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STAGS HAVE IT ALL TO PLAY FOR
Evening Post, 10 April 2006
Last-gasp hero Allan Russell was delighted to keep Mansfield's faint play-off hopes alive with his injury-time leveller at Lincoln.
The Scotsman had suffered a year of frustration in 2006 before Saturday's visit to Sincil Bank.
He fractured his toe at the end of January and had not figured in the first team until he came on for Gus Uhlenbeek with 11 minutes to go.
But all that was forgotten when he thumped home a superb free-kick to send the travelling Stags fans home happy.
"I have been disappointed with how things have gone because of the injury and it was just great to get back out there," said Russell.
"When we won the free-kick I knew straight away that I fancied it, so I just grabbed the ball off Daws (Stephen Dawson) and told him I would score.
"I hit it well and luckily for me it went straight into the corner.
"It's been really frustrating because for six or seven weeks I couldn't do much at all, but I wanted to get back playing.
"I've tried to come and see the lads as much as I can but there's nothing like playing and now I just want to be involved as much as I can between now and the end of the season.
"Anything can happen in football and anything can still happen. I now think if we keep performing how we are and the results go right for us and not for some of the other sides, we can be there or thereabouts."
RUSSELL RETURNS TO PUNISH TOUGH IMPS
Evening Post, 10 April 2006
Lincoln City 1 - 1 Mansfield Town
IT can't be very often that Lincoln's infamous tactics have rebounded on them.
Well known for intimidating their opponents with their physical approach, the Imps have made a good living out of stopping teams like the Stags playing the ball on the ground.
But on this occasion, their intent to not allow Mansfield to build up any kind of momentum came back to haunt them.
Peter Shirtliff's men were having a frustrating time of things as they piled forward in search of an equaliser after Francis Green had given the hosts a 53rd-minute lead.
Every time, it seemed, that Mansfield were building up a spell of pressure, they were stopped in their tracks by a Lincoln foul.
Keith Alexander's men conceded a colossal 23 free-kicks in the game - mostly in the second half, when Mansfield were at their best.
Those tactics looked to have worked when the Stags headed into injury time still a goal down. But then Lincoln gave away one free-kick too many.
Having sat on the bench for most of the game - and watched Laurence Wilson and Richard Barker waste other good shooting opportunities from set pieces - substitute Allan Russell punished the hosts with a brilliantly executed free-kick, curling just inside Alan Marriott's left-hand host.
The goal was all the more remarkable for the fact that Russell has not played League Two football since the end of January because of a fractured toe.
The Scottish striker has been forced to sit on the sidelines as his team-mates have swept up the table on the back of a fantastic run, which has now stretched to just one defeat in their last 11 games.
The draw has done little to help Mansfield's hopes for a late surge into the play-offs, especially as Peterborough won, to stretch the gap to the top seven to seven points with just five games to go.
But that will not worry Shirtliff or his troops, who are just enjoying playing with a "que sera sera" attitude.
The main focus after such a dreadful start to this season was always going to be to avoid the drop.
The play-offs, it would appear, are going to prove one step too far, but a top-half finish is not.
More than half the number of Mansfield fans who support Stags at Field Mill on a regular basis turned up at Sincil Bank and gave their team a vociferous backing.
But they had very little to shout about in the opening half which saw the two sides largely cancel each other out.
Giles Coke and Gus Uhlenbeek did get shots on target but nothing that Marriott could not deal with comfortably.
At the other end, there were one or two hairy moments as Lincoln bombarded Mansfield with their trademark high balls up to three front players - Jamie Forrester, Marvin Robinson and Francis Green.
Yet it was central defender Jamie McCombe who went closest for the Imps when he glanced a header inches past the right-hand post.
Thankfully, the second half livened up considerably as the Stags stepped up a gear.
First, Danny Reet crossed for Coke, who mistimed his attempted diving header, and then Marriott saved well from Barker's shot on the turn.
But the best chance fell to Reet, who some how blazed over the top from inside the six-yard box after Rundle's low centre had slipped through the grasp of Marriott.
The Lincoln keeper was not on his own in struggling to cope with the greasy conditions, but an error by his opposite number Kevin Pressman proved more costly.
Green connected powerfully with a deep right-wing cross from Colin Cryan in the 53rd minute shot, but his effort appeared to be too close to the Stags veteran.
However, the ball skidded past Pressman and sneaked just over the line to give Lincoln the lead just when the Stags had begun to get on top.
But then came Russell's moment to save the day in injury time.
Peter Shirtliff praised his side for their never-say-die attitude in salvaging the late point.
"We really needed to score first if we were going to win the game and their goal came against the run of play," said the Stags boss..
"But we showed great spirit and resilience to stay in the game and take a point at the end."
RENNIE HARD TO DIGEST
Lincs Echo, 10 April 2006
Lincoln City manager Keith Alexander and captain Jamie McCombe slammed referee Uriah Rennie after Saturday's 1-1 League Two draw with Mansfield at Sincil Bank.
The Imps were leading 1-0 - thanks to Francis Green's 53rd-minute strike - when Premiership official Rennie controversially penalised Lee Beevers for a foul on Stags substitute Simon Brown in the final seconds.
Beevers appeared to win the ball, but Rennie awarded a free-kick - 25 yards from goal - which Alan Russell fired home to earn the Stags a point.
The result saw City drop down to ninth in the table - two points outside the final play-off berth.
"I thought it was a shocking decision for the free-kick," said Alexander.
"I thought it was a shocking refereeing decision, full stop.
"You can't blame the goal solely on the referee's decision, but we've had three select group referees this season and I think he is the worst."
McCombe backed his manager's view of the South Yorkshire official's performance - and criticised his handling of the free-kick situation.
"I was disappointed by a few decisions he made throughout the afternoon," said McCombe.
"I might be wrong, but he gave the free-kick - which I wasn't sure about - and then held up his whistle to indicate he would blow before the kick could be taken.
"As their lad took the kick I was facing the referee and never heard the whistle go - but he let the goal stand.
"He also wasn't willing to listen to the players when they tried to speak to him."
Despite being annoyed by Rennie's decision, Alexander conceded his side should have dealt with the set-piece.
But he insisted a point could prove to be crucial as the season heads towards the closing stages.
"I've seen the goal on the video and we could have dealt with it better," admitted the Imps boss.
"We had a wall in place, but the ball somehow managed to end up in the net. That is something we are going to have to work on this week.
"Despite conceding the late goal, I'm happy with the performance.
"Unfortunately, when you are only one goal ahead the opposition always has a chance.
"Derbies are difficult. Mansfield are on a bit of a run - and we're not having a good time at the moment.
"We had a good spell in the match, but you have to score goals. I'm not criticising the players because they've had a hard week.
"It could prove to be a decent point, although it feels like two dropped at the moment."
Marriot on Goal
Imps keeper Alan Marriot said he didn't see Alan Russell's goal as it flew past him.
Speaking to the Lincolnshire Echo, Marriot said "The goal we conceded against Mansfield on Saturday was another example of some of the bad luck we have endured this season.
"I had lined the wall up perfectly, but when Russell took the kick, two players suddenly obscured my view.
"By the time I saw the ball, it was too late. You just can't legislate for things like that.
"It's been indicative of our season and I'm fed up of it to be honest because I pride myself on clean sheets."
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