MAKESHIFT STAGS BEATEN AT OXFORD
Blue Square Premier
Oxford United 2 - 0 Mansfield Town
Constable 73, 85.
Attendance: 5712 (232 from Mansfield)
Date: 17 April 2010
Martin Shaw at the Kassam Stadium
Mansfield had to field a defence with two midfielders at full back, and an injured centre half pushed into service, due to injury and unavailability. The Stags held out for 73 minutes under considerable pressure from an impressive Oxford side, but two late goals were the least the home side deserved for their domination, especially in the second half. Oxford started well and created three good chances in the opening five minutes, but then the Stags had a decent spell of about 25 minutes when they more than held their own and Jake Speight had a couple of good chances. Oxford came on strongly in the last 15 minutes of the first half and Marriott made a fabulous save from a curling shot by Chapman. But the second half was one way traffic with substitute Alfie Potter terrorising the Stags defence. The Stags had one chance to take the lead, on 60 minutes, when Speight was free in the box but he didn't pull the trigger and instead tried to tee up Duffy who was crowded out. Oxford finally broke the deadlock when Constable fired into an empty after great play from Potter and Deering, and after that it was just a matter of how many Oxford would score. They added one more through Constable's deflected effort. A disappointing afternoon for the Stags who yet again failed to make it two wins on the trot - something we haven't managed since mid October (save for the expunged home win against Chester). Quite simply, the inconsistency is a huge cause for concern as we approach the final game of the season.
Stagsnet player ratings in the Match Centre
Man of the match: Alan Marriott
Triumph over Stags
Oxford United 2 Mansfield Town 0
Oxford eased to victory over a disappointing Mansfield side this afternoon. Two second-half goals from leading scorer James Constable did the damage, although any number of United players could have found themselves on the scoresheet as the Us battered the Stags.
United made just one change to the side that started in Tuesday's dour goalless draw with Cambridge United, Jack Midson starting in a front three alongside Constable and Matt Green, with Franny Green dropping to the bench. Oxford turned up the heat eight minutes after half-time, when Alfie Potter came on for Matt Green, and five minutes later made an enforced change as Mark Creighton left the field nursing his back, with Rhys Day taking his place. Another four minutes elapsed before Dannie Bulman, awarded the Players' Player of the Season award before kick-off, was taken off for Sam Deering.
Oxford started on the front foot, with both Green and Constable having goal attempts in the first five minutes, and an Adam Chapman long-range shot heading straight into Alan Marriott's midriff. Chapman again brought a save out of Marriott ten minutes before the break, when his curling shot from the corner of the penalty area looked to be heading for the top corner before the goalkeeper managed to tip it away. Five minutes later Kevin Sandwith should have done much better with a free header at the far post from a Chapman corner, but he nodded the ball a foot over. United had dominated the first half, with Rob Duffy failing to trouble Ryan Clarke, although the lively Jake Speight looked more likely to make something happen for the visitors.
The first decent attempt of the second half came just after Potter's appearance, as he wriggled through a couple of half-challenges and shot straight at Marriott. Damian Batt, having his best game for a long time, had a shot that went a foot wide and into the side-netting, and the feat was repeated by Potter 20 minutes from time. A couple of minutes later Potter forced a low save from Marriott, diving to his left, as the ball looked to be sneaking in at the near post. In the 73rd minute United eventually got the goal that they deserved; Potter went past Andy Burgess as though he wasn't there (which most of the game he wasn't) and set Deering free, whose advance was halted by Marriott with the ball running free for Constable to bury the rebound. Marriott then saved from a Midson header before Oxford sealed the game with a richly deserved second. Midson slipped a through ball for Deering, who played in Constable. The striker's shot was blocked but the ball rebounded over the stranded Marriott, who could only palm it over the line.
This was a much-improved performance from Oxford, who look to be hitting form at the right time. The Us were emphatic and, but for a clinical finisher, look to be League Two material, certainly on this showing. With Batt, Bulman, and Chapman at their best, Constable, Potter, and Midson linking up well, and the defence looking impervious, there aren't many teams at this level that can live with this Oxford side.
Today's referee was Mark Heywood, his first time at an Oxford game, and he gave a typical showing for a ref at this level: inconsistent and missing loads. Having said that, he was probably kinder towards Oxford than the visitors, although he did book Jake Wright for a lunge. The attendance was 5,712 with 232 away fans.
The result ensures that Oxford will be at home in the play-off semi-final second leg, as they are now guaranteed to finish either third, their current position, or second. Mansfield are ninth. Stevenage Borough's 2-0 win at Kidderminster Harriers won them the championship after Luton Town were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Altrincham. This leaves the Hatters four points ahead of Oxford, who have two games remaining to Luton's one. Rushden & Diamonds moved into fourth place, ahead of York City on goal difference, after winning 1-0 at Wrexham, whom United play in their final home game on Tuesday. York City were surprisingly held to a 1-1 home draw by bottom side Grays Athletic.
There were some interesting developments at the foot of the table. Second-bottom Ebbsfleet United beat Gateshead 2-0, a result that sees the Heed drop into the bottom three. The Fleet are two points behind fourth-bottom Eastbourne Borough, whose only remaining game is at home to Oxford next Saturday. Eastbourne lost 4-0 at Kettering Town today, with Marcus Kelly on target for the Poppies. Forest Green Rovers are three points above Gateshead after beating Histon 2-0, but as the Heed have two games left then they're not safe yet, nor are Histon who are level on points with Forest Green, in 18th place. Tamworth's 2-0 defeat at Crawley Town leaves them still in mathematical danger of relegation, although it remains extremely unlikely.
These results have ensured that Hayes & Yeading United are safe from the drop, despite their losing 4-1 at Cambridge United, and Barrow are also safe despite going down 1-0 at home to Salisbury City.
Oxford United 2 Mansfield Town 0
Evening Post report
BATTLING Mansfield Town were worn down by a confident, promotion-chasing Oxford United in the April sunshine this afternoon.
The injury-hit visitors made five changes – four of them enforced – for their game at the Kassam Stadium and were always going to be up against it.
They defended valiantly for long periods and goalkeeper Alan Marriott was superb.
But the hosts stayed patient and eventually made the breakthrough midway through the second half when top scorer James Constable collected his 22nd goal of the season.
And the highly-rated striker added another in the closing minutes with the help of a deflection to put the seal on Oxford's win ahead of their involvement in the end-of-season play-offs.
Oxford had an early chance to go in front when Matt Green pulled the ball back from the right byline for Constable, who shot straight into the arms of Alan Marriott.
Soon after, Kevin Sandwith's deep cross to the far post eluded Andy Burgess, only for the diving Green to head wide of the right-hand post.
At the other end, Louis Briscoe aimed a long diagonal ball at Jake Speight but keeper Ryan Clarke intervened to cut out the danger.
Mansfield fashioned a decent opening when Gary Mills intercepted the ball just inside the Oxford half and threaded a ball through for Speight, who dragged his shot well wide of the left-hand upright when he might have done better.
Briscoe had a sight of goal in the 16th minute when Clarke punched half clear from a Burgess left-wing centre, but his drive was poorly directed and Oxford survived unscathed.
Oxford responded quickly only for Simon Clist to steer over the bar at close quarters from Green's pass.
Ryan Williams, having switched to the right wing, sent over an inviting cross midway through the half but it was just too high for Speight, who subsequently required treatment before continuing.
Just before the half hour, Sandwith put in a pinpoint left-wing cross but Jack Midson could not steer his header on target at the near post.
Oxford were doing the majority of the pressing and Marriott pulled off a top drawer save in the 34th minute to keep out Adam Chapman's goalbound curler.
Sandwith was left holding his head in his hands six minutes from the break when he headed over from inside the six-yard box following a left-wing Chapman corner.
After a period of heavy United pressure, Mansfield suddenly broke through when Williams and he picked out Speight, who was ill-advised in trying to play a return rather than chancing a shot.
As half-time approached, Clist found Constable in the box, whose powerful, low drive was importantly blocked by Luke Jones.
In stoppage time, Constable looked as if he might net until he blasted high over the top after being fed by Midson.
Oxford made a flying start to the second period but Constable was again off target with an attempted diagonal shot.
The visitors got in their first effort on target when Duffy met a Gary Mills free-kick, only to head too close to Clarke.
Damian Batt was the next to try his luck after cutting in from the right, but his drive found the side-netting.
It was substitute Alfie Potter, on for Matt Green, who ran at the Mansfield defence before bringing Marriott to his knees with a shot from the edge of the box.
Former Stag Rhys Day was introduced into the action just before the hour mark as he replaced the injured Mark Creighton.
Mansfield had a golden opportunity to take a shock lead in the 61st minute when Speight was played into space in the box by an astute Briscoe pass. But instead of shooting, he chose to pass to co-striker Duffy, who was crowded out.
The misses continued to stack up for Oxford as Constable headed high and not so handsome from a Chapman corner.
The Stags made a double change in the 68th minute as Kyle Perry and Jon Shaw replaced Duffy and Briscoe.
Potter twice went close in a matter of seconds as he first drilled wide and then forced a smart low stop from Marriott.
The goal that had been coming arrived in the 73rd minute and it was down to Potter's brilliance.
He turned Burgess adroitly before playing a slide-rule pass through for Sam Deering.
His effort was superbly saved by Marriott but Constable was on hand to fire home the rebound from 12 yards.
In a rare Mansfield attack, Perry had a dip from 25 yards, but Clarke was always comfortably behind it.
Potter was at it again when he skinned Burgess and crossed from the right for Midson, who produced another top drawer save from Marriott by the foot of the left-hand post.
But the Stags keeper could do nothing to prevent Oxford and Constable doubling their tally four minutes from time as the hitman's shot deflected in off Steven Istead after he had been teed up by Deering.
In the closing stages, Perry's reverse pass gave Williams space to get a shot away but he failed to make Clarke work.
Stags need to improve to emulate Oxford
AS the players took the applause in the pleasant evening sunshine, a sea of yellow-shirted supporters chanted "Wembley, Wembley." Only this was acclaim not aimed in Mansfield Town's direction.
Instead, a convincing home victory meant Oxford United's fans were the ones making bullish predictions about an appearance under the famous arch – and Stags loyalists who made the trip to the Kassam Stadium could only watch on enviously.
Having followed the Stags' fortunes the length and breadth of the country, this was the kind of scenario those from north Notts had longed for come the closing weeks of the season.
They had hoped it would be the Stags, as well as the Us, who would be fighting it out for promotion back to the Football League.
But while Chris Winder's men now have a one in four chance of landing a place back in football's elite 92, David Holdsworth's troops know for certain another season of trips to Barrow and Hayes and Yeading beckons.
And what made it worse for Mansfield's travelling contingent was that laid bare in front of them were the reasons why.
Oxford had suffered their first defeat of the campaign at Field Mill back in September, after a flying start, losing 2-1.
They have since been reeled in by deserved champions Stevenage and second-placed Luton, following some inconsistent form since Christmas similar to the Stags' own stutters.
But they were still streets ahead of Mansfield and underlined just how much improvement is needed from Holdsworth's team if they are to sustain a genuine bid for the top five in 2010-2011.
Of course, the Stags could point to the fact they were hampered before a ball was even kicked. The absence of three of the back four in Luke Foster (unavailable as part of the agreement that saw him sign from Oxford in January), Gary Silk (hamstring) and Andy Nicholas (fractured shoulder) meant an uphill task from the start.
However, that just served to put one of the main differences between the two clubs under the microscope.
In the absence of key regulars, Mansfield did not have the resources to draft in like-for-like replacements.
Both full-backs, Andy Burgess on the left and Steven Istead on the right, were deployed in an emergency capacity. In the middle, Luke Jones returned from his ankle injury having had no preparation whatsoever, simply because there was no-one else to turn to.
By contrast, Oxford, missing the influential Anthony Tonkin at left-back, brought in the equally capable Kevin Sandwith.
And when Mark Creighton went off with injury in the second half, they were able to turn to former Stag Rhys Day to adequately fill the void.
Another disparity, again down to finance, was in quality. Oxford, unquestionably have a better squad of players.
The Us showed far more invention, craft and guile and the league table unequivocally proves they have been more consistent over the last nine months.
In those two matters, it is always going to be difficult for Mansfield to compete with the biggest clubs in the division. With cut-backs expected this summer, it is only likely to get worse.
But a third key contrast between Oxford and Mansfield was one the Stags could influence – and where they let themselves down.
While there was no doubting the effort the visitors put in, their sloppiness was painfully obvious.
In some games, that trait has manifested itself in the concession of poor goals through bad marking and individual mistakes.
In others it has been a failure to take the most basic of chances to put the opposition to bed.
This time, though, it was their carelessness in possession that was their Achilles heel.
Set up, first and foremost, to defend the point they started with, Mansfield were always going to spend spells on the back foot.
Too often, though, counter attacks broke down before they had even started, which only invited another wave of Oxford pressure.
With Matt Somner coming in for the injured Kyle Nix (groin) and Rob Duffy preferred up front to Kyle Perry – the other two of five changes – Mansfield just about held firm until half-time.
But there was an increasing sense after the restart that it was only a matter of time as the excellence of goalkeeper Alan Marriott kept out the Us time and again.
For a split second, Jake Speight had the chance to shock Oxford and change the course of the game when he was in on goal thanks to Louis Briscoe's astute pass.
But he tried to pick out Duffy instead of pulling the trigger and a golden opportunity was gone.
Normal service was soon resumed and it was no surprise when the hosts went in front, nor who claimed the goal.
Substitute Alfie Potter unhinged the Stags defence in the 73rd minute and though Sam Deering was denied by more Marrott brilliance, James Constable was in the right place to blast home his 22nd of a prolific season.
There was little to suggest Mansfield would land a counter blow and, in the closing stages, Oxford and Constable scored again as his close range shot took a deflection off Istead to deceive a frustrated Marriott.
It was a sobering afternoon for the Stags after their dramatic and much-needed midweek win over another top five side in Rushden.
They will have to work hard on getting the basics right if it is they, rather than their rivals, who are taking the fans' plaudits in 12 months' time.
Match facts: Oxford v Stags
Oxford: Clarke, Batt, Wright, Creighton (Day 58), Sandwith, Bulman (Deering 62), Chapman, Clist, Midson, Constable, M. Green (Potter 53). Subs not used: Turley, F. Green.
Mansfield: Marriott, Istead, Garner, Jones, Burgess, Briscoe (Shaw 68), Somner, Mills, Williams, Speight (Sturrock 81), Duffy (Perry 68). Subs not used: Collett, Challinor.
Referee: Mark Heywood (Northwich).
Attendance: 5,712 (232 visitors).
Goals: Oxford: Constable (73, 86).
Shots on target: Oxford 8 Mansfield 3.
Shots off target: Oxford 12 Mansfield 3.
Fouls: Oxford 8 Mansfield 12.
Corners: Oxford 6 Mansfield 4.
Offsides: Oxford 0 Mansfield 2.
Bookings: Oxford 1 (Wright, 50, foul on Speight) Mansfield 1 (Briscoe, 45, foul on Batt).
Sendings off: Oxford 0 Mansfield 0.
Key moment: The introduction of Oxford substation Alfie Potter. With the game still goal-less he gave United the extra penetration they needed to make the breakthrough and caused makeshift left-back Andy Burgess all kinds of problems.
Mansfield's man of the match: Alan Marriott. Although he conceded twice, Mansfield could have lost by several more but for some outstanding saves by the Stags keeper. Surely a strong contender for the club's impending player of the year awards.
Oxford United 2, Stags 0, Saturday, 17th April 2010
chad.co.uk, by John Lomas
OXFORD goal ace James Constable shot down a depleted Mansfield Town side with two late goals just when it seemed the Stags may leave the Kassam Stadium with an unlikely point this afternoon.
With three of their back four ruled out of this fixture Stags looked ripe for the picking for the promotion-chasing U's.
But they defended gutsily and rode their luck at times with keeper Alan Marriott in fine form until Constable finally broke through on 73 and 86 minutes to take his season's tally to 23.
It could all have been so different had Jake Speight chose to shoot on 61 minutes from a great position instead of trying to unselfishly set up Rob Duffy who was crowded out seven yards from goal.
But Stags rarely looked capable of unlocking a United defence which has now gone 385 minutes without conceding a goal and could yet fight their way back into the Football League next month.
Injury-ravaged Mansfield were forced into five changes. Worst hit was the defence where Luke Foster was unable to play against the club he signed from under the terms of his deal and both full backs Gary Silk (hamstring) and Andy Nicholas (fractured wrist) ruled out injured.
Midfielder Kyle Nix, so unlucky this season, picked up a groin injury in training yesterday while Kyle Perry was the only un-enforced change, replaced up front by top scorer Rob Duffy.
Andy Burgess moved to left back and Stevie Istead came in to play right back with Luke Jones, back from a lengthy injury, in for Foster at the heart of defence.
Ryan Williams was also recalled to play on the wing and Matt Somner was back in the centre of midfield.
Former Mansfield defender Rhys Day was among the United substitutes.
Oxford made the first threat in the warm spring sunshine as Green went past Burgess and squared to Constable who sent a first time finish straight at Marriott.
Soon after Constable burst int the box again and, in trying to get past Marriott, the keeper stretched out a hand to take it away from the United hitman and concede a corner.
Oxford continued to ask the questions and when Sandwith sent a cross over from the left to the far post, it sailed over the head of Burgess and left Green with a free diving header which he planted the wrong side of the post.
On seven minutes Stags had their first chance as Mills threaded a pass to the edge of the box where Speight, who had managed to stay onside, hooked a low first time finish well wide from 18 yards.
Chapman tried an ambitious shot from over 40 yards as the ball ran loose and Marriott was forward of his line, but the shot dropped straight to the keeper.
Heavily booed by his former fans, Burgess put over a dangerous cross from the left which was just taken off Duffy's head by the keeper's punch and Briscoe couldn't get the follow-up on target.
Green put another cross in from the Oxford right which Clist, with his back to goal, somehow managed to drag in the right direction and watch it drop over the top.
Twice Stags allowed Oxford free back post headers, one from a corner and one from a cross, but on neither occasion were the U's able to test Marriott.
Speight went up to try to reach a superb Williams cross from the right but, on landing, held his back and then went down injured. But, after treatment, he was able to continue.
United almost broke through on 29 minutes as Sandwith sent in a testing cross from the left which Midson just failed to make proper contact with at the near post from close range with Marriott at his mercy.
On 34 minutes Constable had a shot blocked from a long Sandwith throw. The ball came out to Chapman who tried a curler towards the far top corner only to see Marriott reach high and tip it over.
Sandwith headed firmly over from Chapman's third corner as the home side continued to look the more likely to make the breakthrough.
Then the ball bounced off Clist's shin to safety in front of goal from a low right wing corner.
Sandwith hurled in another long throw from the left which Clist turned back towards Constable who once again saw a powerful shot blocked.
In the final minute of the half Briscoe was booked for a cynical trip on Batt in full flight, but Sandwith's free kick was into the wall and his follow-up well wide.
Stags were almost undone in stoppage time as Midson helped a long ball towards Constable who controlled well but then blazed well over.
Marriott had to claw a dangerous Constable cross from under his own bar on the restart. Then Bulman helped the ball back to Constable who sliced well wide.
Clist was too high with a first time effort on United's next raid.
Wright was booked for his tackle from behind on Speight on 50 minutes and, when Mills sent over the free kick, Duffy headed straight at Clarke.
Still Oxford pressed and Batt drilled a curling low 20 yard effort into Marriott's sidenetting, the ball swerving away at the last minute.
Then sub Potter battled his way through two challenges to test Marriott with a low shot which was straight to the keeper.
No one closed down Chapman from a quickly-taken free kick and Stags were fortunate he couldn't keep his 20 yard finish down.
But Stags might have grabbed a shock lead on 61 minutes. Williams ran at the defence on the right and squared to Briscoe who, instead of shooting, found Speight in a superb position. But, instead of finishing, he tried to lay the ball to Duffy to his right who was quickly crowded out and the moment was gone.
Oxford resumed their pressure and Constable was too high with a firm header from Chapman's corner and, a minute later, Batt cut inside Burgess but fired well wide.
Sensing things needed freshening up, Stags boss Holdsworth sent on Perry and Shaw for Briscoe and Duffy on 68 minutes.
A minute later Potter went on an exciting run on the left which ended up with a low finish into the near sidenetting.
Then Potter cut in from the right and brought a good low save from Marriott, scrambling to his left.
Potter had really livened things up for Oxford and he finally provided the spark for their breakthrough goal on 73 minutes.
His superb through ball put fellow sub Deering away on goal. Marriott did well to get his body in the way of is finish, but the ball ran loose to Constable who made no mistake with his firm, low finish.
Perry warmed Clarke's hands with a 20 yard drive though was never likely to beat him from there.
More magic from Potter saw him easily skip past Burgess and cross to the far post where Midson saw his header blocked by Marriott who eventually got the ball in his grasp on the floor.
But Marriott was beaten a second time as Constable sewed up the points four minutes from time.
Deering did superbly to race into the box on the right, change direction and pull the ball across towards Constable whose powerful shot clipped the heels of Istead which saw Marriott get a hand to the ball but unable to prevent it spinning away over the line.
Burgess was just too high with a curling 25 yard free kick to the jeers of the home fans who had taunted him all afternoon.
As Stags sought a late onsolation, Sturrock set up Williams for a shot on the turn at the near post which saw the keeper perfectly positioned.
OXFORD: Clarke, Batt, Sandwith, Bulman, Creighton, Chapman, Constable, Midson, Clist, Wright, Green. Subs: Turley, Potter, Day, Green, Deering.
STAGS: Marriott; Istead, Jones, Garner, Burgess; Briscoe, Somner, Mills, William; Speight, Duffy. Subs: Collett, Challinor, Shaw, Sturrock, Perry.
REFEREE: Mark Heywood of Northwich.
ATTENDANCE: 5,712 (232 away).
Latest | April 2010