Stag Miss Chance To Win

Play-off chasing Mansfield came from behind to secure a draw against struggling York, in a game where The Stag missed a glorious chance to take all three points when Matt Green somehow fired off the top of the bar from a maximum of three yards out. Mansfield now find themselves in their lowest league position since mid-August as they drop to 11th, but they have a game in hand on a couple of teams above them. It was a real opportunity for Adam Murray's team to display their intent to attack, against a side who have only won twice since in the league since the reverse fixture at the end of August.

After Mansfield's boxing day appointment at Morecambe was postponed, Adam Murray made one change to the side that earned a point against Cambridge. Craig Westcarr replaced Ryan Tafazolli, who had reportedly a sustained a minor injury which prevented him from playing. He was however named amongst the substitutes, which has fuelled speculation from some quarters that he may be departing during the January window. His contract is up in the summer, and the club may take the opportunity to cash in on him whilst they can, despite being Tafazolli being one of the stars of the season so far. Vadaine Oliver led the line for York, having registered seven goals this season in a struggling team, the same amount score by Matt Green thus far.

In my last blog, I bemoaned the Stags recent trend of conceding early goals, particularly from crosses. It was no surprise therefore, to see York take the lead on 10 minutes, from a free-kick whipped in from the left. The free-kick award look questionable, as a combination of Matt Blair and Adam Chapman tussled with a York player. Luke Summerfield curled an inviting ball in and big defender Dave Winfield, who was terrible in the game between the two side earlier in the season, deftly flicked the ball past a static Jensen and into the bottom left hand corner. There were suspicions of offside that will be clarified by TV replays, but nevertheless it was appalling defending to allow York's tallest player a free chance from a set play.

Mansfield had started slowly and had not really created anything of note. On 16 minutes, Chapman chanced his arm from 30 yards out on the left with a free kick, but it was straight down the throat of Flinders. The Stags strung together a good move down the left involving Lambe, Clements and Adams, the latter seeing his cross cleared from a good position.

The visitors were close to doubling their lead on 23 minutes. Ilesanmi played in Fester on the left hand side, the winger delivered a cross to Oliver at the back post. Oliver headed the ball back across goal towards the top corner, but Jensen at full stretch managed to claw the ball away from danger. Fantastic reflexes from the veteran keeper.

Another fine piece of play down the left as Adams again got free and drove towards the area. He was just about to pull the trigger when Danny Galbraith made a fantastic challenge to divert the ball for a corner, which came to nothing. On 27 minutes, Matt Blair weaved through two players on the edge of the area and unleashed a shot, which deflected just over the bar.

The Stags were level on 31 from a corner, a number or which had already passed without incident. Chapman produced an out-swinging delivery, which was met by the head of Krystian Pearce 14 yards from goal, and beautifully placed into the keepers bottom right hand corner. The ball seemed to travel in slow motion through the air. Relief for the Stags and in particular for Pearce, who had missed two glorious opportunities in the last two games.

With the Stags back on level terms, there was no immediate urgency to go and take the lead. In fact, there was barely another effort on goal from either team for the rest of the half.  Craig Westcarr appeared to be in on goal on 40 minutes as he dispossessed Boyle fairly on the edge of this own area, only for the referee to blow his whistle for an alleged foul. A bewildering decision from the referee.

The sides went in at the break with the score at 1-1. A fair scoreline at half time, Mansfield if anything a little fortunate to be on level terms after a fantastic save by Brian Jensen. There was a moment in the first half where Reggie Lambe gave the York right back Eddie Nolan a ten yard headstart and still won the race to the ball. The game was crying out for Nathan Thomas on the left, and Adi Yussuf up front to give The Stags more of a presence.

Adam Murray resisted the temptation to tinker with his side during the interval, as Mansfield emerged with more purpose, and immediately had an opportunity to take the lead. On 48 minutes, following a corner being cleared by the away side, a lofted return was flicked on intelligently by Pearce towards Westcarr on the left side of the area, but his low shot was smother by Flinders. Westcarr may have been better served lifting the ball. A few minutes later, York were awarded a free-kick and Reggie Lambe picked up a booking for a 50/50 clash of heads with Dave Winfield. Another ridiculous decision by the referee, if anything Lambe reaching the ball before Winfield.

On 55 minutes, Mansfield were awarded a free-kick, and Blair Adams delivered a peach of a cross from the right which Matt Green was inches away from getting on the end of. A minute later, Nathan Thomas was introduced in place of Matt Blair.

York were still posing a threat at the other end. On 62 minutes, Fewster did well to retrieve a ball on the left, leaving Rose trailing in his wake before losing his composure and firing well over the bar.

The opportunity to win the game came and went on 64 minutes. Nathan Thomas finally got the ball on the left hand side following a flowing move, having hardly touched it since he came on. He set the ball out of his feet and put the ball on a plate for Green in the centre of the box, but with the goal gaping, Green under no pressure at all spooned his finished off the top of the bar and out for a goal kick. An unbelievable miss from three yards at the most.

Thomas now looked in the mood as the above chance led to a sustained spell of Stags pressure. The winger smashed a shot from long range wide of the target. On 69 minutes, Reggie Lambe showed dazzling footwork before curling a left footed strike against the crossbar from just outside the box. Lambe may have been better served sliding the ball through to Thomas.

Two minutes later, Thomas produced a replica of his earlier effort to the frustration of some of his teammates. Lambe then again tried his luck from long range, this time a curling right foot effort to the keepers left, but Flinders got two strong hands to the ball to push it away.

York appeared to have weathered the storm as Adam Murray turned to a second substitute. Adi Yussuf came on to replaced Craig Westcarr with 13 minutes of normal time to play. He should have been on much earlier in my opinion.

Mansfield had a further chance to take the lead with five minutes to play. Chapman crossed excellently from the right towards the penalty spot, where Yussuf had muscled in front of his marker and met the cross with a diving header, only to be denied by an excellent Scott Flinders save.

At the other end, York came close to stealing it, when skipper Penn's thumping effort from 35 yards narrowly evaded Jensen's right hand post.

Unfortunately for both sides, neither of them were able to force a winner. Mansfield failed to add to their tally of three home wins, those coming against the sides currently sitting 13th, 20th and 21st respectively. York can consider themselves fortunate to go home with a point following Matt Green's miss.

Whilst if the Stags would have taken their chances then all three points would have been in the bag, there was not a marked switch to the attacking force Adam Murray had pledged pre-Christmas. With a bumper crowd, the announcement of 'kids for a quid' for the next three home games, and against poor opposition, it was the perfect platform for Mansfield to go all out for the win. In contrast, Mansfield's midfield two of Clements and Chapman spent much of the second half guarding their two centre halves, despite the fact neither Rose or Adams were particularly 'bombing on'. There was plenty of patient probing, but only fleeting glimpses of penetration, all of which came in the final half an hour of the game following the introduction of Nathan Thomas.

In five days time, fellow play-off challengers Accrington Stanley visit the One Call Stadium, on the back of a one-nil defeat against Northampton, the same fate suffered by the Stags earlier in the year. Mansfield have never won a league game against Accrington, their only victory coming in the FA Cup back in 2006 when Richie Barker converted a penalty, on the same day it was announced he was due to join Hartlepool for £80k. What Mansfield would give at the moment for a striker who could convert the type of chances created today. Those misses are currently seeing the Stags fail to win games, but Adam Murray's side remain just two points outside the play-off places.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 7 - One excellent save to deny Oliver, but a lot of poor distribution.
Rose - 6.5 - Had a decent game, but worries me as a right back.
Pearce - 7.5 - Really solid display, rounded off by his first home goal.
Collins - 6 - Looks to be at fault for the goal. Solid game otherwise.
Adams - 7 - Tried his best going forward but lacking a final cross/pass/shot.
Chapman - 7 - Assist for the goal and another good cross for Yussuf chance.
Clements - 6 - Sloppy game, more bad passes than good today. Picked up another silly yellow card.
Blair - 6.5 - Plenty of endeavour and a little skill with a long range effort. Not deserving of a place ahead of Nathan Thomas though in my opinion.
Westcarr - 6 - Missed a good chance. Quiet game, can't recall when he last had an impact.
Lambe - 8 - Very good. Plenty of creativity, and unlucky with one effort off the bar.
Green - 6 - Missed a sitter and produced little of note.

Subs -

N Thomas (Blair 56) - Put ball on a plate for Green but faded after that.
Yussuf (Westcarr 77) - Unlucky with diving header.