EVENING POST REPORT AND REACTION
CURLE: THREE POINTS WERE 'UP FOR GRABS'
Evening Post, 07 April 2003
Stags boss Keith Curle was left shaking his head at his team's inability to hit the target after they slipped deeper into relegation trouble with a 1-0 defeat against Port Vale on Saturday.
Stags now find themselves four points from safety with only five games remaining. Three of those are away from home and the Stags have only won three times on their travels all season.
It was an afternoon for Curle to forget on a personal level as, having returned to the starting line-up, he deflected John Durnin's shot past Kevin Pilkington for the only goal of the game.
But, while admitting the performance was much better than the 5-1 mauling by Peterborough last week, it was his side's inability to take their chances that cost them.
He said: "There were three points up for grabs and really we did everything but score.
"The ball was always bobbling around their box but often it would go straight into their keeper's arms
"And then they got a lucky goal. We only half-cleared it and the lad had a speculative effort.
"My first instinct was to let it go through but I could reach it and tried to clear, but it hit my leg and went in.
"I thought they responded magnificently after last week. The selection of their passes was better but, in the end, we just couldn't get the ball in the net."
Stags travel to Bristol City on Saturday to take on the side that won the LDV Vans Trophy with a 2-0 win over Carlisle yesterday.
Curle now says that, even if they win at Ashton Gate, they will still need something from their trips to Blackpool and Tranmere if they don't win their remaining home games against Barnsley and Northampton.
He said: "Obviously, the games are now running out and I was confident of winning the last two games and being six points better off.
"Now we are in a situation where we have to at least win one of our away games as well as the two we have got left here.
"It was encouraging because it would have been easy for the players to have gone into their shells and, now, they are going to have to grow up quickly and play like men.
"They won plenty of balls and got it into the right areas but, again, we lacked a bit of quality in the final third.
"We did try to play the right way but we were unable to break through.
"We have lost six points that I thought we would get, but we have to go on our travels and get results and take the positive things out of the way we played on Saturday."
DEFEAT LEAVES STAGS A HUGE TASK
Evening Post, 07 April 2003
Mansfield Town 0 v 1 Port Vale
Being four points adrift of safety and having scored just one goal from open play in their last six games, a rope and a pickaxe could become essential components of the Mansfield Town kit for their last five games.
Maintaining their Second Division status was always going to be the first target after limping over the finishing line last year and it has looked a difficult task for the majority of the season.
Now it really does appear to be a mountain and, among the followers at least, there seems to be an air of concession as they contemplate a return to the familiar haunts of the Nationwide basement.
The anger at last week's capitulation against Peterborough was substituted by resignation.
The performance was better and they were undone by a bit of bad luck, but they didn't have enough when push came to shove and that is something they need to gain if they are to take ten points from the final 15.
They created more chances but their finishing was regularly timid, perhaps an indication of the pressure on relatively young shoulders and, in the end, as always in the beautiful game, the scoreline spoke for itself.
There was plenty of endeavour but they huffed and puffed and were unable to blow the Vale house down, although, as Bruce Forsyth might have said, they were "so much better than last week."
In the face of the disappointment of losing at home to fellow strugglers in successive weeks at such a crucial time of the season, gloom is an understandable condition.
Two weeks ago, the equation appeared to be so simple. Win the four games at home and they would be safe and the trips to Bristol City, Blackpool and Tranmere did not appear to come into it.
Consequently, the realisation that Stags have scored 14 goals in the three games they have played against that trio didn't enter many heads either.
Now they probably have to win two of those and their remaining home games against Barnsley and Northampton.
And, for that to happen, the nerves have to be left at home and they have to take the opportunities that fall their way.
Every season, there is a team that puts together a run when they seem to be dead and buried and that is the examination that Keith Curle and his charges have to pass if the stay outside Division Three is going to be extended beyond a solitary season.
It's certainly not impossible but the difficulty cannot be over-emphasised.
But it would only take one result to get people believing again and the trip to Bristol on Saturday is the most important game the club has faced for a decade.
There were landmark occasions last season but that was when Division Two represented a promised land that few among them had visited.
Now they have had a nibble of that particular sandwich and, with Stags fans desperate to extinguish the "only little" prefix that so many attach to the club's name, it would be a real blow to be revisiting Carlisle and Exeter.
Without a win at Ashton Gate on Saturday even my optimism might wane a little bit.
And, so, to the constant theme of the season. They have to pick themselves up and string some results together, using the vocal encouragement of their following to spur them on.
Going-down prophecies have to be suspended for a couple of weeks at least.
It doesn't look rosy but it isn't over yet.
Three points on Saturday could reinstall some of that belief and prepare us all for a thrilling end to the season, so give them a chance, eh?
You can only conduct a post mortem when you have a body in the morgue.
STAGS ALL SET FOR KEEGAN
Evening Post, 05 April 2003
Mansfield Town will be getting a visit from Kevin Keegan, Nicolas Anelka and Robbie Fowler in the summer, after arranging a pre-season friendly against Manchester City at Field Mill.
The match has been arranged for Saturday, July 19, three weeks before the start of next season. Stags manager Keith Curle made 171 appearances for the Maine Road club and the match will come just a few weeks before City begin playing at their new home, the city of Manchester Stadium, that hosted the athletics events at last year's Commonwealth Games.
Despite the fact the Stags still have plenty of work to do to avoid relegation to Division Three, Curle was delighted to have arranged the game.
He said: "I'm delighted that Kevin has agreed to bring his team here because it will be a good test for us and the quality of players they have could mean we have a big crowd."
Stags will also be looking to bring another big club in for their pre-season build-up in preparation for the 2003-04 campaign that kicks off on August 9.
Last year, they played home games against Nottingham Forest and Derby and also entertained Spanish First Division side Alaves.
The season before saw them beat a strong Sunderland side 3-1 and lose to a full-strength Middlesbrough by the odd goal in five. This friendly is believed to be tied in with the deal that saw goalkeeper Nicky Weaver leave Field Mill for Maine Road in 1997.
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