Brighton 6 Mansfield 0
What a dreadful start to the season for the Stags. It started off as a carnival atmosphere for both sets of fans, but within 15 minutes, it had all turned sour for the yellows, down to 10 men after the harsh sending off of David Kerr, and a goal down within a couple of minutes by Darren Freeman.
Part of the carnival atmosphere was due to Brighton`s return to the town after 2 years playing at Gillingham. Withdean Stadium is an athletics ground with temporary stands on either side of the ground and nothing behind the 2 ends. No parking is allowed anywhere near the ground, but our hosts for the day live on the Brighton seafront, so after a picnic lunch just off the beach, we had the benefit of local knowledge to park within 10 minutes walk of the stadium. We arrived at the ground at 2.20 and were surprised to be told when we got to the Mansfield seating, to sit anywhere despite our numbered tickets. This turned out to be a bad mistake by the stewards and police as when a mass of Mansfield fans turned up at 2.55, there was a scramble for seats since the full allocation had been sold. During the first 20 minutes, there was much abuse of the stewards from the fans who were disgruntled by the poor start on the pitch and irritated by the incompetence off it.
My seat was directly in line with the goal-line, which meant that it was a long way to the far end of the pitch, across the athletics track. The main stand (4500 seats out of the 6000 in the ground) was on the opposite side of the ground, and behind it were some huge trees making a pleasant back-drop, and also enabling some fans who hadnít been able to get in, to climb up and watch from afar.
Mansfield were parading the new home kit: yellow (not amber) with a blue trim on a round neck, and a blue trim on the cuff. No sponsor`s name on the shirt as expected. The kit looks plain but smart.
After a quiet opening 10 minutes on the pitch the game burst into life when David Kerr went up for a ball with a Brighton player and both players fell to the ground clutching heads. Immediately Kerr was surrounded by protesting Brighton players, one of whom appeared to throw a punch as Mansfield players piled in to protect Kerr. After the melee calmed down, the referee controversially produced the red card on Kerr much to his amazement, and that of Stags fans. Heads immediately dropped, probably remembering the effect of previous sendings off such as Christie at Darlington last season. Sure enough within 2 minutes, Darren Freeman pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area to hammer it into the roof of the net and Stags were 1-0 down. Lee Peacock moved from attack into midfield. So Stags changed from a 4-4-2 formation to 4-4-1, leaving Lormor on his own up front and during the rest of the half, the Stags barely made it into the Brighton half, let alone create a single chance. Having said that, Brighton had only more one chance to score in the first half, and made it count. Lee Cowling made a dreadful mess of trying to get the ball back to keeper Barry Richardson and let in Darren Freeman to poke the ball past the keeper. Generally it was a poor effort by Stags in the first half, and at the break it was clear there was no way back.
At the start of the second half, Mansfield appeared to regain a bit of composure and actually began to knock the ball around, but with only young substitute Michael Boulding up front, they still never looked like creating any danger. Out of the blue, on 56 minutes, Brighton scored a third goal as Rod Thomas shook off challenges to shoot low past Barry Richardson`s right hand. It was a cracking goal and knocked back Stags after they had briefly showed a flicker of life. Fifteen minutes later Darren Freeman scored his hat-trick once again beating Barry Richardson just inside the far post, after Cowling had failed to cut out a crossfield pass. Freeman was immediately replaced (to a rapturous reception from the home fans) by Aidan Newhouse, but Stags misery wasn`t over, as Newhouse helped himself to 2 goals in the last 10 minutes. First he had a free shot high into the net after Cowling was exposed again, and then Newhouse`s looping header, when Neil Richardson should really have been able to head it away, seemed to catch Barry Richardson flat-footed, and ballooned over him and just under the bar.
That completed a miserable afternoon for Mansfield. In fact it is hard to draw any consolation whatsoever from this debacle. Certainly the harsh sending off of Kerr so early in the game was a decisive factor, and it isn`t possible to say what would have happened if the Stags had played the 90 minutes with 11 men. But there is no doubting that the performance was very poor, and the result was embarrassing. David Linighan was probably Stags man of the match with a solid display. His partner in central defence Neil Richardson was also solid, despite being at fault for the 6th goal. However the lack of pace between them will not go unnoticed by opposition scouts. Barry Richardson in goal couldn`t really be faulted for the goals apart from the sixth. Cowling was clearly at fault for 3 of the goals and generally was roasted down the right wing. The midfield never to grips with game and Tallon looked out of sorts. New boys Roscoe and Thomas looked anonymous, and Peacock too when he moved back into midfield. Lormor never had a chance on his own up front in the first half, and similarly Boulding when he was on his own in the second half. Stags managed just one shot in the entire game.
We shouldn`t forget that at the same stage last season, Stags were swept aside 3-0 at Brentford, and I remember being similarly disheartened after that performance. It will be important for the Stags to put together a decent performance at the City Ground on Wednesday, and absolutely vital for the Stags to open their home campaign with 3 points at home to new boys Cheltenham next Saturday. Right now I don`t feel too confident.
Barry Richardson (No 21) 5 Only at fault for the sixth goal really, and didnít have any other saves to make!
Lee Williams (No 7) 6 Quiet game.
Lee Cowling (No3) 5 Roasted on the wing and directly responsible for 3 of the goals
Neil Richardson (No 5) 6 Solid performance apart from failing to clear on the sixth goal.
David Linighan (No 6) 7 Solid performance Ė man of the match
David Kerr (No 4) 5 Sent off after 11 minutes
Wayne Thomas (No 19) 5 Played in central midfield, and never really got into the game.
Gary Tallon (No 11) 5 Largely anonymous.
Andy Roscoe (No 20) 5 Played on left side of midfield. Started reasonably but faded into anonymity.
Tony Lormor (No 9), 5 Played as lone striker in 1st half, withdrawn at half time. Really not given a chance to do anything.
Lee Peacock (No 10) 5 Moved into midfield after Kerr sent off. Not able to impose his talent on the game.
Michael Boulding (No 18) 6 Came on for Lormor at half time, and played as lone striker in 2nd half. Not given any chance to show what he could do.
Michael Sisson (No 16) 5 Came on for Thomas. Barely noticed he was on the pitch.
Subs not used
Craig Allardyce (No 14)
Bobby Hassell (No 12)
Kevin Tye (No 13)
Other squad numbers: Ian Bowling (No 1), Alister Asher (No 2), Darrell Clarke (No 8), Craig Disley (No 15), Scott Gibbons (No 17).