Adam Murray saved Mansfield Town FC from relegation 20 months ago. Prior to that, Adam Murray took charge of his first game as temporary Mansfield Town FC manager. It is not hyperbole to suggest that the Stags were going down. They had, allegedly, the third biggest budget in the league, but a serious goal scoring problem threatened to be the root of their demise and ensure a swift return to non-league football.
The fans were right to be worried. The tactical turnaround seen in Murray’s first game brought hope to Stags fans that a dynamic, fast-paced attacking game was to be the cornerstone of a new chapter in the club’s history. The fans, whose vocal displeasure contributed to the departure of previous manager Paul Cox, were right to be concerned about the team though.
A team of inexperienced and unskilled non-league soldiers battled through the winter mud and crawled over the line in early April. The team, individually weak, staved off relegation by the leadership of Murray.
The following off-season brought new hope, not least in the form of returning club hero Matt Green. Was a tactical turnaround to follow too? Murray’s methodical style that developed was a variant upon a 4-5-1, bringing defensive solidity and a clear structure for attack.
The reason for this was clear yesterday — if you go 1-0 down, many teams have the ability to defend in numbers and protect a lead. That was the plan Murray took to Luton the previous week, and it almost worked. A battling first half resulted, in which Luton were largely in control of the ball, but Mansfield in control of the space. The substitutions, whilst derided by many Stags fans, clearly came for the right reasons: Hoban was removed as he had put an incredible defensive shift while being the focal point for forays up front.
The energetic Jack Thomas was placed in midfield as Murray could rightly see that, as the team tired it was being overrun. After 50 minutes, and 1-0 up, it felt more like Mansfield would lose than win. However, Luton’s big players continued to control the pace of play without creating any clear chances. Murray was 15 minutes from being vindicated (when Luton equalised) and the defensive foundation that was laid earlier in the game paying off.
Unfortunately for the Stags, a dribbler of a shot from Cameron McGeehan made its way though the Stags’ massed ranks, and the hard work and tactical discipline was undone. But make no mistake, Luton had the better individuals — but owing to the strong tactical foundation, Mansfield were 15 minutes from a win.
And so we came to Saturday’s game. The One Call Stadium is now, to fan and player alike, I imagine, less of a fortress and more of a prison. A vocal number of fans — possibly a majority — are keen to deride players and manager for every and all decisions.
Mal Benning, for example, is probably the best left-back seen at this level, and was often the best and most-effective outlet for Mansfield against Stevenage. His foolish mistake led to the second goal, but football is about execution. If he had taken either of his two headed chances, Mal would have been rightly recognised as the best player on the pitch.
On behalf of the positive Stags fans, I would ask Murray: Stick to your principles. Play a solid defensive team at home and away. Matt Green can be effective up on his own. Control the game and ball like in your first game in charge. Stick to your principles: Don’t have our wide players smash it into the box. Bring it back, recycle, and make the opponents work. Ignore the boos. Be solid, win games 1-0. Draw a few 0-0. Ignore the boos. Get the points on the board.
The time is now for Murray, and the fans. Mansfield are not a big club, even at League Two level. Other teams do have bigger budgets, and can bring in better players. To have any success the Stags must be united, behind this manager, and every other one that will come their way.
Adam will be here for a while, but not forever. His replacement won’t turn Mansfield into League One winners in two seasons either. If there is to be any successes, if you are to enjoy your team, and home Saturdays, Stags fans, players, manager and owner need to stick together; After all, they only have each other.