation.
Ten minutes later despite have a man less, Anthony Howell showed good composure to squeeze a ball to the left of the box to Matt Green. Green had no support but did the work alone, bringing the ball back from the goal line to the edge of the box before firing just wide.
Simon Grand thought he’d come back to haunt his former employers at the other end a minute after Green’s solo run, Grand converted past Marriott but saw his striker chalked off for offside. The Stags then continued to press and look the better side with Luke O’Neill easily winning the battle of pace with Southport full back Chris Lever after linking up with Green. O’Neill put in a low cross which was just too strong for the on rushing Briscoe who was a flake of tinsel away from connecting.
Marcus Kelly replaced the injured Kieron Freeman at left back with three minutes to go, with a minute on the clock it looked like the Stags would take a point until a dramatic twist unfolded to seal a heartbreaking end. A cross from the left channel put Mansfield under the cosh and as Alan Marriott looked to palm the ball away rather than catch the ball, Marcus Kelly tugged back Shaun Whalley, Seb Stocksbridge pointed to the spot. Chris Lever stepped up and found the top corner, had it been driven lower Marriott would have stopped it as he guessed correctly.
Southport 2-1 Stags
Four minutes of stoppage time could have been enough time to allow Stags forward in search of a leveller, however the hosts sealed the victory two minutes into added on time as Mansfield demonstrated their first piece of poor defending all game. Again it was a cross from the left that caused it, Whalley provided the link at the back stick playing in substitute Jonathan Brown who coolly finished from close range past a static Marriott.
Southport 3-1 Stags
No time followed for any other action as the clock ran down sealing the double for Southport over Stags, this Mansfield’s second away league defeat of the season ending a club record of 10 away league games unbeaten, with the latter 5 draws also being a club record.
Next up a double header with York, first the home game boxing day before the away trip on New Year’s Day. Five points off the play-offs in tenth, in two games time we could have another six points in the bag have won both games and could also be sat in the play-offs heading into 2012 – Football can change that quickly, I believe it will.
Thanks for reading, have a merry Christmas.