Don't Panic!

In the aftermath of Saturday's defeat against Luton at Kenilworth Road, it was strange to stroll back to the car feeling disappointed with the result, but not with the performance Mansfield Town produced. On another day, The Stags could have won the game by two or three goals and Luton could have no complaints.

It was then surprising to read the Stagsnet messageboard and Twitter on my return to find a handful of supporters angry at what they considered a lack of adventure from Adam Murray's men. Whilst the Hatters enjoyed plentiful possession in the first period, they only created one genuine goalscoring opportunity, excluding Craig Mackail-Smith's glorious overhead kick which was ruled offside. Despite little activity in the opposition's half, Matt Green also saw his clear-cut opening thwarted by the legs of Luton stalwart Mark Tyler.

In the second period, Mackail-Smith's marvellous movement was found by Jonathan Smith's defence-splitting pass, unlocking the Mansfield rearguard. Having manoeuvred into a goalscoring position, Tafazolli comitted the cardinal sin of putting his hands on the striker, sending Mackail-Smith tumbling to the floor. It was a definite penalty in my view and Tafazolli was lucky to stay on the pitch. Mackail-Smith's link up play and work rate was superior to anything I have observed in League Two this season.

Aside from the goal, Mansfield were much improved in the second half and failed to covert a further two guilt edge chances. For a fifteen minute spell towards the end of the game, Luton had every man behind the ball and despite Mansfield's patient build up play, the orange wall could not be breached.

Removing the scoreline from the equation, Mansfield's display was better than some of the results which have yielded points this season. For example, AFC Wimbledon at home was less entertaining in terms of attempts on goal, and there was minimal difference between the victory at York earlier in the season and what we witnessed on Saturday.

There were three aspects you might highlight from Saturday for improvement. The first was the inability to keep the ball in the first half, something Murray put down to his players fear at the opposition's ability, leading to a lack of belief in their own. This was remedied at half time, with the Stags much more efficient in the second 45 minutes. The second was the lack of protection Mal Benning received in the first half. Again, this is an issue which the manager had already alluded to in interviews regarding the defensive side of winger Nathan Thomas' game. Finally, the most obvious of the three, missing one on one opportunities. Away from home especially, you have to seize any chance that drops in your direction but it was 'just one of those days' for Mansfield, failing to register for just the second time this season.

Moving on to next Saturday, Murray will have some selection headaches for the first time this season following the suspension of Nicky Hunt and the likely absence of Chris Clements through injury. Given what we have watched so far this season, I would expect Lee Collins to make his first league start for the Stags at right back and Jack Thomas to replace Clements. For the two of them, it would be a chance to kickstart their season, having been limited to substitute appearances in the league thus far. I cannot foresee too much worry amongst supporters if the two mentioned are brought in, as Collins and Thomas were probably in most fans starting eleven at the beginning of pre-season.

All things considered, a positive start to the season so far for Mansfield Town, managing to combine durability with creativity. As time progresses and the squad continues to gel, the balance between defence and attack will even itself out. It would be a shock as this stage should Mansfield not be able to manage a midtable finish at the very least.


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