Home Comforts

Only a week ago, we Stags fans were beginning to lose faith, having only gained two points from a possible 12.

Nothing seemed to be going right for us, whether it was a dodgy referee or just plain and simple football. Stags fans were fearing the worst ahead of the visit of league leaders and unbeaten Oxford United. With a bumper crowd expected at Field Mill, the optimistic script writers (like me!) were in overdrive!

Those of you who use the Stagsnet message board will be aware of the prediction league. Just before I headed down for Tuesday’s game I posted my prediction. Most people were going for an Oxford win, others played for a safe draw, Some people, like myself, predicted Stags would bounce back out of misery street with a victory. I went for a 2-1 win, although I have to admit it took me a while to finally settle with that score!

Scott Garner, Outstanding in the past two games as Captain (Photo By Dan Westwell)

Scott Garner, outstanding in the past two games as captain (Photo by Dan Westwell)

The Oxford game is one I will remember for a long time. The way we set ourselves up for the game was a testament to the character of David Holdsworth and his squad. From the moment the referee blew the whistle, Stags were at Oxford – Gary Silk setting the stall out for the back four with a very well-timed but hard tackle. Stags attacked with style, Kyle Nix being the real ‘organ grinder’ and  bringing the ball down and moving it down each wing with perfectly structured passes. By half time we was 2-0 up, and the question remained: “Could we keep our heads level and defend our lead, even grab another goal?” I knew Oxford would make it difficult for us – which to their credit they did – but our defence was outstanding, winning every header, marking tightly and just generally being courageous – showing that fighting spirit which has lacked somewhat over the past few games. Even when Oxford grabbed a goal during the second half, predictably through Constable who’s their current live-wire and one of the leading goal scorers in the league, we kept our composure and got on with the job in hand.

The last minutes were nail biting, but again a real testament to our squad’s belief and ability. The relief could be felt a mile off when the referee ended the game. Finally Mansfield had pulled themselves out of the gutter, and what a way to do so – beating the league leaders on our own patch. Being the first team to beat Oxford this season will be a huge boost to our squad. I could talk for ages about that game, but this is not a match report! I must move on to different matters!

On the back of a huge win, the next visitors to Field Mill were BSP new boys Hayes & Yeading, promoted last year. Some people may ask ‘who!?’ at this point. I’d certainly never heard of them before yesterday’s game. One thing was certain to me though – over-confidence would be our greatest downfall. Field Mill would be a difficult place for Hayes to come, but they would relish the chance to try and beat a former league side, hence why I was once again indecisive about the result when it came to posting my predication on Saturday morning.

Some expected an easy run-out, going for 5-0 or maybe even 6. I eventually settled on a 3-1 victory, hopeful of more goals but cautious of their set-up. Again I got my prediction spot on – this time thanks to a Rob Duffy hat-trick. Two goals from the penalty spot showing that even though he’s playing through the pain barrier he can still put the ball in the back of the net. Let’s hope this continues for a long time.

Rob Duffy Celebrates one of his two penaltys on saturday (Photo By Dan Westwell)

Rob Duffy celebrates one of his two penalties on Saturday (Photo by Dan Westwell)

The performance didn’t match the standard of the Oxford game, but that doesn’t matter –  football is a results-based business. Perhaps Stags were a little thrown by normal pitch markings, the lines from the band contest I mentioned in last week’s blog had now disappeared. The pitch markings did help a little to explain zonal marking; I would have loved to sit in the west upper for the Oxford game, just to play out the explanation in my mind!

The home comforts have suited us well. Six points from six is a fantastic return, but next for us is a long midweek trip to Barrow – one which after some consideration I will be taking. It’s a long way but my desire never to miss a game came racing to the surface when the SSA began to take bookings for the trip last Saturday. I just hope my the following superstitions are put to bed on Tuesday.

Since David Holdsworth has taken over as manager we have never won a midweek away tie (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). The last midweek away victory I can remember is Lincoln away during relegation season (2007/08) . Also to add to my thinking, which is getting madder by the minute, we have not won in our away kit this season. Is it cursed? I hope not! It’s a long trip home, and coming back empty handed would make it even longer!

After Barrow we face Forest Green Rovers back at Field Mill. This time next week we could have 12 points from 12. Time will tell! With injuries and suspensions taking their toll with our midfield, it’s hard to figure out who the gaffer will start with on Tuesday. Hopefully Stevie Istead will finally get a start! While I’m on the subject of injury, all the best to Luke Jones, who twisted an ankle in training before the Oxford game. I hope he recovers quickly and gets back in the team. Luke Graham has proved to be a decent replacement so far, forming a solid partnership with young Scott Garner – who has taken over the captaincy roll in the absence of Gary Mills and Luke Jones.

Thanks for reading as always, I hope to see you at Barrow (Well those who can face the trip and get time away from work etc!) and of course at the Forest Green game Saturday.

Craig

 “Mansfield Town FC; Home comforts go along way!?”

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