Six Point Shocker From The Stags

Mansfield Town succumbed to an unacceptable 4-1 defeat on Saturday afternoon in what was described by manager Adam Murray as a 'six pointer'. Despite playing against ten men for over an hour, the Stags exhibited a complete ineptitude to break down York's ten men, who deserve huge credit for the way they played. It is the second time this season that Mansfield Town have spent more than half the game against ten men and failed to win. This can be attributed to a massive lack of creativity and invention other than lumping the ball into the opposition area. When Chris Clements did come and get the ball off the defenders in the second half, he was barracked from the bench by Mickey Moore for not punting it long.

After Murray's carping in his midweek press conferences about a dearth of wingers at the club, you were not quite sure from recent weeks whether the Stags would end up with Matty Blair miraculously recovered from injury, Junior Brown's red card secretly rescinded and Reggie Lambe on an early morning flight back from Bermuda. As it actually transpired, this was not one of the boss' elaborate mind games and left the Stags with one out and out winger available, Terry Hawkridge. It is safe to assume that this played a part in Murray's team selection, as he opted to use Elder and Beevers as wing backs, with Tafazolli returning to make a three at the back with Raynes and Riley. Clements and McGuire were in the centre of the park with Bingham, Kee and Oliver up top. When the teams came out to start the game, the team actually lined up as a 3-4-3, with Beevers and Elder seemingly playing as out and out wingers. Adam Murray clearly does not trust Rakish Bingham to play as a winger, one because he does not track back and two because he does not stay wide. The wind was blowing and would make things difficult for both sides. There was no escaping the magnitude of this game and the York fans were in fine voice from the first minute.

Clearly buoyed on by the buzz created by their supporters in the North Stand, the visitors looked well up for the occasion as they started quickly and were unlucky not to be ahead as early as the second minute. An excellent cross from Halliday on the right found Hyde at the near post, whose flicked effort produced an excellent reflex save from Lenny Pidgeley. The Stags had sleepwalked out of the blocks and were already looking troubled  by the movement of Hyde and Coulthirst, the latter on loan from Tottenham having caused Mansfield numerous problems last season for eventually relegated Torquay. In the 9th minute, a long range effort from Carson took a hefty deflection and forced Pidgeley into another excellent save. On another day, York may have been 2-0 up already!

However, The Minstermen did not have to wait long for their pressure to pay off as from the resulting corner, they struck the first blow. An in-swinging corner from the right held up on the wind and was nodded across the keeper at the near post by defender Keith Lowe, who rose higher than Jamie McGuire. A deserved lead for York and hopefully a wake up call for Mansfield. The crowd voiced their displeasure at the Stags' start, which mostly consisted of long balls and terrible passing.

Mansfield did briefly flicker into life. A Lee Beevers cross from the right found Oliver with time and space, but he opted to attempt a first time effort which he could not get hold of and it was comfortably saved by Olejnik. The Stags sloppy play was not allowing them to sustain pressure and already Jamie McGuire had done his usual trick of kicking the ball in whichever direction he was facing without lifting his head off the floor.

On 17 minutes, York hit the Stags on the counter. Tafazolli in a rush to keep the ball in play, passed the ball straight to Luke Summerfield. The pace of Coulthirst gave the visitors a fantastic out ball and Summerfield curled a ball into the right channel to put the lively striker clear. Raynes was appealing desperately in vein for offside but managed to get back in front of Coulthirst. No problems for Coulthirst as he cut inside Raynes and Tafazolli onto his left foot and struck across the ball into Pidgeley's left hand corner. A great solo effort. The mind boggles as to why the Stags were playing such a high line against such a pacey attacker. It is hard to tell from the TV replays whether Coulthirst was offside or not but it is the price you pay for playing the offside trap against quick players. Mansfield now had a mountain to climb, having only score more than two goals on one occasion this season.

Again, their was an immediate reaction from the Stags, who came so close to pulling a goal back. A long ball was headed down by Oliver into the path of Bingham, who hit a powerful shot against the angle of bar and post. Not the first time that the Yellows have been denied by the woodwork in recent months.

After 23 minutes of poor quality from the home side, Adam Murray had seen enough. Martin Riley got the hook and Terry Hawkridge was brought on. A more orthodox 4-4-2 seemed to be the tactic, with Bingham moving to the left wing. Martin Riley must surely be regretting his 'clown' twitter rant against the Stags fans now. The Stags had another half chance, as again Oliver managed to knock down for Kee this time, who fired well over with no pressure on the ball.

As the half hour mark rolled around, the Stags were handed a massive lifeline. A great pass over the top by Hawkridge put Bingham away. The ball was bouncing about 25 yards out and Olejnik was rushing to confront him. Bingham tried to lift the ball over him, but the York keepers default reaction was to throw his hands up and tip the ball wide. Unfortunately for him, he was outside of the area. Despite initially pointing for a corner, the referee must have had word in his ear from his assistant and a red card was produced. It was the correct decision by the referee, but my immediate reaction was disappointment. With the ball bouncing, the goal gaping and no pressure, you would expect a professional footballer to be able to loop the ball high enough to give the keeper no chance of getting a touch. Nevertheless, the Stags were now against ten men, with over an hour remaining, and had a free kick in a dangerous position. York Captain Penn was sacrificed for the ever-popular Michael Ingham, who received a welcoming reception from the home fans.

After a three minute delay, Chris Clements struck the free kick, but dragged his effort poorly off target. From 17 yards out, I would like to have seen one of the strikers grab the ball and at least hit the target, rather than Clements, who has scored two goals in his entire career. A few minutes later, another chance arrived for Kee, who rushed his effort on the spin and again over the bar.

With the man advantage, Bingham immediately again went back up top and Callum Elder was playing as a left winger. Despite the extra man and the need to draw the York defence out, who were now content with defending the edge of their box, the Stags did not use the flanks enough. Instead, the persisted with launching the ball down the the throats of the York defenders.

There was goalmouth scramble on 43 minutes as the ball dropped kindly to Raynes in the box, he could not sort his feet out quickly enough, the ball came back for Beevers, who instead of attempting a shot, tried some sort of trick 8 yards from goal and was comfortably dispossessed. Appeals for handball in the midst of the scramble but it was difficult to see quite what was going on. Despite seven minutes of stoppage time, in which the whole York team sat behind the ball, Mansfield were unable to break the visitors down.

The players trudged off to boo's at half time, fully deserved boos. Despite the managers calls and my previous blog about creating an atmosphere , there was no way that any fan could be motivated to make any noise other than booing after witnessing such a poor first half performance. More desire, skill, effort, creativity, tackling and tactical nous was demonstrated during the junior game at half time than any professional player in a yellow shirt.

The players were back out with no changes, having surely received a rollocking at half time. Would we witness a wound up, invigorated Stags in the second half? The question was answered two minutes in, as the impressive Coulthirst bundled his way through again, only to be tackled at the last minute by a combination of Raynes and Tafazolli. Nothing had changed and the ten men hard started brightly again, winning a corner on 52 minutes.

Now, the old adage goes 'do not make a substitution when defending a corner'. It can cause confusion as to who is marking who. Adam Murray decided to ignore that notion, and introduced Matt Rhead in place of Billy Kee. Despite the half a foot height difference, York killed the game and took a 3-0 lead. The Stags dismal defending of near post corners continued as Jake Hyde stole in to head into and empty net and send the visiting supporters into raptures and who can blame them. Pidgeley came to punch and got nowhere near it, whilst Oliver was culpable of losing Hyde. On a side note, it is evident than Billy Kee is still unfit to play ninety minutes, which is unacceptable given the amount of time he has had to get up to speed. It is also worth pointing out that fans began to walk out from this stage onwards.

The Stags were totally bereft of a plan to get back into the game. They looked bamboozled by how to chase a game or make their extra man count. Despite being three nil down, Murray kept a holding midfielder on the pitch in McGuire, who offers little going forward, when Jack Thomas was sitting on the bench. When Mansfield did eventually manage an effective delivery from the flanks, Callum Elder's excellent cross sailed through the six yard box and out the other side. Vadaine Oliver made an inexplicable run to the near post, after the cross had been delivered, despite it being evident that if he had ran to the far post he would have had a tap in. Murray had obviously seen enough of Oliver, as he was replaced on 66 minutes by Alex Fisher. The lesser spotted Fisher was fresh from two goals for the reserves in midweek.

On 77 minutes, the Stags had a goal back. Clements strike from the edge of the box was deflected up into the air, Rhead took the ball down on his chest, held off a defender and struck a powerful shot into the net via the right hand post. Another glimmer of hope for the Stags. I was sat next to an elderly gentleman in the West Stand Upper who it turned out was a York fan. He told me that York's problem had been in conceding late goals and he seemed worried that his side would collapse. I explained about the Stags goalscoring problems, which seemed to put him at ease a little.

The Stags attempted to build up some pressure. A down field kick by Pidgeley was headed on by Rhead to Fisher, who squared the ball for Bingham, who fired straight at the keeper. This was the closest Mansfield came to a second goal.

York had successfully defended the edge of their own box for the majority of the second half, Coulthirst was still proving a threat on the counter, despite being visibly tired. He managed to get through on goal again after disposessing Jamie McGuire on the edge of his own area, only for Pidgeley to save his initial effort and Tafazolli to block the follow up.

The man of the match Coulthirst did add to his tally in the 89th minute to round off a disastrous Mansfield display. Beevers lost a header to O'Hanlon, who had replace Hyde, in the middle of the park which broke to Coulthirst just outside the centre circle. He was then allowed to run with the ball, with Tafazolli backing off, until he was about ten yards out. He shifted the ball onto his left foot and struck the ball past the outstretched leg of Tafazolli, past Pidgeley and into the bottom left hand corner. A mass exodus of disgruntled Stags fan ensued, booing on their way down the steps and through the exit. 4-1 to York and richly deserved due to the character and quality they had shown.

The highlight of the five minutes of stoppage time was an ovation from the remaining supporters on all sides of the ground for Coulthirst, who was replaced in the very last minute. The question must be raised that if a club such as York can sign a loan player from southern Premier League side, they why can't we?

The referee finally had mercy on us fans and blew the whistle. Fans gathered around the tunnel to voice their displeasure, which did not go unnoticed by the players. Jamie McGuire seemed angered by one fan and had to be coaxed away by club officials.

All in all, a wretched performance in a game which would have more or less guaranteed the Stags Football League status for next season. Adam Murray used the words gutless and spineless in his post match interview, and seemed as peeved as the supporters who had paid to watch it. The manager himself seems to have lost his way. He came in wanting to change the style of play, but that philosophy quickly went by the wayside when he realised the players on the books are not capable. His initial enthusiasm seems to be fading and he indicated he was unsure as to whether he wanted to carry on next season. They may have been reactionary comments in the wake of such a poor result, but the fact remains that having been in the job for four months, he still does not know his best team.

Michael Raynes seems to have waltzed back into the side, despite Mansfield being on a decent run whilst he was out injured. Since he joined, with Raynes in the team, the side have earned 4 points out of a possible 21. During the period he was out injured, the Stags earned 14 points our of a possible out of 24. Ricky Ravenhill seems to have done very little wrong and has been dropped in favour of Jamie McGuire, who is all heart but lacking quality. Richie Sutton, having done a decent enough job out of position at right back, seems to have upset somebody and now cannot gain a place in the team.

The Stags now have two very tough games over the Easter weekend, away at Southend and at home to Shrewsbury. Two defeats in those games and results going against the Stags could seem them sitting just one point above the relegation zone. I am guessing that for both of those games, Mansfield will return to a 4-5-1 formation. Lambe and Hawkridge should come in on the wings. Play Bingham up top, get Thomas in the midfield with Ravenhill and Clements. Bring Sutton in and play him alongside Tafazolli. Anything the Stags can get out of the two Easter fixtures will be a bonus going by Saturdays performance. Murray needs to pick himself and the players up before Friday, as a good result away at Southend could provide a bounce factor for the game on Easter Monday.

Player Ratings :

Pidgeley - 5.5 - Made two excellent saves but was at fault for the crucial third goal. Possibly a bit slow getting down to the second. Nevertheless, conceded four goals.
Riley - Not on long enough to rate.
Raynes - 3 - Terrible display. Beaten too easily for the second goal after trying to play offside. Seems to be a jynx on the Stags. Hope he is ok after he sat out the last ten minutes with a head/neck injury.
Tafazolli  3.5 - Gave the ball away in the build up to the second, backed off too far for the fourth. Poor distribution throughout.
Beevers - 4.5 - Was the only player who attempted to run with the ball but more often than not came to nothing. Numerous poor passes and crosses.
Elder - 4.5 - Not culpable for any of the goals but apart from excellent delivery, his distribution was poor.
McGuire - 3 - Never got a grip on the midfield. Distribution is woeful for a midfield player. Won the ball well on a couple of occasion in the second half but should have been sacrificed in my opinion. Lost his man for the first goal.
Clements - 4.5 - Passing was mostly poor. Did not attempt enough brave passes, content to go sideways. Poor set pieces.
Bingham - 6 - Tried but missed two great chances. Deserves to keep his place and play in his proper position.
Kee - 4 - Set the tone for his performance with his first touch, when with 3 on 2 he inexplicably passed the ball straight to the keeper, Still unfit.
Oliver - 4.5 - A couple of good knock downs but dominated in the air by Lowe and McCombe. Offered no goal threat.

Subs :

Hawkridge (Riley 23) - 6 - Didn't set the world alight but I though he did ok. A couple of good passes. Never easy went brought on with your team 2-0 down.
Rhead (Kee 52)  6 - The usual Rhead display and bagged a goal. Won more headers that Oliver.
Fisher (Oliver 66) 5.5 - Looked lively but never looked like scoring.