Shrewsbury 1 Mansfield 0
by Martin Shaw at Gay Meadow
Don`t be fooled by the score. This was a decent performance by the Stags. For 60 minutes, Shrewsbury were not even in the game. But then a goal for the home side out of the blue gave them confidence and the Stags` failure to score all but ended play-off chances.
Arriving in Shrewsbury around an hour before kick-off, I saw Stags out-of-favour defenders Ryder, Hassell and Sedlan queuing for fish and chips at the chip shop next to the ground. Perhaps an idea for a new pre-match meal? Shrewsbury`s Gay Meadow may not be top of the league in terms of size or facilities, but it is probably situated in the nicest location, alongside the banks of the River Severn. Stags brought a good following of about 200, with most standing behind one goal, and the rest, including me, in the stand. The view from the stand was reasonable, in line with the edge of the penalty area and it enabled us to pass comment on some poor offside decisions against the Stags in the second half.
Mansfield were unchanged from the team that lost to Exeter, with the exception of young on-loan goalkeeper Chris Adamson from West Brom, replacing the injured Ian Bowling.
Stags needed to start positively and they did exactly that as they dominated the first half, creating a number of good chances. The first chance fell to David Kerr who headed just wide from 10 yards. Tony Lormor was presented, from a Tony Ford cross, with what seemed a simple header but, completely unmarked, he headed straight at the keeper. Steve Harper and Lee Williams both had cracking shots from about 25 yards that stung the keeper`s hands, and David Linighan headed just wide from a corner. Chris Adamson in the Stags` goal had very little to do, apart from one save when a Shrewsbury player got free of his marker in the box, but shot straight at the keeper as the keeper stood up well. Mansfield were well on top, with Kerr, Williams and Clarke really bossing the midfield, and we clearly deserved to be a couple of goals in front.
At half-time we were told that Halifax were beating Scarborough. In fact this turned out to be incorrect - why do announcers get so many scores wrong?
For the first 15 minutes of the second half, Mansfield continued to dominate and looked very comfortable in defence, but then the whole game changed. Completely out the blue, the ball fell to Shrewsbury striker Kerrigan in the box, and in a flash the ball was in the net. It was a surprise and ultimately one from which the Stags couldn`t recover. But it wasn`t for lack of trying. The game now opened out as Shrewsbury re-gained some of the confidence lost following a 6-1 defeat last Saturday, and failure to win in 9 games. Christie came on to replace Ford, with Williams moving to right wing-back, and Peacock moving back into midfield. Christie looked lively and soon had claims for a penalty, but it was right in front of us, and it was a clear dive. But in the same incident, the defender also fell over, and Christie picked himself up and smacked the ball against the top of the bar. Christie continued to look lively and had another penalty claim turned down - this time it did look a clear foul, but it was turned down. Perhaps had Christie not dived so blatantly earlier, he might have had more chance of getting this one. But the booking of Christie in the second incident, when he was clearly fouled was unfair. Stags had another penalty appeal turned down when a Shrewsbury defender handled in the box - the referee seemingly deciding that it was ball-to-hand instead of hand-to-ball. But the greatest misjustice against the Stags came when a goal was disallowed for offside as Lormor (or Christie?) poked the ball into an empty net. I was absolutely in line and there was no way it was offside. One feels that a goal for the Stags at that point could quite easily have been followed by a winner.
Stags` new goalkeeper gave a very accomplished performance and was called upon for a top class save when a Shrewsbury striker seemed certain to score on the break near the end. His handling of crosses was good, and his kicking, apart from one straight into touch, was accurate. The defence was generally solid with Linighan, Peters and Willis looking a good unit. Harper had a disappointing game on the left, but Tony Ford looked more dangerous on the right until he was replaced. The whole midfield was very much improved from the Exeter display. Clarke and Kerr were perhaps unfortunate to be replaced, by Walker and Schofield. Up front, Peacock and Lormor held the line well, though Lormor had a poor day in the air, consistently losing out to the Shrewsbury central defence, and missing the easy chance in the first half.
At the end of the game, it was at least nice to see the Stags` players applauded off by the travelling fans.
So yet another 3 points have slipped away, and this time it looks terminal. In fact if Swansea win on Tuesday or Thursday, any lingering hope will finally disappear. But if they fail to do that, then it will all go to the final day of the season, though even then it would take a miracle for Stags to make it.
Actually, it is possible for Stags to finish beneath Plymouth, Exeter and Darlington and hence in the bottom half of the table.
After the game, I made my way to the hotel where my girlfriend and I were staying for the night. During the evening we strolled along the banks of the river, and noticed that one of the many balls that had been kicked over the low stand and into the river during the game, was still in the river, a few yards from the bank.