ALTERNATIVE STAGSNET REPORT
Futile Stags defence contrive to chuck away much-needed win at home to Exeter.
Daniel Egginton (eggy)
Line-up (no changes to Burton game): Smith; Sutton, Riley, Raynes, Elder; Lambe, Clements, Ravenhill, Brown; Kee, Oliver. Alex Fisher and new signing Matty Blair were on the bench at the expense of Fergus Bell and Danny Fletcher.
Disappointment is becoming a perennial feeling for supporters of Mansfield Town. And after 90 minutes in which any home fan would have experienced the full range of emotions, it is disappointment which we are left with. Exasperation at the failure to put away chances in the first 55 minutes, followed by delight at two goals in 11 minutes, followed by the aforementioned disappointment, with the host defence giving away two more sloppy goals to add to Tom Nichols' unchallenged first-half header. I lost count of how many chances Mansfield had blocked, or saved, or cleared off the line. But the record books at the end of the season care not for half-chances and bad fortune. If Mansfield score the second lowest number of points by the end of the season, this will be a game we will look back to, and wonder how we managed to lost to a distinctly average Exeter side.
It had started so well for the Stags. Early pressure saw chances for Vadaine Oliver (blocked), Billy Kee (wide), Junior Brown (blocked) and Martin Riley (cleared off the line), all in the first 8 minutes. Exeter had a chance of their own in the 11th minute, Nichols and Ryan Harley linking up, before giving the ball to Arron Davies, whose shot was blocked. After a counter attack Chris Clements also had a shot blocked. Ricky Ravenhill was booked for a late challenge, as was Nichols a few minutes later.
Brown and Reggie Lambe were terrorising the Exeter defence and both fired crosses across the face of goal that one of the Mansfield strikers should have been on the end of. The first issues with the defence appeared halfway through the first period, with the entire defence being dragged to the right-hand side of the pitch, with seemingly no communication between Riley and Michael Raynes. Liam Sercombe was given far too much space by Calum Elder, but fired a shot wide, into the side netting. Nichols then got past his marker and hit a shot over the bar.
At the other end, Oliver hit the post with a header after a free kick was pumped into the box. Kee was slow to get to the ball and couldn't avoid his shot being blocked in the ensuing scramble. After the Stags defence was dragged to the right again, Arron Davies had his shot saved by the legs of Stags keeper Adam Smith. On 36 minutes, an Exeter corner was headed just over by Scot Bennett, who was completely unmarked in the middle of the box. A minute later, 0-1. Arron Davies beat Elder and put a cross in to the near post. Nichols got to the ball first, far too easily, and his looping header went over Smith and into the far corner of the home goal. Nothing the keeper could do, but Raynes should not have let him get to the header so easily.
Brown headed a chance for Mansfield straight to the keeper, under pressure after a cross from Elder. Another flurry of chances for Mansfield came as the game went into the first of two minutes of injury time. After Bennett conceded a corner, Raynes had a header from six yards saved, with Kee seeing his follow-up attempt blocked by a defender on the line. After the ball was cleared it came back in to Oliver, who saw his shot comfortably saved. Half-time, 0-1. The Stags were paying for not taking their chances, and not defending as a solid unit. I thought at half-time that the ineffectual Kee, who still doesn't seem match-sharp should come off for Blair (and moving Brown to the middle) or Heslop, to allow the Stags to have a bit more grip on the game in the middle of the park. Ravenhill had also been quiet (sensibly) after his booking, which meant that Clements was doing more defensive work in the middle of a second bank of four.
First half ratings: Smith 6.5; Sutton 6.5, Raynes 5.5, Riley 5.5, Elder 6; Lambe 7, Ravenhill 6.5, Clements 6.5, Brown 7; Kee 5.5, Oliver 5.5.
The second half started even more frantically than the first. Oliver ran at the Exeter defence and got a shot away just outside the box, a block taking it behind for a Stags corner. After Riley's header across was headed off the line and cleared, Clements gave the ball back to corner-taker Brown, who crossed to Ritchie Sutton. His shot on the turn was blocked. An Exeter corner on 50 minutes was headed straight at Smith.
Chance after chance came for Mansfield over the next 20 minutes. Firstly, a great through ball from Brown to Kee. He was slow getting to it and the young visiting keeper James Hamon managed to get out and block his shot. After the resulting throw in was half-cleared, Lambe hit a shot narrowly over the bar. It was Oliver's turn next, his header, following an excellent deep cross from Brown, beating the keeper but cleared off the line. A bursting run from Brown into the box was followed by a low cross to Oliver. His shot was blocked by a defender, then Kee's shot hit the keeper. Kee then flicked another shot over the bar. Both strikers, especially Oliver, were getting more into the game at the start of the second half.
A minute later, the goal finally came for Mansfield. Ritchie Sutton won a corner off former Stag Craig Woodman. After Davies knocked the ball behind, the hosts had another corner on the other side of the pitch. This was beautifully delivered by Clements on to the head of Kee, who couldn't miss after getting in front of his marker and the goalkeeper to equalise. 57 minutes, 1-1.
After some good work between Brown and Kee on the left, Brown cut in but had a shot blocked. There were calls for handball but the ref was not interested. After Jordan Moore-Taylor made a mistake to give the Stags a corner, Raynes nodded the ball across goal to Oliver, but his header was straight at Hamon. After a Harley free kick was comfortably saved and held by Smith at one end, Brown hit a fast-paced cross through the box at the other, nobody getting a touch as it went. Reggie Lambe was replaced by debutant Matty Blair on 63 minutes. Blair immediately started putting himself about, he and Brown adopting free roles behind the strikers.
The two strikers linked up well for Mansfield's second goal in the 68th minute. A long ball to Kee, who bravely challenged two defenders for it even when he could see he was going to get clattered. The ball bounced out to Oliver, who took one touch into the box before firing a shot through the keeper. It was a smart finish and hit too well to be stopped, even though Hamon got a hand to it. 2-1. After 55 minutes unable to convert chances, Mansfield had scored 2 goals and appeared to be on course for a vital win, with other teams at the bottom of the table on course to pick up three points. Ravenhill, who appeared to have taken a knock in the build-up to the goal, was replaced in the middle by Jamie McGuire.
Then, from 75 minutes onwards, the Stags defence capitulated. The first chance was for David Wheeler, who had replaced the injured Clinton Morrison in the first half. On the counter after a Stags corner, he ran past two Stags players before unleashing a rasping shot from the edge of the box. Smith made a spectacular save to his right to keep the hosts in front. Alex Nicholls replaced Tom Nichols up front. Liam Sercombe had a shot blocked, coming in from the right, to give Exeter another corner 2 minutes later. From the corner, it was 2-2. The set piece was hit low to the near post. The unmarked Bennett fired the ball under Smith, who was rightly furious with his defence, none of whom went with Bennett.
Mansfield could have gone back into the lead two minutes later, when Oliver couldn't quite latch on to a through ball and Hamon cleared. The Stags won another corner, Kee's effort blocked after a deep cross from Sutton. Raynes' header from the corner was wonderfully tipped over by Hamon, and the second corner was cleared. Elder put the ball back into the box, where Kee was bundled over by a defender clambering over the back of him. The referee decided there was no infringement.
There was a penalty two minutes later however, and it turned out to be the game winning moment. Martin Riley had plenty of time to clear the ball in his own area, but after some pressure from an Exeter forward, he inexplicably rolled the ball back across his own box, towards his own keeper. The poor back-pass was intercepted by Wheeler, who went over the outstretched leg of Smith. Smith went the right way for Nicholls' penalty, but it was hit well into the bottom corner. 2-3. Mansfield brought Matt Rhead on for Sutton with 5 minutes left, Elder dropping into central defence in a 3-4-3 formation.
In the 89th minute, Blair won Mansfield a corner with a fizzing ball to the near post. Whether it was meant as a cross or shot was not obvious, but Hamon couldn't take any chances and had to put it wide. The corner, to the back post, was headed across by Riley and headed off the line in front of the keeper. In the 3rd minute of injury time, the referee summed up his contribution with a soft free kick for the visitors. Scot Bennett swung an arm across Kee, before throwing himself to the ground.
That was pretty much the final action of a game filled with highs and lows, finishing on an infuriating low. Mansfield's atrocious defending and lack of leadership and communication at the back cost them, although there were some positives to be taken. The wingers were good for Mansfield and Oliver showed what he is capable of when he came into the game more. Kee will do well when he is match fit. Both strikers could have had at least a hat-trick with their blocked shots and other chances. However, as noted earlier, nothing matters in this business but getting points.
And we need to start doing that soon.
Smith - 7 - Some very good saves. Let down by his defence. Unlucky not to get to the penalty.
Sutton - 6.5 - Got forwards well, probably the pick of a poor defence.
Riley - 4 - Dreadful defending, and as captain should be leading the back line. No communication.
Raynes - 5 - Got into the game more after a nervy start, did better in the Exeter box than Mansfield's.
Elder - 6.5 - Again, did well going forwards but nothing spectacular at the back.
Lambe - 7.5 - Terrorised the back 3 of Exeter. Unlucky not to get a goal or assist with some good crosses.
Clements - 6.5 - Worked hard in a more defensive role afte Ravenhill's booking. Some good passes but not enough link-up play between central-midfield and attackers. Good corner for Kee's goal.
Ravenhill - 6.5 - Sensibly calmed down after his booking, although it meant he was quite quiet.
Brown - 8 - Along with Lambe caused huge problems for Exeter down the wings. Excellent set pieces.
Kee - 6 - Scored but spurned a huge number of other chances
Oliver - 6.5 - Got into the game more second half. Again, should have made more of chances. Did well with heading long balls.
Blair - Lot of effort, glimpses of good stuff to come.
McGuire - Barely noticed him.
Rhead - No time to make an impact.
Ref rating - 5 - Inconsistent.
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