Murray Rallying Cry Lifts Stags

A spirited Mansfield display led to a 2-1 victory over Teddy Sheringham's Stevenage, as the Stags ended a run of four home games without a win. It was announced an hour or so before the game that Walsall attacking midfielder James Baxendale had joined on loan until the 6th February, with a view to a permanent transfer. The diminutive debutant was the Stags star man, scoring the second goal with a curling effort from outside the box.

During a passionate press conference in the week, Adam Murray outlined his mission to change the whole culture of the club, and called on his players to return to the expressive outfit they were earlier in the season, when he claimed his players had no set positions. He issued a pre-recorded rallying cry to fans over the PA system before kick off, which was well received. The manager made four changes to the side who were defeated by Accrington. In came Ryan Tafazolli, Nicky Hunt, Craig Westcarr and new signing James Baxendale, in place of Lee Collins, Mitch Rose, Nathan Thomas and Reggie Lambe. The restoration to the defence of Ryan Tafazolli had been much called from the fans, and this blog. It was a surprise that Reggie Lambe was dropped to the bench. Perhaps in an effort to recreate his sides start to the season, Jack Thomas, James Baxendale and Craig Westcarr were allowed free roles behind Matt Green, although Baxendale mostly stayed central whilst the others switched wings. Also noticeable was that the Stags had switched dugouts, and opted to shoot towards the Quarry Lane End first. One thing I have recognised in the past is that there always seems to be a lot more space in behind opposition defences when they are defending the North Stand end.

The opening to the game was scrappy and low on quality, perhaps to be expected from two sides who had failed to win in their last four games. Both teams were looking for balls into the channels to force defenders to run towards their own goal, but the defenders were coming out on top in the early stages.

The first sight of goal arrived for Mansfield after ten minutes. Jack Thomas hooked a ball over the top looking for the bursting run of Baxendale. Thomas' pass was a little behind the newcomer, but Baxendale manage to bring it under control and get a shot away, which was tame and easy for the keeper. Baxendale shaped to shoot as if he thought the keeper was off his line.

A minute later, Stevenage were unlucky not to take the lead. Chapman conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the area, left of centre. Michael Tonge, best known for his days playing for Sheffield United, opted to go around the wall rather than over it, but unfortunately for him his curling strike smacked off Jensen's left hand post and away from immediate danger, eventually going out for a corner. From the set piece, the ball arrived with Charlie Lee on the edge of the area and his powerful effort looked to strike the arm of Pearce. It was by no means deliberate, but his arm did appear to be in an unnatural position.

On 16 minutes, calamity in defence for Boro as keeper and defender collided whilst trying to deal with Ryan Tafazolli's long ball. The loose ball ran away from goal. The mix-up offered the Stags some encouragement, Matt Green dribbling away from two defenders moments later before letting fly from distance, straight down the throat of the keeper. Mansfield were awarded a corner on 20 minutes, but were caught on the counter by Stevenage. Following the corner being cleared, Rohdell Gordon nicked the ball in front of Adams and burst upfield with a player in support and only Nicky Hunt to beat. Hunt did well to hold up Gordon, but the winger was still heading towards the area. Blair Adams recovered to snuff out Gordon, as he went down looking for a penalty, but the referee was not convinced and awarded Mansfield a free-kick.

Stevenage tested Jensen on 24 minutes. A throw-in down the line on the left was cleverly flicked inside by Lee where McFadzean picked it up and struck a low left footed effort which was easily gathered by Jensen. At the other end, The Stags produced a neat move down the right, Adam Chapman sending over a pinpoint cross to find the head of Chris Clements breaking into the box. Clements looping header was tipped over the bar by Day.

Another lovely move arrived on 25 minutes for Mansfield. Craig Westcarr slid an incisive pass through the Stevenage defence to send Baxendale clear. His first touch was a little heavy and took him towards the byline rather than direct at goal. He awaited support in the middle before pulling the ball pack towards Westcarr, but he was brilliant denied by Ogilvie with a sliding block.

The game digressed into the combative manner in which is started, both sides huffing and puffing with little end product. Jack Thomas had again struggled to influence the game, working hard but giving the ball away at will and on the periphery of the game. Baxendale and Westcarr were moving well behind Green, who had received little service.

With five minutes to go until half time, the ball was fizzed into Clements feet just outside the area. Clements managed to toe the ball past the defender but was cynically brought down, inches outside the area. Clements was over the free-kick which was very central, not far from where he had netted a week earlier. The Stevenage players were furious with the referee, not for the award of the free-kick, but the distance the wall was asked to stand away from the ball. In fairness to the visitors, the wall did look to be one or two yards further back than it should have been. Clements stepped up and whipped the ball unstoppably into the keepers top right hand corner. Day got nowhere near it. A fantastic free-kick by Clements who has established himself as a specialist from that sort of range. Boro were incensed, but even with the wall a couple of yards further forward, they would have had no chance of stopping Clements strike, his fourth of the season.

Clements smashing free-kick was enough to give the home side a one goal lead at the break. Adam Murray's rallying cry had clearly worked, as the supporters were certainly more vocal than they have been of late.  It was hardly scintillating stuff at Field Mill, but Mansfield have a fantastic record when taking the lead in games and home fans were hoping their side would kick on in the second half. Before the second half got underway, The Stags had a substitution to announce as Reggie Lambe replaced the ineffectual Jack Thomas.

On 54 minutes, The Stags should have doubled their lead. A ball into the left channel was missed by McCombe and ran through to Green. The striker turned into the box with support arriving, but opted to try and beat the keeper at his near post rather than supply a teammate. Day saved with his feet for a corner, but even without a touch the shot looked to be going wide. The chance was similar to Green's goal last weekend, and also the opportunity he had to square to Lambe, which perhaps played on his mind.  This time, Green was a little selfish in my opinion. From the corner, the ball was cleared as far as Westcarr on the edge who powered a volley goalwards, only to see his effort blocked by a sprawling defender. The visitors introduced on-loan Chesterfield striker Armand Gnanduillet, giving them two huge targets up top.

A good chance arose for Stevenage on 59 minutes. Tongue's free-kick was recycled at the back post by Gordon, but was headed wide from six yard by Franks. The central defender should have done better.

Mansfield missed another chance to go further in front moments later. Jensen's long kick was brilliantly headed on by Green and Westcarr found himself clean through. He was under pressure from a defender and could not get balanced to strike it as he would have wanted, only managing to poke the ball at the legs of Day. It looked to be beyond the keeper momentarily, but he recovered well to smother. Westcarr should have done better.

Following a corner on 62 minutes, Krystian Pearce displayed a wonderful Cruyff turn to outfox two defenders, but he could not make space for a shot. A few minutes later, Stevenage broke at pace but Pett's shot was wide of the target. Back to Mansfield on the attack, as Baxendale produced a measured pass between full back and central defender to release Westcarr down the right. Westcarr squared the ball perfectly for the head of Green, but his header was cleared by a defender, and again may have been heading off target.

The Stags finally made it 2-0 on 66 minutes. A ball forward to Green was held up well by the striker, before he laid the ball into the path of Baxendale. Baxendale carried the ball left of centre towards the edge of the area with defenders backing off, before curling a right footed shot low into the keepers bottom left hand corner. From where I was sitting, it looked to go straight through the hand of Day. A well deserved debut goal for Baxendale, whose movement had been fantastic all afternoon.

After 69 minutes, Westcarr was replaced by Mitch Rose. Westcarr was disappointed to be replaced, having had his best game for a while. Stevenage created a few half chances in the minutes that followed, as Jensen had to be alert to stop a Gnanduillet strike.

Mansfield went close to a third on 77 minutes. Blair Adams, having a very good game, did well down the left before cutting inside onto his right foot. Adams stood a ball up to the far post where Mitch Rose met the delivery and produced an eye-catching reaction save from Day. He also had a stab at the rebound, which was similarly rebuffed.

The home side had retreated to defend the edge of their box, conceding possession to Boro who were struggling to break the Stags down. On 87 minutes, Conlon's corner came back to him on the right, Lambe dived in and missed the ball, allowing Conlon to dribble into the box, but his curling effort was too high.

A final change from Adam Murray was met with a standing ovation from the home faithful, as man of the match James Baxendale was replaced by Matty Blair. He looks to be a shrewd acquisition. As the game headed into stoppage time, Green tirelessly chased a channel ball before twisting inside a defender and hitting the target with a left footed shot, palmed away by Day.

With the penultimate kick of the game, Stevenage managed to grab a consolation. A cross from the left ended up with Gnanduillet, whose initial effort was palmed away by Jensen but gathered again by the colossal striker, who rifled his second chance high into the roof of the net, despite the efforts of Tafazolli on the line. Another goal conceded from a cross.

There was just about time to restart, Chapman thumping the ball into the Ian Greaves Stand as the referee's whistle sounded. A vital win for the Stags to stay in touch with the play-off places, as they managed to close the gap to just one point and move up to 8th position. Admittedly, Accrington in 7th have three games in hand, whilst Wycombe in 6th also have a game in hand. Bristol Rovers are in 5th, five points clear of Mansfield having played one extra game.

In my blog last week, I mentioned that Ryan Tafazolli should be back in the starting line-up, and that a fresh face was needed in the attacking midfield role. Both of my wishes were fulfilled and it led to a much more solid defensive display, and a lot more fluidity in behind Matt Green, with Westcarr and Baxendale breaking beyond Green on several occasions. A mention should also be given to Nicky Hunt, who put in a solid display and never stopped organising his defence.

The two star performers were James Baxendale and Krystian Pearce. Baxendale showed dribbling skills, an eye for a pass and non-stop movement. He looked a little lightweight on occasion, but he provided the side with much needed creativity in the final third. Pearce put in another outstanding display. Apart from one shaky moment when he sliced a clearance, he was solid as a rock, timing challenges, winning headers, and even showing fancy footwork in the opposition penalty area. I am yet to see a better defender in League Two.

Mansfield have a week to prepare for their next game, away against AFC Wimbledon, who are unbeaten in the their last four league outings, but with only three wins out of the last ten. They remain in the top half of the table, and on the back of a morale boosting victory, Adam Murray will he hoping his charges can grab that elusive win against a top half team.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 6.5 - A few saves to make but none too taxing. Constantly put too much power on his kicks.
Hunt - 7 - A good return to the side. Got forward well in the first half but not as much as the second. Defended solidly throughout.
Pearce - 8 - Very, very good apart from one sliced clearance. Best defender Mansfield have had in a long time.
Tafazolli - 7 - Great to see him back in the side. Solid display.
Adams - 7.5 - Really good in both directions.
Chapman - 6.5 - A few good tackles but still gives the ball away too much for my liking. Not sure why he seems to be guaranteed a shirt every week.
Clements - 7 - Great free-kick and put himself around. Did not influence the game with his passing as he can do.
J Thomas - 5 - Hardly touched ball, when he did more often than not gave it away. Just not happening for him at the moment.
Baxendale - 8.5 - Looks a very good signing. Ability, movement and intelligence. Looks to have filled the number 10 role.
Westcarr - 7 - Much better than of late. Should have scored but created chances for both Baxendale and Green which both could have done better with.
Green - 7 - Worked hard and had three or four attempts on goal. Build up play has come on leaps and bounds since start of season.

Subs :

Lambe (Thomas 46) - 6.5 - Looked lively, one good pass through to Green. Unlucky to be dropped in my view.
Rose (Westcarr 69) - Unlucky with a header.
Blair (Baxendale 87) - No time to have an impact.