The Stags battled to a 1-1 draw at the Mazuma Stadium on Tuesday evening, after conceding a goal with just 3 minutes on the clock. As has been the theme throughout the season so far, it was a close game which could have gone either way. Ryan Sweeney missed a great chance before Mansfield equalised through Harry Charsley's first goal in league football, whilst at the other end Marek Stech justified the faith shown in him by manager Graham Coughlan, producing a brilliant one handed save to claw away Cole Stockton's well directed header early in the second half. The result in isolation was a decent one given the respective teams start to the season, but in the context of the bigger picture, a win was required to quieten the growing calls for a change of manager. It was the first time this season that Coughlan had deviated from his preferred 3-5-2, opting for a 4-5-1, but we will come back to that later.
I think it's fair to say that after conceding such an early goal, most fans were fearing the worst. It was a really soft goal to concede. A throw-in down The Stags left hand side was headed against Perch by O'Keeffe. The ball broke to Stockton in the area, who put a low pass across the face of goal where an onrushing Adam Phillips slid the ball into the far corner. Rawson did not react quickly enough to cover across the front post and intercept the pass, and Menayese reacted too late to match the run of Phillips. A disastrous start.
It would have been easy for Mansfield to go under, but they showed a bit of backbone and got themselves back into the game with a well worked goal, perhaps showing they're still behind the under pressure Coughlan. Good combination play between McLaughlin and Maris culminated with the latter switching play out to Gordon on the right hand side. Gordon squared his man up before darting down the line and playing a low cross to Charsley eight yard from goal. Charsley improvised brilliantly with a Cruyff turn style flick into the far corner. A well deserved equaliser.
The goal owed a lot to both the formation change and the change in personnel. Despite the Stags still having a lot of possession across the defence, having two rather than three centre backs meant that moves were eminating from more central areas, with options being provided by both Perch and Maris in front of them, O'Keeffe and Menayese to the side of them, McLaughlin and Gordon out wide, as well as the option of going long to Andy Cook. When we have played with three centre backs, usually the wing backs struggle to create an angle for Menayese or Sweeney, and they end up coming back inside to Rawson or Perch sitting deep, or going long. For the goal, full-back, midfielder and winger were able to combine before switching play to the opposite winger. Having a winger rather than a wing-back allows a higher starting position, meaning crosses can be delivered from more dangerous areas. It was nice to have a winger in Gordon who was willing to attempt to take on his man. He only managed 2/5 successful dribbles, but one of those led to the equaliser. He was a threat throughout and has surely earned himself another start on Saturday.
The graphic below shows the players pass maps for the game, together with the whole team pass map and possession heat map. George Maris was particularly tidy with the ball, with a pass accuracy of 85.5%. You would perhaps like to see him on the ball further up the pitch, but with how deep our defenders tend to sit, he has to drop deeper to pick up the ball. He continually switched play successfully. You will also note the marked difference between the distribution of Rawson and Sweeney. Rawson was happy to keep possession by continually moving the ball square to Sweeney, whilst Sweeney was more ambitious, however only 2/10 of his long passes were successful. Whether this is a case of Sweeney being impatient, or being tasked by the management with playing forward, remains to be seen.
Despite a good first half, the game rather petered out in the second half. It was disappointing to see the management settle for a point, when all three appeared to be there for the taking. This approach was underlined when Jordan Bowery replaced Andy Cook on 73 minutes. Cook had been isolated for much of the second half, and was crying out for a partner up top. Instead, Graham Coughlan opted for a like for like swap. With Bowery in poor form in front of goal in open play, particularly last time out, I think fans would have been forgiving of the like for like swap if it has been Reid or Maynard introduced, who despite not notching so far this season, offer more of a threat than Bowery based on their respective goal records. The ineffective nature of the substitution is summed up by Bowery's contribution : two touches (a mis-control which went for a throw, and a failed tackle) and a foul. The manager has to be braver with his substitutions if he wants to turn draws into wins.
The Stags are on the road again on Saturday, as they head to 3rd place Cheltenham. The Robins have only conceded goals in two of their seven games. Mansfield have failed to keep an away clean sheet. I expect that Graham Coughlan will stick with the 4-5-1 formation which gained his side a point on Tuesday. Mal Benning was due to start prior to illness, so it will be interesting to see if the manager sticks with his makeshift back four if Benning is available for selection. George Lapslie is also available again following suspension. As it was in midweek, it's another scenario whereby if we had more points on the board, a draw at Cheltenham would be a good result, but in the position Mansfield are in, both the team and the manager need wins, and fast!
Top Stats :
Shots : Charsley, Cook, Gordon (2) McLaughlin, O'Keeffe, Rawson, Sweeney (1)
Key Passes : Cook, Gordon, McLaughlin (2) O'Keeffe, Stech (1)
Passes : Sweeney (58) Maris (56) Rawson (54)
Passing Accuracy : Maris (85.5%) Rawson (81.5%) O'Keeffe (72.7%)
Aerial Duels Won : Cook (8) Sweeney (7) Rawson (6)
Touches : Menayese (70) Sweeney (69) Rawson (65)
Tackles : Gordon (2) Bowery, Charsley, Maris (1)
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