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Season 04/05 Stagsnet Match Report
Coca-Cola League 2
Bristol Rovers  
4 - 4
 Mansfield Town
Williams 21, Walker 45 pen, Agogo 82 pen, Forrester 88.
 Barker 19, 49, Larkin 46, Lloyd 68.
Attendance: 5,294 (189 from Mansfield)
Date: 19th March 2005

Martin Shaw at the Memorial Ground

Mansfield Town produced a super display at the Memorial Ground this afternoon on a warm afternoon of thrilling entertainment, but two hugely controversial penalties enabled Bristol Rovers to scramble an undeserved point.

Mansfield made another five changes to the side, as they had done in the previous game. This time out went Jelleyman, Day, Murray, Curtis, and Barrowman. In came Giles Coke, signed from Kingstonian this week, Buxton, McLachlan, Callum Lloyd and Larkin. McNiven moved to left back, with Neil yo-yo’ed to right back. Lloyd, Coke, McLachlan and Rundle made up the midfield, with Larkin playing just behind Barker in a sort of 4-4-1-1 formation. Coke became the Stags’ 40th player of the season, equaling the record number of players the Stags have used in a season.

The Pirates included diminutive former Stag Ryan Williams, along with Junior Agogo who ripped the Stags apart on the opening day of the season at Field Mill. Craig Disley was on the bench.

The Stags were perhaps trying to recapture the spirit of the win at Bury by playing again in amber shirts and orange shorts, when amber shirts and blue shorts would have done nicely.

The game got off to a terribly dull start in very bright weather. Indeed the Stags fans would have to spend the entire 90 minutes shielding their eyes from the bright sun. My only notes from the opening 15 minutes were of a nice piece of skill by Coke on the edge of the box, who set up a half chance for Barker, whose shot was blocked. Little did we know that the next 75 minutes would be a humdinger.

On 16 minutes a great tackle by Alex Neil led to a good Stags move, which broke down. Then another good move followed ending when McLachlan had a good shot that was tipped over the bar.

It was 0-1 on 19 minutes: Rundle played the ball inside from the left touchline to McNiven, who took a couple of touches before unleashing a fine low shot. The shot was parried by the keeper, but only into the path of Barker who sent it back towards goal from 7 yards and the keeper got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.

But within two minutes it was 1-1. Agogo chipped the ball over the Stags midfield out to the left wing, where right back Alex Neil was nowhere to be seen and former Stag Ryan Williams was able to race in from 35 yards before sliding the ball under Pilkington for an easy finish. It was a real give-away by the Stags.

Within a minute Larkin had a half chance when he cut in from the right and had a shot with his left foot, which was deflected to the keeper. On 23 minutes, Neil was caught out again. Agogo got the better of him and the Stags right back pulled Agogo down from behind. We had a good view of this and it was probably a penalty but luckily the referee waived play on. Seconds later Agogo got into the space that Neil should haven been covering again, and smashed a powerful drive against the angle of bar and post from 18 yards. It was a lucky escape for the Stags and marked a nightmare 4 minutes for Alex Neil.

On 26 minutes, a Bristol corner from the right was headed towards goal by Walker and this time Neil was the hero as he headed the ball off the line.

But as the pulsating action continued it was Mansfield’s turn to rattle the woodwork on 31 minutes. Rundle again fed McNiven, and from the edge of the box, McNiven’s drive crashed down off the underside of the bar.

In the space of a few minutes, McLachlan sent two crosses from great positions on the right behind for goal kicks. It was very wasteful and given recent experiences it was as well he didn’t do this at Field Mill.

In the 45th minute, Neil lost a tackle to Williams. The little winger ran at the Stags goal and let fly, but was denied by a brilliant save from Pilkington. Pilkington also did well to clear the resulting corner.

But a minute into injury time, the home side were able to make it 2-1 with the worst penalty decision of all time. A ball was chipped into the right corner of the Stags box. Haldane tried to get in behind McNiven but stumbled and fell, right by the touchline. Amazingly the referee pointed to the spot. We had a great view of this incident and it was never a penalty in a million years. Not even the home players or fans appealed for a penalty. It was a shocking decision. Richard Walker took the penalty and sent it down the middle as Pilkington dived to his left.

Half-time 2-1

As the half-time whistle blew, the Stags players and officials seemed to be letting the referee know what they thought of the decision. It was right in the far corner of the ground as the players left the pitch and we couldn’t see what happened, but home fans were chanting “off, off, off”. It transpired that Neil was booked and Palmer sent off. We did speculate that Palmer might have been Mourinho’d as he didn’t re-appear for the second half.

The Stags were deservedly level at 2-2 less than a minute after the restart. Callum Lloyd tried to put Barker in with a back header out on the left, but the ball was picked up by defender John Anderson, who tried to play the ball across the edge of the box to another defender. But Anderson got it all wrong and played it straight into the path of Larkin, on the edge of the box to the right of the goal. Larkin met it first time and drilled a thunderous low drive into the far corner of the net. It was a great finish.

And on 49 minutes it was 2-3. Larkin did well to play a ball out to Neil on the right wing. Neil sent in a classic first time cross right onto the head of Barker. Barker did well to beat his marker and head in from close range.

The Stags were now playing cracking football and a great passage of play followed and Coke make space for himself before shooting over the bar with his right foot.

On 52 minutes Dimech appeared to handle the ball but the referee waved play on. From our position, we could not tell if it was just inside or outside the box. A minute later, Callum Lloyd did really well to win a tackle just inside the Rovers half. He ran at goal but went down far too easily and the referee surely wouldn’t give the foul - it would have been the second worst penalty decision of all time.

On 57 minutes McNiven put in a great cross from a free kick 30 yards out. Larkin flicked a header towards the far corner but the keeper tipped it around the post.

At this stage I noticed that Ryan Williams had switched to the right wing, where he getting no change from McNiven. This was bizarre after the run-around he had given to Neil.

Disley came on on 66 minutes, and in an unusual moment, he was given a great ovation by both sets of fans.

But on 68 minutes, it was 2-4. McLachlan sent a ball forward towards the corner flag. Barker chased it hopefully and muscled his defender off the ball superbly, taking the ball to the byeline, before cutting it back into the path of Callum Lloyd. Lloyd’s left footed shot from 10 yards was deflected and gave the keeper no chance. The goal was reward for great play by Barker.

On 73 minutes more terrible defensive play by the Pirates almost gifted the Stags a fifth. A Rovers defender incredibly sent over a cross for Barker to head inches past the post. A minute later, Rundle had a goalbound shot blocked.

The home side were not in the game and it seemed the Stags were cruising to a comfortable and thoroughly deserved victory.

But with 9 minutes left, lightening struck again as the home side were awarded a second penalty from seemingly nowhere. A free kick from around 40 yards was floated into the Stags box. It seemed to be cleared easily enough and fell into Pilkington’s arms but the assistant referee flagged for a penalty. From our position we couldn’t see anything at all, but apparently it was given for a pull on Agogo’s shirt by Dimech. It was a soft decision that was to change the game.

Having now seen the replay, it was a poor decision and there should probably be 10 penalties per match if these decisions are given. Agogo placed his spot kick into the bottom left corner as Pilkington dived the wrong way.

It was sickening, and you just had the feeling it would change the course of the game.

On 83 minutes, a great header by Barker allowed Larkin to play in Lloyd. Lloyd got in a great shot that was tipped over by the keeper.

But it was 4-4 on 88 minutes. A high ball was pumped into the Stags box. Pilkington came out to try to claim it but only got his fingertips to it. The loose ball fell to substitute Jamie Forrester who, with Pilkington out of his goal, only had to guide the ball past McNiven and Buxton on the line from 5 yards.

A minute into stoppage time, Pilkington partially atoned for his error with a good save from Agogo. Then in the third minute of stoppage time Disley had a chance to win it for Bristol, but he headed wide from close range. We reflected that it was a good job that old “50p head” was never very good with headers. It would just have been too cruel if Disley had won it for Rovers, and another 5-4 defeat against a Bristol club after the Bristol City game from two seasons ago would have had us slitting our wrists again.

This was a very good performance by Mansfield and one which clearly deserved the three points. After the game, in the post-match phone-in on Radio Bristol, home fans admitted that to get one penalty decision like that in a game would be generous, but to get two was extraordinary.

There were plenty of fine performances from the Stags players, who felt encouraged by the Stags fans rather than inhibited as they have done at home recently. Barker and Larkin were great up front, Coke was very promising in midfield, and at the back McNiven, Buxton and Dimech played well. It was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Alex Neil who was great when going forward but had a nightmare first half against Ryan Williams. If the fans can get behind the players at Field Mill, then the Stags should be able to see off Chester with a performance similar to this one.

The Stags away following of 189 was boosted by a party of 10 who were enjoying Stags fan Kevin Kilminster’s Stag weekend. Kevin gets married in a few weeks and we wish Kevin and Sarah best wishes for their wedding. Eight of the party were not Stags fans and they were treated to a cracking afternoon of entertainment. Photo of Kevin at the game is at the foot of this page.

Man of the Match: Richie Barker

Report by: Martin Shaw at the Memorial Ground

Line Up:
Pilkington 6 Made some good saves, but then spoilt it all with a mistake for the fourth goal.
Neil 6 Did very well in the attacking part of his game (including a great cross for third goal), but defensively was very poor, and hopelessly caught out by Ryan Williams a couple of times, including the first goal.
Dimech 7 Dealt well with Agogo.
Buxton 8 Looked very good.
McNiven 8 Played very well. Good shot which led to the first goal, then hit the underside of the bar, and put in some good crosses from free-kicks.
Lloyd 6 Scored his first goal for the club with a deflected shot. Did ok, but didn't impose himself on the game quite enough perhaps.
Coke 7 Very promising debut. Tall midfielder who appeared to have a very cultured left foot.
McLachlan 6 Some appalling passing, and two dreadful crosses stood out, but won some good tackles.
Rundle 7 Did well on the left wing. Ran out of steam in the last 10 minutes.
Larkin 7 Looked sharp, and scored a terrific goal.
Barker 8 Won lots of headers as usual. Scored two great goals, and set up the fourth.
Sub Line Up:
Subs Not Used: White, Brown, Barrowman, McIntosh, Murray.

Opposition Line Up:
Clarke, Hinton (Disley 67), Anderson, Elliott, Ryan, Lescott, Hunt, Williams, Haldane (Forrester 45), Walker, Agogo.
Subs Not Used: Miller, Trollope, Edwards.
G Hegley (Hertfordshire) 0 A disgraceful performance by the match officials.

Season 04/05 Reports