Lacklustre Stags Well Beaten

A torrid afternoon for the Stags ended in a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Cambridge. From the very first whistle, Mansfield Town did not look at the races. With the two sides level of points prior to kick off, they were worlds apart on the pitch and the performance underlined the rebuilding job Adam Murray has on his hands in the summer. As a result of goings on elsewhere, The Stags were assured of their league status for another year. On afternoons like yesterday, it is hard to believe that there are at least three worse teams in League Two this season. Incidentally, Mansfield have registered just one win out of six against the three teams below them, on Tuesday night against Tranmere.

There were three changes from the heroic's of midweek, one being enforced due to the suspension of Reggie Lambe. The two other players to miss out were Callum Elder and Jamie McGuire. In came, Lee Beevers at left back, Ricky Ravenhill to captain the side in the holding role and Terry Hawkrdige in place of Lambe. The Stags looked in high spirits during the warm up routine, as they were serenaded by a bizarre mix of chart hits from 2008 and 2009.

Those high spirits were soon brought down to earth as the hosts took the lead after 3 minutes. A challenge by Tafazolli was penalised 35 yards from goal, wrongly in my opinion. Sulley Kaikai, on loan from Crystal Palace and The U's star man of late was over the ball. He struck a shot which swerved all over the place and beat Studer low to his left. Studer had only arranged a one man wall and will be disappointed that he did not keep the ball out having got a hand to it.

Cambridge had bossed the game from the first minute. The two strikers Elliott and Slew were causing Mansfield all kinds of problems. Ravenhill, Clements and Thomas were failing to get a hold of the midfield even though they had a man advantage. Lee Beevers was struggling at left back and sliced two or three clearances straight out of play.

An injury to U's wingman Ryan Donaldson following a weaving run down the right led to the introduction of former Stag Greg Taylor, who played a part in Mansfield's title winning season two years ago. He played as a left full back whilst plying his trade in Nottinghamshire but went into a left wing role up against former teammate Richie Sutton.

On 14 minutes, Cambridge were awarded a free kick in an almost identical position to the first goal. With Kaikai over the ball again, Studer failed to adapt and again called for a single man wall. This time Kaikai opted for power and sent the ball wide of Studer's left hand post.

It took 27 minutes but Mansfield were starting to keep the ball a little better, but the final pass was almost always a long ball to Oliver or straight down the throat of the Cambridge keeper. Murray had tweaked things early on, asking Thomas to play as more of an orthodox central midfielder rather than a number ten. Again, both Brown and Hawkridge were coming far too narrow when the Stags had the ball. This must be a tactic by Murray as it has happened in almost every game since he took over. Clements won the ball high up the pitch but overhit a pass for Oliver which was smothered by the keeper.

On 31 minutes, the growing frustration of Thomas, who was working very hard, culminated in a yellow card. That is now seven yellow cards in ten appearances. He needs to cut out the silly fouls and constant haranguing of officials if he is going to be a ninety minute influence for next season. He nearly equalised on 33 minutes after Oliver outmuscled a Cambridge defender and found Thomas, but his touch let him down and the ball ran through to Dunn.

Despite the Stags slightly better ball retention, they were 2-0 down on 42 minutes. A short corner routine returned the ball to Kaikai on the right hand side of the area. Jack Thomas had been caught napping and should have been out quicker to Kaikai, but instead he was jogging and made a feeble attempt at a tackle. Kaikai skipped over Thomas' leg and hit a powerful left footed shot toward goal, which took a deflection off Oliver and found the net, this time via Studer's right hand. Really poor defending by the Stags.

Cambridge had two chances to extend their lead before half time. Tom Elliott curled a shot over from just outside the area after a great run by Kaikai. The ball almost broke kindly from a corner from the right also, from which the hosts cleverly feigned a short corner, moving out the Stags near post defenders. The ball was flicked on by Elliott and nearly fell to Nelson but the danger was cleared.

A very poor first half performance by the Stags as they left the field to boo's from some of the travelling supporters. The fans have every right to boo and it certainly had been lacking in any quality, but what really grates is when fans are shouting 'change it Adam' after 5 minutes have gone. When have you seen a manager at any level make a tactical substitution after 5 minutes of a game?!

Adam Murray clearly found the performance unacceptable as two changes were made at half time to match up with Cambridge's 4-4-2. Oliver and Hawkridge were replaced by Rhead and Bingham. Jack Thomas was moved out to the right flank initially.

The Stags started the second half much better than the first and looked a lot more threatening, without creating any clear cut chances. If Mansfield are going to carry on playing direct football, they have to play with two up front.

Despite a better start, the hosts should have been 3-0 up on the hour mark when Elliott headed wide of Studer's left hand post from close range following a Kaikai cross. Murray made his final change on 63 minutes as the anonymous Ravenhill was replaced by youngster Joe Fitzpatrick, who had been impressive in the pre-match shooting practice, as had Liam Hearn, who would not feature for another week.

On 65 minutes, it was game on again as Mansfield equalised. Shortly before the change, Beevers had swapped sides with Sutton, presumably for his better diagonal crossing ability to look for Rhead. Beevers sent a long ball down the right which was just kept in play by the head of Rhead. Thomas pursued the flick on as Coulson took charge but the defender hit his back pass woefully short. Thomas was alive and got to the ball before Dunn. The youngster calmly squared the ball for Rakish Bingham to tap into the empty net. Another goal for Rakish Bingham who certainly knows where the net is and has been unlucky not to make more starts in my opinion.

The Stags were now pressing for an equaliser with Beevers launching a couple of high balls for Rhead to knock down but Cambridge were defending them solidly. Following the goal Mansfield had changed to a diamond formation, with Fitzpatrick at the base, Brown and Clements as the centres and Thomas playing in the hole.

The visitors had a great chance to equalise on 76 minutes. Great play down the right by Bingham as he took on three defenders and pulled the ball back for Clements in acres of space, but the midfielder delayed his shot for way too long, allowing Cambridge to get bodies back and block the shot. Goalscoring is an area of Clements game that is sadly lacking and is a string he needs to add to his bow if he is indeed the best midfielder in League Two, as claimed by Murray on Friday.

Another good chance on 83 minutes which ended up being made much more complicated than it should have been. A change of roles found Bingham flicking the ball through to Rhead, who was goalside of his defender on the right hand angle of the area. Instead of using his strength to hold off the defender and advancing on goal, he attempted a first time half volley which went well off target.

Five minutes later, the Stags were made to pay and the game was wrapped up by the head of Tom Elliott. Fitzpatrick showed his inexperience by attempting a slide tackle in the middle of the park when he should have stayed on his feet. The ball came out to the left for Dunk, who sent an excellent cross over to the far post where Elliott had lost both Tafazolli and Raynes and was able to head in unchallenged from an almost identical position to his earlier miss. It was no more than the home side deserved.

There was still time for Bingham to display brilliant control again as he fired a shot wide but the game finished 3-1, the Stags fourth straight loss away from home. Adam Murray was clearly seething after the game, saying that he 'didn't learn anything new today and it hammered a few coffins home'. I think he was talking about the likes of Beevers, Ravenhill and Brown, who will all surely be shown the door at the end of the season. Loan players such as Oliver and Hawkridge just did not look interested, hence their withdrawal at half time.

The positive to take from Saturday was the performance of Rakish Bingham as a sub, who oozed class and again showed that he will score if given the chance. The other positive is that the Stags are set for another season in the football league and that next season surely cannot be less entertaining than this one!

With two games to go and safety guaranteed. the most we can hope for from the remaining games is for the players to display no fear and for the management to play with two up top. It would also be nice to see Marsden (as Beevers/Elder are unlikely to be here next season) and Fitzpatrick (as we have lost Murray, and Ravenhill/Heslop are unlikely to be here next season). We should also hopefully have at least 30 minutes in each game for Liam Hearn to show us what we have been missing.

Player Ratings :

Studer - 5 - Early mistake for first goal affected confidence. Perhaps could have done better with the second goal also.
Sutton - 6 - Poor distribution, defensively ok.
Raynes - 6 - Ok but not as dominant against Elliott and Slew as in midweek. Poor distribution.
Tafazolli - 5.5 - Several poor headers. Poor distribution.
Beevers - 4.5 - Given run around by Kaikai. Woeful distribution in the firs half, better when switched to right back.
Ravenhill - 4 - Anonymous. Mentioned in my previous report that he was sat near to me in the stands against Shrewsbury. May as well have been yesterday.
Hawkridge - 4 - Jumped out of a few tackles. Lacks pace for a winger. Do not think he will be invited back next season. Played too narrow.
Clements - 5 - Went missing. Terrible set pieces. A couple of good passes but needs to do more.
Thomas  - 7 - At fault for second goal in my opinion but still the Stags most creative influence. Needs to curb his aggression as teams till target him.
Brown - 4 - Played too narrow. Does not do enough. Shame after promise of his early performances.
Oliver - 4 - Did not look bothered. Got zero services but did not go looking for the ball. I would send him back for final two games and let the contracted strikers prove their worth.

Subs :
Rhead (Hawkridge 46) - 6.5 - Won a few headers but should have backed himself when put in by Bingham.
Bingham (Oliver 46) - 8 - Excellent. Scored, set up two chances for others. Needs to start.
Fitzpatrick (Ravenhill 63) - 6.5 - Some good passing and composure. Should be given a start in final two games. Looks a good prospect.