Saturday, 9 January 2016

Mansfield Town 2 v Stevenage 1 - SkyBet League 2

Saturday 9th January 2016
SkyBet League 2
at the One Call Stadium/Field Mill
Mansfield Town (1) 2
Chris Clements 42
James Baxendale 65
Stevenage (0) 1
Armand Gnanduillet 90+5
Admission £18. Programme £3.
Attendance 3126 (inc. 112 away fans)
Mansfield Town:
Jensen, Hunt, Pearce, Tafazolli, Adams, Chapman, Clements, J Thomas (Lambe HT), Baxendale (Blair 87), Westcarr (Rose 69), Green.
Unused subs - Shearer, Collins, Beardsley, McGuire.
Day, Henry, McCombe, Franks, Ogilvie, Tonge, Pett, Gordon (Conlon 69), Lee, McFadzean (Gnanduillet 57), Matt.
Unused subs - Crowe, Hughes, Johnson, Gorman, Akinyemi.
In which mid table Mansfield Town welcomed Teddy Sherringham's nineteenth placed Stevenage side, on an afternoon when the Stags were looking to shake off their recent indifferent form at home and get some points in the bag, to keep them in the play off reckoning, for the second half of the season.
Well that objective was achieved, more comfortably than the full time score would suggest and Adam Murray's side climbed back up to eighth place in the table, just one point behind the chasing pack.
Which begs the hypothetical question; if the Stags actually secured a play off berth and went up to League 1 as a consequence, how would they fair at a higher level?
Well, I would be fibbing if I said I thought they were anything like ready to take the step up just yet, so lets leave that line of enquiry on the back burner, for the time being at least.
I wouldn't ever say that I am easily pleased or describe myself as a happy clapper, but this season needs to be assessed on two levels: 1) On its own merits and 2) Comparisons also need to be made with how well 2015-16 stands up against the last few campaigns.
To that end, Adam Murray's team is progressing at a steady and realistically achievable pace and the positives far outweigh any negatives.
Notwithstanding the promotion year (and in truth, the leap from non league football to the football league has proved to be a massive one), the politest thing you can say about the last few campaigns, is that they were still quite some way short of even being decidedly average.
This current season is clearly a transitional phase, the club, team and management are currently at the steepest part of a very high learning curve and people need to keep that in mind and maintain a healthy level of perspective and balance before passing judgement.
A pre-recorded call to arms by the Stags manager was played to the crowd before the teams came out, it wasn't quite Winston Churchill, but it appeared to have the desired galvanising effect and even during the frantic opening minutes, when both sides appeared to be holding in a competition to see who could kick the ball highest into the air, I didn't actually hear anybody moaning.
Though whether that was borne out of a universal understanding of the realities of the ongoing situation and work in progress, or a bi-product of defeatist acceptance that this is as good as it is going to get, might be open to conjecture. I would guess your take on that would fall into 'glass half full, or glass half empty' camp, but personally I have only had a few sips out of mine and am clutching onto my panoramic view of 'the bigger picture', like a security blanket. But in the event, the Stags provided numerous reasons to be cheerful today.
It was a massive lift, when it was announced that Nicky Hunt and Ryan Tafazolli (get that bleedin' transfer window shut, now!), were back in the starting line up this afternoon and as the game unfolded, it became apparent that attacking midfielder James Baxendale, a loan player from Walsall (with a view to a permanent move) making his Stags debut this afternoon, is a class act, with a good footballing brain.
If first impressions are anything to go by, man of the match Baxendale could be the answer to Mansfield's prayers as regards the obvious need for someone who can link up with whoever is playing up front.
Stevenage didn't give a bad account of themselves at times during the first half and following on from a half chance at one end from Baxendale, the visitors were close to going in front when Michael Tonge curled a free kick against the post.
Callum McFadzean went down to ground theatrically inside the area. Amazing the referee didn't book him, but gave both McFazden and the sniper on the North Stand roofing a talking to.
Another objective for today was to avoid conceding a soft early goal, which was starting to become almost fashionable at the One Call Stadium. That's another new years resolution ticked off then.
Chris Clements header was clawed over by the bar by Chris Day, from the Stgas best chance so far, which came from an Adam Chapman cross.
Craig Westcarr combined neatly with Baxendale, but the former was denied by a last ditch challenge.
Blair Adams motored towards the visitors goal from out on the left, but rifled his shot on the run, inches over the crossbar.
Fraser Franks was yet another visiting player who was lucky to escape a yellow card for his amateur dramatic, when he fell to the floor clutching his face after being punched by the Invisible Man, without any of the Stags players anywhere near him.
Chris Clements was tripped as he burst through in between Jamie McCombe and Franks just outside the area. From the resulting free kick, Clements replicated his effort last week against Accrington, to open the scoring on 42 minutes.
Stevenage argued that their wall had been moved back by the referee, but he wouldn't have had to intervene if they hadn't set up ten feet away from the free kick in the first place.
HT: Mansfield Town 1 v Stevenage 0
The Stags stepped up the pace after the break and really ought to have put the finishing touch to several well worked chances.
Matt Green had an angled shot beaten out by day, as he stole the ball from Jamie McCombe and let fly from an improbable angle. That's the sort of opportunity a player will take on when their confidence is high, so I'm not going to knock it.
Craig Westcarr had a goalbound shot blocked at the expense of a corner and from Chapman's delivery Reggie Lambe fired over.
Baxendale and Green were beginning to look as though they had been playing alongside each other for years... I'd hate to tempt fate but it bodes well.
In the 65th minute, Baxendale worked his way forward and passed to Green who headed wide. Within 30 seconds, a Stenenage break had come to nothing and the 'double act' were back on the attack, as Green slipped sideways ball to Baxendale and he struck a great shot past Day from 20 yards.
Stevenage, looking to get back into the game, sent on Armand Gnanduillet  place of  McFadzean ansd he almost heralded his arrival in fine style, when Brian Jensen had to puty his frame behind a crashing shot to keep the ball out.
Charlie Lee had a chance to half the arrears for the visitors, but only managed to cause problems for row G in the Quarry Lane End, as he hooked his shot well off target.
Day prevented his side from going three down, with a great reflex save from Mitchell Rose who had been picked out by Adams from out wide, Stevenage scrambled the rebound away.
It's surely time to make Blair Adams a certified a full time Stags player; he's impressed everybody on his loan from Notts County. Come on John Radford, you know it makes sense.
Matt Green chipped the ball over Day... and the crossbar and it was beginning to look as though the home side were going to have to settle for a two-nil win.
Alas, the elusive clean sheet, went into hiding again in the fifth minute of stoppage time, when the Stags lost possession while trying to waste time from a corner and Stevenage counter attacked.
Jensen saved Gnanduillet's initial effort, but was helpless to stop him knocking the rebound into the back of the net.
The referee David Webb blew for full time as the Stags restarted the game.
Stevenage had competed well in the first half, but the Stags really should have put their Hertfordshire visitors to the sword and finished them off after the break and the final score flattered Sherringham's side in the end, not that he was magnanimous to say as much in the post match interview I just overheard.
FT: Mansfield Town 2 v Stevenage 1
The Stags have taken a standing count of late, but there were enough plusses to take out of today's performance to suggest that this season is far from over yet.
Credit where it's due... Well played Mansfield and well done Adam Murray.