Sunday, 22 January 2012

CTA #32: Stags Vs Hayes & Yeading

Mansfield Town Vs Hayes & Yeading United
Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #28)
Field Mill, Mansfield
Date & Time
Saturday 21st January 2012 – 3PM
1872 (26)
Match Referee
Seb Stocksbridge (Gateshead)

 ‘The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind’

I’ve said this many times before, no doubt I’ll repeatedly say it again down the years – I absolutely hate weekends when we don’t have a game. Due to our exit from the FA Trophy in December, last Saturday was another one of those weekends where I was climbing the walls in sheer boredom – it’s a good job I was kept away from pens and crayons, otherwise I think I may have scribbled on the wall like a hyperactive five year old ‘No football makes Craig go crazy’ – you know, like Homer did in ‘The Simpsons’ when he had no TV or beer.

It’s because of these blank Saturday’s I’ve learned to value football Saturday’s even more. The roar of the crowd despite the ferocious rain, the clicking of the turnstiles despite the forever tough finical climate, the smell of Bovril despite it’s horrible taste – all part of the story, all part of the drama with three points just the cherry on top of the cake.

Yesterday’s home fixture against Hayes & Yeading United was no different; it was far from a classic or a showing of good football from either team. The wet and windy conditions made it difficult for both, but as Paul Cox says – at this stage of the seasons its results, not performances that count – as the full time whistle blew, his point was proved as we ran out 3-2 winners.   In the seemingly eternal gap between games, Adam Smith had returned from his loan spell at Aldershot, Paul Cox put the winger straight into his starting 11, replacing Louis Briscoe in the only change from the side which saw off Forest Green Rovers by a single goal at Field Mill.

Alan Marriott
Luke O’Neill – John Dempster – Ritchie Sutton – Joe Kendrick
Lindon Meikle – Gary Roberts – Adam Murray (C) – Adam Smith (Briscoe)
Matt Green – Ross Dyer
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Martin Riley – Louis Briscoe – Anthony Howell – Ben Hutchinson

With the conditions difficult, it took both sides a while to work out the best way to play the conditions, Adam Murray’s precise pass on three minutes perhaps told the Stags they needed to concentrate on weighting there passes correctly as with the wind, the skippers through ball proved too quick for Matt Green to latch onto. A minute later the visitors figured they’d have to work on tight control as Daniel Wishart’s strong run down the channel saw Lindon Meikle able to nip in and take control of the ball.

Second from bottom Hayes registered the first shot of the game with nine minutes on the clock, leading scorer Louis Soares latched onto Dwane Lee’s pass, gaining a few yards with a weavey run before firing straight at Marriott who comfortably watched the ball all the way into his hands. Two minutes later Adam Smith made his first real contribution in a Stags shirt since returning from Aldershot, keeping the ball alive on the left touchline before moving neatly inside and setting Green free through the middle. The Stags leading hit man gained space before shooting from the edge of the box, Hayes keeper Carl Pentney collected the ball at the second attempt as the force of Green’s shot forced him to fumble.

Mansfield seemed to handle the conditions well and played some sharp football to keep possession. Gary Roberts along with skipper Murray was very much the linchpin, the formers turn on 24 minutes saw the former Port Vale midfielder send the ball back to Ritchie Sutton, who played a superb directional pass over the top. Ross Dyer won the ball in the air, cushioning down for Lindon Meikle who stung the keeper’s hands with a fine effort from the edge of the area.

Despite handling the wind well in the Hayes half, the Stags didn’t seem to do as well in their own half, something which made them pay on the half hour mark as the struggling visitors gained the advantage. Joe Kendrick’s throw in was seemingly meant to be launched long, however as the ball span back in the wind, Hayes skipper Jamie Hand nipped in and whipped in a cleaver ball catching the Stags defence static. Julian Owusu timed his run perfectly and connected with the cross with his left boot, to open the scoring from seven yards.

Stags 0-1 Hayes & Yeading

Three minutes later the Stags should have levelled when Gary Roberts’ bullet like low pass found Green on the edge of the area, despite being tightly marked Green twisted his way past his two markers before opening his body and shooting just wide with his left boot. A few wasted corners and crosses later, Mansfield did find the opening they needed to level the game. It was quick thinking between Roberts and O’Neill which created the goal, The latter took a free kick short to Roberts who again sent a crisp pass to Green who’d dropped a little deeper to collect the ball. Quick footwork followed from the Stags number 10, who then popped the ball off to striker partner Dyer, who took one touch to set himself, before driving a low shot beyond the goalkeeper into the bottom keeper to level the game.

Stags 1-1 Hayes & Yeading

The game could have then gone either way with four minutes to go before the break, Yassin Moutaouakil’s well struck corner was headed goal wards by Tom Cadmore, it had Marriott beaten but fortunately Gary Roberts chested the ball off the line before sparking a break into Hayes territory, linking up with Lindon Meikle. The former Eastwood winger made a bursting run before sending Adam Murray on his way, the skipper held the ball up well waiting for support, and after a neat turn ready to send a pass through, was upended right in the D. Gary Roberts fancied his chances and struck with real venom over the wall, only to be denied by Pentney who could only push the ball up and away for a corner. O’Neill’s ball in then whizzed past everybody and despite some of the Hayes players getting heated with each other after giving away another free kick, the half offered no more and was soon over.

HALF TIME: Stags 1-1 Hayes & Yeading

After the break, it was the visitors who had a half chance to regain the lead following two corners. Louis Soares and Daniel Wishart worked the second one short, with the latter returning the ball to the Hayes leading scorer into the box, Alan Marriott saved well down to his left. Five minutes later it was Mansfield who should have been ahead following a well worked move. Matt Green picked up play in the centre of the park and sent Adam Smith on his way down the left wing; Smith cut back inside and whipped a truly wonderful cross in towards the back post. Ross Dyer connected with a diving header, but was left holding his head in his hands rather than celebrating as he somehow missed the gaping target.

The wind was bound to create a heart in mouth moment at some stage, it came three minutes later as Tom Cadmore spotted an opportunity with a free kick inside his own half. The centre back got plenty of lift and distance on the ball, fortunately Marriott was switched on and collected the ball, ensuring that the second consecutive game against Hayes & Yeading provided no moments for a football gaffs DVD – if anyone wonders what I’m on about, ask Tyrone Thompson.

Chances for Adam Smith and Gary Roberts then followed for the Stags who looked increasingly threatening on the attack, however they were left deflated once again as Hayes notched themselves back ahead on 56 minutes. A surging run down the right hand side from half time substitute Tom Collins set it, as the nippy winger outpaced Joe Kendrick before sending the ball inside to Soares. The Stags gave the Hayes hit man far too much time and space on the ball, Soares made sure he punished the hosts with a well hit effort from the edge of the box, which flew into the bottom corner.

Stags 1-2 Hayes & Yeading

Paul Cox then made what proved to be an inspired substitution on 64 minutes as Ben Hutchinson replaced Ross Dyer upfront alongside Green. Hutchinson set a great chance with virtually his first touch of the ball, sending Lindon Meikle on his way into the area with a powerful pass. Meikle responded with a well struck effort which was diverted behind for a corner which Hayes scrambled clear.

Four minutes after Hutchinson’s introduction the Stags were level with play that will teach youngsters everywhere the value of chasing down the ball and using every blade of grass rather than being lethargic and letting the ball run out of play. Matt Green sparked the initial move with a cleaver back heal to send the on rushing Joe Kendrick into the box, the Irish full back failed to finish the job and saw his shot saved by the keepers legs. The ball looped in the air and appeared to be going out for a throw, which saw Hayes momentarily switch off and prepare for the expected throw. Adam Smith had other ideas and kept the ball in play with a neat touch, before whipping a strong ball into the box, Hutchinson drew defenders out of position allowing Green to get into space and, as a result, smash Smith’s cross into the roof of the net for his 17th of the season.

Stags 2-2 Hayes & Yeading

The game seemingly went up and gear with both sides now pushing for all the points, the visitors were a lick of paint away from again restoring their lead on 70 minutes. Jamie Hand’s free kick was met by Cadmore who seemed to head against the post before again connecting, this time straight at Marriott who seemed to throw himself on top of the ball to prevent the danger. Nine minutes later, Louis Briscoe replaced Lindon Meikle as Paul Cox looked to refresh the energy on the wings against the tiring full backs.

Moments later the pacey front two combined again, this time setting up an opportunity for Smith. Hutchinson held up play in the middle and directed a strong pass into space on the right hand side for Green to run into, Green delivered a first time low cross to Smith who was disposed right at the last knockings by Cadmore, just as the Stags returning wing man was about to pull the trigger.

Further play between Smith and Briscoe, Hutchinson and Green, Roberts and Murray all threatened but ultimately failed to find the Stags the winning goal. Louis Soares had a half chance for the visitors at the other end, but right at the death, in the final minute of normal time, opportunity finally knocked for the Stags.

Matt Green and Louis Briscoe tormented on the edge of the box and the latter was taken down right inside the D earning Mansfield a free kick in a key position. Despite Gary Roberts’ testing effort from the same position at the other end in the first half, Louis Briscoe stepped up in search of his first goal since his brace over Newport in September. Last season’s leading marksman struck a venomous strike against the wall with the ball failing for Roberts to the right of the area, a burst of pace from the cleaver midfielder saw him upended by Wishart inside the box, Seb Stocksbridge pointed straight to the spot for Stags third penalty of the season. After the pre-season fixture at Boston Paul Cox confirmed that Louis Briscoe would be the clubs penalty taker, however since being off the pitch for the previous two spot kicks, Matt Green was handed the responsibility – with a 100% success rate I did wonder whether there’d be a Medley/Duffy style argument. Alas no, neither took the kick as Hutchinson seemed confident in search of his first goal since joining on a free from Kilmarnock – Matt Green seemed happy to hand the ball over to gift the opportunity to his team mate, which for me is good sportsmanship. Hutchinson stepped up confidently and stroked the ball into the bottom corner, sending the keeper the wrong way – earning the Stags their second consecutive victory.

Stags 3-2 Hayes & Yeading

The momentum was now with Mansfield and Field Mill was rocking with the QLE drum again constant in the Stags fans singing. It stopped momentarily as Gary Roberts received a second standing ovation when he was replaced by Howell after taking a knock when challenged for the penalty. Hayes attacked but failed to break the barrier as the hosts defending in numbers, Louis Briscoe’s powerful low pass then opened up the visitors in the final minute of stoppage time providing a golden chance to put real daylight between the sides. Matt Green showed lightening pace and, after staying onside, raced through to latch onto the ball. Green rounded the keeper and with the goal at his mercy, somehow fired over. Fortunately the same missing feat was mirrored at the other end as Hayes substitute Toby Ajala fired over from 22 yards.

The final whistle then blew, sealing a victory in which many positives stemmed. Yes the performance wasn’t great and the two Hayes goals will highlight that with some questionable defending, especially for the second. However a win is exactly that, we head into a vital game at Luton on Wednesday with another win under our belts.

FULL TIME: Stags 3-2 Hayes & Yeading.

Adam Smith played well on his Stags return, I hope he can build from it and flourish into the player we all know he can be, the determination for the second equaliser is something I personally feel we’ve been missing. The ability to whip strong crosses into the box from both sides will prove to be a great weapon in our armoury, Ross Dyer will have nightmares about his miss and perhaps suggests we need another big presence in their alongside Green. Someone built like a brick outhouse who will put himself about and hold play up for longer sustained periods. That said, Ross Dyer won the majority of his headers and showed again that, when set with the ball to feet, can be a clinical finisher – a good 80% maybe more of his goals this season have been well executed finished with the ball played in too feet. Gary Roberts plays a pivotal role alongside Murray, he can spot passes nobody else can and also boasts a venomous strike, it’s only a matter of time before he belts on into the top corner – watch out Pilko! Despite a lack of pace stemming from the lack of match fitness, Joe Kendrick is progressing well – he made some good advancing runs, most notably for the second goal. The only question is, do we realistically have time to allow him to catch up in terms of match fitness or should we be looking at other options from within? It’s harsh and something I personally would be on edge about, I guess the game against Luton will give us the answers. That said, I sit here now happy at where we are and the direction we are going – cut out the defensive mistakes and become a little more disciplined in areas and we WILL be up there at the right time.

Away from our victory, it wouldn’t be right to end without giving a little mention to Darlington. Despite the nightmares I still have from Wembley and the constant image of crying in the press box, I am genuinely pleased to see them live to fight another day and really hope they are still alive for the Field Mill fixture in a few weeks time. I’m not a follower of the political side of football, I never have been and doubt I ever will be unless my job calls for it. That said, I am a follower of the emotion involved in this beautiful, yet bitterly cruel game. Wednesday must have been a horrific day, one minute your club is moments away from closure forever, the next a beam of hope comes along to save the day – at least for the short term.

To have a club to watch week in week out is a privilege that some of us take for granted way to often, the results sometimes are irrelevant as match days alone are enough. I look briefly at my own life and question what would have happened had there been no Mansfield Town. I’d have continued to been further bullied at school because of my lack of self confidence, which grew strong just by meeting people at Field Mill and the away days. In being continually bullied I’d have either lashed out at the wrong the person and been punished, or in truth, have done myself serious harm. Without going to watch Mansfield Town, I would not have pursed the career I truly adore. Fact is, Mansfield Town were there for me and I’ve ended up a better person because of it. Imagine if Darlington did fold on Wednesday, the future generations unable to benefit from football, the friendships and love that never would be. For Darlington to be still fighting, for at least two more games is great, forget the skeleton squad forget the fact the results may not come – the fact they are still there, with every club backing them to survive, is a reward greater than any last minute win at Wembley! Each and every Darlington supporter has a story to tell about their club, I always enjoy my trips to the arena, the friendly banter and the many encounters both sides have played out – I hope the story grows beyond the next two games.

As Mansfield supporters we may grumble about squad selection, ground issues, table positioning etc, but at the end of the day we are still alive as unless anything drastic happens, will never die. Boy have we been close on many occasions, but thanks to investment from the amigos and sir john, we are still here. We should be thankful for that and in the face of adversity, help those in need – which is why I say, long live Darlington FC.

Thanks as ever for reading, make sure you join myself, Scott Rogers and hopefully special guest Wayne Briggs on Wednesday evening from 7.20PM as we’ve got full match commentary on of Luton Vs Stags. It’s going to be a hectic day as I try to squeeze in the youth team game away at Ilkeston (2PM)! It’s all about the thrill of the chase, so BRING IT ON and COME ON YOU STAGS!

Photos: Dan Westwell      

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