EVENING POST REPORT AND REACTION
STAGS ARE BLOWN OFF COURSE AGAIN
Mansfield Town A v A Oxford United
Keith Curle, his players and the Mansfield fans had every right to be furious after referee Howard Webb called off the game after a lengthy half-time interval.
After two dismal displays by Mansfield, they appeared to have rediscovered the ability to play simple football, just as their manager had asked them to do.
And they had achieved that with a gutsy, battling performance, for 45 minutes into a ferocious wind.
Nobody could argue that the wind was terrible. But, if a decision was to be made about a postponement, it should have been before the kick-off.
But it went ahead. Oxford won the toss and changed ends to take advantage of the strong winds, but could not find a way through.
However, at the break, with Mansfield set to take advantage in the second period, the Oxford players sided with the referee by asking to have the game abandoned. The winds were strong, making it difficult for both sides in this top-of-the-table clash, but Oxford were happy to play in the first half when they had the wind.
Halfway through the first period, the referee called both managers and captains together to ask them if they wanted to continue and it was agreed the game should go ahead.
So, when nobody appeared shortly after 4pm, the fans began to sense something was wrong.
Eventually all the Stags players did come out and took their positions on the field, only for Keith Curle to appear five minutes later and inform them the referee would not go ahead with the match, despite the winds dying down a little bit.
The fans were incensed, but gave the players a standing ovation, a far cry from the scenes in the last two games when they booed them off the pitch. However, the Oxford players then emerged to warm down which sent the Mansfield fans into a rage.
The stewards had to quickly come on to the pitch and take the players straight back down the tunnel, such was the anger of the supporters who believed they had cried off after failing to capitalise with the wind in the first half.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Mansfield because, after making six changes, Keith Curle's side were showing character, passion and guts, with 18-year-old Alex John-Baptiste making a solid start at centr-half.
And, on top of that, they were trying to play simple passes, even into what seemed like gale-force winds.
So it was no wonder Keith Curle was in the referee's changing room at half time, demanding the game continue.
Curle said: "At the break, the ref said it was not a suitable environment for football to be played. But I said we had already had 45 minutes and we had adapted to it very well.
"We knew it was blustery, but we tried to get the ball down and play. I told the ref I was desperate to play the second half, but he stuck by his decision.
"We have to abide by the decisions of the referee. But I think of the two managers after 45 minutes, I was the happiest and the one looking forward to the second period with the wind behind our backs.
"I am really disappointed just like all my players. It was just like a bike rider pedalling uphill for 45 minutes and then getting to the top and before he goes back down having his bike taken off him."
Mansfield had limited Oxford to half chances in the first period by solid defending and players throwing themselves in front of everything.
Only Steve Basham had a chance in injury time, but Kevin Pilkington got down well to hold on to it.
The best chance fell to Junior Mendes, who got onto a short headed back-pass by Andy Crosby and, after pushing it away from the Oxford keeper, the ball ran away in the wind and his shot was easy for Andy Woodman.
It means Mansfield have at least two games in hand on most of their rivals, but must rearrange another fixture for midweek next month.
Mansfield will feel it was a case of missing out on three points, as every player was raring to go in the second half.
Now the Stags have to continue where they left off against Swansea tomorrow night. The belief appears to be back and the fans are onside. Now they have to make sure it stays that way.
Mansfield captain Kevin Pilkington was furious that the game was abandoned at the break and said the players were gutted.
Pilkington was delighted with the way his team-mates battled to keep it scoreless at half-time. So when referee Howard Webb made his decision, the Stags players were more than disappointed.
Pilkington fumed: "It is an absolute farce. They won the toss and were happy to turn us around and play with the wind but we managed to go in at 0-0 and they started complaining.
"We were ready to come out but then the decision was made and they had no intention to going out for the second half. We thought we would come out after the break and show what we thought. It showed that we wanted to play and it wasn't down to us that it got called off."
And the Stags captain believed that after coping with the wind, his side would have gone on to take all three points.
He said: "I thought we showed our battling qualities because we stuck to it and we outplayed them for 45 minutes into a very strong wind.
"The referee called me and their captain over midway through the half and asked if it should be called off because of the conditions but I told him that was his decision, we wanted to play on. But we played very well in the first half and I was very pleased.
"We knew we had got it in our locker to go back out and get the result because we had played some good football. We are all very disappointed."
Latest | March 2004