Stats on Stags - Stevenage (H)

Mansfield Town's slow start to the season continued at Field Mill on Saturday as they were held to a goalless draw by Stevenage. Despite dominating the ball with 64% possession, The Stags could only equal the visitors shot tally (13), and had two less shots on target (3v5). Graham Coughlan's side did however hit the post and crossbar through Harry Charsley and George Maris, with Elliott List hitting the crossbar for Stevenage. Maris' effort was one of the last kicks of the game, striking the underside of the bar and bouncing clear. The winless start to the season extends to eight games, five in the league.

The problem the Stags players encountered on Saturday afternoon was the deep block employed by Stevenage, who much like Tranmere on the opening day of the season, were content to head back to Hertfordshire with a point. In fairness, they were much more effective in attack than the team from The Wirral.  Despite having the majority of the ball, only 25% of the match action took place in Stevenage's defensive third, compared with 34% in Mansfield's defensive third. Most of the home side's possession was amongst their five defenders, six if you include James Perch in the holding role, all of whose average positions were within their own half, as they tried throughout the 90 minutes to work the ball into dangerous positions. Nicky Maynard, who notched 15 goals last term, had just 15 touches, only 5 of which were within 30 yards of goal.

There is an area of a football pitch which is known as the 'golden square' or 'zone 14'. It's basically the most favourable zone on a football pitch from which most dangerous attacks are produced. The diagram below shows zone 14.

Mansfield had just 22 touches of the ball in zone 14, out of a total of 617. That equates to 4% of the teams total touches. Only 15 of those were passes, just 3% of total passes. It shows the struggle the Stags faced in possessing the ball in dangerous areas, with Stevenage's first defensive line set up on the halfway line. Without a target man up top, Mansfield were forced to try and play through the block, rather than over it. Only 14% of passes were long. I mentioned in a previous blog that the Stags had been playing too many long balls with Cook and Bowery up top, 24% of total passes on average. Since Maynard and Reid have come in, the percentage has dropped to 16%. I'm surprised Coughlan hasn't paired Cook, who for me has been the best of the four strikers so far, with Reid or Maynard, so that we have the option of going on occasion when facing defensive teams.  The touch map is shown below, where you will see the density thin out in the aforementioned zone.

The main positive from Saturday was that the side managed to keep a clean sheet. Four of five Stevenage shots on target came within the first half an hour, the best of which was gifted on a plate by out of form Marek Stech. He sliced a clearance against his standing foot, leaving the ball spinning across the area 8 yards from goal. Stevenage striker Inih Effiong raced on to the loose ball with the goal gaping, but Stech managed to slide and block his shot for a corner. In fairness, it was a brilliant recovery by Stech to atone for his error. The Czech stopper also made a good save to deny Effiong at his near post later in the first half. The only other clear chance created by the visitors was in the second half, when the lively Elliott List stretched to knock an in-swinging cross from Luther Wildin against the bar with his left foot.

The poor start to the season, as well as the lack of 'new manager bounce' last season, has inevitably led to question marks being raised over Graham Coughlan's future. Since taking charge in December 2019, he has overseen twenty league games, winning four, drawing seven and losing nine. A win percentage of just 20%, and very close to, if not actually, relegation form over the course of a whole season. If you combine the results with a style of play that lends itself to tight games, which can be dull for large spells, it's not difficult to see why some fans are unhappy. You can also add in to the mix that despite comments a few weeks ago by the manager that he was pleased with the squad he had managed to build, Coughlan said after the game on Saturday that the squad was light on numbers. His apparent irritation has seemingly been piqued by the sale of Danny Rose to Northampton Town, having refused to answer questions on the subject on two occasions. He expressed frustration at being without 3 or 4 players that he had planned on playing as part of his starting eleven at the start of the season. Whether he was referring to players who have departed (Rose, Hamilton), injured players (Clarke, Riley) or targets he was not able to secure, is unclear.

Personally, I am judging Coughlan on this season alone, having had chance to mould his squad and improve fitness levels over pre-season. Whilst I believe parts of performances have been encouraging, there is no denying that results have been disappointing. I'm not too fussed about the Carabao and EFL Trophy games, all resulting in defeats against higher ranked opposition. We're only five games in to the new season with pretty much a whole new squad. Only 3 starters on Saturday were with the club during the last campaign, and Harry Charsley had only featured in 9 games before this season. Managers need time, especially given the large squad churn, and to make a change so early in the season would be very harsh in my opinion. However, as Coughlan has said himself in the past, in the modern game you will not be given time without the results that justify progress being made. He needs a win within the next two games I would suggest, at home to Bradford on Saturday, or away at Morecambe the following Tuesday.

Top Stats : 

Shots : Maynard (3) Charlsey, Maris, O'Keeffe, Reid (2)
Key Passes : Charlsey, Benning (2) Maris, McLaughlin, O'Keeffe, Rawson (1)
Passes : Maris, Menayese (56) Sweeney (54)
Passing Accuracy : Maris (85.7%) Perch (82.7%) Sweeney (75.9%)
Aerial Duels Won : Rawson (6) Sweeney (5) Charsley, Maris, Menayese (2)
Touches : O'Keeffe (90) Menayese (67) Maris (64)
Tackles : O'Keeffe, Perch (3) Charsley, McLaughlin, Rawson (2)