DOMINANT STAGS BEATEN IN OPENER
Kidderminster Harriers 2 - 1 Mansfield Town
Henriksen 15, 74 (pen)
Att: 3,180 (910 from Mansfield, plus approx 100 let-in free)
Martin Shaw and Jeff Barnes at Aggborough
The Stags were beaten 2-1 at Kidderminster on a scorching afternoon in front of a large and noisy away following. Mansfield were dominant throughout and created a host of chances, whereas the home side scored from their only two real chances of the game. It spoke volumes that Kidderminster's man of the match was their keeper Stuart Brock, who kept out chance after chance.
Stags manager Keith Curle had a surprise for the travelling fans by leaving Rhys Day on the bench and handing debuts to central defenders Dave Artell and Luke Dimech, both of whom are on short term contracts. With Adam Eaton and Tony Vaughan both injured, there were no other real surprises in the team selection with Lee Williamson being preferred to Craig Disley.
Mansfield made a very positive start and pushed forward right from the off. On 8 minutes, their first effort came as Hassell jinked his way into the box and created a chance for himself, which he pulled wide of the near post with his left foot, to his obvious annoyance. Four minutes later, a defensive mistake from the Harriers let in Larkin one-on-one with the keeper from a tight angle. Larkin's shot was on target, but the keeper did well to save it.
But on 15 minutes, Harriers scored from their first meaningful attack. A ball was played over the Stags defence and Bo Henriksen was free to stride forward and plant a left foot cross-shot into the far right hand corner of the net, with Pilkington a spectator. It was a great goal, which he celebrated in front of the Stags fans.
On 23 minutes, Corden cut in from the left and played a ball through to Larkin, who turned and shot in one movement but the keeper again saved low to his left. On the half hour, Stags had 3 consecutive corners and could not force the ball home despite goalmouth scrambles. On 37 minutes we noted a header from Wayne Corden: possibly the first of his career! A minute later, Christie worked himself an angle on the left hand side of the box and crashed a shot which the keeper pushed away high to his left. It was classic Christie, made from nothing, denied by a great save. From the resulting corner from the right, Dimech put a downward header just wide of the post. Just another minute later, Williamson jinked into the box following a good run but the ball got stuck under his foot and he put a tame effort over the bar. On 41 minutes, Lawrence had a free-kick from 25 yards, in a similar position to his goal at Cheltenham last season. The kick surprised the keeper and somehow the ball bounced off his knees, just wide, for a corner. From the corner, Curtis shot wide. On the stroke of half time, Lawrence played a great ball from inside his own half which Larkin ran on to, and he turned and shot over. Lawrence sunk to his knees with disappointment just in front of the Stags fans. The half ended with Stags embarrassingly on top, having had 5 shots on target and 4 off target, to the home side's 1 on target and 2 off target; plus a corner count 6-1 in the Stags favour.
Half time 1-0
Lawrence had been booked on 21 minutes for a show of petulance when a free-kick was given against him, and he was warned by the referee shortly afterwards after a wild challenge. Presumably fearing that Lawrence would get himself sent off, manager Curle brought on Disley for Lawrence at the start of the second half.
There was a quiet opening 15 minutes to the second half, and then on the hour, the Stags fans were stunned as Larkin was brought off and Mendes brought on. Larkin was given a huge reception by the Stags fans, followed closely by a very loud chant of “you don't know what you're doing”, aimed at Curle for this decision, which seemed an amazing decision given that we were behind, and that Larkin certainly appeared fully fit. It could have been a pre-arranged decision given that it occurred dead on 60 minutes.
A minute later, from a Corden corner, Dimech headed wide of the far post. But on 65 minutes, the Stags were level. Mansfield were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out in a central position, despite protests from the home team. With Lawrence off the pitch, it was left to Wayne Corden to step up and curl a beauty into the top left hand corner, giving the keeper no chance. Corden ran to the Stags fans amid scenes of wild celebration, noticeably in contrast to the way the home team celebrated their goals. The Stags fans chanted “Cordinho” and the magician was at it again. Stags were again well on top at this stage and there looked to be only one winner.
However there was a twist on 74 minutes when the Stags following was silenced by a soft goal. There seemed to be little danger as Pilkington raced out of his goal, but he failed to clear the ball decisively, and it fell to a Kiddie player, whose weak effort hit Clarke on his shoulder. The referee immediately awarded a penalty. We had initially thought the ball hit Curtis but video evidence showed it was Clarke. It was soft because Curtis was right behind Clarke and the ball would never have gone in. Curtis was booked in a case of mistaken identity, as was Pilkington who was booked for dissent. Henriksen stepped up and you knew a player of his class was not going to miss. He put it low to Pilkington's left, giving the keeper no chance.
Andy White was then brought on for Christie. On 78 minutes, Stags had a golden opportunity to level it. Hassell sent a free-kick deep into the 6 yard box, where Disley was unmarked, but could only head weakly straight into the keeper's arms, when a yard either side and it was in. A minute later, following a corner, the ball wasn't cleared and in a crowded goalmouth, Artell turned and shot powerfully just wide of the left hand post. Two minutes later, Kiddie made a rare break and Artell kept the Stags in the game with a great last ditch tackle on substitute John Williams. After 88 minutes, Corden took a free-kick quickly from 35 yards and tried to catch the keeper off his line, but the ball sailed just over.
So the Stags lost the opening game of the season, but will play a lot worse than this and win this season. It was very disappointing for a large and noisy following, looking for an opening day win on a gorgeous summer's day. There were some encouraging performances, notably from the new central defensive pairing of Dimech and Artell, neither of whom put a foot wrong. However the Stags could have given themselves a better chance of winning with more invention from midfield where Curtis was especially poor, and Williamson was not at his best. Nevertheless the Stags created so many chances on the day and were unfortunate to find home keeper Stuart Brock in inspired form. Kidderminster were very ordinary and will certainly count themselves lucky to have picked up the points. However when you have a keeper in form, and a striker as classy and clinical as Henriksen, you always have a chance.
Although obviously too early to read too much into this game, it must be said that you need to beat teams as poor as Kidderminster and there still remains doubt over manager Keith Curle's tactical ability and knowledge of who his best players are. It was clear for all Stags fans to see that Curtis should have been taken off today yet he stayed on the pitch, whereas Larkin who looked most like scoring a goal, was taken off.
Stags have to dust themselves down and bounce back with a good display in front of the Sky cameras on Wednesday.
Man of the Match: Luke Dimech.
Pilkington 6 Little to do. Bungled the clearance which led to the penalty.
Hassell 7 Steady game, pushing forward well especially in the first half.
Dimech 8 Impressive debut. Very mobile. Never looked in trouble.
Artell 8 Improved as the game went on. Very solid defending.
Clarke 6 Defended well, but his distribution let him down.
Lawrence 7 Looked classy on the ball. Booked for petulance and after a warning from the ref, he was substituted.
Curtis 5 Very poor. Didn't win loose balls and created nothing. Why was he not substituted?
Williamson 6 Tried to be positive and push forward but things didn't quite come off for him today. Looked to be carrying a knock late on.
Corden 7 Wonderful goal. Showed some classy touches. Crossing could have been better.
Larkin 7 Looked sharp and had several first half chances. Should not have been substituted when we were behind, as he clearly was not injured.
Christie 6 One moment of magic nearly created a goal from nothing. Otherwise too quiet.
Disley (for Lawrence, 46) 6 Didn't create enough. Missed a good chance with a free header straight at the keeper.
Mendes (for Larkin, 60) 7 Very positive. Looked dangerous and showed great pace down the right.
A.White (for Christie, 76) 7 Won headers in the air and proved a handful, but there was no-one to feed off him, as Mendes was stuck on the right wing.
Not used: John-Baptiste, Day.
Referee: S.Tanner (Gloucestershire) 5 His first game in the league; poor game.
Latest | August 2003