HOLDSWORTH, ISTEAD, WILDER REACTION
Holdsworth audio interview from BBC --->
Holdsworth praise for makeshift side in defeat
chad.co.uk, by John Lomas
DAVID Holdsworth paid tribute to his depleted side as they pushed promotion-chasing Oxford United all the way today before losing to two late goals at the Kassam Stadium.
"I am 100 per cent proud of the players – they gave everything they could and were running on empty for the last 20 minutes. But they dug in for each other," said the Stags manager.
"I thought we passed the ball well in the second half and up to their first goal I thought we were more than a match.
"The defence showed a lot of heart and energy. They put their bodies on the line for the team and for the club. There were some very good performances and they showed a lot of character.
"The fans knew the lads had given everything for the cub which is why they stayed until the end to applaud us.
"Luke Jones has been out for 10 weeks and had no preparation, Stevie Istead gave a tremendous performance though he has never played at right back before and Andy Burgess is not a left back, he is certainly no Stuart Pearce, but he worked very hard."
Jake Speight wasted a great chance to put Stags ahead midway through the second half which might have put a different complexion on things.
"Jake had a great chance, it was probably the most clear chance of the game. But the ball got stuck between his feet and he tried to release it and pass to Rob Duffy but they managed to clear."
He added: "You have to concede that Oxford have some very good players. This is no Mickey Mouse side and it was always a question of if we could keep Jack Midson and James Constable quiet. They are two very good players who he scored a lot of goals between them.
"It was disappointing to concede two late goals. Alan Marriott is sick of conceding deflected goals and would probably have dealt with the second if it hadn't been deflected.
"But let's not forget they have paid a lot of money for these players. Everyone can see they have some very talented individuals. I know it's not just about finance – but it can make a difference.
"We wish Chris Wilder and his staff the very best in the play-offs."
Stevie Istead added: "I enjoyed it today to be honest.
"It was an unfamiliar position but I just gave 100 per cent.
"I kept it simple and enjoyed getting on the ball. And Scott Garner covered well. I just did my best for the club.
"It was disappointing to come away with nothing. It was maybe a couple of errors or sloppiness for the goals. I know the season has gone for us now but we still go out there to do our best.
"Everyone knows it was a makeshift back four. It wasn't pretty but we all had each other's backs. On another day it might have turned out a different way
Stags boss praises duo
MANSFIELD Town boss David Holdsworth today singled out Alan Marriott and Luke Jones for praise in a losing cause at Oxford United.
The Stags went down 2-0 at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday as James Constable scored twice for the Us.
But keeper Marriott pulled off several top class saves to keep the Stags in it for three quarters on the contest, while Jones returned from an ankle injury when not match fit.
"Alan would say that some of the things he did were easy for him, but he is a very good keeper," said Holdsworth.
"He's been a fantastic signing for me and I'm delighted we've secured him here for the next two years.
"He was disappointed with the second goal because it took a deflection when I think he would have dealt with it.
"Luke was shattered because he hasn't played for ten weeks, but was tremendous.
"He's had no preparation and no 90 minutes in a friendly and at half-time we recognise we had to conserve his energy levels, but he did well to get through it."
Long, hard summer for Mansfield boss
DAVID Holdsworth concedes it is going to be a long, hard summer in his bid to elevate Mansfield Town from nearly men to Blue Square Premier promotion contenders.
A 2-0 defeat at Oxford United on Saturday highlighted the areas for improvement if the Stags are to go up next season.
A patchwork Mansfield side competed fiercely at the Kassam Stadium and held their opponents for 73 minutes.
But Oxford's superiority eventually told with James Constable hitting both the home side's goals.
"All we can do as a club is get our heads down and work hard to rectify the mistakes we have made this season," said Holdsworth.
"I believe I know the areas we have got to improve. I'm delighted with some players and some need moving on. We have finished short and we have to look at that.
"The players are going to have to be prepared to work even harder again on aspects of their game.
"We will sit down and analyse every match and hopefully put things right on the training ground where we can."
Holdsworth was fairly pleased with most aspects of Mansfield's play at Oxford after fielding a makeshift back four that included Andy Burgess and Steven Istead.
He said: "I got 100% effort from my players, they gave everything they had and at the end were running on empty.
"We dug in for each other and I felt it was a good performance. We showed a lot of heart and energy and the players put their bodies on the line for the club.
"We played with wingers and we wanted to get them on the ball, but when you get it, you have to try to keep it.
"We needed a little bit more strength up top and to keep possession in wide areas. We gave it away too easily.
"But I have no complaints with getting beaten because they are a good side. They have had a lot of money for players here."
Duffy upset at not sinking his old club
ROB Duffy was disappointed he could not sink old club Oxford United after returning to the Mansfield starting line-up.
The striker was given the nod ahead of Kyle Perry after coming off the bench to score the winner from the penalty spot against Rushden and Diamonds in midweek.
But he found chances few and far between at the Kassam Stadium as Oxford dominated for long spells and eventually claimed a 2-0 success.
"I was disappointed we didn't get anything because for an hour I felt we more than matched them," said Duffy.
"We fielded a side with a good shape and base, but I think our eagerness cost us in the end.
"We went a little bit gung ho and when you do that at places like this it is not always the best thing. We could have protected what we had a bit more.
"The plan was to crowd the midfield and we set up to play on the counter.
"When that happens you are relying on the support to arrive quickly. We had a couple of half chances, but not quite enough to get anything out of the game.
"It's been a disappointing second half of the season. In pre-season we set up with a goal and we haven't quite been able to reach it."
Istead: Consistency has let us down
STEVEN Istead started his first Mansfield Town game since an FA Cup tie against Forest Green in December then declared: "Our consistency has let us down."
The midfielder filled in as an emergency right-back in the Stags' 2-0 defeat at Oxford United on Saturday.
That reverse again prevented the Stags from stringing back-to-back victories together for the first time since October.
Speight feels that failure has prompted Mansfield to fall out of the Blue Square Premier play-off spots.
"Consistency plays a massive part and we had that early in the season when teams were coming to Field Mill and they weren't really troubling us," said Istead. "We were confident of picking up good results and one win was following another.
"For whatever reason that stopped. It was hard for other teams to break the winning spells we had but then it has been hard for us to break a run of defeats."
Victory leaves U's manager delighted - Smiles again
Oxford United manager Chris Wilder got what he wanted at the weekend – the team guaranteeing a play-off semi-final second leg at home, and all the fans supportive.
On the day Stevenage wrapped up the Blue Square Premier title, United's 2-0 win over Mansfield, in which they returned to their best, ensures they will finish second or third, with the second leg of the play-off semi-final now confirmed at the Kassam Stadium on Monday, May 3 (3pm).
But they don't yet know who out of Rushden and York they will face – and there is still a chance Wilder's side can catch Luton and finish second.
The U's boss had been upset by the abuse of some supporters at the 0-0 draw with Cambridge in midweek, but this time he was full of praise for the fans.
“I'm delighted with the performance, and delighted most of all for the supporters,” he said.
“I made a point of going at the end to all sides of the ground to thank them because it's been a difficult week for me as well, with a bit of soul-searching, and what I said on Tuesday about a real small minority.
“But even when I walked through the door today, I had people wishing me well and saying 'keep going, keep your head up' and I wanted to express my thanks to them, because they stayed with us right to the end.”
He added: “The fans have got a massive, massive part to play.
“And when it's positive, like it was today – there was a positive vibe about the place – you can see the players grow and the confidence flooding back.”
Wilder laughed: “People should forget about me. I'm getting old and grumpy. I was a frustrated manager during the week.
“I shoot my mouth off, possibly. In time, if I stay here a bit longer, which I want to do, then hopefully people will forget about what I say and ignore my occasional rants and frustrations.”
It was a fourth consecutive clean sheet for Oxford.
Wilder added: “I'm delighted with the application at the back because Mansfield have got some dangerous players, and we wrapped them up pretty well.”
Constable relief after early opportunities go begging
James Constable conceded he was maybe trying too hard as chances came and went against Mansfield on Saturday – but it came right in the end with two late goals to settle the match, writes JON MURRAY.
Oxford United's leading scorer took his tally to 23 (that count) this season with strikes in the 73rd and 86th minutes at the Kassam Stadium.
Before that, though, he hadn't had the best of games.
“We had some good chances and maybe could have done better with a few of them,” he agreed.
“We had a chat at half-time and knew that if we created a few in the second half, we'd take them and get the three points, like we did.
“It was maybe a bit of trying too hard. It was just a case of believing, and we knew it would come good, and on a hot day it was nice to get a couple at the end.”
United's acting skipper admitted the contributions of Adam Chapman, and especially subs Alfie Potter and Sam Deering, were crucial.
“Chappy's a great player and since he's come in, he hasn't really looked back,” he said.
“First half I missed a couple of chances. It was one of those games where I was maybe trying too desperately hard to impress, on a hot day, and it maybe took a bit out of us in the first half.
“But in the second half, the subs made a massive difference. Sam and Alfie coming on gave us that extra boost and they created both goals.
“Their energy lifted the whole team and they're great players to be able to chuck on.
“They can start as well, they've got the fitness to do it from the start, but especially when they come on, they can give us that injection of pace we need.”
Mansfield manager David Holdsworth felt United's supporters helped bring their team the win.
“Oxford's fans behind that goal were almost sucking the ball in during the second half, and the changes made a difference. Potter and Deering are good players.”
Batt buoyed by return to form
Damian Batt believes Oxford United are starting to hit form at just the right time.
The right back was outstanding in Saturday's 2-0 win over Mansfield at the Kassam Stadium where James Constable's late double brought Oxford a 16th win in 22 home matches in the league (reduced to 15 out of 21 because of Chester's demise) – impressive by anyone's standards.
“We looked solid at the back, in midfield and going forward,” Batt admitted. “It's just about getting back to where we've been.
“I'm pleased with my own performance. I've not been too good the last month or two, but I've been concentrating and trying to get back to where I was, and feel I've played well the last few games now. Just getting there for the play-offs . . . !”
He added: “We've been missing the confidence individually and through the team, and I think today we were getting that back.
“Players look confident on the ball, we're taking players on, and at the back we look solid and everyone looks confident.”
It was United's 23rd clean sheet of the season.
“I'm pleased with that and I know the other defenders are, “ he said. “Hopefully we can take that into the play-offs and get a few more clean sheets.”
Batt said all teams suffer a dip in form at some stage of the season, and he admitted he had no preference whether it's Rushden or York that Oxford now get in the play-offs.
“You see the best teams going through spells like we had, even Man Utd.
“The form we're in today, I don't mind who we get, just so long as we can keep it going.”
Manager Chris Wilder said: “At the start of the season Damian was excellent, we had Jim Magilton (then QPR manager) and others come to watch him, and he was being talked about in football circles.
“Then he had a dip, but he's another one accepting responsibility and driving the game forward.”
Wilder also had praise for Adam Chapman, who has taken over the Adam Murray playmaker role in the middle of a 4-3-3 system at home.
“I thought Chapman has grown with another game and been superb,” he said.
“The instance where he tried to take a quick free-kick first half, he wants to make things happen.
“It's not come off, but supporters understood what he was trying to do and were right behind him, and they were right behind us all today.
“Adam Murray is a real important player and our captain, and he was pivotal in our early-season success, how we played and how we created chances.
“I don't think it goes unnoticed that in the second half of the season, when we've been without him, we've missed him more than we thought.
“It was a difficult situation because we always thought he was on the mend, and he was only a week away and only a week away, and we wanted to give him the opportunity to be fit.
“But Chapman's come in and dictated the game. He's got good ability and sees a pass, and I was delighted for him that he's stepped into the game.”
Mark Creighton came off after feeling his back stiffen, and Dannie Bulman was similarly withdrawn after taking a knock, but Wilder is confident neither injury is too serious.
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