Saturday, 25 February 2017

Mansfield Town 2 v Newport County 1 - EFL League 2

Saturday 25th February 2017
SkyBet EFL League Two
at the One Call Stadium, Field Mill
Mansfield Town (1) 2
Krystian Pearce 17
Shaq Coulthirst 75 pen
Newport County (1) 1
Ryan Bird 5
Admission by season ticket
Programme £3. Attendance 3,824 (158)
A gap in the Stags Under 18 team's recent fixture schedule has afforded me the opportunity to 'do my thing' at four first team games in a row, culminating with this afternoon's visit of bottom club Newport County. 
Mansfield have had a proper mixed bag of results and fortunes this past month, while I've been in attendance, but at least I've had the opportunity to witness the full spectrum of what Steve Evans and Paul Raynor's rebuilt team have to offer.
I've seen them at their very best and by the same token, also witnessed a few things that the new(ish) management team will no doubt be working on in training to put right. 
Shaq Coulthirst and his ultra bright teeth
The roller-coaster ride Evans promised the Field Mill faithful, is definitely of the white knuckle variety, there is certainly never a dull moment. And the feelgood factor around the club, or the 'Evans effect' as some people are calling it, is clear for all to see. Well, most if not completely all.
It's even been an eye opening experience for a grumpy old cynical realist like me, who has seen so many false dawns and faux saviours passing through football clubs over the years, it is a wonder that I still bother leaving the house to attend matches and enthuse so positively about the game still.
As of yet, the playing system implemented by Evans and his assistant Paul Raynor isn't flawless, and the squad is still very much in a transitional phase and a work in progress, whereby certain individuals still need time to adjust to their new surroundings. 
The Stags are doing well this season; far better than anyone ever expected or anticipated to be fair, and they're heading in the right direction, while possibly getting a little ahead of themselves still at times.
But just watch them fly once some minor adjustments have been made and one or two of the newcomers reach full fitness.
Kinnel! It must've bee a tight squeeze getting them all in that
Nobody ever wins every single game, and often it's all about how players pick themselves up and respond to losing and the manner in which they learn from the mistakes that they have made along the way. 
Today Evans picks demonstrated that they have the nous and wherewithal to grind out a result when the need arises, or as the Stags manager himself said in the aftermath of this scrappy encounter: "We found a way to win". 
It wasn't very pretty at times, in fact it wasn't even mildly attractive any of the time. But we're now fast approaching the make or break business end of the season at ramming speed and even Dale Winton knows that 'points make prizes', however they come your way, especially on a sticky pitch with the wind howling across it, like it was all afternoon today.
With two awkward away games looming on the horizon, the Stags were faced with an all or nothing type scenario against Newport, where a win... and no other kind of result whatsoever, was imperative.
I won't be at the Stags League 2 game at Yeovil Town on Tuesday, because I have a hot date with Frickley Athletic's Dub Reggae loving, website admin cum match reporting wordsmith that night, so I will have to miss Mansfield Town's midweek long haul, which probably would have been a logistically impossible journey for me to undertake anyway, once I have finished my shift obligations connected to my proper job... y'know, the one that I have away from football. 
Or as the immensely popular Anne Matthews who does a great job in the club offices and shop put it: "You bloody part timer!"
Mark Peters and John Dempster. Feruary 2016
York City U18 0 v Mansfield Town U18 1
And next Saturday I will be travelling north to York City with the Mansfield Town youngsters for a morning kick off and hoping that the weather will be better than the last time we played there just over a year ago, while that nice Mr Evans and his team will be going in the opposite direction to take on Cheltenham Town in a League 2 game. 
Incidentally, the (reigning champions) Stags U18 side have recently been overtaken at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance on goal difference, by Tony Philliskirk's Oldham Athletic side, who scraped a 1-0 away win at Cheapside against Grimsby Town last Saturday morning, they also have a game in hand over the second placed Stags, as the run in for the title has become a two horse race..
Saturday 6th August 2016
Mansfield Town U18 0 v Oldham Athletic U18 0
Having already been held to a goalless draw by their title challengers, on the opening day of the season at Clipstone's ground, John Dempster's young Stags will know what is required of them when they travel to the Latics training ground on Saturday March 25th for a (high) noon kick off. 
Under 18 football is, in the main, about player development, not results. But at Chapel Road, they need to win, whatever else happens... and that will also provide the team with an important lesson too, for when they take the next step up.
"Yellows, yellows, knock the ball in, we really think you're fantastic!"
All of the details about the MTFC U18 teams results and remaining fixture can be found by clicking HERE
And while I (hopefully) still have your attention, the Under 21 side have two Central League fixtures remaining this season: one at home, AKA Rainworth Miners Welfare, on Wednesday 8th March v. Rotherham United Reserves in a game that kicks off at 2pm, and they then finish the season with an away game against Chesterfield Reserves on Tue 21st March, which once again is a 2pm kick off, and though it is still to be confirmed, that will probably be played on the 3G pitch at the home of Eastwood Community FC, which is where Eastwood Town used to play.
Oh, and for the record I will be Colchester United for the first team game on Tuesday March 14th.
"You know Mansfield town, will never let you down!2
It is highly unlikely that the guy who inputs the fixtures into the Football League computer ever peruses this blog, so if you see him around, feel free to ask why Notts County are travelling to Plymouth on the same night that the Stags are at Yeovil this coming week; while neither of the 'derby' games played between the high flying Stags and relegation threatened 'Pies, took place on a midweek night. And if you feel inclined to kick him in the shins (really hard) too, I would appreciate it.
I suspect that everybody else with a vested interest in any of the clubs affected, could find a better fixtures solution, that wouldn't inconvenience a whole lot of people, who want to attend these games but have to go to work instead. 
Just saying!
A minute's applause for two lifelong Mansfield Town supporters:
 Stan Barnes and Edgar Strouther RIP 
Prior to kick off, a minutes applause was observed for two Mansfield Town stalwarts who both sadly passed away recently. 
To their credit the Newport County supporters joined in with the tribute to Stan and Edgar. 
Thanks 'Port fans, your gesture was greatly appreciated and it didn't go unnoticed.
Newport arrived in Mansfield this afternoon anchored to the foot of the Football League, in ninety second place; but in spite of their precarious position, they had only lost once in their previous eight outings, picking up a lot of draws along the way, by being resilient and difficult to break down... and it certainly showed today too.
On a wet and windswept afternoon, conditions that were never likely to be conducive to tippytappyesque ball control and measured distribution (it's my blog and i will invent as many words as I see fit to deliver my narrative), against a side who were stretching the definition of the word battle to it's outer limits, with their overly physical approach, the Stags had to dig in, man up and front fire with fire. 
It was never going to be an easy ride, regardless of what the league table might have suggested.
In Graham Westley, the Exiles have a manager who would probably finish joint bottom in any managers popularity poll, conducted by supporters of the twenty two other League 2 clubs who weren't actually playing at Field Mill this afternoon, with the Stags very own cuddly, jolly, shy and reserved man in the hot seat (if he ever actually sits down) Steve Evans; but I'm damn sure that they would both laugh off that 'accolade' and join ranks to sing a few verses of "No-one likes us, we don't care!" in unison, to celebrate being recognised by their peers, for all of their efforts.
But, they aren't employed by their clubs to meet with the approval of their many critics, the job that they are paid to do is: win as many games and points as possible for Mansfield Town and Newport County respectively, any which way they can. 
And though they both need to amass points so for completely different reasons, that is exactly what they are doing and will continue to do.
Some people don't like their methods, but one must ask exactly how much of the apparent hostility aimed their way actually stems from a very deep seated envy, borne from the fact that they get results and are successful in their chosen field. 
Love 'em or hate 'em (there doesn't seem to be any middle ground whenever either of their names crop up in conversation), the fact is, and the statistics back this up, they are actually good at their jobs. Very good!
Football circa 2016-17 is by and large, a squad game and today Evans rang the changes, four of them in fact, although Hayden White's absence as enforced following his red card at Grimsby last weekend. 
Paul Raynor was also sitting today's game out in the West Stand as punishment for being sent from the bench against Accrington, for making comments that the referee took offence to.
Starting with two up front,  Shaq Coulthirst and Pat Hoban, Evans selection caused a few eyebrows to be raised, when the team sheet came out, because apart from the substitute goalkeeper Scott Shearer, he hadn't got any defenders on the bench.
CJ Hamilton, who I must say put in a great shift for the Stags today, attacked down the left from the off and forced a corner, but the Exiles were defending in numbers and cleared the ball away.
As if the temperamental climate and the obvious dangers posed by coming up against a team who are fighting for their league survival, Mansfield's back line decided that they didn't have enough obstacles to climb yet and in the fifth minute, awarded Ryan Bird with the keys that would allow him to enjoy the freedom of the entire kingdom of Mansfieldshire and instead of clearing their lines from Craig Reid's left wing cross, afforded Bird with the time and space to open the scoring from close range.
A slight lull in the noise emanating from Q Block in upper West Stand, allowed the visiting supporters to make their voices heard, with a chorus of "One-nil, to the sheep shaggers!"
An angry voice boomed out, from a couple of rows behind me: "For f*cking F*cks sake Evans, what the actual f*cking f*ck, was that f*cker supposed to f*cking be!?"
I turned around, raised my right index finger to my lips to make a 'shush' gesture and said: "Mum! Shurrup!" 
There'll be no Ant & Dec for her tonight, I'll tell ya.
The noise soon picked up again as the Stags had a couple of nibbles at getting back on level terms, and finally showing their teeth for real on seventeen minutes, when Krystian Pearce took the ball down from Byrom's right wing free kick, before slotting it under the visitors keeper, Joe Day, from just outside the six yard box.
The Stags were level on 17 minutes. Byrom’s free kick from the right was knocked down by Krystian Pearce and with a second touch he fired under the keeper from 7 yards. A fine goal from Pearce, his third goal of the season. 
Jamie McGuire, who was obviously revelling at being in the starting line up, hooked a dipping shot towards the Newport goal from thirty five yards... and it was certainly worth a go in such a strong wind... but Day plucked the ball out of the air.
The former Stags player Mitch Rose, who moved to Newport last month, saw his shot blocked by Reece Bennett and play quickly switched from one end to the other, where Coulthirst played Hoban through with a well measured pass, but Day denied the Mansfield number nine and though the rebound fell kindly for Hoban to shoot again off the rebound, Mickey Demetriou had moved across smartly to cover his keepers back and blocked the follow up.
Sadly, Jake Kean picked up a knock after Alex Samuel had played a through ball into the path of Jaanai Gordon and the Stags keeper collided with him as he attempted to make a clearance. As Kean went to ground the ball broke loose to Gordon, but Bennett was on hand to make a timely interception. After receiving treatment, Kean attempted to carry on, but had to limp out of the game ten minutes later and was helped around to the bench by Brian 'the Beast' Jensen, while Scott Shearer took over in goal.
In the interim Day had done well to get down to his left  and keep out a downward header from Bennett, after Hamilton and Benning had combined to create the chance.
Samuel delivered the ball across the face of Mansfield's goal and Shearer allowed the ball to travel between his hands, but luckily, Ben Whiteman was on hand to divert the ball to safety into the Quarry Lane End.
On the stroke of half time Dan Butler picked out Bird with a cross, but instead of hitting the ball on target, with the goal at his mercy, County's number forty did a very passable impression of the legendary 'Mister Sitter' instead.
HT: Stags 1 v Exiles 1... a fair reflection of the opening forty five minutes IMHO. 
For what it's worth I thought that Hamilton and Coulthirst, both possibly had their best games so far this season for the Stags... in the games that I've seen anyway, though I do miss quite a few first team matches when I've been off radar from wherever the Stags first team are playing at some outpost or another with the youth team.
I've been told by a couple of people whose judgement and opinion I respect and spend many a looooong hour in the company of discussing a whole myriad of football matters, that Coulthirst is a very skillful and competitive player, but his first touch lets him down and he can probably trap a ball and bring it under control for as far as most people can kick it.
However, in light of such an evaluation of the player, I have studied his technique very closely for a few weeks, and concluded that he has either been practicing really hard and working on this apparent shortcoming, or they were talking bollocks all along, because he hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon, in spite of being subject to some tight marking and close attention.
I'm glad that it was Coulthirst who scored the winner (though I would happily have taken a flukey own goal too, obviously) because he deserved it after the hard graft he'd put in today.
Krystian Pearce won today's man of the match award... and too be fair I could probably see why, but Coulthirst, along with Bennett and Hamilton couldn't have been far behind.
One person who I didn't think had a good game, if I'm being honest ,is the match referee, Ross Joyce, but I wouldn't have envied any official tasked with picking the bones out of what was going on all over the park and on the touchline, as the 'tackles' flew in... and the protests got louder and became more frequent.
Westley, running the clock down with an act of 'gamesmanship' and skulduggery that (the great) Don Revie himself would've been proud of, instructed the fourth official to put up the board to indicate that Gordon was being substituted and then instructed his replacement to take his time getting stripped for action, then told the official to put the board down because he'd changed his mind. 
But his devious caper monumentally backfired on him.
With the crowd chanting "Graham Westley is an anchorman" or something along those lines, the Newport manager looked on in horror as Gordon picked up two yellow cards, for fouls on McGuire and then Joel Byrom. 
Hmm, I think it is safe to say that during those crazy and very heated couple of minutes, Gordon had made Westley look very silly. Not that he'd really needed anybody's help.
It was pure theatre down on the pitch (and inside the technical areas and several yards either side of them) and though some of the sideshows and distractions on offer would've irked the purists, a quick glance around those sat nearby would suggest that most people were actually lapping up the additional entertainment.
Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!
If the Newport manager was angry about apparent injustice of the sending off.... though lord knows why, it was Gordon he ought to have been annoyed with for his crass stupidity, then he must've had steam coming out of his ears when Mr Joyce awarded the Stags a penalty.
Y'know what? On reflection maybe the official had a decent game after all ;-)
Coulthirst tried his luck with a long range shot that was blocked by Craig Reid, who bravely put his body in the way, but the ball cannoned off of his arm.
A case of a clear goal scoring opportunity being blocked by the arm of a defender, or a blatant accidental and unintentional 'ball to hand' incident.
The referee blew and pointed to the spot and Coulthirst stepped up and netted the ball via Day's outstretched hand... having retrieved the ball twice beforehand as it blew away in the strong wind.
The picture is blurred, but who cares? It went in :-D
Harsh on Newport? 
Err... maybe.
Reason to celebrate wildly because the Stags were now about to narrowly (and possibly a bit fortunately) beat the league's bottom club? 
When your down near the foot of the table, these sort of things always go against you.
It is an unwritten rule... and Mansfield have certainly had more than their share of being on the receiving end of such 'turning points' over the years, so f*ck it!
No remorse, suck it up, move along, there's nothing to see here; apart from the Stags 'winning ugly'... hideously actually, but any kind of win is still a win
Newport launched a long free kick into the home side's goalmouth, but Shearer got a vital touch to push the ball away.
I'm told that there were actually only five minutes of additional time at the end of the ninety, but from my vantage point it seemed like an eternity as Newport poured forward in an attempt to force a draw.
They almost got one and it probably wouldn't have been undeserved either, when Mitch Rose picked out Marlon Jackson with a knock into the Stags area, that the 'Port number thirteen nodded into the path of Bird, who lofted the ball over Shearer but onto the roof of the net.
And that was that... Mansfield returned to winning ways, but Newport had made them fight all the way for the three points.
FT: Mansfield Town 2 v Newport County 1
The Stags now face the two aforementioned away trips to Yeovil and Cheltenham, while Leyton Orient travel to Newport next Saturday. And while all of the Exiles remaining fixtures are now vital for them, this particular game holds even more significance for Westley's side, because the O's are only one place above them in the table.