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14/August/2006 14:32:56

SHIRTLIFF LIGHTS THE BLUE TOUCHPAPER AND MANSFIELD SEIZE THE INITIATIVE
Evening Post, 14 August 2006

Peter Shirtliff is presiding over a much more positive start to the season for Mansfield Town, who were suffering this time last year under Carlton Palmer.

But it needed a half-time rocket from the Stags manager to salvage a point at home to Stockport after a poor first half saw them trailing 1-0.

Shirtliff said: ''The first half was a bit tepid. We huffed and puffed but never showed any real conviction with the play. The goal was ridiculous in terms of our defending. There wasn't much happening either end, in all honesty.

''If we upped the tempo a little bit, upped the quality and passing, we'd get something, and that's how it turned out."

Shirtliff also felt his side were denied a penalty after a handball in Stockport's penalty area - a decision he felt could have cost the Stags all three points.

''I was a bit disappointed. It was a stonewall penalty for handball, not just on one hand, but two! We were disappointed on that, he said.

''If the goal had come earlier, we would've won. We were all over them for the first part of the second half. The wind plays a factor here, there were gales coming down the pitch and it's not easy in those conditions.''

Shirtliff said the whole team deserved praise, but singled out one or two players' performances.

''Hamshaw has got that sort of quality," he said. "He's produced it when we needed it but it's a team thing. One or two things didn't really go for us. Sometimes, we didn't make the best decisions. Instead of trying 30-yard volleys, we needed to have a bit of patience in the final third.''

Jon Olav Hjelde was taken off early in the first half but Shirtliff said it was a minor hamstring niggle. ''He felt it, rather than it going," he said. "I think we made the right decision as a precaution.''
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MATT'S FINISH SPURS TOWN
Evening Post, 14 August 2006
ALISTAIR HARRIS

Mansfield Town 1 - 1 Stockport County
MANSFIELD failed to turn their dominance into three points and had to rely on Matt Hamshaw's equaliser against his former team-mates six minutes from time to earn a point.

The visitors had been more than happy to sit back after taking the lead midway through the first half, where neither team really established themselves.

The midfield was congested and, all-too-often, both teams tried to take the ball down the middle instead of using space on the wings.

Mansfield, for all their long balls and high clearances, fought for, and won, the lion's share of possession, but never quite managed to turn their control into goals.

At half-time, it just didn't look like the Stags would get anything out of the game.

But from the second the game restarted, it was like watching a different team. Whatever manager Peter Shirtliff said seemed to have had the desired effect.

Alex John-Baptiste, Hamshaw, Richard Barker and Simon Brown linked well across the field, and the Stags' wider threat - from Gareth Jelleyman and John Mullins - was productive, and, crucially, potent.

The confines of a 4-3-3 formation took their toll early on, with Stockport able to sit back after scoring and simply soak up Mansfield pressure like a white sponge.

Not every team the Stags play this year will be content to defend for three-quarters of the match. But if Mansfield are to pick up more than a point in games like these, the confidence, exuberance and sheer determination they showed in the second half will have to be present from the first whistle.

Boss Shirtliff was happy to admit that the first half was a tedious affair. Frustrated fans could only watch as attack after attack faded away to nothing and then even worse, Stockport took the lead, Keith Briggs heading home after 24 minutes after Glen Murray nodded on Ashley Williams' free kick.

It was a soft goal to concede, and for the rest of the half, it looked like Stockport's hit-and-run tactics would pay off. But all that was to change after the break as Hamshaw and Dawson played like men possessed.

Hamshaw was everywhere in both defence and attack. Dawson seemed to orchestrate every positive Mansfield move. John-Baptiste and Jonathan D'Laryea were excellent when they could get the ball on the floor in midfield - D'Laryea's tackling putting a stop to several good Stockport moves - and Mullins was unlucky not to score.

If the Stags had taken this approach from the off, they would have walked away with the three points. Stockport, after a relatively poor start to the season, seemed timid and unconfident going forward.

That was reflected when they replaced their goalscorer with a defender at half-time in a bid to sit back to try to soak up the Mansfield attack. For a time, it worked.

But as soon as Hamshaw and Dawson picked up their game, it was a matter of when, not if, Mansfield would score.

Both players are quick-thinkers and are good with their feet. Hamshaw supplied a series of crosses and free-kicks which deserved better. Dawson was nicking the ball off Stockport feet with ease, and quickly turning his impudence into attacking play for the Stags.

Both players got the ball down the channels, and both produced some lovely through-balls which split Stockport's defence. There was a lack of pace, and Brown's control was not as sharp as it has been. But there were several times where Mansfield players were left free in the box. Unfortunately, they didn't take their chances.

Hamshaw's equalising strike didn't come until the 84th minute. It had been one-way traffic for the whole half leading up to then, and it was frustrating knowing that the Stags almost faced losing a point because they just couldn't finish any moves.

Hamshaw's strike was swiftly followed by a volley of last-ditch efforts, one of which rattled Stockport's woodwork. If Mansfield had shown the same fizz they had in the last ten minutes throughout the match, this could have been a rout. But it was too little, too late and the all-important winner evaded them.

The team remains unbeaten and the early signs are still promising. But if Stags are to mount a challenge at the right end of the table, this is the sort of game they will have to win.

OPPOSITION VIEW

STOCKPORT County are still searching for their first win of the season following their 1-1 draw with Mansfield Town

But manager Jim Gannon was frustrated that his team held out until the closing minutes before conceding an equaliser.

''It was disappointing but we have to give credit to Mansfield. They put us under pressure in the second half with the wind behind them and probably deserved a draw,'' he said.

''If players are not strong enough mentally for the whole 90 minutes we will always have problems.

''The only way we have looked like scoring is from set-pieces and one came off today but I was disappointed some of the others didn't.

''In open play, some things we have been working on in training haven't come off and we have to look at the players' attitudes.''

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CHAD report:
Gutsy Stags hit back for draw
GUTSY Stags turned on the style in the second-half to earn a battling 1-1 draw against lowly Stockport County at Field Mill on Saturday.
Below par Mansfield, who fielded an unchanged team from the impressive defeat of MK Dons, trailed 1-0 at the break after a lacklustre first half display in which they failed to get to grips with the tricky conditions and Stockport's powerful physical approach.
But an inspired final 45 minutes saw sensational Stags grab a much-deserved equaliser as their fluid attacking play threatened to blow their Lancashire opponents away to claim all three points.
Stags began the match in sluggish fashion as the swirling wind and combative Stockport midfield strangled the game and prevented Mansfield from slipping into their usual passing grove.
And misfiring Stags nearly fell behind inside the first minute when lively striker Glen Murray blazed over from 12 yards after Stags' defence was caught napping by a long ball through midfield.
With the strong wind playing havoc and Stockport's combative midfield quartet causing problems Mansfield struggled to get a foothold in the match and create any clear cut chances.
Prolific striker Ritchie Barker nearly fired Stags ahead after he narrowly failed to head home a deep Gareth Jelleyman cross at the back post on 15 minutes.
And moments later a neat interception and bursting run by energetic Jonathan D'Laryea played in Barker, who was hacked down on the edge of the box by Robinson.
Winger Boulding, who was largely anonymous throughout the game, crashed the resulting free-kick against the wall, before Brown swivelled to pounce on the rebound from six-yards out only to see his goalbound shot blocked by Williams.
But far too often Mansfield lacked fluency and a cutting edge in the final third as their wayward passing and sluggish movement failed to trouble the well-drilled County defence.
And sleepy Stags were made to pay for their poor start when the towering Stockport attack exposed Mansfield's defensive frailities in the air to deliver a sucker punch on 23 minutes.
A floated free-kick by defender Ashley Williams found Glen Murray just inside the corner of the box, who guided a neat header into the path of Keith Briggs who powered his header home to leave keeper Muggleton stranded.
Stags briefly rallied but never really threated Stockport's well protected backline.
Simon Brown forced County keeper James Spencer into action on 30 minutes when his looping header from eight yards out was comfortably saved.
And Brown again came closest to dragging Stags level seconds before half-time when his goalbound effort from 12 yards was blocked by influential Williams after he had been put through on goal following a neat spin and turn by strike partner Barker.
But it was a classic game of two halves as Stags, stung by a verbal backlash by boss Shirtliff during the half-time break, came out all guns blazing.
Former County player Matt Hamshaw took a firm grip of midfield and was at the heart of all of Mansfield's attacks as Stags stepped up the pressure in search of the equaliser.
Mansfield nearly levelled on 48 minutes when D'Laryea disappointedly fired straight at the keeper after he had been played in on goal by Simon Brown following a swift counter attack.
Stags began to push Stockport deep inside their own half as the pressure intensfied and the shots reigned down on goal.
Brown fired high over the bar with a thunderous drive on 54 minutes and an off-balance Dawson also threatened the under-seige Stockport goal with a left-footed drive from 25 yards two minutes later.
But as the half wore on man-of-the-match Hamshaw began to really turn on the style as his silky movement and wide array of passing and quick feet caused mayhem for the wobbling County backline.
Stags should have equalised just after the hour when a jinking infield run by playmaker Hamshaw from the right wing found Dawson who, in turn, picked out the surging Mullins who sloppily headed wide from 12 yards.
Sublime Hamshaw nearly dragged Stags level after he linked beautifully with subdued Barker, following a powerful surging run from the right channel, only to clip his right footed curler inches past the post on 69 minutes.
With time running out inspirational Hamshaw was again thwarted on 82 minutes as valiant Stags pushed County deeper and deeper inside their own defensive third.
Keeper Spencer flapped at a deep Adam Birchall free kick on the penalty spot and was nearly left stranded as the ball was played back to Hamshaw, who saw his goalbound strike smothered by the rapidly retreating keeper.
But the Field Mill side were finally rewarded for their endeavours a minute later when a neat jinking run and one-two between Hamshaw and Brown sent Hamshaw in on goal to rifle home through the keeper's legs.
The neat finish - Hamshaw's second of the season - was nothing more than Stags deserved for their dominant second half display.
Rampant Stags, roared on by the delighted Field Mill faithful, now sensed the chance to claim maximum points and continued to surge forward.
And they were unlucky not to find a deserved winner when Dawson saw his thunderbolt drive smartly saved at the nearer post by scrambling Spencer with two minutes to go.
From the resulting corner Hamshaw was inches away from bagging his second of the match when his right-foot piledriver crashed against the upright from 15 yards with Spencer stranded.
But time was rapidly running out and when defender John-Baptiste skied a 30-yard effort high over the bar deep into injury time Stags' final chance of claiming a three-point haul was gone.
After the game Stags boss Peter Shirtliff spoke of his pride at his side's dominant second half display.
"I thought if we kept a clean sheet in the second half we would win the game and if the goal had come sooner I'm sure we would have got a winner,"he said.
"I was pleased with our second half display.
We upped our quality and were all over them and I was disappointed we didn't get the winner.
"One or two things didn't go our way and at times we made the wrong decision with our passing, but we will play worse than that this season and go on to win the game." He added: "There was no conviction in our play in the first half but I didn't think there was much in it.
"We didn't do anything to hurt them but they also never really hurt us apart from the goal.
"The conditions were not ideal to play in.
"The wind was gusty and it is not easy to play in conditions like that." And delighted Shirtliff now believes his Stags side are heading in the right direction following their unbeaten start to the season.
He said: "The whole team played very well and there were some excellent performances all round.
"We are disappointed we don't have more points from our first three games, but I am pleased with the start to the season so far and very happy to be unbeaten.
"We are building momentum with our unbeaten run and confidence amongst the players is high and we are all looking forward to the next game."
14 August 2006
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