Can Mansfield Entertain and Gain?

Following Saturdays disappointing defeat to Exeter, Adam Murray and his squad will no doubt have been cursing their luck. Despite dominating the game for large periods, individual errors and poor finishing cost the Stags all three points. And yet even though my team had managed to throw away all three points in the final fifteen minutes of the game, I was experiencing a peculiar feeling as I trudged through the park back to the car. That feeling was, for the first time in a long time, coming away from a Mansfield Town game having enjoyed the product on display. It surprised me somewhat as Murray was not high on my list of possible replacements for Paul Cox. I actually felt like I had observed the League football I recall so vividly from ten years ago.

This raises the question, how could I enjoy a game that my team had failed to win and as a result are now one point away from falling into the relegation zone? Well, I would largely attribute this to the lack of football played under the previous regime, which has of course been well publicised and much maligned. I have missed the sight of four at the back. I have missed the sight of two wingers who are not afraid to attack the opposition full back. I have missed the team retaining possession without making it look like the hardest thing in the world. I have missed playing with two relatively mobile strikers. But the biggest aspect I missed was the team creating chances. Every time we went forward on Saturday, we looked like scoring. I overheard one of the old gents sitting behind me say 'someone is in for a battering sooner or later'. For what it's worth, I agree with him.

'Halt!' I hear you say. Entertainment is all well and good, but that isn't going to keep us up. We could lose every game 4-3 until the end of the season and I am sure it would be engaging fare, but we would be again plying our trade down in the league we dare not mention. Quite right, all the passing and focus on attacking is utterly meaningless if it does not lead to three points. Under Cox, although nothing is ever guaranteed, it is my opinion that we would have stayed up, probably somewhere between fifteenth and eighteenth. We would have done it the Paul Cox way, playing the percentages, kick it long, three at the back, no wingers, no flair, no freedom for the players to express themselves. He may even have prevented the third goal on Saturday, because I don't think Riley would have attempted to pass that ball back to Smith with Cox in charge. If it was safe, mid-table football you were looking for, Cox was your man.

What is clear to see though since Murray has taken charge is an effort to improve. The team had gone stale under Cox, there were no signs of enhancement under his tenure in the Football League. Murray is trying to do develop a style of play which is clear to see, namely play from the back, occasionally mix it up, but focus on trying to win rather than not losing. I think it is only fair to judge him on the last two games, where he has fielded 'his own team' if you like. Granted, we have picked up zero points from those games, and the first half at Burton was largely forgettable, but I think the team has shown us enough to ability to believe we will not be relegated. As I said in my match report, if we had taken one fifth of the attempts on goal, the most we have had in any league game this season I am led to believe, we would have won the game. One fifth of those chances fell to Billy Kee, who converted one, but missed at least three clear chances. His conversion rate can only improve with match fitness. You only have to look at Liverpool last season to see that a 'we'll score more than you approach' can work. Also, the five goals conceded in the last two games were highly preventable (four from set pieces, one error leading to a penalty). These are problems that can be ironed out on the training ground. Gaging the reaction of players on social media, they are, rightly or wrongly, looking up the table rather than over their shoulder. I can only infer from the players perceptions that they believe the squad has the capability to turn the situation around.

Only time will tell whether the on-field promise will be converted into points on the board, but for the time being Adam Murray definitely has my backing as I recognise what he is striving for. I hope at the end of the season myself and the other people who wanted rid of Paul Cox, whilst at the same time supporting the appointment of Adam Murray, are not left tucking into a humble pie on a Gateshead terrace next September.