{ match reports }
An independent supporters' website dedicated to Mansfield Town FC
Season 21/22 Stagsnet Match Report
English Football League - Sky Bet League Two
Mansfield Town  
2 - 1
 Bristol Rovers
Hawkins 42 mins, Johnson pen 90+6.
 Harries 63. Coutts sent off 72 mins
Attendance: 6,346 (1,388 from Bristol Rovers)
Date: 7 August 2021


Martin Shaw at the One Call Stadium, Field Mill

Mansfield beat Bristol Rovers 2-1 in the opening league game of the 2021/22 season at the One Call Stadium this afternoon thanks to a penalty awarded 20 seconds from the end of stoppage time for a foul on Oli Hawkins, which was then converted by Danny Johnson. In the first half, it was Hawkins who had risen above the Rovers defence to head Mansfield into the lead after 42 minutes from a Stephen McLaughlin cross. So a goal for each of the Stags’ new strikeforce on their debuts. In between, Bristol Rovers had equalised with a wonderful volley from Cian Harries from 24 yards after a free kick was not properly cleared by Mansfield. But Mansfield were clearly the deserved winners, with 17 shots compared to just 3 from Bristol Rovers.

And wow, what an afternoon! The fans were back at the One Call Stadium for a league game for the first time since February 2020 when Mansfield beat Newport 1-0 with a goal from Danny Rose. The noise and atmosphere at the start of the game was just incredible. We could hardly hear ourselves on commentary in the West Stand. And when Mansfield won the game with the penalty in the last minute of stoppage time, the noise levels just went off the scale. Wow!

The attendance of 6,346 was Mansfield's highest for their first home league game of the season since 1977, which was then our first league game in Division 2 (ie. what is now the Championship). Thank you to Sneag on Stagsnet who first spotted this.

This was a completely new experience for the Mansfield players and management, playing in front of the Stags fans in a league game, apart from Kellan Gordon. Gordon was the only player from the starting XI and the substitutes who came on, who was with the club in February 2020. So much has changed since then, and there was poignant minute’s silence before the game to remember all those we have sadly lost in the last 18 months.

I will write a detailed report on Sunday. But the early signs for this Mansfield side are that it could be an exciting season. I predicted in pre-season that I thought we would finish in the top 7, and there was nothing today to suggest any change to that. It is fair to say that Bristol Rovers were missing their three main strikers in Brett Pittman, Aaron Collins and Brandon Hanlon through injury and it was therefore probably a good time to play them, but they are among the favourites for promotion and the Stags were clearly the better side.

The Stags seem to have most bases covered. We already had a high quality midfield from last season with George Maris, Ollie Clarke, Stephen Quinn and George Lapslie, and that has been supplemented with the attack-minded Rhys Oates who was outstanding for Hartlepool last season especially in their successful play-off campaign. The forward line has had a major upgrade with Danny Johnson and Oli Hawkins being brought in. The Stags missed far too many chances last season, and these two should help to improve the ratio of chances converted. The defence which played today was unchanged from last season and was missing the injured Elliott Hewitt who is a good signing from Grimsby, but certainly requires the addition of one extra high class central defender. In goal, Nathan Bishop looks a class act. On loan from Manchester United, he commanded his box today, and made one very good save from a quickly taken free kick, while having no chance with the goal.

Nigel Clough gave a debut to Nathan Bishop, Rhys Oates, Oli Hawkins and Danny Johnson, while Ryan Stirk also came off the bench for his debut. The Stags lined up with a 4-4-2 formation with the familiar diamond in midfield:
Nathan Bishop;
Kellan Gordon, Farrend Rawson, James Perch, Stephen McLaughlin;
George Maris,
Ollie Clarke, Stephen Quinn,
Rhys Oates;
Oli Hawkins, Danny Johnson.

Elliott Hewitt was out with a thigh problem which should not keep him out for long, Harry Charsley was also absent having missed much of pre-season also with a thigh problem.

It was more or less the expected starting XI though personally I had expected last season’s player of the season George Lapslie to start ahead of Oates. Lapslie was to replace Oates midway through the second half. After the game Nigel Clough told BBC Radio Nottingham: "George Lapslie was disappointed to be left out today. Rhys Oates just got ahead of him in pre-season. George had a sore knee and missed the Hull game, so Rhys just got a little bit ahead of him. But his attitude when he came on was fantastic. We see it as Rhys and George sharing that role."

Bristol Rovers with their manager Joey Barton, who might see out the season in prison given his looming court cases, gave debuts to 8 new signings. But as noted they were missing their three main strikers in Brett Pittman, Aaron Collins and Brandon Hanlon.

The first 20 minutes saw no chances for either side though it was competitive with tackles flying in. Some good defending from McLaughlin, Rawson and Maris.

The first chance came after 20 minutes. Johnson was brought down 24 yards from goal. McLaughlin sent the resulting free kick straight into the wall.

Maris was booked after 23 minutes after a mistake by Rawson. Maris was taking one for the team to stop the break.

The Stags were nearly caught out after 24 minutes as Bristol Rovers took a free kick quickly through Luke Thomas chipping the ball forward for Harry Anderson who had a chance to shoot from 10 yards but Bishop was out quickly to block his shot.

A double chance for the Stags after 29 minutes. Good interplay between Quinn and McLaughlin on the left, Quinn crossed low across the box, it came to Ollie Clarke who missed his kick from 10 yards, it was cleared to Oates who volleyed well wide.

After 38 minutes, a high cross from Gordon and Oates couldn’t get enough purchase on his header which went well wide.

Lovely goalkeeping at the other end a minute later as Bishop came out to catch a free kick.

The Stags took the lead after 42 minutes. Hawkins rose above the Rovers defence to head into the net from 3 yards from a Stephen McLaughlin high cross, after McLaughlin took a corner short from the right and received the ball back. The goalkeeper had come for the ball but collided with his own defender. Nigel Clough described it after the game: "It was good, they were all set for the corner, we take it short, then we put it in from a slightly different angle, the goalie collided with a defender, and he (Hawkins) headed it in.”

The first goal Stags fans could celebrate seeing in the flesh for 18 months in the league.

A good chance for the Stags after 44 minutes as Johnson teed up Maris in the box for a shot but his crisp on-target effort was blocked by Hughes.

In the first minute of stoppage time at the end of the half, a corner from McLaughlin to the edge of the box but Oates missed his kick as a half-chance beckoned.

The Stags in front at the break and they had been right on top for the final 15 minutes of the half after an even opening half an hour.

Half time 1-0

The first 15 minutes of the second half saw the Stags remain on top as they had been for the final 15 minutes of the first half.

After 51 minutes, Oates tried a shot from 25 yards and keeper Jaakkola parried it away. At the other end a minute later, Perch handled the ball in his own area but it was accidental and not a penalty and there were no appeals from the Rovers players.

A brilliant run from Oates after 54 minutes, from the halfway line in the area, and his shot from the left was blocked for a corner by Nick Anderton. The resulting corner from the left from Maris, was recycled by Ollie Clarke on the right, it came out to Oates on the edge of the edge and his goalbound shot was blocked by Grant. A couple of minutes later, great play down the left between McLaughlin and Quinn.

But completely out of the blue Bristol Rovers were level after 63 minutes. A free kick into the area was not properly cleared by Mansfield as Hawkins headed partially away and then Maris did not get enough distance on his header away, and Cian Harries fired a wonderful volley from 24 yards into the net giving Bishop no chance. Maris could have done better, but it was basically a great goal.

A great low cross in from Gordon after 64 minutes but Hawkins and Johnson both sliding in just missed it.

A rare chance for the Gas on 69 minutes as Saunders turned on the edge of the area and fired over the bar.

Mansfield made their first change after 70 minutes as Lapslie replaced Oates. Oates had had a great start to the second half.

After 71 minutes, Ollie Clarke miscued a shot wide of the right post.

Three minutes later a McLaughlin free kick was cleared to Quinn whose right footed volley from 23 yards was on target but blocked by Nick Anderton.

A chance for Johnson on 75 minutes. A great tackle by Perch won the ball and a long ball down the line from McLaughlin was perfectly weighted for Johnson. The ball bounced up and he tried to head the ball down but it took him slightly away from goal, however he still got into the area and from an angle on the left he fired into the side netting.

The Gas were reduced to ten men after 77 minutes. Their captain Paul Coutts, and Danny Johnson had had various tussles throughout the game already. A McLaughlin corner was headed well wide by Hawkins. As the players went to line up for a goal kick, Johnson and Coutts were mouthing at each other, Johnson put his arm into Coutts’ chest and Coutts retaliated by biffing Johnson on the side of his head with his arm. Coutts was shown a red card, and Johnson was booked. After the game, Johnson described it as he and Coutts were “having a bit of a wrestle ... and then Coutts just slapped me on the side of the head. You can’t raise your hands to someone and rightly so he’s been sent off”. From a review of the video, the referee got his decisions spot on.

A great chance for Johnson to score after 85 minutes. Ollie Clarke chipped a little ball into the middle. Lapslie beautifully cushioned it to set up Johnson for a free shot at goal from 12 yards, but Johnson fired wide of the right post. It was a glorious opportunity. He took the shot first time, and said after the game he probably should have taken a touch first.

Good defensive work from McLaughlin after 88 minutes.

On 90+1 minutes, a great ball from Johnson across the edge of the box set up McLaughlin for a shot from 18 yards but he fired wide.

Ryan Stirk, on loan from Birmingham for the season, replaced Maris in a defensive midfield role after 90+1 minutes.

The Stags went agonisingly close on 90+3 minutes. A free kick from Gordon from the right to the far post was headed inches wide by Hawkins. It was so close.

But the real drama was to come. 20 seconds from the end of the 5 minutes of stoppage time, a corner from the right from McLaughlin found Hawkins at the far post. Hawkins tried to control the ball but was held by Hughes for several seconds. It was long enough for the referee to deem it a penalty. If Hughes had not held him for so long, or had Hughes made any attempt to play the ball instead of just holding Hawkins, he would probably have got away with it, but the referee was just 10 yards away with a perfect view and pointed straight to the spot. I think it can be described as one you might get 50% of the time but the referee made a brave call and I would say the right call. What a moment of high tension as the One Call Stadium held its collective breath. Up stepped Danny Johnson to send the keeper the wrong way firing low into the right corner of the net. Pandemonium. Great celebrations everywhere. The noise level was astonishing. All the frustrations of the fans of not being allowed in for 18 months came rushing out.

There was barely time for Rovers to kick off, and the Stags had the three points to start the season.


Footnote: The next game is on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup against Championship side Preston at the One Call Stadium. The Stags were thumped 4-0 by Preston at the same stage last season. Just to clarify that while midweek league and Papa Johns Trophy games can be watched live on iFollow Stags with a match pass for £10 this season (starting with the Colchester game in 10 days time), Carabao Cup games cannot be watched, so it will be commentary only on iFollow Stags, as it will be for Saturday games this season.

Man of the match: A difficult choice as several players played really well, including Gordon, Perch, McLaughlin and Hawkins. I’m going to plump for Hawkins for his involvement in both goals.

Report by: Martin Shaw at the One Call Stadium, Field Mill

Line Up:
(4-4-2, diamond in midfield)
Bishop 7.5 Looks a class act. Good save early on, out quickly to block a shot following a quickly taken free kick. One lovely catch from a free kick. No chance with the goal.
Gordon 8 Very good game. Put in three very good crosses, one of which was headed inches wide by Hawkins.
Rawson 7 Some good defending. One mistake in the first half which led to Maris getting booked.
Perch 8 Defended very well. One great tackle which set off the move for a chance for Johnson.
McLaughlin 8.5 Involved in such a lot. Some good defending. Plenty of good interplay down the left with Quinn. An assist for Hawkins’ goal with a good cross. His corner found Hawkins for the penalty. One wonderful ball over the top down the left for Johnson to run on to.
Maris 7.5 Very good game in defensive midfield role. Could have done better for the Rovers goal with a better header away, but it was basically a great goal.
O.Clarke 7 Had a couple of chances, missed his kick with one and miscued the other. Generally did ok.
Quinn 7 Linked well with McLaughlin on the left.
Oates 7 Great start to the second half with a shot parried away, a great run, and another shot blocked. Not so good in the first half.
Hawkins 8.5 Goal from a header when he got up well. Headed inches wide late on. Fouled for the winning penalty in stoppage time. Won lots of headers.
Johnson 7.5 The hero as he converted the winning penalty with virtually the last kick of the game. Missed a great chance after 85 minutes when he should have done better by his own admission.
Sub Line Up:
Lapslie (for Oates, 70 mins) - Showed great energy when came on. Set up the great chance for Johnson after 85 minutes.
Stirk (for Maris, 90+1 mins) -
Subs not used: Shelvey, J.Clarke, Burke, Sinclair, Bowery.
Opposition Line Up:
(4-3-2-1): Jaakkola; Hoole, Hughes, Harries, Anderton; Grant, Coutts, Anderson (Baldwin '80); Thomas (Taylor '80), T. Clarke (Westbrooke '30); Saunders. Subs not used: Belshaw (GK), Walker, Liddle, Spence.
Josh Smith 8 Brave calls with the red card and the penalty, and I think he got both right.

Season 21/22 Reports