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23/October/2006 14:49:25

DOUBTERS ARE SILENCED BY BARKER'S SALVO
Evening Post, 23 October 2006
matthew.halfpenny

Mansfield Town 3 - 0 Wrexham
THE mark of a good professional in any walk of life is that they can respond positively to criticism.

So Richard Barker's performance against Wrexham was the perfect answer to those questioning whether last season's top scorer still has what it takes to be effective at this level.

The captain has been stung by the stick he has received from some of the Mansfield fans.

So much so, in fact, that he revealed in the Evening Post last week he has been fighting on with a broken foot to further the Stags cause.

The injury, according to the 31-year-old, has still not completely healed and may take another two to three weeks to do so. But even so, Barker was still fit enough to shoot down Wrexham with a well-taken first-half brace.

As well as taking his tally to eight for the season, it also stopped his critics in their tracks. There is plenty of life in Barker yet it would seem. But the former Sheffield Wednesday player will always tell you that the team come first.

And in that regard, Mansfield will be just as delighted with three goals, three points and, importantly, a clean sheet. It was only the second the Stags have managed in League Two this season and meant that they could play out the closing stages in an unusually relaxed mood, rather than having to fight for their lives.

Once Barker had set the Stags on their way with the opener, the home side's winning position was only truly threatened once. With Mansfield set to go in at the break 2-0 up, Chris Llewellyn had a golden chance to pull a goal back for the Red Dragons.

Carl Muggleton made a smart save to deny him and a potential turning point came and went. For once, boss Peter Shirtliff must have felt like his team had not been punished for a lapse in concentration.

So often in the opening two-and-a-half months of the campaign, the Stags boss has bemoaned that his side have been punished for every error they have made at the back. But this time, the fortune favoured Mansfield and from then on, the home win was rarely in doubt. In the end, it could have been even more convincing but for some good saves from keeper Michael Ingham and the woodwork.

It was the Wrexham shot-stopper who denied Matt Hamshaw what would have been a cracker with an athletic parry from a rising shot.

That was after the midfielder - returning following suspension - carried the ball from inside his own half and past two challenges to set up the opportunity.

But Mansfield will just be happy with the goals they did get - once again the front two doing all the damage. Barker's first came after a bright opening from the Welshmen and saw him round Ingham before sliding home from close range after an excellent through ball from Hamshaw.

His second in the 36th minute came from a ball over the top from Alan Sheehan that saw him nick the ball past the keeper as he tried to intercept and then roll into goal.

But strike partner Danny Reet showed he is not about to give up in his race with Barker to be top scorer.

He made it 3-0 in the second half when he powered home a volley after Wrexham had got things wrong when trying to push out to play offside.

It took his tally to seven - and the rivalry between him and his more experienced compatriot can only be a good thing for the Stags.

The only thing to go wrong for Mansfield was when Stephen Dawson was forced to leave the field on a stretcher after being fouled for the free kick which led to the third goal.

Fortunately his heel injury is not as bad as first feared and the Irishman should be back in training this week.

The importance of the win cannot not be overstated, especially with two away games at Macclesfield and Bristol Rovers to come. It gives the Stags just a little bit of breathing space between them and the Conference drop zone, which was becoming increasingly clear in their rear view mirrors.

But now with a feeling of optimism and confidence in their veins, Mansfield have the potential to lay a ghost to rest.

The Stags may have yet to post a victory on their travels, but Macclesfield have yet to win a game in the league this season - the only professional team in the country to have that unenviable record.


SHIRTLIFF: 'I HAVE A JOB TO DO HERE'
Evening Post, 23 October 2006
Mansfield manager Peter Shirtliff has refused to rule himself out of the running for the Sheffield Wednesday job - but says he has unfinished business at the Stags.

After the sacking of Owls boss Paul Sturrock last week, Shirtliff has been linked with the post. He said:

" I have a job to do here and I hope I am doing it OK and that people recognise that."

SCORELINE REFLECTED A FANTASTIC PERFORMANCE
Evening Post, 23 October 2006
Peter Shirtliff heaped praised on his Mansfield side after a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Wrexham at Field Mill.

The Stags maintained their good home form thanks to two goals from Richard Barker and one from strike partner Danny Reet.

Shirtliff was delighted with all aspects of Mansfield's play and said: ''It was a fantastic - a great performance in all departments. I thought we looked positive and threatening and the 3-0 scoreline was no injustice at all. It was good to have Matt Hamshaw back (from suspension) because he has the quality on the ball and if he'd have scored the one where he went all the way through on his own then it would have been the goal of the season.

''It was also pleasing that Carl made the save when we went to sleep for a split second to keep us in control.

''Goalkeepers are there to make saves but I was chuffed to bits that he made it as it kept our clean sheet."

The Stags boss singled out Barker for special praise as he returned to form with a bang after battling through a difficult period with a broken foot.

''I'm pleased for Richie because he works hard on the field and in training and he deserves the success he gets,'' said Shirtliff. ''I realised he had been struggling a bit, but I didn't realise just how bad the crack was.''

Midfielder Stephen Dawson was carried off on a stretcher but Shirtliff expects him to be in contention for the trip to Macclesfield.

ACE STRIKER SO CLOSE TO HAT-TRICK
Evening Post, 23 October 2006
Richard Barker hopes his two goals against Wrexham will win over his doubters.

The striker has been under fire from some Mansfield supporters.

But the club captain - who has been playing with a broken foot - answered his critics on Saturday with a brace of goals in Mansfield's 3-0 win.

Barker was only denied a treble by Michael Ingham as the Wrexham goalkeeper pushed his second-half header on to the bar.

''I don't know whether you would class this or when Hereford scored an own goal after my shot as coming closest to getting a hat-trick,'' he said.

''It was nice to score the two goals and put to bed that people have been saying I am out of form,'' said Barker.

''Hopefully it will stop the things that people have been saying about me. People are entitled to their opinion, but hopefully that has changed it.''

Just like his boss Peter Shirtliff, Barker was delighted with the way that the Stags clinically disposed of Wrexham.

He said: ''It could have been even more convincing in the end but we will settle for 3-0.

''It was a massively important to come away with the win and I thought we looked strong right up until the end. It was nice to get the third goal and just kill things off so that we could play the ball around in the last 15 minutes and try to score again without having to worry about conceding at the other end.''

Barker admitted he is enjoying the rivalry between him and Danny Reet in the race to finish as the club's leading marksman.

He said: ''When Danny went one goal in front of me, he was giving me some stick, saying that he was the top scorer.

"But I just laughed and told him that it wouldn't last very long - and so it has proved!''


PETER HAILS "FANTASTIC" STAGS
Evening Post
Mansfield Town 3 v 0 Wrexham
Wrexham manager Denis Smith was furious as his side suffered a fifth successive away defeat, 3-0 at Mansfield and their eighth loss in nine games.

A brace from Mansfield skipper Richie Barker set the Stags on their way to a comfortable victory and Smith snapped: "I'm extremely disappointed with the performance.

"We have had perhaps 65 to 70% of the play, but we have not really created anything.

"I'm nearly 60 and I could have stopped their second goal!

"We made basic errors and it cost us. We were in control for the first 20 minutes and stuck to our game plan. But, bang, a goal and it changed things.

"I said at half-time we were going to change things round to try to come back from 2-0 down, but the third goal killed the game.

"I thought it looked offside, but someone stayed in and the lad can't answer why he did that.

"Carl Llewellyn could have scored just before half-time and that might have made a difference. In the end we have to accept we are not good enough and need to look at things again."

Barker netted three times against the Dragons last season and his first-half brace helped extend the Welsh club's current poor run.

Mansfield manager Peter Shirtliff said: "That was fantastic - a great performance in all departments.

"I thought we looked positive and threatening on many occasions and the final scoreline was no injustice.

"It was good to have Matt Hamshaw back. He has the quality on the ball and if he had scored the one when he went all the way through it would have been goal of the season.

"I was pleased for Richie Barker to grab two goals, he has worked hard on the field and in training and deserved them.

"I was also pleased with Carl Muggleton just before half-time when we went to sleep for a split second and he came to our rescue.

"Goalkeepers are there to make saves, but I was chuffed to bits for him that he made it, as it kept us a clean sheet which was important."

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Goal highlights from Stagsworld audio commentary (file is 0.5Mb) Clips here
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Post match comment from Stagsworld audio commentary (file is 1.0Mb) Clips here
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