Mansfield Town put in an impressive performance going forward at Matlock Town to eventually run out 4-0 winners in last night’s friendly as the rest of the squad were winning by the same margin at Gainsborough Trinity.
Matlock are in the Northern Premier League, three leagues below League Two, but as you’d expect, they were very competitive.
In the first half, the Stags scored on 15 minutes when Paul Digby found Paul Anderson on the left and he squared for Lee Angol who tapped in from three yards.
Click HERE to read Craig Priest’s verdict on the 4-0 win at Gainsborough Trinity
The Stags weren’t able to increase their lead until 72 minutes when Mal Benning found Danny Rose who played in to Will Atkinson who scored from three yards.
Two goals in the final four minutes then put a gloss on the scoreline.
Firstly the outstanding Jacob Mellis played to Atkinson, who played back towards Mellis, a defender got a touch but Mellis was able to tap in.
Then Angol raced on to Rose’s ball forward and showed great strength to hold off his defender before slotting under the keeper.
Overall this was a very satisfactory performance from Mansfield, getting more game time into all the players with Mellis quite outstanding in central midfield. Paul Digby and Paul Anderson also played very well in midfield.
Will Atkinson took a long time to get into the game but finished it well.
Up front, Angol played well, while Rose did okay.
Bobby Olejnik in goal didn’t have much to do, but made one fabulous save and looked assured, as he has through pre-season.
In the first half, David Mirfin, Zander Diamond and Hayden White all put in disappointing performances.
After the game, Steve Evans told me that Mirfin came into the dressing room at half time, put his hand up and apologised for his shocking performance.
In the second half, both Mirfin and Diamond won a couple of early headers and then played more solidly.
Mal Benning was the pick of the defence, with a decent game, including going forward.
One talking point from the game was the sending off of Matlock’s Callum Lloyd, a former Stags player of course.
Steve Evans asked me after the game what I thought of the challenge, I thought it was a shocking challenge (on Mellis), and so did he.
Evans said that Lloyd had to go of course, but that an alternative approach from the referee could have been to ask the Matlock manager if he wanted to sub Lloyd rather than send him off.
Mellis fortunately was fine as it could have been a leg-breaker.
The team at Matlock was (4-4-2, flat midfield - not a diamond shape): Bobby Olejnik; Hayden White, Zander Diamond, David Mirfin, Mal Benning; Will Atkinson, Paul Digby, Jacob Mellis, Paul Anderson; Lee Angol, Danny Rose.
David Mirfin had recovered after illness which caused him to miss the Forest game. His first half performance suggested that he might have come back too soon.
With two matches on the night, one approach from the management might have been for Steve Evans to take one team and his assistant Paul Raynor to take the other.
But they decided to both go to the Matlock game, leaving Mike Whitlow and Richard Cooper to take the team at Gainsborough.
This might have had the psychological effect of giving the players at Gainsborough a point to prove that they should have been in the team chosen for the Matlock game.
In my opinion, the team chosen for the Matlock game will include the majority of the team that is chosen for the game against Crewe, certainly well over half of it.
Matlock’s former Stags full back Liam Marsden started on the bench.
I spoke to him before the game and wished him well, it was a surprise he didn’t start but Matlock wanted to look at a trialist right back (who later turned out to be Ryan Wilson, who signed for the club after the game and who was with Alfreton last season and is the son of former Chelsea striker and former Ilkeston manager Kevin Wilson).
Callum Lloyd started the game, as did striker Shaun Harrad, who the Stags had on trial a few years ago, also Jake Green, who was also on the Stags books, and brother of Matt Green, played at left back. Jake Green never played a first team game for the Stags.
On three minutes, White played a one-two, and fired in a thunderous effort from 20 yards which was brilliantly tipped over by keeper Barnes. From the resulting corner, taken by Mellis from the left, Rose volleyed against the bar left footed from 10 yards. It was a good effort.
The Stags were dominating play, but on 14 minutes a chance for Matlock emerged as impressive striker Ted Cribley pulled back to Harrad who fired over from 16 yards.
The Stags took the lead on 15 minutes. Digby crossed from the left to Anderson, who squared to Angol, who tapped in from close range - nicely worked goal, though poor defending.
On 19 minutes, Benning shot from 20 yards wide of the right post, after Anderson’s cross was cleared to him.
Brilliant play from Angol on 21 minutes to control a ball forward, saw him find Rose on the left, but Rose’s ball in was cleared. A minute later, Anderson crossed from the left and Atkinson did well to get above his marker, but could only head wide.
On 23 minutes, Mellis played a great ball to the overlapping Benning who won a corner from which Mellis played a one-two with Anderson, and Mellis curled a shot just wide of the right post from 18 yards via a slight deflection. From the resulting corner, Mellis found Mirfin at the far post who volleyed into the ground and up and just over the bar.
The Stags were playing lovely football and on 26 minutes, Cribley played the ball across from the left just inside the area to Harrad, and Olejnik was out quickly to get an important hand on it and push the ball away from Harrad, as the Stags central defence went completely missing.
On 29 minutes, Benning took a quick throw-in, Rose got into the area, around his defender Degirolamo, on as sub, and scooped a shot wide of the right post.
A fabulous save from Olejnik on 31 minutes saw Cribley get into the box and his shot deflect off Mirfin, forcing a fabulous one handed save from the keeper.
On 33 minutes, terrible play between White and Diamond as they left it to each other, allowed Cribley to surge past them, and White was forced to bring him down outside the box on the left.
Melis took a free kick for the Stags on 40 minutes, 25 yards from goal, and got it around the wall on target but straight at the keeper.
On 42 minutes a great burst forward by Digby saw him find Anderson, but Anderson’s ball forward was poor. A minute later, Benning put in a good cross from the left which stood up to the far post, where Rose headed wide.
A bad mistake by Mirfin on 45 minutes saw Mellis win the ball back to get him out of jail. No wonder Mirfin held his hands up a half-time.
Stags led 1-0 at the break. Mellis had been outstanding. Digby, Anderson, Rose, Angol, and Olejnik all had a very good first half, but at the back, Diamond, Mirfin, and White were poor.
On 50 minutes, Angol, controlled a long ball forward well and set up Anderson, whose low shot was saved by the keeper’s legs. The resulting corner by Mellis from the left went to the far post where Rose leapt superbly and headed back across goal, but it was cleared.
On 53 minutes, Murfin missed a long ball from the Matlock keeper, allowing Harrad a free shot which he dragged wide of the left post. A minute later theer was a good tackle by Atkinson as Jake Green broke forward.
On 55 minutes, Rose won a free kick, 25 yards to the right of centre. Benning hit it straight into the wall, it came straight back to him, and he fired just over.
On 58 minutes came the sending-off of Matlock’s Lloyd after he deliberately chopped Mellis down in the middle of the park.
The challenge sparked a melee, with Mellis getting up and pushing Lloyd. Degirolamo pushed Digby in the face, not spotted by the officials, and Paul Raynor and Lee Taylor took the unusual step of running on to the pitch to break things up. The referee finally got the two captains, Diamond and Yates, together to try to calm things down.
On 60 minutes, White played a good cut back from the byline to Rose whose shot was blocked, and seven minutes later a wonderful ball from Mellis to Rose on the edge of the box saw him turn and his shot was blocked.
A minute later, Digby played a great ball out to Benning. He played it further wide to Anderson, who got the ball onto his right foot, cut in, and curled a shot against the bar and over - terrific stuff.
The Stags had played well going forward, but only had one goal to show for it at this stage.
That was a concern, but the Stags were to finally turn their good attacking play into goals.
They made it 2-0 on 72 minutes. Benning found Rose, who played across to Will Atkinson to net from three yards, very similar to the first goal.
On 76 minutes, Benning played a long ball forward to Angol to run onto.
A defender put in a great tackle for a corner, but I would like to have seen Angol get in a shot there. It reminded me of Rose on Saturday, where he delayed for a split second, allowed a Forest defender to block his shot.
On 80 minutes, Atkinson’s first touch was poor, as he over-ran the ball, then stretched forward on to the loose ball and was late tackling a Matlock player. That would have been a yellow in a league game.
On 83 minutes, Benning played another good ball over the top for Rose to run on to. Rose lobbed over the keeper and over the bar, but he should have scored.
The Stags did make it 3-0 on 86 minutes. Mellis played to Atkinson, who played back towards Mellis. A defender got a touch but Mellis was able to tap in.
And it was 4-0 on 87 minutes as Angol raced on to Rose’s ball forward and showed great strength to hold off his defender before slotting under the keeper.
Overall this was a very satisfactory workout for Mansfield, and food for thought for Steve Evans.
He told me again after the game that he has no favourites, and who will play at Crewe will be whoever is in the best form.