Southend United 1 Mansfield Town 2
Stags dominate and deserve their victory
by Martin Shaw at Roots Hall.
Unlike the match at Brighton 3 days earlier, this was not a game I expected the Stags to win. But in the end if Southend had snatched an equaliser in the dying minutes, it would have been very rough justice. For after an opening 15 minutes in which the home side were on top, the Stags were in complete control and rarely can have dominated a game so much away from Field Mill. In the end, goals from Gary Tallon just before half time and Steve Harper just after half time won the game, after Southend had taken an early lead through their danger man David Whyte. A great save from Ian Bowling and another near miss in the Stags box both in the final 5 minutes enabled Mansfield to win 3 league games on the trot for the second time this season.
My brother, Neil, and I met just off the M25 at 6.00 and drove the final 20 miles to Southend together munching our sandwiches on the way. Arriving near the ground we were surprised at the number of shops, pubs and houses that were bordered up. The whole area was remarkably run-down and is perhaps awaiting redevelopment, but is currently very depressing. The same cannot be said of the ground. On asking where the seats were for the away fans, we were informed by a steward that Roots Hall is an all seater stadium. Certainly by 3rd division standards it is a good ground though it shouldn`t be forgotten that Southend were recently in the First Division. We saw Keith Haslam arriving (not with Alan Meale this time) and he made his way to the director`s box after sharing a joke with a steward though I couldn`t hear what about. We made our way to the away seating which was behind the goal and just along the side. I always hate watching from the behind the goal as it is impossible to get a feel for what is happening at the far end, so we sat as far as we could along the side, which was actually directly in the line with the goal-line.
There were about 90 Stags fans in the ground who made quite a lot of noise, and created more atmosphere than the home fans. However the 50th rendition of “Come and get yer peanuts” was a bit boring. The home fans were very muted until the final 15 minutes when they started calling for the manager`s head. This is always a good sign for visiting fans. Among the Stags fans was John Doolan, obviously coming to see his old team-mates since Barnet did not have game. At half-time a number of Stags fans were chatting with Doolan. Neil and I reflected whether some of these were the same fans who abused him verbally at the Barnet game at the end of April, both before and after he was harshly sent off. However verbal abuse of ex-Stags players is a subject which I won`t go into here, suffice to say that the Stags never benefit, and it usually leads to that player scoring against us, or saving a penalty.
Mansfield were unchanged from the team that started against Brighton, so Clarke and Christie, the heroes of Saturday again started on the substitutes bench. This was what I had expected.
Southend provided several scares for the Mansfield defence in the opening minutes and took the lead when David Whyte nipped in ahead of the defence and lobbed the ball back over his own shoulder and over Bowling into the net from about 10 yards. Bowling was caught out between coming for the ball and staying on his line, and has to take some of the blame for the goal. I can recall other similar occasions when he has been caught out like this.
Bowling redeemed himself with a few good saves in the opening 15 minutes, but Mansfield also had an early chance when Peacock broke and his shot was pushed away by the Southend keeper just past the post.
For the remainder of the half, Mansfield piled on the pressure and had about 6 or 7 reasonable chances to equalise. These included a free header by Lormor which lacked pace, and various other shots that rained in. Because it was at the far end of the ground, it was often difficult to see who had the chance and how close they were. But, just as they had done at Brighton, Mansfield found an equaliser shortly before the break. The ball got caught in a scrap on the edge of the box, and suddenly fell for Tallon who lashed it low under the keeper and into the middle of the net. This brought tremendous relief as it had seemed that all the pressure would come to nothing.
The Stags started the second half brightly and soon took the lead on 49 minutes. And it was goal that divided Neil and I as to whether it was a fluke. Harper collected the ball on the left wing and from the diagonal of the box, floated the ball over the keeper and into the empty net. Certainly this time we had a perfect view of the goal. Neil shouted “what a great goal” whereas I just shouted “goal” as I thought it had been an intended cross. Maybe we`ll find out later if Harper gives an interview. Either way, it was a lead the Stags richly deserved.
The Stags comfortably held onto the lead and didn`t look like conceding an equaliser, while playing some neat football. There were not many chances at either end but Mansfield certainly had the balance of play. As the game moved into the final 5 minutes the Southend fans were either starting to leave or calling for the manager`s head.
But out of the blue, David Whyte nearly conjured a goal for Southend with a shot similar to that for his goal, which this time Bowling tipped away magnificently from his top left hand corner. In the final minute a scramble in the Mansfield box produced a very close shave for the Stags which resulted in a goal kick, but exactly what happened it was impossible for us to see at the far end of the ground.
So overall, this was a very good performance by Mansfield, which resulted in a richly deserved win, but which was against a very poor looking Southend team clearly lacking in confidence. It was difficult to pick a man of the match since it was a real team effort but I would just plump for Mark Peters, who was commanding alongside Schofield and Hackett in central defence. Ian Bowling had an excellent game even though he wasn`t called on often, but was he partially responsible for Southend`s goal. Schofield, Tallon and Peacock were probably just about the pick of the rest. Christie and Clarke came on in the second half but didn`t have the same dramatic impact as they did at Brighton.
After the game there was much hugging between the players and it was clear how much the win meant to everyone. The win pushed the Stags into equal third position on points - the highest position for some time, and just 3 points behind the leaders. However coming up are 2 tough games at Field Mill against teams with good away records.