Mansfield Town - Review of the season 2004/2005

By Martin Shaw

(Links to earlier seasons at the bottom of this page)

2004/2005 was a turbulent season as the Stags finished right in the middle of the table, and the mediocrity of it was summed up by a zero goal difference. But the main drama of the season was off the field where manager Keith Curle was suspended by chairman Keith Haslam for allegedly bullying a youth team player. Curle was eventually sacked as a result, though vowed to clear his name. Meanwhile Haslam asked his friend Carlton Palmer to help out as caretaker manager while Curle was suspended, and then once Curle was sacked, Palmer was appointed as the new manager.

Before the start of the season, the Stags brought in exciting striker Derek Asamoah from Northampton, full back Scott McNiven from Oxford, and Alex Neil from Barnsley, while strikers Chris Tait and Joe O’Neill joined on a short term contract and 3 month loan respectively. Meanwhile the return of one of the heroes of the 2001/2002 promotion campaign, Adam Murray, was the most eagerly awaited signing. Liam Lawrence had left for Sunderland, where he was to gain promotion to the Premiership in a fine season, while Craig Disley, Bobby Hassell, Junior Mendes, amongst others, had all left for pastures new to the disappointment of the Field Mill faithful.

The Stags had a confidence boosting pre-season friendly 2-0 win over Leeds with memorable goals from Corden and Larkin, while Wolves edged a 2-1 win at Field Mill.

The league season started with a very flat display at home to Bristol Rovers, who ran out 2-0 winners thanks to a fine display from Junior Agogo. Four days later, the Stags were beaten again, this time 1-0 at Oxford, despite playing with a man advantage for half an hour, which would have been longer but for a stupid sending off of Lee Williamson, which angered manager Curle, and probably contributed to the midfielder’s later departure.

The season burst into life with a 3-0 win at Chester, with Asamoah scoring the club’s first goal of the season, Jake Buxton scoring the second, and an amazing long range strike by Colin Larkin after a fine run. This would turn out to be the goal of the season for the Stags. Things got even better as a double from Larkin overcame the shock of a first minute goal by then-leaders Kidderminster at Field Mill. After a 2-0 loss at Grimsby, the Stags hit the peak of form with successive 4-1 wins over Yeovil and Northampton, two of the better sides in the division. Against Yeovil, an amazing spell of 3 goals in four minutes midway through the second half sealed an impressive win. Asamoah and Larkin were on target again, with the other goals from Artell and Corden. A week later sensational performances from Corden, Asamoah and Larkin (all of whom scored) saw the Stags thump Northampton at Field Mill. The Stags of course had beaten the Cobblers in the Play-Off semi-finals a few months earlier, and the Cobblers had Paul Rachubka in goal, the keeper who had broken the Stags’ hearts at Cardiff playing for Huddersfield. The Stags soared into fifth place. Meanwhile Lee Williamson was a surprise departure, signing for the Cobblers, a few days after they had been stuffed at Field Mill.

After the Stags twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Cambridge, Colin Larkin scored an 85th minute winner to defeat Rochdale 1-0 at Field Mill. The goal put him joint top scorer in the division scoring charts. A 4-0 mauling by Preston brought the team back down to earth in a delayed Carling Cup tie. But then the Stags produced a terrific display to draw 1-1 at leaders Scunthorpe. Dave Artell scored the Stags goal after an early goal from former Stag Ian Baraclough had given the Iron the lead. The Stags were very unlucky not to win the game. Three days later, Scott McNiven was the hero as Mansfield beat Darlington on penalties in the first round of the LDV Vans Trophy. McNiven scored the winning penalty after a 0-0 draw following extra-time.

October started with a great comeback at home to Lincoln. The Imps had led 2-0, but goals from Adam Murray and Alex John-Baptiste earned a point. The goal for Baptiste came as a relief to the youngster, as it was his first ever. Six days later, on a depressing Friday night in Wales, the Stags lost to a last minute goal by Swansea, which sent the home side to the top of the table. But that was all forgotten 8 days later when Notts County came to Field Mill for an eagerly awaited local derby. It was Keith Curle’s 100th game in charge of the Stags and what a performance he saw from his side as Notts County were absolutely mauled and so lucky to come away with only a 3-1 defeat. It really should have been 8, but the Stags had to settle for goals from Rhys Day, a screamer from on-loan left back Craig Woodman, and Larkin, while Asamoah missed a penalty and Notts scored a 90th minute undeserved consolation. Mansfield could have gone top with a midweek win at Cheltenham, but put in a poor display to lose 2-0.

Successive draws away to Wycombe and at home to Bury followed, with the Stags perhaps unfortunate not to win both of them, though Colin Larkin’s missed penalty against Bury was a very costly error. But the Stags crashed to a 4-0 defeat at Macclesfield in the second round of the LDV Vans Trophy, after making 8 changes from the Bury game. Curle made a huge blunder by proclaiming that he had better players than Macclesfield and that it would be a different result four days later in the league at Field Mill. But Macclesfield won the league encounter too and Curle was made to look stupid, having handed Brian Horton, the Macclesfield manager, an easy pre-match team talk. There was dreadful news off the field as it was announced that Scott McNiven had testicular cancer.

The club hit the national headlines in mid November when manager Keith Curle was suspended, amid huge confusion, “following a complaint against him”, pending an internal investigation. Former Stockport manager and England player Carlton Palmer was brought in as caretaker manager by chairman Keith Haslam. At this stage of the season, Mansfield were 12th with 6 wins, 5 draws and 6 defeats. Palmer’s first action was to bring in Fraser McLachlan from Stockport, initially on loan. The local press were intrigued at how quickly Palmer was able to move in the transfer market. His second action was install Alex John-Baptiste as the new captain – the youngest captain in the Stags history, at 18 days and 287 days. Palmer’s first game in charge was at home to Colchester in the first round of the FA Cup. Both Palmer and Haslam were booed by sections of the home fans, particularly when fans’ favourites Corden and Larkin were substituted. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Baptiste scoring a screamer for Mansfield and Derek Asamoah being sent off. The Stags went on to lose a depressing replay 4-1, with fewer than 100 Mansfield fans making the trip to Essex – the lowest away following since routine recording of away followings began 4 years ago.

Carlton Palmer’s first league game was away to Boston, and though the Stags put in a creditable performance, they could only manage a 0-0 draw, despite the home side being reduced to 10 men in the first half, in a bizarre incident that actually saw Boston earn a penalty, which Pilkington saved!  With the club in turmoil, as the Keith Curle saga rolled on, and was to roll on for a long time (longer than The Mousetrap, according to the CHAD), Palmer told Alex Neil and Luke Dimech that there was no place for them at Field Mill, though in the event neither of them left at that time. Neil MacKenzie was shipped out to Macclesfield, initially on loan. Meanwhile Palmer brought in striker Richie Barker, from Rotherham, a move which was to prove his most popular signing of the season, along with Paul Warne, on loan, also from Rotherham. The pair made their debut at home to Leyton Orient, who were flying high at the time, and the Stags were beaten by a wonder goal from Andy Scott.

Barker scored his first goal in his second game, away to Darlington at the beginning of December, which put the Stags in front, but they were beaten by two second half goals. Four days later, Mansfield put in a terrific performance against lowly Rushden at Field Mill, and were desperately unlucky to be held 0-0. Palmer stated in numerous post match interviews over the coming months that his side had battered Rushden, and he was right. But it was the Stags’ eleventh game without a win.

Around this time, TEAM Mansfield (the Stags Supporters Trust) had made a formal offer to buy the club, to enable a community ownership model. But this was rejected by Keith Haslam. TM joint chairman Jeff Barnes told Radio Nottingham: “We can't think of a better time for Mr Haslam to move on. It's gone from bad to worse, we've gone 11 games without a win.”. But Haslam said: “At this moment in time the club needs stability for staff and supporters. With details of their bid in the public domain, I think potential prolonged negotiations to purchase the football club would not be in the best interests of anyone concerned." Some weeks later, Stags sponsor Andy Perry told the CHAD he was heading a three-man consortium bidding to buy the club. But he said it was only a counter-bid to the one from TEAM Mansfield. He said: "If it wasn't for the TEAM Mansfield bid we wouldn't be looking into it. I feel a football club should be run from the head as well as the heart and supporters would just run it from the heart. I think the supporters route is the wrong one. But Keith Haslam has told us there are issues that make it the wrong time for the club to change hands and we will just carry on talking."

The Rushden game, albeit a goalless draw, started a run of 11 games with only 2 defeats, and 5 wins to propel the Stags up the table and into play-off contention. Either side of Christmas, Mansfield won back-to-back games, for the first time since August, as Shrewsbury and Southend were beaten away from home. Both were hugely enjoyable and a real relief. Asamoah and Murray scored in a 2-0 win at Gay Meadow, and then Warne scored a late winner at high flying Southend. The Southend win was made even more sweet as the home side had a perfectly good goal disallowed in injury time. It may or may not have been a coincidence that the win over Shrewsbury, Palmer’s first, came just 24 hours after Curle was sacked by Haslam.

On New Years Day, the Stags travelled to Northampton for a lunchtime kick off, and in highly controversial circumstances Derek Asamoah was sent off for diving twice in the first half, against his former club. Even the home players admitted afterwards that the referee got it wrong. But against the odds, the Stags took the lead just before half time, only to be undone by two Cobblers goals in the second half. But two days later, Mansfield continued their good form with an impressive win over top of the table Scunthorpe, thanks to an Adam Murray shot from outside the box. But there was disappointment as the influential Paul Warne was recalled by Rotherham.

Three draws followed in mid January, firstly at home to bottom of the table Cambridge, then away to Rochdale, with Richie Barker scoring a spectacular overhead kick to rescue a 1-1 draw, and then at home to Southend. There was shock news that defender Dave Artell had nearly died after being rushed to hospital with DVT. Meanwhile, Palmer told the media that he now wanted the manger’s job full-time. However he couldn’t be appointed at this time because Curle had appealed over his sacking, and so the saga rolled on. The Stags ended January with defeat at Lincoln as Luke Dimech was sent off for a professional foul.

But the best four days of the season followed as the Stags beat Notts County and Swansea, both 1-0, to be just four points behind the play-offs. Firstly the Stags took 3600 fans to Meadow Lane, for the club’s 3000th league game, and saw Richie Barker head the only goal of the game, as the Stags won at their local rivals for the first time since 1958. Then Barker scored again in another 1-0 win, at home to Swansea; this time crashing in a magnificent effort off the underside of the bar from 18 yards. This firmly established the striker as a real fans’ favourite. But a chance to push on was missed as Cheltenham came to Field Mill and won 2-1 with a last minute cracker. Popular winger Wayne Corden was shipped out by Palmer to join Scunthorpe. The Stags returned to winning ways with a 2-0 success at out-of-form Bury, with goals from Adam Rundle and a magical volley from Adam Murray. Rundle was proving to be one of Palmer’s more popular new signings, having set up both goals for Barker earlier in the month (against Notts County and Swansea). The Bury game was only the second time since mid October that the Stags had registered two goals in a game; a fact not lost on some fans who were disgruntled with the Stags caretaker manager. Nevertheless with 13 games to go, Mansfield were now just three points behind Northampton who were in seventh place.

Failure to win any of the next 6 matches put an end to any play-off hopes. A 4-1 loss at home to Wycombe was a huge shock, especially as Barker had given the Stags a deserved lead and the Stags were cruelly robbed of a 2-0 lead as Fraser McLachlan’s perfectly good goal was disallowed. It was tough on McLachlan, who had failed to win over many of the home fans, after being Palmer’s first signing. Failure to beat either Rushden away or Shrewsbury at home was bitterly disappointing. After the Rushden game, a furious Carlton Palmer explained that Derek Asamoah would no longer be playing for the club following a breach of discipline. He was to join Lincoln City. Many Stags fans despaired that Palmer was shipping out all the flair players, like MacKenzie, Corden and Asamoah. An independent inquiry into the sacking of Curle, led by local MP and chairman Keith Haslam’s friend Alan Meale, upheld the decision to sack the former manager. But the saga was to roll on as Curle vowed to take the club to the High Court for wrongful dismissal. Nevertheless, it opened the way for Palmer to be appointed as full time manager.

Alex Neil scored in the 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury and was a rich reward for the player who was having a great season playing at right back, or sometimes in midfield. The Shrewsbury game saw plenty of booing, mostly aimed at Carlton Palmer. After the game, the caretaker manager explained that he would be considering whether he wanted to take the job as full time manager, in the light of treatment from some of the fans. However he did take the job that was offered to him just a few days later. This had been truly a traumatic and dramatic time for Stags fans.

Palmer’s first game as manager was against Oxford at Field Mill in mid March. The visitors ran out 3-1 winners in one of the worst performances that many fans could ever remember, and Carlton Palmer was again roundly booed by a number of fans. This time, he apologized for the performance after the game. Pride was restored a week later after a sizzling display at Bristol Rovers, in front of a select band of fewer than 200 Stags fans. But still the Stags couldn’t win as two disgraceful refereeing decisions saw Rovers handed two penalties to gift them a draw. The Stags goals came from Barker (2), Larkin, and youngster Callum Lloyd. Another youngster, Giles Coke, made an impressive debut, having signed from Kingstonian. Yet another draw followed as Chester came to Field Mill and left with a scoreless draw.

With play-off hopes now a distant memory, the Stags travelled to Kidderminster for a reunion with former boss Stuart Watkiss, who had been brought in in mid-season to try to keep the West Midlands club in the Football League. Watkiss’s side put in a typically cavalier performance and after taking the lead, should have gone 2-0 ahead but missed a crucial penalty, in an incident where Mansfield were very lucky not to have keeper Pilkington sent off. Kidderminster were to pay for that as woeful defending let them down, and the Stags roared back with two goals from Barker, and one from nippy winger Simon Brown who had previously failed to live up to considerable promise after signing for 50,000 from West Brom.

Brown was on the mark again a week later, at the start of April, as Grimsby were dispatched 2-0 at Field Mill, Rundle getting the other goal. It ended a dreadful run of 5 games at Field Mill without a win. Then in a bizarre game, Mansfield played rather well at high flying Yeovil and somehow lost the game 5-2. The Stags missed a penalty in that game, and missed another a week later in a 1-1 draw at home to Darlington, as Rhys Day missed from the spot but he was villain turned hero as he rescued a point with a late header. The end of season feel continued as Mansfield lost 3-1 at play-off contenders Macclesfield, before seeing off Boston 3-2 at Field Mill in the final home game of the season. The Boston game was a good performance which summed up a topsy-turvy season, as the Stags bobbed back into the top half of the table, yet before the final game at Leyton Orient they could have finished as low as 18th place. The Stags were terrible at Orient for 75 minutes, to trail 2-0, then an excellent late rally saw one goal retrieved, and could have seen a draw. A draw would have seen a top half of the table finish, but as it was, the final position was 13th, and the season was so average that the final goal difference was zero, with 15 wins, 15 draws, and 16 defeats. The main talking point at Orient was the final performance in a Stags shirt of Scott McNiven, who many felt had been poorly treated following his recovery from cancer, and Luke Dimech. As it turned out, Tom Curtis was also playing his last game for the Stags, and incredibly all three were to join Chester City, with Keith Curle their new manager.

So a mid-table finish, and a season many Stags fans couldn’t wait to see the back of. Alex Neil picked up Player of the Season awards from Follow The Yellow Brick Road, the SSA and the CHAD, while my own choice for player of the season was Richie Barker. However Alex Neil was to be released by Palmer after the season had ended, and joined Scottish side Hamilton. Colin Larkin was also shown the door after failing to rediscover his early season form following injury. Larkin remained the club’s leading scorer with 11 league and cup goals, from 38 appearances, despite only scoring 4 goals after September. Richie Barker, nearly caught Larkin up, scoring 10 goals from 28 appearances. Such was the turbulence of the season that only 3 players started more than 30 league games: Neil, goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington, and Alex John-Baptiste. The Stags used 40 players in league and cup games during the season, equalling the club record set two seasons earlier. This contrasted with only 26 players used in the Play-Off Final season.  

It was a season for spectacular goals, with my own selection of favourites being:

1. Colin Larkin, run and long range shot at Chester.

2. Adam Murray, volley at Bury.

3. Craig Woodman, screamer at home to Notts County.

4. Richie Barker, overhead kick at Rochdale.

5. Adam Rundle, run and shot at home to Grimsby.

 

Other Statistics Snippets of 2004/2005 Season

The average home league attendance for the season was 4,075. This was a drop of 22% in average home league crowds from the previous season’s average of 5,207, the second biggest drop in the division after Rushden.

The average home attendance before Christmas was 4,637, and the average home attendance after Christmas was 3,560.

The average away following at Field Mill was 512. (The previous season it was 726).

The highest home attendance was 7,682 against Notts County. The lowest was 2,497 against Wycombe on a snowy Tuesday night.

Five teams brought more than a thousand to Field Mill: Notts County (1787), Bristol Rovers (1325), Northampton (1063), Scunthorpe (1053), Lincoln (1024). The lowest away following at Field Mill was Wycombe (91).

Away from Field Mill, the Stags average away following was 662. This was a drop of 25% from the previous season (which was 888).

The highest Stags away following was at Notts County (3600); while the lowest Stags away following was at Swansea (112).

 Martin Shaw

-------------------

Links to earlier seasons:

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 2003/04

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 2002/03

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 2001/02

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 2000/01

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 1999/2000

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 1998/99