Frustrating Stags Register Another Home Draw

It was a case of a another home game, another draw at the One Call Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the Stags registered a third successive 1-1 scoreline, this time against AFC Wimbledon. In truth, a draw was all that Mansfield deserved as they failed to get their passing game going. At times the tactics were akin to last season with too many hopeful balls forward instead of the players trusting their own ability and playing through the midfield.

After the 3-1 beating by County in the Johnstone Paint Trophy in midweek with a much changed side, Murray reverted to what I'm sure he currently considers to be his strongest eleven. So far this season, the Stags have been better on the road that they have in front of their own supporters, perhaps with away defences sitting deeper than home teams, leaving little space in behind for Matt Green to exploit.

The game began with a barrage of long balls from The Dons towards Adebayo Akinfenwa, acknowledged nationwide as the strongest current professional footballer. There is no doubt that he causes problems for defences, The Stags struggling to get out of their own half early on. On four minutes, Akinfenwa set the ball for Rigg on the edge of the area but the winger fired wide.

On 6 minutes, the pressure told and Wimbledon took the lead. A long kick forward by the keeper was initially nodded away by Tafazolli, but Pearce had also been dragged under the ball by Akinfenwa. Tafazolli's header went straight to Francomb, who slid the ball through to Tom Elliott on the edge of the area, taking the Stags central defenders out of the game. Nicky Hunt was too deep and played Elliott onside. The striker took a touch into the area and fired through Jensen into the net. An easily preventable goal to concede. Hunt needed to take one step forward and Elliott would have been offside.

Tom Elliott was looking in the mood early on and was after a second in the 14th minute, a long range effort after chesting the ball down which was comfortably seen wide by Jensen. Elliott had been released by Cambridge during the summer and scored two goals against the Stags towards the end of the last campaign.

With almost their first attack, the Stags were level. They were awarded a free kick left of centre after a foul by Robinson on Lambe, which brought the former Millwall captain a yellow card. Chris Clements took responsibility and curled the ball beautifully over the wall and into the net to the keepers right. A fantastic strike from 25 yards and Clements second goal of the season, already his highest ever total.

The goal provided a boost for the Stags to get them back into the game. A corner from the right by Chapman found Tafazolli at the back post but the towering defender headed well off target. Tafazolli perhaps should have done better. It was another set piece from the training ground from the Stags as Tafazolli spun off to the back post after the signal from Chapman. At the other end, a great delivery by Francomb from the right was excellently headed behind by Pearce before Akinfenwa could make contact. Mansfield were struggling to have any possession in meaningful areas, almost every move ending with a long ball towards Green.

Another chance for the visitors on 33 minutes. A cross from the left was headed into the air by Tafazolli. Jensen should have come out and caught the ball in my opinion but stayed on his line and Elliott somehow missed the target from six yards. A chance gone begging for the Dons.

On 35 minutes, a great free kick was whipped in from the left by Benning. The ball pinged around the area, with three Stags players attempting overhead free kicks before it popped loose to Pearce on the edge of the box. Pearce's volley was blocked when flying goalwards and just cleared off the toe of Westcarr.

Matt Green, an isolated figure for much of the first half, had his first sight of goal on 39 minutes. Westcarr played an excellent through ball for Green to run onto, much like last week at York. Unfortunately, Green's touch was heavy and he went down looking for a free kick after hurdling a challenge by a Wimbledon player. No foul given and rightly so in my opinion. I was surprised Green did not have the pace to get away from the defender.

A shout for a penalty for Mansfield on 43 minutes as Benning played a short free kick to Rose on the right. Rose burst into the box and looked to be brought down my the outstretched leg of a Wimbledon player but the referee was having none of it. It looked like a foul from where I was sitting but Rose does have a tendency to go down easily. Just before half time, Westcarr curled a long range effort straight at the keeper.

A decidedly dodgy start from the Stags but the Dons looked to have run out of ideas at an early stage. Mansfield had been better after the equaliser but were still looking long too often. Westcarr, Lambe and Green had seen little of the ball in the final third, the wingers in my opinion not staying wide enough. Clements had an excellent first half, scoring the goal and providing several pieces of good defensive work on the edge of his own area. Mitch Rose had been much quieter than usual. After half an hour, Murray had switched Rose out to the right and put Westcarr in behind Green. Every goal kick, throw-in, cross, long ball and corner from Wimbledon had been aimed at Akinfenwa.

As the teams went down the tunnel, Neal Ardley the Wimbledon manager came over and had a right go at the referee. I have no idea why as Akinfenwa had got away with a lot of pushing and pulling.

As the second half began, whatever Ardley had said to the referee worked as The Dons were awarded a free-kick 25 yards from goal for nothing as far as I could see. Instead of taking a shot, Wimbledon underlined their reliance on their very own 'beast' as they opted to chip the ball towards Akinfenwa, which unfortunately for them came to nothing.

A great chance to take the lead for Mansfield on 52 minutes. A long punt by Jensen troubled the Dons defender and brought the keeper rushing out of his goal. Green managed to get there first, pivot away from the keeper and feed the ball to Lambe on the edge of the box. Lambe checked back on to his right and lofted a shot which was headed off the line by a defender.

On 57 minutes, the Stags got a great slice of luck. Rigg found himself free in the channel and rifled in a shot which was blocked by the legs of Jensen up into the air. In an almost identical position to the first half, Elliott found himself with a free header six yards from goal and again headed harmlessly wide. As it transpired, I can only assume the ball was popped by Jensen's studs when he made the save and as a result the ball was flat when headed wide by Elliott, much to his frustration. With a fully inflated ball he surely would have done better. At the other end, an equally comical moment as Westcarr went to cross with is left, but just kicked it with his right as his left foot was on the backswing and as such his attempted cross spooned towards goal. Shea in the Wimbledon goal fumbled the ball around the post for a corner.

Mansfield made their first change on 65 minutes, Nathan Thomas replacing the ineffectual Lambe in a straight swap.

Ryan Tafazolli nearly handed AFC Wimbledon a winner on 68 minutes. With no options in front of him, he sold Jensen short with a back pass. The battle of the beasts was finally seen as Akinfenwa and Jensen both slid for the ball. It ran loose and Tafazolli was able to atone for his error and clear the ball. Anybody but Akinfenwa and they would probably have beaten Jensen to the ball.

Substitute Lyle Taylor sent a free-kick high and wide on 75 minutes. A minute later, Chris Beardsley replaced Craig Westcarr as Murray switched to two up front. I was surprised to see Westcarr go off, he is a clever footballer in my opinion and is probably our second best goal threat after Green. By this stage, Green was cutting a frustrated figure, having had next to nothing in terms of service. It must be said though that the small pieces of service he had been provided with had been poorly controlled or given away by Green.

A brilliant effort by Francomb on 85 minutes from long range. He was running towards the corner flag but unleashed a powerful left footed effort inches wide of the angle and into the side netting. Francomb had played well for Wimbledon. The Stags made their final change as Jack Thomas replace Mitchell Rose. Thomas was again sent over to the right wing where he is not comfortable.

With the game creeping towards another draw, AFC Wimbledon were reduced to ten men. A throw down the left reached Lyle Taylor. Nicky Hunt had both arms wrapped around Taylor and caught a flailing arm from the striker, for which he was shown a straight red. I must admit it was embarrassing the way Hunt rolled over three times and then jumped straight back up after the dismissal.

With six minutes of injury time played, Chris Clements almost won it for Mansfield. Having been by far the Stags best player throughout the ninety minutes, he lined up another free kick from around 20 yards this time around and in a more central position. Clements tried to catch the keeper out by aiming for the side he was guarding and the ball went agonisingly wide of the upright. A winner would have been a tad harsh on Wimbledon.

Frustration grows then for home supporters as Mansfield again fail to produce what we know they are capable of in front of their own fans. The positive spin is that The Stags remain unbeaten at home and may have even lost that game last season. As I have said previously, Murray must adapt his mentality at the One Call Stadium from playing not to lose, to playing to win.

There may be an easy way of playing in a more expansive style by making minor adjustments. At the moment, Mansfield are lining up in a 4-1-4-1, or a 4-1-2-2-1, depending whether you count Lambe and Westcarr as attacking wide men. Murray has said that his team are not yet ready to play 4-4-2, so why not try 4-2-3-1 from the start.

If we are not in front after half an hour, Murray almost always adapts to this system anyway, pushing Chapman forward, moving Westcarr into the number ten role and using Rose as a winger. The problem with this is that Rose is not a winger. He has pace but you can tell when he receives the ball on the right that he is reluctant to take a player on. Also, Chapman plays on the toes of the back four, getting in the way and meaning when he does pick up the ball, he is too deep to get us on the ball in the final third. We have seen little of Lambe, Westcarr and Nathan Thomas so far because they are often receiving the ball in areas of the field which are too deep. Jack Thomas has been under utilised in either a deep midfield role or on the wing. Jack is a number ten and should be given a chance there. For the next home game, I would use Rose and Clements as the two deeper midfielders, Westcarr on the left, Nathan Thomas on the right and Jack Thomas as the number ten. You cannot stop Jack from running so he will definitely track back and help out, but he wins the ball back high up the pitch well and gets Mansfield on the front foot. Nathan Thomas showed what he can do against County when receiving the ball within 30 yards of the goal, with a couple of good runs and shots.

Another week on the training ground then for Mansfield as Crawley await next Saturday. Crawley have only won one game in the league since their relegation and will be low on confidence. Murray talked in this weeks press of starting with tempo and getting on the front foot, none of which happened on Saturday. In fact, Jensen constantly slows down play when he is in possession, feigning to roll the ball out to himself three or four times before distributing, giving the opposition chance to regroup. The Manager could definitely do with a home win if he truly believes his team can reach the play-off

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 6.5 - Straight through him for the goal but was a powerful effort. Needs to distribute quicker to inject some pace into the play.
Hunt - 5 - Poor game. Played Elliott onside for the goal when looking straight across the line. Constant silly fouls and allowed too many crosses into box. Didn't give much of an option going forward.
Pearce - 7.5 - Did well on the whole, a few excellent interceptions.
Tafazolli - 7 - Stood firm for the most part after being bombarded with long balls. One scary moment with short back pass.
Benning - 6 - Poor set pieces on the whole and did not get forward much.
Chapman - 5 - Another poor game. Tries countless first time passes and hollywood balls which very rarely come off.
Clements - 8 - Very good goal. Excellent first half, bit quiet in the second but almost won it at the death.
Rose - 6 - Quiet game. Wasted out on the right.
Westcarr - 6.5 - Did alright when he was given the ball, one great ball through to Green.
Lambe - 5 - Needs to get into the game more. Wasted a good chance when a low shot would have been a better option.
Green - 5.5 - Felt sorry for him chasing aimless long balls but he kept running away from the ball rather than to it so the team had little option but to look long. Control let him down on a few occasions.


N Thomas (Lambe 65) - Not given the ball in attacking areas.
Beardsley (Westcarr 76) - Barely touched the ball.
J Thomas (Rose 85) - Not given long enough and stuck out on right.