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12th March 2007 15:29


Lack of quality tells in Derby draw
nottscounty-mad.co.uk
by Rob Davies
Notts. County 0 Mansfield Town 0

Notts County produced an improved display but remain without a win in six games, after a Derby day 0-0 draw at home to Mansfield Town.

With dwindling attendances, long-ball football and a win-less streak that had contained defeats against Rochdale, Shrewsbury and Peterborough, optimism wasn't high on the agenda as Steve Thompson's Notts side awaited the visit of their not-so friendly neighbours from up the road.

The Stags themselves leapfrogged the Magpies in the table for the first time in mid-week, their 2-1 success over Chester on Tuesday night their third on the bounce.

But, though some Notts fans still came away disappointed that the scoreline ended goal-less, they surely couldn't have questioned the work rate and resolve of Thompson's team in what was an improved display on recent weeks.

Defences won out in a game where chances were at a premium but Notts were comfortably the better side, as Mansfield failed to live-up to the form that saw them beat promotion candidates Wycombe Wanderers and Lincoln City in successive weeks.

Notts, missing the suspended aerial presence of Jason Lee attack, struggled to create clear-cut chances against the blossoming defensive partnership of Jake Buxton and Alex-John Baptiste, despite Lawrie Dudfield leading the line superbly. Dudfield was surprisingly partnered in attack by Andy Parkinson, with Junior Mendes switching to the left wing in a bid to target Stags right-back Jonny Mullins.

The switch was partly successful in that Mendes enjoyed one of his better games against his former club, with much of Notts' good work in a strong first half coming from the 30-year-old speed merchant, who has often failed to deliver this campaign. Parkinson, though, was again out of his depth in attack and once more brought into question Thompson's insistence of making him an automatic starter.

For all the Magpies' good work in the opening period, the game's first notable
moment came when Mansfield had a goal ruled-out in the 14th minute through Matt Hamshaw. Hamshaw was offside when he slotted-in Stephen Dawson's knock-down, but the ease of which the Stags found the net in their first visit to the Notts penalty area will have been of great concern to Thompson. It will have also encouraged his opposite number, Billy Dearden, returning to Meadow Lane for the first time since resigning as manager after such a turbulent reign three years ago.

Set-pieces were again proving to be Notts' main weapon going forward and one such Ian Ross delivery saw Notts have the ball in the net, only for Steven Hunt's scrambled effort to be chalked-off for a foul on Stags goalkeeper Jason White.

In a game lacking in any real quality, Notts produced the move of the match shortly before the interval, involving good work from David Pipe, Ross, Dudfield and Parkinson. Eventually, Pipe's cross was headed narrowly wide by Dudfield - just before the onrushing Mike Edwards could nod-in.

While the tempo of the game would pick-up in the second period, the ratio of chances would not as both sides held firm. Mansfield's Simon Brown looked the most likely to break the deadlock, despite being continually caught offside by a back-line well-marshalled by returning skipper Alan White. So often a nippy customer such as Brown has proven to be nemesis of many a Notts defence and it was proving to be the case here, but when the Stags forward did slip-in, he was denied by the diving figure of Saul Deeney. Shortly after, Brown was substituted in a surprise move by Dearden.

It wasn't just the Stags manager who was making surprising changes, though. When T'cham N'Toya emerged from the bench with 20 minutes to play it was the effective Mendes and not the hard-working, yet woefully lightweight Parkinson, who was withdrawn. The decision, quite understandably, clearly didn't please the striker-cum-winger, who headed straight down the tunnel.

It is tactical decisions such as these that are beginning to turn sections of the Notts faithful against Thompson, after he had previously won the sceptics over following the club's strong start to the season. His decision not to use Dan Martin was also questionable, but it is his consistent choice to make players such as White and Parkinson undroppable that is really grating supporters.

The erratic N'Toya did at least show glimpses of creativity in what was an ailing game, but he was unable to produce the moment of magic that would break the deadlock or at least trouble White in the Stags goal.

Analysis

In fairness, only making fleeting visits to the 'Lane allows a little more perspective than previous seasons and, despite what some would have you believe, some of the football being played is an improvement on the previous campaign.

The problem with Thompson is he doesn't seem to be encouraging his team to play neat stints of play more often, if at all. Admittedly, the Meadow Lane pitch - for the first time - is a state and doesn't make passing football easier, but it is still possible to play short football, instead of the kick-and-rush stuff encouraged by both managers yesterday afternoon.

Assuming relegation is out of the question, if Notts want to push on to bother the top seven next season under Thompson, one of the coaching staff - that includes Howard Wilkinson - needs to realise that the team looks at its best, and has produced its best football, when playing the ball on the floor. Hoofing the ball forward to Jason Lee is an occasional option, but it shouldn't be Plan A - particularly yesterday when he wasn't even playing!

Until Thompson and Wilkinson give the team this identity and stop worrying what the opposition is doing - both games against Lincoln are prime examples where Notts tried to play football because their opponents were - mid-table scraps such as these will remain the norm.


YOUNG TEAM STILL LEARNING
Evening Post, 12 March 2007

Billy Dearden (pictured) saluted the battling qualities of his young Mansfield team in clinching a point.

The Stags boss feels that his players are starting to grasp what is required to put a consistent run of form together. "We have a squad that are grinding out results when not playing particularly well, and that is good," said Dearden.

"They are only young lads and they are still learning, but their intentions were to get a result whatever happened. They didn't allow us to play, but we showed that we can battle as well if we need to.

"It was not a good game, but that's what you expect at times and it was a bobbly pitch. Neither keeper had anything special to do. Both sides got into good situations but the final ball could have been better."

Dearden was particularly pleased with his defence, which kept their first clean sheet in eight games.

He said: "We were solid at the back for this and our two centre halves were magnificent. Jake (Buxton) and Bap (Alex John-Baptiste) missed very little today, it was just a pity we couldn't nick it at the other end."

Barry Conlon was unavailable for selection and is understood to have returned to Ireland.

"Barry has had personal problems and has not been in at the club since Wednesday," said Dearden.

"I will be speaking to him this week to find out what is happening. You are always going to miss someone like Barry and it meant that we couldn't play the big two, but we had a bit of pace today.

''We got a couple of chances through that but we just couldn't take them."

Jonathan D'Laryea (ankle) and Stephen Dawson (calf) were forced off in the second half. It is hoped both will be fit for Saturday's visit of Boston.


CAPT JAKE IS SO FULL OF PRIDE
Evening Post, 12 March 2007

Jake Buxton admitted that leading out his hometown club in front of 10,000 derby fans brought a lump to his throat.

Sutton-in-Ashfield-born Buxton was brimming with pride as he took Mansfield into action against Notts County.

And the 22-year-old central defender played a pivotal role in helping the Stags claim a draw.

"It was an outstanding feeling and a touching moment to bring out the lads as captain in front of so many fans," said Buxton.

"It was a carnival atmosphere. There was a lot of singing and they really got behind the lads.

"I was disappointed we got a point but it was nice to see us pushing on at the end and the fans getting behind us.

"The gaffer is wanting us to have a go at teams and play a more open game and it is working for us and the fans are seeing the benefits too.

"You are always disappointed that you don't win. But it is another game unbeaten and our first clean sheet for a while.

"The gaffer doesn't want the season to fizzle out and neither do the players. The play-offs look a tall order but we just have to keep going and see what happens.

"No one would have expected Torquay to beat Wycombe 3-0 on Saturday but they did and you never know what is round the corner in football."


TOWN HAPPY TO DIG IN TO STAY ABOVE THEIR RIVALS
Evening Post, 12 March 2007

Let's face it, this was not the first time a much-hyped derby match has failed to live up to its billing.

The sense of anticipation can often outweigh the end product when local pride is at stake.

In that respect, Saturday's draw at Meadow Lane should have come as no surprise. But when you consider the two sides have shared 34 goals in their previous eight meetings, a 0-0 scoreline was not the most likely of outcomes.

Many of the five-figure crowd had been looking forward to this match for months, hoping for a repeat of the goal feasts that have become commonplace when black and white meets amber. What they got was a contest where defences always had the upper hand and goalscoring opportunities were at a premium.

There were plenty of the other things that are part and parcel of a typical Notts-Stags game - passion, commitment and a high work-rate.

But with each side missing one of their key strikers - Jason Lee suspended for Notts and Barry Conlon out for personal reasons for the Stags - the goals would just not materialise. Although Billy Dearden had gone into the game looking for a fourth victory on the trot, he would have been the happier manager at the final whistle.

On the occasion of his first competitive return to Meadow Lane since leaving the manager's job in January 2004, the draw the Stags played out showed that they are learning how to scrap for points as well as play for them. When the situation suits, Mansfield have proved that they can outwit sides with their smart, passing football. That particularly shows up in their record against the top sides - none more so than in recent weeks when they have opened up Wycombe and Lincoln by knocking the ball around on the deck.

But, facing a Notts side up for the challenge and on a pitch that made it difficult to get the ball under control, the Stags dug in, especially at the back.

Striker Martin Gritton said that the visitors had to 'knuckle down' and that was exactly what they did.

The back four and goalkeeper Jason White looked as solid as they have done all season, with central defenders Alex John-Baptiste and skipper Jake Buxton outstanding. Their efforts, together with a tenacious midfield, ensured that White did not have a serious shot to save and brought a first clean sheet in eight matches.

Of course, the only disappointment for Mansfield came up front where at no stage did they click into top gear. Like Notts, they had some promising situations that often fizzled out in the final third.

And when the Stags did get a sight of goal, their finishing left a lot to be desired. Simon Brown forced Saul Deeney into his only serious cause of action in the 66th minute, but he should have scored.

Stephen Dawson also had a good opportunity following a half cleared corner but his drive flew wide.

Nevertheless, the point means that Mansfield have now gone five games unbeaten (three wins and two draws) and have the chance to improve on that with home games against Boston and Macclesfield to come.

And there was another small but significant detail that ensured the army of travelling Stags fans - 4,047 when just 2,366 attended last Tuesday's home game with Chester - had reason to be content. They are still one point above their county rivals in the League Two table - for the next week at least.


WE LACKED A RUTHLESS EDGE, SAYS NOTTS BOSS
Evening Post, 12 March 2007

Notts County assistant boss John Gannon was relieved his side held on for a clean sheet against Mansfield.

But he felt the Magpies lacked a ruthless edge in the goalless draw at Meadow Lane.

He said: "

It is a clean sheet, which is a bonus, but overall we have to offer a little more in the box attacking.

"We did not quite do enough because we could not force the goal. Obviously they came on to it late on and we had concerns because we have leaked quite a lot of late goals here. We had the ball in the final third of the pitch on many occasions. That final ball into the box is just missing."

It was Notts' tenth clean sheet this season but a first in six games.

Gannon said: "We defended superbly from set-pieces but we were disappointed with our attacking set-plays because, usually, we are very powerful and strong but the delivery wasn't there and, if you don't get that, you don't get the opportunity to score.

"We have been excellent all season on attacking set-plays and scored 50% of our goals from set-plays so we are a threat. I was a bit disappointed at times that we had set things up in our head to do them and they haven't come off."

Notts missed Jason Lee, who served the second game of a two-match ban and they travel to Bristol Rovers and Bury in their next two games.

Gannon added: "We have picked a lot of points up on the road. We counter attack teams very well and nothing scares us. We have nine games to go and there are a lot of points are still to play for."


Billy's praise for defensive duo
CHAD website, 12 March 2007

MANAGER Billy Dearden has paid tribute to his young defensive pairing after a clean sheet in Saturday's goalless draw at Notts County extended the team's unbeaten run to five games.

Skipper Jake Buxton played through the pain barrier with a knee injury, while his defensive partner, Alex John-Baptiste, marshalled the back four superbly with a man of the match performance.

Speaking this morning, Dearden described their performances as 'different class', and revealed how he took John-Baptiste to one side after a below-par showing in the 2-1 midweek win against Chester.

"I told him after the Chester game that it was the worse I had seen him play," said Dearden. "But against Notts he was superb, and gave me what I expect from him every week.
"He set the standard and it's important now that he doesn't let it drop below that.

"Bucko (Jake Buxton) did not train all week, but as a pairing I thought they were superb. We'll wrap Bucko in cotton wool this week, and the good thing for us is that his injury is not any worse, so it looks like we got away with it."

Stephen Dawson (ankle) and Jonathan D'Laryea (thigh) are both having treatment today, but there is good news on the fitness of defender Jon Olav Hjelde who has recovered from a calf strain.


WE WERE UNLUCKY - SMITH
Evening Post, 12 March 2007

Jay Smith felt Notts County were unlucky not to nick the win against Mansfield.

Smith had a double effort with one shot blocked before Jake Buxton headed his second attempt over the bar.

Smith said: "It was a hard game and both teams put in a lot of effort. We were disappointed not to come away with victory. We battled well and were unlucky not to win.

"It was all half chances but you expect that in a local derby and I thought I was going to score. I was unlucky and disappointed not to get more chances but you gave to be happy with a point.


DERBY DAY DRAW FOR FRUSTRATED STAGS
Observer report by Steve Hartshorn
Notts County 0 Mansfield Town 0

Notts County's biggest crowd of the season, including a fan-tastic over 4,000 from Mansfield saw a derby-day game that had almost everything, except goals. The Stags and County both had efforts disallowed and Stags had penalty appeals turned down but in the end a draw was possibly the right result.
Stags boss, Billy Dearden, returning for the first time to one of his former clubs made a number of changes to the side who had beaten Chester City at Field Mill in midweek. Captain, Buxton was back in the defence for Hjelde, Hamshaw in for Arnold and Gritton up front in place of Conlon, who had returned home to Ireland due to a family problem.
Before the game there was a fly past by a plane carrying a banner saying MTFC for sale, Haslam out. It added yet more spice to an eagerly awaited derby day clash.
The home side, who had previously not won for five games, were first out of the blocks and looked hungry for a good start and in former Stags, Mendes they had the first attempt on goal, but it was saved easily by Jason White.
Mendes was involved again seconds later when he again out fought Mullins and exchanged passes with Parkinson, but this time his effort was blacked and cleared.
On six minutes, Dudfield earned Notts a corner which was taken short, Hunt then saw his effort blocked, earning County two more corners, which were dealt with ease by Mansfield's rearguard.
Mendes was causing problems for Mullins and after yet another foul by the Stags defender, the referee gave Mullins a few stern words about his conduct.
On 15 minutes, Stags, slightly against the run of play, thought they had taken the lead. Brown clipped the ball forward where Gritton headed towards goal and Hamshaw steered the ball home. Unfortunately Hamshaw was adjudged to have been in an offside position.
Stags were now becoming to create chances and from a corner, Hamshaw eventually crossed over but Gritton headed high and wide.
In the 28th minute, it was County's turn to have a goal ruled out. A free kick by Ross was headed towards goal by Edwards, White saved but Hunt came barging in forcing the keeper to spill the ball, Hunt then put the ball into the back of the net. That then started a melee involving Buxton and Hunt and half a dozen other players. When order was restored both Buxton and Hunt received a stern telling off from the Referee.
Deeney came to County's rescue when he dived bravely at the feet of Dawson who looked to have got on the end of a fine through ball from D'Laryea, his effort though rolled just wide of the mark.
County were playing a high line defence and Simon Brown was continuously being caught offside. The Stags striker was lucky to escape without a booking when on two occasions he carried on playing when the referee had clearly signalled play to stop.
On 41 minutes there was a double shout for a penalty for the Stags. Matty Hamshaw took on several County defenders and his run took him into the area where he was clearly upended by Hunt, The ball then broke loose and Dawson was then hurt by a challenge from White, but neither appeals were given.
With just a minute on the clock before the half time break, Notts should have scored. A break down the right saw Pipe cross the ball towards Dudfield but he failed to get a firm contact on the ball and as it flashed across goal Edwards strained to get a killing touch.
The 2nd half saw County once more begin the brighter as McCann fired high over the bar and Baptiste charged down an effort from Parkinson.
Deeney then punched away a Hamshaw free kick, only for the ball to land at the feet of D'Laryea, who saw his effort blocked as the game went from one end of the pitch to the other.
Hodge then went on a run which saw the County defence open up in front of him but his shot was blocked and went out for a corner.
Stags earned another corner moments later but as the ball came out to Dawson, his effort flew wide of the target, Brown unable to get a decisive touch in front of goal.
On 62 minutes, Hamshaw won a challenge in midfield that gave him a chance to run at goal, unfortunately Brown got in the way, touched the ball and the offside flag went up immediately.
Three minutes later Brown had the best chance of the game; a clipped ball from Hamshaw saw the Stags striker time his run to perfection, but hesitation on where he was going to put the ball allowed Deeney to stretch out a leg and save his effort.
On 68 minutes, Brown was replaced by Michael Boulding as the action began to get hotter and hotter.
On 69 minutes, White came out to try and claim a Parkinson cross, he failed to do so but when the ball fell to the head of Mendes, all he could do was head over the net.
N'Toya replaced Mendes on 70 minutes as both sides tried to find the breakthrough.
With 15 minutes to go, Mansfield were the side who looked more likely to score the opener but for all their possession they were still short in the last third. Arnold was then introduced for Dawson who had taken a kick and was slightly injured.
Boulding had a shot blocked and Hamshaw saw his on target free kick saved by Deeney.
Jonathon D'Laryea required treatment for a twisted ankle and was replaced for the last three minutes by Danny Reet.
The last chance of the game, deep into five minutes of added on time saw a shot from Hamshaw fall onto the head of Boulding, but Deeney was able to save.
It is now just one defeat in their last six outings for Mansfield who have moved up to 11th in the table, just eight points behind Wycombe Wanderers who sit in the last play off spot. This weekend, Stags take on struggling Boston United at Field Mill



 

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