Thursday, 26 January 2012

CTA #33 Luton Vs Stags

Luton Town Vs Mansfield Town
Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #29)
Kenilworth Road, Luton
Date & Time
Wednesday 25th January 2012 – 7.30PM (Live on Premier Sports)
5261 (111)
Match Referee
Michael Bull (Essex)


After watching two games in one day, I can’t decide whether I’m happy with a goalless draw or frustrated because means I have more to remember in terms of putting this blog together. Either way, both games yesterday provided entertainment in some way or the other. The youth team game, a 4-4 top of the table draw, brought goals-a-plenty and controversy, whilst the first team goalless draw at Luton brought, for me personally, another bundle of positives in terms of our climb towards the play-offs.

Luton as we know is a difficult to travel, and bar the legendary FA Trophy victory (on aggregate anyway), The Stags had not won since September 2002. The previous three fixtures including the FA Trophy had produced red cards and had all been tasty affairs – the Stags would have to put a shift in and last night, that’s exactly what they did. Defensively there may have been the odd wobble, but otherwise I thought we played generally well at the back, with Luke O’Neill, Ritchie Sutton and Alan Marriott the pick of the bunch. In midfield we we’re fluent enough when we managed to get time on the ball, Gary Roberts again shines with his excellent passing and his unique vision which gives Mansfield that extra pocket of time. Up front Green and Hutchinson did ok as a partnership in a game with very few clear cut chances. Ross Dyer on the right may have been sussed out by the Luton full back with some of the goal kicks etc, but again had a decent game and showed how threatening he can be with the ball at his feet – I actually like seeing him on the wing during phases of play, especially when he has players offering supporting runs.

Over all a point is a pleasing one and with a clean sheet to boot – we head into Saturday’s game at Ebbsfleet on a bit of a run, with a chance to seal an unbeaten January. If we can add a big bulky striker and a pacey left back and maybe send out some fringe players to ease funds before Saturday then great, if not – it doesn’t matter, I think we are in a stable enough position for this time of the season. Talk prior to the game on twitter and Facebook centred around the fitness of Joe Kendrick and whether or not his lack of match fitness and sharpness would be exploited against Luton. Paul Cox withdrew him from the line up bringing in Martin Riley, with Ben Hutchinson replacing Lindon Meikle the only other change from Saturday’s late victory. The Mansfield gaffer seems to have highlighted the problem too, adding Fleetwood left back Paul Edwards on loan as I write the blog! That always happens to me, whenever I write something, we always seem to sign someone!

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

Live wire Amari Morgan-Smith was the sole survivor from Luton’s FA Trophy victory on Monday; it was he who sparked the first real chance on four minutes linking up with former Stag Aaron O’Connor. The former Stags favourite dropped central to pick up play before moving the ball through the middle to Morgan-Smith, whose powerful effort through the crowd was comfortably held by the Alan Marriott in the Stags goal.

The hosts continued to control the majority of the play with neat, flowing football across park – Mansfield defended well though and restricted the hatters to few chances with the ball being played from box to box hardly troubling Stags legends Alan Marriott and Kevin Pilkington respectively, who was in the Luton goal. On ten minutes Pilkington nearly gifted his twice former employers a beautiful opening goal as he raced off his line to try and mop up a splitting low pass down the left hand side from Luke O’Neill. Matt Green timed his run perfectly and got to the ball ahead of Pilkington, a neat back heel moved the ball to the feet of Adam Smith who shot instantly, looping the ball over a bemused Pilkington, whose blushes were saved by namesake and Luton captain George Pilkington, who raced back to clear a yard from the goal line with the ball ready to bounce in.

Ten minutes later the hosts we’re a whisker away from taking the lead following a spell of continued pressure. The Stags failed to deal with Jake Howells’ powerful corner after Howells had shown tremendous power and pace to win the set piece. The ball was floated into the middle and a half clearance from right back Sutton, the hosts penned Mansfield in with the ball falling to the unmarked Janos Kovacs. The big Hungarian centre half let fly with a venomous volley, which rattled against the cross bar for a goal kick. The Hungarian was again in the thick of the action moments later, heading over from another Howells corner.

So far there hadn’t been any real incidents for referee Michael Bull to deal with in what was, surprisingly for a Luton V Mansfield fixture, a friendly affair. With 38 on the clock, the hosts continued to surge forward in search of an opener, Adam Watkins proved tricky on handle and went to ground under a challenge from Luke O’Neill outside the area. Watkins’ appeal for a penalty brought nothing but a loud ‘Play On’ from the referee, with half time video replays proving him correct. Mansfield had a missed penalty shout of their own too according to half time analysis, Janos Kovacs was judged to have handled by the Premier Sports pundits, however in live play – the referee awarded a foul on the Hungarian with Matt Green the guilt party.

Kovacs continued to threaten from set-pieces and on the stroke of half time was involved again, heading over Marriott’s cross bar after the centre half had out jumped the Stags custodian. Marriott received treatment before taking the resulting free kick, which was hastily followed by the half time whistle.

HALF TIME: Luton 0-0 Stags

After the break it was pretty much a case of the same although the Stags did begin to create a little more and enjoyed a sustained spell in the Luton half which included two well worked short corners, won by former Luton man Adam Murray. The first corner was worked short by Roberts to Murray, whose first time chip into the box was nodded behind at the near post. Murray was more tightly marked for the second corner but Roberts still worked a short corner, finding Luke O’Neill who showed good composure and quick feet to bring Adam Smith into the equation. Smith weaved his way central and let fly from the edge of the area, grazing the outside of the post as the ball spun out for a goal kick, despite taking a clear touch off an orange Luton shirt.

With 12 minutes to go, Paul Cox withdrew Adam Smith in favour of Lindon Meikle. The skilful wing man was involved immediately linking up with Ben Hutchinson, who shot tamely straight at Pilkington. Moments later Pilkington collected another poor through ball from his former club and sent a ball hurtling down field. Substitute Stuart Fleetwood outpaced the otherwise impressive Ritchie Sutton to reach the ball inside the Mansfield area, the former Charlton man fortunately drove his powerful effort wide of Marriott’s far post.

Louis Briscoe then entered the fray as the game entered the final eight minutes, replacing Ben Hutchinson but surprisingly, taking a central role behind Green leaving Dyer on the right. The tactical move nearly came to providence two minutes after Briscoe’s introduction. Last season’s top scorer showed close control and quick feet to open up space in the final third before spraying the ball wide right for Ross Dyer. The former Hednesford hit man whipped in a great ball which Kevin Pilkington came to collect, Matt Green on the other hand had other ideas and leapt high, heading the ball beyond a moving Kevin Pilkington and towards an empty net. With the 111 travelling fans behind the goal ready to celebrate their former keepers error, name sake George again got back from nowhere to clear off the line. Stags fans protested furiously as did a few of the Stags players, the referee looked to his linesman who waved play-on keeping the game locked at 0-0. Video replays since have proved inconclusive.         

Gary Roberts fired a speculative effort over as the game entered its final two minutes, whilst Stuart Fleetwood fired softly at Marriott at the other end. The Stags also survived a last minute burst from the impressive Jake Howells as he skipped past Meikle and O’Neill before over running the ball for a goal kick. With that the full time whistle blew earning Mansfield a share of the points and their 8th clean sheet of the season.

FULL TIME: Luton 0-0 Stags

Unbeaten in five games now, The Stags head for Ebbsfleet’s Stonebridge Road on Saturday chasing all three points and an unbeaten opening month of the calendar year. With the addition of Paul Edwards and a rumoured addition of a striker, Mansfield may well up their another gear as they continue their canter towards the play-offs. If you can’t get be sure to join myself and either Scott Rogers or Wayne Briggs from 2.50PM on for FULL MATCH COMMENTARY.

Thanks for reading.

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