Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Mansfield Town 1 v Alfreton Town 2 - BSBP

Wednesday 26th December 2012,
at Field Mill (AKA the One Call Stadium)
Blue Square Bet Premier
Mansfield Town  (1) 1
John Dempster 35
Alfreton Town  (1) 2
Paul Clayton 37, Ben Tomlinson 57
Admission £17,
Programme £3 (2 in 1 issue covering December 26th & 29th)
Attendance 4,186 (inc. 350 Alfreton fans)
Mansfield Town:
Marriott, Sutton, Dempster, Geohaghon, Beevers, Briscoe (Speight 77 mins), Howell, Clements (Stevenson 81 mins), Meikle, Hutchinson (Rhead 55 mins), Green.
Subs not used: Thompson, Murray.
Alfreton Town:
Barnes, Law, Quinn, Brown, Clayton, Bradley, Arnold (Wilson 90+ mins), Franks, Russell, Tomlinson (Emerton 90 mins), Killock.
Subs not used: Taylor, Meadows, Harriott.
Many a cynical person said that today's attendance had only tipped over the 4,000 mark, because a lot of people had purchased tickets in advance for this match, due this afternoons ticket stub, being one of the requisite items that people needed to be able to apply for tickets to the FA Cup game against Liverpool on January 6th.
But, the Cup game is already a complete sell out and there were still plenty of people queuing up in the rain, to get seats for this Notts v Derbyshire local derby, right up until kick off time.
The crowd would probably have been even higher. But the away fans had been given conflicting information over whether it was an all ticket game for them or not.
So, in the event, a good few of them didn't travel, because the tickets hadn't been on sale for long enough for some Reds fans to get their hands on one.
Alfreton supporters who stayed at home, because they didn't have a ticket, will have been thrilled to have learnt that there was actually a cash turnstile open for them at the North Stand end after all.
In a lot of industries, there is a certain amount of 'job and knock' syndrome practised around the festive season. Whereby the gaffer turns a blind eye, when employees slope off early, once they've got a token amount of work completed.
However, today was the first time I'd seen it happen at a football match.
On 35 minutes, John Dempster put the home side ahead and collectively, the whole Stags team seemed to adopt a 'job done' mindset to the whole thing.
Whereas Alfreton, at least hung on until the end of 90 minutes (plus the additional six that referee Seb Stockbridge added on), before they slipped into their Onesie's and got stuck into the turkey sandwiches.
Before Mansfield deservedly took the lead, it had looked as if beating their Derbyshire neighbours would merely be a formality, because there was really only one team in it up to that point.
But, they just seemed to switch off after going a goal in front.
And once Alfreton pulled the score back to one apiece, almost immediately after Dempster's goal. Well ... it seemed to me, that only one team were really up for it from then on in.
Alfreton wanted it more.
And Mansfield got what they deserved.
Sure, the weather was atrocious and the playing conditions were far from ideal, but they were the same for both teams.
Alfreton adapted their game plan accordingly, Mansfield didn't, end of.
FA Cup fever may well be sweeping across the town, but by the time the Stags illustrious 3rd Round opponents get to Field Mill on January 6th, along with the TV cameras and all the razzmatazz, there will have been a whole load of league points up for grabs over the holiday period, which need to be contested for, given that finishing the season in a play off place must take precedence and priority over any glamour games.
And, for the record, I'll still be saying that when Mansfield are heading to Stamford Bridge in the 4th Round too ;-)
League leaders Grimsby Town, who swept Lincoln City aside today, visit 'fortress Field Mill' in a few days time and then the Stags have a tricky return fixture against Nick Law's Alfreton on January 1st.
I doubt if many of the the Field Mill faithful would've been contemplating a maximum points return from those two back to back games, as they left the ground at full time this afternoon
Some of the Stags team may have been looking ahead to the forthcoming FA Cup game with Liverpool and weren't as focussed as they should've been.
Others, not to put too fine a point on it, were out of sorts today and played completely crap.
But for me, Mansfield's main contribution to their own downfall today, besides fielding several disinterested looking players who showed no heart whatsoever, was their manager Paul Cox's inflexible tactics, that were quite obviously not working.
With hindsight, he might also be questioning the wisdom of a couple of his own decisions regarding substitutions too.
Chris Clements and Ben Hutchinson were both taken off this afternoon, while players who were having a lesser effect on the game, were left to carry on going through the motions and offering the team, as a whole, little more than a token input.
30 minutes to go, at home and losing against an average but organised team (who ground out a result, by playing to their limited strengths), is not the time to persevere with a one up front hoof ball game.
Especially when the majority of those 'direct' balls are finding opposition players, or merely getting stuck in the mud and staying where they landed until the Alfreton midfield cleared any potential danger.
Note, I deliberately said midfield, because only a few speculatively punted, hit and hope balls had anything like enough range on them, to get anywhere near the visitors back four.
I hate being negative about the Stags and I've no wish to get embroiled in the 'debate' about whether or not it's time for a change of manager at the 'One Call Stadium', nor name and shame the Mansfield players who I thought were inept today.
Because some things don't need to be said, they speak volumes for themselves already.
Mansfield applied a lot of pressure on the visitors goal in the first half a hour and the Alfreton keeper, Phil Barnes, must have been expecting a relentlessly busy afternoon from then on in.
Barnes pulled off one particularly good save, when he tipped Chris Clements twenty five yard shot over the bar.
Although it was mainly long throw ins and corners causing Alfreton problems, tippy tappy football was never going to be an option on an ever worsening playing surface, as the rain hammered down.
I suspect that if pitch had been as soggy at 3pm as it was by the time the final whistle sounded, that this game might seriously have been in doubt of ever starting.
It looked as though the Stags had taken the lead from a Chris Clements corner, but the Alfreton defence managed to scramble it away, off of the line.
Then Alfreton had a gilt edged chance cleared off the line at the other end, when Ritchie Sutton rescued Mansfield with a last ditch clearance, after Ben Tomlinson had flicked the ball into Paul Clayton's path with his head following a left wing corner.
Clayton is a typical, combative style player, straight out of the same mould as his manager. Leading with his elbows and never shirking from the most reckless or dangerous challenges, he's the sort of player opposition fans will always take an instant dislike to, but who they would put on a pedestal as some kind of cult hero if he was playing for their team instead of against them.
Lee Beevers slung a cross over from out on the left, Matt Green went up with Phil Barnes and two Reds defenders got in each others way, as the loose ball fell to John Dempster, who drilled the ball into the net, to open the scoring from inside the six yard box.
After having dominated most of the opening exchanges, save for a few worrying moments just before they took the lead, surely Dempster's strike would now settle a few nerves in front of goal and the Stags could get a grip of the game and ... whoops! I spoke too soon.
Josh Law floated a free kick into the Mansfield area, Paul Clayton took advantage of a non existent marking system and headed home the equaliser beyond the reach of Alan Marriott who was left grasping thin air.
Ben Hutchinson came close to restoring the Stags lead early in the second half, but his shot deflected wide.
Shortly afterwards, Hutchinson was taken off and Matt Rhead came on in his place.
Rhead is a certain type of player ... exponents and fans of the long ball game would call him 'a very adept target man, with great strength', but a guy sat a few rows down from me who is more of a 'purist' uttered "Oh here we go again. Hoof, hoof, hoof. What's he taken Hutchinson off and put that big useless lump on for!?'
Either way, East Midlands air traffic control were warned to divert any traffic that they might have in the area away from Mansfield until the game was over and we all craned our necks and tilted our heads back to watch the remainder of this 'feisty' local derby.
One must wonder, what is actually the point of all the passing drills and close control practice Andy Todd puts the players through prior to kick off.
His reserve team play that way, to good effect. And if you get into the ground early enough, you can see that this Mansfield Town side contains a number of decent players who are very good at that sort of thing.
But, in the current climate, first team pre match drills might as well just consist of players seeing how far they can whack the ball in the general direction of the other half of the pitch, to nobody in particular.
Horses for courses, when the need arises, is all well and good and 'going route one' is, sometimes, the only way to get out of a tight spot late in the game.
But arrgh!
This is a home game against a very ordinary Alfreton Town side FFS!
Now, where was I?
Oh yes. Ben Tomlinson went shoulder to shoulder with Exodus Geohaghon on the edge of the Stags area and left the big defender rolling in the mud as he homed in on goal and shot past Alan Marriott.
A few Mansfield players went to the linesman to complain about the legality of the challenge leading up to the goal, but it was all above board.
'Fair shoulder charge', 'being out-muscled in a 50/50 tussle for the ball', and 'clear your lines next time you big clumsy ****!', all spring to mind at this juncture.
Tomlinson gave the Stags player a slight push as they came together, but in my humble opinion Geohaghon went down far too easily.
Of course, I wanted the referee to disallow the goal, because I'm very, very biased, but he didn't, because it was perfectly legit.
I've seen Matt Green score similar goals for the Stags and such challenges are commonplace in the game. Some you win, some you come second.
The former Worksop Town Under 19's striker had out manoeuvred the powerhouse colossus that is 'Big Ex' fair and square, all ends up.
And now it was the time for certain players to man up, grow a pair and show the kind of fight and desire that was needed to get back into this game.
Tempers frayed on the pitch, as Matt Green was subjected to a couple of heavy challenges, one of which led to a handbags at ten paces flare up in the middle of the park, as the referees assistants came on to help to calm the situation down.
With ten minutes to go, Paul Cox decided to go three up front and chase the game.
So he took the Stags best player on the day off and threw Jake Speight on up front.
Hmm, two questions occurred to me at this point:
Why not just leave Ben Hutchinson on in the first place?
But the one that really baffled me was: Why take Chris Clements off?
Surely he was the spark of creativity most likely to provide the service the strikers needed and he'd performed very effectively thus far; unlike a couple of other players who the manager seems to persist with regardless.
But, I'm forgetting, Clements is a midfielder and the middle of the pitch doesn't get used when the ball is up in the clouds.
So, in effect, he was sacrificed to make way for an even more direct game plan.
On 88 minutes, Jake Speight almost justified Cox's tinkering, when Phil Barnes blocked a stinging shot from the Stags substitute striker, after Matt Rhead had flicked the ball on to him.
In stoppage time, Matt Green came close to equalising, twice, but with Mansfield stretched and their players committed forward, Ben Tomlinson and Paul Clayton also both had chances to make it 3-1.
FT - Mansfield Town 1 v Alfreton Town 2
Some Stags fans booed their team and Paul Cox off the pitch at the end of the game.
I didn't.
Nor did I join the small band of happy clappers who stayed behind either.
Personally, I just wanted to get out of the ground and go home, ASAP, the moment that the final whistle sounded.
Left click for larger image
The Mansfield manager's thoughts on today's game can be found here --> Paul Cox post match comments