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Season 07/08 Stagsnet Match Report
Coca-Cola League 2
1 - 2
 Mansfield Town
Austin 21. White sent off 45+1.
 Louis 56, Dawson 64
Attendance: 3,527 (293 from Mansfield)
Date: 16 February 2008

Luke Mawbey and sw19Stag at the Darlington Arena

Mansfield recorded a fantastic 2-1 win at second placed Darlington on Saturday afternoon, playing some excellent football, and in the end could have won by more. This win keeps the Stags in touch with the teams around us, and sets up a mouth-watering trip to Stockport on Tuesday.

Many could argue that the sending off of Alan White just before half time, for what appeared to be an elbow at Jefferson Louis, tipped the game in Mansfield’s favour. However plenty of work remained and all the players must take credit.

Dark skies, blazing sun, swampy pitch. The circumstances in which Mansfield travelled to Darlington for this afternoon’s League 2 encounter. With four successive away wins behind them, the team currently lying second bottom of the Football League produced a superb performance to beat their high-flying opponents and record a fantastic victory. In fact it had it not been for one or two cases of wasteful finishing and poor decision making in the final third, the margin of victory could have been even greater.

New arrival Keith Briggs forced manager Billy Dearden into a change from Tuesday’s poor defeat to Morecambe. He slotted in at right-back with Mullins moving inside to centre-back and Gareth Jelleyman back to his more accustomed left-back position. Dan Martin made way, and in-form Jefferson Louis continued alongside Michael Boulding up-front. Darlington included former Mansfield loanee Bryan Hodge, still plying his trade at Premiership Blackburn, in their starting eleven.

It has to be said the pitch was in a dreadful state which made sensible passing football tricky, especially in wide areas. The home side had their first attack just two minutes in when former Leicester, Villa and Boston hit-man Julian Joachim headed wide when he really should have done better. On 8 minutes, Lee Bell, having barely touched the ball went down clutching his leg, only to rise again and continue with full mobility. This then saw the Stags attack for the first time with any purpose and a neat move between Dawson and Hamshaw ended with a poor cross which was easily cleared by Foster. Sadly something which shouldn’t be happening quite as often as it does.

The following ten minutes saw very little of note, although possession was very even, and Jefferson Louis was beginning to make his mark. Whereas in previous games his fitness has been highly questionable, he seemed to have an extra yard of pace, thought and strength. Indeed it was he who latched onto a neat Dawson ball on 18 minutes only to lack composure and blaze his shot high into the stands.

It was slightly against the run of play that the home side took the lead four minutes later. A series of corners were forced, with the first two comfortably cleared by Buxton and Mullins respectively, albeit at the expense of another set-piece. Then for the third time, Hodge whipped a ball in towards the near post. With the ball around waist height and no challenge on the near post, Muggleton decided not to come and gather an easy ball. This was to prove a costly mistake as Buxton also failed to cut the ball out, which was allowed to find its way to an unmarked Austin. After initially failing to control the ball, he was allowed a second stab, and toe kicked the ball in from inside the 6 yard box. Yet another poor goal to concede having started so positively.

We must stress that this setback did not seem to have its usual head-dropping impact as Mansfield came back out looking strong. Boulding headed wide, whilst Atkinson was starting to show some nice touches out on the left. Although very few chances were created by either side in the run-up to half-time, Mansfield were having much more of the ball and were looking more than a match for their high-flying opponents.

The final two minutes of the first half led to two incidents which arguably turned the game on its head. A minute before the break, having been slightly injured much earlier in the half, Lee Bell appeared to go down from an innocuous challenge from Ricky Ravenhill, clutching his knee in the process. It took a couple of minutes for him to rise, by which time it was apparent that he could not continue. I have to say it didn’t look too pleasant and he could be out for some time. Jonathan D’Laryea was introduced as Bell’s replacement.

Less than 60 seconds later as Darlo keeper Stockdale pumped a long ball down the pitch we had all noticed that Jefferson Louis had also gone down in a heap and that the linesman on the far side was flagging furiously. After consulting his assistant, referee Neil Swarbrick headed towards Darlington and former County centre-half Alan White and immediately brandished a straight red. By Louis’s reaction it would appear to have been for an off-the-ball elbow, and he can have no complaints. In all fairness there was very little protest from his fellow players. It was to be a defining moment as the first half drew to an end without further incident.

Half time : 1-0

Although many Stags fans believed a result was possible, very few would have imagined the superb accurate and productive football which was to follow in a very one-sided second half.

The home side were clearly losing their cool. Just two minutes in, Greg Blundell lashed wildly out at Hamshaw and consider himself fortunate to not have also been given an early both – yellow only. By this stage when the promotion candidates did have possession it was too long, and far too aimless. Even the crowd were becoming restless.

New signing Keith Briggs was having an inspired debut. Strong in the tackle, and showing decent quality when going forward, particularly when linking with ex-Stockport colleague Hamshaw. The two combined again to slip Boulding inside on 52 minutes, although his effort (on his weaker foot) lacked any kind of conviction and was comfortably saved.

Hamshaw forced another good save from Stockdale, whilst Jake Buxton headed a Hodge cross wide with Joachim awaiting a far-post tap in. It was arguably the home side’s only chance of the entire half.

The accurate, sensible and thoughtful football being played by the Stags brought its reward with a superbly worked equaliser on 56 minutes. Hamshaw and Briggs played a succession of passes between them, before the Hamshaw crossed for Louis to convert a superb diving header in off the keeper’s left hand post. It was superbly taken, given he had to get in between both Foster and Valentine to connect.

Louis was then booed by many sections of the home crowds, presumably for his “involvement” in the sending off. This was a fine way to fight back.

By this stage it was clear a win was more than possible for a team in such good form on the road. Boulding played in Hamshaw to force another decent save from Stockdale, whilst D’Laryea ran 15 yards to play in Boulding who once again found the home keeper equal to his effort.

Then, absolute delirium on 64 minutes. A move arguably as good as the winner at Brighton in the cup. D’Laryea, Hamshaw, Briggs and Boulding all combined with neat short passes before finding Dawson on the right hand side of the box. Then with a touch of class rarely seen before he shimmied inside Austin and drilled a low left footed effort under Stockdale. His joy was clear to see and it was a goal reminiscent of a certain Peter Beardsley in his utmost pomp.

Just two minutes later it could and should have been 3-1. Hamshaw once again found space to deliver a ball into the danger zone. A nasty bobble forced Foster to miss his kick and present a tap in on a plate for Jefferson Louis. With the goal at his mercy, the big man blazed over.

Darlington continued to disappoint and if anything were becoming even more wasteful in possession, with the Stags looking like they may score every time they came forwards. Dawson was to continue his immense performance and seemed to be involved in everything positive from a Mansfield point of view. Indeed it was his mazy run which had it not been for a last ditch Austin tackle could have resulted in a fourth. From the ensuing Hamshaw corner Boulding’s point blank header was somehow tipped away by Stockdale when most of the ground thought it was a goal. I won’t criticise our man, but will add it was the best save I have seen in League 2 this season.

On 83 minutes, the home side found enough to launch a rare attack, only for Blundell’s cross to be placed too far in front of Joachim and harmlessly trickle away for a goal-kick.

New signing Keith Briggs was substituted for young Chris Wood on 85 minutes to a vocal round of applause from the travelling faithful. If he can put in performances like this week in week out, the Stags may have found a gem, and just shows the difference an experienced, proven player at this level can make.

A minute later saw the final chance of the 90, and yet again it came the same way – i.e. the Stags. Young Will Atkinson who also had his best game in a yellow jersey to date ran a good 20 yards to face Purdie. With the chance of going inside or outside, he prompted for the latter and forced another good save. Without being too critical, it may have been the wrong option, as there was space inside and a right footed effort could well have seen a more positive outcome.

And so the final 4 minutes plus stoppage time passed away with little danger, and the band of travelling fans were understandably ecstatic at the final whistle.

So, five wins away in a row it is, and whilst we acknowledge Darlington were poor on the day, it wasn’t just the victory, but the composed, thoughtful performance which will keep most of us fans very happy. Solid at the back, albeit with little to do, creative and strong in midfield, hungry and positive out wide, and a real handful up front. Boulding may not have had his best game, but seems to have a foil in Jefferson Louis. Whilst looking unfit and cumbersome thus far, today he appeared significantly fitter, and still playing with a real point to prove. Keith Briggs had a superb debut at full-back and could be a real find. Hamshaw was regularly involved, and Atkinson showed some classy touches and equally could be the difference. OK the Stags may have played half of the game with an extra man, but they were arguably the better side before White's dismissal.

However my man of the match goes to Stephen Dawson. Involved in everything, tireless commitment, and for a change, real quality to go with this, both sensible and accurate passing, capped off with a superb goal.

Other results went against us, so this win was made even all the more vital. Given we have many of the teams to play at the bottom, including both Wrexham and Bury twice, it would be a brave man to disagree that whatever happens – our destiny IS in our own hands.

Report by: Luke Mawbey and sw19Stag at the Darlington Arena

Line Up:
Muggleton 7 Surprisingly quiet afternoon
Briggs 7 Looked strong and got forward promisingly on his debut
Buxton 7 Made several key interceptions
Mullins 7 Competent performance at centre half
Jelleyman 7 Best performance for him at left back this season. Few mistakes and good use of ball.
Hamshaw 7 Great cross for equaliser and regularly involved
Dawson 8 Immense. Tireless running capped with great winning goal
Bell 6 Reasonable performance prior to injury
Atkinson 7 Impress performance. Neat, tidy and good use in possession
M.Boulding 6 Slightly disappointing, not at his best
Louis 8 Strong, direct and powerful. A real handful
Sub Line Up:
D’Laryea (for Bell, 46) 6 Failed to make a major impression
Wood (for Briggs, 84) -
Brown (for D’Laryea, 90) -
Subs Not Used: White, Holmes.
Opposition Line Up:
Stockdale, Austin, White, Foster, Valentine, Joachim, Ravenhill, Hodge (Wainwright 72), Purdie (Miller 46), Blundell (Cummins 62), Wright. Subs Not Used: Kazimierczak, Gall.
Neil Swarbrick (6, consistent and fair if a little too fussy)

Season 07/08 Reports