Mansfield Town - Review of the season 2005/2006

By Martin Shaw

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

If 2004/2005 was a turbulent season, then 2005/2006 was every bit as dramatic. 2004/2005 saw the Stags finish in the middle of the table, with the main drama off the field as manager Keith Curle was suspended by chairman Keith Haslam for allegedly bullying a youth team player. Curle was sacked, but nearly two years later the disciplinary process was shown to be a “sham” by a County Court Judge, and Curle was cleared of wrong-doing. 2005/2006 saw the Stags flirt with both promotion and relegation, with a final position of 16th. But again there was much drama off the field. First Carlton Palmer, a close friend of Haslam’s, who the chairman had appointed to replace Curle the previous season, walked out after an appalling start to the season, as the Stags hit the bottom of the football league, and then there was a concerted campaign against Haslam from a section of supporters.

Carlton Palmer was never a popular choice as manager and he did not help his cause by transferring a number of the fans’ favourite players. At the end of the 2004/2005 season he released Scott McNiven, who was just recovering from testicular cancer, and offered SSA Player of the Year Alex Neil much reduced terms, which led to the Neil’s departure. However he seemed to have put together a good squad for the new season, and indeed showed he had a good eye for players by bringing in a string of quality youngsters such as Stephen Dawson, Gavin Peers, plus experienced players like goalkeeper Kevin Pressman and winger Gus Uhlenbeek, and even attracted proven goalscorer Matthew Tipton from Macclesfield.

Palmer surprised everyone when he registered himself as a player for the new season and in the first game of the season, against his old club Stockport, he became the club’s oldest debutant. Confidence was surprisingly high, and Mansfield took 1100 travelling fans to the game. By half-time the Stags led 2-0 with goals from new boys Dawson and Birchall, and Palmer running the show from midfield. But Palmer had to go off injured, never to return as a player, and Jermaine Easter scored twice to deny the Stags victory.

Three days later an awful Rushden and Diamonds side somehow grabbed a 1-0 win in the first match at Field Mill, but the following Saturday Torquay were hammered 3-0 at Field Mill with new boy Peers joining other youngsters Adam Rundle and Simon Brown on the scoresheet. A shocking performance followed in a 2-0 defeat at Peterborough, and after the game an angry Palmer told the press box in confidence that he was not happy with the effort from Tipton. Tipton promptly quit the club to move nearer his Manchester home.

However there was a superb display in the Carling Cup as Championship club Stoke City were beaten on penalties. Back in the league, the Stags picked up a decent draw at Boston, but the fans were upset on Bank Holiday Monday as neighbours Notts County scored twice in the last seven minutes to win 3-2 at Field Mill, and striker Chris Beardsley was stretchered off with a broken leg. Defeat at Chester City, now managed by Keith Curle, saw Palmer threaten to walk out, before deciding to carry on.

Two games later, after a 2-0 defeat at Rochdale, Palmer did walk out in dramatic circumstances. Having not even spoken to the chairman, he walked up to the press box very soon after the end of the game and announced he was quitting, citing abuse from the fans as the reason. I was in the privileged position of being in the press box and I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness for the man. But in reality he blamed everyone apart from himself for a poor run of results during his period in charge, just as he had done some years earlier in an equally unsuccessful spell in charge of Stockport. In fact, Palmer goes down in history as the second worst ever manager of Mansfield Town, based on percentage of league games won. He just didn’t seem to know what his best team and best formation was as he chopped and changed, and seemed incapable of motivating the players.

Peter Shirtliff, who had been appointed by Palmer as assistant manager during the summer, took over as caretaker, and his first game in charge was a Carling Cup tie in which the Stags beat a youthful Southampton side 1-0, with a goal from Giles Coke. But it was straight back down to earth as Kevin Betsy scored a first half hat-trick for Wycombe at Field Mill as the Stags were beaten 3-2. Three days later, the Stags sunk to the bottom of the table despite a creditable 1-1 draw at Macclesfield. They fell further adrift after a 3-1 defeat at Leyton Orient despite a decent performance in which the Stags more than matched the team who started the game in fourth place, but dreadful errors by Peers and keeper Kevin Pressman gifted two goals to the home side, and the Stags were never able to recover.

A disastrous run of 9 league games without a win came to end with a crucial 4-0 thrashing of Shrewsbury in a Friday night game at Field Mill with goals from Coke, Rundle, Barker and Uhlenbeek. After a 1-0 defeat by eventual champions Carlisle United at Brunton Park, there was another crucial 4-0 victory at Field Mill, this time against Barnet, with Barker 2, Brown and Rundle getting the goals. The Stags were at home to another Championship side in Millwall, in the third round of Carling Cup. Mansfield came from 2-0 down, with goals from the prolific Brown and Barker, but were beaten by a last-minute wonder goal. However confidence was now high and four days later the Stags won their first away game since March, with Barker and Brown on the scoresheet yet again in a 2-0 win at Cheltenham. Quite rightly, Peter Shirtliff was now given the manager's job full time.

In the first round of the FA Cup, Mansfield pulled off a fabulous 4-3 win at League One Rotherham, with Barker scoring twice in the last 15 minutes, after earlier goals by Brown and Coke. But there was a shock to the system as lowly Bury came to Field Mill and won 3-0. Young Danny Reet scored twice and was later to join Mansfield. A week later there was shocking and tragic news as the Stags new goalkeeping coach, Peter Wilson, collapsed and died in the warm-up before the game at Shrewsbury. The game was of course postponed. With other teams around them playing their games, the Stags dropped back into the bottom two, and so a 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers Stockport the following weekend was a crucial result. Peers and Barker netted the vital goals. Before the game, supporters trust group TEAM Mansfield handed out over 2500 leaflets to fans, detailing the misdemeanors of Keith Haslam, as part of the growing campaign against the chairman.

The following Friday night, the Stags turned their attention back to the FA Cup and the televised tie against Conference side Grays Athletic, with just a handful of places separating the two teams in the football pyramid, and Grays’ players reputedly earning considerably more than those of Mansfield. Luck was on Mansfield’s side for once, as a dodgy penalty coupled with the visitors being unlucky to have a man sent off early on, saw the Stags home as easy 3-0 winners. TEAM Mansfield were stepping up their action and the TV cameras were an ideal opportunity for them to display banners such as "Haslam, Pay the money back NOW!", a reference to getting the chairman to pay back an illegal director's loan. The banners were to appear at most forthcoming games, and along with other activities, such as balloons being set off, became a major talking point. Five days later, on 7 December 2005, the issue hit the national stage in a massive way as The Guardian printed a double page spread entitled: “The man who owes Mansfield over a million”, written by top football investigative journalist David Conn.

Back on the pitch, a 4-1 defeat at Wrexham was no reward for a decent performance, but a 2-1 win at Rushden was crucial, with Brown and Coke netting the goals. Coke’s was a superb goal, probably the goal of the season, as did really well to control a pass, somehow turned and beat three men in one go, before tucking the ball into of the net. A 0-0 draw with Peterborough, was followed by an unlucky defeat at Northampton, and a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Bristol Rovers, as a mistake by Uhlenbeek gifted the visitors an injury-time equaliser. The Stags were still far too close to the relegation zone for comfort, so a 2-1 win at eventually-relegated Oxford on New Years Eve was of huge importance, with Rhys Day scoring both goals, his only goals of a disappointing season.

After a 0-0 draw with Lincoln to start the new year, the Stags took 5500 fans to St James Park for the FA Cup Third Round tie with Premiership Newcastle United. The game was featured on Match of the Day, and the Stags put in a terrific performance, only to lose 1-0 to an historic goal by Alan Shearer, which equalled Jackie Milburn's Newcastle scoring record. Shearer was very gracious in victory, saying that his goal should not detract from Mansfield’s outstanding performance which deserved a draw.

There was more bad luck in an undeserved 2-1 defeat at Grimsby but after a 0-0 draw in the re-arranged game at Shrewsbury, new signing Danny Reet scored the only goal in a home win over Rochdale. This was followed by a horrible 2-1 home defeat to Keith Curle's Chester, who included five former Stags in their side, plus Wayne Corden on the bench. Reet had again put the Stags ahead, but former Stags Scott McNiven and Derek Asamoah scored for Chester to win the game. Mansfield had Barker harshly sent off and the win was made more extraordinary in that it was Chester’s only win in a remarkable sequence of 13 games which led to the sacking of Keith Curle. A 4-0 defeat at Darlington followed, and the Stags were back to being just 6 points above the relegation zone having played more games than the other teams around them. There was plenty of activity off the field as TEAM Mansfield organised a meeting and march before the Macclesfield game on 4 February 2006. Over 500 fans met at Mansfield Civic Centre in an attempt to rally support against the chairman and generate enough pledges of money to mount a bid to buy the club. The fans then marched noisily to Field Mill, attracting considerable TV interest. Club sponsor Andy Perry also claimed to have tabled a bid, but in the end TEAM Mansfield did not make a bid.

Back on the pitch, the Macclesfield game sparked an unbeaten run of 8 games, with 4 wins and 4 draws, that suddenly propelled the club towards the play-offs. Adam Rundle scored in the 1-1 draw with Macclesfield. A week later, the Stags led 2-0 at Wycombe with goals by Hjelde and Barker, but were eventually held 2-2. Barker was on target again as Grimsby were seen off 2-1 at Field Mill, and he scored two more as the Stags recovered from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Wrexham. Goals from Reet and a half-fit Simon Brown earned a 2-0 win at Torquay, which was the Stags first double of the season. A 2-2 draw at Notts County followed, in a see-saw game where the Stags recovered from 1-0 down, to lead 2-1 with goals from on-loan left-back Laurence Wilson and Barker, only to be pegged back to 2-2. The Stags took a fantastic traveling support of 3743 to Meadow Lane. Fantastic home wins over Boston (5-0) and Northampton (1-0) followed, to keep the unbeaten run going. Luck was even going Mansfield’s way, as Northampton should have been credited with a goal, when a shot hit the underside of the bar and bounced down over the line, but it was not given.

The eight game unbeaten run came to a soggy end at a rain-lashed Bristol Rovers as two early goals scuppered the Stags, but a second double of the season was achieved when Danny Reet’s controversial late goal saw off Oxford United at Field Mill. Oxford were convinced Reet’s header didn’t cross the line, but the goal was given as the Stags luck continued, and video evidence later was inconclusive.

The Stags were amazingly now just 5 points off the play-offs with 6 games to go. Five wins would probably be needed, but instead the Stags form plummeted and they were unable to win any of the final six games, which meant that they ended the season looking over their shoulders at the relegation battle beneath them instead. First, a last minute Allan Russell free-kick rescued a point at Lincoln City. This was followed by two defeats over Easter, first to Leyton Orient, and then at relegation battlers Barnet where both Coke and Reet were sent-off. Carlisle United came to Field Mill and somehow managed to steal a point with a last minute equaliser which clinched their promotion. The Stags were still not mathematically safe but a point in a 0-0 draw at Bury was enough to ensure that the Stags would not involved in a last day of the season scrap, which incredibly meant that any of the bottom 8 clubs could go down.

On the last day, the Stags lost 5-0 at home to Cheltenham, their heaviest defeat since September 2002. It was a poor end to the season as Cheltenham ran riot in their own build-up to the play-offs and eventual promotion. It was a rather surreal day with owner Keith Haslam pulling out a surprise just two hours before kick-off announcing that Peter Lee would be joining the club in June as the new chairman, with Haslam himself remaining as the chief executive and managing director.

Despite the poor run-in to the season, a final position of 16th place would have been gratefully received by all Stags fans when Carlton Palmer left, or even at Christmas. The Stags finished just 5 points above relegated Oxford, emphasizing the importance of the double that the Stags did over them. The Stags finished 12 points behind the play-off places. The final haul of 54 points was six worse than the previous season.

Shirtliff released eight players at the end of the season, including Pressman, Day, Uhlenbeek, Rundle and Russell.

Richard Barker picked up Player of the Season awards from Follow The Yellow Brick Road, the SSA, the CHAD and OSSC. Barker was the club’s leading scorer with an impressive 23 goals (including 7 penalties) from 47 league and cup appearances (plus 2 as substitute), while Simon Brown was second top scorer with 12 from only 18 starts (plus many more appearances as substitute while he was half-fit). 

It wasn’t really a season for spectacular goals, unlike the previous season, but my own selection of favourites was:

1. Giles Coke, control, turn and shot, at Rushden.

2. Giles Coke, stunning volley, at home to Shrewsbury.

3. Simon Brown, ran from the halfway line before scoring, at Boston.

4. Allan Russell, free-kick from outside the box, at Lincoln.

5. Gus Uhlenbeek, tap-in following an outstanding run by Wilson, at home to Boston.

 

Other Statistics Snippets of 2005/2006 Season

Only 28 players were used in league and cup games during the season, compared with 40 the previous season. Of these, 13 players played in 29 or more league games: Barker, Pressman, John-Baptiste, Dawson, Coke, Uhlenbeek, Jelleyman, Rundle, Buxton, Hjelde, D’Laryea, Birchall and Brown.

On the disciplinary front, Gareth Jelleyman’s 9 yellow cards and 2 red cards put him third in the list of League Two bad boys.

The average home league attendance for the season was 3,560. This was a drop of 12½% in average home league crowds from the previous season’s average of 4,075, and a drop of 32% from the 2003/2004 average of 5,207.

The highest home league attendance was 6,444 against Notts County. The lowest was 2,357 on a frozen December night against Bristol Rovers.

The average away following at Field Mill was 561. (The previous season it was 512).

Only three teams brought more than a thousand to Field Mill: Notts County (1683), Carlisle (1592), Lincoln (1345), compared to five the previous season. The lowest league away following at Field Mill was Chester (128).

The average number of home fans at home league games was 2999.

Away from Field Mill, the Stags average away following was 590. This was a drop of 11% from the previous season (which was 662).

The highest Stags away following in the league was at Notts County (3743) (though of course 5500 went to Newcastle in the FA Cup); while the lowest Stags away following was at Wrexham (140).

The average away league attendance for the season was 4,133.

Martin Shaw

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Links to earlier seasons:

Stagsnet review of the season: Season 2004/05

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