Poor Home Form Continues Against Accrington

Mansfield continued their struggles against top half teams as they were beaten by 3-2 by a potent Accrington outfit, containing last seasons loan striker Billy Kee. As the pantomime season comes to an end around the country, the visitors still remained loyal to the script of a Mansfield home performance, as they took the lead early on, inevitably from a cross. The Stags, as usual, took 20 minutes to get going, before going into the break on level terms thanks to a sublime finish from Matt Green. However, two individual errors from Lee Collins gave Accrington a 3-1 lead late on, before Chris Clements whipped in a late consolation from a free-kick.

Jack Thomas and Nathan Thomas were restored to the starting line-up ahead of the game, in place of Matty Blair and Craig Westcarr. They were the only changes made by Adam Murray, meaning candidate for player of the season thus far Ryan Tafazolli remained on the substitutes bench. Question marks over his future linger like a grey cloud over the head of the management team as they continue to leave him out.  For Stanley, Josh Windass is their recognised danger man, having notched 11 goals so far this season. His performances have attracted the attention of several Championship clubs if rumours are to be believed and this may have been one of his last appearances for the club.

Due to the inclement weather around the country, this fixture was only Accrington's third league game since the 28th November, one more than Mansfield had played in that time frame. The away side's added freshness appeared evident early on, as The Stags looked sluggish and unable to clear their lines. Stanley seized full advantage as they took the lead after just 3 minutes. In what was to become a fixture of the first 20 minutes, Billy Kee was allowed way to much time to bring down a long clearance by the Accrington keeper, as Collins and Pearce failed to get to grips with his movement. He sprayed the ball out to the left to Josh Windass, roaming all over the pitch in search of the ball. Windass ghosted with ease past Mitch Rose and delivered a cross from the byline towards the back post. Right winger Piero Mingoia arrived ahead of Adams and Jack Thomas to volley the ball into Jensen's right hand corner. A simple goal for Mingoia, as Mansfield continue to look vulnerable to the ball into the box. Mitch Rose's lack of defensive ability was cruelly exposed by the silky Windass.

The visitors should have been 2-0 up on 8 minutes, as Billy Kee slid the ball through to Mingoia in search of his second, but their was not enough power on the pass from Kee and Blair Adams recovered excellently to block the wingers shot. The chance arose from Adam Chapman giving the ball away on the edge of his own box.

A further display of why Josh Windass was in demand was in evidence on 10 minutes. Halliday found him just inside his own half on the right, but with one touch Windass breezed away from Chapman, who had been terrible in the opening minutes of the game, yet would somehow go on to be the sponsors man of the match! After buying some space, Windass bent a perfect pass around Collins and Pearce to search out Kee inside the area, but Kee's first touch was not as he would have wanted and he ended up poking wide of the target with his right foot, when a shot with his left would have been the better option. Kee was embraced prior to the game by Adam Murray.

Accrington had been fantastic inside the opening 18 minutes and created another opportunity thanks to some fantastic movement. Matt Crooks intercepted a Mitch Rose pass on the Stags right, which broke to Kee with his back to goals on the half way line. As soon as it looked like Kee was about to drop the ball off to Conneely, Windass was on his bike and ran off Chapman and into the space vacated by Collins who was shepherding Kee. Conneely saw the movement and chipped the ball into Windass' path. Windass dribbled inside the right channel away from Pearce but his low shot was easily stopped at his near post by Brian Jensen.

Two minutes later, Sean McConville skipped away from Mitch Rose on the left side of the area, but his shot was well stopped again by Jensen. On 23 minutes, a further chance for Billy Kee to put one over on his former club. Lambe was dispossessed fairly on the left by Pearson. McConville picked up the loose ball and slid a pass through to Kee inside the area. Jensen advanced to collect the ball, whilst Kee was bundled over by Collins as he tried to get on the end of the pass, leading to Kee and Jensen colliding and an angry reaction from Lee Collins, who felt Kee had been overzealous in his challenge. For me, Kee had every right to go for the ball and had Green not done the same at the other end I would be questioning why. In fact, looking at the replay, it seems Kee only went to ground because of the push by Collins. Jensen got treatment for a head injury and Kee was shown a yellow card, a little harshly in my opinion.

On 26 minutes, McConville was through on goal for the visitor's again, but his finish was tame and well saved by Jensen. Mansfield were lucky at this stage not to be 4 or 5 goals down, but completely against the run of play were level a minute later.

Just as it looked as if Accrington were about to string another attacking move together, Mingoia misplaced his pass and Collins cleared the ball into the left channel. Stanley central defender Davies went to control the ball out of the air with his instep but got it completely wrong. Matt Green was already sprinting to chase the ball before Davies' mistake and was rewarded as the ball skipped off the surface and into his path inside the left of the area. On his weaker side, Green kept his composure and produced a measure finished off the inside of Mooney's left hand post. It was Green's first sniff of goal in the game, and taking into account his miss in the previous game, the strikers eighth goal of the season was pure class.

Green's equaliser was the equivalent to someone flicking the Stags on switch, as they had struggled to maintain any meaningful possession in the Accrington half up to that point of the game. Now every hopeful channel ball was running in the right direction for Green as he terrorised the visiting defence for the remainder of the half.  Two minutes after the goal, Green pursued a ball down the left hand touchline by Chapman and wriggled away from the attention of a sliding Accrington defender. Green drove into the box, with Lambe arriving on the right in support. Green it seemed opted to try and find Lambe but Mooney stretched and claimed the ball across the 6 yard box. In the end, it was poor from Green having neither shot or found Lambe, although Lambe's movement to make himself available could have been better.

Again Accrington continued to come forward, but this time Mansfield defended well and Green was again on the chase after Clements smashed the ball downfield into the right channel. Green brilliantly outmuscled Wright under the bouncing ball and appeared to be clean through inside the area. For some reason, Green opted to turn around again so that he had his back to goal. Nevertheless, Green still managed to spin away for Wright for a second time before firing over the angle of Mooney's right hand post and bar with his left foot.

As the half time whistle approached, Accrington boss John Coleman was incensed by a challenge from Mitch Rose on Sean McConville, right under the managers nose. It looked to me as if Rose had taken the ball cleanly, and still does from the replays, but Rose's trailing leg also caught the man. Nevertheless, it did not appear to be a foul, let alone one as serious as Coleman appeared to be indicating. Rose was booked for the challenge and Stanley had a free-kick. The initial delivery was cleared and arrived with the right back Halliday inside the centre circle. Halliday drove forward, around Matt Green before his wayward shot drifted harmlessly wide.

Shortly before the whistle went to end the half, the Mansfield bench were similarly angered as Green was fouled by Davies off the ball as the Stags went on the attack down the right. The referee it appeared did not even see the challenge, as no booking was ever shown to Davies. Green looked to be hurt and limped down the tunnel at half time. Such a shame after the impact he had made on the game.

Mansfield had recovered well after being dominated for the opening 25 minutes by the pace and movement of Accrington. That being said, the only chances the Stags had created had been solely due to the hard work and ability of Matt Green. Two hopeful punts and one pass into the channel for him to chase which he had turned into a goal, a shot on goal and a situation in which perhaps he could have done better. If he was not to emerge for the second half, it would be a big blow to Mansfield. The referee received some ear bashing from the home fans as he headed down the tunnel, the supporters unhappy with Rose's booking and the challenge on Green, both which happened in quick succession.

Green did emerge for the second half, although did not look at all comfortable. After the game, Adam Murray told the press that Green had said at the interval that he could not run as a result of the injury, but the management has asked him to give it a go as both Westcarr and Yussuf were not fully fit. Risking Green could prove to be a huge mistake if the knock turns out to be something more serious.

Nevertheless, Mansfield should have been ahead a minute into the second half. A cross from the left by Green ran all the way through to Lambe on the right side of the area. For some reason, the defender having slipped and being out of the game, Lambe opted for the first time shot with his weaker side which went straight at the keeper. Lambe should have taken a touch with the amount of time he had.

Following two poor pieces of play and having had very little impact on the game, Nathan Thomas was replaced on 52 minutes by Matty Blair. Another opportunity wasted by Nathan Thomas to display his talents from the outset, rather than off the bench.

Blair was involved two minutes after coming on in a flowing move. Collins won a header on half way which was cushioned into the path of Chapman by Jack Thomas. Chapman quickly poked the ball forward to Clements with his back to goal. He showed his vision by finding Blair unmarked outside him with a first time volleyed pass. Blair dribbled down the right and squared the ball towards Lambe. Lambe cannot have shouted as Green got to the ball ahead of him and tried to flick the ball goalwards. Lambe almost got on to the end of the flick before the giant frame of keeper Mooney clawed the ball away. Mooney's improvised clearance went straight to Jack Thomas 14 yards from goal but he shot high over the bar with his left foot when he really should have hit the target.

Mansfield continued to be on the front foot without creating any clear opportunities. Green's race was run however on 63 minutes, when he was replaced by Craig Westcarr. Westcarr went into the central strikers role. The Stags had switched to more of a 4-3-3 with Thomas operating from a little deeper. Green's substitution led to Mansfield losing their grip on the game.

On 72 minutes, Accrington took the lead having shown very little attacking intent in the second period. Collins clearance in the left back spot was charged down by the impressive Crooks and broke into the path of substitute Terry Gornell, who had replaced Mingoia moments earlier. Gornell dribbled with the ball to the corner of the area before pulling it back to Crooks who had continued his run. Crooks spun neatly away from Adams and poked the ball to Kee inside the penalty area on the left. Crooks pass bobbled into the air off the foot of Pearce, but Kee watched the ball all the way and volleyed powerfully through the grasps of Jensen. Having seen the replay, Kee may have been offside when Crooks played the pass. Jensen could have done better in my opinion with the shot more or less straight at him. Kee sprinted straight over to the bench to celebrate, with Lee Collins left with hands on head. All four Mansfield defenders converged on Crooks on the edge of the area rather than just one man closing him down, leading to the space Kee was afforded to volley home. Kee deserved the goal for his all round performance, the kind of which was rarely seen in a Mansfield shirt.

A good chance to equalise was presented to Westcarr on 74 minutes. Lambe's cross from the left hand side of the area found the chest of Westcarr in space on the penalty spot. Westcarr hit a shot on the turn that was blocked by Davies. It appeared to be heading straight at Mooney in any case. Westcarr should have done better from that position. It was to be Lambe's last action in the game as he was replaced by Adi Yussuf. A strange substitution as although Lambe had not been at his best, he has a tendency to score important goals. It was especially surprising given that Jack Thomas had offered little all afternoon and had been rapidly tiring as the half wore on.

The visitors appeared to have killed the game on 85 minutes. Adam Buxton had all the time in the world on the left hand side to measure his cross towards the back post. Collins misjudged his jump which allowed Gornell to head towards Jensen's bottom left hand corner. The veteran stopper got a hand to it to tip it onto the post, but could not react quick enough to stop Gornell smashing the ball into the roof of the net. Awful defending from Mansfield, who have not kept a clean sheet in the league in their last 9 games, and not at home since the 10th October, after starting the campaign so defensively solid. This could be due to 3 of the 4 defenders who started the season being unavailable.

Mansfield were not done yet at they grabbed themselves a lifeline on 88 minutes. Westcarr was pushed in the back rather crudely by Wright around 25 yards from goal, ever so slightly right of centre. Chris Clements took charge and curled the free-kick beautifully over the wall and into the keepers left hand side of the net.

Despite the Stags lumping the ball forward, it was in fact Stanley who should have registered the sixth goal of the game. Gornell was cleverly found inside the area by Kee in acres of space, but his right footed shot was excellently denied by Jensen's outstretched right boot. A few minutes later, Accrington again broke and Collins cynically tried to disrupt the counter attack with a lunging, two-footed tackle from behind. He was very lucky in my opinion only to see a yellow card.

The games ended in a 3-2 win for the visitors, and on the balance of play it was nothing less than they deserved. Aside from the last fifteen or so minutes of the first half, and perhaps the first fifteen of the second, Mansfield created few clear chances and could have been blown away inside the first twenty minutes. The Stags players waited for a post match huddle, as has become the custom, but Murray stormed passed them without so much as a glance and straight down the tunnel.

The Stags 2016 home fixtures start the same way as 2015's, with a 3-2 defeat and with Billy Kee on the scoresheet, this time for the opposite team of course. As I continue to stress, Mansfield's primary focus should be on starting games faster, and to stop allowing teams a one goal head start before they start performing. Over the last few home games, the limitations of the Mansfield squad have been exposed and it now appears clear that without additions in all three sectors of outfield positions, The Stags will fall short of the play-offs.

It is doubtful Murray will opt to spend any of his budget on the full back positions with Hunt and Benning both reportedly expected to return this month, but with Ryan Tafazolli's future in doubt and Lee Collins looking shaky of late, Mansfield are missing a towering presence to deal with the crosses they continue to concede from. The other area's in question would be the three attacking positions behind Matt Green, the 7, 10 and 11 positions if you like. Whilst it seems Reggie Lambe place is secure for the foreseeable future, Murray is struggling to find a player he can trust on the alternate wing, as Nathan Thomas continues to be inconsistent and Matt Blair providing little other than energetic bursts down the right which 9 times out out 10 come to nothing. The attacking midfield role is also up for grabs, with Westcarr out of form and Jack Thomas struggling to impact a game in that role. It seems most likely that this is the area Murray will look to strengthen, with continued mentions of his team missing 'the X-Factor'. You cannot help but feel the Stags may have missed the boat a little on this one, with the creative and goal hungry Mark McNulty signing for Portsmouth on loan from local team Sheffield United earlier in the season. Rumours arose a month or so ago that Mansfield may be looking at Diego De Girolamo on loan from Sheffield United who could perhaps provide a spark, whilst Stags legend Liam Lawrence has also been linked with a return to the club.

With the transfer window now open and Murray's side now sitting in 12th position, albeit within four points of the play-off positions, now is the time to ignite fresh impetus into the Stags campaign if they have ambitions of finishing in or a above that seventh spot. Stevenage visit for a further home fixture next weekend having similarly failed to win in their last four outings. Mansfield will be hoping Matt Green can shake off the knock sustained against Accrington, otherwise Adam Murray may have another area of his squad which needs strengthening.

Player Ratings :

Jensen - 7 - Made two good saves, and one excellent one. Should have done better with second goal in my opinion, and perhaps with the third.
Rose - 5.5 - Started terribly but improved. Ultimately had a role to play in all three goals conceded. Beaten for the first, sucked in for the second and stood off Buxton for the third. Not a right back. Needs restoring to central midfield where his energy is sorely missed.
Pearce - 7 - Part of a defence than conceded three but I thought played well after first ten minutes.
Collins - 5 - Poor afternoon, at fault for final two goals and never got to grips with Kee, unlike Pearce who improved.
Adams - 6 - Seems to be targeted by opposition for crosses into box but generally played well.
Chapman - 5.5 - Dreadful opening quarter of an hour. Improved but no idea how he got sponsor man of the match.
Clements - 6.5 - Passing a mixed bag but tracked back well on more than one occasion. Very good free-kick.
Lambe - 6 - Not as influential as he has been of late. Good cross for Westcarr chance, should have done better with effort at start of second half.
J. Thomas - 5.5 - Missed another chance shine. Trademark enthusiasm on show but very little quality. Inevitably got booked.
N. Thomas - 5 - Anonymous. The few times he got the ball could not beat the first man with his cross.
Green - 8 - Really good. Created all his own chances including for goal, as well as cross for Lambe when injured at start of second. Only on for just over an hour, and only in the game for half of that time, but deserved man of the match.

Subs :

Blair (N. Thomas 52) - One good cross, otherwise too lightweight and not offering enough.
Westcarr (Green 63) - One good opening where he could have done better. Stormed down tunnel at final whistle.
Yussuf (Lambe 75) - Little of note.