All Square Between Stags and Orient

Mansfield Town took a point from a gruelling encounter against Leyton Orient on Saturday afternoon, where both teams managed a single goal in monsoon like conditions. Given the weather and the level of opposition, a point is not to be sniffed at. However, it does mean that The Stags maintain their unwanted record of failing to beat a team in the top half of the table.

After The Stags celebrated a tremendous 3-1 victory away to Barnet two weeks prior, there has been little to indicate the sides progress off the field, with a wall of silence emanating from the club until Thursdays pre-match press conference. Adam Murray admitted the break was intentional, professing a refreshed outlook for both him and his players. He mentioned that he was looking to win the game and improve the sides home record, which reads 13 points from a possible 30. One change was enforced from the last fixture, as playmaker Chris Clements was suspended following his red card against Barnet. Jamie McGuire was his replacement. The game survived a late pitch inspection, despite the ball not running true in certain areas of the field. Given the managements preference for a slick surface this season, a few supporters around me joked that they were surprised not to see the sprinklers on!

Although the Stags had the first attempt on goal, Craig Westcarr firing well wide from range, they were certainly not looking refreshed and were behind on twelve minutes from yet another cross. The move started down the Orient right, as Clohessy fizzed a pass into the feet of Marquis. This was the first chance the Stags had to prevent the attack, as Chapman looked favourite to win the ball following the strikers loose first touch, but his tackle was tentative and broke into the path of Lloyd James. The ball looked to be controlled by his arm, but despite the Stags appeals the referee waved play on and Marquis sprayed the ball out to the tricky McAnuff on the left. A poor attempt at a challenge by Lee Collins was easily side-stepped by the winger, as he cut back onto his right foot and whipped a cross into the danger area. The smallest Orient player, Simpson, arrived in front of Pearce with the sort of timing that meant his header was his sixteenth goal of the season and gave the visitors the lead. In four of the last five home games, Mansfield have conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes, all from crosses. Out of the last eight goals the Stags have conceded at home, seven have come from crosses.

Another chance came for Orient three minutes later, as Ryan Tafazolli's poor clearance fell straight to the feet of Marquis, who took aim from outside the box, but his high shot was seen over the bar by Jensen. At the other end, Reggie Lambe was looking lively for Mansfield and curled an inviting looking cross into the six yard box. Unfortunately for him, nobody was willing to be the recipient in a yellow shirt.

After half an hour where the Stags had created very little in relentless rain, Adam Murray changed the shape of his team, pushing Mitch Rose into a central role along side Chapman, with McGuire screening the back four. Westcarr and Lambe alternated flanks. It has been said before in this blog, but Mitch Rose is not a winger and to keep using him there, especially when he is one of our best central midfielders, seems strange. As The O's continued in search of a second goal, Blair Adams used all his experience to prevent Blair Turgott connecting with a cross from the left.

With the change in shape seemingly having little effect and The Stags ambling towards a half time deficit, they gained the equaliser their play had scarcely deserved with their first effort on target. The Stags had a throw in on the right, level with the penalty area they were attacking. Marquis, who was monitoring Westcarr, momentarily switched off, allowing Collins the opportunity to find Westcarr with space to put in a cross. The cross from Westcarr was a hopeful one, the ball returning from orbit to land on the boot of Reggie Lambe, running away from goal between the penalty spot and the edge of the area. Lambe's volley trickled towards the keepers bottom left hand corner, through the legs of Matt Green and into the net via the post. It is unclear whether the ball flicked Green's heel on the way through, but he looked to be level with the last defender anyway from the video. At first glance, it appeared an extremely scrappy goal, but when you consider all factors, it actually required incredible technique from Reggie Lambe. The ball came from high in the air, he was running away from goal, under pressure from a defender, looking up into the rain, calculating for any variation from a true course due to the wind and had both feet off the floor when making contact. To steer the ball just out of the reach of the keeper (regardless of any minor knick from Matt Green's heel), deserves an equal amount of praise to the likes received by Mal Benning and Adi Yussuf earlier in the season. It was Lambe's second goal in as many games, just when the team needed it most.

Lambe's goal had turned what would have been jeers from the crowd to polite applause as the players headed for the half time break. The Stags had been devoid of idea's in a first period which would not live long in the memory of either sides supporters, and would now be playing against the wind as the weather continued to deteriorate. A tough second half was in store for Mansfield Town.

No changes from either side at the interval, as Adam Murray persisted with the 4-1-4-1 his team had switched to around the half hour mark.

The Stags started positively. After Blair Adams had snuffed out an attack down the Mansfield left, Reggie Lambe weighted a lovely ball from the left back spot to release Matt Green through the centre of the pitch. Green powered forward, laying the ball out wide right to Westcarr and driving into the area, where he almost met his teammates fantastic cross, only to be thwarted by an Orient defender.

Leyton Orient continued to come forward. On 52 minutes, a hopeful ball into the channel was not dealt with by Tafazolli, and the big defender was dumped on his backside by Simpson. Simpsons ran towards the byline but his delivery did not find a target in the middle. The ball was recycled and a free kick was awarded against Jamie McGuire for handball, as he threw himself in front of a long range strike. The resulting free-kick was blocked away by McGuire again. The Stags could not clear satisfactorily from the resulting corner, leading to the ball dropping to an unmarked Simpson. Fortunately for the Stags, Simpson's shot on the turn was well off target. Nevertheless, Chapman and Collins led the inquest into how the leagues top goalscorer was allowed so much space.

Despite that flurry of chances from the visitors, Mansfield now looked the better side as Lambe continued to impress. The diminutive wide man played a precise one-two with Rose on the right, only to see his shot blocked away for a corner. The Stags should have been in front from the resulting set piece. Chapman floated an inch perfect delivery from the right towards the charging Krystian Pearce. Every fan was already out of their seat as they could see Pearce sprinting on to the cross, eight yards from goal and unmarked, only for the defender to power his header against the outside of the left-hand post and wide of the target. A guilt-edge opportunity for Pearce, which he will know he should have taken.

Both teams made changes on 66 minutes. Ollie Palmer returned to the One Call Stadium, as he replaced Blair Turgott. He did not receive the warmest of welcomes, it must be said. Palmer had a sight of goal almost immediately, but he dallied too long and his shot was easily prevented from threatening the scoresheet by Ryan Tafazolli. Adam Murray introduced Matty Blair for the tiring Westcarr. Blair was straight into the action as he burst down the right, but his cross was cleared to Chapman, who shot well wide.

Another corner from the right caused the visitors problems on 70 minutes. A deeper cross this time found Pearce again, who headed back across goal towards Collins. Collins was just beaten to the ball from three yards by Palmer. The ball ran to Lambe, who choked his effort into the ground, allowing a defender to block wide for another corner, which sadly came to nothing.

After that opportunity, there was a marked drop in tempo from both sides. Whether that was both managers settling for a point, or the conditions catching up with the players, we will never know. Jensen became slow in distributing the ball and Murray did not use his full compliment of substitutes, with four attacking players on the bench to choose from had he wanted to go for victory. Mansfield did however look the side most likely to take all three points. Mitch Rose low shot from just outside the box had plenty of power but was well held by the keeper, his first save of the entire match. Brian Jensen had hardly a single save to make either.

There was a final moment of drama in stoppage time as Green poked a long ball past M'Voto just inside the Orient half, and was tactically brought down by The O's defender. Fans around me immediately called for a red card, but Green was a long way from goal and there were covering defenders retreating around M'Voto.  To be completely honest, it looked as if Green actually hurdled the challenge, but realised his touch had been too heavy and that he would not reach the ball. A yellow was the correct decision.

The game ended all square, with both teams relatively happy with a point judging by post match reactions. The Stags were not at the races in the first half, but were much improved in the second, and perhaps a little unlucky to leave the game with only a point. It was not an afternoon where fast, flowing football was going to be possible, given the high winds and driving rain, but nevertheless the game was entertaining in its own way. Numerous unforced errors on both sides presented the opposition with openings, but neither could capitalise in the end.

Mansfield travel to resurgent Cambridge next weekend, who have won their last three games, scoring nine goals in the process. The Stags sterling away record will be put to the test, as they look to head into the festive fixtures with a positive result. Given Cambridge's revival since Shaun Derry took the reigns, a point again would be a very good result. Adam Murray said after the game that his side did not have the same 'flow' without suspended midfielder Chris Clements, who is now available for selection again, and judging by those remarks will probably return to the team ahead of Jamie McGuire.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 6.5 - Did not have a significant save to make bar the goal, which he had little chance with.
Collins - 6 - Feeble defending to allow the cross in for the goal. Would expect better from someone with his experience. Otherwise ok.
Pearce - 6 - Poor first half with several wayward passes, also allowing Simpson ahead of him for goal. Improved in second but should have scored with free header.
Tafazolli - 6.5 - Very shaky first half, apart from one moment improved in the second.
Adams - 7 - Solid defensive display.
McGuire - 6.5 - Started terribly but improved as game went on.
Chapman - 6.5 - Mixed bag passing wise. Some very good set-pieces though.
Rose - 6.5 - Much better when moved centrally. His energy is missed when out wide.
Westcarr - 6 - Hopeful cross led to goal. One very good cross second half. Went missing for large spells.
Lambe 7.5 - Good game. Involved in all good moves Stags created. Technique for goal not been praised enough in my opinion.
Green - 6.5 - An afternoon chasing hopeful balls. Did what he could.


Blair (Westcarr 66) - Flatters to deceive a little for me. Plenty of energy but little end product.