Stats on Stags - Exeter (H)

The Stags suffered their first defeat of the league campaign at home to Exeter on Saturday afternoon. Despite a positive start, Exeter were the better side, without being brilliant, and certainly deserved the three points. After five competitive games, three in the league, Graham Coughlan's side remain without a victory. Mansfield have picked up two points from a possible nine, despite not conceding first in any game so far. Taking the lead and failing to convert can be a real morale sapper. To maintain the positive spirit within the group, The Stags need to pick up their first three points sooner rather than later.

It was a gusty afternoon at Field Mill, with Graham Coughlan emphasising pre-game the need to keep the ball on the deck. With that in mind, he would have been particularly miffed with what his side produced. The percentage of long passes played by his side has increased game on game (21% v Tranmere, 24% v Leyton Orient, 27% v Exeter), which the gaffer says is not an instruction issued by him. Whilst we have to take his word that he has not expressly told his defenders and goalkeeper to do so, his team is set up in such a way which invites a long pass. Marek Stech has played 88 of his 94 passes long, showing little desire to play out from the back. The two deeper midfielders, Clarke and Maris, do not provide short options to Menayese or Sweeney, the wider of the three centre backs. Rawson has very little involvement in the build up. Often, the only option to play short for the centre backs is to their wing back. This then leads to the next issue, which is the lack of passing options given to the wing backs. O'Keeffe, and particularly Benning, are constantly isolated in possession. They usually end up playing backwards, or attempting cross/balls into the channel. The wing backs were under utilised in this game, ranking 5th (O'Keeffe) and 6th (Benning) for touches, and not a single dribble attempted throughout the entire team. Harry Charsley plays so high when the team are in possession that he is more or less a third striker, one less option for the defenders looking to play through the thirds. Finally, the two strikers are big lads which naturally leads to defenders aiming for their heads as an outball, especially with Charlsey looking to run off the front two.

A bad day at the office for Graham Coughlan (picture by Dan Westwell)

The Stags created two chances from long passes, the first of which culminated in Rollin Menayese's first senior goal. A clever corner routine from the left saw O'Keeffe chip the ball back to Clarke 30 yards from goal. Clarke controlled on his chest and lifted a left footed pass to the back post. His pass was met by the onrushing Charsley, who volleyed the ball back across the six yard line, where Menayese was waiting to stab the ball home. A really well worked set piece from Mansfield, which is rarity! The second chance was the best Mansfield created in the second half, and should have resulted in them retaking the lead. Menayese crossed from a deep position on the right hand side towards the edge of the area. Cook knocked the ball down into the path of Harry Charsley, who did well to hold off his defender before executing a really poor finish, straight at the goalkeeper from 8 yards out. A yard either side and it was a goal. Apart from those two moments, the long passes were ineffective. To be fair to Andy Cook, he did his job perfectly well, winning 14 aerial duels, the most of any player in League Two this weekend. His knockdowns were often into the right areas, but either not anticipated or failed to drop to a yellow shirt. That said, he would have hoped to do better in the opening exchanges, when a lovely reverse pass from Ollie Clarke was gathered in by Cook inside the right side of the box, and slammed into the side netting, the sort of chance he usually takes. 

Rollin Menayese opens the scoring (picture by Dan Westwell)

You can see from the average position map below that our 5 midfielders/strikers are very narrow. Combined with the long balls pumped through the middle, playing so centrally, so often, becomes predictable and easy to defend against. You can see from Exeter's average positions that their two wingers were advanced and occupying the vacant space between Mansfield's defence and midfield, and wide centre back and wing back.

Another worrying trend is the oppositions ability to create chances against us. This was not a problem on the opening day, mainly due to the lack of ambition shown by Tranmere. However, both Orient and Exeter, two technical sides, have seen plenty of the ball and managed to exploit The Stags weaknesses. Gaps still remain between the wide centre backs and wing backs, which are being exposed by channel runs from strikers and advanced wingers. Maris and Clarke are expected to get through so much work, box to box to support attacks and help out the defence, as well as being pulled into wide areas to help wing backs with overlapping full backs. Combined with the deep defensive line, required due to the lack of pace of the centre backs, this often leaves the area 25 yards from goal vacant, particularly when the central midfielders are dragged wide. Clever attackers are therefore able to pick up the ball in this area and keep attacks going.

Despite those frailties in open play, it was from two set plays that Mansfield were undone. A terrible error from Stech (6'3) for the first, coming for the ball and getting nowhere near it. For the second, both Rawson (6'3) and Sweeney (6'3) lost aerial challenges, and Stech was somehow lobbed by a header from 6 yards. O'Keeffe could also have done better to challenge the goalscorer Josh Key. There was no need to concede the second corner in the first place, Menayese heading the ball behind under zero pressure. Graham Coughlan was once more unhappy after the game, presumably referring to Stech and Rawson when he said he had brought players into the club specifically to guard against such goals being conceded.

The winning goal from Josh Key (Picture by Dan Westwell)

The Stags travel to Newport next weekend, one of three teams with a total of seven points from a possible nine at the top of the league. It's still early days, but it is worrying that Mansfield are yet to record a victory, especially when taking into account that we have led in two of the three games, and were much better the side in the other. It's also concerning that two weeks in a row we have heard from Graham Coughlan that his team have not followed his instructions, taking the ball to the corner when ahead at Orient last week, and the long ball tactics this week. The team is still gelling after a short pre-season, with 7 new arrivals in the starting line-up, but the same can also be said of most other teams in the division, perhaps not to such a large extent. For the first time this season, I think we can expect changes to the starting line-up at Rodney Parade.

Top Stats : 

Shots : Charsley (3) Bowery, Menayese, Clarke, Maris, Cook (1)
Key Passes : Charlsey, Benning (2) Clarke, Cook,Maynard (1)
Passes : Maris (41) Stech (40) Sweeney, Menayese (39)
Passing Accuracy : O'Keeffe (72.4%) Bowery (68.8%) Clarke (68.4%)
Aerial Duels Won : Cook (14) Menayese, Rawson (8)
Touches : Menayese (56) Clarke (53) Maris (52)
Tackles : Maris (4) Menayese, Benning (3)

Onto next week, up the Stags!