Stags Prevail in Open Game

A game which could have gone either way ended in a 2-1 victory for the Stags, on a night where the majority of the teams around them also picked up three points. For the second Tuesday night home game running, the winning goal was bagged Rakish Bingham in the 87th minute. The goal came at a time when the Stags defence were under heavy pressure from AFC Wimbledon, who missed a couple of excellent chances after Riley and Tafazolli constantly failed to get a grip of powerhouse Adebayo Akinfenwa.

After much clamour in the stands and on fans forums, supporters finally got their wish as Adam Murray started with a 4-4-2 formation and Billy Kee alongside Vadaine Oliver. Jack Thomas was the man to miss out. Jamie McGuire also came into the side ahead of Ricky Ravenhill. Martin
Riley kept his place despite taking to Twitter to label users of supporters forum Stagsnet 'clowns'. Something I noted during the pre-match handshakes was the referees rather over-friendly embrace with Akinfenwa.

As the game began, it was clear Akinfenwa was going to be a handful and that Adam Murray had a plan to deal with him. The plan was for the defence to play a high line, the team to stay compact and Jamie McGuire to sit in front of the target man in an attempt to unsettle him. McGuire's tussle with Akinfenwa was one of the highlights of the first half. The battled resembled scenes from Scooby Doo where cousin Scrappy would be held at bay with a hand on the forehead whilst he tried to throw punches at somebody much larger. Also noticeable was that Brown and Lambe were on the correct flanks for their strongest foot, perhaps signalling the Stags intent to deliver more crosses.

It was Jamie McGuire who supplied the Stags first chance on 6 minutes, as he returned a long clearance from the Dons back over the top. Kee had anticipated the long clearance and his clever movement had got him through on goal. He never really got properly set and rifled the bouncing ball against the underside of the bar. The rebound came back to him, but he mistimed his jump and looped a header over the still trembling crossbar. It was good movement by Kee but he really should have scored.

The Stags continued to try and open the scoring, with Chris Clements nearly bursting through the middle and Kee almost managing to play in Oliver following the on loan Crewe man's knock down.

At the other end, it was the Dons turn to threaten. 20 minutes in, a corner from the right was aimed towards the far side of the area level with the penalty spot, where towering defender Winfield sent a bullet header towards the top corner, only to see his attempt excellently clawed away by the the left hand of Pidgeley. The visitors were starting to play off Akinfenwa and Smith managed a shot on target, but it ran harmlessly through to the Stags keeper.

The game was now much more open and the Mansfield nerves were starting to show after a fast start. Vadaine Oliver managed to stretch and direct an Elder cross on target, but never looked like scoring. Clements and Akinfenwa both sent long range efforts well over the bar at either end.

On 28 minutes, Akinfenwa's strength was on full display, as he pulled a cross down on his chest, held off Beevers and volleyed the ball low to Pidgeley's left, but the man in goal showed good hands to make the save.

After the half hour mark, the Stags lost their way a little. The defence was starting to be bullied in the way that Eaves did on Saturday. The midfield were struggling to hold on to the ball and the wingers had hardly been in the game at all. The ball was not sticking with the front pair either.

That being said, the Stags were close to taking the least just before the break, as Oliver's effort from inside the area was heading towards the top corner, a Dons defender managed to get their head to the ball and avert the danger.

The half time whistle went and the sense was that it had been a better performance than against Bury three days previously. There were still question marks over the defence but I don't suppose any central defender has had an easy afternoon against Akinfenwa this season. There was no need for immediate change as the Stags had shown the ability to create, but they needed to get the wingers in the game more. Brown had hardly touched the ball and Lambe had been wasteful.

The yellow shirts emerged from the tunnel followed by AFC's white away strip and the second half was underway.

It was the visitors who this time came out the blocks quickest. Martin Riley failed to deal with a long ball and Tanner's through ball found Reeves unmarked in the area. Unfortunately for the visitors, Reeves did not realise how much time he had and scuffed his shot weakly at Pidgeley. A great chance wasted for Wimbledon. Minutes later, Tanner himself let fly with a long range effort which went wide of the right hand post.

Again, Mansfield were struggling to keep the ball and the crowd were beginning to turn, especially it seemed on Chris Clements who was guilty of giving the ball away a couple of times in as many minutes. Riley and Tafazolli were also getting stick for their inability to deal with the spearhead Akinfenwa.

Nevertheless, the Stags took the lead on 56 minutes. A free kick from inside the visitors half was taken by the maligned Clements towards Vadaine Oliver on the left side of the area. A defender managed to win the aerial challenge, but the ball broke kindly to the edge of the box where full back Lee Beevers was charging in to power a low effort into the back of the net via a deflection. It was noticeable that the two players who did not join in the joyous celebrations of team, minus the goalkeeper, were Clements following his tough ten minutes and Martin Riley.

Adam Murray urged his players to keep compact but not to drop deep. They went in search of a second goal, but Oliver rushed his shot and sent it well over the bar after a ricochet off Billy Kee. Goalscorer Beevers had to be alert at the other end as this time Tafazolli failed to deal with the long ball leaving Rigg through on goal. The full back showed great pace to get round on the cover and shepherd the ball safely back to Pidgeley.

After a shaky first half, young Australian full back Callum Elder was starting to grow into the game and get forward to good effect. He sent over a pinpoint cross onto the head of Oliver, but Oliver got his header all wrong and sent it wide. Oliver can sometimes be frustrating with the lack of direction on his headers. He was presented with another opportunity, this time at his feet following an excellent slide rule pass by Clements but fired well wide of the near post. Reggie Lambe had laid the ball off for Clements and was also starting to influence the game.

Despite the Stags continuing to push forward, the visitors were awarded a penalty on 68 minutes. A long ball into the left channel was poorly headed up rather than away by Ryan Tafazolli. The second ball was headed back into the area by a white shirt and Tafazolli, unable to adjust his feet quickly enough, stooped and controlled the ball with his right arm and the referee pointed to the spot. Francomb made no mistake with his spot kick, sending Pidgeley the wrong way. Just off the top of my head, that is the third goal Tafazolli's inability to move his feet quickly enough has cost the Stags. Tonight's error, the penalty he gave away at Oxford and the goal at Cheltenham. He compounded his error by slicing a clearance into the stands from the restart and the crowd were quick to voice their displeasure.

On 73 minutes, Wimbledon had a great chance to take the lead. The Stags back four were all over the place and Azeez found himself free on the left, only to direct his shot at the legs of Pidgeley. Mansfield needed to sort themselves out and fast. Murray noticed the need for change and made all three changes between the 74th and 76th minute. Brown was replaced by Monakana after another disappointing performance, Oliver was replaced by Rhead and Kee, much to the disgust of those sat in front of me, was replaced by Bingham. Kee had a decent enough game but missed a great chance and was evidently starting to tire.

The changes seemed to momentarily halt the charge of the Dons, as Reggie Lambe had a shot tipped over from the edge of the area. The corner was cleared but Beevers managed to get the ball back side to Clements. Clements whipped in a low delivery but Rhead, on the stretch, could only divert the effort wide of the post.

Azeez, who had replaced Rigg earlier in the half, wasted a second glorious chance to win it. Finding himself in almost identical position to ten minutes earlier, he this time opted for power and blazed his effort into the stand. Another one on one chance gone begging for the visitors.

Following Azeez's glaring miss, the Stags got a big slice of luck in scoring the winning goal in the 87th minute. An adventurous run by Elder down the left culminated in a poor cross. However, Wimbledon failed to clear their lines and with the ball bouncing in the penalty area, Rakish Bingham showed a predatory instinct to drive the ball into the bottom left hand corner. The keeper got a hand to it but could not keep it out. One chance, one goal for Rakish Bingham and a second vital Tuesday night goal from a striker who, perhaps unfairly, does not seem to be fancied for a starting birth by Adam Murray. The One Call Stadium erupted, as Bingham had managed to dig Tafazolli out of big hole by bagging what would surely be the winning goal.

With just thee minutes of normal time remaining, the Stags continued to go forward. A determined run by Monakana took him to the edge of the area, where he aimed a weak left foot shot on target. The keeper tipped the ball out for a corner. The stags tried to keep the ball in the corner through Rhead but Chris Clements managed to drive into the area and put the ball on a plate for Monakana, who completely fluffed his attempted strike.

Five minutes of stoppage time were added on and Wimbledon took the opportunity to launch the ball forward, where Tafazolli challenged for the ball clumsily inside the area. This time, no penalty was given by the referee but the defender took a really necessary risk in pushing his opposite number and all I will say is I have seen them given. I cannot imagine the uproar had Tafazolli given away a second penalty.

Despite some edgy defending, the Stags managed to see out the extra five minutes and secure all three points. The magnitude of Bingham's winning goal was underlined when the results from other League Two game came through. Tranmere, Dagenham, Carlisle and Hartlepool all managed to secure victories and yet the Stags late winner had moved them up to 16th in the table, their highest league position since before Christmas.

As for Rakish Bingham, there is no doubt he can be a frustrating player, but he has perhaps earned a recall to the starting lineup. Whether that is in place of Kee or Oliver, or on the wing in place of misfiring Junior Brown, I feel he deserves a chance to show what he can do. Especially when you consider that the Stags next game is away at Hartlepool, where Bingham spent a spell on loan earlier in the season, and the unwritten football rule that players usually score against their old clubs.

Unfortunately, I am unable to make the long trip up North on Saturday, but a win against Hartlepool would further enhance the Stags survival chances. For the weekend, it would perhaps be wise to rest one of the central defenders, neither of whom have had the best of weeks. I would also like to see Junior Brown rested, as he is clearly either out of form or unfit.

Player Ratings :

Pidgeley  - 7 - Made some crucial saves, one excellent one from a corner. Needs to work on the accuracy of his kicking. My MOTM.
Beevers - 6.5 - In the right place for the goal but quite a lot of Wimbledon's threat in the second half came down his side.
Riley - 5.5 - Failed to get to grips with Akinfenwa and poor distribution. May live to regret labelling fans 'clowns' if his performances do not improve.
Tafazolli - 5 - Another needless penalty conceded. Again failed to live with physicality of Akinfenwa.
Elder - 6.5 - Distribution let him down in the first half but much better in the second and contributed to the winning goal. First half prevent MOTM award.
Lambe - 6.5 - Terrible first half, could not control the ball. Tireless in the second without creating too much.
McGuire - 6.5 - Started off well, winning loose balls and putting Kee through. Started to tire after the hour mark but still continued to organise and motivate.
Clements - 6 - Mixed bag. Some good passing with some wasteful. Not as good pressing as in previous weeks.
Brown - 6 - A few brief glimpses but something seems wrong with him. Time for a rest.
Oliver - 6.5 - Ball needs to stick more with him. Poor direction on a few headers. Worked hard and linked well at times with Kee.
Kee - 6.5 - Missed a great chance, the type you would expect him to take. Some good hold up play but tired after an hour.

Subs :

Monakana (Brown 74)  - 6 - A few good runs but no end product. Missed a great chance to secure the win.
Rhead (Oliver 75) - 6 - Not really involved. I do not think he should have come on.
Bingham (Kee 76) - 7 - Scored another vital goal with more or less his first touch. Clinical.