Howkins OG 71.
Attendance: 4210 (598 from Port Vale)
Date: 21 April 2018
STAGS PEGGED BACK BY 89TH MINUTE EQUALISER IN DISASTROUS DRAW
Martin Shaw at the One Call Stadium, Field Mill
Mansfield Town were held to a 1-1 draw by Port Vale at the One Call Stadium in a game the Stags desperately needed to win. It was the first league match between the two sides at Mansfield for 15 years. With just a minute left, Mansfield were leading 1-0 while play-off rivals Lincoln City were being held by Colchester and down to 10 men, and if the scores had stayed the same Mansfield would have made great progress in trying to get the final play-off position. But disaster struck when Vale captain Tom Pope stretched to head in after Conrad Logan came out to try to stop Dan Turner crossing from the right, and Turner got the ball over the Stags keeper. Krystian Pearce tried in vain to stop the ball going in with his hands, and got a booking for his efforts. And the bad news kept on coming as Lincoln grabbed a winner over Colchester in the 94th minute. So Mansfield are now 3 points behind both Lincoln and Coventry, with Lincoln and Coventry having a game in hand, playing each other on Tuesday. There is still an outside chance of course for Mansfield, who will need to win at Yeovil next Saturday, hope one of Coventry or Lincoln go on a terrible run, and the Stags give themselves a chance on the final day of the season at home to Crawley. But it is a very slim chance now in reality. This was a game the Stags really should have won. Mansfield played some great football and created enough chances to win the game, but missed those chances and also too often tried to walk the ball in then losing the ball rather than shooting. It looked like the first goal would be crucial and the Stags were fortunate to get it as Port Vale gifted an own goal on 71 minutes. Sub Jacob Mellis found Danny Rose on the right with a good ball, Rose cut inside into the area onto his left foot, and sent in a low shot which the keeper pushed away. As the ball ran loose, right back Charlie Raglan booted the ball against former Stags loanee Kyle Howkins and it ricocheted into the net. The irony was that Howkins could have been sent off just a minute earlier, when, having already been booked, he deliberately fouled Potter and was given a final warning by the referee. Mansfield had had plenty of good chances earlier to take the lead, such as in the first half Mal Benning’s cross-shot just evading Kane Hemmings, Danny Rose’s shot saved low by the keeper, Benning’s low shot straight at the keeper, and Hemmings blasting over the bar when the keeper had come out and a lob would have been a better bet. Into the second half, the Stags continued to play good football and create chances: Alfie Potter should have scored when he miscued wide after a brilliant run down the right by MacDonald, then makeshift right back Paul Digby brought a brilliant save from the keeper after a left-footed shot, and then Benning crossed superbly from the left and Rose somehow headed over unmarked from 6 yards. After Mansfield were gifted the lead, there were chances to make the game safe as CJ Hamilton did well to pull back from the byeline to Hemmings, whose shot was deflected just wide, then Howkins nearly scored TWO more own goals in the space of ten seconds, the first brilliantly saved by his keeper. With 84 minutes gone, the Stags had a free kick on the left and a chance to get the ball into the box and extend the lead. Ludicrously the Stags only sent two players into the box. The same thing happened two minutes later, a free kick near the corner flag on the right, and the Stags only put one player in the box this time. With four and six minutes to go, this was far too early for such a tactic in my opinion and I said so at the time during commentary. In the final minutes of stoppage time, this tactic does make sense to me but not with so long to go. Even if the Stags had held on, I would have been extremely critical of this at this stage of the game. Disaster then struck on 89 minutes with that goal from Pope, and the Stags were unable to create another chance during stoppage time. A bitter pill for everyone associated with the club to swallow.
There is still a slim chance of making the play-offs, but where has it gone wrong?
Prior to the game away to promotion-chasing Exeter on 17th February, I did a piece on Radio Nottingham confidently predicting that Mansfield would finish 3rd. The Stags had just thumped Newport 5-0. Mansfield went on to win that game at Exeter 1-0 with another fine performance. A week later, the Stags drew 1-1 with Coventry, another side chasing promotion. The Stags were just two points outside the top 3. The result was disappointing though as Coventry played most of the game with ten men. But nowhere near as disappointing as what came next when Steve Evans walked out on the club three days later and turned up at Peterborough United a day later. John and Carolyn Radford were left in shock, the players were left in shock and the supporters were left in shock. John Radford needed to move quickly though. There were 12 games to go and Mansfield were in with real a chance of automatic promotion. John Radford had spent a lot of money on the squad and didn’t want it to be wasted. The requirement was for a manager to come in who could carry on the season, get the team over the line and achieve promotion, and who was a proven quality manager for the longer term too. The Radfords were flooded with applications, and there were some impressive managers currently out of work. But John and Carolyn went for a manager currently in work in League Two who knew better than most about the state of the league. Mansfield approached Swindon for permission to talk to their manager David Flitcroft. Permission was granted and after discussions, Flitcroft came in as the new Stags manager, bringing assistant Ben Futcher with him. Flitcroft had taken over at Swindon in the summer and guided Swindon into the play-off positions in his first season, just three points behind Mansfield. Swindon had done the double over Mansfield this season, and indeed Mansfield had never beaten a Flitcroft side, whether at Swindon or Bury. I thought Flitcroft ticked the boxes that John and Carolyn were looking to tick, knowing the league well and opposition well, plus knowing about the Stags players too, and he should have been able to hit the ground running. In short, the appointment of Flitcroft was, in my opinion, a good one and I said so at the time.
What has happened since has been nothing short of a disaster. In the first game under Flitcroft, Mansfield led 1-0 against promotion-chasing Lincoln before former Stag Ollie Palmer equalised for Lincoln in the 90th minute. Another 1-1 draw followed, at home to Colchester after the Stags had again led 1-0. Then a 1-1 draw at Notts County, though the feeling after this one was relief and euphoria with Kane Hemmings equalising for the Stags after 90+9 minutes. The Stags then lost four games on the trot. A dreadful performance in defeat at Forest Green, was followed by two decent performances against Accrington and Luton, the top 2, but still the games were lost. And then one of the worst, if not the worst, thirty minutes of football in living memory as Mansfield found themselves 4-1 down at home to Crewe, before finally losing 4-3. The Stags then drew 1-1 at Stevenage, coming from behind. Then came the wonderful win at Chesterfield, with a fabulous goal from Mal Benning, amid great scenes. It was the first win under Flitcroft and one to stay in the memory for years after putting a nail in the Spireites’ coffin. But it needed to be followed up by another win today, and it wasn’t.
There have been comments by the players about having to adapt to a new style of play in several interviews. For example, Jacob Mellis, in an interview for the matchday programme against Crewe on April 7, said “The point is that we can’t be expected to adapt to his style of play immediately, as it is going to take some time when someone new comes in.” Similarly, Rhys Bennett, in the press conference prior to the Accrington game said "He’s implemented a different style of play - I think you can see that. Obviously it’s difficult to come in at this stage of the season.” Bennett was of course right that it is difficult to come in at this stage of the season. But was it the right time to implement a change in style of play so close to the end of the season with Mansfield so close to the automatic promotion places? Or should the manager have tried to keep things as they were, and keep results as good as they had been before he came in. And what was that change in style of play? Well, under Evans, the players were under pressure to get the ball forward quickly. Flitcroft wants a more passing style which when it doesn’t work can look like the players are too often trying to walk the ball into the net rather than take a shot, though when it works it looks great, like the goal against Chesterfield and the goal against Stevenage. Don’t get me wrong, I like the style of football, but I believe that the manager should have left things as they were with just twelve games of the season remaining, and then change things in pre-season.
Ultimately, only the players will truly know why they haven’t performed well enough to get the results. Was it the change in style of play? Was it not being barked at from the sidelines by Steve Evans for 90 minutes? Was it the players’ fault themselves? At the end of the day, football is all about results, and they haven’t been good enough under David Flitcroft. That said, at the end of today’s commentary broadcast we got texts in saying that Flitcroft should be sacked. I don’t agree with that, and said so. I think he has made some mistakes, and results have not been good enough, but I believe he should be given the summer and next season to turn things around. You have to feel desperately sorry for John and Carolyn Radford. They backed Steve Evans to the hilt, providing just about everything he asked for, and were let down massively by him walking out. So if you just want just the short answer on where things went wrong, it would be Steve Evans walking out. Added to that, the new manager should have done better, and the players should have done better whoever the manager was. Two games to go. The Stags must win them, and hope for help from elsewhere.
Back to this game. Mansfield made three changes to the side that started against Chesterfield. Hayden White was out with the injury he picked up at the Proact Stadium. Zander Diamond missed out with a knock. In came Rhys Bennett and Paul Digby. Bennett was in at centre half. Digby came in at right back and was preferred to Paul Anderson, who was on the bench. Finally CJ Hamilton returned, replacing Mellis. It was a 4-4-2 formation, with Potter on the right and Hamilton on the left of midfield, with Atkinson and MacDonald in the middle. Young Jordan Graham was again on the bench, as he was against Crewe.
Port Vale have had a poor season, but their win over Lincoln last week had essentially ensured their safety. They had Kyle Howkins in central defence. He was on loan at Mansfield last season.
It was a glorious sunny day in Mansfield.
Before the game, Stags legend Kevin Kent, also a popular former player for Port Vale, took applause from both sets of fans.
On 6 minutes, Rose sent a tame effort from 30 yards straight at the keeper. A minute later, some neat football culminated in Rose playing the ball out to Potter on the right and Potter’s ball into the middle was straight to the keeper.
A chance for Vale on 10 minutes. Pope laid the ball off to the experienced Michael Tongue, whose shot from 23 yards was just over the bar. From the video, it actually just clipped the top of the bar.
On 11 minutes, good football from the Stags, Hemmings to Rose, who laid off to MacDonald and he side-footed wide from 22 yards.
The Stags went close on 13 minutes. Potter went down in the area, but it was no foul. The ball was recycled to Benning on the left, and his cross-shot was wide of the right post with Hemmings inches away from turning it in.
On 14 minutes, a quick free kick from the Stags on the halfway line, Benning laid it down the line to Hamilton, who pushed forward and cut onto his right foot in the area, before sending a low shot straight at the keeper.
On 16 minutes, MacDonald headed the ball forward to Hemmings, who finished into the net, but he was just offside.
On 24 minutes, a good turn and shot by MacDonald from 30 yards but the keeper saved at full stretch. Great play from MacDonald.
Excellent defending by Hamilton on 28 minutes, getting back to clear as a long ball was flicked on.
On 31 minutes, a great run forward by Bennett, from inside his own half, he laid off to Rose in the area on the right hand side, and his low shot was saved by the keeper getting down well.
On 34 minutes the Stags had the ball in and around the area but wanted too many touches.
On 35 minutes, a great ball from MacDonald out to Benning, he controlled brilliantly, cut inside onto his right foot and shot straight at the keeper.
There was a bizarre time out from the referee on 37 minutes as some players were given time for drinks. David Flitcroft was agitated by this as Port Vale seemed to want to slow the game down. Why did the referee take time out so close to half time?
On 38 minutes, MacDonald played a great long ball over the top down the right, Hemmings ran on to it, the keeper came out and Hemmings should have lobbed over him but instead blasted over the bar. It was a good chance.
A terrible cross from Potter on 41 minutes, not his first of the day.
On 44 minutes, Potter crossed from the right and a defender headed just past his own post for a corner.
Polite applause from the Stags fans at the break. Some nice football, the Stags certainly had the better of it, and had the better chances, but that crucial first goal hadn’t arrived.
Half time 0-0
Just after the restart, Potter wormed his way into the area on the left, his cross was cleared and Atkinson recycled to MacDonald, whose low curling shot was blocked.
A great chance for the Stags on 49 minutes. A brilliant run by MacDonald to the byline on the right, he pulled the ball back and Potter miscued a great chance wide from 12 yards.
On 51 minutes, a good run by Hamilton, who played the ball inside to MacDonald, and he laid towards off to Digby when he should have shot. Again the Stags were trying to walk the ball in.
A minute later a great ball forward from Potter to Hemmings, but Hemmings was crowded out. Then on 54 minutes, from MacDonald’s corner, Bennett headed forward and a defender headed onto the roof of his own net.
On 56 minutes, Benning’s cross from the left came out to Digby whose powerful left foot shot was brilliantly saved by the keeper.
The atmosphere created by the Stags fans was terrific.
Vale meanwhile were time wasting. The referee spoke to captain Pope to warn the side.
Mellis replaced Digby on 62 minutes. Atkinson moved to right back. A strange decision to remove Digby in my opinion, unless he was injured, as he was playing well. Even stranger to move Atkinson to right back.
The Stags should have been in front on 64 minutes. Hamilton laid off to Benning who put in a perfect cross to Rose who somehow header over, unmarked, from 6 yards.
A minute later, Mellis played a 1-2 with Hemmings and his right foot shot was blocked.
A rare chance for Vale on 66 minutes, their first of the half, and second of the game. Worrall crossed from the right, Pope flicked on and Hannant sent in a low left footed shot which Logan saved well, low down.
Howkins was lucky on 70 minutes when he could have been sent off. Having already been booked, he deliberately fouled Atkinson and was given a final warning by the referee. But Howkins wasn’t so lucky moments later ..
The Stags were gifted an own goal on 71 minutes. Sub Mellis found Danny Rose on the right with a good ball, Rose cut inside into the area onto his left foot, and sent in a low shot which the keeper pushed away. As the ball ran loose, right back Charlie Raglan booted the ball against Kyle Howkins and it ricocheted into the net.
By the way, for those who are interested, the goal was scored after 70 minutes 59 seconds. So it should be officially recorded as 71 minutes, not as recorded by most media outlets.
Rose was booked for a deliberate foul on 73 minutes.
The Stags were close to extending the lead on 75 minutes. Hemmings started the move with a great sliding tackle, Hamilton got to the byline on the left, pulled back to Hemmings, whose left footed shot was heading in before it was deflected wide.
How the Stags didn’t score on 77 minutes was incredible. Benning crossed low from the left, Howkins sliced an attempted clearance and was spared another own goal as the keeper made a great diving save. The ball came out to Hamilton on the right, and his powerful low cross was again turned just past his own post by Howkins. Extraordinary.
Hemmings was booked for a deliberate foul on sub Ben Whitfield on 82 minutes.
Then on 83 minutes, Hamilton won the ball inside his own half and made a surging run down the middle. He laid off to Hemmings, whose shot was blocked, but Rose was unmarked on his right and would have been a better option.
Angol replaced Hemmings on 83 minutes. Hemmings left to a standing ovation.
With 84 minutes gone, the Stags had a free kick on the left and a chance to get the ball into the box and extend the lead. Ludicrously the Stags only sent two players into the box.
The same thing happened two minutes later, a free kick near the corner flag on the right, and the Stags only put one player in the box this time. With four and six minutes to go, this was far too early for such a tactic in my opinion and I said so at the time during commentary. In the final minutes of stoppage time, this tactic does make sense to me but not with so long to go. Even if the Stags had held on, I would have been extremely critical of this at this stage of the game.
Incidentally, it was sub Angol who won both free kicks.
On 87 minutes, Mellis fired over the bar from 30 yards.
Disaster struck on 89 minutes when Pope stretched to head in after Logan came out to try to stop Dan Turner crossing from the right, and Turner got the ball over the Stags keeper. Pearce tried in vain to stop the ball going in with his hands, and got a booking for his efforts. Logan was partly at fault for coming out to try to stop the cross meaning he was out of position as Pope headed towards the middle of the goal. Also Bennett was at fault for standing appealing for offside (which it wasn’t) instead of tracking his man Turner. A sickener. It was just Vale’s third chance of a very one-sided game.
The Stags were unable to create another chance during stoppage time.
Going through the game again on video, the Stags played some very good football and created lots of chances. But it’s results that count, especially with so few games to go.
Man of the match: Alex MacDonald
FOOTNOTE: PLAYER OF THE SEASON SO FAR
Following this game, and with just 2 games to go this season, these are my average player ratings based on the 53 league+cup games so far this season (top 8 players):
Potter 6.92, Mellis 6.92, MacDonald 6.88, Diamond 6.83, Hamilton 6.80, Rose 6.78, Logan 6.78, Pearce 6.78.
Note: only ratings for players starting a game are included - ie. sub appearances not included.
Minimum appearances: 15.
It may be a bit of a surprise to see Potter at the top of the list (he’s also at the top of the list for fans’ average ratings, see below). However he has only started 19 games out of the 53 played this season, and of those 19 games, Mansfield won 11. That suggests he should have started more.
Mellis has also started fewer than half of Mansfield’s games this season (25 out of the 53 games played). He has been consistent in that he has had a rating higher than 6 in 19 of his 25 games started.
MacDonald has been a player who has covered every blade of grass on the pitch. His form tailed off after Evans left (he is not alone in that). His goal return of just 3, including the memorable one away to Coventry, is disappointing, while his set pieces have also been disappointing. From open play, he has been very good.
Diamond, the club captain, has also started fewer than half of Mansfield’s games this season (21 out of the 53 games played). Had a stinker at home to Crewe (he wasn’t alone) when he was subbed early but otherwise has been good in the games he’s played.
Hamilton has come on leaps and bounds this season, creating shed-loads of chances from his pacey runs down the left. Still room for improvement in his final product, but it has got so much better this season. I still believe he may earn the club a lot of money one day and I’ll be looking for my cut :-)
Rose is the top scorer with 17 goals, but has stalled after Evans left not scoring under Flitcroft. Good in the air, with lots of goals from headers and with both feet too.
Logan has saved Mansfield on many occasions this season with fabulous saves. Kicking has been excellent too. Some costly errors started to creep into his game towards the end of the season.
Pearce has been commanding in the air and good on the floor and a rock in central defence. Like his central defensive partner Bennett, his goal return of just 2 for the season has been disappointing.
As an interesting aside, my average player ratings just for the 43 league+cup games played under Steve Evans were (top 8 players):
Potter 7.19, MacDonald 7.15, Mellis 7.00, Diamond 7.00, Rose 6.97, Hamilton 6.92, Pearce 6.85, Logan 6.81.
Thanks to Pete Wright for his spreadsheet.
On the Stagsnet messageboard, throughout the season, fans have been giving their player ratings for each game. Eggy has been working hard to collect this data and Pete Wright has summarised. Up to the Luton away game, the top 4 players were: Potter 7.30, MacDonald 7.12, Pearce 7.06, Diamond 7.05.
Many thanks to Eggy and Pete for their hard work on this, and to all the fans who have entered their ratings. This data will be updated by Pete and Eggy shortly as we reach the end of the season.
Report by: Martin Shaw at the One Call Stadium, Field Mill
Logan 5.5 Partly at fault for the goal, coming out to try to stop the cross meaning he was out of position as Pope headed towards the middle of the goal. One good save, from Hannant.
Digby 7 Played well in makeshift right back role. One good shot which brought a great save.
Pearce 7 Defended solidly.
Bennett 5.5 Partly at fault for the goal, standing appealing for offside (which it wasn’t) instead of tracking his man Turner. Otherwise defended solidly. Great run forward from inside his own half to set up a chance for Rose.
Benning 7 Attacked well. Superb cross for Rose’s header, and several other good crosses.
Potter 5.5 Some poor crosses. One bad miss when he miscued wide. Surprising choice as sponsor’s man of the match.
Atkinson 6.5 Played well in central midfield. The decision to move him to right back was strange.
MacDonald 7.5 Brilliant run and cross for Potter’s chance. Sprayed several great balls. His best game under Flitcroft after a poor run of form.
Hamilton 7 Some good runs, and set up a couple of good chances.
Rose 5 Missed some great chances, including one free header. Not scored a goal under Flitcroft.
Hemmings 5.5 Missed some good chances. Some good play in open play.
Sub Line Up:
Mellis (for Digby, 62 mins) - Good ball to Rose in the build up to the goal.
Angol (for Hemmings, 83 mins) - Did well to win 2 free kicks which were wasted with bizarre tactics.
Subs not used: Olejnik, Hunt, Anderson, King, Jordan Graham.
Opposition Line Up:
(4-5-1): Hornby; Raglan, Smith, Howkins, Gibbons; Worrall, Pugh (Turner 74), Kay, Tonge (Whitfield 45), Hannant; Pope. Subs not used: Boot, Howe, Davis, Barnett, Forrester.
Carl Boyeson 7 Good game.