Southend 1 Mansfield 0
Mansfield came to Southend with no points and no goals from 2 league games, and ended it with no points and no goals from 3 games. But the scoreline did not paint a true picture because this was a fine performance from the Stags and one which clearly deserved all 3 points. Southend scored early, after 16 minutes, slightly against the run of play, and then held possession for about 10 minutes. But for at least 75 minutes of this game, the Stags were completely dominant, without finding the killer touch. This was conceded afterwards by Southend manager Alan Little, but it is points that Mansfield need now, not praise from the opposition.
Mansfield made just one change from the side that was unlucky to lose at home to Cheltenham, with trialist Mark Blake taking over from suspended David Kerr in midfield. Gary Tallon remained at left back, with Hassell at right back, in a flat back four. Blake and Thomas were in central midfield with Williams and Roscoe on the right and left side of midfield respectively.
Considering Stags early season position, there was an impressive turnout of Stags fans with about 200 spread out in seating behind the goal. The view was not as good as last season when Stags fans were on the opposite side of the ground, and I had been level with the bye-line. Roots Hall is an all-seater stadium which has a pleasant feel to it. This is more than can be said for the area surrounding the ground which can best be described as a run-down slum.
Mansfield had slightly the better of the opening exchanges, and it was a real surprise when after 16 minutes, an early cross from the right hand side by Neville Roach seemed to catch out the Stags defence, and former York striker Neil Tolson nipped in to slip the ball past Barry Richardson. It was a soft goal to concede and ultimately cost the Stags very dear. Southend briefly took control of the game for the only time, but then for the remaining 20 minutes of the half, Mansfield pushed forward without looking particularly threatening. The exception was a wonderful strike from Andy Roscoe from 18 yards that dipped late and seemed certain to find it`s way under the bar, until home keeper Mel Capleton tipped it over. Capleton will be remembered by Stags fans for his fantastic performance at Field Mill in April in a 0-0 draw after Southend were reduced to 10 men. At half time, Stags fans reflected that they were unlucky to be losing.
Who can have anticipated that Mansfield would so totally dominate the second half? But they did, and it was a crying shame that they couldn`t convert an absolute host of chances to come away with 3 points. But in the end it was wayward finishing that presented Southend with a win they did not deserve. Indeed after the match, Southend boss Alan Little admitted that his side had not played well, and that if Mansfield had had composure in front of goal, his side would have lost. It was also significant that at the final whistle, whilst Stags were given a standing ovation by the travelling fans, the home fans were almost too embarrassed to cheer their team off.
As for those missed chances in the second half, well of the ones I can remember, Wayne Thomas had 3 shots, none of which hit the target; Williams shot wide from the left hand side after trickily beating several defenders; substitute Boulding unleashed a fantastic snap shot just wide, after he seemed to be heading nowhere; several free-kicks were wasted; and Lee Peacock struck a low free-kick straight at Capleton. But as time ran out it became clear that Mansfield were not going to score their first goal of the season in 360 minutes.
The frustration of the Stags players and fans was evident at the end. A home win next Saturday against Carlisle is clearly vital, and if Stags can just find a killer instinct to go with sound defence and positive midfield, then surely it will come.
Mel Capleton, in goal for Southend, put in an excellent performance, and so did former Stags defender Simon Coleman, who was voted man of the match for the home side. For the Stags, Barry Richardson had really nothing to do in goal (apart from pick the ball out of the net for the only goal). I did notice in the pre-match warm-up and during the game that he kicks the ball a huge distance, as far as any keeper I have ever seen. One kick nearly caused embarrassment for Mel Capleton in the Southend goal who clutched it nearly in his own net. The whole defence was excellent, especially young Bobby Hassell at right back, and Neil Richardson who was completely dominant in central defence, and was marginally my man of the match. Tallon and Linighan also played well in defence. The midfield was better and more positive than it has been previously. Mark Blake looked very solid in the tackle, Roscoe had by far his best game for the Stags and whipped in some fine crosses, and Lee Williams also put in some decent crosses. Thomas looked better than in previous games and sprayed some good passes around though seemed prone to losing the ball in crucial positions. Up front, Lee Peacock had a quiet first half, but looked much better in the second half. Lormor wasn`t given enough service and was replaced in the second half by Michael Boulding who was very lively and created trouble for the home defence.
Mansfield will now be looking for a reasonable performance at home to Nottingham Forest, and then it will be crucial to pick up 3 points at home to Carlisle next Saturday.
Man of the match: Neil Richardson
Barry Richardson 6,
Hassell 8, Tallon 7, Linighan 7, Neil Richardson 8,
Williams 6, Blake 7, Thomas 6, Roscoe 7,
Lormor 6, Peacock 6.
Subs: Boulding 7 (for Lormor).
Not used: Tye, Allardyce, Sisson, Asher.