Battling Stags Defeated By Shrews

Despite the marked rise in temperature in Mansfield on Easter Monday, The Stags failed to fire in a 1-0 defeat against Shrewsbury, who moved to the top of League Two in the process. Despite cutting out the individual errors, Mansfield could not find a breakthrough. The yellow shirts were gutsy throughout and their effort cannot be brought into question, but when chances came their way they were found wanting in front of goal, as has been the story all season long.

There were two changes from Fridays game, with Jack Thomas and Jamie McGuire freshening up the midfield in place of Ricky Ravenhill and Simon Heslop. Ravenhill sat in front of me in the West Stand and was sporting a medical boot, which appears to indicate he could be missing for the long term. Liam Lawrence captained the visitors and applauded all sides of Field Mill when heading for the tunnel following the warm up. Before the game, a minutes applause for lifelong Mansfield Town fan Chris Taylor was impeccably observed by all supporters.

The Stags started slowly and were lucky not to have Pidgeley tested on 2 minutes, as Riley was beaten to a header on the edge of the box and Goldson flashed a half volley across the area and out for a throw.

Despite the early scare, The Stags were competing well but struggling to get hold of the ball, as they opted to hit the channels looking for the head of Oliver. Following a Shrewsbury free-kick on 19 minutes, Jack Thomas broke away with the ball, which eventually ended up with Beevers on the right, only for the full back to deliver two poor crosses which were easily dealt with by the best defence in League Two.

Jack Thomas was at the centre of everything good for the Stags and had a clear sight of goal on 25 minutes. Reggie Lambe lifted an excellent pass over the Shrews defence to put Thomas in behind. Unfortunately for the youngster, his first touch let him down a little but he still had a shooting chance and attempted to lob Leutwiler, but got too much on it and the ball sailed over the net.

Mansfield were pressing high and winning the ball back high up the pitch courtesy of Hawkridge, Clements and Thomas. Thomas was chasing every flick on from Oliver and his pressure nearly paid off as Goldson got just enough on the back header for Leutwiler to collect. On 39 minutes, the ball dropped to Thomas 35 yards from goal and with the ball bouncing he hit a long range looping effort which was well dealt with by the visiting keeper. Despite challenging for promotion, Shrewsbury were showing little going forward.

The half time whistle came with chances at a premium, but Mansfield were on top and all three midfielder's were playing excellently. McGuire was providing the encouragement and tough tackling, Clements the calm passing and ball retention and Jack Thomas making lung busting runs beyond Oliver, which the Stags have been missing in recent weeks. Micky Mellon was clearly unhappy with what he has seen from his side going forward, as Akpa Akpro was hauled off and replaced by Tyrone Barnett. The striker was Peterborough's first million pound player and had reportedly commanded a six figure fee when moving to Shrewsbury in January.

The visitors emerged with a renewed sense of purpose and took the lead on 50 minutes in somewhat fortuitous fashion. The ball found it's way to Ellis on the right side of the area and was faced up by Elder. Elder then chose to follow and overlapping runner expecting Lambe to take over in front of Ellis. Lambe switched off for a second and Ellis now had a clear site of goal. The defender took a pot shot, it looped up into the air and was converted by Tyrone Barnett at the far post from close range. It was a split second error from Lambe but it is small margins that are costing the Stags. Pidgeley also did not cover himself in glory, as he was slow to react to the ball looping towards the back post. It was cruel on the Stags to say the least.

The Stags had to pick themselves up quickly, but it would not be an easy task with the most impotent attack in the League facing the tightest defence. They had a five minute delay to gather their thoughts, as shortly after the goal referee Tim Robinson could not continue and was replaced by the linesman, with the fourth official taking the flag. Humorous chants form the Shrewsbury fans of 'you're not fit to referee'.

After playing well at Southend on Friday, Matt Rhead was introduced on 61 minutes to replace loanee Terry Hawkridge, who had not had the best of games. As always with Rhead's introduction, it meant the Stags would be going even more direct for the last half an hour.

On 64 minutes, Mansfield were denied what looked a nailed on penalty. Grandison's headed backpass from the right side of the area did not have enough power and Oliver latched onto the ball. Grandison appeared to have a hand full of Oliver's shirt which prevented the front man from being clean through on goal. The replacement referee waved away baying appeals and even booked Richie Sutton for his protests.

The Stags appeared to have a second wind as a long ball forward from Elder was headed down by Rhead to the feet of Reggie Lambe who was breaking into the box, but the ball got caught under his feet and the chance was gone. A glorious chance for Lambe who had not looked at the races all afternoon. A minute later, Elder intercepted a pass inside his own half and skipped past two tackles to produce a four on four situation. The full back delayed his pass and by the time the ball was slipped through to Oliver, he had inexplicably strayed offside. Oliver has been caught offside on at least three previous occasions when looking straight across the line. It was lazy forward play from a striker badly in need of a goal.

On 71 minutes, tigerish tackling from Thomas won the ball back on the edge of the Shrews area. He managed to poke the ball into the box for Clements on the right side of the area. With the ball sitting up invitingly Clements hit a shot at goal which went wide of Leutwiler's near post. With Clements technical ability you would have expected him to go across the keeper and at least hit the target.

Shrewsbury were now pegged back inside their own halves and had scored with pretty much their only foray forward in the whole game. Clements sent a free kick into the box which was headed clear to Thomas on the edge of the area. Sadly, the youngster was off balance and slammed the ball into the Quarry Lane End.

On 84 minutes, the Stags were set to make a second change and fans were predicting the withdrawal of Oliver, who had been holding his arm following a clash in the centre circle. In fact, it was McGuire who was replaced by Rakish Bingham, who I had expected to see much earlier. McGuire had been excellent in the holding role, probably his best display of the season. The change should have proved immediately fruitful. Another long ball was helped on by Rhead to Bingham, who sliced his first time shot straight at Leutwiler. I do not think Bingham realised how much time he had. It was at least enough to take a touch.

The Stags made their final change a minute later, as Oliver was finally substituted. Alex Fisher was the man to come on in his place.

Despite the Stags best efforts and countless long balls aimed at Matt Rhead, the ball would not break kindly for a yellow shirt. Shrewsbury played out the eight minutes of stoppage time comfortably as Mansfield could not muster another chance.

At the final whistle, there was applause for our defeated side, who deserved at least a draw out of the game. There was delirium in the away end as the Shrews fans, players and staffs celebrated going top of the table in the knowledge that they might be back down to second by close of play. Liam Lawrence departed the pitch to a standing ovation also, despite not having too much influence on the game.

Results elsewhere had been kind to the Stags as as all of the chasing pack failed to win, keeping the gap at six points. A long trip away to play off chasing Plymouth in five days for Mansfield as the tough run of games continues. After facing the best defence in the league today, they will now meet the second best on Saturday. Unfortunately I cannot make the game. Murray will be hoping for the same commitment from his side again but they have to be more ruthless in front of goal.

In his post match interview, Murray had a bit of a go at fans for applauding Liam Lawrence more than the team on the pitch. I do not think that was the case. He also said that fans were booing his decision to replace McGuire with Bingham. Again, I think he was wrong. Fans were booing because he did not take Oliver off, who was clearly unfit to continue, hence the cheers when he was eventually substituted.

I think the manager needs to concentrate more on the things he can effect rather than the thing he cannot, such as why did he take so long to introduce Rakish Bingham and why is Bingham on the bench in the first place, when he is our joint top scorer, was our best player against York and impressive against Southend on Friday. Adam Murray needs to come up with a formula to score goals and fast as we head into the last five games.

Player Ratings :

Pidgeley - 5 - Not sure what he was doing for the goal but never moved. Kicking was poor throughout.
Beevers - 6 - Defended solidly but some poor passing and crossing.
Riley - 7 - Another solid game.
Sutton - 7 - Looks a good partnership with Riley, kept the Shrews quiet for most of the game.
Elder - 6.5 - Looked shakey at times but better going forward than Beevers.
McGuire - 8 - Excellent game. Kept his team motivated and got stuck in throughout. You don't mind his distribution so much when he is effective defensively. One last ditch tackle.
Hawkridge - 5.5 Poor set pieces and rarely involved.
Clements - 7.5 - Part of a good midfield, passed the ball well.
Thomas - 9 - Excellent display, looked the Stags biggest threat. Tackling and passing brilliant. Hard to remember he is only 18.
Lambe - 5.5 - Pass to Thomas aside had a poor game. Dwelt on the ball, knocked off it to easily and miscontrolled when through on goal.
Oliver - 6 - Won a few headers but laziness when looking across the line grates on me. Should have been taken off ten minutes before he was.

Subs :

Rhead (Hawkridge 61) - 7 - Did his job in creating two great chances from flick ons. Still think he deserves a start.
Bingham (McGuire 84) - Looked lively but missed a great chance. Also deserves a start.
Fisher (Oliver 85) - Looked flat footed from Rhead flicks.