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Season 04/05 Stagsnet Match Report
Coca-Cola League 2
1 - 1
 Mansfield Town
Tait 4
 Barker 38
Attendance: 2576 (431 from Mansfield)
Date: 15th January 2005

Dean Foulkes at Spotland

The Stags were a bit lucky to return home with a point after this hard fought encounter at Spotland. After conceding an early goal, the Stags drew level with a brilliant overhead kick from Richie Barker The home side had what looked like a perfectly good goal disallowed early in the second half, and hit the post in the first half. In the closing moments either side could have won it, but the Stags finished happier with the point. The Stags started well in the opening moments and should have taken the lead when Larkin fired over the bar from a great position. But on 4 minutes Rochdale took the lead. A fine cross was fired in from the right, Baptiste appeared to be out of position, and it was well converted by Paul Tait. After coming under some pressure, the Stags equalized on 38 minutes with a quite brilliant goal. Simon Brown put in a great cross and it was like slow-motion as Barker acrobatically fired home a brilliant overhead kick giving the keeper no chance. The pitch was not as bad as expected though areas of the goalmouths were not too good.

Overall the Stags battled gamely to win a point from Rochdale, although the home side did have what looked a perfectly good goal ruled out and hit the post in the first half.

Having enjoyed the best fish and chips of the season so far in the small chipshop across from Spotland and also been made to feel most welcome in the Studds supporters bar before the match, we entered the stadium expecting a see a real gluepot of a surface following the raging press reports on the Rochdale pitch all week.

First impressions were of pleasant surprise, the turf looked green and flat although very short and I initially wondered what all the fuss was about. However after taking our seats quite high up in the away stand it was obvious that there were two main areas of concern, one of the goalmouths looked in particularly poor condition. Credit must go to the Rochdale groundstaff though to get the condition of the pitch playable and once digested that we would have a game of football afterall thoughts turned towards the team selection. After the comments made by Palmer this past week, it was a surprise to see both Corden and Larkin retain their places and also a shock to see Asamoah only on the bench after finishing his ban for the ridiculous sending off at Northampton.
No place at all for Murray who we later discovered was injured and may need an operation and a full debut for Layton Maxwell in midfield who certainly looked a little on the large side. New signings Smeltz and Rundle were on the bench.

The Stags started off like an express train with real urgency in stark contrast to the midweek disappointment against basement side Cambridge and really should have scored in the opening minute. Good set up play from Corden left Larkin alone in the centre of the penalty box with a free shot but he hooked it over the bar. A poor miss when he really should have hit the target and made the keeper work at the very least. Moments later Larkin looked clean through but the referee pulled play back and gave Stags a free kick instead of what was a clear advantage. To the fury of Stags fans the referee demonstrated he knew the rulebook after all by ignoring a Stags foul on Bertos and playing the advantage for Dale. Stags players paused for a moment expecting a foul and that moments hesitation proved costly as Bertos sprinted clear down the wing and put in a quality ball across for Tait to easily convert from close range with Baptiste caught slightly out of position. Although a fair goal the refereeing inconsistency was causing anger as Stags had not benefited moments earlier when clean through.

Recent displays at Rochdale have seen Stags fall apart but to their credit this didn't happen although Dale poured forward constantly, using pace down the flank particularly on Neil's side. Neil stuck to his task well and did well not to dive in on many occasions, Dale under Parkin had obviously worked out Neil is not a full back and tried to exploit this. Even though the pitch began to cut up as the rain came down the Stags began to defend better and looked well organised.

A Dale corner almost paid off when a flick on left Heald with a point blank header which looked a goal all the way. Whether it cracked the post or was cleared off the line wasn't clear but it was a mighty let off for the Stags.
We were struggling in midfield with McLachlin running around like a headless chicken and Maxwell also looking lost in the centre of the park. To be fair to both the lack of a reserve team does not help but we were relying heavily on balls for Barker to flick on and hope Larkin was around to pick up the pieces. Corden did look more effective and began to be a menace to Dale while Brown on the other wing was struggling to beat his marker.

On 38 minutes however Stags levelled the contest with a picture book goal which came out of the blue. Brown did actually trick his man and bent over a lovely cross which Ritchie Barker volleyed home acrobatically for a brilliant goal. Barker has been working tirelessly and holding the ball up well and it was great to see him finish a ball in such fine style. That is the proven striker quality we have needed, this guy knows where the goal is we just need to work out a striking combination which compliments him. The last overhead kick goal banana style from a Stags player I can remember was Greenacres late winner against Shrewsbury in our promotion season. Before that I can remember a brilliant Stant overhead goal at Blackpool.

Half time arrived with the hope Stags could build on this as the rain began to lash down.

Dale 1 Stags 1

The second half panned out into quite a cat and mouse affair. Carlton Palmer changed his hand several times with substitutions and it was good to see options on the bench. Asamoah came on but didn't really get into the game and the majority of the half was spent excellently defending and frustrating Dale. Dimech in particular was outstanding with some crucial interceptions and some quality tight defending. The Stags survived one scare when a long cross right into the mixer saw Pilkington come off his line into a ruck of players to try and claim the ball. From our position it looked as if the keeper failed to get near the ball and was beaten by a Dale head and the ball sailed into the net. It looked a fair goal and he was outjumped and didn't look fouled. However much to our relief the linesman had his flag up and the goal was ruled out. We began to think it could be our day as at Southend but only half chances remained for the Stags which barely troubled the home keeper. Smeltz and Wood showed good touches and Barker won practically every header and held the ball up well. In the end a draw was probably a fair result in an entertaining game considering the conditions. The Stags were a shade fortunate overall but battled well and did not deserve to lose. Once the early goal and onslaught from Dale had been withheld Stags fought hard and recovered well. Recent displays at Rochdale have seen Stags heads go down after falling behind and have resulted in poor displays but not today. The estimated 600 Stags fans got behind the side excellently and seemed appreciated by the players. It was also good to see Sammy The Stag at an away stadium!

So in conclusion defensively barring one lapse we again were sound, with Buxton and Dimech the pick of the defence. We now almost have the best defensive record in League 2, interesting when you consider Artell and Day are still missing. Central midfield is concerning with Maxwell and McLachlin not impressing and news that Murray may be missing for a while. With MacKenzie still on loan and Curtis also injured there is no continuity in there. Brown appeared to be playing a little deep but made the goal whilst Corden looked more menacing than usual recently. Barker is looking the part and works hard but we are missing Warne, apparently Palmer is still hopeful a deal can be done when the Chairman returns from holiday this week. Warne may have been the difference between a few more points this past week as we just didn't have enough on two occasions for a winning goal. Larkin needs games but again failed to hit the target when given shooting opportunities.

However it was a much brighter return journey from Spotland than in recent seasons and all in all an enjoyable away match in which we brought home a satisfying point.

Man of the match: Richie Barker

Report by: Dean Foulkes at Spotland

Line Up:
Pilkington 7 Looked comfortable, though one error could have been costly.
Neil 6 Beaten for pace on occasions.
John-Baptiste 7 Did well, but caught out of position for goal.
Dimech 8 Solid and particularly good under pressure. Never in too much danger.
Buxton 7 Good game.
Brown 7 Brilliant cross for Stags goal, but otherwise struggled to beat his marker.
McLachlan 4 Ineffective. Couldn’t do anything right. Gave the ball away too often with poor passing, and looked lost.
Maxwell 5 Didn’t get into the game, on his debut. Looked overweight and off the pace and Dale fans harshly chanted ”Who ate all the pies”?
Corden 6 Didn’t get much of the ball, though did better than against Cambridge.
Larkin 6 Quiet game. Needs to get match sharpness.
Barker 8 Won nearly all his headers, and held the ball up well. Brilliant overhead kick for the goal.
Sub Line Up:
Asamoah (for Larkin 57) 6 Looked lively but no opportunities.
Smeltz (for Brown 63) 6 Looked a tricky player on his debut. Had two half chances near the end.
Wood (for Maxwell 84) - League debut (after an appearance in the FA Cup at Colchester).
Subs not used: White, Rundle.
Opposition Line Up:
M Gilks, W Evans, G Heald, D Burgess, A Goodall, G Jones, J Clarke, E Cooksey (80 L McGivern) , L Bertos (71 T Atieno) , P Tait, G Holt
Subs: N Edwards, G Griffiths, S Warner
C Webster

Season 04/05 Reports