The Stags were unfortunate to slip to a second consecutive defeat at early league leaders Newport on Saturday afternoon. Despite taking the lead for the third time in four games, individual errors and a questionable refereeing decision saw the Exiles run out 2-1 victors. Graham Coughlan's frustrations continue to build, as he again bemoaned both his sides lack of 'luck' and their inability to hold on to a lead.
After naming an unchanged side for the opening three league fixtures, Coughlan made five changes as he looked to change his sides fortunes. Marek Stech was ill, so Aiden Stone was between the sticks. Stone had started in 2 of Coughlan's 4 wins as Stags manager. James Perch replaced Harry Charley, meaning a switch from a double pivot to a single, and the removal of the number ten. The manager indicated that this was his preferred midfield set up. Stephen McLaughlin made his Mansfield debut, in for the out of sorts Mal Benning at left wing back, and both Andy Cook and Jordan Bowery were dropped to the bench as Nicky Maynard and Jamie Reid were preferred in attack. Cook and Charlsey, who had been our best striker and top creator respectively, could consider themselves harshly treated.
|Jamie Reid grew into first league start for Stags|
The Stags were very passive in the first half. Matty Dolan, now operating in central defence for Newport, was the chief benefactor, the two Stags strikers following the wider centre backs and letting Dolan dictate the play from deep, as the rest of the team attempted to block his passing lanes. Dolan had 70 touches in the first half, more than any Mansfield player managed in the entire game. Newport had 68% possession and made double Mansfield's passed in the first half (325 v 158) but were well marshalled by the Stags, and were mainly limited to pinging the ball around their defensive third and long range efforts on goal. With Maynard and Reid up top, Mansfield made efforts to keep the ball on the floor, but the strikers struggled to get hold of the ball. The Stags passing was extremely poor in the first half. Their best moment came on the break when Maynard held on to the ball well, before releasing Maris into the left channel. Maris carried the ball to the edge of the area before cutting inside and curling a low shot towards the far corner. Townsend tipped the ball around the post.
After the break, Mansfield were much improved. The passing was much more accurate. Only 18% of our passes were long, compared with 28% in our last game against Exeter. James Perch played a big role in the Stags style change, providing options on the ball to the centre backs and wing backs, progressing the ball simply. His passing accuracy of 85.4% was the highest of any Stags player so far this season. After a poor first half, Jamie Reid grew into the game, making his first EFL appearance in four years. He had a snapshot from the edge of the area parried away before creating a clear chance for Nicky Maynard. Reid latched on to a line ball from Corey O'Keeffe down the right hand side, whipped a low ball into the near post and Maynard flicked with his left boot straight at the keeper from 6 yards. Maynard should have scored.
|James Perch kept the ball well|
However, a few minutes later, debutant McLaughlin gave Mansfield the lead. It was a really nice move from The Stags, which involved all five of their midfield players, if you include the wing backs. O'Keeffe, Clarke and Maris did well on the right to keep possession from a throw-in, before moving the ball left to Perch. Perch swept the ball wider again to McLaughlin, but did not stand admire his pass. He made a brilliant underlapping run which allowed McLaughlin to cut inside onto his weaker right foot and smash one into the top left hand corner. Intelligent play by Perch and a fantastic debut goal from McLaughlin, who looked very promising on his first start.
|McLaughlin scored a screamer on debut|
Then came the all too familiar collapse. Following a Newport free-kick which was headed away by Rawson, the ball arrived with Shepherd on the right. His low cross should have been cleared by Bowery, but his mishit dribbled towards Twine inside the area, who precisely found the far corner. Bowery had only been on the pitch a couple of minutes, and the attempted clearance was his first touch of the ball. He was possibly caught cold, but it is no excuse, especially when he was probably brought on for the defensive side of his game, with Maynard tiring. The winning goal felt somewhat inevitable after that, albeit from what appeared to be the wrong decision. Farrend Rawson misjudged a bouncing ball into the right channel, somehow managing to head the ball backwards towards his own goal for Amond to pick up. Amond, from a yard away, attempted to cut the ball inside Menayese. The ball hit his left arm, which was down by his side and appeared to be outside the area. The referee awarded a very harsh penalty. However, had Rawson executed his header better, one of the main reason he was brought to the club in the first place, there would be no situation for Menayese to be involved in. Matty Dolan converted, just as he did in the play- offs in May 2019, to win the game.
It's very obviously concerning that Mansfield are yet to win a game this season, and Graham Coughlan's league win ratio is also alarming at just 21% (4/19), but there are still positives from the performances so far, if not the results. We have been in every game, either drawing, or losing by the odd goal. We're not struggling to create chances either, with better finishing we could've scored two goals in each game. The big worry is the morale of the players. The longer you go without that first win, the more confidence will continue to drain and the more likely you are to continue making errors. Lincoln are up next in the EFL Trophy, before a very winnable game at home to Stevenage on Saturday.
Top Stats :
Shots : Maynard, Reid (3) McLaughlin, Maris (2)
Key Passes : Perch, Reid (2)
Passes : Maris (51) O'Keeffe, Menayese (42)
Passing Accuracy : Perch (85.7%) Maris (84.3%) Clarke (80%)
Aerial Duels Won : Menayese, Rawson (5) O'Keeffe (3)
Touches : O'Keeffe (71) McLaughlin (69) Maris (66)
Tackles : Menayese, McLaughlin, Reid (2)
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