Mansfield 0 Exeter 1
By Martin Shaw at Field Mill
I can only describe this as a nightmare. After the euphoria of Stags` win over Hartlepool on Saturday coupled with Swansea`s dramatic defeat, the Stags had a chance to take a big step towards securing a play-off place against Exeter on Tuesday night. Exeter had won just three games away from home all season. While the Stags - after a poor run of form - it seemed had turned the corner against Hartlepool. But on the night, it was Exeter who claimed the points and now the Stags chance of the play-offs seems a remote possibility.
I had taken the day off work and started my journey from home soon after lunchtime. As I approached Mansfield I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a 40 minute interview on the radio with Dave Smith, Stags` manager from 1974 until 1976 during a wonderful time in the club`s history. This was only Smith`s second visit to Mansfield since he left the club and it brought back wonderful memories.
Mansfield were unchanged from Saturday with Mark Peters keeping his place at the expense of Craig Allardyce. The first half was reasonably quiet in terms of goal mouth action with Stags` midfield failing to gain a grip and the best chance of note was a shot from the edge of the box by David Kerr that unfortunately was straight at the keeper. Exeter were surprisingly lively and nearly scored when a chip from Chris Fry clipped the top of the bar.
Half time 0-0
Who could have predicted the drama that was about to unfold in the first two minutes of the second half? An Exeter cross led to a scramble in the six yard box and Ian Bowling going down injured, before, within an instant, the loose ball was put into the empty net by Exeter striker Breslan. Protests for a foul were waved away but it soon became clear that all was not well with Bowling and from the gesticulations of the Mansfield players, it was obvious that he was badly hurt. Bowling was stretchered off with a broken arm with the Stags` faithful chanting his name. Immediately the Stags` fans really got behind the team for most of the remainder of the half as Stags` midfielder John Schofield took over in goal from Bowling. I can only describe my own feelings at the time of the goal and injury as totally sick and seeing the whole season flash in front of me. Stags huffed and puffed for the remainder of the game and had a few close calls but were unable to get a grip of the game. Exeter had just a couple of chances themselves to test Schofield but he dealt very comfortably with the shots and couple of crosses. Mansfield brought on Christie for Ford midway through the second half, and for the first time for ages, played three strikers up-front. If ever there was a time for Christie to show us his magic, this was surely it. He created some danger and very nearly scored when his deflected shot, which seemed to be heading for the top right hand corner, was spectacularly tipped away by the Exeter keeper. There were other near misses such as a shot from Williams that was narrowly wide and a low drive from Clarke that was well saved plus other efforts from Peacock and Kerr, but in the end, time slipped away. Stags` fans tried to get behind the team throughout and thankfully there was no repeat of the chorus of boos that followed the Halifax game.
So Stags will now need to pick up 6 points from the last two games and hope that both Halifax and Swansea slip up. My four hour drive home felt considerably longer and like I was in a nightmare.
Bowling 6 Competent until his injury, which will keep him out for several months
Ford 5 Quiet game unable to get any effective crosses
Harper 5 Lacked potency going forward
Peters 6 Decent distribution and comfortable in defence
Willis 6 Solid
Linighan 7 Impressive defence
Kerr 6 Not bad but unable to gain a grip of midfield
Clarke 5 Virtual spectator, never got into the game
Lormor 6 Not really given any opportunities to create trouble for the Exeter defence
Peacock 6 Not up to his usual standard but didn`t get any support
Williams 7 Tried to get a grip of midfield and tackled hard but lacked invention
Schofield 7 Cannot be faulted, playing out of position in goal
Christie 6 Saw quite a bit of the ball but wasn`t able to produce his magic
Walker Late substitute for Kerr