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Season 03/04 Stagsnet Match Report
Nationwide League Division 3
Cambridge United  
1 - 2
 Mansfield Town
Fleming 82. Kitson sent off 77.
 Disley 33, Lawrence pen 75. Christie sent off 35, Day sent off 42.
Attendance: 4,068 (700 from Mansfield)
Date: 27th September 2003

Martin Shaw and Jeff Barnes at the Abbey Stadium

Unbelievable stuff.
Mansfield played for more than half of this game with only nine men, but produced one of the most spirited performances ever witnessed by these correspondents. A 2-1 victory was a just reward for the incredible hard-work of the players in the second half and at the final whistle the Stags players celebrated as though the FA Cup had been won. On the terraces, it felt like it had been.

Mansfield brought in the fit-again Hassell for Clarke at right back; Corden dropped to the bench and Disley moved to the left of midfield; Christie returned from suspension and Larkin returned from injury while Mendes was absent through injury. On the bench, there was a return for Dimech and Artell from injury.

The game began very quietly. On 2 minutes, Day had a header from the edge of the box that looped gently over the bar. But on 5 minutes, Christie was booked for jumping into the Cambridge centre half. It seemed a very harsh decision.

Three minutes later there was danger for the Stags when Lawrence lost possession on the halfway line but the classy John-Baptiste, fresh from his moment of fame on Sky’s Soccer AM, did brilliantly to block a shot after Cambridge broke forward. The Stags then had a good spell of possession, with a Lawrence cross headed away, and Christie taking up some good positions.

Midway through the half Cambridge had a rare shot from wide right, and three minutes later, Vaughan lost possession on the halfway line, and Pilkington was alert to clear the ball outside his box.

After half an hour, Vaughan put in a good cross, which was headed back strongly by Christie and Disley reacted well to head the ball goalwards from the penalty spot but just over.

Mansfield took the lead on 33 minutes with a great finish from Disley. A long kick from Pilkington found its way to Disley who outpaced his marker, ran forward, drew the keeper, and finished calmly low inside the right hand post. This produced the Disley shirt-off twirling-celebration last seen at Saltergate.

But within two minutes, in a quiet game, the Stags were incensed as Christie received a second yellow for a slightly late challenge. It was a stupid challenge from Christie but it was harsh for him to be sent off. There was a feeling amongst the Stags fans that the referee had been waiting for an excuse to send the Stags striker off. On 37 minutes, Hassell was booked for saying something off the ball as the Stags fans were getting increasingly angry with the ref. Just five minutes later, it all boiled over as Day was sent off. Day had a chance to clear 5 yards inside his own half, but was caught in possession by Kitson who then raced past him, but Day hauled the striker down and as last man, technically he had to go. Stags officials and players were livid, but it looked the correct decision to us. The Stags immediately brought on Artell and sacrificed MacKenzie, moving to a 4-3-1 formation. In truth MacKenzie looked so wound up that he could have been the next to go.

As the first half moved into stoppage time, a Cambridge steward on the touchline lunged at a Stags fan on the terrace over the advertising hoardings and was rugby tackled to the ground by 3 policemen actually on the pitch as the game continued. He was arrested and led away. As the half time whistle blew Stags manager Curle had to be restrained by a policeman and by John Gannon as the ref left the pitch.

Our view from the terrace was that, even in the heat of the moment, the Stags manager should have been trying to calm his players, rather than getting caught up in the furore. At this stage we were wondering how Mansfield could possibly hang on to a one goal lead for 45 minutes with a two man disadvantage.

Half time 0-1

At the start of the second half, Dimech replaced Vaughan and Hassell moved to left back. On 48 minutes, Curtis produced a typically brilliant last ditch block to prevent a goalbound shot. But three minutes later, Mansfield had a break and Larkin got through on the right but instead of passing to the unmarked Lawrence on the penalty spot, Larkin shot wide of the left post. On 55 minutes John-Baptiste was stamped on by a Cambridge player but it went unpunished and immediately a shot was pulled wide of Pilkington’s goal. Two minutes later the Stags broke again but Larkin stumbled at the crucial moment.

On 63 minutes, Mansfield were dealt another blow by the referee, as he awarded a penalty after an innocuous challenge by Hassell down by the byeline. As we reflected that Pilkington had never saved a penalty for the Stags, the kick from Justin Walker was struck hard and low and Pilkington got down to his right and palmed the ball wide for a brilliant save. This certainly was to prove a turning point in the game.

Larkin was immediately replaced by Beardsley. On 69 minutes it seemed everything was going against the Stags from the referee as a free kick was awarded to Cambridge on the edge of the box, for a handball, when it looked to us as though a Cambridge player had handballed it. Fortunately the free kick was blasted high and wide.

On 72 minutes Disley, trying to run the clock down, delayed taking a free kick down by the corner flag as two Cambridge players were within 5 yards. Disley was booked and again it seemed very harsh, as the Cambridge players should have been cautioned for encroachment. But two minutes later the referee finally gave the Stags something as Lawrence was brought down in the box as he headed square. There were no protests. Lawrence stepped up and hammered it low to the keeper’s left. It was his sixth goal of the season.

Two minutes after the goal Lawrence was hacked down by a sandwich of two home players: Fleming was shown a yellow and to the surprise and joy of the Stags fans, Kitson was shown a straight red.

On 80 minutes, Pilkington produced the save of the season as a deflected shot seemed to be arrowing in to the top corner but he somehow palmed it on the bar and away to safety. It really looked a goal all the way.

But two minutes later it was 2-1 as former Lincoln man Fleming was allowed a free shot from the edge of the box and he scored.

Mansfield now needed to show even more resolve amidst unbelievable tension. On 87 minutes Curtis had a chance to make it 3-1 but shot straight at the keeper, but the fact we even had a chance showed that we were trying to keep the ball in the opposition half. As the game entered 4 minutes of stoppage time, Cambridge hit the inside of the post from a shot from a tight angle and the ball rebounded to safety as fans held their breath. Then Pilkington made another terrific save tipping a low shot around for a corner, which to the joy of the Stags fans he then caught with ease. After 93.5 minutes, we saw the referee signal to his linesman to make run for the tunnel and we knew the game would over as a goalkick was taken, and indeed it was, to spark celebrations the like of which even outdid those after we won promotion against Carlisle. The Stags players were joyous in a huddle of celebration and were joined by Christie and Day in their suits along with Curle and the rest of the backroom staff.

Your correspondents and everyone around them were in total agreement that this was the most amazing victory any of them could recall. It was forged from an incredible display of hard-work and self-belief from the players who remained on the pitch, against incredible odds and an appalling referee.

The afternoon had started for us with a surreal walk to the ground through a meadow filled with grazing cows, just 100 yards from the ground. We then received remarkable courtesy from a home steward who allowed us into the ground so we could we could choose whether we wanted to sit in new stand behind the goal, or on the old terrace along the side of the pitch. Once that decision had been taken, extremely polite tea bar staff served us excellent sausage rolls and the sun beat down on us. Indeed the first half hour was quiet stuff and uneventful, but the last hour was so packed of incident that we could barely catch our breathe. There were 3 goals, 2 penalties, 3 sendings off, numerous other bookings, a steward arrested and a near heart attack for your correspondents. The look of joy on the fans’ faces as they left the ground is likely to remain a highlight of the season.

We must hope that the players have recovered from fatigue by Tuesday and a difficult trip to Bristol Rovers. Anything from that game can now be viewed as a bonus after this incredibly hard-won victory.

Man of the match: Kevin Pilkington.

Report by: Martin Shaw and Jeff Barnes at the Abbey Stadium

Line Up:
Pilkington 10 Faultless display. Great penalty save in addition to the save of the season from a deflected shot
Hassell 9 Worked tirelessly especially when out of position in the second half.
Day 6 Out of sorts. Bad mistake which led to sending off.
John-Baptiste 9 Oozed class from the first whistle. Great performance
Vaughan 6 Did ok in the first half.
Lawrence 10 Beckhamesque a la Greece at home; simply was everywhere on the pitch.
Curtis 9 His best ever display for the Stags. Blocks all over the pitch. Covered so much ground.
MacKenzie 7 Looked good in the first half. Sensibly sacrificed as his temper started to get the better of him.
Disley 8 Great goal. Worked hard all game. Getting back to his best.
Christie 6 Unlucky to be sent off but needs to be smarter in pressure situations.
Larkin 8 Never stopped despite just returning from injury and looked sharp.
Sub Line Up:
Artell (for MacKenzie, 43) 8 Defended well under extreme pressure.
Dimech (for Vaughan, 46) 8 Good to see him back. Showed excellent touches.
Beardsley (for Larkin, 65) 7 Worked hard as lone striker. Kept the ball in the corner quite well and won some free kicks burning up time.
Subs not used: JWhite, Corden.
Opposition Line Up:
Marshall, Goodhind, Duncan, Venus, Bimson, Guttridge, Fleming, Walker, Murray, Kitson, Turner. Subs: Brennan, Tann, Tudor, Nacca, Opara.
L.Cable First half 0, Second half 6.

Season 03/04 Reports