MANSFIELD MUSINGS STAGS BLOG: Walsall FC loan man James Baxendale gives Mansfield Town the X-factor

Mansfield Town v Stevenage - Skybet League Two - One Call Stadium - Saturday 9 jan 2016''James Baxendale
Mansfield Town v Stevenage - Skybet League Two - One Call Stadium - Saturday 9 jan 2016''James Baxendale

Mansfield recovered from a disappointing festive period to overcome Stevenage by two goals to one, with James Baxendale, his signing only announced within the hours approaching the kick-off, playing a starring role.

His dribbling ability, combined with impressive vision and an eye for a goal acted as the catalyst for Mansfield to earn their first victory in four League games, and also in four home League games.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that last week’s instalment called for fresh faces to be introduced into the squad in an effort to sustain Mansfield’s play-off hunt.

The main areas in need of additions were the 7, 10 and 11 positions, the attacking midfield players operating behind Matt Green in Adam Murray’s 4-2-3-1 favoured formation.

On internet fans forum Stagsnet, I offered a list of players who could possibly fill the void, one of which was Walsall’s James Baxendale.

The diminutive attacker can perform in all three of the roles mentioned, and was struggling for game time with the high-flying Saddlers, but has played 100 games at League One level.

Obviously his signing had nothing to do with my forum post, nevertheless it was a surprise to find someone I had mentioned join on a one month loan, with a view to a permanent move.

Baxendale went straight into the starting line-up, operating mostly in the No.10 role, but with license to roam.

During the opening minutes, the new signing looked a little lightweight, his eye focused on the man rather than the ball when challenging for high balls on more than one occasion.

As the half went on, he grew into the game, linking attacks neatly and exploiting spaces between the lines.

His touch let him down on one occasion when in a promising position, but he redeemed himself by picking out Craig Westcarr, only for his shot to be blocked by a defender.

During the second half, he again played a defence-splitting pass to pick out Westcarr, only for Matt Green to fail to convert a header from the resulting cross.

Green did, however, reward Baxendale for his influential performance.

The striker cleverly diverted the ball into Baxendale’s feet 35 yards from goal, from which point the loanee drove towards the edge of the area and curled what turned out to be the winning goal into the far left hand corner.

Of course it was only one performance, but Adam Murray may have located the ‘X-Factor’ his team were desperately missing.

The emergence of Baxendale may be bad news for local hot prospect Jack Thomas.

The youngster, who was so impressive last term, has struggled for game time this year with so much competition in the middle of the park.

Thomas started the game on Saturday but looked completely out of sorts, maybe trying too hard to impress his manager and mentor.

He misplaced several passed and was replaced at half-time.

Again casting our minds back to last week’s blog, the other area mentioned for strengthening was central defence, as it appeared Ryan Tafazolli’s time at the club may have been coming to an end.

Rumours of interest from elsewhere and two games spent warming the substitutes bench had done nothing to quieten the speculation.

Mansfield’s management team were adamant that nothing could be further from the truth, and acted by restoring Tafazolli to the heart of the defence.

Nicky Hunt also returned from injury at right back to skipper the side.

The result was a much more solid-looking back line, coinciding with the end of the unwanted run of conceding early goals.

Stevenage did, however, manage to score from a cross with the penultimate kick of the game.

With the two returnees and Krystian Pearce taking the field, Mansfield now have 75 per cent of the defence playing which began the season so well.

Mal Benning, the remaining 25 per cent, has returned to light training and will reportedly be ready within a month.

Adam Murray made clear during a passionate press conference in the week that his aim was to change the whole culture of Mansfield Town Football Club.

He characterised Mansfield as an average League Two side, which is certainly true of the last couple of decades, and pleaded with fans to get behind his side, promising that through blood, sweat and tears he will create a club which will challenge year in, year out, in this division and beyond if his targets come to fruition.

He also recorded a message to supporters, which was played 10 minutes before kick-off over the Field Mill speaker system, acting as a rallying cry to supporters.

Murray’s speech certainly had the desired effect, with much more positive support emanating from the stands, even before the breakthrough goal.

Despite a few clichés and contradictions, Murray’s passion for the club is clear to see, and his ideas so far this season have mainly been successful, the team now perched in eighth position in League Two, one point outside the play-offs, but having played extra games in comparison to other clubs.

Saturday’s victory was crucial in keeping the team in the hunt for the top seven, as Mansfield head to AFC Wimbledon at the weekend, hoping to beat a top half team for the first time this season.