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Season 02/03 Stagsnet Match Report
FA Cup Round 2
Crewe Alexandra  
3 - 0
 Mansfield Town
Rix 6, Brammer pen 63<BR>Ashton 78
Attendance: Att: 4,563 (approx 800 from Mansfield, my estimate)
Date: 7th December 2002

Stags bowed out of the FA Cup at Crewe this afternoon in the first game under new manager Keith Curle. Stags produced a super first half display and were very unlucky to be behind at half-time, but a crazy change of tactics by the new manager at half-time (reverting to only one up-front) put Stags on the back foot and the home side ran out easy 3-0 winners.

Curle made three changes from the Stags side that started at Port Vale, with MacKenzie, Larkin and Bacon replacing the suspended Williamson and the injured Lawrence and Little. Christie and Bacon were up front with Larkin on the right side of midfield, in a 4-4-2 formation. Day and Lever were in central defence with Gadsby at left back and Jamie Clarke at right back. It had been expected that Moore and Lawrence would be suspended but in fact they weren’t and Moore was on the substitutes bench. There was very bad news that there was no place in the starting line-up for Hassell, who has a groin strain. Young striker Chris Beardsley, who has had such a fine season in the reserves, was on the substitutes bench for the first time. Crewe were without injured striker Rob Hulse, already a thorn in Stags side this season in the 5-0 league win and 4-0 LDV Vans win for the Alex.

Stags started very brightly in the opening minutes, but after 5 minutes Crewe scored with basically their first venture into the Stags half. Midfielder Kenny Lunt played a magnificent through-ball which cut open the Stags defence, and Ben Rix rolled a great shot into the bottom left corner of the net giving Pilkington no chance.

Stags fought back brilliantly and had a purple patch immediately following the goal. After 6 minutes, MacKenzie took a free kick from just outside the box. He struck it well with power, but it was deflected for a corner on the right. From Corden’s corner, Lever climbed well to power a header down into the ground, and as it bounced up again it seemed destined for the top right hand corner of the net, until it was cleared off the line by a header just under the bar by left back Vaughan. Stags continued to pen Crewe into their own half though Pilkington had to be alert to clear well as striker Ashton bore down on goal.

Stags were having a glut of corners and from one, a clearance fell to the busy MacKenzie, whose blistering shot was blocked by Ashton, when it seemed destined for the top corner. MacKenzie put his head in his hands as he knew his shot was well on target. Then, after a great move starting down the right, the ball was swept out to Christie on the left, Christie strode forward and smacked a left footed effort from out wide, just past the right post.

But Stags best chance of the half fell again to MacKenzie. He beat a couple of defenders and worked himself into a shooting opportunity on his left foot from 15 yards. He curled a beautiful effort that looked destined for the far corner of the net until it was brilliantly saved by keeper Ince. It was possibly the save of the season.

Crewe had chances of their own and Lunt put a side-footed shot wide. Then the home side had the ball in the net shortly before half time. Rix broke forward and seemed to have a chance to shoot himself but chose to play the ball into the centre where Rodney Jack played the ball into the empty net, but Jack was clearly a couple of yards offside.

Half-time 1-0

At half-time the talk amongst the Stags fans was of an improved display and every chance of getting a draw or even a win, if they continued with the standard of play. Rodney Jack had been kept very quiet and Stags had generally been in charge.

However new manager Curle made a very strange tactical change at the start of the second half as striker Bacon was withdrawn, and defender Dave Jervis was brought on, but put in midfield, as Stags moved to a 4-5-1 formation.

The second half began very quietly with no chances at either end. What was noticeable was that Stags were having trouble getting the ball forward and holding onto it, as Christie was so obviously exposed and easily shackled by the Crewe defence. He simply had no service.

After an hour, Crewe extended their lead from a penalty. Lunt tried to go past Jervis and Larkin with a clever body swerve, but Jervis brought him down for a clear, but unnecessary penalty. After Jervis’s silly penalty given away against Bristol City after 87 minutes which proved so costly, this was the second stupid penalty Jervis had conceded in about 20 minutes on the pitch. Dave Brammer sent Pilkington the wrong way with the penalty kick and scored easily.

If it hadn’t been so necessary and clear earlier, it was now patently obvious that Stags had to revert to two up-front, by moving Larkin forward, but still Curle didn’t make a change. By now, Stags fans around me were thinking that this was the worst tactical switch we could remember. An absolutely shocking start by the new manager.

It became a stroll in the park for Crewe, who came under no pressure whatsoever. It was no surprise when the home side made it 3-0. Dean Ashton strode forward and despite two defenders around him, there was no challenge, and Ashton smacked in a brilliant goal from 20 yards off the woodwork.

After that it was still no contest and it wasn’t until 88 minutes that Curle made a change, moving Larkin forward, while Moore came on for Gadsby. Moore went to right back, Jervis to left back, and Jamie Clarke into midfield. Crewe nearly added a fourth a minute later when Ashton broke clear and hit the right hand post with a left footed shot.

Stags only had one chance in the entire second half when Corden struck a brilliant volley from 25 yards hard and low, but unfortunately straight at keeper Ince.

So Stags have been beaten 5-0, then 4-0, and now 3-0 by Crewe. Whilst this was a much better display after two dreadful performances earlier in the season, it was still a great disappointment after the great promise of the first half.

After the game, Crewe boss Dario Gradi paid tribute to the Stags first half performance and especially the lively Christie. He added that the switch to one up-front in the second half made things easy for his side who easily coped defensively in the second half. This was also so obvious to every one in the Stags large away following. Just how could Curle and his assistant Gannon not see it? A very poor start tactically for the new management team in my opinion. So the distraction of the FA Cup is gone, and Stags can concentrate on avoiding relegation. But they will have to be more positive than this.

Man of the Match: Neil MacKenzie

Report by: Martin Shaw

Line Up:
Pilkington 6 Surprisingly quiet afternoon, despite conceding 3 goals, which he had no chance with. Four appalling goal-kicks into touch. Did make a couple of good blocks in the first half.
JClarke 6 Had a much better game, playing at right back. Coped well with Crewe’s strikeforce.
Lever 6 Looked solid.
Day 6 Decent game in central defence.
Gadsby 6 Solid at left back.
Larkin 7 Dangerous on the right side of midfield, pushing forward in the first half, but disappeared in the second half.
MacKenzie 8 Excellent first half, with 3 fine shots. Quieter in the second half.
Disley 6 Not at his best, but still tried very hard and never gave up.
Corden 7 Very good first half, quieter in the second half.
Bacon 6 Did ok back in the starting line up.
Christie 7 A real handful for the Crewe defence in the first half but tactical change at half time left him completely without service in the second half.
Sub Line Up:
Jervis (for Bacon, 46 mins) 5 Looked like a fish out of water in midfield. Unnecessary penalty given away.
Moore (for Gadsby, 88 mins) -
Subs not used: JWhite, Scott, Beardsley.
Opposition Line Up:
Ince , Wright , Walton , Foster , Vaughan , Lunt , Brammer , Sorvel , Rix , Ashton , Jack
Subs: Bankole , Sodje , Walker , Jones , Miles
G Salisbury (Lancashire)

Season 02/03 Reports