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EVENING POST REPORT AND REACTION
16/December/2002 21:30:45

GANNON: 'HUGE STEP' IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Evening Post, 16 December 2002

Mansfield Town assistant manager John Gannon was unable to hide his delight after Keith Curle's career at Field Mill got off to a perfect start on Saturday.

An eighth-minute opener from Iyseden Christie, one in the second half from Liam Lawrence and a late brace from substitute Colin Larkin gave the Stags a 4-0 win over Blackpool.

It was only the second clean sheet the team has kept this season and Gannon said Curle, who played at the heart of the defence, put in an outstanding performance.

He said: "He was the leader on the pitch and he showed them the way and got them playing.

"In the first 25 minutes we were excellent going forward and, after going backwards a little bit, we took the game to them in the second half and the sending-off changed the whole complexion of the match.

"Blackpool can play if you let them, but we set out to show them that we weren't going to give them time on the ball. We got after them from the front, the midfield got after them and, with Keith at the back, we were able to keep things nice and tight."

Gannon said the gameplan was to hit Blackpool over their defence and leave Christie and Andy White to cause plenty of problems, which led to Chris Clarke being sent off for a professional foul on Christie, who has now scored 14 goals this season.

He was also delighted with the way Larkin came on and tied up the game with two goals, just six minutes after he replaced White.

He said: "When we came in at half-time, we knew Andy and Iyseden were causing them problems and we looked to hit the ball behind their defence, squeeze them up and play in the final third.

"And that was what happened when Iyseden got in and caused the incident that led to the sending-off.

"The manager shouted over to give Andy a break and bring Larks on and he took the credit for that, but we were pretending we had already handed the slip to the fourth official.

"Larks was always going to be a danger with his pace as the game opened up and that was reflected in his two goals."

The message now is for more of the same, as Stags travel to Barnsley on Saturday.

Gannon said: "When we came in two weeks ago, Keith said from that moment that this was the way things were going to be.

"We want standards, passion and commitment and we want to go forward and try and get the club out of this mess.

"It's only a start. What we have got to do is get ourselves into the dogfight and it may go the distance.

"There's so much we can take out of it. Kevin Pilkington said his last clean sheet was April 20.

"The fact we haven't let in a goal will bring confidence to everyone.

"It took them half an hour to have their first shot on goal and it shows that we can defend.

"It's a huge step in the right direction for us."
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CURLE FINDS THAT WINNING BLEND
Evening Post, 16 December 2002

Mansfield Town 4 v 0 Blackpool

If we had been able to see the constellations through the fog that descended on Field Mill on Saturday, we may well have concluded that a win for the Stags was written in the stars.

But, while there seems to be a sense of inevitability about a manager's first home game producing a favourable result, it would be a mistake to put Mansfield's success over Blackpool down to fate or pure luck.

For once, despite the visitors proclaiming that Mansfield were not looking like the bottom-of-the-table team, they managed to get the result to prove it.

And the importance of the game was not really evident until the news had come through that the three teams above them had all won as well.

That was when it became a must-win game.

It was true that the sending-off of Chris Clarke did have a bearing on proceedings, but only because Stags were able to exploit their advantage.

The goals were all well taken, particularly the brace Colin Larkin helped himself to after what proved an inspired substitution, and they attacked with menace throughout the duration of the match.

Unbelievably, Stags are the joint- second-highest scorers in the league with leaders Wigan, behind Bristol City.

But, while everyone will applaud the performance in the attacking third, it was at the back - the area that has caused all the problems this season - where the changes were so evident. And it was down not in any small part to the way the player-manager influenced proceedings.

There was an absence of the panic factor on Saturday and Curle was on hand throughout just to calm everybody down and also led by example with a series of well-timed interceptions and tackles.

One telling moment was immediately after the sending-off when, with Neil MacKenzie and Liam Lawrence looking to take a free kick, Curle was on hand just to tell them to calm down and then watched as MacKenzie rattled the post.

It is the sort of experience that Stags have been lacking this season and can only help the younger players think a little more abut what they are doing and choose the sensible options.

There have been times when, whatever lead the Stags have enjoyed, there were still a few nerves. But that wasn't the case on Saturday as they spent the last seven or eight minutes just passing the ball between themselves in a display of supreme confidence.

As a consequence, Steve McMahon's outfit joined Peterborough as the only team that has failed to penetrate the Stags defence all season and they hardly troubled goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington.

The only problem with the day was that they were unable to boost their league position as a result.

But that will come if Curle and his staff build on this particular showing and produce a result at Barnsley on Saturday.

Anyone who has watched the Stags this season will know that, on their day, they can be a match for any team in Division Two going forward and now they have an excellent defensive performance to push on from.

An improvement in their status will follow if they can continue this in the coming weeks and, with the Christmas period providing the opportunity to put some results together in a relatively short space of time, now seems as good a time to start as any.

At the moment, it is getting tighter and tighter and, on Saturday's evidence, Stags definitely have enough about them to give themselves a chance.

And, with a shored-up defence and the continuation of their strike-rate, they can ensure their safety and make sure the only gloom around the place is meteorological.



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