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Season 13/14 Stagsnet Match Report
Football League - Sky Bet League Two
Oxford United  
3 - 0
 Mansfield Town
Connolly 27, Wroe 53, Smalley 68.
Attendance: 5,108 (365 from Mansfield)
Date: 15 February 2014


Martin Shaw at the Kassam Stadium

Mansfield Town were beaten 3-0 at high-flying Oxford United this afternoon. But that doesn’t tell the story at all. The Stags were generally the better side for the first hour of the game, acknowledged by all that I spoke to, including members of the home press. In fact, I’d say this was a very good Stags performance. But the difference between the two sides was all too apparent: Oxford had quality in front of goal, and Mansfield didn’t. It really was as simple as that. Actually Oxford had an abundance of quality up front with David Connolly, James Constable and Dave Kitson, any one of whom would make an immense difference to the Stags squad. The Stags created more chances than you could have hoped for coming to a side in the automatic promotion places, but were unable to take any of them. I wrote on my notepad after 25 minutes that the Stags would probably live to regret missing so many chances and so it proved, as within 2 minutes Oxford were in front and it was Connolly who scored it, totally against the run of play. It almost felt unfair that the Stags were having to play against former Irish international Connolly for a third time this season after his key role in both games against us for Portsmouth! By half time, the Stags had had eight decent goalscoring opportunities (and the huge majority of the possession). Oxford had three, including the goal. By the hour mark, the Stags had had six more decent goalscoring opportunities, yet Oxford had gone 2-0 up with a brilliant strike from Nicky Wroe. Oxford’s quality going forward was rubbed in on 68 minutes as Constable and Connolly provided stunning interplay as Constable struck the post and Smalley knocked in the rebound. The game was over. Yet even after that, the Stags created a further seven goalscoring opportunities, none of which could be taken.

21 goalscoring opportunities in total, by my calculation. It was there for all to see. The 365 Stags fans, who were superb in their support for the side until their spirit was broken at 3-0, could see it. Paul Cox could see it, and re-iterated after the game his frustration at not being allowed to bring in a striker. He had Emile Sinclair lined up, but was not allowed to bring him in. Sinclair subsequently signed for Northampton and immediately won a game single-handedly with two goals in a critical game at Torquay. Cox actually must be in a spin. First he was told he could bring a striker in. Then, having lined up Sinclair, he was told that no-one could come in due to the Hymas/Saunders situation and reduction in loans from One Call. On the day the transfer window closed, he was told he could bring a player in after all. Then Cox was told he could only bring someone in if he got one or two more players out, having already got Andrew, Poku, McCombe, Murtagh and Pilkington out since Dec 31. So Cox is left looking to get one or two more players out. This may not be easy: the candidates would seem to be Speight, Black and Briscoe. Speight is carrying an injury. Black is unlikely to be touted by League One or League Two clubs in my opinion but is he prepared to drop to the Conference? We’ll see. I would have thought that a Conference club such as Nuneaton would be interested to take Briscoe on loan. It seems this will hold the key as to whether Cox can bring in a quality striker.

Without a quality striker coming in, it seems to me that the Stags are destined to remain in a relegation battle. As today has showed, you can play as much good football as you like, have as much possession as you like, even have more than 20 goalscoring opportunities, but if you can’t put the ball in the net, it counts for nothing.

Manager Paul Cox named an unchanged starting eleven from the side that beat Southend last week. There was one change on the bench with goalkeeper Deakin coming in for Dyer. Oxford included Johnny Mullins, a regular in the Stags side that was relegated to the Conference. Oxford also included David Connolly who has already played twice against the Stags for Portsmouth this season.

The pitch, having had £50,000 spent on it in the closed season to improve the drainage, was very playable despite heavy rain on Friday. Oxford manager Mickey Lewis had arranged for the referee to stay overnight in the Holiday Inn hotel next to the ground at the club’s expense so that he could do an early morning pitch inspection.

Wind was more likely to be an issue than the pitch itself and before the game, I overheard an Oxford official saying that the detailed weather forecast was for the wind to drop at around half time so that it was important for Oxford to make use of it in the first half. I advised Paul Cox of this when he came for the pre-match interview and the Stags were able to make use of this information upon winning the toss and playing with the wind behind them in the first half while, in the second half, the wind did indeed drop as predicted.

The Stags were on the front foot from the start. On 4 minutes, a free kick from the left was taken by Clements with a good delivery but cleared. On 6 minutes, a good attack from the Stags as Clucas took advantage of a slip in the defence to break into the box but couldn’t quite find Stevenson.

The Stags fans were noisy and it was fully 10 minutes before Oxford got the ball into the Stags defensive third of the pitch. It was Kitson who broke into the Stags area on the left past Riley only to blaze a wild shot well wide. On 13 minutes, a quick Oxford free kick found Constable on the edge of the box but the Stags cleared it.

There was bad news for the Stags on 16 minutes as Jennings had to limp off injured with a thigh muscle injury, which looks like quite a bad one according to Paul Cox. Really disappointing as he was in the best form of his Stags career. He was replaced by Daniel who slotted in at left wing back.

On 18 minutes, a Daniel throw reached Clucas whose first time shot on the turn was parried behind by the keeper for a corner. On 20 minutes, a shot from Rhead was blocked and came back to Stevenson whose shot was deflected wide. A glorious opportunity.

The Stags were right on top and playing good football.

There was a break in play with an Oxford player down, but from the resulting corner on 23 minutes, Rhead flicked down to Clucas whose shot from 5 yards was blocked. A minute later, Clucas tee’ed up Clements who fired wide from 22 yards.

The Stags were made to pay for the wastefulness in front of goal as Oxford took the lead on 27 minutes completely against the run of play. Newey’s ball in to Connolly gave the former Irish international no more than a half chance with his back to goal but he swivelled and fired under Marriott.

On 34 minutes, Rhead headed on to Stevenson who found Clucas, Clucas turned and shot but his effort was blocked.

On 38 minutes, a chance for Oxford as a clearance fell to Constable 25 yards out and his first time shot was really well saved by Marriott.

On 42 minutes, Stevenson shot wide from 40 yards and, a minute later, he had a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked. On 45+2, a free kick from 40 yards came out to Stevenson who volleyed wide of the right post.

Such a frustrating half for Mansfield who had most of the possession, pinning Oxford back in their own half for long spells, and having most of the chances but lacking quality in front of goal, while Connolly showed his quality in front of goal and Constable forced a really good save from Marriott.

Half time 1-0

Having already lost Jennings in the first half, Riley was unable to continue at the start of the second half having gone off injured in the last minute of the first half. Again bad news for the Stags with Riley having been in good form. He was replaced by McGuire. The Stags switched to 4 at the back with McGuire immediately in front of them, Howell and Clements in the middle as before, and Stevenson still behind Clucas and Rhead up front.

On 47 minutes, Clucas swivelled well and shot wide of the left post from 25 yards.

A rare chance for Oxford on 49 minutes as Connolly tee’ed up Constable who fired wide of the right post.

It was 2-0 to Oxford on 53 minutes with a brilliant goal out of the blue. Nicky Wroe stepped inside Tafazolli and curled a superb shot into the top right corner from 22 yards giving Marriott no chance.

On 55 minutes, a shot from Clucas from 12 yards was blocked and then the ball came back to Stevenson whose shot was just kept out by the keeper. A minute later, Howell crossed from the right and Rhead’s header was saved at the left post. Then on 57 minutes, Rhead headed on to Stevenson who knocked the ball forward for Clucas who had a chance to score but mis-controlled the ball. Then another glorious opportunity for the Stags to score came on 60 minutes as a fine free-kick from Clements from 40 yards presented Tafazolli with a free header inside the 6 yard box but he sent it straight at the keeper.

The chances had come thick and fast for the Stags but they were unable to take them.

On 62 minutes, a good tackle by Westlake as Constable broke forward. On 63 minutes, McGuire was booked for a pretty nasty challenge on Kitson. It was risky in my opinion and could have seen his second red card against Oxford this season. Just 3 minutes later, Kitson himself was booked for an equally nasty foul on Stevenson. On 67 minutes, a good turn by Constable on the edge of the box and he fired over.

Oxford’s quality going forward was perfectly demonstrated on 68 minutes with their third goal. A brilliant one-two down the left between Constable and Newey, and then a brilliant one-two down the left between Constable and Connolly, Constable hit the left post and it rebounded to Smalley who stuck the ball into the empty net.

On 70 minutes, a good one-two between Clements and Westlake, Westlake played the ball in to Clucas whose first time left-footed shot was straight at the keeper. On 77 minutes, great play by Clements on the left wing and his cross into the middle was somehow missed by Howell. A minute later, Howell cut into the area on the right and went down but was booked for diving.

Connolly was taken off to a standing ovation from the home crowd. At the moment the Stags are not in a position to compete with a striker of this quality.

On 84 minutes, Palmer replaced Howell.

On 86 minutes, Clucas clipped the ball into the area but appeals for a penalty for handball were waved away. Rhead was booked for a challenge on the keeper moments later. Then on 87 minutes, Palmer did well down the left, Daniel clipped a ball into the middle which Clucas diverted wide of the right post, it stayed in play and Rhead sent a ridiculous shot wide from an impossible angle. On 90 minutes, Clements played the ball forward to Stevenson who clipped a shot over the bar.

On 90+3, the ball came out to Daniel 25 yards from goal and he sent a sweet, first time, right-footed volley straight at the keeper. Then a minute later, Westlake’s shot from 20 yards flashed past the left post.

Twenty-one goalscoring opportunities for the Stags though you needed an abacus to count them accurately. Just seven in total for Oxford (including their 3 goals). Such frustration for the Stags who returned home empty-handed, just grateful that Torquay and Northampton were also beaten in their tough trips to Chesterfield and Fleetwood respectively.

Footnote: breakdown of goalscoring opportunities:

Clucas: 5 on target; 2 off target
Stevenson: 3 on target; 3 off target
Rhead: 2 on target; 1 off target
Tafazolli: 1 on target
Daniel: 1 on target
Clements: 1 off target
Westlake: 1 off target
Howell: 1 didn’t make contact with free header
Total: 12 on target; 8 off target; 1 other. Total 21.

Oxford: 4 on target; 3 off target. Total 7 (includes 3 goals).

Man of the match: Chris Clements

Report by: Martin Shaw at the Kassam Stadium

Line Up:
Marriott 6 No chance with the second and third goals. Could he have done better with the first goal that went in very slowly? Possibly. Very good save from Constable piledriver.
Westlake 8 Plenty of very good interplay down the right going forward.
Riley 6 Turned by Kitson for Kitson’s shot wide. Otherwise solid. Had to go off at half time injured.
Dempster 6.5 Defended solidly.
Tafazolli 6 Couldn’t get close enough to the quality striker Connolly to stop him scoring. Otherwise played well. Got a header on target from Clements free kick but couldn’t beat the keeper.
Jennings - Had to limp off injured with a thigh muscle injury, which looks like quite a bad one according to Paul Cox. Really disappointing as he was in the best form of his Stags career.
Howell 6 Blew hot and cold. Didn’t get tight enough to Wroe to stop him scoring from outside the box. Good cross for Rhead’s header that was saved. Completely missed a chance with his head from a beautiful Clements cross. Some good play in midfield as the Stags dominated possession. Booked for diving in the box trying to win a penalty.
Clements 8 Fine performance, creating plenty going forward.
Stevenson 6 Had a good game on the ball but finishing was generally wayward and when it wasn’t, his efforts were blocked or saved. 7 for his game on the ball, 5 for finishing.
Clucas 6.5 Terrorised the Oxford defence, until it came to putting the ball in the net where he let himself down and just couldn’t beat the impressive Ryan Clarke in the Oxford goal or the blocks of the defenders. 8 for terrorising the defence, 5 for finishing.
Rhead 5.5 Won most of his headers, but a very frustrating day for him.
Sub Line Up:
Daniel (for Jennings, 17) 6.5 Got forward a lot as left wing-back. Had little defending to do. Unlucky with a blockbuster, showing superb technique, that was straight at the keeper.
McGuire (for Riley, 46) 6 Booked for a pretty nasty challenge on Kitson. It was risky in my opinion and could have seen his second red card against Oxford this season. Otherwise did ok.
Palmer (for Howell, 84) - Impressed in the 10 minutes he was on.
Subs not used: Deakin, Sutton, Meikle, Hutchinson.
Opposition Line Up:
Clarke, Bevans, Hunt, Mullins, Newey, Wroe, Rose, Smalley, Kitson, Connolly (Williams 77), Constable (Potter 90). Subs not used: Henly, Marsh, Long, O'Dowda, Ruffels.
Fred Graham 7 Pretty decent game. Seemed to get most things about right.

Season 13/14 Reports