Defensive Lapses Prove Costly for Improved Stags

There was no Easter resurrection for the Stags as they succumbed to a third successive defeat at the hands of promotion chasing Southend. It was a pretty even game in terms of possession and creating chances. The two main differences were the quality of defences on display, as former Stag Adam Barrett and early sub Cian Bolger stood firm, and the ability of the Southend attackers to turn pressure into shots on target, which the Stags could not manage all afternoon.

There were five changes from the Stags humiliating defeat at the hand of York last week, as Murray reverted to a familiar 4-5-1 formation away from home. In came Sutton, Ravenhill, Hawkridge, Lambe and Heslop in place of Raynes, Tafazolli, McGuire, Kee and Bingham. Bingham could consider himself unlucky to be dropped after having a decent game against York. Riley and Sutton would be the centre half pairing, for the first time in my recent memory. It was certainly nice to see Sutton given a start in his preferred position. Liam Hearn was not on the bench but did travel with the squad and warmed up on the pitch with the team. As well as Adam Barrett, The Shrimper's had another ex Stag in their starting lineup in the shape of winger Will Atkinson, who had a loan spell at Field Mill during the 2007/08 season.

The Stags started solidly and were playing some decent stuff without penetrating the hosts defence. After 9 minutes, there was a move where the Stags kept the ball excellently, but it came to nothing. Riley and Sutton were looking strong at the back and Clements was using the ball efficiently in the middle of the park. The hosts were forced into an early change on 11 minutes as Adam Thompson appeared to have injured his shoulder and was replaced by the imposing presence of Cian Bolger.

An incident which I have not heard mentioned much came from a Southend corner on 12 minutes. The ball was whipped from the right to the near post. Ravenhill rose to head the all clear and was poleaxed by the elbow of Barry Corr, who also went down holding his head. It was in the assistant referee's line of vision, but nothing was awarded. Not even a talking to for Corr. If the referee had seen it surely would have been at least a booking.

The Stags continued to compete well, but were punished clinically by Corr on 21 minutes. Moments after he had performed an excellent Maradona turn inside his own half, Clements gifted the ball to Timlin 30 yards from goal, Timlin picked out a great pass to Corr on the left side of the area, who had given Beevers the slip. Corr had time to control the pass, pick his head up and confidently dink the ball over Pidgeley and into the roof of the net. A terrible mistake by Clements and poor marking by Beevers.

Southend now had the sea wind in their sails and were 2-0 up on 28 minutes. I have been impressed by Ryan Leonard every time I have seen him play. He was denied a few minutes earlier by Pidgeley, but it did not put him off chancing his arm a second time. After Corr beat Sutton in the air, he hit a powerful shot from just outside the area. It was parried by Pidgeley straight into the path of Will Atkinson, who had the enviable task of slotting the ball into the net. Pidgeley will not be happy that he deflected the ball straight back out in from of his own goal rather than pushing it wide. Another error from the on loan Newport man.

The Stags now had a mountain climb despite not playing that badly. Lambe went about reducing the margin, but his shot was deflected wide for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Oliver should have equalised. Hawkridge drove a flat delivery from the left to the back post, Riley nodded it back across goal and Oliver, who was falling backwards, volleyed the ball into the upper tier of the stand behind the goal. It has now been ten games since Oliver scored a goal, 732 regulation minutes of playing time.

The rest of the half rather petered out, but the Stags were by no means under the cosh. Murray had clearly instilled his team the need to keep the ball better. They were doing pretty well in that respect, but it all broke down once they got within 25 yards of goal. Oliver playing on his own up front was not really working, I think it is a must going forward that the Stags play with two up top.

Just as the whistle was about to go for half time, Simon Heslop nearly gifted the hosts a third. He inexplicably played the ball back into his own area straight to Barry Corr. Corr was clearly unaware of how much time he had, stood on the ball and Pidgeley reacted quickly to smother. Murray was incandescent on the sideline, sending Jack Thomas to warm up straight away.

The Stags made it to the whistle trailing by two goals and Adam Murray must have been furious at the individual errors which had cost his team. It must be maddening to spend all week on the training pitch devising tactics and phases of play, only for specific players to make simple errors that force you to change your game plan.

No changes at half time but surely some stern words for certain players. The problem Murray has in punishing Clements is that if he is advocating a passing style of play, you cannot be too harsh of players when they give the ball away, as it is bound to happen at this level. Clements probably tried to be clever after having his confidence boosted by an excellent piece of skill moments earlier.

The Stags came out slowly and Corr had a chance to add to his tally on 51 minutes, but fired over from close range when he really should have hit the target. Having got to the hour mark with the score still the same, Murray made his first change, as Bingham replaced Heslop. For all Heslop's energy, he seems to drift in and out of the game. Bingham went up top alongside Oliver and the Stags immediately looked more threatening.

Mansfield came closest to scoring on 66 minutes. Another great delivery from Hawkridge, this time from the left found Oliver, who put in a brilliant leap and looped a header against the bar. The rebound fell to Bingham, who could have hit it first time but opted to control, his touch let him down and the chance was gone. A minute later, Oliver did well down the right, his cross was cleared to Clements, who dragged his shot wide from about 20 yards.

Oliver was replaced on 73 minutes by Matt Rhead, indicating the Stags would be taking a more direct approach in the last 20 minutes. Oliver had done ok but no better than that. His running had been lazy on a couple of occasions. After a close shave at the other end where Leonard hit the bar, on 75 minutes, the Stags broke well. A great pass over the top from Clements found Bingham in the left channel. He cut inside onto his right foot and took aim, his shot took a deflection and crept just wide of the target.

The Stags were really playing well now and Lambe was inches away from latching on to a clever touch by Bingham. For a moment, it looked as if Barrett's legs were not going to get moving quick enough but he managed to get a toe on it and divert the ball for another corner, from which Rhead had a low shot blocked. After a quiet five minutes, a cross from the right by Hawkridge led to a flurry of corners, in which Stags won the first balls but the second would not fall kindly for a yellow shirt.

With time running out, Tafazolli replaced an injured Lee Beevers. From a long ball forward, Matt Rhead flicked the ball on excellently into the path of Bingham, who appeared to have the better of Bolger but could not get the contact he wanted on the strike and poked an effort wide of the near post. Also in stoppage time, Rhead again won a flick on for Clements breaking from midfield to run onto, Clements went down softly under pressure from Southend defenders and the referee gave nothing, rightly in my opinion.

The final whistle went and two errors couple with poor finishing had done for the Stags. I came away from the game thinking the Stags had been a bit unlucky, but you just cannot keep making such basic errors and expect to pick up points. Results elsewhere meant the gap to the relegation zone had been cut to six points with Shrewsbury visiting on Monday. Former favourite Liam Lawrence will be part of the second placed visitors and will be sure to get a hero's welcome. He is probably in my top three favourite players I have seen play for the Stags, with Chris Greenacre and Richie Barker.

For the game on Monday, I do not think their is any need for wholesale changes. I would bring Rhead and Bingham in for Heslop and Oliver and play with two up front. The two combined well in the last twenty minutes on Friday. If the Stags can perform as they did and cut out the silly mistakes they may be able to get something from the game.

Player Ratings :

Pidgeley - 6 - Made a couple of decent saves but at fault for the second goal. A couple of poor kicks and punched one cross which he should have caught.
Beevers - 6 - Lost his man for the first and a few poor crosses when in good positions.
Sutton - 7 - Did not put a foot wrong. Solid game. My MOTM.
Riley - 7 - Dealt with Corr pretty well in the air, much improved from recent weeks.
Elder - 6.5 - Defended well but a few poor deliveries from good positions.
Ravenhill - 6.5 - Did ok, broke up play well on a few occasions.
Hawkridge - 7 - Good set piece deliveries and generally good in possession. Would like to see him be a bit braver when one on one with full back.
Clements - 6 - At fault for the first goal. Shame really as that a side it was his best game in a while.
Heslop - 6 - Runs around a lot but rarely involved.
Lambe - 6 - Poor game. Had relatives/friends in the crowd. Perhaps tried to hard to impress.
Oliver - 6 - Very little service. One infuriating run where he went offside. Missed a good chance in the first, unlucky with a header in the second.

Subs :

Bingham (Heslop 60) - 6.5 - Very lively when he came on but missed a few chances. Did not deserve to be dropped and should start on Monday.
Rhead (Oliver 73) - 7 - Played very well, two great flick ons and won a few knock downs from corners. Deserves a start.
Tafazolli (Bevvers 90) - Think he touched the ball once. No rating.