BARKER AND ARNOLD DUMP DREADFUL DARLO
Darlington 0 - 2 Mansfield Town
Barker 5, Arnold 62.
Attendance: 3808 (286 from Mansfield)
Mansfield missed a hatful of chances against dreadful Darlington on Boxing Day but picked up a crucial 3 points in Paul Holland's first game in charge as caretaker manager.
Nathan Arnold was a star coming on as an early sub and scoring, as well as leading Darlo a merry dance. Richie Barker's early goal earlier put the Stags in front.
DARLINGTON 0, MANSFIELD 2: MATCH REPORT
Evening Post, 27 December 2006
It may well be that the next Mansfield Town manager has already been decided by chief executive Keith Haslam.
But if the games over the Christmas and new year period are acting as a job interview for caretaker boss Paul Holland, then he could hardly have made a better start.
In what was his first game in charge following the axing of Peter Shirtliff last week, Holland gave the travelling Stags a very welcome, if belated, Christmas present in the shape of a rare away win.
Not only that, it also brought a first clean sheet for the Stags on the road in League Two this season as Holland accomplished at the first time of asking something Shirtliff could not achieve in 11 attempts.
There were a string of other notables in the deserved victory too. It was Mansfield's first success at Darlington's new stadium, Nathan Arnold scored his first goal of the season and skipper Richard Barker scored his 15th.
And it was also the Stags' first triumph on away soil since the late show at Macclesfield at the end of October when they were 3-2 winners.
It is true that Darlington were not helped by the absence of no less than 11 first team squad members through injury and illness. But the Stags still had to take advantage and they did so with some positive, attacking football that would have seen them give a first-choice Quakers side a run for their money.
They played with a composure and belief that seemed lacking under Shirtliff, derived, to a degree at least, from Holland's request for the Stags to play on the front foot and without fear.
Certainly the facts appear to back that up. Mansfield had no less than 12 shots on target - more than in the last three or four away games put together.
And they hit the back of the net twice when goals had previously been as rare as a week passing by without a rant from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.
For Darlington it was their sixth loss on the trot after they won their first six matches under new boss Dave Penney.
It shows just how fickle football can be - and why there was a cautionary word from Holland afterwards, despite his obvious delight at the three points.
He knows from his time as a player and a coach that a fall can always be just around the corner. Anything less than a performance of this commitment and the Stags will come unstuck at Accrington on Saturday.
Although their squad was not decimated in the same way as Darlington's, the Stags were without the unwell Jon-Olav Hjelde and Danny Reet.
That meant a return in central defence for Jake Buxton. The only other change in personnel saw Michael Boulding preferred to Chris Beardsley.
Holland also instructed Matt Hamshaw and Simon Brown to switch flanks, meaning the former West Brom man was handed an unfamiliar role on the left.
Crucially, Mansfield got the early goal, the first time they had scored first on their travels since visiting Grimsby.
Of course, it just had to be Richard Barker with that strike, which came in the fifth minute.
Whether it turns out to be his last Stags goal with the opening of the transfer window in January fast approaching and Hartlepool thought to be lining up an improved bid, remains to be seen.
But it is easy to see why clubs such as Pools would covet a player of Barker's class as he took his chance with the kind of aplomb you have come to expect.
A pinpoint through ball from Brown set Barker free through the middle. He nicked the ball past the advancing Stockdale, ran round the other side of the keeper and calmly stroked home.
The strike seemed to visibly breathe belief into the Stags and they should have been further ahead by the break, as Barker and Brown were denied and Boulding twice spurned clear openings.
Mansfield had to weather a spell of pressure at the start of the second half but, with the home support becoming increasingly frustrated, the visitors always looked capable of getting a second.
It eventually came just after the hour mark when Brown threaded a pass for Arnold after a quick free-kick and the teenager powered home an angled shot off the left-hand post.
As Giles Coke began to run amok in midfield, it was his parried shot that should have brought a third, but Barker blazed over an empty goal from six yards.
Nevertheless, it could not detract from a great day for the Mansfield supporters.
Holland has shown just what this Stags team is capable of achieving when they put their minds to it.
8 Goal Attempts 21
2 On Target----- 11
6 Off Target -----10
0 Hit Woodwork --0
1 Offsides --------4
8 Corners -------14
8 Fouls ----------13
Darlingto 0, Mansfield Town 2
By Ray Simpson, The Journal
A Darlington side crippled by injury and illness slumped to their sixth successive defeat.
Manager Dave Penney already had a spate of injuries to deal with when a bug swept through the club, leaving them without 12 players. Even though youth team players were drafted in Darlington's starting line-up included just seven fit players.
It took Mansfield, who had won only one away game all season, just four minutes to exploit the weakness, top scorer Richie Barker racing through unchallenged to go round keeper David Stockdale and roll in his 15th goal of the season.
Darlington must have feared the worst, but Mansfield missed several chances, while Stockdale turned Michael Boulding's header over the bar.
Darlington briefly rallied and teenage striker Shaun Reay, on his debut, fired narrowly over, Patrick Collins suffering the same fate with a header.
Darlington's situation worsened when experienced defender Mark Albrighton was unable to come out for the second half because of a hamstring strain. But brave Darlington applied 15 minutes of pressure, Anthony Griffith seeing a shot deflected narrowly wide.
However they were unable to force a single save out of Mansfield keeper Jason White and the visitors doubled their lead on 61 minutes. A quick free kick was worked to substitute Nathan Arnold who fired in off the post.
Barker missed a gilt-edged chance before Darlington handed a debut to youngster Josh Wright. But as Quakers faded only a string of saves by Stockdale kept the score down.
Penney refused to blame any of the players. He said: "We asked the Football League whether we could call the game off but they said we couldn't.
"It's not fair on the players or the paying public. Martin Smith was physically sick at half time but he bravely played on and we had others out there who were not well.
"But we just have to get on with it. The situation may be no better by Saturday's game with Shrewsbury. But if we had not played we would have been fined and lost the points."
Holland's first game in charge brings away triumph
PAUL Holland coasted to a superb 2-0 away win at depleted Darlington in his first game in charge as caretaker this afternoon.
Now he can only wait to see if the club give him longer to make his mark or name a new manager ahead of the weekend games at Accrington Stanley (Saturday, 3pm) and home to Hartlepool United (Monday, 3pm).
Former Stags bosses Steve Parkin and Billy Dearden are among the rumoured candidates, with speculation rife that Dearden has already been offered the job.
Holland was denied the chance to impress when a frozen pitch postponed Friday night's visit of Chester City following the sacking of Peter Shirtliff as manager four days before.
But his side played with flair and confidence at Darlington and Holland said: "The lads were absolutely magnificent and gave me their all.
"As Peter said last Saturday, we are not that far off turning our season around though I know one result doesn't do that.
"But the lads showed the energy and commitment we need today and have set their standards. Anything less will be unacceptable.
"I am just taking it one day at a time and will prepare for Accrington which is a massive game.
"But I know things can change fast in football and that someone else could come in before or after Saturday.
"I am just enjoying my football and we'll see what happens."
It may have been a day late but this result was just the Christmas present Stags fans wanted - only their third away League win of 2006.
It was also only their second win in nine games and their first away League clean sheet of the campaign. For Darlington it was an amazing sixth successive defeat after those six straight wins.
Mansfield were full of adventure and determination against their under strength hosts after Richie Barker's third minute confidence-booster opener.
It was his 15th goal of the season but rumours remain rife in the North-east that he is bound for Hartlepool this week. Stags fans will pray that is not the case.
Darlington failed in a bid to get the game called off due to illness and injuries robbing them of 11 players.
But Stags were also shorn of Jon Hjelde and Danny Reet through illness. Buxton came into the heart of defence and Michal Boulding partnered Barker up front with Hamshaw on the right of midfield and Brown down the left where he caused havoc.
Mansfield were rewarded for a positive start with that tonic goal after only five minutes. Brown slipped a through ball down the centre into Barker's path and he skipped past the stranded keeper before slotting into the empty net.
It was all Mansfield and Boulding, Mullins and Brown all had shots blocked while Barker had a close range header turned over by keeper Stockdale.
On 21 minutes Brown's low, hard cross was turned narrowly wide from six yards by the outstanding Coke.
At this point the lively Hamshaw limped off with a tight calf to be replaced by Arnold who again went on to sparkle.
With the home fans on their backs it took 23 minutes for the Quakers to seriously threaten as Albrighton headed on and Reay scooped the ball over from close range. Collins sent a header over from a similar range seconds later.
With the home side screaming for offside, Brown's through ball on 27 minutes sent Boulding clear. He beat the keeper to the ball but, with time to take it round him, poked it into him and the chance was gone.
On 39 Smith let fly from 25 yards and White made sure it was going wide with a touch round his right hand post. It was his only save of the day.
Boulding had another chance in stoppage time as D'Laryea's through ball released him into the right of the box only to see Stockdale this time deny him with his feet.
Barker almost added to his tally but was straining too much to meet Brown's 51st minute cross and headed wide from six yards.
After a spell of home pressure, Stags extended their lead through Arnold on 62 minutes. A quick free kick was fed to Brown who picked out Arnold's run and he drilled home a powerful low finish under the keeper and off the far post from a tight angle.
The usually reliable Barker was left red faced on 70 minutes as Coke cut in and saw a low shot parried by Stockdale to Barker, who spooned the ball over the gaping goal from a mere seven yards.
Coke, Beardsley, Barker and Brown all came close as Mansfield finished strongly.
DARLINGTON: Stockdale, James, Collins, Ngoma, Cummins, Johnson (Wright 85mins), Close, Smith, Albrighton (Duke h/t), Griffith (Logan 58mins), Reay. Subs not used: McLeod, Norton.
STAGS: White, Mullins, Jelleyman, D'Laryea, John-Baptiste, Hamshaw (Arnold 21mins), Barker, Brown, Boulding (Beardsley 74mins), Buxton, Coke (Lloyd 90mins). Subs not used: Muggleton, Wood.
REFEREE: Mike Pike of Cumbria.
GOALS: Stags - Barker 5mins, Arnold 62mins.
CAUTIONS: Darlington - Collins 37mins (unsporting behaviour), Duke 87mins (foul on Coke).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Giles Coke.
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