Mansfield 0 Wycombe 0

A goalless draw was the result this week as the Struggling Stags took on table toppers Wycombe Wanderers. Perhaps a result that could have been predicted, with Wycombe having drawn ten league games this season, only bettered by York City. I can only think that drawing rather than losing, combined with an excellent goalkeeper, is the only reason they are top of the league, as their display was woefully short of a team you would expect to be gracing League One next season. Two changes for the Stags as last weeks prime suspect Martin Riley was replaced by the returning Ryan Tafazolli, who has arguably been the Stags best player so far this season, and Matty Blair making his first start in place of Reggie Lambe. Credit must go to Riley who came out after last weeks game on social media and held his hands up for his error. He needs to pick his head up and move on, everyone makes mistakes. The armband went to recent arrival Ricky Ravenhill, presumably as the most experienced member of the starting line-up.

After recent weeks where chances have been plentiful, the first thirty five minutes of the game was a scrappy affair. The referee Eddie Ilderton and his fellow officials were the chief contributories to the feisty opening, constantly penalising 50/50 challenges and allowing himself to be surrounded by Wycombe players at every decision he made. Ilderton and his linesman on the West Stand Side got at least three throw in decisions wrong in this opening period. The play acting of the Wycombe players also assisted towards the lack of flow in the game and apart from a few long range efforts from the visitors, both of which were comfortably save by Adam Smith, there was no goalmouth action to speak of. Ricky Ravenhill was excellent during this opening period, winning countless tussles for the ball and leading by example. He used the ball simply and and organised his team mates well.

With ten minutes to go until half time, the Stags attacking quartet awoke from their thirty-five minute slumber. It seemed the awakening factor was Murray's decision to switch Blair and Brown on to the opposite flanks, so that both would be cutting inside on their stronger foot. Whilst Blair was starved of the ball,  Brown all of a sudden looked hungry. He received the ball on the right hand side, cut inside Jacobson and whipped a left footed cross to the far post, where an unmarked Vadaine Oliver sent a diving header back across the keeper and against the same post he had hit almost exactly seven days earlier. It was an opportunity that Oliver really should have gobbled up from four yards out.

The Stags continued to cause problems down the right, as Oliver won a loose aerial ball and headed into the path of the onrushing Blair, whose first touch didn't quite take the ball in his stride and he somewhat choked the shot into the ground, off a defender and out for a corner. This was the first of many intelligent runs from deep by Blair, but sadly for the Stags one of the only times he ended up with the ball. Another great chance came from the resulting corner, when a third free header in three weeks fell to Michael Raynes, who headed straight down the middle and had his effort blocked straight back into his path, at which point he looked off balance and on his weaker side he dragged the follow up off the outside of the post.

As the first half came to an end, the Stags had their best chance. A brilliant move started with Richie Sutton fizzing the ball into the feet of Billy Kee, who instantly knew where his striker partner Oliver was and rolled a brilliant pass into his path. Oliver took the shot a bit too early for me and sent an angled side footed strike towards the far post, which produced a full stretch save from Ingram, who could only parry it into the path of the onrushing Kee, who had two bites at the cherry, both of which were blocked by retreating defenders, culminating in another corner for the Stags. The resulting corner brought another chance, as Clements delivered expertly onto the head of Raynes who this time managed to direct a header towards the far corner, only to be denied brilliantly by Ingram. The rebound fell to Oliver in the same spot from which earlier he had hit the post. His header was this time goalbound despite him falling backwards but Ingram was again in the right place to deny the Stags. A brilliant piece of goalkeeping. There was time for one more chance before half time as Oliver sent a right footed shot wide of the target. He really should have gone with his left side and it appeared to be deflected but no corner was awarded.

For the second consecutive week it was a half time whistle which was accompanied by two thousand Stags fans, with arms outstretched and heads tilted to the sky, trying to recall the sin they had committed which caused their team such misfortune in front of goal. By my reckoning, that was eight efforts cleared off the line in one hundred and thirty five minutes of football.

After a thoroughly entertaining game of youth football at half time, after which every single youngster ran to all three sides of the ground and were granted a standing ovation (nice to see from the travelling fans), the Yellows returned from the half time break a couple of minutes prior to their top of the table rivals. A sign of intent perhaps, but the Stags sadly did not recapture the form they had shown in the second half of their two previous games.

The Stags came closest to a winner five minutes into the second period. The returning Tafazolli sent a low cross in from the left, which was cleared into the path of skipper Ricky Ravenhill, whose twenty eight yard piledriver whistled past Ingram and off the outside of the post. I didn't realise it had hit the post until seeing the video highlights. A great strike from the impressive Ravenhill. Five minutes later, Mansfield broke quickly from a corner, Sutton aiming a long ball to Oliver, who jumped brilliantly to set Blair free. He showed great speed to beat Jombati to the ball, who he nutmegged and was then clean through on goal. Credit now has to go to Pierre, the Wycombe centre half, who had ran the full length of the pitch to firstly force Blair wider than he would have liked and then block his attempted shot to make an easy save for Ingram. Nevertheless, it was another great run from Blair.

The last of the Mansfield chances fell to Oliver on sixty seven minutes from another great corner from Clements. He attempted a side footed volley but got it all wrong and sent the ball well wide. He was again unmarked and should have done better. This was followed by a couple of half chances for Wycombe, a header from a corner and a shot from a pull back which were both failed to trouble Smiths goal. The Stags had defended well throughout, albeit not being tested as much  as expected by the table toppers. It seemed they had been working on set pieces as Oliver was given a free role to attack the incoming ball and Ravenhill was on the near post, with Blair left up the field. Much better from the Mansfield backroom staff and signs of progress on the training field. It also should be said that the attacking corners are much improved and a chance is created from almost every one.

Despite defending comfortably for the whole game, there was still and understandable air of anxiety around Field Mill. It was a feeling that yet again, Mansfield had dominated a game, not taken great chances and would end up throwing away all three points. In the fifth minute of added on time, the opportunity for Wycombe to steal all three points was presented on a plate by Richie Sutton. A long, diagonal ball was looped over towards the right back position, where Sutton was indecisive and allowed Wycombe sub McClure a one on one with Smith. Much to Sutton and everyone else in the stadiums relief, McClure completely fluffed the chance, attempting to lob Smith but not getting any elevation on the ball whatsoever and it ended up appearing more like a back pass. The only defence of McClure is that he had only been on the pitch for two minutes.

The final whistle was blown and the Stags had gained their first point since boxing day against a top of the table side. It was their first clean sheet since before Christmas and on paper, probably a point which we would have all taken before kick off. The worry for the Stags will be that it was another game in which they more than deserved three points but again missed guilt edge opportunities. Surely, sooner or later, somebody is going to get beat by two or three goals. The frustrating aspect for Murray is that their are no obvious flaws in the Stags play, creating chances and on the whole, defending well. The two changes he made definitely improved the side and Ravenhill as captain was excellent. The only slight criticism I would have is that Murray was slow to act with substitutions. Kee and Brown were pretty much anonymous in the second half, Kee clearly still not fully match fit and he should have been taken off instead of Oliver, and ten minutes earlier. Oliver, despite missing a couple of good chances, is at the heart of everything positive that the Stags create.

The long trip to Carlisle is the next stop as Mansfield continue to look for a win. Ex Stags boss Keith Curle will be determined that his team are not the ones to provide that, not to mention the fact that they are in a worse position than Mansfield in the league. It really is a 'six pointer' and a repeat of the last two performances will surely see the Stags pick up a much needed win. For the next game, barring any injuries, I would keep the same team. I have to say though that should Billy Kee still look unfit in the next game, questions need to be asked. He will have played three lots of ninety minutes and have four weeks of training under his belt. Surely this is sufficient time for a player to be up to full fitness?

Player Ratings :

Smith - 6 - No glaring errors but kicking was poorer than at Burton. When you have Oliver up top, who wins a lot of headers, not hitting him from goal kicks and allowing the team to build attacks is unacceptable. Once or twice can be forgiven, but six time plus is something that should be worked on. Handling generally good but one piece of hesitancy could have cost us a goal.
Sutton - 6 - Would've got a 7 but for his last minute moment of madness. Was much better in possession and had defended well up until that point.
Raynes - 7 - Again had two great chances to score. Dominant in the air, seems to be able to organise. A bit iffy on the floor early on.
Tafazolli - 7 - Looked rusty for the first fifteen minutes as he kept misjudging the ball. Improved after that. Him and Raynes look a good partnership at the back.
Elder - 6 - Poor first half in possession but hit defending was ok. Long throws seem to get shorter by the week!
Blair - 7 - All action display, closing down and defending well. Made a lot of good runs which were not spotted by team mates. Seems to be an intelligent attacker.
Clements - 7 - Brilliant corners again, passing a little wayward a times but made up with closing down.
Ravenhill 8 - Excellent first half, good second half. Passing and tackling good, Kept his team mates organised when both they and he were tiring. My MOTM.
Brown - 6 - Good ten minutes at the end of the first half. Anonymous apart from that. Should be doing more.
Oliver - 6 - Involved in all good moments but did miss the Stags best chances which is why he gets a 6. I would say he is the best striker we have had since Green.
Kee - 6 - Good link up with Oliver at times but still looks unfit. Slow to react to flick ons and think Stags would benefit more from someone with a bit more pace to partner Oliver. Need a big performance next week. Sponsors MOTM (?!)

Subs :
Rhead - Replaced Oliver on 84. One good touch, other wise ineffective. Murray should look for alternative in my opinion.
Fisher - Replaced Kee on 91. Nice to see him back, no time to make an impact.
Lambe - Replaced Blair on 91. As above.