LOWEST OF THE LOW
LOWEST OF THE LOW
Evening Post, 01 May 2003
Any team that finds itself in the drop zone after 46 games can have little complaint about their fate and some moments in a season stand out as times when the writing seemed on the wall. IAN WILKERSON picks his five lowlights of a turbulent campaign at Mansfield Town and discusses why they resulted in them falling into Division Three...
Everyone who has watched Mansfield Town on a regular basis this season will have pointed to certain times when they thought the task was beyond them.
Relegation is a disappointment and, now they cannot force themselves above that all-important line across the league table, it is time to conduct the post mortem.
Most of the reasons why they are down have been well-documented and need just a glance at the league table to see the reasons why.
But there have been the odd goals and events this season that have stood out and symbolised the deficiencies.
I'm sure you could name plenty but here are my top, or bottom, five.
The first episode of injury-time misery
IT was a baking hot day at Adams Park, Wycombe, back in August and it was here that Stags fans were introduced to the disappointment that comes with letting a result slip at the death.
With five minutes left, Stags were heading for a 2-2 draw when Wayne Corden crashed one in the top corner from 25 yards, sparking delirium among the travelling faithful.
After a win against Plymouth on the opening day and an encouraging 3-2 defeat at future champions Wigan, it seemed they might be all right after all.
But then, their inability to defend a long throw, delivered by former loanee Richard Harris was exposed and McCarthy nodded the ball home to claim a point and sparked a run of six straight defeats.
Stuart Watkiss made it his mission to cut such generosity out but it was a problem that haunted his successor as well.
In the end, Stags dropped 11 points because of goals in the last five minutes.
Take a look at the league table and do the maths yourself. Going to Yeovil would have been someone else's problem.
The difference is exposed
Any informed football connoisseur will tell you that the biggest indication of the difference between divisions is in the quality of the strikers that are on show and, in the space of two weeks, Stags found this out to their cost.
Conceding five at home to Crewe, four against QPR and then six at Oldham, all in the space of a fortnight, almost made the club a laughing stock but the scorelines did not really tell the whole story.
There was no escaping the fact that all were heavy defeats but the problems ran deeper.
A pattern began to emerge where other teams were needing only a half-chance to find the Stags net while, at the other end, Mansfield needed to earn every opportunity and didn't quite possess the same cutting edge.
A return of 64 goals so far is certainly respectable but they weren't looking dangerous and the full extent of the difference between the likes of Rob Hulse and Paul Furlong, who five or six years ago was the subject of a transfer worth more than £2million, was a real wake-up call.
If anyone was fooled that Stags could follow Rotherham and Brighton and attain successive promotions, they were woken up like a teenager on National Service.
From then on, fifth from bottom was always going to be a good season.
November 23, 2002
NO one who was at Field Mill for the game against Bristol City will ever forget it, particularly Watkiss because it ultimately cost him his job.
Stags were 4-2 up against promotion challengers Bristol City and were playing some of their best football of the season.
But they fell apart though when City netted a penalty with three minutes to go, conceding another two in injury-time and eventually losing 5-4.
It was, without doubt, the most significant game of the season because, perhaps for the first time, if left us all thinking what the team had to do to get a result.
Watkiss eventually went after a limp 4-2 defeat at Port Vale the following week but the game against Bristol City made you think that it would not be their year after all.
They looked doomed and the result did knock the stuffing out of them and made us all realise that we couldn't be confident with a two-goal lead in the dying minutes.
That led to a tense atmosphere around the ground and that never really left, even when they got three wins on the bounce when Keith Curle came to the club.
In hindsight, they didn't really recover from it.
Derbies that became too important
The appointment of Keith Curle and, perhaps more importantly, the three wins that arrived sharply as soon as he walked through the door, brought hope that a recovery was not impossible.
But, almost as an aside to the cause of keeping the Stags out of the Third Division, there was the desire from the supporters to beat Chesterfield, their arch-rivals, and Notts County, previously a big game because of geography and Notts' air of superiority.
They did both. The derby win at Saltergate came with an injury-time header from Liam Lawrence and former striker Shayne Bradley's sending off just minutes after entering as a substitute made it particularly delicious for the Stags faithful.
But that was January 18 and they didn't win another away game all season.
Then, the Notts County defeat gave the Stags a chance to crow as they leapfrogged Billy Dearden's side and there were plenty bombarding the airwaves to tell all and sundry about how wonderful life is.
Dearden's team reacted by going on a run that ensured their safety before Easter and Stags have won only two games since that success on February 8.
They were highlights, yes, but, rather than the foundation to build a survival quest upon, they will be looked back on brief sunny spells.
Only Chesterfield being relegated would ease the pain because it is the Stags fans who aren't singing anymore.
Four wins out of four? no problem.
At the beginning of March, Stags sat on 40 points with home games remaining against Peterborough, Port Vale, Barnsley and Northampton, all of them in the mire with the Stags.
Four wins would be enough to give them the 52 points that would ensure their survival and that became the quest and there seemed to be an underlying feeling that it wouldn't be a problem.
But that was really all over when Peterborough came to Field Mill and played them off the park, cantering to a 5-1 victory.
From that moment on, it is easy to conclude that the ghost was up as Stags were never able to recover and still, after Tuesday's defeat at Tranmere, they have won just one of their last ten games and gained only two draws in that time.
When push came to shove they were found wanting and that is what cost them.
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