300 STAGS FANS SEE PRE-SEASON OPENER IN MALTA
Naxxar Lions (Malta) 0 - 0 Mansfield Town
Attendance: app 400 (app 300 from Mansfield, my estimate)
Date: 6 July 2013
By Martin Shaw at the Melita FC Training Ground, Pembroke, Malta
Mansfield Town kicked off their list of pre-season friendlies with a goalless draw against Naxxar Lions (pronounced Nash-arr) in Malta on Saturday night. The Stags players are over in Malta for a week of intense training, while approximately 300 Stags fans had come out to follow the team for the first game on foreign soil since pre-season games in Cyprus in 1995. This was a decent workout for Mansfield, who played virtually two different elevens in each half. The Stags looked solid at the back in both halves, with Ryan Tafazolli (who played both halves) impressing after he missed much of last season, and tenacious in midfield, but lacked the killer instinct up front in the absence of the departed Matt Green, Ross Dyer (tight hamstring), and Jake Speight (not travelled).
The game was played at the Melita FC Training Ground in Pembroke, about 3.5 miles from where the players and most of the Stags fans were staying in Sliema. The pitch was 3G, and fans were housed on one side of the ground, where there was a bar which did a good trade, and about 50 seats.
Initially we were going to commentate and film the game from the roof of the stand, but we decided against it after a policeman said he wouldn’t go up there, but we were welcome to attempt it! (climbing the ladder on the side of the floodlight pylon and then leaping about a yard onto the roof). So instead we set up pitchside, literally one yard from the touchline. Within a few minutes of the game starting we realised this wasn’t without its risks, as a ball knocked over my water bottle spraying me (and worse still emptying it), another ball missing us by a whisker at head height at some pace, and then we were within feet of being taken out by an Adam Murray flying tackle in the second half! Meanwhile midway through the first half, Lee Beevers drunk our only other water bottle, telling us “it’s easy sat there”. Doesn’t he realise this commentating lark is thirsty work?
The two Mansfield elevens for the two halves were as follows:
1st half: G/k Ian Deakin. Back four: 2 Lee Beevers, 5 John McCombe, 22 Ryan Tafazolli, 3 Paul Black. Midfield three: 6 Keiran Murtagh, 13 Anthony Howell, 11 Chris Clements. Front three: 10 Louis Briscoe (right), 18 Colin Daniel (centre forward), 20 Ben Hutchinson (left).
2nd half: G/k Alan Marriott. Back four: 2 Lee Beevers, 21 Martin Riley, 22 Ryan Tafazolli, 12 James Jennings. Midfield three: Adam Murray (no number), 8 Lee Stevenson, 17 Jamie McGuire. Front three: 7 Lindon Meikle (right), 15 Matt Rhead (centre forward), 16 Sam Clucas (left).
Beevers was the only player due to play both halves in the team told to us by Paul Cox. However Dempster, who was due to play in the second half, didn’t play, so Tafazolli also played both halves.
Ross Dyer missed out due to a tight hamstring. Ritchie Sutton (getting married) and Jake Speight didn’t travel, nor did George Pilkington and Godfrey Poku. There was also no place in the team for the youngsters who had travelled with the squad to Malta, including Jack Thomas and new signing Chris Spencer.
There was no matchday programme or teamsheet but the Naxxar Lions side was kindly written out for us (on official Malta FA headed notepaper) by a Naxxar official who sat pitchside next to us all game:
1 Julian Azzopardi, 17 Andrew Decesare, 20 Kurt Drago, 7 Marlon Briffa, 22 Angus Buhagiar, 18 Pablo Doffo, 6 Victor Bellia (captain), 4 Jarnier Joris, 21 Thiago Lopes, 10 Daren Falzon, 19 Andrea Rocha da Silva.
Subs used: 12 Luke Pecorella (g/k), 9 Gilbert Camilleri, 8 Mattia Del Negro, 16 Yaron Sammut, 15 Ryan Gilmour Cassar, 11 Duane Bonnici.
Sub not used: 5 John Debono.
We were informed that Andrea Rocha da Silva is a Brazilian, while sub keeper Luke Pecorella is the U19 Malta international.
The Stags had much the better of things in the first half, creating a number of chances. On 3 minutes, a good corner from Clements reached Briscoe whose shot was always rising just over the bar. On 7 minutes, the Stags had the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a foul by Hutchinson. On 9 minutes, McCombe got up well to a Clements free kick and flicked a header well wide. On 18 minutes, Briscoe fed the ball inside to Howell who fired well wide. On 22 minutes, a cross-come-shot from Beevers from a tight angle was straight at the keeper.
The best chance so far fell to Daniel on 23 minutes; a short throw from Beevers on the right, was played back to Beevers, who crossed to the near post, where Daniel turned and got the ball onto his right foot, firing just wide of the left post, across the goal. On 24 minutes, a great effort from Hutchinson from 20 yards was tipped wide. Three minutes later, a good break from Hutchinson on the left, but he couldn’t quite find Daniel.
The first sign of Naxxar going forward was on 28 minutes as Stags keeper Ian Deakin was out quickly from his goal to clear. It drew a round of applause from the Stags dugout, to encourage the new keeper, on more or less his first touch of the ball.
Back at the other end, on 29 minutes, Daniel did well to cut inside, but his shot was wide and went out for a throw-in.
Three minutes later, a Clements corner feel to Briscoe on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked, it came back to Daniel who fired wide from the edge of the box. A Clements free kick on 36 minutes was excellent and into the corridor of uncertainty, as it flicked off a defender sending it just wide of the post.
The first chance for the home side came on 38 minutes when Angus Buhagiar fired well over the bar. Straight back to the other end, and Briscoe got to the byline but his cross was over everyone. On 39 minutes, Hutchinson took a free kick, from wide on the left, and curled it just wide of the right post. So close. Two minutes later, a Beevers cross-come-shot from the right curled away from the left post. Then on 43 minutes, McCombe rose well from a Clements corner, and his goalbound header was cleared.
A decent half by the Stags who completely bossed things, but missed a succession of chances, while Naxxar just had one shot off target. Everyone looked in decent touch, and Clements particularly impressed in midfield.
Half time 0-0
Mansfield made nine changes at the break, as detailed above. Naxxar made two changes at the break.
Less than two minutes into the second half, McGuire was booked for a crunching challenge. On 48 minutes, Meikle crossed from the right, and Clucas headed well wide. Then Rhead was through on goal but fired well wide.
Chances were not coming in such numbers as in the first half for the Stags, in what was now a more even contest.
On 64 minutes, a great effort from McGuire, shooting from long range and the Maltese U19 international keeper Luke Pecorella palmed it away for a fine save. Then from a Jennings corner from the right, Rhead’s header was cleared off the line. At the other end, Victor Bellia sent a 40 yard effort just over the bar. On 78 minutes, a good header away from Riley as Naxxar pushed forward.
On 81 minutes, Stevenson’s free kick was deflected straight through to the keeper. Then at the other end, the Brazilian Rocha da Silva shot just over.
On 85 minutes, Meikle was guilty of not having a shot, as he got the ball just inside the box on the right, but elected to square the ball and it was cleared. A minute later, a good chance for Stevenson right inside the box but he got the ball stuck under his feet after Meikle had found him with a good pass. On 89 minutes, Stevenson made a great run forward but then played a ball forward to nobody in particular. Then finally, right on the stroke of 90 minutes a good run from Clucas, who found Meikle on the right, and Meikle tried to play the ball back in but it was cleared.
Full time 0-0
So a good work-out for Mansfield, against a Naxxar side who competed very well. There were plenty of crunching challenges from both sides but the game was played in reasonably good spirit. As in the first half, Mansfield created chances but were unable to take them, and were clearly missing the killer touch. Clucas had impressed me hugely in the 11-a-side training game on Thursday and had scored a couple of fine goals, but never quite got into this game as he would have liked. All the new signings acquitted themselves well.
No player ratings this time, as most of the players played just 45 minutes.
Naxxar were fine hosts and Mansfield fans seemed to enjoy the occasion and whole trip immensely.
Paul Cox reaction to follow.
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