No Repeat as Stags Errors Punished

Individual mistakes proved costly for Mansfield Town as they were put to the sword by Notts County at Meadow Lane in a 3-1 defeat. Goals from Izzy McLeod, Jon Stead and Mike Edwards gave the Magpies a deserved victory as an experimental Stags side looked disjointed throughout parts of the first half and most of the second.

As predicted, Adam Murray opted to send out a much changed team from the victory at York, six changes in total. In came Liam Marsden, Lee Collins, Jamie McGuire, Nathan Thomas, Chris Beardsley and Adi Yussuf. However, an unexpected slant was put onto the tactics as the team set up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Adam Chapman in the centre of defence. I have been quite vocal about Chapman's unsuitability to the anchor man role but I expected him to be moved forward rather than backwards. Benning and Marsden acted as wing backs/wingers, whilst Nathan Thomas was handed a free role in behind the strikers. If ever there was a game to experiment I guess this would be the one, with the clear focus being on the league this season. Adi Yussuf and Lee Collins were making their first starts as Mansfield players.

Perhaps due to the lack of familiarity with the system, the game started in disjointed fashion. It appeared as if County were playing with four strikers at times as Snijders and Campbell were playing in very advanced roles, either side of Stead and McLeod. The Stags were insistent on trying to play out from the back but the distance between the defence and the central midfielders was making the task difficult. The home side definitely had the better of the open quarter but were struggling to choose the correct final pass. Aborah hit a long range volley from the edge of the box harmlessly wide.

On 18 minutes, the Stags had a very good chance which was not made the most of. Following a fortuitous cannon off the jaw of Adi Yussuf, a County defender sold his keeper shorts with a back pass and Mal Benning got to the ball ahead of Loach, but he appeared to be in two minds and ended up toeing the ball into the arms of the keeper. Beardsley was free if Benning had managed to square the ball to tap into an empty net.

County were gifted a chance of their own three minutes later. After initially defending well, Pearce made a hash of his clearance near the right hand corner flag which allowed Adam Campbell to drive into the area. He checked back on to his weaker right side and bent a shot around two yellow shirts and off the base of Jensen's left hand post. In the 25th minute, a long ball over the top caught Collins napping, giving Stead a clear sight of goal, but the defender recovered well enough to force the big striker into a weak effort which was easily collected by Jensen. Following Stead's chance, Adam Campbell was found expertly in the left hand channel by Burke but opted to squared the ball instead of shoot, and the danger was averted by the Mansfield defence.

Adam Murray had seen enough to know his experiment had failed and switched to a 4-2-2 formation. Thomas moved to the left having barely touched the ball, and Rose moved to the right despite impressing in the centre. Chapman moved into the centre of the park with McGuire.

After creating little of note throughout the first half, the Stags should have been ahead on 35 minutes. Jamie McGuire hooked the ball over over the top in customary fashion, releasing Adi Yussuf clean through on goal. Perhaps suffering from a lack of sharpness, the front man struggled to take the ball in to his stride and struck a low, weak shot at the legs of Loach, when lifting the ball was the better option.

Another chance was presented to Mansfield on 40 minutes. After Rose was fouled outside the box, Adam Chapman took aim from around 30 yards and his powerful effort was turned around the post for a corner by Loach. We all know Chapman can hit a ball and the deeper role he has been deployed in reduces his opportunities to let rip from distance.

Notts continued to work their way into dangerous areas, but their final pass or cross was failing to find a black and white shirt. Adam Campbell in particular was getting a lot of joy against Liam Marsden.

The sides went down the tunnel with the game still goalless, despite both teams creating decent openings. Murray's trial of Chapman as a centre half had me scratching my head as I am not sure what he was hoping to achieve. The weakest aspect of Chapman's game is the defensive side, although it must be said he did not make any errors at the back this evening. My feeling is he was hoping Chapman would be able to start attacks from deep, but this never materialised. Liam Marsden looked like a fish out of water as a wing back/winger and Nathan Thomas looked low on confidence. On a positive note, Lee Collins had played well as had Jamie McGuire. Mitch Rose and Krystian Pearce had also carried on their good performances.

The Stags made a change at the break, as yet again Mitch Rose failed to complete 90 minutes. On this occasion, it was probably the right decision to ensure he is fresh for Saturday. Jack Thomas was his replacement, again being asked to operate more from the right.

Notts County came out of the blocks well and should have taken the lead of 46 minutes. A one-two between Campbell and Stead ended with the tricky winger through on goal, only to be denied by the legs of Jensen. A very good save by the veteran keeper. At the other end, Chris Beardsley tackled the County left back strongly but fairly near the right corner flag and crossed for the unmarked Pearce on the penalty spot. Pearce's had to generate his own power on the header and could only diverted it straight at Loach.

On 52 minutes, the hosts took the lead. A long ball forward slid towards Lee Collins, who dangled a half-hearted foot at the ball but somehow managed to miss it. The ball ran through to Izzy McLeod in the right hand side of the area who dinked a delightful finish over the onrushing Brian Jensen. It was McLeod's first goal for County on his home debut, despite the Stags appeals for offside. McLeod's delicate chip was a lesson to Adi Yussuf on how to take a one on one opportunity.

After Adi Yussuf had lashed at a chance from the edge of the area and a 30 yard strike from Nathan Thomas which was straight at the keeper, the Stags made their second change on 59 minutes as Chris Clements replaced Adam Chapman, presumably another being rested for the weekend. Mansfield were still in the game at this point. On 61 minutes, Nathan Thomas worked room for himself from 25 yards and his low strike was tipped for a corner by Loach. Thomas had livened up a little in the second half and was looking dangerous. Mansfield made their final change on 64 minutes, as Craig Westcarr, an ex-County player, replaced Chris Beardsley. A typical Beardsley display, hard work interspersed with decent hold up play but no genuine goal threat.

On 66 minutes, Nathan Thomas again came to the fore. After receiving the ball on the left, he drove at the full back and left him for dead, firing a low cross into the box which was blocked for a corner. Thomas needs to get back to this kind of play in wide areas which was so effective in pre-season. On 71 minutes, Craig Westcarr turned sharply 20 yards from goal but shot straight at Loach. Mansfield still looked as if they had a goal in them.

On 77 minutes, a cross from the right by County was headed behind for a corner by Westcarr under pressure to prevent a certain goal. It was only a momentary reprieve for the Stags however, as County extended their lead from one of the resulting corners. After a bit of a scramble where the Stags failed to clear their lines, County sub Mike Edwards managed to turn and slide the ball through the legs of Jensen from close range.

It was almost immediately worse for the Stags on 80 minutes, as another error by the Mansfield defence allowed McLeod to race clear again, only for Lee Collins to sprint back and executed a goal saving challenge. Mansfield now appeared spent as an attacking force as County had two goals disallowed for offside and were coming forward at will.

It was game over for Mansfield on 89 minutes. Lee Collins attempted to dribble out of defence in a dangerous area only to be dispossessed. This allowed Stead to charge forward, until he was stopped illegally in his tracks by the outstretched leg of Benning right on the edge of the area. Stead lined up the free-kick himself and struck the ball powerfully towards the target. After one or more deflection(s), the shot wrong-footed Jensen and found the back of the net. This was the cue for the majority of Mansfield fans to head for the surrounding car parks after a night they will want to forget.

Those who did leave early would have missed a consolation goal, a lesser spotted penalty! Deep into stoppage time, Westcarr was brought down by Mike Edwards, leading the referee to point to the spot. The Ex-Magpie stepped up himself to beat Loach, despite the keeper guessing correctly. The Stags had been beaten fair and square but definitely deserved the goal given the number of attempts on target.

The full time whistle resounded around the 75% empty stadium with the final score at 3-1. It was a strange performance from the Stags, who were outplayed for large periods by Notts County but still managed to create three or four good chances. We all knew that this game was an opportunity to try different things, but I do not think any of the fringe players particularly enhanced their chances of featuring in the first team any time soon. The game highlighted the Stags reliance on Matt Green in open play as neither Beardsley or Yussuf looked like getting on the scoresheet. Nathan Thomas showed flashes of ability in the second half and can perhaps build on those going forward, but did not do enough to propel himself to the first eleven. You know what you are going to get from Jamie McGuire but he has stiff competition to dislodge before he gets a league start. Lee Collins played very well in the first half but was at fault for the first and third goals, perhaps the lack of game time catching up with him. Liam Marsden was given a very tough evening by Adam Campbell.

Adam Murray will be hoping his squad possess the memories of goldfish rather than elephants as they look to remove this defeat from their system and notch a first home win of the season against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. Krystian Pearce and Ryan Tafazolli, likely to be the starting defensive pairing given their blossoming partnership, should prepare for a tough afternoon as they look to contain Adebayo Akinfenwa. A fresh Matt Green will also be hoping to build on his brace against York following his absence against County.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 6.5 - Perhaps could have done better with the second but no chance with the others. One good save to deny Campbell. Would like to see him get the ball moving quicker.
Pearce - 7 - One error which allowed Campbell to hit the post but otherwise solid. Probably man of the match.
Chapman - 6.5 - Decent game played out of position. Did not look fully comfortable however. Unlucky with the free-kick.
Collins - 6 - Very good first half but at fault for two of the goals. Got a job on to get ahead of Pearce and Tafazolli.
Marsden - 4.5 - Poor performance from the youngster up against Campbell.
Rose - 7 - Showed confidence on the ball, good half a game.
McGuire - 6.5 - Usual battling performance. Caught in possession a couple of times.
Benning - 6  - A few unforced errors defensively. Played every minute so far, perhaps needed a rest.
N Thomas - 6 - Anonymous first half, when he did touch the ball he gave it away. Much better second half but still not hit the heights of pre-season.
Beardsley - 6.5 - Worked hard but never looked like scoring. Good cross for Pearce chance.
Yussuf - 5- Looked off the pace. Could not control the ball. Missed the Stags best chance. Hopefully will improve for 90 minutes under his belt.

Subs :

J Thomas (Rose 46) - Stuck out on the right again. Seems to be wanting to take players on a little too much.
Clements (Chapman 59) - Some classy moments. Cut a frustrated figure.
Westcarr (Beardsley 64) - Did well whilst he was on. Like the way he keeps the ball. Took penalty well.