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Season 22/23 Stagsnet Match Report
English Football League - Sky Bet League Two
Salford City  
2 - 0
 Mansfield Town
Hendry 5, Thomas-Asante 28
Attendance: 2,721 (1,109 from Mansfield)
Date: 30 July 2022


Martin Shaw at the Peninsula Stadium, Moor Lane

Mansfield Town were beaten 2-0 at Salford City in the first game of the 2022/23 league season this afternoon.

Salford went into an early lead after 5 minutes, and added to the lead after 27 minutes. Both goals were of a similar nature with a ball slid forward for a striker to get in behind the defence and roll a shot past keeper Christy Pym on his Stags debut. Poor defending for both goals. They were Salford’s only shots in the game until the final 5 minutes but they were enough to earn the points. The Stags were pretty poor overall, with sloppy passing and giving the ball away, but had enough chances still to have won the game and will need to do much better to mount a promotion challenge.

Having played a 3-5-2 formation throughout pre-season, Nigel Clough stuck with the formation despite being without more than half of his central defenders through suspension or injury. Oli Hawkins was suspended from his sending off at Wembley, Elliott Hewitt wasn’t fit enough to start having played just 30 minutes of pre-season, and James Perch is out with a calf injury. So Stephen McLaughlin was moved into the back three, alongside John-Joe O’Toole and Riley Harbottle. Harbottle is on loan from Nottingham Forest for the season, and had done well in pre-season. Not only was this his Stags debut but also his Football League debut.

With McLaughlin in central defence the Stags were missing his threat on the left. Lucas Akins (right) and Jordan Bowery (left) were the wing-backs. In midfield were Hiram Boateng, on his Stags debut signed from MK Dons, George Maris and Stephen Quinn. Up front Rhys Oates was partnered by Will Swan, on loan from Nottingham Forest for the season and on his Stags debut. The fourth Stags debutant was Christy Pym in goal.

Also missing for the Stags were Kieran Wallace (knee injury) and Jason Law. The news on Law is bad, Clough said after the game: “A couple of weeks ago he got a dead leg and he tried to give it a go in the Oldham game and got another whack on it. It’s turned into a nasty little muscle injury. I think it’ll be two to three months.” Such a shame for Law whose injury occurred as he played a defence splitting ball at Oldham for a goal. Nigel Clough told me he will sign a midfielder to bolster the squad, and has a choice between two players.

Salford have a new head coach, Neil Wood, who was the Man United U23 head coach. He came in to the club saying his team were going to play it on the floor, rather than put balls into the box for big men like Jordan Turnbull (who has left) and Michael Smith (who was left on the bench). They did indeed play the ball on the floor. Salford included defender Richard Nartey, who played a couple of games for the Stags last season, but played when he wasn’t fit, and put in poor performances probably as a result.

For the Stags, the first league game of the new season was also the last away league game of last season. This time the Stags didn’t sell out the allocation of 1300 tickets and sent 200 back. Probably a result of the poor supporter experience at the ground, it just isn’t a good away day with no pubs or bars near the ground, a lack of parking and poor facilities.

For the first time in my lifetime and probably ever, though I haven’t checked, the first league game of the season was in July (confirmed by Svante Bernard Sweden Stag: it is the first time the first Football League game has been in July). Utter madness to kick off the season so early.

The Stags made a sloppy start with Rhys Oates putting the ball straight out of play from the kick-off.

Salford were ahead with the first attack of the game. Brandon Thomas-Asante got away from McLaughlin and slid a lovely ball forward for Callum Hendry to get in behind Harbottle and roll the ball past Pym into the right corner of the net from 16 yards. No chance for Pym, but the defending from McLaughlin and Harbottle could have been better.

After 9 minutes, Maris won the ball, found Boateng, who set Swan away down the right. Swan put in a nice cross to the edge of the six yard box where the ball was turned just over the bar by a combination of Oates and defender Theo Vassell as they both went for the ball. Oates then got past two defenders after 14 minutes and his shot from 25 yards was deflected for a corner.

Four corners for the Stags, taken by Boateng (two), Maris and Quinn, but all came to nothing.

On 26 minutes, Akins fired in a shot from 25 yards, the keeper saved, then dropped, and just reclaimed it as Swan was about to pounce.

Salford made it 2-0 after 27 minutes. Maris dribbled the ball forward just inside the Salford half and was tackled from behind by Conor McAleny. It looked like a foul, but the referee waved play on. McAleny turned, surged into the Stags half, and from 35 yards out, slid a delightful ball into the path of Thomas-Asante, who got behind the Stags defence, and rolled the ball past Pym into the net from 16 yards. The Stags claimed for offside against Thomas-Asante but I think he was just onside. The Stags possibly unlucky that the foul wasn’t given but Maris was too slow in picking a pass and releasing the ball. McLaughlin could have been tighter marking Thomas-Asante.

The Stags were within a whisker of a crucial goal back after 31 minutes. Boateng got in a challenge on Elliott Watt 22 yards from goal, the ball ran loose for Swan who tried to slide the ball past the keeper, couldn’t do so, but did well to pull the ball back into the path of Boateng who fired just wide from 12 yards with a third of the goal gaping in front of him.

On 35 minutes, Harbottle put in a good tackle, and set Bowery away. Bowery won a free kick 30 yards out. Boateng took and sent it over everyone.

The Stags went close again after 36 minutes. Oates went on a good run and was brought down for the first yellow card of the game. McLaughlin’s low free kick was wide of the right post and just evaded O’Toole sliding in at the far post. Three minutes later Quinn got to the byline and crossed in, Akins headed it up but the keeper claimed easily.

The referee missed an obvious bad foul on Quinn after 44 minutes. Poor refereeing. Akins went down in the area after 45+3 minutes but there was no foul

Salford two goals ahead at the break from literally two efforts at goal, but they were two quality balls slid in to strikers who converted clinically.

Half time 2-0

It was the Stags continuing to create the chances in the second half. After 47 minutes, a good move on the left, Quinn found left wing-back Bowery who cut inside and curled a shot just over the bar. Then Akins crossed from the right, Oates went down in the area as Vassell grabbed hold of him but the referee gave the free kick to Salford. Then on 53 minutes, good movement on the left by Quinn and Oates and Oates won a corner. Salford broke from the Stags corner and Bowery did well to stop Thomas-Asante. At the other end, from a Salford corner taken shot, a cross in and Nartey headed over the bar.

The Stags made changes after 61 minutes, bringing on Hewitt and Lapslie for Maris and Swan. Hewitt went to the left side centre half position, McLaughlin to left wing-back, Bowery to right wing-back, Akins up front.

After 63 minutes, McLaughlin was straight into the action on the left, crossing for Boating who headed just wide.

A half chance for Salford after 64 minutes as Boateng lost the ball and McAleny fired in a shot which was deflected wide.

Boateng fired against the outside of the Salford right post after 69 minutes, but the whistle had gone as Lapslie’s challenge to win the ball was adjudged a free kick.

The Stags were close to scoring after 75 minutes. Akins was gifted the ball by Vassell 38 yards from goal. Akins pushed forward and slid a nice ball into the path of Oates who fired a shot goalwards from 16 yards which was powerful but close enough to the keeper for him to push it away diving to his right. A good save, but unlike the two goals for Salford in the first half, Oates gave the keeper a chance rather than putting the ball into the corner. It would have been a similar goal to the two Salford goals.

Another chance a minute later as McLaughlin’s low ball and Akins couldn’t turn the ball in, then Bowery recycled the ball into the middle and Nartey cleared. That was a good chance for Akins.

Another change for the Stags after 80 minutes. Gordon replaced O’Toole. Gordon went to right wing-back, Bowery to centre half (middle), and Harbottle to the left of the back three. Bowery’s third position of the game.

Another chance for the Stags after 82 minutes, Quinn found Boateng whose left footed shot was pushed away by the keeper. Boateng shot wide again three minutes later.

With the Stags pouring bodies forward, Salford created a rare chance after 86 minutes as Ryan Watson ran forward and fired over from 25 yards.

The Stags went very close again after 88 minutes. Boateng lifted the ball out to Quinn on the left touchline, Quinn found McLaughlin who put in a lovely cross to Oates on the edge of the six yard box. Oates turned it goalwards but the keeper made a magnificent save palming the ball up on the line and catching it as it dropped down. Oates unlucky on this occasion, I don’t think he could have done any more. A great ball in from McLaughlin. If the Stags are to be successful this season, the partnership between McLaughlin and Quinn on the left could be key. For this reason, I would not have started McLaughlin in central defence. However it was difficult with Hawkins, Hewitt and Perch unable to start, a problem we’re unlikely to have again.

The Stags now had more gaps at the back. And on 89 minutes, McAleny cut inside from the left and Pym saved well, turning his shot wide.

James Gale and Ollie Clarke replaced Quinn and Harbottle after 89 minutes. Gale made three sub appearances in the league last season and had impressed in pre-season.

After 90+3 minutes, McAleny cut inside from the left again and fired wide.

That was the last action of the game.

A very disappointing result. Salford got themselves two goals ahead, and then held on to what they had, keeping the Stags at bay for a 2-0 victory. Nigel Clough said after the game: “The result was extremely poor. The performance was not too much better. The two goals we conceded were schoolboy goals I would call them. We’ve had opportunities to get back into the game and we didn’t manage to take at least one of them.” A fair assessment I think.

No-one played particularly well. Set pieces, including 9 corners, were poor. McLaughlin put in some good crosses when he moved to left wing-back. Swan had a couple of good moments in the first half but was largely anonymous otherwise. Harbottle had a difficult debut in defence. Boateng was nowhere near the standard we have seen in pre-season where he has been very good. Pym had no chance with the goals but made a good save from McAleny in the 89th minute.

The Stags will be at home to Tranmere next Saturday. I’d expect McLaughlin to start at left wing-back, with Hawkins back from suspension in the middle of the back three. I would put Gordon in at right wing-back and probably put Bowery or Akins up front with Oates. The Stags were terrific at home last season, and hopefully can get back to that form next Saturday in front of a big home crowd including a remarkable 4,450 season ticket holders.

Man of the match: no-one really deserved it, but Pym wasn’t at fault and my one good save, so gets it almost by default.

Report by: Martin Shaw at the Peninsula Stadium, Moor Lane

Line Up:
Pym 7 Had no chance with the goals but made a good save from McAleny in the 89th minute. He was the only player Nigel Clough was happy with, saying: “I thought he was good. We’ve been pleased with him from the second he walked through the door. He’s calm, collected and had no chance with the goals. He made a very good save. His distribution was good, we’re delighted with him.”
O’Toole 6 Did ok.
Harbottle 5.5 Had a difficult debut in defence. Hendry got in behind him to score the first goal. Nigel Clough said that he and Swan "struggled" and they found it a “tough baptism against a good team, but they'll get better from this point."
McLaughlin 5 Was played in central defence. Thomas-Asante got away from him to set up the first goal. And could have been tighter marking Thomas-Asante for the second goal. When he was moved to left wing-back, he put in some very good crosses. He should play on the left every game in my opinion to maximise his play.
Akins 6 Played at right wing-back, where he has regularly played before in his career. Slid a great ball in for a chance for Oates in the second half.
Boateng 6 Nowhere near the standard we have seen in pre-season where he has been very good. Nigel Clough said he “wasn’t quite as good as he has been in pre-season. We didn’t get him on the ball in the areas we’d like.”
Maris 5.5 Was too slow in picking a pass and releasing the ball as Salford broke to score the second goal. The Stags however were possibly unlucky that the foul wasn’t given. Nigel Clough said: "I thought it was a foul. But George Maris should have passed the ball long before the challenge came in."
Quinn 6 Had a good second half.
Bowery 6 Played in three different positions. Did ok.
Swan 5.5 Had a couple of good moments in the first half but was largely anonymous otherwise. Nigel Clough said that he and Harbottle "struggled" and they found it a “tough baptism against a good team, but they'll get better from this point."
Oates 6 Put the ball straight out of play from the kick-off as the Stags made a sloppy start. Shot too close to the keeper after 75 minutes. Unlucky with an effort on 88 minutes brilliantly saved. Nigel Clough said: "It all started after two seconds of the game when he kicked the ball out of play. I didn't think he was very good today. He was as poor as we had today, his all-round play and everything. He has to improve along with everybody else."
Sub Line Up:
Hewitt (for Maris, 61 mins) - Wasn’t fit enough to start having played just 30 minutes of pre-season. Went in at centre-half, did ok.
Lapslie (for Swan, 61 mins) -
Gordon (for O’Toole, 80 mins) -
Gale (for Quinn, 89 mins) -
Clarke (for Harbottle, 89 mins) -
Subs not used: Flinders, Cooper.
Opposition Line Up:
(3-4-1-2): King; Lowe, Vassell, Nartey; Shephard (Bolton 79’), Watson, Watt, Touray; McAleny, Thomas-Asante, Hendry (Leak 87’). Subs not used: Torrance, Simoes, Smith, Berkoe, Dackers.
Adam Herczeg 5 Had a poor game.

Season 22/23 Reports