EVENING POST REPORT
SYSTEM IS KEY TO SUCCESS
BY IAN WILKERSON, Evening Post, 14 October 2002
A new defensive system is helping Mansfield improve their poor goals against tally, according to manager Stuart Watkiss.
His side kept their first clean sheet of the season in the goalless draw at Peterborough on Saturday after shipping 35 goals in their other 12 Division Two matches.
And Watkiss believes captain Neil Moore and Mark Lever have used a different tactic to their advantage and that has helped the improvement.
The Stags boss said: "We are asking them to do something different to what they have been asked to do at any stage in their careers.
"We want them to get to the side of centre forwards rather than behind them.
"Many people say that if you make the centre forward go backwards, then you have done your job but, I think that the higher standard of football you play, if teams are allowed to play off the centre forward, you are going to be in trouble.
"We are asking them to get to the side so that, if the ball goes into the centre forward, I expect them to be able to make a challenge.
"It does take some convincing if you have never done it before. I certainly wasn't converted until I was about 26 or 27 when I played at Walsall under Chris Nicholl.
"We ask them to do it that way and they are starting to believe in it now."
He believes Moore and Lever can provide the solid backbone for the team as they attempt to fight their way out of the relegation places.
Stags would have climbed out of the bottom four if they had taken one of their numerous chances.
Watkiss said: "They have got the makings of a good partnership. They are two very honest professionals.
"Mooro is now beginning to find his Football League legs after a couple of years in the Conference and Mark had that bit of rustiness about him because he had hardly done anything in pre-season, so you would hope and believe that they are only going to get better with the more games they play together.
"Jamie Clarke did well again and he deserves a pat on the back and Damien Delaney, without being a left-back, is fitting in nicely.
"There are loads of positives we can take. It is the first time we have gone two games on the bounce without losing and we have put together three good performances on the spin, even though we lost at Northampton.
"There is a bit more steel about the team and a bit more fight, but the overriding feeling is one of disappointment.
"I thought we were the better team and we created more chances.
"We are getting better defensively and becoming a more difficult to play against when we haven't got the ball, but you cannot afford to miss that number of chances."
CLEAN SHEET IS A WELCOME RESULT
BY IAN WILKERSON, Evening Post, 14 October 2002
Peterborough United 0 v 0 Mansfield Town
Although many minutes have been spent wondering what it would be like to write a Mansfield Town Division Two match report that didn't involve any goals, Saturday caught me on the hop a bit.
It seemed like a hopeless dream a few weeks ago.
Members of the press that congregate at Field Mill often joke about it. But, now that it has arrived, the only course of action is to go through the usual question that is fired at any observer of such a footballing feast.
Was it as bad as the score suggests?
No. Both sides had chances and didn't take them, although there were spells when the game was not pleasing to the eye and, in general, it lacked the usual drama you tend to associate with a team that has shipped 35 goals and scored 19 this season.
But, although there was a little disappointment that a few opportunities, that always seemed to fall to Iyseden Christie, were not taken, there would not have been many among the 800 who made the trip from Notts who would have taken a point before the match.
It has to be said that, had we been following a team snuggly sitting in the middle of the table, or the fringe of the play-off picture, it would have been seen as a lost opportunity against a side who were one of the worst Stags have faced since gaining promotion.
But Mansfield followers are coming round to the realisation that it is going to be a case of trying to take what you can and, in that respect, a draw was a good result.
At the 13th attempt, they finally managed to keep a clean sheet, although goalkeeper Arjan van Heusden did his best to present the game to Posh by knocking a Mark Lever backpass straight into Andy Clarke's path.
Only a good save prevented the former Wimbledon man from exploiting the potential embarrassment.
But, while kamikaze defending can explain why some of those 35 efforts found their way into the Stags net, there was little evidence to the problems that, fingers crossed, have now been eliminated from the equation.
Lever and Neil Moore were solid and the substitution of both Clarke and Bradley Allen midway through the second half demonstrated how much Barry Fry's outfit had been frustrated.
It is easy to conclude, therefore, that, while last week's demolition job on Tranmere demonstrated Stags' ability to find the net and win games at this level, Saturday showed that they can shut up shop and defend what they have as well.
Peterborough away may be remembered for Stags' first goalless draw since Scunthorpe away last September (correction - this should read Torqauy away in March - Martin, with thanks to Svante), but there will not be any other reason to recall what was a game that never got going.
It will never be reminisced about in the same way as what went the week before.
But they showed another string to their bow with some doggedly-determined, no-nonsense defending.
With everyone fancying their chances against them, they have, in two weeks, showed exactly the qualities that could ensure they extend their stay away from the league's basement.
They have the qualities to get to grips with life in Division Two and perhaps future clean sheets will not be greeted with the same shock that this one was. If they play like this, there is definitely hope.
Posted by Martin Shaw
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