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A SPOT OF RELIEF FOR BARKER
matt.halfpenny, EVENING POST, 16 October 2006
Boston United 1 - 1 Mansfield Town
HIS case may have been the highest profile, but Wayne Rooney is not the only striker who has been desperate for a goal of late.
While the Manchester United and England prodigy has come under the spotlight for his struggle to find the net, Mansfield skipper Richard Barker has endured his own barren spell.
Having not scored for seven matches ahead of the Stags' trip to Boston, last season's unanimous player of the year was starting to feel frustrated, especially with co-striker Danny Reet in such red-hot form.
Only a week earlier after the draw with Notts County when he hit the post and bar, Barker was bemoaning his luck and wondering why the gods were conspiring against him.
So he will not care in the slightest that the end to his plight came from the penalty spot rather than a screamer from open play.
And neither will the rest of the Stags team as the strike was important not just for Barker but also for ending the team's goal drought on their travels.
When their captain thumped home a 71st-minute equaliser after he had been manhandled in the box by Paul Ellender, it was Mansfield's first goal in 470 minutes of League Two football on the road.
The grin on Barker's face as he celebrated was as wide as that of Rooney's at the JJB Stadium who, although not scoring, was inspirational in Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Wigan.
That leveller was no more than the Stags deserved as they managed to battle back from a goal down away from home for the first time since the opening day of the season at Shrewsbury.
In fact, it was Peter Shirtliff's men who were stronger in the closing stages and they had opportunities to win the game.
As Nathan Arnold was introduced into the action and made a difference with his pace down the right, only a fine double save from Sutton-in-Ashfield-born Boston goalkeeper Andy Marriott denied Barker and then Giles Coke a winner.
But it was a poor game between two sides who - on this evidence at least - look destined to finish in the bottom half of the table come May.
The first half in particular made arduous viewing and it was only a single piece of smart work from Pilgrims winger Dany N'Guessan that allowed Boston to go in at the break a goal to the good.
The French youngster - on loan from Rangers - charged down Alan Sheehan's attempted clearance and reacted quickly to chip the ball over Carl Muggleton as the veteran raced from his line in an attempt to snuff out the danger. Sheehan's misery was compounded when he was forced to leave the field in the latter stages of the first half with injury and was replaced by Coke.
Thankfully, things did improve as a spectacle after the restart and Mansfield showed a certain amount of the resilience their manager has been asking for.
Leading up to their goal, the visitors had a ten-minute spell of pressure that saw Stephen Dawson denied by a smart save from Marriott, who then also thwarted Reet from close range.
But the Boston keeper was unable to become the third man this season to save a Barker spot-kick as the striker tucked his effort powerfully just under the bar.
On the face of it, a point against a side second from bottom in the table and ravaged by injury and suspension was not a great result for the Stags.
But after four defeats in a row away from home without registering a goal, a scoring draw is a significant improvement.
For the first time in a long time, particularly after they had drawn level, the Stags seemed to believe in themselves as an attacking force on opposition territory.
And that is the key to more success. In every away league game this season Mansfield have conceded at least one goal.
So if keeping clean sheets continues to be a problem then scoring at the other end has to be the best way forward.
Confidence is all-important, because a confident Stags side has the ability to play the football that can carve teams open - as they have shown at Field Mill on several occasions.
Whether transferring the approach at home to away games is a mental barrier, only the players can know for sure.
But if Shirtliff's charges can find a way to overcome their travel sickness, then there is hope that they can push on into the top half of the table.
Barker, for one, would not be unhappy with such outcome, because that would mean him scoring a lot more goals.
And after coming through such a lean streak in these past few weeks, who could blame him for that?
WE COULD HAVE WON IT
EVENING POST, 16 October 2006
Peter Shirtliff was pleased that Stags ended a run of four consecutive away defeats with a 1-1 draw at Boston - but felt his side could have gone on to win.
Richard Barker's second-half penalty helped the Stags to a point after Dany N'Guessan had given the Pilgrims a first-half lead. But although happy his side had not gone home empty-handed, he believes they should have taken advantage of their late superiority.
"It was a positive to get a point and we will take it but we could have had three," said Shirtliff. "It's hard to say why we can't play well for 90 minutes away, but that is what we need to start doing.
"The first half was poor and there was not a lot of football played - it was kick and rush by both teams. But in the second half we were better with more energy and aggression. There was a better quality into the front players and the pace of Nathan Arnold caused them problems.
"Boston worked hard in the first half but as the game went on I thought our fitness levels told a little bit. I just wish we would play with more authority away from home in the first half."
Shirtliff said it was Mansfield's habit of giving away sloppy goals that had once again made things difficult.
Boston's goal came when N'Guessan capitalised on hesitation from young left-back Alan Sheehan.
He said: "In the second half we managed to get a modicum of control but until we stop conceding needless goals, we aren't going to climb the league.
"Credit to the boy for the way he took it but it was poor play from us by not releasing the ball quickly enough."
The Stags boss was thrilled to see his captain Richard Barker back on the scoresheet for the first time in eight matches.
"I thought it was a definite penalty - you can't do that to people in the box - and it is great to see Richie back on target," said Shirtliff.
I would like to see him have a few more chances in open play away from home but to do that we have to give him better service."
MULLINS IS GLAD TO BE BACK IN FRAME
EVENING POST, 16 October 2006
Stags defender Johnny Mullins is determined not to be dropped again after his recall at Boston.
The 20-year-old right-back had been ever-present in the side until he was left out for the matches against Darlington, Walsall and Notts County.
But a reshuffle at the Staffsmart Stadium because of the suspension of Matt Hamshaw saw Mullins back in the side - and that is where he aims to stay.
"It was nice to be in the team again after a spell on the sidelines - no one likes to be on the bench," he said. "Now I am in, I don't want to be out again, so I hope I've done enough to convince the boss.
"Like every player, there is room for improvement and I know I have things to work on, but the main thing is to be playing."
Mullins felt the Stags were both disappointing and good at times against the Pilgrims. But he was understandably happy that the Stags had ended a run of 470 minutes without a goal in League Two football away from home.
Mullins said: "I thought in the first half we weren't really at the races. They bombarded us with the long ball as we expected and we went in 1-0 down.
"But we said at half-time we were capable of getting back into the game and going on to win the game and in the end we nearly did because in the second half it was all us.
"On another day we might have scored a winner but first and foremost it was important to stop the rot and not lose.
"It was vital to get a goal after the run we've had away and it was great to see Richie get it. Hopefully now he can go on and score in a few matches in a row.
"If he does that then we will start picking up some results and moving up the table."
INJURED MEN KEY TO EVANS' FUTURE
EVENING POST, 16 October 2006
Under-fire Boston boss Steve Evans says he will bow to calls for him to go if his side's fortunes do not improve once injuries clear.
The Pilgrims have slumped to second from bottom in League Two, leading to angry fans demanding their manager's resignation.
But a number of Evans' first-choice players are on the treatment table while two more were suspended for their 1-1 draw with Mansfield.
He believes that accounts for Boston's problems and he says if he is proved wrong in that assessment then the supporters can have their way.
"I'm going nowhere until I get a full squad of players back and we see what they can do," said Evans.
"We had only seven or eight players in training on Friday and no manager can work in that situation.
"But if things don't change when the players are back a then Steve Evans will step away from the football club."
Observer report by Steve Hartshorn
BARKER SPOT ON AT BOSTON
Boston United 1 Mansfield Town 1
N'Guessan 25 Barker 71 pen
Att – 2314 (644 from Mansfield)
A Richard Barker penalty on 71 minutes proved enough for The Stags to gain a precious point at Boston United. The goal, Stags first on their travels in four games provided Peter Shirtliff's men with a happy League away-day return for the first time since mid-August.
Mansfield in search of a positive result on their travels could have expected a first League away win at struggling Boston but it wasn't to be and Stags fans must now wait to see if Mansfield can finally break this season's duck away at League 2's bottom side, Macclesfield Town in two weeks time.
Both Mansfield and Boston find themselves at the wrong end of League 2 and on the evidence of the 1st half, you could plainly see why. There was little or no excitement for either sets of fans in the first 20 minutes as both sides struggled to get any form of consistent passing together.
It was Stags though who did create the first opening when following a free kick, Reet turned well but could only tamely fire at Marriott in the United goal.
Just past the quarter hour mark, Barker lobbed the ball up for Reet who's header fell nicely for the unmarked, Dawson, however with time for a more controlled finish, The Stags midfielder hurried his shot and the ball flew well wide of goal.
On 25 minutes, the home side received a large slice of luck. The ball was at the feet of Sheehan who looked up and prepared the pile the ball forward into one of the forward channels, however the ball smacked against N'Guessan and fell neatly for the Boston forward. Muggleton raced out in vain to try rescue the situation but N'Guessan calmly lobbed the ball over him into the empty net.
On the 37th minute mark, Barker was just inches away from connecting with a D'Laryea cross as Stags tried to step up the pressure in search of an equaliser.
Two minutes later Stags were forced into a substitution as Sheehan limped out of the action to be replaced by Coke.
Just before the half time break, Coke forced Marriott into a diving save to prevent his deflected shot for going in.
Early in the 2nd half, Boston almost added to their tally but Elding's glanced header went across the face of goal much to the relief of the Stags rearguard.
Marriott was called into action on 54 minutes to beat away a powerful drive from Dawson, after the ball had dropped to him from a Jelleyman corner. Soon after a drive by Baptiste was deflected wide as Mansfield turned the screw in search of that elusive away goal.
On 61 minutes, Shirtliff sent on Arnold for Buxton and almost straight away, Marriott was called into action, this time to deny Coke.
Stags were peppering away. Dawson saw his effort just go over the bar and Jelleyman saw his free-kick disappointingly fly well over.
On 71 minutes though Stags finally achieved a breakthrough. Jelleyman pumped a long free kick in the Boston area where the Referee spotted Ellender holding onto Barker and pointed directly to the spot. Barker made no mistake firing the ball into the back of the net and giving Marriott no chance whatsoever.
Stags were now clearly the better side and were forcing corner after corner. The home support was anxiously looking at their watches. Boston were indeed hanging on.
D'Laryea forced Marriott into action once more and Reet was unlucky when he got on the end of a low cross from Arnold. Marriott was forced into a great double save from headers from Coke and Barker as Mansfield went in search of the winner.
But football has a nasty habit of nipping you on the butt when you least expect it. Boston with just two minutes left on the clock, almost stole all three points when Rusk got in a free header from eight yards out. Thankfully Muggleton was alive to the chance and tipped the ball over for a corner.
Although Stags will be grateful to gain a point from what could have been a tricky encounter, they will feel slightly disappointed that they didn't make the short journey back to Field Mill with all three points. What Stags will be hoping is that this is the turning point of their season.
This weekend Stags face Wrexham at Field Mill (3pm) and then the following week they travel to strugglers Macclesfield Town. Both games are winnable and could see Stags make significant progress up the Coca Cola League 2 table.
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