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Archived News from February 2003

10th February 2003 13:51

Evening Post, 10 February 2003

When a hearty cheer from the home following greeted the final whistle on Saturday, it was like rubbing salt into the wound.

Mansfield had managed their first win over Notts at Field Mill for 40 years and the Keith Curle revolution continues to gather pace. By gaining three vital points and leapfrogging Billy Dearden's team in the table, it was time for the Stags to display their feathers and have a good gloat, realising the gap between the 'other two' teams in the county is as close as ever, if there is one at all.

The match does have its place in the whole scheme of things but, with Stags beating their rivals from the other end of the A60 as they had Chesterfield last month, confidence will grow again.

It could be just the push they need.

In truth, neither victory nor defeat in a single game is enough to provoke complacency or resignation, but it would have been a bitter blow to Stags followers if the team had let a three-goal lead slip.

And the fact Notts ran them close should be a plus point because they demonstrated they don't know when they are beaten.

Dearden, who didn't enjoy the best reception from supporters who idolised him just over a year ago, will want to see his side turn up for more than the last 20 minutes.

But it was Mansfield's day as they just held out and were deserved winners.

Whether Notts fans would question if Kevin Pilkington was outside the area or if they should have had a penalty when Richard Liburd was booked for diving is questionable. But the fact Mark Stallard missed two excellent chances had more bearing on the final result than any refereeing decision.

The first half was a lot of huff and puff and not a great deal of action.

Stallard's close-range header was the only real action of note as we all contemplated Dearden's pre-match comment that it wouldn't be goalless with a degree of irony.

But it burst into life in the second half, with the introduction of Keith Curle spurring the Stags on and, crucially, it was the hosts who scored the first goal.

The Stags midfield dominated proceedings with Disley, who had replaced Lawrence, all over the place and Lee Williamson having his best performance of the season.

Liburd and Darren Caskey found themselves frustrated and that feeling swamped their followers as well.

It was perhaps fitting that the game was settled by a goal the quality of Wayne Corden's, the best Stags have netted this season, after teenager Craig Mitchell had fired a second with an excellent finish, to gladden the heart of anyone of an amber-and-blue persuasion.

And many were left to eat their words when Andy White put the Stags in front, after all the criticism that has been thrown at him in the last couple of weeks.

It capped an excellent day for the home side, whose supporters will perhaps look back on the game with a sense of relief.

They deserved it, but it wouldn't be Field Mill if the home punters weren't asked to sweat a bit.

If Stags can ride on this wave of confidence, they should be all right and Notts will be as well ??? if they roll their sleeves up, like they did towards the end of this game and in their recent matches against Stockport and Crewe.

It was a great day to be a Stags fan, but the hard work is not completed yet and, I'm sorry if I come across as a party pooper, but that is the sentiment that will have to be followed until safety is cemented.

I'm sure Curle feels the same.

Building on this success will be imperative but it will be a time for Stags fans to revel in the fact they beat their challengers for the title of Nottinghamshire's second team.

After all, there won't be many who can remember when it happened the last time.

And Notts have to take the positives out of their performance, which was hit when Danny Allsopp aggravated his hamstring problem, depleting Dearden's squad even further.

Stags won this particular battle ??? but the war is far from over.

IAN WILKERSON, Evening Post, 10 February 2003

Craig Mitchell today described scoring his first goal for Mansfield Town as "a dream come true" as the Stags secured their first win at Field Mill over Notts County for 40 years.

The 18-year-old striker, who was making his fifth appearance as a substitute after impressing manager Keith Curle, fired home the second goal after Andy White had put the Stags in front. Wayne Corden made it three before two late goals from Mark Stallard inspired a Notts fightback.

Mitchell, who is a Mansfield supporter, kissed the badge on his shirt after firing past Steve Mildenhall and now wants to help the Stags move away from the Relegation zone.

Stags went up to 17th place in the table, leapfrogging Notts in the process.

Mitchell said: "It was just unbelievable. I just hit it and it flew in, I couldn't believe it.

"I have supported Stags for a long time now and it is just my dream to play for the club.

"I have got a lot of people to thank for giving me the opportunity, like Paul Holland, Keith Curle and John Gannon.

"They have been great to me and given me the chance and hopefully I will be able to repay them in the future.

"Every lad dreams of playing for the team they support and scoring at their own ground and it is fantastic."

Evening Post, 08 February 2003
Mansfield Town boss Keith Curle today tipped 17-year-old defender Alex John-Baptiste's to be the new Des Walker ??? but has warned the youngster he is "only on the first rung of the ladder."

Highly-rated John-Baptiste has signed a three-and-a-half year professional contract at Field Mill. Curle sees him as an integral part of the club's future and will have no hesitation in throwing him into the first team. Stags fans will be hoping that he can follow in the footsteps of his two favourite players — Jermaine Jenas and Jermaine Pennant.

The teenagers, who made their names at Nottingham Forest and Notts County respectively, went on to earn their clubs substantial amounts of money from high-profile transfers.

Now John-Baptiste is being tipped as a player who could do the same at Field Mill.

Curle said the contract has been designed to reward him for his achievements, rather than offer him a large basic wage.

He said: "He has shown enough in the early stages to show me that I feel he is going to be an integral part of the Mansfield defence for the future.

"He is going to be training as a first-team player because it is important that we don't stifle his progression.

"But, at the moment, I would have no hesitation in playing him.

"Everything in his contract is going to be incentive-based and if he is doing the business on the pitch, he will get his financial rewards.

"He is the type of player who wants to develop and wants to play so I don't see that as being a problem at all.

"I think there is a bit of a similarity with someone like Des Walker, although I don't think he quite has Des's pace.

"But he is going to go on a learning curve and we are going to go out and test him."

Curle said he had received glowing reports about the youngster since he came to the club and John-Baptiste has also figured as a non-playing substitute this season.

He has been at the Stags centre of excellence since he was 14 and John Gannon was previously his Under-16 manager, before he moved up to be Curle's assistant.

Baptiste will still be eligible to play for the Stags youth team for another two seasons but Curle said he will be looking for the Ollerton youngster to continue his development and force his way into the first-team picture.

He said: "When I first came to the club and asked Paul Holland what the situation was with the youth team, the first thing he told me about was Alex.

"He told me that he was definitely ahead of the pack and one for the future, so I took time out to have a look at him. I liked what I saw and that is why he has been involved with the first-team squad and has been on the bench.

"Because we have got a small squad, there is definitely an opportunity for the younger players and I work on the adage that, if they are good enough, they are definitely old enough.

"Alex certainly falls into that bracket, but he has got a lot of work to do. He is now on the first rung of what could be a very long ladder.

"He is a natural defender and he has got the ability to pass the ball as well and he has got an energetic and enthusiastic approach to his football."

John-Baptiste said: "I'm really gratefully to have been given this opportunity and hopefully I will have a chance to prove myself to the Gaffer.

"Both he and John know what it is like to play at the highest level and they will be helping me to develop into a better player."


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