Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mansfield Town 0 v Exeter City 2 - SkyBet League 2

Tuesday 24th November 2015
SkyBet League 2
at the One Call Stadium (Field Mill)
Mansfield Town (0) 0
Exeter City (2) 2
Joel Grant 6, Lee Holmes 41
Attendance 2,435 (140 away fans)
Sub details:
Mansfield Town
Chris Clements for Nathan Thomas HT
Adi Yussuf for Jamie McGuire HT
Matty Blair for Reggie Lambe 57
Exeter City
David Wheeler for Tom Nichols 56
Matt Oakley for Lee Holmes 65
Craig Woodman for Joel Grant 78
All strikers go through a lean spell from time to time, when they can't even seem to buy a goal and when it happens they just have to get their heads down, work hard, carry on making all of the right runs and, most importantly, keep believing in their own ability.
But, having said that, Matt Green will have been mightily relieved that his recent dry spell came to an end against Hartlepool United at the One Call Stadium on Saturday, when the Stags picked up three points to keep them in contention for one of the play off spots, with a 3-1 win that included two strikes from Green himself.
Adam Murray has kept faith in his main striker and that appears to have been a shrewd move on his part... which is pretty much in keeping with most things the young Stags manager has done this season.
Tonight's visitors, Exeter City, pulled off a great result at the weekend, when they came away from Home Park, with a 2-1 'Devon derby' victory under their belts, against current League 2 leaders Plymouth Argyle.
Although the Grecians kicked off tonight in 13th place, they were only three points behind Mansfield; which illustrated two things, namely:
1) How tight the table is at the moment and how small the margin for error is for any team who wishes to stay in, or around, the mix.
And... 2) The three point gap also served as a warning that Exeter are also there, or thereabouts, as regards being play-off contenders themselves, so the potential threat they posed couldn't be taken lightly.
League titles, promotion and play-off spots aren't won in November... and there are several highly fancied teams jostling for positions just below the Stags in the table; but Mansfield are exceeding even their most optimistic of fans expectations at the moment... and while other clubs supporters are shouting from the rooftops about where the prizes are going this season, Murray and his staff are just getting on with the job in hand and orchestrating, a quiet revolution, you might say.
There will be setbacks along the way, tonight for example, but to my mind the positives are far outweighing any negatives.
Only time will tell if Mansfield are going to stay the course over the whole season, but the signs are there, that this side are on an upwards trajectory, that marks a vast improvement on anything else that has gone before, since they rejoined the Football League.
Granted, a lot of those signs weren't evident tonight, but Paul Tisdale, the visitors manager has top seven ambitions for his own side as well and the Grecians are a very well drilled and regimentally organised side.
They turned up at Field Mill with a game plan, frequently switching formations throughout, particularly during the first half, where they cruised into a two goal lead... and whilst Exeter set about stifling the home side and hitting them on the counter attack, some of the Stags players, seemed almost complacent about the task that lay ahead of them.
It wasn't that Mansfield didn't have enough of the ball to create numerous opportunities, but when Exeter switched to playing with two banks of defenders, clear cut chances were always going to be at a premium.
The Stags needed to change things around drastically to combat the visitors tactics... and indeed Murray's double substitution at the break was a means to that end... but Tisdale must have had his side putting in overtime in training pitch, with the emphasis on player and positional rotation and City's team are evidently very comfortable with this approach.
They certainly did a job on their hosts tonight and warranted the win that sent their 140 supporters home happy.
The trip from Exeter is approximately 230 miles and 4 hours long in each direction. Massive respect is due to those who made the effort... I salute you all!
The visitors took the lead after just 6 minutes, when Lee Holmes beat the Stags right back Mitchell Rose and picked out Joel Grant who netted from the edge of the six yard box.
Cue much finger pointing and remonstrating among the defenders, who in common with the rest of their teammates had been slow coming out of the blocks.
Ryan Tafazolli miscued a half chance wide of the mark, Jamie McGuire and Krystian Pearce, both took turns to head the ball just wide of the left hand post as Mansfield battled vaingloriously to break down the visitors resolute defence... and Matt Green tried his luck from 20 yards out with a shot that Bobby Olejnik dropped to gather; but in the main, the Stags forward play, in the first half, consisted of long passes and speculative crosses, that were never getting anywhere near their intended targets, if indeed they were specifically aimed at anyone in particular and not just 'hit and hope' balls.
Grant returned the favour to Holmes shortly before the interval, when he supplied the pass that set up the Mansfield born former Derby County player, to make it 0-2.
HT: Stags 0 v Grecians 2
Adi Yussuf and Chris Clements came out for the second half, in place of Nathan Thomas and Jamie McGuire, with Yussuf partnering Green up front and both of the striking duo went close chances to reducing the arrears, while Jack Thomas unleashed a thundering shot that crashed to safety off the head of Troy Brown, who is possibly see seeing stars on the team coach right now.
Whenever the Stags piled forward looking for a way back into the game, they were always susceptible to being hit on the break and Ryan Harley, fresh from his goalscoring double at the weekend, tested Brian Jensen with a long range shot.
Blair Adams who had been making several effective runs down the left flank, was joined by Matty Blair from the bench, with Reggie Lambe making way, as Murray looked to provide more ammunition for his front men.
But Exeter, had already done the damage in the final third, and were now shutting up the shop at the back; where a mixture of determined (and often brave) defending from the visitors and some uncharacteristically poor passing by far too many of the Stags players, made for a combined recipe for an inevitable outcome. Having taken a two goal lead into the break, Tisdale's side sat back and threw the gauntlet down and fronted up to withstand an anticipated fight back... alas, far too few of the home side's players seemed to have the inclination to take the responsibility of picking it up.
Fingers crossed, tonight was a one off blip for Mansfield Town.
Their manager looked gutted and visibly upset after his side embarked on a 'no show' for long spells of the game... and I reckon they will have been told in no uncertain terms what standards are expected of them, when they next pull the Stags shirt on.
FT: Mansfield Town 0 v Exeter City 2
Adam Murray described tonight's below par showing as: "probably the worst performance, especially the first half, that I've had in my year in charge"... and I don't think you'd find many Mansfield supporters who had actually watched this truly awful display, who'd disagree with that.
But Exeter deserve some credit too, when Chelsea do what they did tonight it is called 'parking the bus', but in my humble opinion, when a League 2/Division 4 side take a two goal lead into the break at a midweek game 230 miles from home, it is expected... and the Grecians steadfastly stuck to their guns and held on tightly to the three points with all of their might.
Mansfield Town, who dropped to eighth in the table tonight, travel to Barnet on Saturday, while Exeter who climbed three places and are now level on points with the Stags, face Bristol Rovers at home.
Personally I have got a lot of faith in Adam Murray and I believe 100% that he is the right man to take Mansfield Town forward. Some of his players let him down tonight badly, the acid test now, will be how the Stags boss deals with the aftermath of this lacklustre showing and how the team responds next time out.
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy!
Behind the scenes tonight, the Mansfield Town FC Junior and Youth section sponsors, coaches, support staff and directors had a get together in the club's 1861 Suite.
In spite of the less than enthusiastic response to the actual first team game itself, this gathering was a celebration of the success story surrounding the club's development teams and academy sides this season. And it was both a pleasure and a privilege to be invited along.
I am really enjoying my (strictly part time) involvement on Saturday mornings, and it was great to see so many of the people who are helping to facilitate the future of the club at all age levels, under one roof at the same time, all with one common goal.
The future is bright... the future is amber!
In recent weeks, two Under 18 team players, Cain Smith and Zayn Hakeem have been included in the first team squad on match days... and there are plenty more, banging on the selection door, where they came from.
Maybe a few players who almost looked disinterested, unfocused and as if they were merely going through the motions tonight, ought to be taking a cautious look over their shoulder.