Opening Seconds Set The Tone For An Uninspiring Defeat

A dismal home display from the Stags ensured promotion chasing Bury all three points as they ran out comfortable 1-0 winners on Saturday afternoon. It was disappointing to say the least from Mansfield Town after an unbeaten run of five home games and three overall. The hosts failed to create any momentum as opposition keeper Nick Pope had one of his easiest afternoons of the season. Bury did not exactly set the world alight but they are the best team I have seen this season in terms of controlling a game. They played within themselves after taking the lead and never really looked like surrendering it.

There was one change for the Stags from last weekends well earned point in Gloucestershire, as youngster Jack Thomas, fresh from signing a new two year contract extension, replaced Simon Heslop in the midfield three. I would rather have seen Billy Kee come in for Heslop and switch to a 4-4-2, but Bury lining up with three midfielder's probably swayed Murray's decision.

The tone for the afternoon was set in the opening ten seconds, as straight from the kick off, Clements rolled the ball back to Tafazolli, who made a hash of his first touch and let Eaves in with a chance to run on goal, but his touch let him down. Eaves was a thorn in the side of Riley and Tafazolli all afternoon.

A quiet ten minutes ensued with Bury making better use of possession. The Stags were keen to press in the early stages but were insistent on knocking long balls up to Oliver, despite his flick ons being met with little support from midfield. A sign of what to come on 13 minutes, as Adams delivered a set piece from the right on to the head of skipper Cameron, who outmuscled Tafazolli and directed his close range header over the bar.

On 20 minutes, the visitors were in front from an almost identical position after Ravenhill gave away a cheap free kick. This time, the impressive Hussey whipped in an inviting cross and Cameron was on hand with a downwards header from six yards out. Terrible marking by Tafazolli who was caught napping and the Stags concede from yet another set piece.

Bury continued their dominance when Eaves skipped past the struggling Tafazolli again and tried to play in Adams, but the flag was up to spare the big centre backs blushes. Ravenhill and Riley both had harsh words for him but neither seemed to make an impact.

Mansfield were failing to create any chances. The long balls were not troubling McNulty and Cameron, and even the ones which Oliver was winning were just running through to the keeper. Oliver's touch was letting him down, the wingers were unwilling to take risks in possession and Clements' passing was uncharacteristically wayward. Jack Thomas did provide brief moments of promise, but nothing to cause Bury boss Flitcroft to be overly worried.

Bury had the ball in the net for a second time courtesy of on loan striker Eaves after a neat volleyed finish, but the linesman again came to the Stags rescue. Mansfield were looking frustrated and continued to give away silly free kicks. Their frustration was typified by Jack Thomas, who picked up yet another yellow card. He has to cut out the bookings as it is clearly affecting his ability to complete ninety minutes. The Stags were guilty of gifting Bury another opportunity, as Clements was dispossessed on the edge of his own area, leaving Adams to fire a shot wide of the post.

The half time whistle loomed as Thomas his a long range effort, which took a wicked deflection and cause the ball to spin up off the surface and leave Pope with no choice but to turn the ball over the bar for a corner. Unfortunately for the Stags, the set piece came to nothing and the half time whistle was blown.

Billy Kee had been rather vigorously warming up towards the end of the first half and I felt sure that he would be introduced at half time. Something interesting I spotted was Kee using an inhaler, perhaps a factor in why he is taking his time in getting match fit, or perhaps completely unrelated. The most likely candidates to be replaced were Thomas, following his booking, and Clements, who had been sloppy apart from one good pass for Brown. Both wingers were having poor games. The full backs and keeper were the only players to come out of the first half with any credit.

The teams re-emerged for the second period, with no changes being made by the Stags. It was strange, especially as within seconds of the kick off Kee was receiving instructions from the Mansfield backroom team.  Their was no immediate spark from the eleven on the pitch, which triggered Kee's introduction on 50 minutes, replacing Jack Thomas, much to the derision of those around me. A shout from a gentleman to my right claimed that Murray had took the easy option by withdrawing Thomas, but if the youngster keeps getting his name in the book he leaves the manager with little option.

Tafazolli's torrid afternoon continued a couple of minutes later. After initially doing well in intercepting a pass and driving forward, he over hit what should have been a simple through pass to Oliver and the ball ran out for a goal kick.

At the other end, Eaves' persistence continued to cause problems, as he hit a shot on target, which was easily dealt with by Pidgeley. Still the Stags were being outplayed in every department. On 65 minutes, Murray made a second change with Monakana replacing Brown. Brown was poor throughout, often dwelling on the ball and turning backwards when in promising positions. A minute later, Mansfield should have been level.

Vadaine Oliver bundles his way into the area and backheeled the ball into the path of Lambe, who hit a tame, side footed effort straight at the keeper. Lambe was so close to popping up with another crucial goal but there is no doubt he should have scored. That being said, it would have been harsh on Bury.

Bury continued to attack, Eaves again nearly getting through but Riley and Tafazolli combined well to snuff out any sight of goal. For the Stags, Monakana was looking lively and showed a desire to take risks in possession which Brown had not. There were several occasions where yellow shirts could have got the ball to the wide man, but opted to play the ball long. Lambe was replaced on 73 minutes by Rakish Bingham, who had bagged for the reserves in midweek. Rather than heading up top, it was a straight swap with Bingham occupying a left wing role.

Again the substitution failed to signal any improvement, as Nicky Adams went on a jinking run and hit a powerful 25 yard effort which was well dealt with by Pidgeley. The Stags keeper also had to be alert from the resulting corner, as he quickly back pedalled to tip the ball for another corner kick, which came to nothing. A minute later, Monakana finally got the ball and drove at Hussey, delivering a cross towards the penalty spot. Kee took a touch travelling back towards his own goal and tried to hit a shot on the turn, which deflected to Oliver, but the big man could not react quickly enough to force a meaningful save from Pope. It was not the first time Oliver had been caught on his heels.

The home crowd were urging the Stags forward and there were small signs of pressure building, particularly through Beevers and Monakana on the right. There was another half chance as Clements played a neat one-two with Kee and hit a low shot, which was deflected wide for a corner. Sadly, Mansfield were poor from set pieces all afternoon and despite numerous long throws and diagonal balls, Bury refused to be beaten.

The visitors did well to kill the game in the last ten minutes, carrying the ball into the corners to good effect. Even the presence of Tafazolli in attack for the last five minutes did not worry their solid defence. The Stags were guilty of 'faffing' with the ball in the closing stahes, which was strange as they had not shirked in playing the ball long in the previous eighty five. There was one final chance for Oliver, which I thought was a better chance than those around me. A long ball into the right channel saw the front man through on goal, with a bouncing ball and the keeper advancing. All he had to do was loop the ball over the keeper and keep it on target. He failed to do either as the ball landed well wide of the near post.

Boo's rang out at the final whistle after a disappointing performance. Bury managed the game excellently and never really looked in trouble. They are the most impressive team I have seen this season, not in terms of how many chances they created but because they worked well as a unit. I will be surprised if they are not playing in League One next year. Mansfield displayed little attacking intent throughout and would have struggled to score in four hours of added time never mind four minutes. Their performance reminded me of an end of season dead rubber, a mentality which needs to be ditched quickly as the Stags are far from securing their league status for next year.

They have a perfect opportunity to bounce straight back against AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night, who lost away at Exeter on Saturday afternoon. The Dons have only won one of their last five and have not won on their travels since Boxing day. I would implore Adam Murray to try and play with two up top, or at the very least give Kee a start ahead of Oliver. I would also like to see Sutton at centre back instead of Riley and Monakana in place of Brown.

Player Ratings -

Pidgeley - 6 - No chance with the goal, otherwise did okay. Their is room for improvement with his kicking.
Beevers - 7 - Pick of the defence. Worried early on by the pace of Mayor but stayed calm under pressure. Distribution lacking at times but my MOTM.
Riley - 5 - Always worries me when the ball is near him. Bullied by Eaves and terrible distribution.
Tafazolli - 4 - Had a nightmare. Lost his man for the goal despite the warning five minutes earlier, Caught in possession a number of times. No impact from offensive set pieces.
Elder - 6 - Had an ok game.
Ravenhill - 5.5 - Never got to grips with Soares. Gave away free kick for the goal and numerous others.
Brown - 4 - Terrible afternoon. Constantly turning backwards, did not look interested. Lucky to last until 65 minutes.
Clements - 5 - Poor game. Not his usual self with the ball and set pieces were poor. Gave away a lot of free kicks.
Thomas - 6 - Tried hard and a few glimpses of quality but was part of a midfield which lost the battle. Would like to see him looking for Oliver's flick ons.
Lambe - 5.5 - Lack of quality when needed and missed a great chances but I like the determination he shows and he never gives up.
Oliver - 5 - As poor as I've seen him. Did not win as much as usual in the air and the ball kept bouncing off him. Little to no service but has to hold the ball up better. Also missed what I thought was a good chance.

Subs :

Kee - 6 - Did not have the impact Murray would have hoped but got hold of the ball a bit better and the Stags looked slightly more threatening with him up top.
Monakana - 6 - Looked lively when he came on and at least tried to create. One comedy moment where he skinned one defender and then tripped over the ball.
Bingham - Hardly touched the ball.