EVENING POST REPORT AND REACTION
CURLE HAPPY WITH STAGS' PERFORMANCE
Evening Post, 24 February 2003
BY MARC DODD
Despite conceding an injury-time equaliser, Stags boss Keith Curle was delighted with the effort shown by his players, especially when his side went down to ten men.
"I'm very proud of the players," said Curle. "I wouldn't say I was disappointed to be honest. Once we were down to ten men if somebody had offered me a point I would have taken it. "I know that I've got a team in there that will give me 100 per cent every game that we play and they've done that ."
Assistant manager John Gannon echoed Curle's sentiments, on a 90 minutes he described as "blood and thunder."
Gannon said: "We showed wonderful character to stick at the job.
"We rode our luck on occasions which you're bound to when you're down to ten men.
"But there were no lack of bodies, boots and heads to stop the ball going in the goal and then, on the counter, through Christie and Mendes, we were still a threat, even with ten men."
As for the Andy Jones sending-off, Gannon believes the youngster will learn from his brief taste of first team football.
"He's probably learned a big, big lesson. He hasn't intentionally done it, it's just one of those things.
"He got wound up a little but we've got to try and bring the smile back to his face now," Gannon added.
Despite the performance, Gannon was disappointed about the result.
"The players are very low and so they should be," he added. "But you learn something from the goals that go in and we'll pick them up for the next two home games.
"We've got enough character and belief in our team and if we go down they'll have to carry us out kicking and screaming."
STAGS CAN TAKE HEART
Evening Post, 24 February 2003
Queen's Park Rangers 2 V 2 Mansfield Town
Hard luck stories are easy to come by in football; more frequent still among teams battling relegation. Look at Saturday's statistics, and QPR's 93rd-minute equaliser after the Stags had been reduced to ten men for more than an hour, and Mansfield Town could justifiably claim to add their name to the list.
That, however, would be doing an injustice to Keith Curle's team, who fully deserved the three points.
But after the initial disappointment of only coming away from Loftus Road with a point, the manager will be hugely encouraged by the performance.
After Paul Furlong had put Rangers ahead on 20 minutes, driving the ball across Welch from 15 yards after Gallen's clever reverse pass, Christie got Mansfield back on level terms minutes later when Junior Mendes' header hit the bar and the Stags' top scorer headed into an unguarded net.
When youngster Andy Jones - on the pitch for less than nine minutes after replacing the injured Wayne Corden - was shown the red card ten minutes before half-time, after an off-the-ball altercation with Marc Bircham, QPR appeared odds-on favourites to make their advantage count.
They pressed on for the three points, but a fine Christie strike four minutes after the break from the edge of the box, driven low past Nick Culkin after Craig Disley had won the ball in midfield and played him in, put Mansfield in front.
A minute later, Keith Welch saved Gallen's weakly-struck penalty low to his right, after Curle had harshly been adjudged to have pushed Furlong in the box.
It appeared, for once, luck was on Stags' side.
However, more than three minutes into injury time, a mix-up between Curle and Welch left the keeper stranded in no-man's land and the striker lobbed the ball from 30 yards into an unguarded net.
Understandably, the Mansfield players would have been distraught at the final whistle, having seen two points slip from their grasp in the cruellest of circumstances.
However, even though a win would have done the Stags' chances of avoiding relegation the power of good, Curle will have taken more than enough positives from the 90 minutes to believe Division Two football beckons next season.
It was not just Town's gutsy, battling performance which impressed.
After being reduced to ten men, Mansfield could have looked for the sympathy vote and crawled into their shell, looking to avoid a drubbing at best. But instead they composed themselves, soaked up the pressure and hit Rangers on the break with a vigour and pace which would have fully merited all three points.
Even though QPR enjoyed the lion's share of possession, Rangers' football became increasingly ragged as their players became bereft of ideas in their struggle to break down a Stags defence superbly organised by Curle.
In fact, the opening 20 minutes apart - where Furlong should have had a hat-trick as Town were ripped apart - Rangers rarely looked like breaking down the visiting back four.
Some may question Curle's decision to replace Wayne Corden with Andy Jones - a 17-year-old youth player making his debut - after the left midfielder hobbled off on 24 minutes. The substitution was a gamble and it backfired.
However, Curle also gambled on leaving Mendes and Christie on as two out-and-out strikers after being reduced to ten men and it was a brave move which should have resulted in all three points.
Christie ran himself into the ground and, when the opportunities presented themselves, showed a predatory instinct in front of goal.
In fact, Christie could have added to his tally in the second half, but just failed to get a touch on Rhys Day's downward header and Rangers were able to clear the ball off the line.
The fact that Mansfield were able to threaten the Rangers defence in the second-half though was in no small part due to a terrific performance from Craig Disley in the centre of the park.
Outnumbered in midfield for the remaining hour, Disley continued to cover every blade of grass and was, of course, hugely instrumental in Christie's second.
Come May though, the two points dropped could become crucial and that would be the real hard luck story, as opposed to Saturday's 90 minutes which offers Stags' fans the realistic hope of a happy ending.
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