|Kelly 29, Murray 45||Moody (pen) 50|
|Saturday 9th March 2002 - Kick-off 3pm|
|Nationwide League Division 3|
|Attendance: 4, 916|
by Martin Shaw at Field Mill
Stags picked up a vital three points with a hard earned victory over Oxford United at Field Mill this afternoon in terrible conditions. The wind was gale force and Stags had it behind them in the first half as they attacked the Quarry Lane end and managed to get a 2-0 lead by half time. It was backs to the wall stuff in the second half as Oxford pulled a goal back quickly and with the wind behind them, dominated the possession. But a tremendous defensive display enabled the Stags to hold on, with just a couple of late scares. Manager Stuart Watkiss had promised positional changes from the team thrashed at Hull and he moved Les Robinson to central defence, Martin Pemberton started at left back, David Kelly moved to the right side of midfield with Wayne Corden moving back to the left, and Andy White came in at centre forward. Watkiss would have probably started with Shayne Bradley instead of White had he not picked up another injury. Barrett was dropped, with Reddington retaining his place, as manager Watkiss felt that Reddington’s height would make him better equipped to deal with the aerial threat of Paul Moody. It was obvious that the wind was going to play a big part in the game and it is hard to remember a stronger wind at Field Mill. Perhaps the last time it was so strong was in a 2-1 win I can remember over Chester more than 20 years ago when Terry Austin was on the score sheet for the Stags.
To the say the first half was one way traffic would be an understatement. Stags’ keeper Pilkington amazingly only touched the ball once in the opening 25 minutes and that from a goal kick. Oxford simply couldn’t get the ball out of their own half and their keeper, Andy Woodman gave a masterclass in kicking for touch as almost all of his goal-kicks ended up out of play. Stags’ best chance early on fell to Wayne Corden who, characteristically, weaved his way into the box from the left, and shot right footed from 20 yards, inches past the right hand post. Hassell made several surging runs, and was unlucky from one long run, when his shot was straight at Woodman. Stags’ pressure paid off on 29 minutes when Lee Williamson’s cross from the left, floated into the box. Andy White looked favourite to win the ball in the air and attracted the attention of a couple of defenders, but the wind carried the ball over all of them leaving David Kelly at the far post with a free shot, which he converted just inside the far post thanks to a slight deflection. His shot may have been going inches wide, or may just have crept in anyway, it was difficult to tell. Shortly after the goal, Pemberton limped off with a calf injury sustained in training on Thursday, to be replaced by Adam Barrett who slotted in at left-back.
The Stags were completely on top but needed more than a single goal to show for it as they would be up against the wind in the second half. Just as it seemed they would have to settle for a one goal lead, Adam Murray popped up with a peach of a goal right on 45 minutes. He found himself with the ball at his feet 25 yards from goal right in the centre and, for a moment, it seemed he would play in Lee Williamson who was completely unmarked on his right. But, instead, Murray set himself up and unleashed a vicious shot that lashed against the underside of the cross bar and into the back of the net. It was a fabulous effort to send the Stags in with a more comfortable lead at half time.
Half time 2-0
Mansfield needed to defend resolutely in the second half and Stuart Watkiss made a tactical change bringing midfielder Craig Disley on to replace striker Andy White, leaving Greenacre to play as a lone striker and to pack the midfield, with Williamson playing a deeper role than usual. But the half got off to the worst possible start on 49 minutes when Stags conceded a penalty. Andy Scott did not seem to be going anywhere when he was needlessly brought down by Les Robinson for a clear penalty. The incident reminded me of the penalty Robinson gave away at home to Exeter which was also unnecessary. Paul Moody took the resulting kick and gave Pilkington no chance as he blasted home. Oxford then had long spells of pressure mostly thanks to the strong wind which made it difficult for the Stags to clear the ball, but with Barrett slotting in well at left back and Reddington and Hassell defending particularly well, the visitors created very few chances. In fact, their best two chances came in the final 10 minutes as, first, a cross from Maddison somehow eluded everybody and missed the far post by inches and then, almost on 90 minutes, a lob from Brooks beat Pilkington but, with Reddington scrambling back, the ball bounced up and over the bar. Stags themselves failed to create anything of note in the second half, with Greenacre running tirelessly and Kelly particularly impressive in holding the ball up for long periods on the right.
So Mansfield held on for an important and terrific three points after an excellent, hard working defensive effort against the wind in the second half. It wasn’t an attractive game to watch, but neither side could be blamed for that. The Stags will simply be grateful that they made better use of the conditions. No doubt in my mid that Stags deserved the win, and they seemed hungrier for the points than their opponents. Stags now have 3 away games on the trot. Two wins, or even a win and a draw, would leave them in quite a strong position. What is vital is that the Stags show the passion for victory like they have in recent home games, but so clearly didn’t at Shrewsbury and Hull.
Man of the Match: Bobby Hassell.
Report by Martin Shaw