Saturday, 22 March 2014

Mansfield Town 0 v Chesterfield 0 - Sky Bet League 2

Saturday 22nd March 2014
at Field Mill (AKA One Call Stadium)
Sky Bet League 2 - 1pm kick off
Mansfield Town (0) 0
Chesterfield (0) 0
Admission £18
Programme £3
Attendance 5.931 (inc. 1,497 away fans)
Mansfield Town
Marriott, Riley, Dempster (Clucas 63), Tafazolli, Beevers, Jennings, Howell, Murray, McGuire (Meikle 63), Palmer, Rhead
Unused Subs - Sutton, Stevenson, Clements, Daniel, Speight.
Lee, Darikwa, Evatt, Cooper, Humphreys, Banks (Bennett HT), Hird, Morsy, Roberts; Richards (Doyle 70), Kearns (Gnanduillet 70).
Unused Subs - Dunbavin, Smith, O’Shea, Ryan.
Both sides were looking for three points from this lunch time local derby encounter, for completely different reasons, but they had to settle for a point apiece.
The visitors are in the hunt for promotion to League 1, while Paul Cox is trying to steer the Stags away from a cluster of clubs towards the bottom end of the table.
The Stags started the day in 16th place in League 2 (Division 4), whilst the Spireites were looking to go back to the top of the table, after a 2-1 defeat at Plymouth in midweek had seen them slip to second place.
As quite often happens, when local rivals meet head to head, the form book goes out of the window ... and that is exactly how things panned out at Field Mill today.
When the sides last met in the league, back in September, Mansfield won 1-0 at the Proact Stadium, on an afternoon when Calvin Andrew scored his only goal ever for the club.
He was released by Paul Cox in January of this year, having made just 16 appearances in Mansfield's colours. But he will always have a special place put aside in the hearts of Mansfield Town fans for his goal in that game and his joyous celebration afterwards.
Of course, the Spireites won on their last visit to Field Mill, earlier this season, by virtue of a solitary Garry McSheffery strike, in a Johnstones Paint Trophy game.
Some might say that games in such competitions are irrelevant, but they're wrong ... there will never be such a thing as a game between todays two sides, that doesn't really matter.
However, the JPT itself is not as important as the Football League and the two other major cup tournaments and at full time this afternoon, Mansfield had taken 4 points off of their nearest and dearest, without conceding a goal, in the competition that matters most.
I hear that Peterborough United are big favourites to win this season's JPT final which is being played soon at Wembley Stadium.
Early in the game, a rare slip up by Ryan Tafazolli put Marc Richards through on goal, but with Alan Marriott beaten, the Stags big number 12 recovered well, made up ground and was on hand in the nick of time, craning his neck and just getting his head to the ball, to divert Richards effort over the crossbar at the Quarry Lane End. Phew!
The Spireites settled in and picked up the tempo early on, but as the game progressed Mansfield grew in stature and in the later stages they were really pushing on and going for the win.
It has taken Ollie Palmer a while to get settled in at Mansfield this season, but today he put in his best performance yet in a Stags shirt and he was an handful for Liam Cooper all afternoon, while his strike partner Matty Rhead was relishing the role he was playing too.
The highly rated Mason Bennett, on loan at Chesterfield from Derby County, entered the fray at half time and he nearly opened the scoring on 51 minutes against his local club, but he fired narrowly over from close range ... good lad!
When Paul Cox threw Sam Clucas and Lindon Meikle into the mix on 63 minutes, the Stags gained the initiative and now looked like the team most likely to come out on top, in this hitherto evenly balanced contest that had swung one way and then the other. Although it finished honours even, it was obvious that neither side wanted to settle for a draw.
Clucas, not yet back to full match fitness, had a couple of half decent attempts on goal, where he would've benefitted from having regained his sharpness a bit more and Meikle (as he does) ran non stop at the visitors defence from the moment he came on.
Both teams had opportunities to force the issue and both keepers had a few hair raising moments.
Inside the final two minutes, Marriott held on to Armand Gnanduillet's long range free kick at the second attempt and then young Mason Bennett continued to impress me, by shooting straight at the Stags keeper from the edge of the box, he's really going up in my estimation now ... good lad, again!
Chesterfield's final throw of the dice had gone, but three minutes into stoppage time, the crowd rose to their feet as one, as Sam Clucas nodded Adam Murray's last ditch ball into the box down, straight into the path of Ollie Palmer, who was in space, twelve yards out and just to the left hand side of the Spireites goal ... Palmer completely wrong footed Tommy Lee and dragged his shot across the face of goal, but the ball bobbled, agonisingly, just inches wide of the right hand upright. Noooo!
A point apiece was probably a fair result from a neutral perspective ... but I was most definitely not viewing this game as a neutral.
I was very critical of the Stags last month for playing so poorly against Bury, on a night where the visitors had played them off the park and battered them 4-1.
But today, credit where it is due. 100% commitment all over the pitch, spot on tactically and some great tinkering from Paul Cox to up the ante when things needed mixing up.
FT - Mansfield Town 0 v Chesterfield 0
It is vital that the Stags continue to play with the same sort of heart and commitment that they showed today in their remaining games, as they're still only five points above the drop zone, with eight games remaining.
In all honesty I would've taken the draw before today's game, given the respective league positions of both sides, so I won't pontificate over a list of of 'if only' type sentiments.
Well played Stags - now keep it going right to the wire.
Ollie Palmer's input today and the reappearance of a certain Jake Speight on the Mansfield bench, points towards Paul Cox having a few extra attacking options for the run in, but my main concern from now on in is that Mansfield get some more points on the board ... regardless of how they come by them.