EVENING POST REPORT
STAGS STILL HAVE PRIDE TO PLAY FOR
Evening Post, 30 April 2003
Tranmere Rovers 3 v 1 Mansfield Town
It has been two years since I reported on a Mansfield Town game that meant absolutely nothing and I cannot help feeling I am a bit out of practice.
The interim period had been a desperate search for points and watching the team now only reinforced the things that ultimately cost them their Division Two status this season.
Of course, all remedies are too little, too late, so it was no real surprise they conceded two late goals to surrender a point that would have ensured they didn't finish bottom of the table with a defeat against Northampton on Saturday.
But that would perhaps be doing Keith Curle's young side a bit of a disservice against a side who look like getting 80 points, a tally that Forest will not eclipse, yet Tranmere will not be able to extend their season into the play-offs.
Stags battled well, particularly in the second half and even looked dangerous when they initiated their own attacks against a side who will be among the favourites, well, mine anyway, to make it to promotion next season.
They certainly weren't disgraced but a couple of goals at the end gave the result a disappointing look.
Now, where have we heard that before?
Oh yes, I remember, it's their Division Two epitaph. That's where I read it.
I had forgotten what bizarre atmospheres these matches that don't matter generate and, with thousands taking advantage of free admission after Saturday's rooftop drama, it took on the guise of a cross between a testimonial and a schoolboy international.
I don't mind saying that I hated it and it would be fine by me if the Nationwide League rang up Keith Haslam and his Northampton counterpart today and suggested they could start the 2003-04 Division Three season early by playing for points on Saturday.
I am sure Curle would agree, but there were some signs that will fill him with optimism and give him plenty to think about as he turns his attention to the summer.
One was the performance of Andy White, who played as a lone striker after Junior Mendes was sacrificed for an extra midfielder halfway through the first half.
Surrounded by a colossal Tranmere defence, he battled gamely and demonstrated the sort of desire and irritability that could be such an asset if he managed to do it on a more consistent basis.
Liam Lawrence bounced back from the virus that kept him away from Saturday's debacle and managed to get on the scoresheet and the young defence, with Jake Buxton emerging from Alex John-Baptiste's shadow with a commanding show in the back line, emerged with great credit.
All of this will provide plenty of food for thought and, despite the obvious disappointment at falling through the trap door, the future does look good.
With the players Curle has already - plus a couple of handy additions - another straight return, this time in the right direction, should be a realistic aim.
But now is the time for the players to reward the people who have put up with everything this season and turn in a performance to gladden their supporters' hearts before they set off on their summer holidays.
And a gesture of good will on the part of the club, perhaps in a reduction in admission prices, wouldn't go amiss either.
The rebuilding job starts now and there was evidence in the second half that they have the raw materials already in place.
All we need now is the chance to get on with it and, as far as I am concerned, as I am sure Curle and his players would agree, it really cannot come soon enough.
Latest | April 2003