Mansfield 2 Exeter 3 - Individual Errors cost The Stags

3881 fans will have ambled away from the One Call on Saturday, firstly trying to get the feeling back in their lower limbs and secondly wondering how Mansfield contrived to lose a game which they dominated for at least 75 of the 90 minutes the two teams were on the weather effected surface. Mansfield were unchanged from the side that started the game at Burton last week, with new signing Matty Blair on the bench and Alex Fisher sat along side him after recovering from injury. Adam Murray will have been hoping that the Stags could start off as they began the second half last weekend.

Murray will have been places, as the Stags started excellently, particularly down the left hand side, where Elder and Brown linked up brilliantly on a number of occasions. Elder also supplied a lot of excellent balls into the feet of Oliver, which then allowed him to bring Brown, Clements and Lambe into play. Kee, Oliver and Brown all had early efforts denied by the Exeter rearguard, who looked unable to cope with the Stags attacking pace and guile. The right hand side perhaps ignored in the first half due to Lambe's constant appetite to come inside and join in with play and Sutton's ineffectiveness going forward. Martin Riley also had a header cleared off the line, Oliver hit the post with a looping header and Kee should have scored from the rebound, but was caught on his heels.

After wasting those chances, Exeter gradually grew into the game and were looking dangerous on the counter attack. They took the lead on 36 minutes, shortly after Smith had made a great one on one save with his legs to deny Arron Davies. After a good move by Exeter, the aforementioned Davies took on Elder on the left and delivered a cross to the near post, where Tom Nichols got across Raynes and looped a fantastic header over Smith and into the far corner. I have seen a lot of blame being put on Riley for the first goal, but he was not involved at all. Ravenhill lambasted Elder for allowing the cross to come in, whilst choosing to ignore Raynes inability to follow the run of Nichol's.

The Stags didn't deserve to be behind and went straight up the other end looking for the equaliser. It should have came from a corner when Michael Raynes, with a chance to atone for his earlier error, was completely unmarked six yards form goal and header straight at the keeper, with Kee again sluggish getting to the rebound but having his shot cleared off the line. Clements continued haranguing the referee until half time, claiming the ball went over the line. Difficult to confirm or deny from where I was sitting.

Mansfield went it behind at half time, completely undeservedly. There were some boos for the team which were completely unwarranted, and as the players got towards the tunnel a rallying cry went up from the fans nearest to the area. It was the most chances I has seen Mansfield create in any game so far this season and we were only halfway through. You can definitely see what Murray is trying to do. A lot more passing, a lot less hoofing, and I was more than pleased to applaud the team off for the football they had played. It made Cox's claims that he was not telling the players to hoof seem even more embarrassing than when he first uttered the words.

Again, the Stags came out firing for the second half for the second week on the trot. The Mansfield faithful were treated to more great football and another flurry of missed chances which made you wonder if it was going to be 'one of those days'. Kee was, not for the first time, slow to react when he was put through on goal by Brown and his shot smothered by the Exeter keeper. Oliver had a looping header cleared off the line and Kee missed two brilliant opportunities from close range. He could have had a hat-trick by this stage and was missing when it looked the harder option than putting the ball in the back of the net. Credit must go to Exeter who were throwing bodies in front of the ball at every opportunity.

However, on 57 minutes, Kee finally had his first goal for the Stags. An in-swinging corner from Clements landed on Kee's head in the middle of the 6 yard box, who glanced a header into the far corner. It was possible the easiest goal we will score all season. Exeter will be unhappy that they allowed one of the smallest players on the pitch a free header from four yards out. Kee was clearly delighted to score after missing so many chances.

The tide appeared to have turned as the Stags again turned on the style. Good link up play by Kee and Brown led to a shot with his weaker foot which was again blocked by the Exeter defence. Brown continued to cause problems down the left and several good crosses were not capitalised on by the Mansfield strikers.

On 68 minutes, Vadaine Oliver finally got the reward that his general play deserved. He had won every long ball that was aimed towards him and Michael Raynes tried to repeat the successful tactic, lofting a ball towards Oliver. The ball sailed over Oliver's head and into the Exeter penalty area where two defenders collided with each other under pressure from Kee, resulting in a poor header which fell to Oliver, who smashed the ball low underneath the keeper. A clinical finish from Oliver who ran straight over to the Stags fans. Just reward for him and Adam Murray in extending his loan until the end of the season.

My worry at this stage was the introduction of Jamie McGuire, following a knock sustained by Ricky Ravenhill. McGuire's introduction often causes the Stags defensive line to drop deeper, as displayed against Carlisle earlier in the season when the Stags were 3-0 up at half time and survived a scare to win the game 3-2. I would have bought on Heslop who would have kept the Stags moving forward against an Exeter team who were now there for the taking.

Exeter came back into the game impressively. From a Stags corner, their ability to counter was again displayed, as David Wheeler beat Clements to the cleared ball, and ran with pace at the Mansfield defence, letting loose a powerful shot which was excellent palmed behind by Adam Smith. A crucial save at a crucial time in the game. Unfortunately for Smith and the Stags, Exeter equalised two minutes later. A corner was whipped in to the near post where Scot Bennett arrived unmarked to sweep Exeter level. It was shocking defending by Martin Riley who had followed Bennett all the way across the length of the area, never closer than two paces behind. A lack of concentration by the Stags skipper and his afternoon was only going to get worse. I would also highlight the lack of a man on the near post or in the 'free man' area on the corner of the six yard box. It will be disappointing for Adam Murray to keep conceding from set pieces, especially when he chooses to bring all ten outfield players back to defend.

The leveller from Exeter certainly did not dampen the Stags desire to pour forward, wanting to impress the additional 'floating fans' and more importantly grab an imperative three points. Kee again had an effort blocked and Michael Raynes went close with a header. The threat Mansfield were posing from set pieces was pleasing and an area which has not been capitalised on enough so far this season.

The Stags threw away the game soon afterwards. Riley did well to beat the attacker to the ball on the left hand byline, making half a yard to clear the ball with his left foot. Instead, he turned back inside and without looking, sent a wayward pass back towards Smith, who on stretching to reach the ball, caught an onrushing attacker and gave away a stone wall penalty. The penalty was expertly converted into the side of the net by Alex Nicholls, despite Smith going the right way. I can only think of two reasons why Riley did not clear the ball when the opportunity arose. The first is that it was on his weaker foot and he felt he may scuff the clearance and put his team in trouble. The second is the teams new style of play, with an emphasis on playing out from the back. Under Cox, I have no doubt that Riley would have put the ball into the stands. Either way, it was a calamitous blunder by Riley which combined with his earlier error cost his team all three points.

Mansfield continued to press but could not find an equaliser. For the second week running, the Stags had lost a game which they deserved at least a point from, if not all three. I don't think it is being fanciful to say that Murray could have had four points out of the last six. Instead, he has none. Those points would have seen Mansfield sitting in 15th place, 5 points clear of the relegation zone. Instead, they are sitting in 20th place, 1 point clear of the relegation zone.

The emphasis of what aspects need to be improved this week in training are quite clear. Defending set pieces, finishing and concentration. Four of the last five goals conceded by the Stags have come from dead ball situations, two from corners, one from a free-kick and one penalty. The attacking play yesterday was the best I have seen since before the Cox era. The team mixed it up well, getting the ball out wide at every opportunity whilst also going long to Oliver when necessary, who won just about every header that went up to him. The attackers need to gamble more on Oliver's flick ons, the only annoyance that Oliver is also our quickest player to be running onto those flicks. They created so many chances, especially from set pieces, but they need to be taken with the Stags only one point above the relegation zone. If we would have taken one fifth of out attempts on goal (22) we would have won the game, and whilst people may rightly criticise the haphazard defending, the attackers need to shoulder some of the blame as well. With the team creating so many chances, and Kee bound to come right at some stage (despite scoring he looked well off the pace throughout), I think we have attacking options that would be the envy of most promotions chasing sides in Oliver, Kee, Brown and Blair. I am still confident that we will stay up, but the individual errors and generally poor defending needs rectifying as soon as possible. I know Adam Murray is pretty good friends with Rhys Day, it may be worth picking up the phone to him for some advice on the defensive side of the game. I'm sure Rhys would be more than willing to help Mansfield Town out after the support we have offered him over the years.

On a separate note, despite Mansfield losing, it was the first match I have thoroughly enjoyed when watching the Stags since promotion to the Football League. Any neutrals in the crowd that took up the £7 offer cannot have been disappointed with the game, as on display were 5 goals, 4 efforts cleared off the line, a penalty, not to mention chances galore. I went with a friend from work and his son (his first ever Stags game), neither of them massive Stags fans, but both really enjoyed the game and said they were looking forward to the next £7 game. Their only other previous game this season was Sheffield Wednesday v Norwich, and said that yesterdays game was much more entertaining and that the Stags even played better football.

Player Ratings :

Smith - 7 - Made two terrific saves and his kicking all afternoon was spot on. Not at fault for any of the goals and was close to getting a hand to the penalty.
Sutton - 6 - Nothing wrong defensively but again terrible going forward, best summed up when tripping himself over and falling flat on his face, which indirectly led to an Exeter goal.
Riley - 4 - I actually thought in the first half he was good and went close to scoring on two occasions from corners, but he lost his man for the second goal and gifted Exeter a penalty for the winner. Supposed to be the captain but never looked to provide any clear leadership. Should have the armband taken off him.
Raynes - 5 - Poor marking for the first goal. Generally okay in open play but should have scored in the first half with a free header.
Elder - 7 - Was excellent in the first half, looked very good going forward. Long throws were not half as long as they appeared last week at Burton, maybe the wind helped last week. Ravenhill was unhappy that he didn't stop the cross for the first goal, maybe so but cannot legislate for attackers having free headers.
Lambe - 6 - Flatters to deceive too much for my liking and doesn't stay wide enough, which is part of the problem for Sutton when going forward. For all his neat dribbling he always seems to make the wrong decision.
Clements - 7 - Good set pieces and neat passing once again, also put a shift in going the other way and closed down opposition defenders well on at least three occasions. Sponsors MOTM, much to the derision of many around me. Highlights my concerns that fans do not see his worth.
Ravenhill - 6 - Early booking meant his effectiveness was reduced. He did ok without doing anything memorable. Still yet to be convinced that he is any better than what we had. I would bring Heslop in for the next game.
Brown - 7 - Stays wider than Lambe but does not take on the full back enough. When he does, he beats them every time. Corners were good. Frustrating me a little because I feel he could be doing more, but that is only because I believe he has so much ability. Perhaps a tad harsh.
Oliver - 8 - My MOTM. Won every header, constant menace to the Exeter defence. Great finish with his only clear chance with the ball at his feet. Seems to enjoy playing for the Stags.
Kee - 6 - Gets a six because of his goal, although I don't think he will score a simpler one all season. Missed three great chances, again looked to be lacking sharpness and his general play was poor. Seemed Blair was going to come on for him just before he scored. I have been underwhelmed so far but I think he will come good. His reaction to scoring looked like someone who wanted to prove a point and that is the kind of player you need in a relegation scrap.

Subs :
Blair - Replaced Lambe on 63. Showed a good turn of pace and dribbling ability, passing was also good. Crossing let him down slightly but I would start him ahead of Lambe in the next game.
McGuire - Replaced Ravenhill on 68. Won the ball back well on a few occasions. Whilst not doing anything wrong, his introduction always seems to make the Stags drop deeper and invite the opposition on.
Rhead - Replaced Sutton 85. No impact whatsoever. I think he should be let go. Oliver does his job and scores goals, Rhead seems to halt the teams momentum.