Rovers Capitalise as Stags See Red

A fiery encounter on Saturday afternoon saw the game finish with nine against ten as Bristol Rovers defeated Mansfield thanks to a 98th minute header from the diminutive Matty Tylor. The home crowd hounded the referee at full time, but the man in the middle got all the dismissals spot on in my opinion. He did however deny the Stags a possible penalty when Nathan Thomas' cross was blocked by a hand. He was also missed a clear foul on Pearce and was mis-advised by his assistant in the build up to the corner which led to Pearce's red card.

Adam Murray again opted for an unchanged side, looking for a fourth consecutive win and to maintain the Stags unbeaten home record. This meant places amongst the substitutes for Chris Clements and Mitch Rose, considered first choice at the beginning of the season, and the in form Adi Yussuf. Rovers also came into the game in good form, having won their least two league games and with an impressive away record.  They are of course managed by ex-Stag and local lad Darrell Clarke.

A strong travelling support were in fine voice as the game got underway, but should have been hushed almost immediately as the Stags made a strong start. A long kick by Jensen was won in the air by Jack Thomas and headed into the path of Green. Green was through but instead of taking a touch he opted to volley and cleared the bar by a fair distance. You would have expected Green at the very least to his the target, however there was some confusion as to whether the flag was raised for offside. Promising signs nevertheless as Rovers three at the back looked all at sea.

On 3 minutes, A long throw from the right from Chapman nearly re-created Westcarr's goal against Oxford earlier in the season. Westcarr came to show for the ball and then looped his run so that he was awaiting any clearances on the edge of the area. Chapman's throw was cleared to him but his shot was blocked back out to Chapman inside the area on the left. Several players were better placed but Chapman shot from an impossible angle straight into the hands of the keeper.

The away side came forward on 7 minutes. A great move from the visitors culminated in a cross from the left being glanced harmlessly wide via the head of Jermaine Easter. A similar move would have the Rovers ahead on 15 minutes.

The move all started from a head injury sustained by Chris Lines after an aerial duel with Jamie McGuire. The referee saw no infringement but McGuire definitely led with an arm and was lucky to get away with it. Play was stopped with Mansfield in possession for Lines to receive treatment. To restart play, the ball was returned to Jensen, seventy yards for where the Stags last had the ball. Jensen's long ball was dealt with and looped into the Stags left hand channel, where Tafazolli headed the ball down to Chapman. Chapman's touch was poor and gifted possession to Rovers in the Stags half. The ball was fed into the chest of Easter and passed wide to Taylor on the right. The right wing back Leadbitter, who had initially won the ball back and carried on his run, was unmarked in the centre of the penalty area and was able to chest Taylor's cross into the path of Easter and the striker was able to poke the ball powerfully into the roof of the net. A lightning counter attack from Bristol Rovers, seizing on Chapman's error and clinically punishing the hosts. Easter had ran off Pearce but the Stags defender was marking two men in the middle.

Mansfield did not sit licking their wounds and continued to move the ball with confidence. A corner from the right for the Stags was chipped to the edge of the area where space had been cleverly engineered for Benning. Benning measured up a third volley in as many weeks, but this time his strike was blocked by a defender.

The Stags were keeping possession patiently and getting in to good areas without producing a final pass, just as they had the previous week against Newport. A long ball from Pearce was chased down by Green and passed to Thomas, whose low cross caused problems but was eventually cleared by Rovers.  A few minutes later, the Stags passed the ball well through the centre of the pitch, McGuire finding Hunt with the outside of his right foot as the full back galloped into the penalty area. Hunt tried to pick out Green in the middle but his cross was intercepted by a combination of defender and keeper. Westcarr positioned himself under the rebound but was eased out by a defender and the chance was gone.

On 40 minutes, Ryan Tafazolli breathed a sigh of relief as he sold Jensen a little short with a backpass, but the big man had just enough pace left in his legs to clear with Leadbitter rapidly closing him down.

In the final minute of first half injury time, the visitors were reduced to ten men, ten seconds after the same player had an excellent opportunity to double their advantage. Chapman again mis-controlled inside his own half and was pounced upon by a Rovers midfielder. The ball came to Easter, who following a give and go was through on goal inside the left of the area. Tafazolli came sliding across as Easter shaped to shoot, but the experienced front man cut inside and with the goal in his sights inexplicably threw himself to the ground in an attempt to convince the referee of contact from Tafazolli. The referee was wise to it and pointed for a free-kick to the Stags. McGuire went over to remonstrate with Easter and grabbed him around the collar, an action which clearly angered Easter as he lashed out right under the nose of the referee. The man in black produced a straight red for Easter, perhaps a little harsh but the two offences separately could certainly be considered yellow cards. The final outcome was correct even if the suspension is not. It was a huge let off in the end for Mansfield, and Chapman in particular.

Despite being one man down, the hosts had a one goal advantage to take into the half time break. Mansfield had seen a lot of the ball without creating much bar the opening minute. The home side were missing someone like Nathan Thomas who could beat a man and pick out a cross, as Westcarr and Lambe were looking reticent to do so. Mansfield really had to hammer home their man advantage, and as thing stood at half time you would have expected at least a point out of the game.

Rovers made two changes at half time, as Harrison and Clarke replaced Leadbitter and Lines. Murray had resisted the temptation to introduce a substitute, but strangely no sooner had the whistle gone to start the half, Yussuf was receiving instructions from the coaching staff. His introduction was delayed as it appeared he had left his shirt in the dressing room, duly fetched by Lee Collins. Yussuf replaced Jack Thomas on 51 minutes to switch to a 4-4-2. It was harsh on Thomas, who has been the Stags best attacking player. Four minutes later, a double switch as Clements and Nathan Thomas came on for McGuire and Lambe. Again, it was harsh on McGuire who had played better than Chapman. The changes were a little hasty from Murray but Rovers now looked set for 35 minutes of defending.

On 59 minutes, the game was turned on it's head. Pearce made an interception on the edge of his own area and wanted to dribble the ball forward, but was clearly blocked by a Rovers player. The referee waved play on as a Rovers cross from the left was deflected. It looked for all the world as if Jensen has prevented the ball from crossing the line, however the assistant referee, who was on the opposite side of the pitch and surely had his view impeded by both the net and Jensen's body, pointed for a corner. Jensen was furious and booked for his protestations. After a long delay in taking the corner, frustration was growing as the referee warned numerous players about holding. On the edge of the area, Pearce was marking Lockyer, looking straight at him with his back to the ball. The referee was also watching the pair. Pearce blocked the defenders run and pulled him to the ground. Pearce waved his arms in anger and flicked his boot towards the head of Lockyer. All of this incident had been witness by the referee and Pearce was rightly shown a red card. A melee ensued during which Hunt grabbed a few player around the neck and was shown a yellow card, as well as Harrison from the visitors. Stupidity from Pearce as Mansfield surrendered their one man advantage. With all the substitutions made, Chapman was moved into central defence.

On 66 minutes, Yussuf displayed his trademark strength to win a free-kick inside the D. Clements took over the situation with pretty much his first touch since entering the fray eleven minutes earlier. The midfielder's effort was too high and drifted harmlessly over the bar. Yussuf continued to cause problems 6 minutes later, providing a cross from the left which nobody had anticipated. On 76 minutes, Nathan Thomas' cross from the left was clearly blocked by an arm right in front of the referee. Play on was waved, the referee probably feeling the defender was too close to get out of the way, but his arm was in an unnatural position.

The Stags task was made even harder on 77 minutes after a second dose of stupidity, this time by Nicky Hunt. The excellent Stuart Sinclair broke through the centre of the pitch and was barrelled into by Hunt. The referee had no option but to award the Stags skipper a second yellow card. Mansfield's heads had gone since the start of the second period. They changed now to a 3-3-2 as they still looked for an equaliser.

Bristol Rovers had the ball in the back of the net again a minute later. From the resulting free-kick inside the centre circle, the ball was chipped towards Harrison in the left hand side of the area. Chapman completely misjudged the flight of the ball and allowed Harrison time and space to chest the ball down, with no effort to atone for his error. Harrison squared the ball to Taylor who tapped home at the far post. Fortunately for the Stags, the assistants flag was raised for offside against Taylor.

On 81 minutes, Field Mill erupted as the Stags drew level. Jensen took a free-kick in the right back spot which was cleared as far as Westcarr. Westcarr found Benning on the left, who swung a high cross towards the six yard box. The Rovers keeper Nicholls thought about coming, and probably should have done, but decided against it and left Tom Parkes, another local lad, to head clear as far as Tafazolli just outside the area. The defender chested the ball down and cracked a left footed effort on the bounce into the keepers bottom left hand corner. A strikers finish from Tafazolli and his fourth goal of the season, fully deserved after another accomplished performance.

It really was all hands to the pump after the equaliser as a draw all of a sudden became a fantastic result with nine men on the pitch and only two recognised defenders. Westcarr dropped into right back, Green to right midfield, Thomas to central midfield and Yussuf to left midfield, almost playing with no striker and two banks of four. The Stags allowed the Rovers defenders to have the ball as they attempted to maintain shape.

Rovers were nearly immediately in front, as Harrison got free in the right side of the area and cracked a shot against the crossbar. 5 minutes later, Harrison cleverly turned the ball around the corner towards Taylor who had nipped in front of Chapman and was in on goal. Taylor's touch was heavy under pressure from Benning, inviting Jensen off his line. All three players slid for the ball, it broke loose towards goal and Tafazolli did excellently to prevent Harrison tapping in the winner by conceding a corner. Both Jensen and Benning stayed down, but eventually got to their feet. Jensen looked disorientated and Benning was trying to run off his knock, but both soldiered on as the Stags struggled to keep Rovers out. Eight minutes of injury time were signalled by the fourth official.

Just as it looked as if the Stags were going to hang on, disaster struck in the 98th minute. With no pressure on the ball and Mansfield sitting deep, Ollie Clarke picked out a wonderful cross-field pass to James Clarke on the right line of the 18 yard box. James Clarke volleyed a cross first time to the back post where Matty Taylor was on hand to head past a crumbling Jensen. A brilliant move again by Rovers to win the game. Taylor had ran between the non-defensive pairing of Chapman and Westcarr at the back post. Heartbreak for Mansfield as the travelling Rovers fans went crazy.

There was little time for an exhausted eight outfield players to find a second equaliser and the whistle went for full time. The second half never really got going for Mansfield as a result of the dismissals and time-wasting from Rovers. It must be said that the Stags employed the same time-wasting tactics after registering the equaliser. Despite the loss, the Stag still sit fourth in the league, with Rovers moving up to eleventh.

After the game, Murray was proud of his team and questioned the referee's decision to send off Pearce, indicating the club may appeal his suspension. I can only assume Murray has not seen the full incident as Pearce clearly flicked his foot at the head of Lockyer and the defender can have no complaints. Strangely, after weeks of insisting that 4-4-2 is an endangered formation, Murray sacrificed the Stags brightest attacking player on the day to play two strikers. The change was made with only six second half minutes played, and would have been made  sooner had Yussuf remembered to put his shirt on. Mansfield had dominated possession in the first half and with the extra man would surely have continued to wear down Rovers' resolve.

The biggest fall guy for the defeat though must be Krystian Pearce. To lose your head with a one man advantage and having made all three changes is a mindless thing to do. It has blotted a so far blemish-free copybook for the powerful defender, who will now sit out the next three games unless by some miracle an appeal is successful.

With Yeovil on Tuesday and Portsmouth next weekend, the depth of the Stags squad will faces its toughest test yet. Lee Collins will surely be rewarded with a start for the Stags after biding his time on the bench. He has only made one start thus far as a central defender, against County in the JPT. Having put in a good first half performance, he tired in the second and was at fault for a couple of the goals. With Hunt also suspended, youngster Liam Marsden, who was also poor against County, may also get a chance to impress. I suspect however, Mitch Rose maybe entrusted with covering for the club captain.

Going into the two games, the form of Matt Green must be a worry. He looked desperately out of touch against Rovers, skying his only clear cut opportunity and failing to control the ball on numerous occasions. At the moment, he knows he is going to start every game and may benefit from a reality check, with the powerful Adi Yussuf causing problems whenever he gets a chance. Adam Chapman also looks to be under the same illusion and may also be better rested for the return of Chris Clements. For a final change, Reggie Lambe should be dropped having failed to provide anything in the last few games. Nathan Thomas never really did anything wrong and should be re-integrated into the starting eleven.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 7 - Never made a save apart from the collision towards the end. Showed great determination to carry on.
Hunt - 6 - Foolish foul for second yellow when no real need to do so. Did ok up until that point.
Pearce - 5 - Moment of madness probably cost the Stags the game. Good apart from that.
Tafazolli - 7.5 - Great goal and several good pieces of defending. One dodgy backpass.
Benning - 7 - Got into good areas without delivering the quality we have come to expect. Defended well.
McGuire - 7 - Some good passing and got around the pitch well. Unlucky to be substituted.
Chapman - 5 - Poor touch led to first goal. Poor touch nearly led to a second when Easter chose to dive. Lost his man for the disallowed goal and the winner although playing out of position. Poor passing in the final third.
Westcarr - 6 - Not at the races first half. Improved a little in the second. Auxiliary right back, partly culpable for the winner.
Thomas - 7 - Bright in the first half. Very unlucky to be subbed in the second when best attacking player.
Lambe - 5.5 - Another anonymous outing. Seems to do the hard part and then dwells with final pass. Will be lucky to start next game.
Green  - 5 - Missed a great opportunity in opening minute. Hold up play poor throughout. May benefit from a rest.

Subs -

Yussuf (Thomas 51) - Some strong play but could not quite work room for shooting opportunities. Continues to push for a start.
Clements (McGuire 55) - Difficult to get involved given circumstances but put himself about well.
N Thomas (Lambe 55) - No real impact on the game. Due to circumstances did not receive the ball in areas where he could do damage.