EVENING POST REPORT, PLUS WESTERN DAILY PRESS
WEARY STAGS FAIL TO RAISE THEIR GAME
Nottingham Evening Post
Mansfield Town 0 v 0 Bristol Rovers
It Was amber day down at Field Mill for the Bank Holiday fixture, with the fans encouraged to turn out in force wearing the club's colour.
But the players seemed to be waiting for the green light as they faltered from the start and never really got going.
The carnival atmosphere the fans tried to create early on failed to inspire the Stags and, despite a more determined second-half performance, their lack of urgency and naivety on the ball in the first period ended up costing them two vital points in a game that was widely accepted as a must win before kick-off.
Two more dropped points capped a disastrous Bank Holiday weekend, with just one being taken from the six available.
Now the aim has to be cementing a place in the play-offs as soon as possible.
Stags have had a busy schedule, with five midweek games in as many weeks and the management believe that has finally caught up with the small squad.
But another reason behind Mansfield's failure to dominate yesterday was the lack of bite and strength in the first half.
The players were just too nice and that impression is backed up by the fact the Stags failed to give away a free kick until 40 minutes into the match.
The one positive was that other results went Mansfield's way, with many of the teams around them drawing and Huddersfield - who hold that third automatic promotion place - losing. But with just four matches left this season, the quick route to Division Two appears to be out of sight.
Keith Curle made two changes to the team that lost to Darlington on Saturday, Jake Buxton replacing the injured Bobby Hassell and Craig Disley replacing Neil MacKenzie, who was dropped to the bench.
Rovers started the brighter side and on five minutes had their first chance when Buxton failed to clear his lines and the ball was put back in to Ijah Anderson inside the box on the left. But from 12 yards out he could only fire it over the bar.
Junior Agogo had three efforts for the visitors in the opening 20 minutes. The first was deflected wide and a thunderous drive went straight at Kevin Pilkington. Then he turned well just inside the box but his shot was again well saved.
The Stags had their first real chance when Disley flicked the ball through to Junior Mendes who ran in down the left-hand side of the box, but his low drive was blocked by the legs of Kevin Miller.
Minutes later it was Agogo who was again causing problems when he turned Day on the edge of the Mansfield box and struck a low drive into Pilkington's bottom left-hand corner. The goalkeeper managed to get down and push it out for a corner.
With three minutes to half-time, after Larkin had squandered a chance, Agogo went down under a challenge from Tom Curtis inside the Stags' penalty area.
It looked like a penalty, but the referee blew for half-time instead of a spot-kick, much to the relief of the home fans.
Rovers almost scored in the second half when Ali Gibb put in a dangerous low cross from the right that Lee Williamson had to stop on the line. But instead of clearing straight away he took a few touches and just managed to clear as Agogo slid in to try to poke the ball home.
Mansfield went close themselves when Liam Lawrence floated in a corner from the right and it was met by Day, but Miller saved his close-range header. Young Alex John-Baptiste proved he was alert with two timely tackles to deny both Agogo and Thorpe midway through the half that kept Mansfield in the game.
And with less than 15 minutes to go, Graham Hyde brought the ball down and from 25 yards out unleashed a great dipping effort, Pilkington managing to stretch back and tip it just over his bar.
Mansfield came to life in the final ten minutes and could have stolen all three points.
Substitute Andy White held up the ball up inside the box and played it into the path of Larkin who hit a thunderous shot that Edwards did brilliantly to throw himself in front of.
Seconds later, Curtis latched onto a throw-in and from ten yards out forced Miller to produce a great one-handed save.
With three minutes left, Wayne Corden put in a free-kick from the left that was met by the head of Buxton, but his effort crashed back off the bar.
But the most controversial moment came in the final minute of stoppage time, after Buxton put in a cross from the left and White jumped with keeper Miller who spilled the ball for the Stags striker to knock it into the back of the net.
But referee Alan Kaye awarded a free-kick for a foul on the keeper.
Maybe defeat would have been harsh on Rovers but inconsistency is costing the Stags dear and they have to start performing again, or there is a realistic chance they could even fall out of the play-off places.
Hopefully, a five-day break will allow them to regain energy and form for Saturday's trip to Boston United.
GANNON: SQUAD SUFFERING
Nottingham Evening Post
Assistant manager John Gannon admitted the Stags just ran out of steam against Rovers.
Mansfield Town's injury-hit squad have played twice a week for the past five weeks and Gannon said the players looked tired.
But with just four games left, Keith Curle's assistant is backing them to bounce back from the terrible holiday weekend.
"I thought the players worked extremely hard and put a lot of energy in against Bristol but they looked a little off the pace and a little bit tired," said Gannon.
"There have been so many games and with a small squad and injuries, we have not had enough players available to make the necessary changes.
"At half-time we made the players aware it was a big 45 minutes and that we needed to raise ourselves.
"They went out with the right intentions but lacked spark in the vital areas. However, in the last 15 minutes we looked the most likely of the two teams to take the game.
"All the next four games are cup finals for us. We have to get everything right and be up for every single one.
"But nothing has changed in that sense and we are still hunting for that third spot."
Western Daily Press:
AGOGO STARTS TO JUSTIFY HIS BIG PRICE TAG
Mansfield Town 0 Bristol Rovers 0 BRISTOL ROVERS' new management team may have made five signings in a bid to rescue their season, but their best move may prove to be the rejuvenation of Junior Agogo.
The striker looked a sorry figure in the first half of the season when he struggled to find the net or reproduce the form that prompted Ray Graydon to pay £110,000 for his services.
But under Russell Osman and Kevan Broadhurst, Agogo looks a vibrant, pacy attacking player with an eye for goal.
He didn't find the net yesterday but was a constant menace to Mansfield and is already forming a dangerous partnership with Lee Thorpe.
Goalkeeper Kevin Miller said: "It was difficult for him because he came with a price tag of over £100,000 which for this club is a lot of money.
"He has found it tough and he needed to score early and he didn't - and then he got an injury and that didn't help. But he has just got to keep working at it and as long as he is willing to work he will improve."
Rovers had gone into the match without their new signing Danny Williams. The recruit from Kidderminster suffered a back injury in training on Sunday and was not risked.
And it was Ijah Anderson who was first to impress for Rovers when he fired a shot over the bar from an unaccustomed central midfield role.
Agogo also caught the eye in the early moments. First he saw a left-foot shot deflected wide and then he fired straight at keeper Kevin Pilkington after expertly slipping his marker.
Then the former Barnet man again turned away from his man and tested Mansfield's former Manchester United stopper with another firm drive.
Mansfield had been very much second best and they produced their only significant opening of the half when another Junior, this time Mansfield's Mendes, got through. But Rovers' keeper Miller spread himself to block the shot.
Rovers seemed to tire a little after an impressive, enthusiastic start but Agogo again showed his undoubted ability with a neat turn on the edge of the box which Pilkington fumbled behind for a corner.
The only controversy came when Agogo slipped away from Tom Curtis inside the area. The striker went down under the challenge but referee Alan Kaye dodged having to make the decision by blowing for half-time.
Graham Hyde almost gave Rovers the lead shortly after the break but the midfielder fired a 30-yarder which Pilkington did well to tip over the bar.
Rovers were indebted to Christian Edwards when he made a crucial block to deny Colin Larkin. Mansfield pressed strongly in the closing stages and from a Jake Buxton free-kick Lee Thorpe headed against his own crossbar before the ball fell to safety.
"That's the closest he has come to scoring for us so far," joked a relieved Miller, who also saw a Stags goal disallowed late on.
The keeper was fouled by White, who then tapped the ball into an empty net. Fortunately for Rovers referee Kaye saw the foul and the Pirates claimed what could prove to be a crucial point.
Mansfield Town (4-4-2): Pilkington; Buxton, Baptiste, Day, Williamson; Lawrence, Disley (MacKenzie 74), Curtis, Corden; Mendes (White 65), Larkin. Subs not used: Dimech, Artell, Beardsley.
Bristol Rovers (3-5-2): Miller; Edwards, J Anderson, Barrett; Gibb, Hyde (Quinn 89), Lescott, I Anderson (Twigg 78), Austin; Agogo (Haldane 74), Thorpe. Subs not used: Clarke, Henriksen.
Latest | April 2004