REPORTS FROM CAMBRIDGE SITES
Travellers' Tales v Mansfield Town
Date: Saturday, April 3rd, 2004
Result: Mansfield 1 Cambridge United 1
Method of Travel: Car
Departure Time: 10.15am
Arrival at Ground: The start of the Easter school holidays is the traditional time for the caravan infestation to afflict the highways and byways – and generally get in the way. But although there were fewer of these mobile chicanes about that I had feared, the A1 still had a trick to play to ensure the trip was not straightforward.
Horrendous traffic as a result of the road works at Wansford delayed us for almost an hour; but we weren't the only ones affect apparently. The operators of the overhead warning signs on the A1(M) must have also been stuck in traffic and unable to get to their posts. Why else would the signs be giving no information whatsoever about the severe congestion ahead?
Despite the A1's best efforts, we arrived just after 12.45pm after deciding not to stop on the way.
Things didn't get much more straightforward once we arrived. A steward, who communicated with a bizarre combination of grunts and hand signals, manned the car park at the ground, so it took a while to work out that he really did want us to park across the front of a row of cars, boxing them all in.
And the confusion didn't end there either. My press ticket suggested entry via a specific turnstile and, although that turnstile was open and stewarded, the number on the ticket was, apparently, a decoy as the entrance was on the opposite side of the pitch to the press box and, according to the steward, 'they moan' if you walk round the pitch. I was directed to another gate – still on the opposite side of the ground... and instructed to walk round the pitch! No one moaned!
Mileage: 221.6 miles
Total Distance for Season: 7,395.2 miles
Admission Prices: £15 and £8 – seats only.
Programme: 52 pages for £2, 'The Stag' had a very high advertising content. Although there were a number of articles to read, their photo-less style didn't really encourage you taking the trouble. There were photos; the double-page collage of match action pictures weren't bad and was amusingly captioned, but I don't know what they'd done with the team photo of the U's they'd been sent!
United Travelling Contingent: 505
Conduct of Police/Stewards: Apart from those I'd met before the match who either didn't know what they were doing, or were just plain unhelpful, those inside the ground seemed okay. They were a little cautious of some of our more lively supporters and U's fans had the rare experience of being held back after the game.
Conduct of United Fans: Great support throughout, from the time the team were welcomed onto the pitch with a mass of yellow tickertape and red, white and blue balloons. How appropriate that the last-gasp equaliser should be scored right in front of them.
Conduct of Home Fans: The phrase 'sing when you're winning' might have been invented for them.
State of Ground: Field Mill has undergone massive changes since our last visit, with three sides of the ground completely rebuilt. Single-tiered stands were at either end of the ground, while a double-tiered stand ran the length of one side. The away stand was predominantly yellow with blue seats picking out MTFC, while the other two new stands had the colour scheme reversed.
The stand along the opposite side of the pitch was in complete contrast. Allocated to the press, it was low, wooden and dilapidated with sections boarded up for safety reasons and the remnants of crumbling terracing on either side. Not that I'm complaining about it though. The press seats may have been fairly low down, but they were on half way and almost within touching distance of the dugouts.
View from Away End: The view was quite good, but the steps were steep and there wasn't much legroom.
Food/Drink: Hot dogs earned a rare 9/10 while sausage rolls, at £1.40, were superb. As for the tea... yuk!
State of Toilets: The facilities completely failed to live up to the image created by the rebuilt stand they served.
Officials Performance: Mr Mason made allowances for the conditions, which was good, but missed a blatant penalty, which was bad.
Additional Comments: Ah, another tannoy operator who doesn't realise that his microphone projects his voice through the speakers in the ground... so he DOESN'T NEED TO SHOUT ALL THE TIME. His efforts to get the fans going by shouting 'Come on you Stags' at the start of each half went down like a damp squib, but he did have us all standing to attention and saluting smartly in the press area, just after the turnstiles were opened, by playing 'Land of Hope and Glory', 'The Soldiers Song' and 'God Save the Queen'.
Mark Johnson, with additional reporting by Paul Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Gordon McMillan.
Andrew's Match View
Mansfield 1-1 U's: Curle and curler
Saturday 3rd April 2004 - Mansfield 1-1 U's: Curle and curler
Andrew Bennett reports:
Cambridge spark rush for 'big name' managers in the lower divisions
The shock appointment of world-renowned coach Claude le Roy as manager of Cambridge United seems to have sparked a rush of similarly ambitious moves by clubs in the lower reaches of the Nationwide League desperate for the wise guidance of an experienced old head.
First off the blocks have been York City, who have demoted rookie Chris Brass to assistant manager to bring in the ever-controversial Brian Clough for one last unexpected shot at football management. Clough has moved quickly in the transfer market to sign trusted lieutenants John Robertson, John McGovern and John O'Hare. When quizzed as to the advisability of bringing in three players with a combined age of 162, Clough was typically forthright: "These lads have never me down before and I don't expect them to start doing so now. If you're good enough, you're young enough, I say! Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd are also considering offers, and I'm still waiting for an answer from the lad Fashanu. Hey, old dogs don't need new tricks when their old tricks are as good as these lads! Is it time for my catchphrase yet, young man?"
Scunthorpe United have scoured the world market and are delighted to have recruited Cesar Luis Menotti, coach of the 1978 World Cup winners, Argentina. Said a beaming Iron chairman: "Senor Menotti has stated through his translator that he has long harboured an ambition to manage in England before he retires, and we have been pleased to accede to his demands, which are quite simple: an unlimited supply of Capstan Super Strength, every player to start growing a straggly mullet with immediate effect, and for the pitch to be strewn with a minimum of three tons of waste paper before every home game. And £100,000 in used tenners for 'incidental expenses.' It worked in '78, so why not again?"
But Division Two strugglers Peterborough United have trumped everyone, with the audacious appointment of the late Herbert Chapman as first team coach until the end of next season. Owner-chairman Barry Fry was understandably thrilled with this most surprising of signings: "I'm absolutely made up, mate! I was going to carry on managing myself, but then I was approached by this medium, Doris Stoopes, who said she was in regular touch with Mr Chapman, who won loads of League Championships with both Huddersfield and Arsenal back in the 1920s and 30s.
"Of course being dead, he won't even be drawing a wage, although Mrs Stoopes will be recompensed for her troubles, of course, and she will be kitted out with a tracksuit so she can take training, channelling instructions from the man himself from the next world. Herbie has also suggested that I transfer the ownership of the ground to Mrs Stoopes as it would be good karma, so I'm getting that sorted. I know a good deal when I see it! No-one can pull the wool over old Baz's eyes!"
It is far too early to tell whether the 'caretaker' managerial tenure of Claude le Roy and Herve Renard will prove to be a brief, astonishing interlude in Cambridge United's history or the start of a L'Age D'Or. It's a wonder that the main man can find any time at all to attend to the club's troubles in between pontificating for French TV, writing a film script and working on a book. Presumably while smoking a cigar, juggling half a dozen oranges and riding a unicycle at the same time.
But the man whose name translates as Harry Fox (not quite the same, is it?) has now had ten days to assess the squad at his disposal and the travelling amber hordes were in lively debating form as they discussed the forthcoming match in Mansfield's splendid 'Early Doors' hostelry just over the road from Field Mill.
It had been over five years since United last visited the Stags' home, romping to a 3-1 victory in October 1998 led by the legendary three-pronged attack of Butler, Benjamin and Taylor. Only Shaun Marshall and Andy Duncan remain in the visitors' line-up, while of that Mansfield team, survivors were there none today. The return match that season will of course be long remembered by U's fans, a 7-2 mullering witnessed by a crowd of 4,343, spookily only one more than the attendance at the Mill this Saturday. But before that, United had played eight times at the place and picked up one solitary draw and seven defeats, about as happy a hunting ground as Miriam's bikini bottoms on Sky One. Unless you like that sort of thing, of course.
And my word, hasn't Field Mill changed since we last visited. It takes its name from a cotton mill built just over the road in 1797, served by the pond that still stands by the pub today; indeed, 'Early Doors' itself used to be Field Mill House, home to the Greenhalgh family that ran the mill until 1901. The Greenhalghs set up their own cricket club in 1840 on the site where the football ground now stands, and formed a complementary football club (GFC) in 1861; Field Mill can therefore claim to be the second oldest football ground in the world behind Hallam of Sheffield's Sandygate, first used a year earlier. It was about that time that Barry Fry first started his managerial career at Bedford Swifts.
The present Mansfield Town took it over in 1919 after a few previous tenants, and when the Mighty U's last visited, it was a functional but fairly dilapidated town centre stadium with a pleasingly individual main stand. By 2001 three sides of the ground had been completely replaced. The main stand is now an impressively sized two-tier job, while the former terraces at either end (one covered, one open) are now smaller one-tiered covered all-seater stands, one of which housed the impressive 505 away fans. The only side to escape the changes sports a miniscule 'family stand' affair which was so sparsely populated that one was led to speculate that Mansfield is the divorce capital of the world.
The United squad showed several changes from last week's welcome win over Cheltenham. John Turner and Adam Tann were missing through injury, Ashley Nicholls was dropped to the bench (somewhat unluckily after an excellent performance) and there was no place in the sixteen for Danny Webb (again) or new signings Chris Clarke or Gilbert Prilasnig.
The starting eleven looked like one that had been selected especially for this game, distinctly defensively-minded with an obvious brief to do a containing job on free-scoring Mansfield and their flying wide players. A fluid 4-5-1 formation saw a back four of Goodhind, Duncan, Murray and Bimson behind Justin Walker as holding midfield player, flanked by Luke Guttridge and, surprisingly, Matty Robinson (a nominal striker making his full debut) in midfield and Stev Angus and Shane Tudor flanking them as wide men. This left Jermaine Easter with the difficult job of lone front man, charged with holding the ball up and waiting for support or using his pace by scampering after the occasional through ball. Most unexpected name on the bench was that of Terry Fleming, seemingly rehabilitated like his old mate Justin under the new clean-slate regime. Rumours that Jeffrey Archer has applied to join the board now that he is out of chokey are entirely made up.
There was one familiar face in the Mansfield starting XI, that of Neil Mackenzie, a talented midfielder for the U's a few years ago whose off-pitch activities were his downfall. Before his time, that lad. The hosts were missing two strikers, Iyseden Christie and Laurent D'Jaffo, but 18-goal top scorer Liam Lawrence was present on the right wing, as was Rhys Day, briefly trialist at the Abbey from Manchester City along with Steve Jordan last season without getting a first-team game.
Memories were still fresh of the extraordinary encounter between the clubs at the Abbey back in September, a cornucopia of curiosities including three sendings-off, two penalties (guess which side missed theirs), stewards (OK, one) attacking spectators and an hysterical outburst by Stags boss Keith Curle. Sums up our season, really.
It was a wild and windy day in Nottinghamshire, helping to whip the cut-up Yellow Pages and red, white and blue balloons into a mini-tornado that spread them to the halfway line and beyond. United's strategy was clearly one of containment, and the contest accordingly developed slowly and tactically with little goalmouth incident at either end. The odd Easter break was stopped by the lineman's flag, but Shaun Marshall was well protected by his colleagues' swamping of midfield that kept the ball primarily in the central third.
A wind-assisted melee on 11 caused a little concern in the Mansfield goalmouth, then Angus (right) had a shot blocked by Tony Vaughan, while a characteristic Tudor run was stopped in crunching fashion by Bobby Hassell.
Despite the swirling wind, United dealt well with the crosses and corners that swerved their way as if bowled from Barbados by the England attack.
The hosts were finally allowed to get a shot in on 20, Junior Mendes firing a Colin Larkin cross over, and two minutes later the latter sent a header equally high and wide.
United responded on 27 when a poor clearance found Walker just outside the area, and his fizzer skidded just wide of the far post. Marshall comfortably saved a low Lawrence scudder on the half hour and, although not the most riveting spectacle for the neutral (he was sitting halfway up the second tier of the main stand opposite United's 18-yard box, glancing occasionally at The Guardian) it was a fascinating power struggle for the footballing cognoscenti like what we are.
Only yellow card of the afternoon came on 34, Tudor harshly booked for an unspectacular challenge on Lawrence by physicality-averse ref Mason. Although the contest was keen and uncompromising, there was little to trouble the man in black discipline-wise; if you wanted to see a punch-up, you'd have been better off going to a Rooney family party.
As the half began to draw to a close United finished strongly, doubtless encouraged by the effectiveness of their blanket smothering of a team that had failed to score at home only once in the League all season. The defence was holding firm, Freddie Murray not looking at all uncomfortable at centre-back, Walker was pulling the strings ably assisted by the busily buzzing Guttridge and Robinson, Tudor was troubling the hosts intermittently down the left, Angus was working steadily without looking particularly convincing going forward, and Easter was coping admirably with an unfamiliar workload up front.
On 43 Robinson's corner was cleared to Guttridge on the edge of the area, and with exquisite one-touch control, he volleyed a savage dipper that keeper Pilkington had to tip acrobatically over from under his bar. Two minutes later Tudor blasted an ambitious effort high and wide, and United finished the half on a high. They had come to keep what they had started with – a point – and so far it was very much mission accomplished.
Mansfield boss Curle, clearly dissatisfied with proceedings, made two changes for the start of part two, replacing the anonymous Mackenzie and Larkin with Lee Williamson and big, bustling striker Andy White. And it was the hosts who started the brighter, Wayne Corden's 47th-minute free-kick stopped by the United wall at the expense of a corner after another innocuous 'foul', then as driving rain began to slant across the pitch as if scribbled by a toddler with a pencil, Williamson saw his effort clutched well by Marshall.
United responded on 54, Guttridge's exquisitely angled through ball sending Easter away down the left channel and, as he converged on the ball with marker Day and the out-sprinting Pilkington, his goalbound toepoke was deflected by the home keeper so that it trundled wide of the far post of the empty goal, rolling bumpily like a slowly unravelling ball of string.
But just after the hour Mansfield were ahead. United's game plan had worked up to this point, but it was inevitably dependent on the avoidance of individual mistakes. Day's hopeful high ball over the top was chased by Duncan and Mendes, and the U's skipper's bugbear was exposed again as he was weakly outmuscled by the Stags striker and fell in a heap as Mendes galloped on to fire unchallenged past Marshall. 1-0.
So that was Plan A up the Swanee. Did Herve have a Plan B? Naturellement. Aggy Revell was introduced and United switched to 4-4-2, although eyebrows were raised that it was the attacking Robinson (right) who was withdrawn while defender Angus was left to push forward from the right wing, a task he took to with about as much comfort as Kenneth Branagh essaying a walk-on part in Footballers' Wives (perhaps M. le Roy could find a part for him in his forthcoming film script, The John Beck Story: Route One To The Heart Via Quality Street).
Lil' Luke shot wide on 70, but Revell was having difficulty in getting into the game and with a complete lack of creativity down the United right, a point looked like a distant dream. Why was the positive, powerful Nicholls not introduced for Angus? Truly Herve was working in mysterious ways.
Time was running out. A foul by Williamson on Tudor presented Walker with an opportunity from a free-kick 25 yards out on 81, but he blazed disappointingly over; Guttridge then missed the target again, then Tudor's cross hit Hassell's hand, but optimistic penalty appeals were dismissed by Mason, probably correctly. Was all our hard work to be in vain? Rochdale were losing, Carlisle were winning, Darlo were losing, and Big Dave Kitson had scored twice for Reading against West Ham. We prayed to the Ginger God for inspiration. Is there a patron saint of biscuits? St McVitie?
Six minutes from time Mansfield made their last sub, a like-for-like swap with Chris Beardsley replacing Mendes, and on 86 there were more convincing shouts for a penalty from the amber hordes as Easter ran onto a ball over the top and appeared to be felled from behind by Day. The ref bafflingly gave it the other way, either for handball or a dive, although if he thought the latter, surely a booking was in order. He had ignored a similar incident involving Lawrence in the first half.
A minute later Nicholls was at last brought on for Angus, half an hour late in many books. United pressed forward, their corner was cleared and the hosts demonstrated their own tension by breaking away and taking the ball into the corner instead of going for goal. If the sweat could have been collected from all the palms in Field Mill, you could have taken a bath in it. Although the thought is about as appetising as a Liver Slushie.
Just two minutes of added time was signalled, and the U's pressed forward one more time. Walker drove towards goal into the 'D' and tumbled under Williamson's challenge; Mason gave yet another soft free-kick, bless his little rayon socks. Mansfield funnelled everyone back, a posse of United players surveyed the scene from behind the ball, then up stepped Shane Tudor to place the most fantastic, super-accurate curling free-kick, dipping up and over the wall then plopping into the corner of the net while Pilkington looked on, aghast and helpless. 1-1!
The white shirts on the pitch and the amber hordes in the stand celebrated wildly. First a penalty last week, then a free-kick... we've found our own Beckham! Keep the hair short, though, eh Shane? Seconds later it was all over, Mansfield barely having time to restart before the final whistle. Another valuable point gained.
The focus and organisation of the team for the first hour reflected well on the new coach. The response to going one down was rather less impressive, but at the end of the day the result was all, and United deserved the draw, if for no other reason than the fact that neither team on the day did enough to say they merited a win. Some managers are good, some are lucky. Sometimes it's better to be lucky. Maybe our new management team is both. Right now, this feels like a good point. Now let's get some more!
Marshall 7 – Looked as safe as houses throughout.
Goodhind 7 – Stuck to his task doggedly.
Bimson 8 – Good return to first team action, sound defensively and in his distribution.
Duncan 7 – Fine battling performance let down only by the goal.
Murray 8 – Uncompromisingly impassable.
Angus 7 - Made a game effort at an unfamiliar role, although can't see him making a career there.
Guttridge 7 – Beavered away busily.
Walker 7 – Another solid, hard-working effort that can only help his case for another contract.
Robinson 7 – Most pleasant surprise of the day, slotted in comfortably despite having to fill an entirely new role.
Tudor 8 – Flitted in and out of the game, but what a goal.
Easter 8 – Another player in a different role to usual, made a splendid job of being a lone striker and was unlucky to neither score nor gain his side a penalty.
Revell 5 – Disappointingly failed to make any impact.
Nicholls 5 – No time to make any impact – barely touched the ball.
Soundtrack of the Day: The Delays 'Nearer Than Heaven'
Match Summary: Claude and Herve's well-drilled troops performed The French Job on the Stags with a smothering tactical masterplan which might still have foundered but for their own marvellous Mini, Shane Tudor. His brilliant free-kick seconds from time confirmed United's membership of the Self-Preservation Society and engendered further hope that survival is just around the corner.
Man of the Match: Shane Tudor. Not the most consistent of games, but in a game notable for a good ensemble performance, it took his one moment of brilliant individualism to snatch a valuable point at the death.
Ref Watch: Mason 3. Depressingly familiar style of ref who did nothing for the flow of a game played in difficult blustery conditions. The players soon learned that the merest tumble to the ground, no matter how negligible any physical contact might have been, was enough to draw a free-kick from the man with the hair-trigger whistle. Only noticeable exception to this rule was of course any contact in the penalty area, which would be either ignored or given the other way. Poor.
JT's Jukebox. John Turner lends an ear to the Field Mill sounds. "Most clubs we've been to make an effort to entertain the fans musically, but Mansfield made the least effort I've ever heard! Basically they only appear to have one album, Michael Jackson's 'Thriller', and in between long, long bouts of talking by a DJ who seemed very fond of his own voice, they managed to treat us to 'Billie Jean', 'Beat It' and the title track before kickoff, which was heralded by a fuzzy recording from what sounded like the mid-1970s. I could only catch the word 'Yellows' so I guess it must have been some ancient old club song which has been hanging around the ground for the last thirty years. They did find a Dido track at half-time, though! JT Verdict: Not thrilling at all! (2/10)"
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