Mansfield Town slumped to a disappointing 2-1 defeat at home to Stevenage on Saturday. Stevenage came into the game one point and one place outside the relegation zone but took all three points from a Mansfield side, who lacked quality for most of the afternoon, writes Martin Shaw.
Manager Adam Murray said in a press interview last week: “I like being organised. I like not conceding goals. I like being solid and hard to beat. But I am not stupid. I know that at times I do need to take more risks. That’s something as an individual I am working on.”
That was a clear message that he intended to be more positive than previous home games, where the Stags had only won twice this season.
Murray’s game-plan was to get in as many crosses as possible into the Stevenage box. Mansfield’s best crossers of the ball are probably Kevan Hurst, Mal Benning and Jack Thomas in my opinion.
Murray selected Hurst and Benning to start the game and played them essentially as right and left wingers to get behind the Stevenage defence.
It was a sensible game plan but the plan didn’t work and the quality of crossing was mostly poor through the game with just a few exceptions.
A side-effect of the plan was that Benning twice found himself with free headers at the far post, but you would have wanted the chances to fall to almost anyone else as he sent both headers off target when he should have scored.
Matt Green had scored in four consecutive matches, but he never received sufficient service to give him a chance of keeping that run going and approaching the club record of scoring in 10 consecutive matches, set by Harry Johnson in 1932.
The first half was even but Stevenage took the lead when a free kick from the left was whipped in and little Charlie Lee stole in front of Lee Collins and headed in. It was uncharacteristically dozy defending from the Stags, who have been fairly solid defending set pieces this season.
The Stags were 1-0 down at the break, making it another scoreless first half for Mansfield at home, the 10th time out of 10 in league and cup games this season. A disappointing statistic.
The Stags were level soon after the break. Rhys Bennett crossed from the right, the keeper dived to stop it creeping under him at the far post, and pushed the ball to Hurst on the left.
Hurst knocked the ball back into the middle to Pat Hoban. A great turn by Hoban on the edge of the six-yard box, he got a bit of luck as the ball cannoned off a defender, and he fired in from four yards. A great moment for Hoban and his first goal for the Stags at the One Call Stadium.
But euphoria turned to despair within three minutes as Mansfield, with almost everyone committed forward from a free kick, hit the self-destruct button, with Benning disastrously giving the ball away.
Jack Thomas played the ball to Benning, who took a touch and then tried a square pass, which went straight to Ben Kennedy who played in Aston Villa loanee Harry McKirdy. McKirdy ran 50 yards, outpacing Lee Collins, before tucking the ball past Shearer. It was a good goal from McKirdy but a terrible error from Benning.
Mansfield had plenty of pressure in the remaining half-hour after that but a mixture of inaccurate passing and crossing, and a solid defence from Stevenage, kept the Stags out. Rhys Bennett got into position for four shots but all went wide. When added to Benning’s headers, it was a case of the chances falling to the wrong players.
Then with the last touch of the game, Darius Henderson headed just over the bar from a corner. Huge frustration for Mansfield and disappointment at full-time.
With a break from the league now for two cup ties, and one third of the way through the season, the Stags are 13th in the table, three points outside the play-offs and fourpoints above the relegation zone, bang in the middle of a very tight league table, with the same number of wins as defeats, and a zero goal difference.
After the game there were some calls of “Murray Out”. With Mansfield in the middle of the table, that’s very premature in my opinion. I went on record at the start of the season that my expectation for the season was to be top half and pushing for the play-offs, and that finishing somewhere between mid-table and the play-offs would still be a success in my opinion. The Stags are still on track for that.