|Nationwide League Division Three|
|12th August 2000|
|Blake og 16||Greenacre 21|
|Howarth 87||Blake 84|
Attendance: 4, 051
Rob Wheldon at Whaddon Road
Stags traveled to Cheltenham for their opening fixture of the 2000/2001 season without last season's leading scorer Tony Lormor who had moved to Hartlepool just three days earlier and young midfield star Michael Sisson, ruled out by a back injury. Boss Billy Dearden resisted the temptation to play either Danny Bacon or Michael Boulding and played Chris Greenacre as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Making their league debuts for the Stags were Wayne Corden, Stuart Hicks and Martin Pemberton whilst Les Robinson played his first Stags match for over 10 years. Robinson was partnered in midfield by Darrell Clarke and Mark Blake whilst Pemberton played at left back with Hicks and Andrews the central defensive partnership. Cheltenham's two recent signings, Jason White and Julian Allsop were left on the bench as Neil Grayson, Stags chief tormentor last season, continued in attack.
The home side began the stronger and forced three early corners but the Stags central defensive duo coped well under the crosses and the Robins failed to create any real chances in the opening 15 minutes. Corden was booked for kicking the ball away by a picky referee, who in the opening moments was giving every decision the home sides way. On 16 minutes disaster struck for the Stags, a fine cross on the right by Duff was met by the flying Blake who headed powerfully into his own net. Blake had to attack the ball as a Cheltenham striker was about to head home so there can be no real blame attached to the experienced Stags midfielder. Blake almost made amends only a minute later when a splendid 30 yard shot dipped just over the bar with Robins keeper Book scrambling back. However, the Stags were not to be denied a spectacular equaliser and an early contender for goal of the season. From almost 40 yards Chris Greenacre fired a stunning shot over Book's head and into the left corner of the home goal. Greenacre scored a stunning goal at Rotherham in front of the Sky cameras last season, but this was even better. Cheltenham's direct tactics were causing few alarms at the back for the Stags, who in Stuart Hicks had the outstanding defender on the pitch. Hicks didn't miss a header the whole match and was simply outstanding. The home side did continue to have the lion's share of possession but Stags keeper Ian Bowling wasn't tested and did not have a save to make in the entire first half - a testament to the quality of the Stags defending but also a testament to the defensive shape the team had throughout.
Cheltenham again started the 2nd half the stronger and again dominated possession. However, the Stags still restricted the home side to shots from distance and hopeful high balls into the box which were dealt with well by Hicks and Andrews. Stags did have a lucky escape when Grayson headed over from 10 yards when unmarked and Bowling claimed a powerful Yates effort, but those were isolated incidents in an otherwise solid defensive display. Fifteen minutes from the end the hard working Greenacre was replaced by Michael Boulding, Greenacre given a deserved ovation from the large band of Stags fans behind the goal. It seemed as though the game would end 1-1, with the home side dominating but failing to create any chances, when out of the blue 6 minutes from time the Stags snatched the lead with a quick counter attack. Robinson's superb 40 yard pass caught the Robins defence square and Mark Blake ran through to calmly volley the ball past the on-rushing Book and into the net. Stags celebrations were delirious but unfortunately short lived. A long throw from the Cheltenham right looked to be comfortable for Stags keeper Bowling but under a challenge from a Cheltenham striker he dropped the ball straight to Howarth who calmly finished to give the home side, what on balance, was a deserved share of the spoils. We were a long way from the incident, but talking to a Stags fan who was sat in the main stand it did appear the Stags keeper was fouled, though it has to be said that he still should have caught the ball.
A strong defensive performance from the Stags against a powerful Cheltenham side who will prove hard to beat at Whaddon Road this season. Greenacre did the lone striker role superbly and gave everything to the team, boss Billy Dearden must have been delighted by the young strikers selfless performance which was capped by a truly magnificent goal. Much has been spoken about the strengths of Stuart Hicks since his move to Field Mill a month ago and today we saw why he was such a highly rated player and attracted the interest of many other clubs. He won everything in the air and his distribution was excellent from the back, his central defensive partner John Andrews also had a fine game. On the down side the Stags failed to retain possession and were thus always on the back foot, Darrell Clarke had a quiet game and Les Robinson looked as though he perhaps needs a few more games before he regains full match sharpness.
Man of the Match: Stuart Hicks
|Bowling||6||Bad error at the end marred a solid performance|
|Asher||6||Not his best game but improved in the 2nd half|
|Hicks||9||Outstanding debut, won every aerial challenge|
|Andrews||8||Like Hicks was excellent in the air in a solid defensive performance|
|Williams||6||Fairly quiet game for Lee, brightened up by the famous step-over trick in the 1st half|
|Corden||7||Looked great in possession and used the ball well|
|Blake||8||Came back from the own goal with a strong midfield performance capped by a fine goal|
|Robinson||6||Great pass for Blake's goal but fairly quiet otherwise|
|Clarke||6||Like Robinson had a quiet afternoon and didn't influence the game as he should|
|Greenacre||9||Gave his all in a lone striker role and scored a sensational 40 yarder|
|Boulding||6||Given the last 15 minutes and worked hard|
|Lomas||6||On for last two minutes|
Bacon, Hassell, Mimms