Attendance: 20,718 (5227 from Mansfield)
Date: 4 May 2019
STAGS BEATEN AND MISS AUTOMATIC PROMOTION
Martin Shaw at Stadium MK
Mansfield Town were beaten 1-0 at MK Dons in the winner-takes-all final match of the regular season at Stadium MK this afternoon to miss out on automatic promotion, and drop into the play-off places. A draw would also have been good enough for the Stags but they were beaten by a goal inside the opening 2 minutes as MK Dons deservedly held on for victory, and a promotion party in front of a crowd of over 20,000. The Stags end the season having conceded the fewest goals in League Two (just 41 goals in 46 games) but it was poor defending that cost the Stags dear here as David Wheeler was allowed to head home unmarked from 6 yards from a corner with less than 2 minutes on the clock. Whether it was that early goal that knocked Mansfield and gave MK Dons confidence, or whatever, the Stags were very poor in the first half. Simply not at the races. MK Dons could have been further ahead at the break with Mal Benning clearing one shot off the line from Aneke.
Mansfield made a couple of tactical changes, bringing on Danny Rose for Tomlinson to go three up front, and switching Alex MacDonald into central midfield after he had very surprisingly been selected to start at right wing-back, a position where he has never started before for Mansfield. And Mansfield were much better in the second half. Mansfield had MK Dons pressed back for long periods of the second half but lacked the quality to hurt the home side. There weren’t enough quality crosses into the box and pinpoint passes to the strikers. Instead there were too many hopeful balls punted forward in the hope that something would fall, but it never did as MK Dons defended well. Indeed MK Dons keeper Lee Nicholls did not have a difficult save to make all game. Mansfield’s best moment was when Danny Rose headed back across goal from a rare good cross, but it was headed off the line. At the other end, MK Dons nearly extended their lead as Mansfield were caught at the back with Conrad Logan saving superbly from Agard who was through 1-on-1, and Aneke having a shot deflected into the side netting.
Such a disappointment for the Stags. The defence and keeper Logan played well overall, with Pearce, Sweeney and substitute Ben Turner who replaced the injured Matt Preston, all in good form, and Logan making some saves to keep the Stags in the game. But other than that, it was disappointing stuff with Hamilton having a poor game, and likewise Tomlinson, Mellis not impressing while Bishop was also below par. Up front Walker was starved of service though also wasted some good opportunities to cross. MacDonald, having been switched into central midfield was probably the pick of midfield in the second half.
The Stags end the regular season with three defeats on the trot. Victory in any of those three games would have seen Mansfield promoted. So the Stags will go into the play-offs, and play Newport County. Newport catapulted themselves into the play-offs with a good late run, having always had games in hand over the other clubs following their good cup run earlier in the season. Newport ended the season 5 points behind Mansfield, though remarkably with a zero goal difference, in contrast to Mansfield’s of +28. There is little time for Mansfield to lick their wounds, with the first leg on Thursday night at Rodney Parade, and the second leg on Sunday at 6pm. Based on recent form, many would make Newport favourites to go through.
However if Mansfield can regain some of the form which got us to the verge of promotion, then it can be done, we have the players to do it, and it is still there for Mansfield. It’s worth remembering that of the three other teams in the play-offs, Mansfield beat all of Newport, Forest Green and Tranmere at home, drew away at Forest Green and Tranmere, and the only defeat in the six games against these sides was 1-0 away at Newport. We have missed the opportunity of automatic promotion, but the management, players and fans need to come together for another big push in the play-offs. It’s been such an enjoyable season overall and we can still do it. Come on Mansfield!
A word for the amazing Stags fans who stuck with their side throughout the 90 minutes and travelled in such great numbers, creating great vocal support. Indeed the following of 5,227 was Mansfield’s highest away following since 5,500 Stags fans at Newcastle in January 2006 in the FA Cup (not including the FA Trophy final at Wembley of course), and it was the highest Stags following for any away league game since away attendances started being quoted as official figures in 2002, beating 4,283 at Notts County earlier this season.
The attendance of 20,718 was the biggest for a Stags league game home or away for over 40 years since the only season the Stags have had in the second tier of English football, when there were two higher attendances: Tottenham away 36,288 (27 Dec 1977) and Brighton away 22,647 (21 Jan 1978).
It was only Mansfield’s second visit to Stadium MK, the first being in our relegation season from the football league over 11 years ago. Whatever you think about MK Dons as a club and how they came about, there is no doubt that Stadium MK is a magnificent stadium. And with that, and with the sheer size of the crowd, the game had the feel of a play-off final about it.
Mansfield made one change to the side that started against Stevenage. Alex MacDonald replaced Gethin Jones at right wing-back. MacDonald has never started in that position before for Mansfield though has come on in one or two games and ended the game there. On the bench, young Alistair Smith replaced Zayn Hakeem as the homegrown player.
The Stags were off to the worst possible start. The first corner of the game in the second minute for MK Dons, conceded by Hamilton. Veteran Dean Lewington took it left footed from the right, and David Wheeler was allowed to head home unmarked from 6 yards. Hard to tell who should have been marking him, but he was between Bishop and Walker.
Within a minute, Logan had to be out quickly to clear as Wheeler raced forward.
Mellis was fouled 29 yards out after 7 minutes, to the right of centre. Benning chipped the resulting free kick into the middle but the offside flag was raised.
Matt Preston was hurt as the free kick came over and received prolonged treatment. From the video, he and the keeper collided. He looked groggy as he eventually got up and he carried on but I was concerned that he would not see the game out and so it was to prove.
The Stags won their first corner after 14 minutes. It eventually came out to Tomlinson whose soft shot was straight to the keeper.
An MK Dons cross after 17 minutes was put behind for a corner at the far post. Preston again was down following the challenge. He received attention again but this time could not carry on.
Preston was replaced by Ben Turner (19 minutes). After the game, David Flitcroft did not know whether Preston would be fit for Thursday.
Good defending by Sweeney on 22 minutes to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick in front of the Stags fans.
MK Dons could have been further ahead after 24 minutes with Benning clearing a shot off the line from Aneke. MacDonald was slow to react to a quick throw-in from Lewington, and Agard got in behind him to pull the ball back to Aneke.
A long range shot from Mellis was pushed away by the keeper after 27 minutes.
MK Dons were very much in control. It was a poor performance from Mansfield so far.
After 34 minutes, a shot from Houghton was well-blocked by Bishop.
Rose replaced Tomlinson after 37 minutes. A second change so early in the game, but this was a tactical one. Flitcroft had to do something as it just wasn’t working for Mansfield. He switched the formation to 3-4-3 with Walker/Rose/Hamilton up front.
A great tackle by Pearce on Aneke a minute later as the striker powered forward.
At last,some good movement from Mansfield on 39 minutes, as Walker sent Hamilton away to the byline, his cross eventually reached MacDonald whose shot from 30 yards was blocked.
On 45+3 minutes, a loose ball from Hamilton nearly put the Stags in trouble.
Such a very poor half from Mansfield. Simply not at the races.
Half time 1-0
At the start of the second half, Hamilton moved to right wing-back, MacDonald into midfield, and it was back to 3-5-2.
On 46 minutes, Mellis ran down the left and played inside to Walker just inside the area on the left, Walker shot low through Russell Martin’s legs and it was held by the keeper at his near post.
Two minutes later at the other end, Logan saved above his head from a header.
On 56 minutes, a Mellis corner from the right, but Rose and Turner got in each other’s way in the middle.
Mansfield’s best moved of the game on 57 minutes, with a series of quick passing, MacDonald played forward to Walker, but Walker wasted his cross.
MK Dons went close after 58 minutes. The ball squirted off Agard to Aneke in the area, but MacDonald did well to block his shot and deflect it into the side netting.
On 63 minutes, Benning’s corner was headed up and behind for a goal kick by Pearce.
Bishop received the ball from Benning after 65 minutes. He was 30 yards out, took a few paces forward and fired low just wide of the left post.
Logan kept the Stags in the game after 67 minutes, saving superbly from Agard who was through 1-on-1 after Aneke played inside to him.
Grant replaced Benning after 69 minutes. Hamilton switched to left wing back. Essentially no-one was in the right wing-back position as the Stags started to throw caution to the wind.
Mansfield’s best moment came on 70 minutes as Danny Rose headed back across goal from a rare good cross, from Bishop, but it was headed off the line by Russell Martin as it seemed to be heading to Walker.
On 74 minutes, Grant’s free kick was flicked on but went wide.
Logan saved easily from Aneke’s chip after 80 minutes.
MacDonald was booked for a sliding challenge after 81 minutes.
The Stags really had MK Dons penned back now.
On 85 minutes, Rose turned outside the area and got in a shot, but it was an easy save.
Good defending from Sweeney a minute later as he tracked back. He was by now basically playing as a striker. The Stags were only leaving two players back.
On 90 minutes, Rose headed down from a long ball forward but it was straight to the keeper.
With the Stags having so many players forward, MK Dons broke 2-on-1 moments later, and MacDonald got back to put behind for a corner.
Logan was booked after 90+4 minutes for protesting when a corner was (wrongly) given to MK Dons.
A shot from Bishop was blocked after 90+5 minutes and then the offside flag was up.
Mellis was booked after 90+6 minutes as Stags’ frustration grew.
The final whistle brought a promotion party for MK Dons and desolation for Mansfield.
The Stags were never out of the top 4 for the entire second half of the season, and ended up in 4th place.
The Stags are in the play-offs then. The first leg at Newport is on Thursday at 7.45. It is live on Sky Sports, as is the second leg. My expectation therefore is that the games will not be available to view on iFollow Stags. We will of course, as always, have full match commentary.
Man of the match: Krystian Pearce
Report by: Martin Shaw at Stadium MK
Logan 8 Made some good saves to keep the Stags in the game, including superb save from Agard 1-on-1.
Preston - Had to go off injured after 19 minutes.
Pearce 8 My man of the match. Made some great tackles, especially when the Stags were stretched at the back, pouring bodies forward to try to get an equaliser.
Sweeney 7 Good game, with solid defending.
MacDonald 7 Switched into central midfield at half time and was the pick of midfield in the second half. Didn’t have a good first half at right wing-back.
Tomlinson 5 Poor start. Replaced after 37 minutes.
Bishop 5.5 Below his usual standard. Good cross for Rose’s header. Wheeler got between Bishop and Walker to score the only goal.
Mellis 5.5 Didn’t provide enough quality.
Benning 5.5 Rare poor game for him. Crosses lacked quality. One good clearance off the line.
Walker 5 Starved of service though also wasted some good opportunities to cross. Wheeler got between Bishop and Walker to score the only goal.
Hamilton 5 Had a poor game.
Sub Line Up:
Turner (for Preston, 19 mins) 7.5 Did very well, coming on for Preston. Won plenty of headers and showed determination tracking back.
Rose (for Tomlinson, 37 mins) 6.5 The pick of the attacking players having been brought on before half time.
Grant (for Benning, 69 mins) -
Subs not used: J.Smith, Jones, Atkinson, Alistair Smith.
Opposition Line Up:
(5-3-2) Nicholls; Brittain, Williams, Martin, Walsh, Lewington; Houghton, McGrandles, Wheeler (Watson 69); Aneke (Simpson 90), Agard. Subs not used: Moore, Cisse, Hesketh, D’Ath, Harley.
Lee Probert 7 Premier League referee. Had no contentious decisions to deal with.