Wednesday, 22 February 2012

CTA #37 Mansfield Vs Darlington

Mansfield Town Vs Darlington
BSBP Game #31 (Rearranged)
Field Mill, Mansfield
Date & Time
Tuesday 21st February 2012 – 7.45pm
1697 (80)
Match Referee
Rob Merchant (Stoke)

 The weird and the wonderful

It’s strange how in just a few days you can go from be extremely frustrated and down in the dumps, to buzzing with excitement beaming from ear to ear. Om Sunday I found myself sat here writing about how lacklustre and without desire, commitment and energy our performance against Newport was, now I find myself furiously tapping at the keys writing the exact opposite as the Stags bounced back in style, seeing off troubled Darlington 5-2 in one of the most entertaining games I’ve seen for a while, including the most mental four minutes of football I’ve ever witnessed.

Those mental four minutes are only part of the reason today’s piece has the title ‘The Weird and the wonderful’. We’ve all followed the story of Darlington closely and send our best wishes to them, struggling for cash to stay alive and with playing resources stretched the Quakers have plummeted down the league standings – it must be difficult for even the most faithful fans to consider making the journey. I genuinely take my hat off to them and can only begin to imagine what’s going through their heads, over the past week they’ve spent an estimated 14 hours on the road covering over 700 miles to cheer their team on at Southport, Alfreton and Field Mill last night. I’m delighted our fans clapped both the travelling support and the downbeat travelling squad, as ‘The Stag’ read last night ‘United We Stand’. Darlington’s travelling support are in some way an inspiration, as no matter what’s happening they refuse to throw in the towel, faith like that deserves rewards and I hope they find it both in financial investment and on the pitch avoiding the drop – I’ll be keeping an eye on the results and cheering you on, football sometimes is a whole lot more than a game.
In some ways it feels a little harsh to be sat here writing about a dominant victory, some would argue its rubbing salt in the wounds. It almost seems as if I’m painting Darlington’s performance as poor and without hope, it was far from that. Darlington fought bravely and fielded a fairly strong side consisting of just three starting youth team players and a young loanee goalkeeper. From the first whistle the Quakers communicated and worked as a team and we’re, as you’ll read later, rewarded. Mansfield might have got back into the game and played some tight, tidy stuff, but there we’re spells that the Quakers pressured and at the end of the day, should be proud of themselves and keep their heads held high.      

Mansfield’s performance as I’ve mentioned was majorly improved, the grit, the fight, the flare, determination and togetherness was back for a large part of the game. Before the game they knew they’d have to be a little evil and show no soft side, it’s exactly what they did with the reward of three points, a jump up to eight, three points and a game in hand off of the play-offs.
Paul Cox made just the one change from Saturday’s defeat at Newport; Paul Edwards came in for his full debut at the expense of Martin Riley, who had to settle for a place on the bench.

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

Darlington’s last goal against the Stags had come on the big Wembley stage back in May last year seeing our dreams shattered, this time round it was an early goal which gave the struggling Quakers a dream start, as they caught the Stags napping just two minutes in. Young midfielder Rob Ramshaw attacked with intent down the right hand side and crossed early before full debutant Paul Edwards closed down the angles, Ramshaw’s deep cross found Marc Bridge-Wilkinson at the far post who squeezed in to divert the ball beyond Marriott, following David Fergusons flick on.

Stags 0-1 Darlington

The Stags were nearly two behind minutes later as the Quakers grew in confidence, a mazy run through the middle from John McReady caught Dempster in a tizz, however centre half partner Ritchie got in well to cover, challenging just as McReady was ready to pull the trigger. Paul Cox’s side then began to canter forward themselves keeping the ball well in the middle before looking to expose the wide areas. Adam Smith, who turned 27 on Monday, controlled well and danced his way past Liam Bagnall before firing a driven effort well over the bar.

Matt Green and Ben Hutchinson ran the channels well latching onto Ross Dyer’s cushioned flick-on’s, however despite the running from the front two, it was Dyer who won the Stags a free kick on 15 minutes on the right hand side. Luke O’Neill delivered a truly excellent ball into the middle towards the back post, John Dempster was first too it and he thundered the resulting header home to level the score in his final Mansfield appearance.

Stags 1-1 Darlington

Four minutes later O’Neill nearly turned from provider to scorer as he embarked on a forceful run forward from right back. The former Leicester man kept his feet well as he cut past Scott Harrison but failed to really test Sunderland loan man Jordan Pickford in the Darlington goal. At the other end Darlington came a whisker away from regaining the lead on 22 minutes when Harrison’s deep cross was headed into the path of Ramshaw on the edge of the area. The young Quaker struck beautifully on the volley but fired just over the bar.

Ross Dyer impressed on the right hand side with a series of bursting runs on the break, on 26 minutes it was Dyer’s quick feet and precise pass which sent Matt Green on his way to the right of the area. Momentum was perhaps against the Stags leading marksman who still managed to keep the ball in play, his driven cross was deflected behind for a throw in which Darlington eventually cleared.

Gary Roberts was next to register a half effort for the Stags with his driven effort from a short O’Neill free kick deflecting away. Paul Edwards was then caught out by a punt downfield, the ball bounced twice before Rob Ramshaw nipped in to steal the ball back, fortunately the Fleetwood loan man was saved by Ramshaws tame shot landing wide. The Stags eventually found the break through with two minutes to go before the break following another prolonged spell inside the Darlington half leading to a Luke O’Neill throw. Taken short O’Neill moved the ball to Murray who lifted a back spinning high cross into the middle, Ben Hutchinson did superbly holding off three markers at the front post before laying off strike partner Matt Green. The former Quaker who scored both goals in the reverse game earlier in the season, made no mistake from around 14 yards, smashing into the top corner with his left boot.

Stags 2-1 Darlington

Straight from the restart Mansfield we’re forceful once more and on the stroke of half time where extremely unlucky not to have a third. Matt Green held up play well on the box after Adam Smith had weaved his way down the left hand side. Green saw the advancing run of skipper Murray and released the ball immediately into Murray’s pass – his thunderous effort cannoned back of the post and somehow stayed out as Darlington frantically cleared there lines.

HALF TIME: Stags 2-1 Darlington

Louis Briscoe came on for Ben Hutchinson at the break and made an immediate impact as Stags flew out of the traps. Matt Green ran the channel well and look to feed Briscoe into the centre, the pass was a little heavy but Briscoe slid in to keep the move alive with the ball finding the advancing Adam Smith. The wing man who has been ever present since his return from Aldershot, took the ball into the box but was hesitant and allowed Darlington to block his eventual effort, had Smith taken on the shot first time he may well have had a belated birthday goal.

Four minutes later Briscoe was involved again as he picked the ball up on the half way line and cantered forward. Last season’s leading hit man sent Green on his way who may have had a half shout for a penalty, when his legs were taken by Pickford who slid into clear the danger.

On 50 minutes Mansfield again continued to flow forwards, this time it was Gary Roberts who sparked the move with a lofted ball over for Matt Green, a good recovering challenge from Kris Taylor saw Stags gain a corner, Matt Green headed over at the far post from O’Neill’s strong delivery.

Two minutes later it was heart in mouth time again for Stags as Alan Marriott fluffed a clearance straight into the path of Ramshaw, fortunately the Stags shot stopper was rescued by his team mates who got quickly back to kill the danger. On the hour mark Mansfield we’re undone again as Darlington stepped things up, Paul Arnison’s chip forward found the advancing Marc Bridge-Wilkinson who got there ahead of the on rushing Marriott. The Quakers midfielder chipped over the Stags shot stopper only to be thwarted by Ritchie Sutton’s goal line clearance and the offside flag.

Eleven minutes later sparked the strangest four minutes of football I’ve ever witnessed at Field Mill, with three goals being produced. The first fell Mansfield’s way as their patience in the final third paid off. Luke O’Neill again played provider with a wonderfully weighted pass down the right hand side, Matt Green raced with Scott Harrison and got there first and embarrassed the teenage centre back with a beautiful turn inside on to his left foot. All that was left to do was fire home past Pickford, which he did with ease collecting goal number 20 of his Mansfield career.

Stags 3-1 Darlington

At the restart Paul Cox introduced Lindon Meikle to the fold for Adam Smith and before the 27 year old had even sat down, he watched on as Darlington nearly pulled one back against the odds. Liam Bagnall’s excellent cross was somehow headed over by the unmarked Ryan Bowman. A minute later, Darlington did get on the scoresheet, with Marc Bridge-Wilkinson the provider after an unchallenged 30 yard central run, before a hard pass to the feet of John McReady. He did the rest spinning past a bemused Dempster before tucking past Marriott.

Stags 3-2 Darlington

With the ink barely dry on my team sheet the game was underway again and Mansfield on the charge with Briscoe down the right hand side, his cross towards the middle found Green who went down under the challenge of Clark Keltie, with strike partner Dyer also going down under Kris Taylors challenge. The referee pointed to the spot for Mansfield’s fourth penalty of the campaign. Matt Green went to hand the ball to Briscoe, the last Stags player to bag a treble, who unselfishly backed away allowing Green the opportunity to seal his hat trick. Green stepped up confidently and sent Pickford the wrong way, grabbing his 21st of the season and the first Stags match ball for his mantel piece.

Stags 4-2 Darlington
The penalty had knocked the stuffing from Darlington and Mansfield to their credit made sure they didn’t rest on their laurels, continuing to pressure and create. Cleaver runs by Briscoe and Meikle, Green and Dyer were all soaked up, however Mansfield did find a fifth goal with five minutes left to play. A directional ball over the top was flicked on by Ross Dyer, Louis Briscoe had made the advancing run and got in behind, emphatically smashing into the roof of the net.

Stags 5-2 Darlington

Matt Rhead replaced Ross Dyer a minute into the four added on, he had two good touches holding the ball up and flicking on as Stags looked for a sixth, however the clock soon ran out and the full time whistle blew, moving Stags up a place in league standings now three points off the play-offs with a game in hand.

FULL TIME: Stags 5-2 Darlington

As Matt Green headed into the tunnel with the match ball, a more poiniant image showed at Field Mill as broken Darlington headed to thank their supporters. Walking back towards the tunnel with the heads down, Craig Liddle’s men received a very warm and heartfelt round of applause from the Mansfield faithful. The applause did not represent arrogance nor did it resemble gloating, it was a honest warm recognition of Darlington’s fight and a genuine wish of good luck. No matter the FA Trophy defeat, no matter the two league wins and the evenings dominance, what mattered was a group of opposing supporters wishing another club and it’s following well.

United We Stand – Football, is more than just a game.

Thanks for reading, see you on Saturday.
Photos: Dan Westwell


  1. I already assume that you are a good sports reporter but ,yeah it is, a reporter shouldn't be able to show our outbalance with in opposite sides so there won't be roots of one side issues. Anyway, you are still fresh innocent and I admire your talent. Good job.