Stags steal it
Brighton 1 Mansfield Town 3
by Martin Shaw at Priestfield.
This was a game I had expected the Stags to win, but for 75 minutes it hardly looked likely. Brighton seemed revitalised from the poor side of the previous two seasons and in newcomers Rod Thomas, Jamie Moralee and Gary Hart they had the best players on the field. But two goals in the final 13 minutes from substitutes Darrell Clarke and Iyseden Christie sent the Stags fans delirious and brought a very welcome three points.
Before the season started, Brighton were targeting this game against Mansfield as their big move back to a temporary ground in the town, with a capacity of 6000. That would have been a double edged sword for me for although Brighton would have been much nearer to home, the excitement for the local fans would probably have made it impossible to get a ticket. Also, had the game been in Brighton, I would have had to spend the weekend with the mother-in-law. So on balance, I was quite happy to drive to Gillingham since the club is still waiting for approval for the move. I learnt during the day that Brighton now plan to move back to their own town in March.
As it was, the crowd of 2,800 contained about 100 Stags fans, mostly congregated behind one corner flag. I decided to go into the part of the main stand designated for away fans, since I’ve stood up too many times at this ground and not been able to see what was going on. As it happens I was sat only a few yards behind the Stags bench and could hear most of Parkin's instructions to the team. Then in the second half, Keith Haslam and Alan Meale came and sat about 5 yards from me. They smoked cigar and cigarette (respectively) continuously and seemed to enjoy the win as much as other Stags fans.
Mansfield made one surprising change from the team that played against Torquay with Harper coming back to replace Sedlan after the youngster’s impressive full debut. Clarke was one of the substitutes returning after his three match ban.
The opening half hour was relatively quiet with Mansfield having much possession but never looking really threatening and Brighton also failing to create chances. The exceptions were a shot on the run by a Brighton player just past the post, and a low shot by David Kerr that was well saved by the keeper. Kerr’s shot was reminiscent of his goal in the final match of last season against Swansea. Brighton took the lead on 31 minutes after a floating cross was met with a glancing header by Moralee who managed to get in front of his marker Hackett. Mansfield were back in the game on 42 minutes when a Brighton defender who seemingly trying to dribble back to his goalkeeper was dispossessed by Peacock 25 yards out. Peacock took the ball on and expertly clipped it to the keeper’s left and into the net to signal great celebrations. Soon afterwards, Lormor had a great chance to put the Stags in front when he out-paced the defence (no really he did!) but with only the goalkeeper to beat he rolled the ball wide of the post from 20 yards when he may have been better attempting to go round the keeper. Ten seconds later the referee blew the whistle for half time and I noticed Lormor furious with himself and shout f**k very loudly as he walked off.
The second half began with Brighton putting Mansfield under tremendous pressure and having three or four excellent chances in the opening 10 minutes. There was one header which I was sure had gone in but was somehow saved on the line. There were also claims for a penalty for possible handball when another ball was cleared of the line. And in an amazing incident Bowling was very nearly caught out when a long punt from about 40 yards seemed to be caught by the wind and span like a leg-break when it bounced, and would have ended up in the top corner had the keeper not just tipped it past the post. There were also a number of other chances for the home team. In truth, Brighton had most of the play in the second half, but Stags manager Steve Parkin played his master card when he brought on Darrell Clarke and Iyseden Christie with about 20 minutes to go. After 77 minutes, and very much out of the blue, Christie on the edge of the box managed to tee up a shot for Clarke which he powered into the net from 20 yards, in front of the Stags’ fans sparking wild celebrations. By my calculations, it was Clarke’s third goal in four appearances. I anticipated a very tense final 13 minutes but the expected onslaught from the home team never really came. Three minutes from time, Christie broke clear from the defence down the left and with just the keeper to beat, managed to tap the ball over him and into the net for a tame goal to seal the win. Even in the remaining 3 minutes, Brighton managed to hit the post but by then it wouldn’t have made any difference.
Overall, it was a competent performance by Mansfield, though nothing more, but it was the result that was all important. Lee Peacock was my man of the match for a tireless performance up front. Tony Lormor also had a fair game in the first half but was guilty of a poor miss. His replacement, Christie, looked very sharp and had one goal and one assist to show for it in just 20 minutes on the pitch. The midfield played well in the first half but were largely anonymous in the second. Ford was probably the pick of the bunch. Peters and Schofield were solid as usual in defence and Hackett won some good tackles but was guilty for Brighton’s goal. Ian Bowling had a good game in goal and made several good saves.
After the match, I reflected that perhaps we hadn’t deserved the 3 points since we had created only about five chances to probably at least 10 by Brighton, but that it was our substitutions that had changed the course of the game.
Clarke (for Tallon)
Christie (for Lormor)