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Season 08/09 Stagsnet Match Report
Blue Square Premier
Ebbsfleet United  
2 - 2
 Mansfield Town
Moore 7, Long 25.
 Blackwood 62, Stallard 89.
Attendance: 1,872 (426 from Mansfield)
Date: 9 August 2008

Martin Shaw at Stonebridge Road


It was the first match post the Keith Haslam era. It was also the first match out of the Football League for over 70 years. Stags fans arrived at the ramshackled Stonebridge Road and knew they had arrived in the Conference such was the state of the ground. The game itself was a real story of two halves. In the first half, the Stags defence was an absolute shambles and the Gravesend and Northfleet side went 2-0 ahead, and should have been further ahead by the break. But a tremendous fightback, which started with man of the match Michael Blackwood’s goal on 62 minutes, culminated in Mark Stallard’s equaliser on 89 minutes. The end of the match was celebrated by the 400 Stags fans like a cup final win, not a draw at Ebbsfleet, such was the relief after the first half performance.

The game was played throughout in rain with a light wind against the Stags in the first half, and Stags fans behind the goal got quite a soaking, though those in the main stand stayed dry.

The Stags played in their splendid new away white shirts. But rather than the new away white shorts, Mansfield had to play in their blue training shorts as the home side were also in white shirts, with red shirts.

Mansfield had 14 new players in their squad of 16, with only D’Laryea and Arnold remaining from last season.

Defending in front of their own fans, Matt Somner put in a great defensive tackle on 2 minutes. At the other end, Blackwood put in a fine cross on 6 minutes which was headed away.

But on 7 minutes the Stags were behind. Gash fired in a low shot from the left which eluded Paddy Gamble’s dive. With Gamble on the ground, the ball rebounded off the inside of the post, hit Gamble and trickled back towards the goal. As it was crossing the line, Luke Moore pushed it over the line. From my position in the commentary box, I wondered if Gamble should have done better with the original shot, but he was unlucky that it struck him and rolled back towards the net. Luke Moore confirmed in the post match interview that the ball was rolling towards the net but he put it over the line. Technically it was a Moore goal (if Moore was telling the truth) or a Gamble own goal (if he wasn't).

On 14 minutes, O’Hare made a horrible error inside his own box and a Fleet striker blasted a sitter over the bar. At the other end, on 17 minutes, Arnold put in a good cross that was grabbed by Cronin. Ebbsfleet had another great chance a few seconds later, but Somner put in a superb block. On 21 minutes, Somner made another great tackle in defence, but he was the only Stags player doing any defending as the Stags were a complete shambles at the back.

On 25 minutes, it was 2-0 and deservedly so. Stacey Long curled a tremendous shot from the left, inside the far post. No chance for Gamble this time.

A minute later Gamble rushed out of his box and tried to head a ball away, making a complete hash of it but luckily the ball was cleared. Within a minute, Luke Moore sent a bobbling shot just wide. This was unpleasant to watch, and manager McEwan was going ballistic just in front of us.

On 28 minutes, O’Hare did well to clear as a Fleet player waited to head in at the far post. From the resulting corner, a Fleet player sent a free header over the bar.

On 30 minutes, the Stags put together a good move, ending with Arnold crossing from the left just out of reach of O’Connor as keeper Cronin flapped at the ball. Seconds later, Cronin was in no-man’s land again as a high hanging cross floated over the keeper and Blackwood volleyed wide. McEwan had by this time changed from a 4-4-2 formation to 4-5-1 with O’Connor back in midfield.

A great Stags move on 40 minutes saw Somner collect a pass on the edge of the Fleet box with his back to goal, and lay it off to Stallard whose snap shot was straight at the keeper. Ebbsfleet had the last chance of the half as a long range shot floated over the angle.

It was a shambolic defensive display from Mansfield in the first half. Indeed the fans I spoke to at half time were in shock at quite how bad it was. But there was some encouragement towards the end of the half with some good moves forward and Fleet keeper Cronin looked vulnerable on crosses. Time for Jason Lee we thought.

Half time 2-0

On 49 minutes, the Stags put together a good move and Blackwood pushed forward and shot past the left post from inside the box. On 55 minutes O’Connor got a boot in his face and went off looking dazed with a large lump under his left eye. Jason Lee immediately replaced him.

On 62 minutes, the Stags were back in it. Stallard fed Blackwood on the left. It looked like Stallard had pushed Blackwood too far to the left, but Blackwood moved towards the left wing and floated a cross that went over the hapless keeper Cronin and straight into the net. Initially I thought Arnold had turned it in at the far post, but apparently the ball was already over the line.

On 67 minutes, Ebbsfleet played an impressive one-two on the edge of the box and centre half Smith fired wildly over the bar. Two minutes later, Arnold fired wildly over the bar at the other end. McEwan was furious with the youngster who apologised to his manager. On 70 minutes, Blackwood skipped past 3 defenders and was cynically hauled down on the edge of the box. The Fleet defender escaped without a booking. Arnold floated the resulting free kick to the far post where Lee headed wide. After the game, Lee told us he should have done better from that position.

On 77 minutes, the Stags put together another good move, but it was wasted with a poor cross from left back Jeannin. Three minutes later, Fleet sub Jon Akinde was through on goal, but O’Hare put in a superb tackle to deny him. If he had mistimed the tackle, it would surely have been a red card. Moments later Gash headed wide after pinball in the Stags box. On 81 minutes, Arnold was nearly through at the other end but was too powder puff as he was knocked off the ball. Then Blackwood crossed from the left, Arnold got a header on it and as it floated past the far post, Lee couldn’t quite get on the end of it. Then Lee headed down from a free kick into the path of Arnold, but Arnold was offside.

It was real end to end stuff now and Ebbsfleet had 3 chances to make it 3-1. Firstly, indecisive keeping by Gamble nearly allowed a chance, then from a corner a piledriver was sent fizzing past Gamble’s post. On 87 minutes, sub Akinde was clean through on goal with a great run, but fired past Gamble’s post.

On 89 minutes it was joy for the Stags as Stallard made it 2-2. A cross found Stallard at the far post. He stooped to head it goalwards from a tight angle on the right. Whether it was going in was questionable, but it struck the left knee of Sacha Opinel and squeezed in at the near post. A stroke of luck perhaps for the Stags. After the game, Stallard told us that he had shouted to Jason Lee to duck and leave the ball for him and he knew exactly what he was doing.

Incredibly it was now Mansfield who looked more like winning it and two minutes into stoppage time, Jeannin’s cross found Lee, whose shot was deflected over.

As the final whistle went, Stags fans celebrated joyously. It was more through relief of not losing after such a poor first half showing, and encouragement from the second half showing that there is more to come from this bunch of players.

There were some impressive performances, notably from Somner and Stallard, but it was Blackwood who shone throughout as the clear man of the match. And so onto Tuesday night and the visit of Histon to Field Mill. Come on Mansfield!

Man of the match: Michael Blackwood

Michael Blackwood is interviewed by David Jackson after the game:

David Jackson and Martin Shaw commentated on the game for BBC Radio Nottingham:

Report by: Martin Shaw at Stonebridge Road

Line Up:
Gamble 5 Looked shaky in the first half. Gathered confidence later on.
Silk 4 Defended poorly throughout.
Moses 5 Poor first half but improved in the second half.
O’Hare 6 Also poor in the first half but put in some good tackles, and improved in the second half.
Jeannin 4 Defended poorly and showed disappointing distribution.
Arnold 6 Some good moments, but a bit lightweight.
Somner 7 At least 3 terrific defensive tackles. Promising debut.
D’Laryea 6 Did ok.
Blackwood 8 Fine debut. Crossing was good and caused problems running at the defence as well.
O’Connor 6 Quiet game.
Stallard 7 Poacher’s goal, as usual. Did well throughout.
Sub Line Up:
Lee (for O’Connor, 56) 7 His height caused Ebbsfleet problems.
Subs Not Used: Herriot, Shaw, Hurren, Robinson.
Opposition Line Up:
Cronin, Hawkins, Smith, Charles, Opinel, Shakes (Akinde 76), Barrett, Stone, Long, Gash, Moore. Subs Not Used: Mott, Ricketts, Purcell, Appiah.
R Lee (Brentwood) 6

Season 08/09 Reports