|Nationwide Division 3|
|Mansfield Town||2-3||Lincoln City|
|Bradley 75, Blake 77||Holmes 42, Smith 54, Thorpe 60|
By Martin Shaw at Field Mill
Lincoln City picked up their first away win of the season at inconsistent Mansfield, as the Stags turned in their worst performance of the season at Field Mill. Lincoln were playing to impress their new manager Alan Buckley, and it showed, as they looked a mid-table team rather than a team fighting at the foot of the table. Stags, for their part, were poor for 75 minutes, but put together a grandstand finish that so nearly brought them an undeserved point.
Stags made two changes to the side that had beaten Barnet 4-1 on Tuesday. Martin Pemberton had pulled up on Friday with a knee ligament injury, and was replaced by David Jervis. Meanwhile centre half Adam Barrett returned from injury, as Bobby Hassell moved into midfield, and young Craig Disley unluckily dropped down to the substitutes bench. Lincoln included former Stags youngster Chris Perkins in their side, while former Stags midfielder Ben Sedgemore was dropped the Imps starting 11 and found himself on the bench.
The first half was poor. Both sides struggled to cope with a very hard pitch, particularly in front of the West Stand, and well-placed passes were at a premium. Neither side looked like creating a goal in the opening half hour. Bradley had Stags first chance, heading wide from a Hassell throw-in, and then Adam Barrett shot horribly wide from the edge of the box following a corner. Super play by Mark Blake created a chance for himself, but he scuffed his shot straight at the keeper. Chris Greenacre then chipped a good effort but it didnt trouble the keeper as it sailed over the bar. Lincoln also didnt look dangerous, though in one bizarre incident following a shot that was parried by Mimms, Jervis cleared the ball against the back of a Lincoln player and the ball flew just over the bar.
But then completely out of the blue, the Imps took the lead just before the break. A corner from the right hand side was beautifully met with a sweet volley by Steve Holmes, who was completely unmarked 12 yards from goal, giving Bobby Mimms no chance. At that point the whole complexion of the game changed. Lincolns fans roared into life and you could visibly see the Lincoln players were lifted. Within a couple of minutes, Stags were very lucky not be 2-0 down as Lee Thorpe received a ball over the top from Battersby and from a difficult angle, smacked a great shot against the inside of the post, with Mimms beaten, and away to safety for Mansfield.
Half time 0-1
At the opening of the second half, Lincoln were on top and did not look like a side that had not won away from home all season. Mimms had to make a couple of fine saves before it was no surprise when, on 54 minutes, Lincoln extended their lead. Peter Gain, on the left wing, was allowed too much time to cross, and the ball floated over Mimms to be met by Paul Smith right at the far post to head the ball into the roof of the net.
The large contingent from Lincoln went mad, having been starved of much success this season. Stags were simply unable to string decent passes together, and Lincoln were looking supremely confident. It was not a surprise, when on 60 minutes, it was 3-0. With Stags trying to push forward, the defence was left exposed as Lincoln broke down the middle. A ball played through for Peter Gain which gave the Lincoln player an easy chance to score. Mimms made a brilliant save, but as the ball broke loose, there was no Stags player to clear the danger, and Lee Thorpe had a simple chance to tap in the rebound. The Lincoln fans couldnt believe it, but it just shows what is possible with increased determination in trying to impress a new manager, and what the confidence of scoring goals can bring.
Stags boss Dearden brought on Disley and Bacon for Barrett and Asher, as Hassell moved back into defence. Disley immediately impressed in midfield. But initially it made little difference, and the Imps were so close to a fourth as Thorpes stab at the ball from 6 yards was deflected inches past his own post by Robinson, with Mimms beaten.
But on 75 minutes, the whole nature of the game changed. A great pass from Disley put both Bradley and Bacon through on goal. It was Bradley who took the ball on and slid a great shot past the outstretched hand of the Lincoln keeper into the bottom left corner of the net. Suddenly the confidence came rushing back to the Stags players and Lincoln players and fans looked like frightened rabbits. Stags poured forward and it was no surprise when just 2 minutes later, Blake, who thrives on confidence, threw himself at a Williams cross from the right and placed his header into the bottom left hand corner of the Imps net.
Now it was the Stags who were in total control and an equaliser seemed just moments away. Chances came for Lawrence, for Bradley and for Greenacre, and Bradley was very unlucky as he charged down a clearance from the keeper, but the ball fell luckily for the visitors. But time ticked away and it seemed Lincoln were going to hang on. Then in the final minute of injury time, Greenacre broke clear down the right hand side, cut inside along the bye-line and his cross clearly struck the arm of a Lincoln defender who was sliding in to clear the ball. But the referee just gave a corner, to the disbelief of Greenacre and Lee Williams. After the game Stags boss Billy Dearden said he felt it was a clear penalty.
Bobby Mimms came forward for the resulting corner, but the corner was cleared and immediately the referee blew the final whistle.
It was a frustrating conclusion to an exciting finale, and it was a terrific fightback by the Stags, but Lincoln did deserve their win. Stags cannot expect to pick up points just playing for short spells in games.
Overall this was a very disappointing display from Mansfield, probably the worst of the season at Field Mill. For most of the game, they failed to create any meaningful chances, and when Lincoln attacked in the second half, the visitors seemed likely to score. Indeed it is amazing what the impact of a new manager coming in can be, as the Lincoln players looked determined to create a good impression for their new manager. But in the last 15 minutes, Stags at last showed what they can do, with substitutes Disley and Lawrence very influential.
After the game Stags boss Bill Dearden admitted that his side were very poor and deserved to lose, and he was unhappy with sloppy marking for the Lincoln goals and indeed for other chances that Lincoln missed.
Lincolns first away win of the season gives them hope of avoiding the dreaded drop to the Conference for the second time in their history. If they can play with the same confidence as they did after taking the lead until Stags pulled a goal back, they should be able to pick up enough points to guarantee safety. Stags meanwhile must make amends with a win at in-form Shrewsbury on Tuesday to keep even an outside chance of a late charge towards the playoffs.
Finally a note on the attendance which at 3,201, with about 700 from Lincoln, was at least 500 more than I had expected on the day.
Man of the Match - Les Robinson
Mimms 7 Could not be blamed for the goals and made a few fine saves.
Asher 5 Guilty of giving the ball away too often.
Robinson 8 Another excellent performance from Stags Mr Consistency.
Barrett 6 Looked a little rusty.
Jervis 7 Did well at left back.
Williams 5 Didnt get into the game until the last 15 minutes.
Hassell 5 Didnt win enough in midfield, and did better when moved back into defence.
Blake 6 Some tough tackling but drifted in and out of the game
Corden 5 Lacked inspiration and didnt create anything.
Greenacre 6 Some good skill on a tricky surface and not given enough service.
Bradley 6 Took his goal really well, was unlcuky after charging down a kick from the keeper, and had one good header wide, but did little apart from that.
Disley 7 (for Asher, 60 minutes) Terrific 30 minutes; won balls in the middle of the park and showed invention to try to create chances.
Bacon 5 (for Barrett, 60 minutes) Very poor; with every touch of the ball seemed to lose the ball.
Lawrence 7 (for Corden, 76 minutes) Very lively down the left wing.
Subs not used: Pilkington, Boulding.