Mansfield Well Beaten by Exeter

Mansfield Town can have no complaints as they were easily beaten at home by Exeter City. Given how the team had played three days earlier, the team selection, tactics and players performances were completely baffling. The performance was indefensible. It was the worst display of the season.

Having dealt with Hartlepool fairly comprehensively, the only change I mentioned may happen was Jack Thomas or Jamie McGuire coming in for the out of form Craig Westcarr. In fact, both came in, with Westcarr and Chris Clements dropping to the bench. Unless Clements has still not fully recovered from his groin injury, he should be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

A trend that needs addressing is the Stags slow starts to games and susceptibility to crosses. Both were in evidence after six minutes as Exeter took an early lead.

Following the opening exchanges, where Mansfield seem content to lump the ball forward towards Matt Green at every opportunity, Lee Holmes burst down the left hand side very easily and pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot, where Joel Grant was arriving to thump the ball into the roof of the net. Fingers were being pointed all over the place as Pearce looked towards Chapman and Rose who had allowed Holmes way too much room down the left, whilst Tafazolli felt Adams should have been closer to Grant in the middle. Interesting to note that Holmes was actually born in Mansfield, starting his career with Derby County.

Mansfield were struggling to get going and it looked like being a long night from a very early stage. Matt Green though had started the game reasonably well. He looked to get things going by trying a long range shot but it was easily gathered by Exeter keeper Olejnik.

The visitors had the ball in the net again on 18 minutes. Joel Grant was the man to provide the finish after a cute through ball, but the assistants flag was up for offside. It certainly looked tight from where I was sitting.

It has taken around 20 minutes for The Stags to get going as of late, and whilst there was no drastic change in impetus, the home side did at least begin to spend a bit of time in the Exeter half. From a Chapman corner, it looked as if Tafazolli's shirt was being pulled, but the referee waved away appeals.

As the game trundled towards the half hour mark, we caught our first positive glimpse of Nathan Thomas after the weekend man of the match display. He cut inside and shot with his right foot, only to see his effort deflect wide for a corner. It looked to be on target, but would not have given the keeper too many problems. From the resulting corner, the ball was cleared back to the taker Chapman on the left. Chapman looped a header in towards the six yard box where Jamie McGuire tried to repeat the loop into the far corner, but McGuire got too much purchase on the header and it drifted wide.

Exeter looked a very well organised side and were showing supreme confidence on the ball. They continued in search of a second as the impressive Joel Grant whipped in a perfect cross from the right, across the six yard box to the far post where Krystian Pearce managed to clear the ball off the toe of Tom Nichols.

After saving a goal at one end, Pearce was inches away from scoring at the other. Again, it was Chapman who delivered from the left towards the back post where the defender powered a header back in the direction the cross had come and agonisingly wide of Olejnik's right hand post.

On 41 minutes, the Grecians doubled their lead. Once more, the move came down the left hand side as Grant danced around three Mansfield players and returned the favour for Holmes to sweep the ball into Jensen's left hand corner. Strictly speaking it was not his responsibility, but Nathan Thomas could see Holmes was unmarked for a good twenty seconds in the build up the goal and made no effort to pick him up or alert a team mate. Mansfield players heads went down, and they looked beaten from that moment on.

The players left the field at half time to a few boos. They had been completely outplayed by a very neat looking Exeter team. Mansfield had for some reason ditched their passing principles in favour of long balls up towards Matt Green. Exeter were not the biggest side, but were mopping up the direct style with ease. Nathan Thomas was unrecognisable from Saturday, as the visitors had three players around him at times. Him and Chapman had exchanged words on a number of occasions. Jack Thomas and Reggie Lambe had also struggled to get into the game. Mitch Rose had been exposed at right back for both goals. Yussuf and Clements were immediately sent to warm up.

As the teams emerged for the second period, Nathan Thomas and Jamie McGuire had stayed in the dressing room, to be replaced by Yussuf and Clements. This led to a bewildering formation that I would described as 4-3-1-2, with Thomas more to the right, Chapman in the middle, Clements more to the left and Lambe in behind Yussuf and Green.

There were early signs of fight, as Thomas did well down the right, sending an inviting cross towards Clements at the far post, but Clements was penalised for a rather obvious shove in the back of the defender. After four minutes had been played, Matty Blair was already stripped and ready to come on, but the substitution was delayed momentarily.

On 53 minutes, Blair Adams drove a cross in from the left from which Yussuf directed a weak header wide of the target. Three minutes later, Matty Blair was brought on to replace Lambe, who had been weak and ineffectual. It was still surprising though that Lambe did not remain on the field to allow the Stags two wingers on the field, instead of persisting with the 4-3-1-2.

The Stags were huffing and puffing but without any craft or quality. The Mansfield midfield were inexplicably deep when the forward players had the ball and seemed to be resigned to defeat. Chapman, Clements and Thomas looked to be strolling with no intention of breaking beyond Green and Yussuf. Blair was industrious with little end product, while Rose continued to gallop into good areas before letting himself down with the cross. Eventually, he stopped trying to cross the ball and kept taking the easy option of going inside to Clements/Chapman.

On 67, Rose made a mistake which if punished would have compounded his evening, when in trying to find Jensen with a back pass, he gifted possession to Grant. Grant carried the ball towards goal under the supervision of Adams, before laying it off to Ryan Harley whose shot was well saved by Jensen.

Mansfield again threatened from a corner, as Adi Yussuf's improvised effort was on target but blocked for a further corner. There was another half chance for Pearce as he dragged his effort wide of the goal.

As far as chances go, that was more or less it as far as the home side were concerned. There were a couple of looping headers from corners which were easily gathered by Olejnik, but Mansfield never looked like scoring in truth. Olejnik had not had a serious save to make. Credit must go to Exeter, who completely nullified the Stags by ensuring that no space was allowed in behind for the likes of Green to run into. They played intelligently, looking a constant threat on the break, as David Wheeler showed when he almost ran right through the middle of the Mansfield defence towards the end of the ninety minutes. The Stags attacking movement was non-existent. The defence and midfield saw plenty of the ball in the last twenty minutes but did nothing with it and did not take anywhere near enough risks. The possession was all very safe and Exeter must have been rubbing their collective hands together. Christian Ribeiro, David Noble and Joel Grant were all excellent for the visitors.

The Stags still have not managed to beat a team higher than 14th in League Two. A really worrying statistic is that out of the 10 games played against current top half teams, Mansfield have only registered three goals. The three goals came against, Carlisle, Oxford and Wimbledon, who were the first three current top half teams Mansfield played, all on or before the 5th September, meaning we have not scored in our last seven games against top half teams.

The statistic could suggest two things. The first is that we are too negative against threatening opposition. It surprised me to see that Jamie McGuire has only started against two of these teams, Wycombe and tonight's opposition. In 8 of those 10 games, Murray has started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, seemingly the most attacking line-up he is currently willing to adopt. In the other two fixtures, he played a 4-1-4-1. Asides from switching to 4-4-2, which fans continue to cry out for, he has been as attacking as he has been against any bottom half of the table team.

The second, and more likely option in my opinion, is that when facing up against a manager or team with a modicum of tactical nous, our style of play is generally relatively easy to combat. Often, the ball is moved slowly in an attempt to drag the opposition out and create space in behind for Green to exploit. The top teams do not fall for it, retain their shape and break at speed, letting Mansfield defenders have the ball. The bottom sides try to do the same, but do not possess the same quality in both defence and attack to get results. Two of the three goals scored were direct free-kicks, the other was the Westcarr's volley against Oxford after Chapman's long throw was cleared. Technically, you could say that The Stags have not scored a goal from open play against a top half team. Without a recognised 'Plan B' as a result of Chris Beardsley being injured, teams sit deep and focus on defending set pieces diligently. The onus is on Murray to discover a way for his team to score goals against the top teams.

A trip to Barnet awaits the Stags on Saturday, with the confidence gained from defeating Hartlepool at the weekend quickly evaporated by the showing against Exeter. By the sounds of Adam Murray's post match interview, experience may be relied up on after the likes of Mitch Rose, Nathan Thomas and Jack Thomas all failed to impress. Lee Collins looks nailed on to start, and probably Craig Westcarr as well. Chris Clements must surely start as well. Murray will he hoping his team can regroup against a team who are without a win in three games.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 6.5 - No chance with the goals. No mistakes.
Rose - 4 - Both goals game down his side. Crossing was awful all evening. Shame after such a good performance on Saturday.
Pearce - 6 - Played on same side as Rose and was tentative after early booking. Missed Stags best chance.
Tafazolli - 6.5 - Pick of the defence. Don't think he missed a header but part of a defence which allowed two unmarked players to score.
Adams - 6.5 - Did ok. Not as much play going forward as in recent weeks.
McGuire - 6 - A few decent tackles and passes but all too easy for Exeter to play through midfield.
Chapman - 5.5 - Tries to create but has a success rate of about 1 in 5. From the start of the season has been poor defensively and shown up again tonight.
Lambe - 5 - Poor game. Shrugged off the ball constantly. Hard to think of a positive contribution.
J. Thomas - 5.5 - A few flashed but remains a shadow of his former self. Playing too high up the pitch for me in the first half, as it better in a deeper role.
N. Thomas - 5 - From incredible to infuriating in three days. Showed little of the player who was so impressive at the weekend. Inconsistency is his main issue at the moment. Saying all that, still would have left him on as he can create something out of nothing.
Green - 5.5 - Started off looking sharp, finished looking shattered with his touch deserting him on more than one occasion. It must be said the service tom him was non-existent.

Subs :

Clements (McGuire 45) - 5.5 - Hardly involved apart from a few sideways passes.
Yussuf (N. Thomas 45) - 5.5 - A few glimpses but nothing to shout about.
Blair (Lambe 54) - Worked hard but produced little. Worrying as it looked to me as if he was nursing his knee on a number of occasions.