OPINION: Tepid goalless draw with Cambridge but great start to season overall

Mansfield Town v Cambridge
Darius Henderson in aerial competition with Greg Taylor.
Mansfield Town v Cambridge Darius Henderson in aerial competition with Greg Taylor.

It was terrific to see Mansfield Town manager Adam Murray – and no doubt his chairman, John Radford – move so swiftly on transfer deadline day to react to the curve ball thrown the previous evening.

He snapped-up Nottingham Forest defender Alex Iacovitti on loan for the rest of the season after Kyle Howkins was ruled out for many weeks with a hamstring injury picked up during the much-maligned Checkatrade Trophy tie with Doncaster Rovers.

The signing again showed clear intent from the Stags that they intend to be as competitive as possible this season – and push for at least a play-off place.

Iacovitti, a ball-playing, versatile defender, would appear, on paper at least, to fit into Murray’s method of playing.

I know injuries can be sustained at any time, but the fact summer-signing Howkins picked up his knock in the trophy - not to mention striker Danny Rose’s fractured eye socket - has only added fuel to the fire of criticism of the competition.

In fact, as the injuries mounted Murray told his players to avoid tackles in the closing minutes of that trophy tie.

The new league format in the opening stages rather than a straight knockout, and the introduction of under-23 teams from some Premier League and Championship clubs, has failed to impress many fans up and down the country.

The competition – known last season as the Johnstone Paints Trophy (JPT) and, of course, many years ago as the Freight Rover Trophy when Mansfield Town were victorious at Wembley – is supposed to be a chance for clubs from League and Two to play at the home of football in England.

Fans see the changes as a backdoor attempt to get Premier League B teams into the Football League – something that is strenuously denied by club chairmen and football’s authorities.

There were calls for supporters to boycott the opening ties of the competition – and certainly attendances were extremely low as the trophy got under way.

Just 392 bothered to watch Fleetwood take on Blackburn Rovers’ development squad. There were only 69 more to watch Swansea under-23s at AFC Wimbledon. And Accrington and Crewe were watched by 585 fans. Last season all three attracted more than 1,000 fans for their equivalent matches in the JPT.

In the Stags’ group, 1,198 fans watched Port Vale against Derby County’s under-23s – Vale’s lowest crowd for 30 years.

The average crowd for the first round of matches was 1,462, far less than the 1,870 at JPT first round matches last season.

At One Call Stadium the Stags offered free beer tokens and dropped admission prices, at the start of a run of three consecutive home matches.

Perhaps it worked as the 1,124 attendance was certainly higher than many predicted.

But the fact that five days later there were 2,981 at One Call Stadium for the bread-and-butter League Two match against Cambridge on Saturday surely shows that the meddling with the trophy – and crucially adding extra matches into a congested season – has not worked so far?

Stags boss Murray has made it clear that his main priority this season is winning league matches. He is right when he says that his side will be judged on where they finish in the league, not on progress in cup competitions, no matter how exciting they might – or might not - be.

So no doubt he will be more disappointed with the tepid goalless draw against bottom-of-the-table Cambridge than the trophy defeat.

The Stags remained fifth – though a win would have taken them joint top – and remained unbeaten at home in League Two.

But, just like last season, they have started better in terms of performances and their points-return away from One Call Stadium, which has left some home supporters underwhelmed.

There was little goalmouth entertainment in the 0-0 against Cambridge and a lot of frustration, although wind and rain did not help the players. Boss Murray admitted it was a horrible game with little creativity and not an entertaining spectacle that he would enjoy looking at again.

But he was rightly pleased with a second clean sheet from three home matches – and the fact that the Stags ground out a point from an average performance.

How important could that point be at the end of the season? Or will it be seen as two points dropped? Only time will tell, of course, but surely what was important as Saturday’s drab match wore on was that the Stags did not throw away the one point they had, as we have seen happen so often in the past.

As Murray said after the game, you cannot win every game. But what you can do is try to ensure that you don’t throw away a point in games when you are not at your best.

Despite the frustration on Saturday afternoon, you cannot really complain about the two wins and six points away from home, coupled with the solitary win and two draws at One Call Stadium. Eleven points from six matches is a great start to the season.

Home fans will now be hoping that the Stags can maintain their unbeaten run at One Call Stadium and add a little more excitement when Barnet visit on Saturday.

Related article: Mansfield Town 0 Cambridge United 0 - match report

Related article: Stags boss Murray happy with a point from Cambridge clash to forget