Stags held by Tamworth

After an easy victory last weekend against Rainworth Welfare, the Stags new look side were provided with a much sterner test by Conference North side Tamworth and emerged with a 1-1 draw after a superb equaliser by Nathan Thomas.

The fluent passing side seen the previous Saturday were a lot more ragged against tougher opposition, perhaps having their confidence dented by a rumoured behind closed doors defeat by League One side Bury in midweek. It must be emphasised that the the team are only 13 days into pre-season and that 13 new faces must be allowed time to gel and grow.

The Stags started the game with a very strong looking side in the same 4-2-3-1 formation displayed the previous week. The lineup was Shearer in goal, Benning and Hunt as the full backs, either side of skipper Lee Collins and newly confirmed signing Krystian Pearce. Clements and Chapman were the deep-lying midfielders, with Nathan Thomas on the right, Jack Thomas in the hole and Reggie Lambe on the left. Matt Green pulled on a Stags shirt for the first time since 2013 to lead the line. Despite the release of the new home shirt earlier on Saturday, Mansfield wore last season's home jersey.

Despite the Stags showing a desire to play out from the back, Tamworth started positively and were in front early on courtesy of a familiar face. A long ball into the right channel brought Shearer rushing out of his goal, when there did not appear to be any great need as Collins looked to have the situation under control. Shearer looked to be coming to catch the ball but got a shout from Collins of 'you're not in (your area)!'. Shearer opted to kick instead with his weaker foot and miscued the ball straight to Newton. He squared the ball for an unmarked Ross Dyer to tap in to an empty goal. A strange opener and Shearer got a prolonged glare from Adam Murray as he trudged back to his goal line. A fellow Stags fan beside me reckons Shearer was known by Wycombe fans as 'shaky Shearer'.

The Stags looked disjointed and outplayed by the hosts. With Green in the side and the home team on top, the back line started attempting to hit channels for Green to run onto with no success. There were plenty of unforced errors from the centre halves, Clements and Chapman as they struggled to gain a foothold. On a positive note, Lambe and Benning both looked lively down the left and Nathan Thomas was beating his man every time he got ball. Green looked rusty but lacked any genuine service till shortly before half time when he beat the Tamworth keeper to a through ball from N. Thomas, only to be denied by an outstretched hand from Belshaw, well outside of his area, which the referee somehow failed to see.

A poor first half from Mansfield with a few bright spots. A couple of well worked set pieces, one of which provided a chance for Lambe, but the ball got caught under his foot as he attempted a shot. They had tried to play but were shut down well by Tamworth. The criticisms I would have of Lambe and Thomas, who had both played well individually, was that they were coming inside too quickly when our defenders were in possession and making it easy for Tamworth to intercept passes between the lines. Murray had been urging his keeper and defenders to move the ball quicker. Matt Green and Jack Thomas were not in the game at all and the latter looked uncomfortable in a more advanced role.

Despite all eleven subs having warmed up extensively at half time, only two were introduced during the interval. A straight swap as Chris Beardsley and Craig Westcarr replaced Matt Green and Jack Thomas. Murray revealed after the game that he had given his team a kick up the backside during his team talk and they straight away looked more determined.

The yellow shirts appeared to be allowed more time in possession by Tamworth and Beardsley was holding the ball up effectively, allowing the three players behind him to make things happen higher up the field. The Stags exerted some pressure but could not yet find an equaliser. Ten minutes into the half, Pearce went down injured and was immediately replaced by Tafazolli. Murray confirmed after the game that the injury was nothing serious and the substitution was precautionary.

The Stags levelled on 55 minutes through Nathan Thomas. Thomas brought the ball down well on the edge of the area and rolled it into Westcarr just inside the box. He then screamed at his teammate 'Westy, set! set!'. Westcarr duly obliged and with the most nonchalant wave of his left boot Thomas curled the ball into the keepers top right hand corner. An excellent finish by the Stags brightest spark so far this pre-season.

Having played over an hour of football, the Stags replaced their central midfielders and wingers. Clement, Chapman, Lambe and Thomas were replaced by McGuire, Fitzpatrick, Rose and Yussuf. Yussuf went up top, Beardsley dropped slightly deeper, Rose out to the right and Westcarr to the left. As the team were defending at that point, they waited a couple of minutes before replacing the remaining starting defenders Benning, Collins and Hunt with Conor Green, Shires and Marsden and then finally young keeper Wilson replaced Shearer.

Naturally, the game became a little disjointed at this stage and the Stags took the opportunity to switch formation to a 4-3-3, with Rose moving more central and Westcarr moving up top with Beardsley and Yussuf.

The last ten minutes of the game were lit up by bustling striker Adi Yussuf, who has also been impressive thus far. He chased a ball into the right channel, got the better of the defender and drove a right footed shot across the keeper, which was well saved. He carried on running, kept the ball in and managed to win what appeared to everyone in the ground to be a corner, apart from the referee. Beardsley was provided with a good chance following an excellent pass by Tafazolli but his chested first touch let him down.

There was one final chance for the Stags. Great work down the left by Green and then Fitzpatrick gave Yussuf a chance, who cut inside and tried to round the keeper, only to be denied by a dangling leg.

A more threatening start and end to the second half by the Stags, interrupted by a disjointed middle period laced with substitutions. Overall, I would say positive performance were on display by Benning, Lambe, N. Thomas, Westcarr and Yussuf. Good cameo's also came from Fitzpatrick and Tafazolli.

A few concerning issues. The back four and keeper looked decidedly unsettled in the first period, but of course have never played a game together before and their collective poor performance can perhaps be but down to a lack of understanding rather than ability. I'm also note sure about the midfield combination of Chapman and Clements, as they are very similar players. I would like to see Jack Thomas back alongside Clements in a deeper role, as he struggled to get into the game further up the pitch. Lastly, barring the warm up where he fired in some unstoppable finishes, Matt Green appeared understandably rusty. He is a few days behind other players in terms of fitness and has not played many competitive games in the last two seasons. No need to panic just yet though, with just under a month until the first League fixture.

The first team squad head to Worksop on Wednesday for their next friendly game. Of course it is silly to read too much into pre-season results but I do think you can make judgements on individual performers and this weekends game raised a few questions to think about. The squad for me still appears light of a centre half and perhaps a recognised 'number ten' if Murray is insistent on playing the 4-2-3-1 formation. I would hope to see a bit more of Adi Yussuf on Wednesday and would also like to see Mitchell Rose in a more central role.