Second Half Show Gives Mansfield All Three Points

An excellent second half performance from Mansfield Town was enough to earn a 2-1 victory over relegation rivals Dagenham and Redbridge and move Mansfield five points clear of the drop zone.

It was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Stags, who showed a distinct lack of urgency in the first 45 minutes, but the tempo was lifted after half time, presumably after an invigorating team talk by Adam Murray in the home changing room. Even in the first half though, it must be said that the Stags looked to keep the ball on the deck and play that way that has caused a lot of teams problems in brief spells this year.

After last weeks horror show at Oxford, there were no wholesale changes by our fledgling manager. Chris Clements came back into midfield, with Simon Heslop dropping to the bench. He was joined on the sidelines by new boy Monakana, with Reggie Lambe preferred.  Given reactions to performances in recent weeks by Murray, I was surprised he did not make more changes and also that Monakana had been dropped after showing promise against Oxford. Having said that, I am happy that the manager is keeping the spine of the team together, which can only serve to breed consistency. When the teams lined up, it was clear that Lambe would start from the left and Brown would start from the right.

Mansfield started the game sluggishly. The Daggers won a corner almost straight away and nearly caught the Stags napping with a low delivery and flick on, which was thankfully grasped by keeper Lenny Pidgeley. It is not the first time the Stags have been caught out by a front post corner, which other teams are evidently picking up on. Dagenham tried the trick again on nine minutes but unfortunately for them, Obileye miscued his shot.

The Stags looked short on confidence but were trying to keep the ball on the floor. There was a half chance on eighteen minutes as Jack Thomas whipped in an inviting cross from the right for Ryan Tafazolli to glance a header wide of the target. Five minutes later, Thomas sent a 25 yard effort into the Quarry Lane End. Another half chance arrived for Oliver after Lambe and Sutton combined but his touch let him down and the ball was scrambled away.

The first half was livened up with five minutes remaining after a tussle between Ravenhill and Cureton, during which the Stags skipper felt the veteran hitman was looking for a penalty. Players from both teams became embroiled and Billy Bingham, obviously inspired by the recent Eastenders live episodes, had a stab at some play-acting, claiming Oliver had head butted him. Both players went head to head but there was certainly no headbutt by Oliver.

With concentration perhaps lost following the altercation, the Daggers created the best chance of the half. A great move down the right caught Elder and Tafazolli out and the ball was pulled back for Jakubiak, who with plenty of time and space fired a long way over the bar. A glorious opportunity for the visitors and a sigh of relief for anyone connected with the Stags.

With the half time whistle looming, the Yellows went close. A long throw from Richie Sutton on the right was flicked on by a Red shirt to Jack Thomas at the far post, whose side foot volley from close range after challeng ing for the initial header went narrowly over the bar. To be fair to the youngster, he was falling backwards and under heavy pressure from his opposite number.

The first half ended in stalemate in what had been a poor quality encounter. Neither side had created many chances and looked hesitant to take unnecessary risks due to the importance of the contest. The main feature lacking from the Stags' game was urgency. When the ball was going out of play, no effort was made to increase the tempo. Lambe and Brown looked almost scared to attack the full back in case they conceded possession. Clements, Thomas and Ravenhill had combined effectively with the ball, keeping things neat and tidy whilst lacking a cutting edge. 

Glum faces galore greeted me as I made my way for a half time refreshment, but all was still to play for and I was just thankful that it wasn't as bad as last week!

Whatever was in those half time drinks in the Stags changing room should be sold to dreary Monday morning commuters, as Mansfield came flying out the traps in the second half and immediately took the lead. Vadaine Oliver did well down the left and played a ball through the middle to Reggie Lambe. With three defenders in front of him, he carried the ball to the edge of the area and laid the ball right to Junior Brown. Murray had obviously been in his ear at half time, as this time he drove at his man and skinned him on the outside, letting loose a fierce right footed shot which was parried by Cousins into the path of Reggie Lambe, who had got into a poachers positions to tap the ball into the net. The eagerness from Brown to beat his man was great to see, as it had been sadly lacking in recent weeks and was the driving force that the Stags needed. Boss Adam Murray could clearly be seen from the sidelines telling his side to go again.

They heeded their managers advice and went on the attack, managing to force a corner which resulted in Martin Riley's looping header being comfortably saved by Cousins. Five minutes later, the Stags were on the front foot again, with a good move culminating in Chris Clements firing over from 25 yards. The Stags were now passing with more intent and getting into dangerous positions.

Despite the home sides second half dominance, the visitors were level on 60 minutes. A slick passing move, where Stags defenders never really got close enough to the opposition, ended in Jamie Cureton firing an angled drive across Pidgeley and in off the post from just inside the right sector of the area. I think Pidgeley will be disappointed not to have saved the effort, which seemed to go straight past his right hand. He had looked short on confidence throughout, failing to collect a couple of crosses or communicate with his defence. It was perhaps the best thing that could happen to Mansfield, as they have shown a determination to sit back and defend a one goal lead all to often this season.

The visitors seemed to briefly grow in confidence once they had breached the Stags defence, and had a long range effort on target from Boucaud following a clearance from a corner.

The Stags were soon back into their stride and went looking for what would be a crucial winner. Reggie Lambe, who had been much more effective in the second half, drifted over to the right and swung in a brilliant cross to the back post. Oliver rose highest, under pressure from the Dagenham defenders and headed the ball downwards, only to see his effort brilliantly saved by the foot of Cousins. A great save from Cousins who had run the length of the goal line to make the save.

A tiring Jack Thomas, who seemed to play in the number ten role in the second half, was replaced by out and out striker Billy Kee. Kee has played a bit-part since joining from Scunthorpe on loan, but has reportedly been extremely influential in the dressing room and his enthusiasm is in evidence when he is on the bench or warming up with the other substitutes. His desire almost immediately got the better of him. His first touch of the ball was to launch into a two footed challenge on Dagenham skipper Ogogo. He won the ball and his studs were pointing towards the floor, but you just cannot do that in the modern game. However, the referee was stood five yards away, acknowledged that he felt it was a fair challenge and waved play on. The Stags eventually kicked the ball out and Ogogo, who had rolled around continuously since the challenge in an attempt to draw the red card, was treated by the physio. Inevitably, Ogogo was on his feet twenty seconds later and saw out the rest of the game. There has been a lot of bemoaning refereeing performances lately by Stags fans, but they definitely got away with one in this instance.

Kee made the most of his lifeline and was involved five minutes later. Brown went down the right and rolled a cross towards the penalty spot where Lambe ran on to the ball. He was cleanly tackled but the ball ran to Kee, who scuffed his shot in the direction of Oliver. With the goal at his mercy, he managed to steer his shot straight at the keeper, who pushed the ball around the post for a corner. A great chance for Oliver which he really should have despatched. Lambe continued to cause problems, curling a shot wide from the right side of the area and moments later volleying a shot into the ground, over the keeper only for a Dagenham defender to head the ball off the line.

That was Lambe's last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Monakana on 78 minutes. A surprising substitution for me as Lambe had played well in the second half. He doesn't always make the right decision, which is why he is playing in League Two, but he gets into good positions and picks up a lot of second balls. Three minutes later, Oliver went close again, as Elders long throw from the left was helped on by Tafazolli, lofted into the air by Riley and Oliver, jumping with Cousins, beat the keeper to the ball and saw his header get the same treatment as Lambe's earlier effort, as it was again cleared off the line.

A minute later, the Stags retook the lead with a rare second goal. It was almost a carbon copy of the scenario above, as Elder hurled the ball in, Tafazolli created chaos at the near post and the ball fell to Kee. I expected him to fire it goalwards but he composed himself, looked up and rolled the ball for Junior Brown to lash an unstoppable strike past the helpless Cousins. The elation on the Mansfield players faces was clear to see and the whole substitutes bench erupted with delight, as Brown headed straight over to Adam Murray to celebrate. Murray pointed to his head to get the message across to the players to keep their concentration with eight minutes of normal time remaining.

The yellow shirts saw the game out pretty comfortably in the end, nearly adding to their tally following an intricate move between Oliver and Brown but Cousins smothered excellently at his feet. There were no close shaves or near misses for Dagenham as the final whistle was blown following four minutes of added on time. 

The Stags are now unbeaten in their last five home games. Their home form is really impressive and has come against four teams in the top half of the table. It is exactly what is needed of a team fighting against the drop.

Adam Murray will be delighted to get a reaction like the one represented in the teams second half performance, especially in such a big game. The defence and midfield were solid and the front three created crucial moments in the game which the Stags were able to take advantage of. There was plenty of passing by the Stags in the second half, with much less emphasis on the direct football which Murray looked set to banish entirely in early January. Kee and Monakana played well when they came on and certainly contributed towards the victory.

As with any team fighting relegation, a few concerns remain, such as the Stags inability to put in a consistent performance over ninety minutes of football and a few worrying moments from Lenny Pidgeley, but this was a great win for the Stags and moves them three points closer to survival. Pidgeley is unavailable for Newport away in midweek, so a chance will surely be handed to fans favourite Sacha Studer. He has a chance to put his marker down and will be determined to show what he can do. He will surely be kept busy by Newport, who won away at Burton yesterday and realistically, given recent away performances, it is hard to see the Stags getting anything from the game. I will be unable to make the game unfortunately due to work commitments. I think all fans would be over the moon with a battling point to take into next weekends trip to struggling Cheltenham.

Player Ratings : 

Pidgeley - 5 - Dropped one cross and failed to collect a few others. Should have done better with the goal. Looks to be short on confidence.
Sutton - 7 - Good, solid game.
Riley - 7 - Much improved from last week, played liked he had a point to prove. One hairy moment with a trickling back pass but it got there.
Tafazolli - 7.5 - Another excellent, dominant performance. Worried at one stage when he looked to be seriously injured but played on.
Elder - 6 - Caught out on a couple of occasions, but long throws proved useful as well as some promising attacking play.
Ravenhill - 7.5 - Shielded the defence excellently and used the ball economically. Loves a tackle. My MOM
Lambe - 7.5 - Not a great first half but caused all sorts of problems in the second. Scoring one, and setting up a further two chances.
Clements - 7 - His composure on the ball is mistaken for laziness. Some nice passing and pressing. A welcome return to the team.
Thomas - 7 - Was one of the better players in the first half and played well without doing anything spectacular. Managed to escape without a booking today!
Brown - 7.5 - Have come to the conclusion that he will always drift in and out of the game, but score one and set up the other today. Great to see him committing defenders again. 
Oliver - 7 - Worked hard, ball got caught under his feet a couple of times in promising positions. Missed one great chance and unlucky with two other efforts.

Subs : 

Kee (Thomas 66) - 7 - Played very well after his lucky escape. Held the ball up and created chances for others. Set up the goal for Brown.
Monakana (Lambe 78) - Not on long enough for a rating but a couple of good runs when he came on.