THE COUNTY VIEW
Following County is never dull, it's fair to say. After the pre-Christmas stuffing of Northampton, we travelled across to Stag country to face a Mansfield side who'd turned things around a bit recently, with a 4-0 thumping of their own, versus Blackpool. So we could probably expect a few goals then, and we were not to be disappointed on that front. Just saw a few too many in the wrong net, sadly.
For once, you'll be shocked to learn, myself and Andy aka Traffic King had an uneventful journey to the ground. We had a set of directions that we not only followed correctly, but were very helpful. This mean that we rolled up into the Mansfield club car park at around 12pm. Had received a call from TR saying to call Chris when we got their, so after parking up, we waited for Chris. His timing was spot on as we were stood by the gate just as he drove up. A quick trip to KFC - photo included purely for Mr Maguire's benefit - still not been yet? and we were fed and watered and ready for the game. Met Lucy and Hitchin Hatter as well. Familar faces were out in force as we spotted Prodigy and Mozzer queuing to get in, and just inside the turnstiles I managed to walk right past Steve and Magua by accident (sorry!), as I'd spotted Prodigy tucking into a couple of pies.
Headed to find a seat about ten minutes before kick off. First glance at the pitch and it looked extremely boggy in a few places - the stadium announcer was busy congratulating the staff on getting the game playable. It had been extremely wet in the last few days. There was no surface water, just the area round the goalmouth nearest to us looked a little treacherous. I made a joke about Jones getting stuck like quicksand - little knowing how the patch of mud was to betray us later on. Spotted Sammy the Stag, the Mansfield mascot, which quickly turned into "Smithills the Moose" given their similarity. Said Moose man was probably checking his bags again as he's due on a flight over to the UK shortly.
The teams ran out, and we noticed we were in our change shirt of white with black shorts. Bugger. How many points has that strip seen us win this season? Withdraw it now! The team lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, which was good to see. Lee Jones in goal, back three of Tonkin, Clare and Challinor. Midfield of Briggs, Pemberton, Gibb, Lambert, Lescott. Beckett and Burgess up front, as usual. Not entirely sure what Luke has done to his hair, it's got a blonde streak down the top of it now, his new nickname will have to be "Badger Beckett". Not sure who won the toss, but County changed ends and we were to be attacking the goal that housed us in the first half. Always slightly disappointing when that happens, I prefer to see the team attacking us in the second half so we can pick them up if needed.
Straight from the kick off, it was clear that the players would have to watch the pitch fairly carefully. A whole portion in front of the dugouts to our right was extremely muddy, and balls that you would have bet your house on going straight out of play were sticking and remaining near the touchline. Play immediately headed to that side of the pitch, and a few industrial clearances saw some balls exit the ground early on.
Before we'd had a chance to really get a gist of what was going on, County won a corner after some good work down the left wing. Burgess (I think?) went over to take it, and sent a looping corner over. Not entirely sure what happened here, but the next thing we knew was that the ball was heading into the back of the net, without a County player near it! DAY had made a fantastic connection with the ball from some distance out and the keeper had no chance. County fans and players celebrated this early goal. The best start we could make. It quitened a somewhat noisy Mansfield crowd down.
Mansfield were a bit stung by this, and pushed forward to try and get an equaliser. It appeared to me that they were getting far too much space down both our left and right flanks - there were often two attackers on one defender, and a series of robust challenges kept them at bay. But not for long. They won a corner, and tried an interesting method to get the ball into the box. A short corner was played, and then one-two'd past the covering County defenders. The ball was crossed in from the edge of the 18 yard box and CHRISTIE was there to head it firmly past Lee Jones to make it 1-1. The Mansfield fans erupted, and we were back on level terms far too quickly for my liking. We were caught cold at the corner, and Town tried variations of it all day. Only once of twice County figured it out though, despite fans screaming at them to cover as it was obvious to us what was going to happen. County were defending corners deep as usual, but leaving four Mansfield Midfielders unmarked on the edge of the box. It was easy for their corner taking duo to pick them out, and let them pepper the County goal with shots. All thankfully wide.
However, the game was fairly open, and it was a "County have a chance, Mansfield have a chance" end to end type of game. When coming forward and not getting stuck in the mud we didn't look too bad. Gibb was managing to get past his marker a few times, although the crossing was slightly wayward. The referee and linesmen were turning out to be extremely poor though, with many sliding tackles going unpunished, and some extremely dubious offside decisions to say the least. They were just as bad for both sides though. What was worrying to see was the amount of space they were still getting down our wings, particulary down our right side, where Gibb was being shouted at by Clare to cover properly. Poor Gibb was often left with two men to mark though, which made his life somewhat tricky.
County broke from a Mansfield attack but it was rudely stopped by a Mansfield tackle. The ref gave the free kick, and Burgess tried to take it quickly a la Northampton. It was a fine effort as well, just whistling past the keeper's right hand post by a foot at most. He would never have got near it if was on target - as the photo shows, with Burgess just about to strike the ball, he was leaning on the left hand post trying to sort the wall out. More quick thinking from Burgess. Now, I'm not too much of a Burgess fan but I thought in this first half he had a good game today. He was jumping for everything and winning about 90% of the aerial balls. Also he was tracking back and making challenges to disposess and break up Mansfield attacks. A good disply from the lad. Aaron Lescott was looking as dependable as ever as well. Pemberton was getting a lot of stick from the Mansfield fans, and although I didn't think he was that bad in the first half he faded badly in the second.
It wasn't just our defence having problems though, Mansfield appeared half asleep too. Beckett could have had a penalty as he was being chased (the free kick above). He was, as usual, causing chaos, and not long afterwards got the ball deep in the Mansfield area. Keith Curle was marking him, and got too close before putting an arm over Luke's shoulder and hauling him down. The County support were laughing it was that blatent a penalty, and the ref pointed to the spot. Given Luke's somewhat erractic shooting from 12 yards, Burgess went to take the kick. He fooled the keeper and struck it low to the keeper's right, with the keeper diving to his left. A good penalty, and County back in front. Ben rushed to the stand with County players jumping on him in celebration. Again, I'm not the world's biggest Ben fan, but more performances like this and I will be converted.
Would going back in front settle us down though? Sadly not. We looked all over the place at the back, despite being in our 3-5-2 formation, and time and time again Mansfield were causing us problems. It looked a bit like defending at all costs, and any Mansfield corners were still causing us problems. We never figured out their routines all day. It was somewhat tense in the away end as we willed the team on, hoping for a third goal on the break.
With about 35 minutes gone, we nearly got it. Gibb rode two challenges on the right wing, and set off towards the touchline. He sent a great low cross over, about level with the 6 yard line but curling away so the keeper could not reach it. Burgess and Beckett were steaming in but it eluded them by a foot or two at most, and headed out on the far side. A good move, shame that it didn't get the finish it deserved - maybe just a bit too much pace on the ball.
After that, we were back in the defensive, as Mansfield pushed for an equaliser before half time. They appeared to be mightly close with a couple of attempts, one shot skidding just wide of Jone's left hand post, and another great chance right at the end of the half from about 12 yards out sent just over the bar. Prodigy pointed out that maybe Mansfield were one of the few teams unluckier than us, as they did seem to be managing to fail just at the crucial moment, thankfully for us. Challinor was injured after a late challenge, and someone shouted in jest "Don't worry, it won't affect his mobility" which raised a few laughs. It didn't - he was back to normal a few minutes later.
With the usual injury time County panic defending, we just about got through to half time 2-1 up and without and more incidents. I don't know what it is about us but we do seem to enter some sort of Bermuda Triangle in any injury time of a half - the defence simply disappears. However, the ref blew and we relaxed.
Wished various people Happy Christmas at half time, and Andy went off in search of a hot drink. Despite the scares, quite pleased with a 2-1 lead given Mansfield had turned over Blackpool 4-0 and beaten Barnsley at their place. The "unlucky" white kit was more of a brown kit now given the amount of sliding around in the mud. Jones won the "Slide of the half" Competition I think, with a slide of around 10 yards after collecting a ball.
I was on the verge of allowing myself to think about how good it would be to get back to back wins. However, I was to be rudely shaken out of this dream all too soon. Mansfield attacked us from the kickoff and we had trouble defending our left wing, not for the first time in this game. After a County attack the ball was played through to Christie on their right wing. He looked miles offside to us, and we were all up shouting for the offside. However it wasn't given and he raced towards goal. Clare ran back, and just outside the 6 yard box, caught him up. He then tackled him from the side, but missed the ball and brought the man down. A clear penalty, and given that he was last man about 5 yards from goal we feared the worst. However the ref gave only a yellow. I'm not sure why as it looked a red to me, but was relieved. Cordon (Vale reject, as I kept reminding him in the hope he'd miss) stepped up and sent Jones the wrong way despite 800 County fans jumping around behind the goal to try and put him off. The Mansfield players then helpfully decided to gesture and celebrate at us, which provoked a hostile reaction from the County fans. Maybe Corden heard me. In Curle's programme notes he implied they'd taken the defeat at Edgeley Park quite badly, and were out for revenge. I don't know why they'd think that, unless they thought they should have had something from it. I remember that they played well against us, but we scored and they didn't - it happens. Either way they were certainly up for this.
County looked a bit stunned from being back on level terms so early. We'd switched to a 4-4-2 formation - I presume to try and stop Mansfield from getting down our flanks, but, as so often this season, it merely seemed to stop us as an attacking side. Briggs went to right back. Gibb seemed to come in a bit, which made him anonymous. Remember Chesterfield? It was like that all over again. Rob Clare had gone to pieces after giving away the penalty and seemed to have lost his composure. Pemberton was on the left wing now and getting a great deal of stick from the Town fans, and this seemed to affect his game too.
Mansfield now had the upper hand and poured forwards. They abandoned the wing play though and this time came straight down the middle of the park. DISLEY picked the ball up a long way from goal and ran forward. He let a shot go about 25 yards out. It was pretty pathetic as it trickled slowly towards Jones, who went to pick it up. I was off my seat along with a lot of other County fans to tease him about it, but suddenly, we noticed the ball had somehow got past Jones and was in the back of the net! I have absoutely no idea what happened, I can only assume Jones either tried to flick it up with his foot and missed it, or it was bobbling along and hit a patch of that treacherous mud and skidded under him rather than bouncing up. To be honest, I'm surprised it even made it to the goal, it didn't even appear to hit the back of the net. Either way, we were not 3-2 down. A terrible goal to give away. I'm not looking forward to seeing it on the TV, and Jones even less so I would imagine.
This goal knocked the stuffing out of County, and we simply fell to pieces. Heads were down, balls were being kicked away aimlessly, and the Town fans were taunting us with "Can we play you every week?" etc. This was a desperate point in the game for us, we looked a beaten side, and were resorting to long hoofs up the park rather than playing our way out of trouble. It was not pleasant viewing for us, as we were pushed back. Mansfield were suddenly full of confidence and looked the more likely to score. I think we had one header that Burgess put over the bar in the second half and that was it. We were very, very poor.
The pitch was a bit of a bog. It was interesting to note that Mansfield were pumping the balls to the corners, and chasing what seemed to be lost causes. However, the ball would stick when it looked certain to go out of play. Mansfield players figured this out, we did not, which led to a lot of panic "GET BACK" moments. Usually ending up in another corner where they do the one-two routine and we fail to stop it. Again. Our defend in numbers tactic is a bit flawed when we're all on the 6 yard box, and they have 3 players on the 18 yard box waiting to hammer it in. Luckily, although they're improving fast, they're not that good. Certainly from what we've seen though, there are a lot worse teams than Mansfield in this Division, and they should not be bottom of the table.
We were still not offering anything in attack and it was getting worrying. Challinor and Lambert were taken off for Fradin and Hardiker. Fradin was pushed into emergency defense a few times, but played his way out of trouble. Sadly we just then hoofed it and the ball came back at us.
With just about ten minutes to go, still no spark from county. Mansfield grew in confidence, and it was no suprise when they scored again. CORDEN got the ball on the left wing, cut in, and sent a low shot past Jones from just inside the box. 4-2, game over. County were now a shambles, with the defence all over the place, and midfield having to get back in an "all hands to the pump" exercise. There was, sadly, only one side looking likely to score again. Jokes abounded on the away end that we could win 5-4 like Bristol City.
The board went up for 2 minutes of injury time, and we had our best chance of the half. Luke's bloody mindedness saw him get through in the center of goal. With the goal beckoning, he tried to put it past the keeper, but he clawed it away and the chance was gone. If it had gone in, maybe some panic would have ensued, but with that, our last chance was gone, and it was a relief that the final whistle went shortly afterwards. Mansfield = very happy, County = depressed.
Let's not take anything away from Mansfield though, they looked pretty good to me. They'll stay up easily if they keep this type of perforamnce up. Sadly they've seen the "worst" of County, we know we can play better than today. Stags fans, we're not always as bad as today.
So. All in all, not a good day at the office, especially in the second half. We must get the defence sorted before Bristol City come to EP on Saturday, or we could have more than a few problems. It was a quiet car ride home, how can we play so badly after doing so well last week? The story of our season so far, in this one game - a few good signs, but more than evened out by some worrying ones.
Get the Mansfield view at the excellent www.stagsnet.com
Mansfield 4 - 2 Stockport
County's players extended their Christmas festivities for an extra day after handing Mansfield victory on Boxing Day. County twice took the lead but failed to hold on to it after losing 4-2 to the Stags on a very muddy pitch at Field Mill.
County only made one change to the squad that trounced Northampton 4-0 by recalling midfielder Karim Fradin into the squad at the expense of Jim Goodwin.
The Hatters got off to a fantastic start after they took the lead after 3 minutes following a Rickie Lambert corner kick. Lambert's corner from the right hand side was met by Mansfield defender Rhys Day and he could only watch as his header looped over Stags keeper Kevin Pilkington and into the goal to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
Mansfield didn't have to wait long to be back on level terms though after a short corner routine mesmerised County's defence in the 6th minute. With Aaron Lescott and another County player dumfounded by the tactical corner, a cross was swung in which Iyseden Christie met with a powerful header to make it 1-1.
County regained the lead in the 17th minute after Mansfield player manager Keith Curle wrestled Luke Beckett to the floor in the area whilst Beckett had the ball with his back to goal. Ben Burgess was entrusted with the spot kick and he gave County a 2-1 lead after beating Kevin Pilkington from 12 yards.
County survived a few scares before half time as the Stags cut County's defence open looking for an equaliser before half time but fortunately Lee Jones came to the rescue a few times as well as poor finishing on Mansfield's behalf.
County changed to a 4-4-2 formation in the second half in a bid to shut up shop but it seemed to help Mansfield as County's back four lacked pace and the long ball over the top caught County out many times during the second half.
The home side were back on level terms in the 48th minute after Rob Clare bought Christie down in the box from behind and the England under 20 international was lucky to stay on the pitch after fouling Town's striker when clean through. Wayne Corden beat Lee Jones with the spot kick and then incited County's travelling fans by taking his celebrations a little too far in front of the away end at Field Mill.
Lee Jones will never forget the third goal that Mansfield scored after allowing a tame Craig Disley shot from outside the area to beat him in the 54th minute. Disley was played through for a one on one but looked to have wasted his chance after shooting early from outside the area but Lee Jones could only look on in horror after he allowed Disley's weak effort to squirm under his body and over the line.
County's misery was complete in the 79th minute after Wayne Corden grabbed his second goal of the game with a shot from inside the area. Corden received a square pass across the area and he then turned right back Keith Briggs before beating Lee Jones with a powerful shot to make it 4-2 to the Stags.
Luke Beckett had a good chance in the last minute to make it 4-3 after he had two shots which Kevin Pilkington did very well to save but in the end a 4-3 score line would have flattered County after Mansfield had battered the Hatters on the day. County must now pick themselves up before Saturday when second placed Bristol City visit Edgeley Park in the league.