CURLE ON BLACKPOOL GAME
Stags hopes hang by a thread
MANSFIELD Town head for Tranmere Rovers this Saturday (3pm) with their Second Division future hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Despite failing to win either of their crucial Easter fixtures, amazingly Stags are still clinging on as fellow strugglers also faltered.
A 1-0 defeat at home to Barnsley on Saturday was followed by a breathtaking 3-3 draw at Blackpool on Monday with Andy White scoring what seemed to be a priceless winner four minutes from time - with all the other scores going for Stags - only to concede a last gasp equaliser.
Mansfield WILL finally go down at Tranmere on Saturday if they fail to win.
Realistically they need to win both their last games and then rely on results for Chesterfield, Cheltenham and Huddersfield.
They can afford for Cheltenham and Chesterfield to pick up one more point each or Huddersfield to draw twice.
A win for any of those clubs will end it.
It is certainly a tall order. But while it is mathematically possible, there will be no white flag waved at Field Mill.
"People who get to know John Gannon and myself will find that where there's a will, there's a way - and we are both very willing characters," said player-manager Keith Curle.
"The fat lady may have the song sheet out but she hasn't started singing yet.
"It's definitely not over yet and we have to keep the lads focussed and bouyant. We have to go out and get the results which will give us the best opportunity of staying up which means winning two football matches.
"We have to keep the belief and keep confidence levels up."
The performance at Blackpool was certainly the best Stags have produced in weeks.
And two other big plusses at the weekend were sparkling debuts for teenage central defenders Alex John-Baptiste and Jake Buxton.
Stags certainly appeared to have clinched three vital ponts at Blackpool until they were sting by Scott Taylor's last ditch leveller.
"I would love to say I thought we'd won it but there is a culture of conceding late goals at this club that I am in the process of changing," said Curle.
"If matches only lasted 85 minutes we would be in mid-table by now.
"Players have to understand it's the little things that go on within the 90 minutes that make up the whole game.
"If people give 100 per cent all week then they will find it easier to give 100 per cent on a Saturday.
"At the moment certain people are not giving 100 per cent during the week and that then creeps into matches. Slowly but surely I am changing it."
He added: "All I could feel was disbelief and anger when we let that late goal in.
"We had taken the game to them and tried to pass the ball in the right manner. A lot of it came from the players which was pleasing, particularly in the second half.
"Things were not sticking in the final third so I changed the strikers which paid off.
"That was the first 45 minutes I have had from Colin Larkin since just after I joined and he looked more like the player I know he can be.
"The same went for Andy White who showed he can fulfil the potential I know he has, not just in scoring but also in his general play.
"Our supporters could tell the effort, commitment and desire to play the right way was there, culminating in three goals away from home. But we are obviously disappointed we didn't win.
"There was nothing major between the sides, just the width of a crossbar on two occasions when they twice scored from hitting the bar.
"It does disappoint me though that when their free kick's took a deflection and Kevin Pilkington has pushed it up against the bar, there were three Blackpool players waiting to touch it home while our defenders were still watching Kevin's save."
However, Curle was full of praise for his two teenage central defenders.
"Alex and Jake were a credit to themselves and the upbringing they have had," he said.
"They have gone in and grown up from just being boys. Now they know the task ahead of them as men."
Another disappoingting show from 19-goal striker Iyseden Christie on Saturday saw him out of the 16 to face Blackpool.
All Curle would say was: "I pick the team," and added: "No, Iyseden has no injury."
Defender Adam Eaton has delayed his hernia operation until the end of the season in case he can still contribute in any way to the cause.
Battling through the pain barrier, Eaton was superb against Barnsley but unable to play again so soon at Blackpool.
Stags travel to Tranmere knowing they gave the Prentin Park club a 6-1 hiding at Field Mill back in October.
And, if Bristol City managed to beat Cardiff City last night, it would have ended the Mersey club's play-off ambitions, leaving little to play for on Saturday (THIS IS NOT TRUE - MARTIN).
Australian midfielder Marcus Stergiopoulos (27) has impressed on trial over the last couple of weeks and should make his home debut in tomorrow afternoon's final Avon Insurance League reserve game at home to Darlington (Wednesday, 3pm).
The reserves drew 2-2 at Scarborough last week with goals by Chris Beardsley and Nick Evans.
STAGS RUE LAST-GASP EQUALISER
BY IAN WILKERSON, Evening Post, 22 April 2003
Distraught Mansfield assistant manager John Gannon could not hide the disappointment today after Stags watched a Division Two lifeline slip in a pulsating 3-3 draw at Blackpool.
The Stags conceded another last-minute goal yesterday when substitute Scott Taylor headed home from a corner. Had Mansfield held on for a win at Bloomfield Road, they would have been three points from safety with two games to play.
Now, though, they have to hope Chesterfield lose both their games, Cheltenham gain no more than a point and Huddersfield no more than two, while Stags beat both Tranmere and already relegated Northampton.
Stags took the lead through Jamie Clarke's first league goal but fell behind to two Matthew Blinkhorn efforts, the first after a free-kick had been moved forward after Liam Lawrence had prevented it being taken quickly.
But Stags were back on terms when substitute Colin Larkin netted just 38 seconds after coming on, and looked to have taken the points when Andy White volleyed home with four minutes remaining.
But Gannon was left to rue the fact that, yet again, Stags had seen points slip by with a goal from a set piece in the dying seconds.
"To come out in the way we did in the second half, when we put on such a wonderful display, and then to concede another goal in the dying minutes really hurts a great deal," he said.
"Earlier, they had a free-kick and I think it was just an instinctive reaction on Liam's part to stick a leg out and the referee then decided to move the ball forward.
"But we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We just created our own bad luck again.
"It is just bitterly disappointing."
The double substitution of Larkin and White changed the match after Junior Mendes and Craig Mitchell had little joy before the break.
Gannon said: "It was a terrific goal from Colin.
"We thought they were edgy about him and Andy coming on because they created plenty of problems.
"Blackpool became very nervous and we carved out a couple of great chances.
"Liam had a header that he really should have scored from but yet again it all turned sour."
A healthy turnout of more than 1,000 Stags fans saw excellent performances from young defenders Alex John-Baptiste and Jake Buxton, who made his full debut.
And Gannon reaffirmed his message that the team would not give up until it was mathematically impossible for them to avoid the drop.
"Young Alex and Jake did exceptionally well in the second half and they were two huge positives to come out of the match," he added.
"The crowd were absolutely magnificent and we really gave them something to shout about with our attitude after half-time.
"But we are still in there and fighting for those two wins. Results went in our favour yesterday so hopefully they will do so again."
FORTUNE DESERTS BATTLING STAGS
Evening Post, 22 April 2003
Blackpool 3 v 3 Mansfield Town
While walking in a typical British seaside downpour along Blackpool's Golden Mile yesterday, I resisted the temptation to visit one of the numerous fortune-tellers.
My missus once went to one and was told she would have four kids so I have to admit it wasn't hard to walk past in case we received any more shocks.
As far as the Stags are concerned, there never seems a need for a clairvoyant. It's very predictable.
Watching a makeshift countdown clock on the undeveloped side of Bloomfield Road, you just knew that their hard work would not get the reward it merited by the time it reached zero.
The Tangerines were bound to get a last-gasp equaliser.
A corner. Here we go. Chipped into a crowded six-yard box and then the crushing sight of a bulging net and the sound of cheers among a home following who really couldn't give two hoots now whether their team wins or loses.
Stags have been used to the disappointment of such goals this season and, should they lose their Second Division status, which is now likely, that will be seen as the reason.
It was a kick between the legs because, in the second half, they had put in their best showing away from home all season.
After weeks of ineffective attacking, they finally looked like a force.
Andy White was a real pain in the neck for the Blackpool defence and took his goal very well and Colin Larkin prompted thoughts of how they could have been safe by now had it not been for his hamstring, when he netted 38 seconds after coming on as a substitute.
At the other end, their luck was wretched. Twice there were calls for a Russian linesman as the ball hit the underside of the bar but, from Stags' point of view, ended up the wrong side of the line.
Such things tend to happen at the wrong end of the table but the 1,000 or so Stags fans who made a weekend of it can be proud of the showing their team put in.
While no doubt all supporters will be looking for divine inspiration to save the team, an objective viewpoint will see them want the same levels of endeavour and effort from the team that they got yesterday.
They could ask for no more.
It doesn't take a degree in dead-hard sums to work out that the Stags' position is tenuous but they showed on their trip to the seaside that they are a team who, had it not been for some shocking defending this season, could have used the league table to demonstrate what regular followers already know.
They can be a match for anyone in Division Two, although it is unlikely they will be given the opportunity to demonstrate it next season.
Now, there are no options left but to go all out and then keep those fingers crossed.
Looking beyond the immediacy of the next two games, there is hope because they have got a good young side.
The emergence of Alex John-Baptiste and Jake Buxton, who had a fine debut, could be the spark that brings a bit of cheer for the future in the same way that Lawrence, Disley and Williamson burst onto the scene at the same ground a couple of years ago.
Where that could all lead to would really need the benefit of a crystal ball and the psychic powers to interpret the messages.
But it's now onto Tranmere and, while the odds look stacked against Mansfield, a similar performance to yesterday's would give them a chance of fulfilling their half of the bargain.
And a stirring performance would provide a bit of optimism for next season, whichever division they end up playing in.
For the rest of the week, though, we can only reflect on ifs, buts and maybes.
Nothing really changes when you are watching the Stags and no regular needs telling.
Latest | April 2003