SHIRTLIFF SHOCKER AS FEEBLE STAGS BEATEN
Northampton Town 1 - 0 Mansfield Town
Attendance: 6112 (631 from Mansfield)
Martin Shaw at Sixfields
Peter Shirtliff has done most things about right since he took over from Carlton Palmer. And the Stags' rise up the table, along with good progress in the cups, are testament to that. But today (in my opinion) he got things horribly wrong for 60 minutes, and this was a major factor in the Stags putting in such a feeble performance, that had it not been for excellent last-ditch defending from the entire back four and from Kevin Pressman, would have seen the side well and truly thumped. Shirtliff's decision to play a 4-5-1 formation was so obviously causing the Stags midfield and forward line to not know where on earth each other was. And this was the only talk on the terrace at half-time. Indeed early in the second half, a number of supporters in the away end could be heard shouting: "come on Shirty, sort it out." That the Stags in the end lost out only to a brilliant free-kick should not mask what was otherwise feeble stuff.
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report from ntfc.co.uk:
Northampton Town welcomed Mansfield Town to Sixfields on a chilly Boxing Day afternoon. For the Cobblers Martin Smith was ruled out with his foot injury, joining David Rowson (hernia), Ryan Gilligan (collarbone), Gavin Johnson (ankle), Ashley Westwood (knee) and Fred Murray (knee) on the sidelines. The substitutes bench included four players who are in or who have emerged from the Cobblers youth team - Luke Chambers, Mark Bunn, Scott Cross and Tom Bonner.
The Stags won an early corner and Giles Coke sent in a low shot that was well held by Lee Harper, while at the other end Scott McGleish rose highest to reach a David Hunt free kick but his header was saved by Kevin Pressman.
A delightful ball from McGleish released Jason Crowe in to the area after nine minutes only for Pressman to make a superb stop to deny the wing back. The ball ran across the face of goal but Mansfield had two men back to clear from Josh Low at the far post.
The Cobblers were enjoying much the better of the opening exchanges, and Pressman was again called in to action to deny Jess and Bojic, before McGleish fired over the bar after fine build up play involving Doig, Taylor, Jess and Mendes.
Alan Russell headed over the bar in a rare Mansfield move forward, while at the other end Mendes was again denied by Pressman as the first half ended goal-less, despite the Cobblers domination.
Eoin Jess began the second half by sending a powerful drive in to the chest of Pressman, before a superb move started by Lee Harper and including Jess, Crowe, Hunt, Mendes and Low ended when the latter's cross was headed wide at the near post by Scott McGleish.
A well worked corner routine almost created a goal a few moments later when Ian Taylor connected with David Hunt's flag kick. The flick was met by Scott McGleish who bundled the ball goalwards but on to the cross bar.
Gus Uhlenbeek came on for Adam Rundle as Peter Shirtliff made his first change, but it wasn't long before the Cobblers had the lead their play deserved.
They were awarded a free kick just outside the Mansfield penalty area and David Hunt stepped up to curl home an unstoppable shot beyond Kevin Pressman.
Josh Low was close to doubling the lead just moments later when he was released by Junior Mendes, but Pressman was able to make save.
Andy Kirk replaced Mendes as the Cobblers made their first change, while soon afterwards Luke Chambers came on for Chris Doig, who had taken a heavy knock that required treatment.
Lee Harper did well to hold a Rhys Day header following a Gus Uhlenbeek cross, before the batch of substitutions continued, Nathan Arnold replacing Adam Birchall for Mansfield.
Josh Low was required to head a Day header off the line, while Callum Lloyd came on for Jonathan D'Laryea.
Jake Buxton was booked for a trip on Eoin Jess, before the name of Gareth Jelleyman soon followed in to the referee's notebook after a spot of shirt pulling on Josh Low.
Jason Crowe was cautioned in injury time for time wasting, but the Cobblers did not have to wait long for the final whistle, and confirmation of their third successive league victory.
report from CHAD website:
Northampton 1 Stags 0
STAGS will be desperately hoping to at least get Simon Brown back for Wednesday night's visit of Bristol Rovers (7.45pm) after badly missing their 24-goal Brown/Barker strike force at Northampton today.
A brilliant David Hunt free kick ruined gutsy Mansfield's hopes of any Christmas cheer at the high-flying Cobblers.
Certainly, there is no doubt Stags looked very neat and creative going forward at Sixfields.
But the ease in which Cobblers keeper Lee Harper ended the afternoon with a clean sheet is a huge worry to manager Peter Shirtliff.
"We did miss our two top scorers - any club in the country would miss their two top scorers," he said.
"Simon Brown's hamstring problem has improved and he is close. We hope he will be involved against Bristol Rovers.
"But we have no idea about Richie. We believed it was a back problem. But I have subsequently found out it is a nerve problem in the knee which is affecting underneath his foot.
"All he can do is rest and recuperate."
Without Brown (hamstring) and Barker, a very youthful Stags set out their stall with a 4/5/1 formation to frustrate the Cobblers, who were already unbeaten in six outings and just two points off the automatic promotion spots.
It also frustrated Shirtliff who had wanted Adam Rundle and Adam Birchall to play more attacking roles alongside Allan Russell who was left fighting a lone battle up front.
For the first hour Mansfield played some neat football without seriously troubling Harper.
And for the second match running they had veteran keeper Kevin Pressman to thank for a string of sterling saves.
With no outfield players aged over 26 and none of the five-man midfield aged over 21, the visitors could feel well pleased with their display until Hunt struck on 66 minutes.
Defender Gareth Jelleyman had been very unlucky to concede the free kick in the first place, throwing his body into a challenge and sliding towards the ball where it struck his hand.
Eoin Jess stood over the ball 20 yards from goal. But it was Hunt who stepped up to curl a superb free kick under the top left angle.
And that one moment of high quality settled the points.
Mansfield had started brightly and the energetic Coke tested Harper from 18 yards after only 73 seconds.
But Northampton took charge and Pressman made flying saves to keep out Jason Crowe, Jess, and former Stag Junior Mendes.
Stags rallied and ended the half well with Jonathan D'Laryea having a shot blocked and Russell heading a Jake Buxton cross onto the top of the net.
Pressman was behind Jess' swerving shot on the restart and then had to claw a Scott McGleish effort from under his bar during a scramble.
But Hunt broke through on 66 minutes and two minutes later it should have been all over as Mendes robbed Stephen Dawson before sending Low away, Pressman again getting in the way of what looked a certain goal.
Stags once more raised a gear, with Birchall pushed up into a 4-4-2 and Rhys Day and D'Laryea had goalbound headers saved by the confident Harper in the last 14 minutes as the Cobblers hung on.
Shirtliff said: "I thought we played quite well and gave a good account of ourselves.
"I was disappointed with the free kick which led to the goal.
"Gareth had no intent to handle when he went in. Sometimes they are given, sometimes not. But it was a fantastic strike and you have to hold your hands up.
"It was a bit of quality and we showed nothing of that type of quality in and around their box.
"Sometimes we panic too much. We need more composure which is hard when you are where we are in the league."
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