MANSFIELD MUSINGS: Defensive unit key to recent results

Ryan Tafazolli

Ryan Tafazolli

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After consecutive clean sheets against high-flying Plymouth and struggling Stevenage, much of the Stags’ early season form must be attributed to the solidity of their defensive unit.

Having only conceded six league goals so far, a record only bettered by Wycombe Wanderers (ten games) and Middlesbrough (nine games), Mansfield’s back line has been immense over the first ten matches.

Compare that with the last ten games of the previous season where the Stags conceded 18 goals, three times as many, and it gives some indication of the hard work undertaken on the training pitch over the summer.

Credit must first of all go to Adam Murray and his coaching staff. It is perhaps no surprise that coaches Mickey Moore and Richard Cooper have contributed to the Stags steely resolve, having overseen a Paul Cox defence which was more often that not difficult to penetrate.

For Murray though, setting off on his first full season in football management, his ability to organise a defence has come as a surprise to most.

Having spent much of the summer discussing the attacking aspect of the team’s performance, and most of the club’s ‘wow’ signings being made in forward areas, fans could be forgiven for expecting a ‘we’re going to score one more than you’ philosophy.

However, the manager’s meticulous nature of focusing on the finer details has his rearguard well drilled, meaning that at any time his defenders instinctively know the exact position they should be occupying based on whereabouts the ball is on the pitch.

The Mansfield defence contains a perfect blend of youth and experience.

Seasoned professional Brian Jensen appears to have nailed down a starting spot at the tender age of 40.

Having originally been considered second choice to Scott Shearer, ‘The Beast’ has taken advantage of Shearer’s ill health with his performances, rendering himself immovable from between the sticks for the time being, a task which given his sizeable frame would have been difficult in any case.

Not only has Jensen pulled off some fine saves in recent weeks, his booming voice commands respect, which allows the keeper to constantly drag his protective shield into the correct position.

The icy demeanour and confidence the stopper exudes is infectious, spreading a calming influence over the players in front of him.

Current captain Nicky Hunt rivals Jensen in terms of vital know-how. The former Bolton fans’ favourite, having played for many seasons at the highest level of English football, was snapped up by Adam Murray after leaving Accrington at the end of last season. Hunt brings excellent organisational abilities as well as composed distribution. His performances so far have been rock solid.

On the opposite side, Mal Benning is at the inception of his career, trying to establish himself in League football after being deemed surplus to requirements by Walsall.

Benning made an instant impact for his new club, scoring a stunning free-kick during the opening game of the season. His marauding runs down the left flank have been a regular feature thus far, his pace and delivery perhaps his greatest assets.

As well as how the above have performed, it is Mansfield’s centre-back pairing who must take the majority of the plaudits. Krystian Pearce and Ryan Tafazolli, two players approaching the prime of their careers, have been absolutely outstanding this campaign, the latter even the club’s joint top scorer.

Tafazolli is one of few survivors from last year’s torrid season. The teams’ performances clearly affected the confidence of Tafazolli, whose form suffered as a result.

This season has seen the Southampton academy graduate return to his commanding best, producing the kind of form that had a host of clubs sniffing around him in summers gone by. At 6ft 5in and possessing a turn of pace, the 24-year-old defender surely has a bright future in the game.

It is sure to have helped Tafazolli that he is playing along side Pearce, who in my opinion has been the acquisition of the season as far as the Stags are concerned.

At present, it is impossible to fathom that a player of his quality was turning out for Torquay United in the conference last term. During his younger years, Pearce regularly represented England at youth level and was even described as the nation’s best player at the U17 World Cup in 2007.

For a player who Mansfield fans were led to believe was capable of momentary lapses in concentration, Pearce has barely put a foot wrong, reading the game magnificently and even showing the class to dribble the ball out of defence.

With midfielders Adam Chapman, Chris Clements and Mitchell Rose patrolling vigilantly in front of the Mansfield defence, opposition teams have struggled to break Mansfield down.

When you take into consideration that the Stags have Lee Collins warming the bench, a defender who would be worth a starting berth in most League Two teams, you have to be delighted with the base Adam Murray has built his team upon.

All successful teams are constructed from a watertight defence, and the signs are looking promising for a successful season for the Stags.