THE TIMES REPORT AND DAILY TELEGRAPH REPORT
Mansfield take step in the right direction
By Kaveh Solhekol
Mansfield Town 2 Stockport County 1
FOURTEEN YEARS AGO, Peter Shirtliff and Chris Turner were watching Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce climb the 39 steps at Wembley to collect their loser's medals after Sheffield Wednesday had beaten Manchester United 1-0 in the League Cup final. On Saturday, the former Wednesday team-mates were in opposite dugouts at Field Mill watching their teams scrap for survival at the bottom of League Two while Hughes and Bruce were spending the afternoon in the relative comforts of Highbury and the Stadium of Light.
Football is a hard habit to break and after watching his team score two goals in five first-half minutes to climb out of the relegation zone, Shirtliff was thinking about training this morning. “We had to battle and we were fluid for the first 30 minutes, but there are aspects of our performance that I am not pleased with,” the Mansfield Town manager said. “What they are I am keeping to myself, but they will be addressed before our next game.”
Shirtliff may may been unimpressed by his forwards' composure in front of goal, but he was celebrating when Gavin Peers gave his team the lead with a near-post header from a free kick by Adam Rundle after 26 minutes and when Richard Barker rolled the ball into an empty net four minutes later after a mix-up between Michael Raynes and James Spencer in the Stockport County defence.
With 51 minutes left to play, Turner had seen enough and the Stockport manager replaced Tesfaye Bramble and Keith Briggs with Michael Malcolm and Mickael Wolski before half-time, but the substitutions had little impact. Jermaine Easter reduced the deficit against the run of play ten minutes from the end, but it was too little, too late.
“I didn't get too excited when we scored because the performance was below par,” Turner said. “You hope that you will score a second goal, but I wasn't convinced and we didn't. Certain people have to look at themselves and ask whether they did their jobs today. Too many didn't.”
Turner's players have won only six matches since he was appointed in December, but the former Wednesday goalkeeper and manager insists that he will not be presiding over successive relegations. “This is going to be a tough season for us,” he said, “but I am convinced that I can get us out of this situation.”
Hereford United are lying in wait for Turner and his players in the second round of the FA Cup on Saturday, while Mansfield entertain Grays Athletic on Friday. Only a brave man would bet on Shirtliff and Turner walking out at the new Wembley.
Mourning Mansfield prevail
By Ron Gubba
Mansfield Town (2) 2 Stockport County (1) 1
While supporters at every ground in the country were paying their respects to George Best on Saturday, those at Field Mill had particular cause to observe an impeccable minute's silence.
Mansfield supporters were honouring not only Best, but also their goalkeeping coach, Peter Wilson, who died unexpectedly last weekend during a pre-match warm-up at Shrewsbury.
Older Stockport fans would have also been casting their minds back to the day the incomparable Best made a surprise debut for their unfashionable club.
Thirty years ago today Best made the first of three appearances for County, almost two years after he had called time on his career with Manchester United.
Then, as now, Stockport were battling to maintain their League status, at the wrong end of the old Fourth Division. Their highest home attendance of the season - 9,220 - were treated to one of George's party pieces, when he scored direct from a corner in a 3-2 win over Swansea.
Sadly, there was no such magic on Saturday to light up a freezing afternoon at Mansfield: just two honest sets of players doing their best to collect the points which might keep their team in the Football League.
Although Mansfield began the stronger, Jermaine Easter had wasted two decent opportunities to put Stockport in front before Gavin Peers found the net for the home side, in the 26th minute.
Five minutes later, a misunderstanding between Michael Raynes and goalkeeper James Spencer allowed Richie Barker to race through to double the lead.
Easter finally found the net, 10 minutes from time, but it was too little too late to save Stockport, who slipped into the relegation zone, with Mansfield leapfrogging them to three places above the safety line.
"That one was for Peter," said the Mansfield manager, Peter Shirtliff.
Mansfield Town (4-4-2): Pressman; Peers, Hjelde, John-Baptiste, Buxton; Dawson, Coke, D'Laryea, Rundle; Barker, Birchall (Russell 68).
Subs: Talbot, Day, McLachlan, White (g).
Goals: Peers (26), Barker (31).
Stockport County (4-4-2): Spencer; Greenwood, Raynes, Clare, Robinson; Hamshaw, Briggs (Wolski 39), Boshell (Allen 85), DSingh; Bramble (Malcom 39), Easter.
Subs: Ikeme (g), Le Fondre.
Goal: Easter (80).
Referee: M Russell (Hertfordshire).
WIN VITAL FOR CONFIDENCE
Evening Post, 28 November 2005
Just how crucial this hard-earned victory will prove, only time will tell
But success in Saturday's six-point showdown with fellow relegation battlers Stockport County achieved two things.
It underlined that the 3-0 home defeat by Bury was, indeed, a blip and not a sign of the wheels coming off.
And, crucially, it also dragged Stags out of the relegation zone and three places up the table while pushing Stockport into the bottom two.
With the League Two fixtures list about to send Stags to three away games in the next four, the psychological boost of getting out of the bottom two was vital.
Defeat by Stockport coupled with struggles to pick up points from tough away games at Wrexham, Rushden and Northampton could have seen them firmly ensconced in the drop-zone for Christmas, perhaps even adrift of the rest.
But Saturday's win has given the club renewed hope that they can start 2006 in the relative comfort of mid-table.
Stags have now taken 12 points from their last six League games - hardly relegation form.
The only reason they lost against Bury in the previous match was a poor first ten minutes at the end of which they were 2-0 down.
Manager Peter Shirtliff made sure there was to be no repeat on Saturday as Stags came flying out of the blocks and produced some excellent attacking football.
The heartbreak of the death of goalkeeping coach Peter Wilson on the pitch at Shrewsbury the week before would have also given them an extra edge.
The minute's silence pre-match, doubled up for Wilson and George Best, was impeccably observed. And the players then quickly paid their respects in the best possible way.
However, for all their early attacking flair, the Stags could have found themselves behind to the visitors' one real moment of menace in an entertaining first half.
With no offside flag, Jermaine Easter suddenly found himself goal-side of the home defence on the left of the six-yard box.
But, with only Kevin Pressman to beat, he scuffed a finish across the keeper and wide of the far post.
Within ten minutes, Mansfield had broken through. Adam Rundle lofted a free kick from the left into the six-yard box and diminutive full-back Gavin Peers got his head on it and steered it past James Spencer.
It was only five minutes later that Mansfield extended their lead.
This time Stephen Dawson, who battled his way up and down the right in an unfamiliar role for the central midfielder, produced the through-ball.
Spencer had made up his mind to leave his line and race out to meet it. Unfortunately for him, by the time he got there he was a yard outside his box and, in trying to kick it clear, found Richie Barker too quick, and the striker edged the ball wide of him before calmly threading it into the net.
That was Barker's 11th goal of an impressive campaign to date and he was named man-of-the-match by the match sponsors.
But, well as he played, Jon Olav Hjelde and Alex John-Baptiste outshone him with some watertight defending to prevent the visitors finding a way back into the contest.
On the opening day of the season, Stockport had also found themselves 2-0 down against Stags but a second-half brace from Easter had earned a point.
This time Stags dug in deep to ensure that didn't happen again.
The attacking flair of the first half was replaced by a grim determination by the home side as they gave as good as they got in a midfield scrap.
But just when you thought it was safe to talk about victory, Easter popped up ten minutes from time to set the cat among the pigeons with an unexpected goal.
Substitute Michael Malcolm threaded a low through-ball straight down the centre. And Easter showed good acceleration before also displaying a cool finish as he slotted the ball between Pressman's legs.
Easter briefly had one more chance in stoppage time as he tried but failed to connect cleanly with an overhead effort.
But, like a dog with a bone, Stags were in no mood to let go this time.
County @ Mansfield Town, Saturday 26th November 2005, Field Mill
Turner's Boys Turn In Limp Performance At The Mill
Two sloppy first half goals were enough for Mansfield Town to kill this basement battle, forcing Chris Turner's woeful side towards the League's trapdoor.
County had fielded arguably their strongest eleven, with Ross Greenwood chosen at right back despite being carried off last week with a leg injury, but faced a Mansfield team not only up for the game, but attacked a leaky County defence early on, and were awarded a succession of corners as County were hanging on for dear life; full back Gavin Peers was wide with a glancing header, Richie Barker - once a target for County - was full of energy and brought out a good save from Spencer with a well hit half volley.
Mansfield went ahead when Adam Rundle's floated free kick was met unchallenged by Gavin Peers and Spencer was beaten all ends up.
County, to their credit, never let their heads drop and skipper Matty Hamshaw - again the most outstanding County player by far - created a number of chances on thr right after giving The Stags left back an uneasy game, but the strike force of Bramble and Easter weren't on the same wavelength, although Easter almost broke the deadlock with a cool shot from close range but was defelcted wide and Boshell, another who was full of running, had a shot blocked on the edge of the area.
Just as County were starting to get a hold on this game, a huge defensive mix up gifted Town their two goal cushion.
A loose through ball was shephered back by Michael Raynes and Richie Barker must have thought Christmas had come early as a distinct lack of communication between the defender and keeper James Spencer allowed the former Rotherham United and Macclesfield striker nipped in and broke County's hearts with a neat finish into the empty net.
County full back Mark Robinson tried to cut their deficit in half with a spirited run and after linking with Singh, Malcolm - who replaced Bramble five minutes before half time - was inches away from the winger's superb cross.
County were much better in the second half, and created more chances, and for long periods had Mansfield camped in their own box. Hamshaw had Pressman worried with a cross shot, sub Wolski played in Malcolm but was well blocked and Singh danced around a few defenders but his cross was narrowly too high for the Clare.
With ten minutes left County made the remarkably quiet home fans a bit nervous as some superb work from Boshell and Malcolm gave Easter a yard and and after he left the ageing Hjelde for dead, slotted the ball coolly past Pressman to set up an tense finale.
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