Mansfield Town 0 Cheltenham Town 1
Mansfield came into the game with just one change from the team that lost 3-0 at Nottingham Forest, with Wayne Thomas replacing Michael Sisson in midfield. But the formation was somewhat different. The Stags played 4-4-2 with Gary Tallon at left back, Bobby Hassell at right back, and David Linighan and Neil Richardson in central defence. Andy Roscoe moved back into left side of midfield as he had at Brighton, alongside Lee Williams on the right, and David Kerr and Wayne Thomas in the centre of midfield, leaving Peacock and Lormor up front. There was a surprise on the bench with Mark Blake, whose arrival at the club had not been announced in the media.
Field Mill was looking somewhat different from last season as the North Stand had been completely demolished (see “Field Mill” link on Stagsnet home page) and the wall on the South Stand had also been demolished. In front of both ends was just a wooden hoarding, barely the height of a goalpost. Predictably the ball disappeared into the rubble behind the hoarding many times during the game, each time taking about a minute to be returned.
Mansfield started reasonably comfortably and the best chances in the first half fell to Tony Lormor. Both were created by Lee Williams. First, a cross from Williams was stabbed at by Lormor just 6 yards out but unfortunately the ball bounced up just he made connection and it rose over the bar. Then another cross from Williams was met by a crisp header by Lormor but it just cleared the bar. Another occasion when a goal seemed likely, was when Peacock tried to shoot from the edge of the box but if he played the ball square to his right for Lormor, who was completely unmarked, then Lormor would surely have opened Stags account for the season.
Stags were almost completely untroubled by Cheltenham in the first half as the visitors hardly made it near the Stags box.
More Stags chances were created in the second half but none were taken, as Cheltenham created just 2 chances and converted one of them. The only goal came after 64 minutes. A cross from the left by Griffin, after a mistake in the centre of the park by Waybe Thomas, was met by a pacy run into the box and a bullet header by former Hereford, Northampton and England semi-professional striker Neil Grayson to power the ball past Barry Richardson. It was a goal met with wild celebrations by Cheltenham, as they sensed an opportunity for their first win in the Football League. Cheltenham`s only other chance of the match was a header over the bar.
Stags created a number of second half chances: Neil Richardson headed just over from a corner, Wayne Thomas had a good shot deflected wide, Lee Williams had another shot just wide and Andy Roscoe shot over from a free-kick. But the best effort of the half was a cracking shot from the right hand side of the box from substitute Michael Boulding that seemed destined for the bottom corner before the keeper made a great save. Finally 15 seconds from the final whistle, a huge kick from Barry Richardson was so close to creeping in by the post after a deflection off a Cheltenham defender, but the goalkeeper just managed to grab it.
So the Stags players trooped off to a chorus of “Haslam out”. There was also some booing of the players at full time and half time, which was somewhat unjustified in my opinion. Lee Peacock held his head in his hands after the final whistle and was last off the pitch, just as he had been after the Halifax and Exeter home games at the end of last season.
Overall this was not a bad performance by Mansfield but one which just lacked a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch. The defence looked very assured with Hassell outstanding at right back, and Linighan and Neil Richardson very solid in the middle. The midfield was perhaps a little lightweight and Thomas notably seemed to have trouble keeping his feet on a surface made skiddy by heavy rain. Roscoe, Williams and Kerr were reasonable without playing particularly well. Up front, Lee Peacock held the ball up quite well, and Lormor was unlucky with a couple of efforts. The team passed the ball much better than they had at Brighton, and generally worked hard without finding the necessary extra spark.
But in the end it was a bitterly disappointing result against what, it has to be said, looked a poor Cheltenham side. Certainly it was a game that it looked as though the Stags should have one, and one that could have boosted confidence.
After the game, Stags assistant manager Mark Kearney commented that the squad is still 4 or 5 players away from what he and Billy Dearden want. They are trying to bring in some quality players but it is not proving easy. He felt that it was a reasonable performance and that he and Billy had certainly not given the players a roasting after the game. Kearney said that they had had a couple of injuries from the Forest game, and needed to bring a player in quickly. The only player available in the short time they had, who they were interested in, was Mark Blake, who joined the club on a non-contract basis on Thursday. Blake had some injury problems last season and only played a few games for Walsall. Kearney said that the intention is look at Blake over the next 3-4 weeks.
The attendance of just 2,348 was very disappointing. The decision to make the game all-ticket 2 weeks earlier looked a bad one and predictably would have kept some fans away. The reason given that the number of visiting supporters was unknown seemed very weak. In the end, tickets were sold on the day, but it was too late to boost the numbers.
B Richardson 6,
Hassell 8, N Richardson 7, Linighan 6, Tallon 6,
Williams 6, Kerr 6, Thomas 5, Roscoe 6,
Peacock 6, Lormor 6.
Subs: Blake (for Thomas) 7, Boulding (for Lormor) 7, Allardyce (for Tallon) 6.