Fortnight from hell all but kills play-off ambitions

March 18, 2010 by

A FORTNIGHT from hell at Field Mill has seen the Stags’ play-off hopes all but killed off.

And, while anything can happen in football and there is still just under a quarter of the season to go, you can’t help wishing for the current season to now end and start thinking about the next one.

Although rarely finding top gear, Mansfield had seemed to be doing enough to stay in those play-off places until that kick in the teeth of six points, deducted for Chester’s demise last week, was followed by an almost fatal inability to win in two crucial home games this week.

Naturally the club wanted to play down the crucial neccessity of beating Tamworth on Saturday, but fans knew it was as much of a ‘must win’ game as there has been this season and, even though the visitors’ methods were not very pretty, much credit has to go to Gary Mills’ men for taking home a 0-0 draw.

Then York came and stole a single-goal win on Tuesday and suddenly the season looked in tatters.

Boss David Holdsworth now has to put on a brave face for his players and keep them battling on professionally. But an eight point gap with just nine games to go is a mountain and a half and probably unsurmountable.

So what went wrong?

Should Stags have gone up this season or were we all expecting too much?

Certainly Holdsworth deserves much praise for taking over a side in freefall, bottoming out the crisis, and pulling the club upwards over the past 15 months.

This season represents the big first step forward since the terminal decline of the Haslam years set in.

But, even though other clubs in the BSP had bigger budgets, you still can’t help that feeling that this talented squad has underachieved rather than overachieved this season.

Holdsworth has brought in some decent signings and at times they have shown capabilities well beyond the Conference.

So is the recent stutter of just two wins in nine games the fault of the players or the manager?

Some fans have accused the side of increasingly turning into a long ball team – and it is true that at times they have lumped the ball forward to nowhere instead of looking for a pass.

But is that down to the players or instructions they have been given?

Holdsworth denies any long ball game intentions and is correct in saying that using the potent weapon of two of his players’ long throws to get the ball into the danger zone, or Alan Marriott trying to find Rob Duffy directly when the full backs are hemmed in, are not necessarily the mark of a long ball team.
It is just mixing it up. But the side have not mixed it up enough recently and too little football has been played.

So is it down to players panicking or suffering a lack of vision that has sometimes seen the ball kicked long and hard to no one instead of to the yellow short to their left or right?

Surely you don’t go with two wingers and ball-playing midfielders like Gary Mills or Kyle Nix if you just want to play long-ball? And they have asked questions of sides when they have played it on the floor.

The inconsistency of the occasionally awesome Louis Briscoe and the less effective second half to the season of Ryan Williams have certainly seen less threat down the wings than the manager would have been wanted.

Also, the goals have dried up for early season hotshot pair Rob Duffy and Kyle Perry while injured livewire Jake Speight has been a massive miss at a crucial time. All these factors are important to what has happened recently as has the lack of a settled midfield.

Despite so many changes, the defence has continued to do a great job as has keeper Alan Marriott, whose penalty save on Tuesday night was absolutely superb.

But, although this season a big step forward, it would seem Holdsworth has not quite got the formula right yet – very few mznagers do immediately anywhere – and he will doubtless be busy in the summer transfer market.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and while everyone is bitterly disappointed with how this campaign has turned out, to see calls for Holdsworth to be sacked on fans’ web sites are premature and misguided.

You can’t keep chopping and changing, managers need time to get the right blend and backing from the supporters and chairman.

Fans are so fickle and some of those now calling for his dismissal were probably people who were calling on Andy Perry to give him a contract and worried when those rumours of Notts County wanting his services began drifting around.

And, let’s be fair, without the six points deducted for the demise of Chester City, Stags would still be in the thick of it rather than sitting under the table waiting for the scraps to be dropped their way.

After last season’s ridiculous points deductions, Stags may rightly have that ‘hard done to’ feeling at the moment.

The only way the Four Amigos are going to be able to continue to steer this ship onwards and upwards is with cold, hard cash.

So for those ‘supporters’ who say they are not attending any more home games or buying a season ticket for next season, that is simply going to create a vicious circle for the Stags and the people who bought the club back off the hated Haslam and gave it back so well to the community.

Look around the sides in the BSP and those who have gone up in recent years and understand it is never a one or two-season job getting out of this league.

It takes time, patience and money – three commodities that seem to have run out at Field Mill for this season.

But we still have nine games to negotiate, starting on Saturday.

David Holdsworth said last season that the best thing about Histon was the road out of there!

Well, having missed the game there last year, this Saturday I will make my debut in the reputedly tight Histon press box.

The Cambridgshire club have only won one in seven and Stags must be quite relieved to play away from home after the recent pressurised run of four at home on the trot.

So maybe Holdsworth’s men can at least get back to winning ways and make sure they tread water in ninth position if not push back upwards.

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A Tuesday nightmare!

February 11, 2010 by

TUESDAY went downhill by the minute for me, culminating in a defeat and red card for the Stags in a huge match at Stevenage.

Monday was bad enough. Booked into a two-day course in Chesterfield (yes, I had my injections etc), I was very late arriving due to road chaos around M1 junction 25.

So, arriving on time on Tuesday, things looked much brighter although the new computer software being explained to me remained as much of a mystery as it had done on Monday.

Setting off for Stevenage down the M1 in bright sunshine at 3.50pm, all was well with the world.

I should have guessed things were about to change when the sun turned into black clouds and a snow flurry before Leicester.

My big mistake was not stopping off at Newport Pagnall for a ‘comfort break’. I decided to eat up a few more miles and pay a visit at Toddington further down.

Suddenly the red tail lights were on ahead of me and the motorway ground to a halt.

No worries, I still had plenty of time. Them worryingly, police helicopters began to appear and Three Counties Radio mentioned about a car on its side over two lanes ahead.

There begins that sickening feeling in your stomach that you could miss the kick-off, not helped by the fact that you should have nipped to the loo when you had chance.

There followed a long and uncomfortable wait during which we edged forward about an inch an hour.
By the time I got off the motorway it was obvious I would struggle to make it (the match, not the toilet).

And my worst fears were realised when we hit 7.45pm kick-off time and I could see the floodlights well ahead in the distance.

At Stevenage I abandoned the car outside Burger King and reluctantly raced under the road through the underpass,fully aware Burger King was shining brightly behind me and I had not eaten since 11.30am.

It is a horrible feeling knowing you should be in there working and hearing the crowd noise from outside the ground.

Thankfully a helpful steward let me in without argument or press pass and I was sat down with 17 minutes elapsed trying to catch up.

Back in the office my colleague Stephen was trying to keep up with the action on the radio and keeping the web site updated.

As soon as I had sorted out what I had missed and what was happening I e-mailed a report of the first half hour which replaced Stephen’s second hand notes on the web site.

Unfortunately the new material meant some of the early fans’ comments were turned off with that report as the new one went live and we were quickly accused of ‘censorship’ by a handful of fans who were unaware what was happening.

We did get that thread back up later but by then we had some threatening not to buy the Chad again! Sorry guys, it wasn’t deliberate and it certainly wasn’t censorship.

A promising display eventually petered out into defeat with David Holdsworth fuming at the end over what he felt was the worst ever red card decision he had seen against Luke Jones.

By 11.30pm I was the only customer in Burger King (other fast food outlets are available), the staff kindly offering me extra chips to save them being thrown away, before driving home dazed on auto-pilot.

But at least Stags had shown some bite and grit that night – a stark contrast to the awful first 45 minutes offered up to an almost full Field Mill on Saturday.

A great PR exercise turned into one of the worst adverts the club could have produced to the town.
The public response to ‘Pay What You Like’ was fantastic and all the team had to do was play someting like they are capable of.

Sadly it was Gateshead who rose to the occasion of playing in front of a huge crowd and by the time Mansfield had started to test keeper Paul Farman in the last 20 minutes, most of the potential new fans had already walked out vowing not to return.

After three successive defeats the BSP table now does not make pretty reading for Stags fans with the side outside the play-off zone and having played more games than everyone around them.

It also looks increasingly likely that Chester City may cease to exist which would be another six points down the drain for Mansfield.

The home games with York, Luton and Rushden are suddenly taking FA Cup final-sized importance.
And a bad result at Tamworth this Saturday could turn into a disaster if the sides around them win again.

Real live football for a penny or more – don’t miss out on revolutionary offer!

February 4, 2010 by

IF you are reading this I assume you are a regular or semi-regular visitor to Field Mill.

But if you rarely go, haven’t been for ages or have never been before, don’t miss out on this Saturday’s revolutionary offer.

The new owners’ decision to allow fans in for whatever they feel like paying is a brave and visionary one and flies in the face of all that went before with the previous regime.

I can remember people asking the previous owner if he would at least try a ‘Kids for Quid’ night or let folk in free for this and that. But it fell mostly on deaf ears.

But for this weekend only, you can go and see a BSP match for a penny if that’s all you want to pay.
Hopefully many will pay more and possibly some wealthier folk will stick a large amount in the bucket to show their backing for the initiative.

At a time when the financial cesspit of the Premiership continues to price the working man out of live football, this is a chance for Stags to draw in some new supporters who, instead of spending Saturdays watching Premiership action on the TV, get a taste for live football – the real thing.

Wrapped up warm with a Bovril in your hand, it beats almost everything else on a Saturday afternoon and can quickly become a habit.

People from Mansfield should NOT be supporting Premiership brands unless they have a family history eminating from that area.

Otherwise you should back your local side through thick and thin. Maybe starting this Saturday?

This is real football. Honest football. And, at last, it is a warm and welcoming club run by people who actually care.

Let’s be honest, Stags stand to lose out financially on Saturday.

But it is an ‘advertising budget’ that could pay dividends in the long term.

Stags have done well at home for over a year now and Gateshead are very much there for taking on Saturday.

Roared on a by a huge, enthusiastic crowd, Stags will hopefully be lifted to greater heights.

And maybe, just maybe, some of them will catch the bug and come back again and again.

Will the real Luke please stand up?

January 28, 2010 by

I must register a complaint with the club about signing another central defender called Luke last week.

I know he is a class act who will probably skipper the side for the rest of the season and prove to be a shrewd and possibly pivotal capture.

But can he not change his christian name by deed poll? Please?

We have just got rid of defender Luke Graham and now our central defensive duo are Luke Foster and Luke Jones with Scott Garner in reserve.

It is already proving too much for me as, in the rush to get the back page finished for this week’s Chad, I captioned two pictures of Luke Foster as Luke Jones.

And interviewing Luke Jones on video today I suggested that a defender called Luke Garner had left for York. Who? There is no such person! Luke Garner would be some sort of hybrid defender, mixing Luke Graham and Scott Garner into one lurching monster! Not a bad proposition though.

Mentally, once you are aware of this problem with someone’s name it only makes it worse rather than better.

It’s been a while since this happened to me as sports editor – the last time was when I used to regularly transpose Stags striker Steve Wilkinson and Kirkby’s top class snooker star Gary Wilkinson.

That complaint aside, what a good player Foster looked last weekend. Luke that is. Though before long I am sure I will be calling him George or Barry – both Fosters who have worn the Stags shirt with pride and aplomb in the past!

It was painful to watch (or ‘Luke’ at) Stags steamroller crisis club Chester 4-0 last weekend and I hope the Seals survive the season. But it was a welcome win, a welcome goal glut and a welcome clean sheet.

And Stags will need a repeat display of all those qualities at Forest Green Rovers this Saturday if they are to get anything from a club whose recent results bely their lowly league standing.

Most importantly, will the Rovers social club at the ground have its legendary pre-match bangers, mash and onion gravy simmering in the big steel pot when we get there?

That and three points will make or break my day. And getting the right Luke in my report!

Wombling free through Kingston and new faces lift Stags

January 21, 2010 by

After very little to talk about Stags-wise during the mini ice-age we have just experienced, all of a sudden it was all red hot news off the press at Field Mill this past week.

We have had two decent new signings, an exciting match away to AFC Wimbledon and a new ‘Amigo’ to join the other three as joint owner at the club.

Apart from the nightmare one-way system in Kingston (and the result), the trip to Wimbledon was a good day out last Saturday.

Lovely to see the nice comments from the Dons about how well behaved the Stags fans were in respecting the pre-match anecdotes and silence for the late Alan Batsford as well as the banter in the pub afterwards.

It was a nice set-up with nice people down there and I hope the Wombles Womble all the way back into the League (and stuff MK DOns home and away one day) – as it’s not at Stags’ expense this season!

After the M1, the M25 and the M3 got you close to the ground you were lulled into a false sense of security on arriving in Kingston where the ground is tucked away behind housing.

But suddenly the town centre one way system twists one way and the other with four lanes at times and at one stage I was in the right hand lane and needing to turn left without warning.

However, when in London you do as the London folk do and I indicated and pulled across the four lanes with my eyes almost closed. It worked though!

New boys Jon Shaw and Luke Foster have arrived as players with definite pedigrees this week and should give the side a big boost as we enter a ridiculously busy period of games.

But the biggest signing of the week was the arrival of Steve Hymas as a joint shareholder.

It was great news that the club have yet another local businessman willing to back them to the financial tune of the other three on top of his shirt sponsorship in the summer.

After his well-publicised altercation with the previous owner, there were a few mutterings from a section of fans about Hymas coming on board in the summer as sponsor.

But thankfully now it all seems to be finally behind him and all the comments about him joining the board thisweek have been positive ones as they should now be.

Steve Hymas is one man whose loyalty to Mansfield Town Football Club could never be in question and the more people like him, Andy Perry, Andy Saunders and Steve Middleton are at the helm, the safer the town’s football club’s future will be.

On the field, Kettering sneaked in a game on Wednesday night that made few of the national newspapers but saw them win at Ebbsfleet and edge Stags back out of the play-off zone.
So a win over the sorry remains of Chester City Football Club this Saturday is vital.

No one wants the Seals to go out of existence this week. They have a long, proud history and tradition and let’s hope someone comes to their rescue by the hearing on Wedndesay as every club at this level knows it could be them in another lifetime.

But sentiment won’t come into it for 90 minutes as Stags go for the jugular and hopefully sail to a convincing three points.

Because after this four of the next five games are away from home and, with seven games in February, it could be make or break time for play-off ambitions.

Walking in a Winter wonderland (if that’s okay with Health and Safety)!

January 7, 2010 by

I walked out of the Chad on Tuesday afternoon and the snow went completely over my shoes for the first time I can remember since I was a kid.

All of a sudden we have a Winter wonderland and little chance of any action on the pitch, I suspect, for a few weeks.

As much as the kid in me loves snow, after two accidents in the past, I really hate driving in it.

And the descent down Newgate Lane hill and subseqeunt journey out towards the M1 on the A38 were horrendous on Tuesday night and are still slippery and unpleasant today.

But I remember watching many football matches in atrocious snow and ice conditions and playing in many more besides.

As a kid it seemed snowy pitches were simply an interesting part of the annual football landscape.

The snow came down and you simply painted the lines on top of it in a different colour, used a bright orange ball and it was the same conditions for both sides.

These days, with Health and Safety ruling with their suffocating rod of iron, there is little chance of those days ever returning.

If the concern is not for the players then it’s for the supporters and the state of the car park and seats inside.

Yet years ago grounds were mostly terraces and the game still went ahead with a spot of grit underfoot and a Bovril in your hand.

I have vivid memories still of playing on snow and ice on West Park, Long Eaton, and scoring my one and only ‘perfect hat-trick’ in my life.

We fully expected the game to be off but both sides, having got out of bed on a cold morning and turned up, decided they were happy to play.

And, within a short space of time, there we were clomping around noisely on the frozen surface, many still wearing studs.

My low centre of gravity must have helped as it proved to be my day and I was very glad we played.

But it is hard to see any action at Field Mill this Saturday.

Maybe they could invite Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to have their much-anticipated pre-election debate in the centre circle tomorrow. That would generate enough hot air to get the field looking green again!

At least by the time we play another game we may have everyone fit and well and the hoped-for new defenders in the building ready for the final promotion push. Stay warm!

It’s been a Happy New Year, here’s to the next one!

December 30, 2009 by

Football fans will often be fickle and quick to criticise.

But I believe that anyone who has supported Mansfield Town for a long time and understands what has happened off the field, will be delighted to enter 2010 in fourth place in the BSP.

That gives the club a fantastic chance of the end of season play-offs and a real opportunity to get back into the big time.

Faces have changed quicker than a Hollywood Botox clinic as boss David Holdsworth has searched for the right blend at Field Mill.

And, thanks to the new owners, the club has been transformed from ugly sister to Cinderella behind the scenes as it is suddenly a place people want to be involved with again.

After those dark days of the previous regime, the sun is now shining brightly (metaphorically) and the town once again has had a football club to be proud of in 2009. So let’s celebrate that fact.

Team-wise, the Stags have had their problems in recent weeks with injuries, illness and nowhere to train as the snows and the frost bit hard, though probably no worse than anyone else.

But how they needed that win on Monday to steady the ship once more after a few wobbly results.

Kyle Perry’s opener against Cambridge provided the confidence injection the side required and Jake Speight’s winner crowned another good display from the sub’s bench.

Yes, the Stags occasionally went too long. But it wasn’t the best surface to try to play too much football on.

The way the ball hit a divot and jumped over Gary Silk’s foot in a the pre-match kick-in showed how uneven it was.

But the result meant that, despite recent hiccups and the two cup exits, Fortress Field Mill saw only one home defeat in the Blue Square Premier all year, and that down to a controversial red card decision. Once again that is something to be very, very proud of as a Stags fan.

Now Mansfield have two weeks to get everyone fit and ready for the visit of Luton Town on 9th January.

In the intervening time we will hopefully learn about who is coming and who is going with so many players in and out on loan and decisions to be made on them all.

Two brand new faces may also materialise to bolster the squad, possibly in defence, if Holdsworth can keep his books balanced which I am sure will inevitably result in departures too.

And hopefully Daryl Clare will return from his loan spell at Gateshead to become the star of the second half of a promotion season.

After all the razamataz of his arrival and frustration at his success for Gateshead, you still get the feeling that the wily Clare could yet have a massive say in Stags’ season.

York City away on Boxing Day was miserable from start to last.

It was a freezing cold afternoon, Stags crumbled to a 3-0 defeat and the cramped press box conditions were built for working with ye olde pen and paper and not a laptop.

To try to type with your elbows tucked in and your laptop almost on your chest for over five hours forced you into positions that would make a nun blush and at least one colleague ended the afternoon with backache.

Strolling around the city centre later, looking for something to eat, we found ourselves, by accident, on a narrow side street which I quickly realised was the famous Shambles, which took me nostalgically back in my mind to a school trip there all those years ago.

It’s a lovely city but I have had better trips there than Boxing Day!

With no Stags game this weekend I have decided on a busman’s holiday to see the FA Cup clash between Forest and Birmingham City who are both on marvellous runs and should hopefully provide some cracking entertainment.

And the fact that the VAT and Fiddle, the home of Castle Rock Brewery, is only a short walk away from the City Ground provides an added attraction!

Happy New Year to all of you – at least having no game on New Year’s Day allows extra recovery time from the previous night’s festivities. Enjoy!

So here it is, Merry Christmas everyone!

December 22, 2009 by

After the disappointment of Wrexham, let’s hope the sun shines on York and Field Mill over Christmas.

It is going to feel like a very strange Christmas if we don’t get to see at least one festive footy match.

And it will be even stranger if we end up seeing a white Christmas for once.

Walking round the Wrexham shops on Saturday afternoon in bright sunshine, you couldn’t help feeling cheated, even though I know there was no chance of the pitch being playable.

At least the pubs were full of festive life on Friday night and Saturday evening gave me a chance to see the fantastic Avatar 3D movie without feeling guilty about not writing cards or wrapping presents.

At least the lay-off last weekend means all those players with knocks and illness have had more time to recover.

I hope you all get what you wish for on Christmas Day (and on Boxing Day at Bootham Crescent – yes, that’s the proper name of York’s ground)!

Have a great one and see you at York!

Angry fans, hurt players and top notch karaoke!

December 17, 2009 by

After the chorus of boos that greeted the players as they left the pitch after a fifth home match on the trot without victory last weekend, I am sure David Holdsworth’s men will be relieved to be away for the next two games.

Christmas may be just around the corner, but there was little festive cheer from the home fans after they had endured a match as exciting as Christmas lunch with the in-laws.

It’s a vicious circle that fans could have done more to lift the players onto better things with noisier backing and by doing more on the field the players could have got the fans to provide noisier backing.

It’s the old chicken and egg situation and both and neither are correct.

I just hope relations don’t deteriorate between fans and manager/team when the Stags are sitting pretty fourth in the BSP with a fantastic chance of a play-off spot.

Once again, let’s make no bones about it, this club is currently punching above its weight at this level.

That may hurt some fans who still remember being in the old Division Two under Peter Morris.

Those days are gone and Stags are now a non-League club with non-League players who do not have anywhere near one of the top five budgets in the BSP. That is the reality of it all.

So it must be hurtful to Holdsworth and the ‘Three Amigos’ to see the negative comments posted over the past week, particularly those calling for the manager to be changed.

No side will get through a season without a blip and, altough Stags’ home form has not been up to their usual standards, they have still only lost one BSP game there in 2009 – a record many would gladly swap with them.

The boos and chants of ‘what a load of rubbish’ were inevitable on Saturday as fans were disappointed following a week of Wembley dreams. It was more a cumulative outpouring from five games without a win than just the one match.

But once the emotions have eased off fans must be practical and sensible about it and realise the owners, manager and players are doing the town proud overall and a change of manager right now would be play-off suicide.

With several players in the club waiting to find out their futures in January and other players coming back from loan spells or being signed, I am sure the manager knows firmly in his mind which 11-14 players he wants on his front line for the run-in to the end of the season.

He is still the man for the job. And he and the Amigos will need every ounce of trust and backing this town can provide to get there.

At the same time David Holdsworth must avoid the Billy McEwan mistake of hitting back at fans after a game in which they have shown a reaction at the end.

His comment that it upset loanee Ollie Hotchkiss was not well received and fans who suggested that, if it were true, Hotchkiss needed to toughen up as he may face far worse at Leeds one day, were bang on.

Weather-permitting, Wales beckons this weekend and a tough-looking fixture at Wrexham where Stags last won 23 years ago.

I am looking forward to a trip into town to a thatched real ale pub – I think it may have been called the Horse and Jockey – which had the most profesional karaoke you could imagine.

I know the Welsh are generally noted for their singing ability. But every single man and woman who got up last season sang like an angel. It was definitely like the latter stages of X Factor rather than the early stages.

Then I got up . . . . . .

Hope I am allowed back in this weekend!

Slaughtering Lambs and I am the real Ryan Williams!

December 10, 2009 by

Saturday, 8th May is down as the final date for the FA Trophy at Wembley.

That seems a long way away right now in the cold, wet and fog of December.

But this competition is Stags’ biggest chance of a cup success and a return to Wembley.

In the FA Cup it was only ever a matter of getting as far as possible and making money before bowing out to a big club.

In the Trophy Stags ARE Manchester United. Stags ARE Chelsea. Stags ARE the big club that the minnow would like to beat.

If the draw is kind and we don’t end up away at sides like Oxford, Stevenage, Kettering and York then there is a great chance of having a look at England’s new national stadium (I still haven’t been there since it re-opened).

I am sure a lot of people will give Saturday’s game with Tamworth a miss as it is not on their season ticket and it is only round one.

But the club have done their bit by cutting admission prices and the side could do with your support.

Stags will also want to wipe away the frustration of the last four gams at Field Mill which haven’t gone to plan.

Grays’ butterfingered keeper Stuart Robinson looked a bag of nerves in the first half like he might throw one in last Saturday.

But he turned into Superman in the second half and I am convinced he suddenly grew a third arm that stuck up in the air as he dived to his right which kept out Rob Duffy’s penalty kick.

By the way, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas to the dear lady of advancing years who collared me on the stairs at Field Mill and chastised me for the team’s display in a previous game.

It took a few moments of looking at my mystified face before she said the immortal words: “You are Ryan Williams aren’t you?”

Now, despite my hopes of people confusing me for Tom Cruise or Bradd Pitt (although I genuinely have been mistaken for Andy Townsend and Tim Roth before), I never thought it would be Ryan that would be my next double.

Easy mistake to make I guess as, to be fair I am not bad on the wing still, but I am fractionally taller which she didn’t take into account.

I now have my Good Beer Guide out on the Wrexham section and am plotting destinations to celebrate an international victory next weekend.

But first it’s time for the Lambs to be brought to the Slaughter.

Keep 8th May free in your diary!