Sunday, 26 February 2012

CTA #38 Stags Vs Tamworth

Fixture
Mansfield Town Vs Tamworth
Competition
Blue Square Bet Premier (Game #35)
Venue
Field Mill
Date & Time
Saturday 25th February 2012 – 3pm
Attendance
2221 (134)
Match Referee
Peter Bankes (Merseyside)

The Ex Factor

I know I know – predictable title with potential to be sued by Cowell and his cronies, however this blog isn’t about talentless singers who happily murder classics, it’s all about our beloved Mansfield Town FC and their charge towards the play-offs, so sorry Cher Lloyd & Jedward fans – this blog isn’t for you (and frankly, you need to acquire some taste!)

Moving on, after Tuesday’s emphatic 5-2 victory over struggling Darlington, despite the victory we we’re left wondering how the hole left by the departing John Dempster would be plugged. On Friday our questions we’re answered as big Exodus Geohaghon arrived on emergency loan from Darlington. It’s no secret that the 6 foot 5 inch tall defender has long been on Paul Cox’s wish list and had it not been for the late intervention of league two outfit Dagenham & Redbridge, we may have never of known of the talent of John Dempster. As it happens, Dempster turned out to be a great addition and I’ve no doubt he’d welcome a move back to Field Mill in the summer once he’s escaped the crutches of Steve Evans’ Crawley. However as I mentioned in my match preview on Friday, we can’t look to far ahead and must concentrate on the here and now, taking it one game at a time as we aim for the play-offs.

Yesterday saw us face a difficult test against Marcus Law’s Tamworth side who have defied the critic’s predications sitting in a comfortable mid-table place. The Lambs pressured well and after the game the former Kettering boss posted on his twitter “We were robbed 2 one to Mansfield. One nil up 10 mins to go missed 2 1v1s and a open goal!!! One of them days I think gutted” – If Paul Cox had twitter I’m sure he’d have posted a similar tweet, including the two perfectly good goals being ruled out and numerous fouls which either went unnoticed or the wrong way. That pretty much sums it up really, both sides have cases for a ‘bad day at the office’ but at the end of the day, those who win games take their chances, that’s the difference between sitting mid-table and chasing the play-offs, fight and determination – in my opinion, once Adam Smith netted the leveller, only one team was going to win that game. The return fixture in two weeks time will be a tough test, but as I’ve said – we’ll look at that game when it arrives, next up it’s the arrival of Lincoln and the return of Coronation Streets finest, Reg Holdsworth.

Paul Cox was forced to make the one change to the side that brushed Darlington aside on Tuesday, however the Stags boss made a further two changes, brining in fresh legs on the wing with the influential Louis Briscoe getting his first start in seven games after a fine display from the bench of Tuesday. Ben Hutchinson was the man replaced with Lindon Meikle replacing Adam Smith, who’d started the last five games since his return from Aldershot, on the left. The like for like swap of Geohaghon for Dempster completed the treble change from Tuesday.

Alan Marriott
Luke O’Neill – [#26] Exodus Geohaghon (Dempster) – Ritchie Sutton – Paul Edwards
Louis Briscoe (Hutchinson) – Adam Murray (C) – Gary Roberts – Lindon Meikle (Smith)
Ross Dyer – Matt Green
SUBS: Shane Redmond – Martin Riley – Matt Rhead – Adam Smith – Anthony Howell

With neither side crossing paths until our arrival in the conference, yesterday’s game was only the fourth time the sides had met at Field Mill – the Stags had never been victorious on home soil against the Lambs with defeat in both the league and FA Trophy, plus a goalless draw. Mansfield got the game underway and looked to banish another demon from the off, Gary Roberts switch straight to the left wing caught Tamworth off guard and Lindon Meikle capitalised, weaving his way forward cutting inside then out before feeding Paul Edwards whose low cross was screwed out for a corner. Luke O’Neill took the first of three consecutive corners however Tamworth eventually scrambled clear.

Strong movement between O’Neill and Briscoe on the right hand side on three minutes gave Exodus Geohaghon the first opportunity to demonstrate his powerful long throw ability which has undone many a Stags defence over the past four seasons, his first in the famous Amber and Blue failed to trouble however as Lambs shot stopper Jonathon Hedge easily collected.

At the other end Marcus Law’s side began to create chances of their own, a long ball over the top of the Stags defence from left back Scott Barrow saw Jean-Paul Marna get goal side of Ritchie Sutton and Paul Edwards, with the former playing left side of centre half for only the second time this season following the departure of Dempster. Marna failed to keep his effort down and fired over Marriott’s cross bar, moments later Sutton was involved again, bringing down former Stag Iyseden Christie for a free kick, which Luke O’Neill headed behind for a corner, which ultimately came to nothing.

The two minute pressure spell had woken the Stags up and they pushed forward and created in the final third, Lindon Meikle again left Richard Tate chasing shadows, cutting inside and driving a powerful shot at goal which Hedge palmed away, before Mansfield wrongly had a goal chalked off on 11 minutes. Exodus Geohaghon provided the assist with his bullet throw from the right hand side, new centre half partner Ritchie Sutton nipped in between three defenders to fire home – however the former Port Vale man was prevented celebrating his first career goal by Peter Bankes who ruled the goal out for high boot despite no complaint from the Tamworth defence, or indeed Suttons boot being remotely high, as video evidence has proved.

With the game still locked at 0-0, Mansfield had the next best chance to take the lead on 16 minutes with Matt Green instrumental. Luke O’Neill sparked the move with a wonderfully weighted ball from right back, landing over the top of the flat footed Tamworth back four. Matt Green slipped through and after a cleaver couple of touches, rounded the on rushing keeper Hedge, with the angle against the Stags leading goal scorer, he squared for strike partner Dyer who slid in and fired wide under pressure from centre halves Duane Courtney and Paul Green, who woke up just at the right time.

It was then a familiar face who nearly opened the scoring against his three times former employers. Christie held up the ball well on the edge of the box before laying off the on rushing left back Scott Barrow, his shot was palmed away by Marriott who could do nothing about the rebound as Jean-Paul Marna struck, fortunately for Marriott, Louis Briscoe was back on the line to make the clearance. Marriott was in action again two minutes later as centre half Duane Courtney left fly from distance, the former Lincoln Shot stopper sprang well across to his left to keep out the well hit effort.

Mansfield thought they’d found their feet again on 33 minutes as Gary Roberts, Luke O’Neill and Exodus Geohaghon helped move the ball left for Meikle. However the wingman’s cross was deflected away allowing the visitors to counter; Ritchie Sutton made an excellent recovering challenge as Christie looked to break free. The visitors had another golden chance with six to go before the break; Marna provided the assist to Liam McDonald who, 1 v 1 with Marriott, fired well wide.

The visitors continued to pressure to the break but neither side failed to break the goalless seal, as the players headed in for their half time oranges.

HALF TIME: Stags 0-0 Tamworth

As the second half got underway, it was the Stags who started the brightest with Louis Briscoe registering two shots in three minutes. The first came after Gary Roberts had won a free kick on the left hand side on 57 minutes, Luke O’Neill’s delivery from 30 yards was headed back across goal from deep by Geohaghon, with Briscoe next to connect poking his effort wide on the stretch. The quartet were all involved three minutes later for Briscoe’s next effort, Geohaghon’s throw was this time short to Roberts who teed up O’Neill for a first time swinging cross, with Briscoe heading wide at the far post after a good run to shake off his marker.

Gary Roberts then tried a cheeky lob on 52 minutes when Murray was fouled just over the half way line, taking the free kick quickly – he’d spotted Hedge off his line but failed to embarrass the Lambs keeper who back peddled to collect the dipping effort.

Despite Mansfield’s pressure it was the visitors who bagged the opener in empathic fashion on 54 minutes. Lambs skipper Paul Green provided the assist from the half way line with a hopeful punt forward swinging to the right of the area, Mansfield had time to watch the flight of the ball and clear but failed to do so, being punished by Jean-Paul Marna who struck beautifully into the top corner on the half volley. An excellent strike, one of the best I’ve seen from a visiting player.

Stags 0-1 Tamworth

The Stags tried to respond quickly and on 57 put real pressure on in the final third, Paul Edwards’ cross from the left found Dyer at the back post who cushioned a neat header down into the path of Roberts, who blazed over from the edge of the box. The headed assist from Dyer proved his last action, as he was replaced by Matt Rhead – who took to the field along with Adam Smith who replaced Lindon Meikle.

It was Smith who made an immediate impact creating another Stags chance on the hour mark. Gary Roberts sparked the move with a crisp pass to the left wing for Smith who danced his way past Tate before putting in a perfect cross. Louis Briscoe connected but failed to keep his well struck volley down, firing over from six yards. Smith was again creative five minutes later, cutting inside and crossing from another Roberts pass, Matt Rhead was half an inch away from connecting.

The Stags constant pressure nearly proved their downfall on 67 minutes as the Lambs countered. A quick clearance found Christie on the left hand side, the 33 year old who was leading scorer at Stags in 2002/03, dribbled past Edwards and Roberts before squaring for on rushing Lambs sub Danny Thomas, Alan Marriott stood his ground well and prevent Stags from going two goals behind with a fine save.

Five minutes later Mansfield we’re again left fuming as the referee ruled out another goal. Luke O’Neill pressured with three consecutive corners, the last of which a right footed in swinger from the far side found Geohaghon half a yard out, the burley centre back bundled home but was stopped celebrating his debut with a goal by Bankes, who judged the former Peterborough man to have fouled the goal keeper.

Two minutes later Mansfield’s persistence prevailed as they drew level. The Big Ex’s big throw from the half way line was headed half away by Tamworth, but Adam Smith lurked on the edge of the area and after cutting inside, took a touch to drive into space before letting fly. The ball took a slight deflection, creeping past the wrong footed keeper for Smith’s first goal in Stags colours since his brace against Barrow exactly a year and six days ago.

Stags 1-1 Tamworth

The pace of the game upped another few gears and Gary Roberts was soon in the referees note book for retaliation, going face to face with Scott Barrow after the Lambs left back had hacked him down on the half way line. Adam Murray was the man to come across and calm the water, but it’s fair to say for the rest of the game, Barrow steered well clear of Roberts.  The visitors then had a double chance to regain the lead as the game entered the final eight minutes, with the first coming on the counter following mammoth Stags pressure. Matt Rhead was instrumental in the air flicking the ball on from Marriott’s kick to Smith, who cut inside and saw his shot cleared off the line for a corner. Another corner followed but Stags failed to capitalise and the visitors broke, a one-two between Christie and Thomas saw the latter’s shot blocked by Skipper Murray who was left in considerable pain. As ever Murray carried on and could only watch as the visitors nearly stole the game with six to go. Alan Marriott’s kick was headed dominantly back into Mansfield territory by Paul Green, Kyle Patterson picked it up and rounded Alan Marriott, however a strong challenge by Paul Edwards on the line denied the Lambs a late winner, Edwards tackle in his final game before returning to Fleetwood probably the most vital of the game.

Once Mansfield had levelled, you always felt it would be they who took the game despite the visitor’s chances. The feeling came to life with three minutes left, as Geohaghons’ throws again playing a part. The powerful throw from the right was headed down into Roberts path, just to the left of the area by Rhead. The creative midfielder delivered perfectly for Matt Green, who did the rest from close range, hammering home his 22nd in Mansfield colours, making it eight goals in his last ten games.

Stags 2-1 Tamworth

The Lambs we’re disheartened by still threatened late, another tremendous block by Murray saw the Stags captain injured and helped off the pitch by Physio Ian Pearce, with Anthony Howell his replacement. The five minuets added time came and went, with the full time whistle moving Stags up to 7th place, two points of York in 5th and three points off Southport in 4th, of who they have a game in hand over. The Stags also have a game in hand of 6th place Kidderminster who are also two points ahead of the Stags and play host to Cox’s side on the final day of the season, in what could prove to be the most dramatic and critical game in our recent history.

FULL TIME: Stags 2-1 Tamworth

After the game, Paul Cox helped injured skipper Adam Murray across the pitch towards the tunnel, something picked up by photo man James. A poinient image showing that in these final 13 games, everyone’s in it together to see the Stags home.

Not the best of displays I grant you, but pretty football doesn’t always win you games, you have to be patient and take your chances, which is exactly what we did. This week is again vital for Cox in the transfer market, another defender and maybe a left back is need to fill the void which no doubt will be left by Edwards now he’s returned to Fleetwood following his months loan expiring. Of course he may return should Fleetwood permit it but we’ll have to wait and see.

Yesterday’s victory marks our fourth consecutive home win, something last achieved in the 2008-09 campaign under the leadership of Billy McEwan according to my brief notes. That win stretched to five on the bounce at home with victories over Histon (1-0), Kidderminster (4-2), Northwhich Victoria (3-2), Grays Athletic (1-0) and Eastbourne (3-1) before a 1-1 draw with Cambridge saw that come to an end. Going further back, we achieved for wins on the bounce in 2004/05 with wins over Kidderminster (2-1), Yeovil (4-1), Northampton (4-1) and Rochdale (1-0) before a 2-2 draw with Lincoln City ended that spell. It’s the Imps up next at Field Mill with the return of David Holdsworth, who no doubt will be thrown by the lack of the revolving door outside reception. Stats are all well and good, but in truth – I just want another three points as we take it game by game, step by step – The Mansfield Town FC Train back to Football League Central (Via a short stop at the Play-offs) is slowly gathering speed.

Thanks for reading! Same time next week!
Photos: James Williamson

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