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.
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)