OPINION: Stags’ defensive unit deserves praise for Cambridge display

Mansfield Town v Cambridge
Krystian Pearce beats Greg Taylor to an edge of the box header.
Mansfield Town v Cambridge Krystian Pearce beats Greg Taylor to an edge of the box header.

Mansfield Town are off to a great start this season and have had some memorable games already with two last minute winners and a victory playing with ten men for over 90 minutes.

Saturday’s game with Cambridge United won’t be added to that list. The 0-0 draw was as drab a game as you are likely to see this season and was a game that neither side deserved to win. Neither goalkeeper had to make a difficult save as chances at both ends were few and far between.

However, and as I said during full match commentary on StagsPlayerHD, if you’re not going to win the game, make sure you don’t lose it and that is what the Stags did with a fine display from the defence.

Left back Mal Benning made one outstanding last gasp challenge in the first half. Cambridge broke into the Stags box, striker Conor Newton was about to shoot, and Benning slid in with a fantastic tackle to put the ball out for a corner.

I made a video clip of the challenge with footage from a couple of different angles as it was the best tackle I’ve seen for a while and, if you’ve not seen it, have a look on the Mansfield Town official YouTube page.

Benning wasn’t on his own in playing well, the other full-back Rhys Bennett also played very well, and came as close as anyone to scoring with a header just over the bar from a corner.

Centre half Krystian Pearce returned from injury a week earlier at Leyton Orient and is already looking like he hasn’t been away with solid performances.

Kyle Howkins had started the season in dominant form at centre half but unfortunately picked up a hamstring injury in the EFL Trophy game last Tuesday and will be out for a while. George Taft came in for Howkins and gave an assured display not putting a foot wrong.

Cambridge United came into the game bottom of the league but with the quality of players in their squad I certainly didn’t expect them to be there long. They have right-sided pair Brad Halliday and Piero Mingoia, who have previously formed an excellent partnership for Accrington, at right back and right midfield respectively.

They had dangerous strikers Adam McGurk and Ben Williamson on the bench. One player that didn’t even make their 18 man squad was Blair Adams, who was on loan at Mansfield last season. We were told by BBC Cambridge that he was still looking for form this season.

The Stags created very few chances with the best falling to Mitch Rose with a shot on target in the first half, and Rhys Bennett’s header just over the bar in the second half. Cambridge could have won the game with a good chance for Joe Pigott who volleyed wide from a good position in the second half. But really it was a game that deserved to be 0-0.

Barnet visit the One Call Stadium on Saturday, and the Stags will be wary of the huge threat of big striker John Akinde, but it is a game Mansfield can win. The Stags are well-positioned in the table, in fifth place, two points behind the leaders Luton.

I said in last week’s blog that with the transfer window closing last Wednesday, and with Adam Murray presumably already reaching his player budget with his current squad, if I was him I would be looking to supplement the squad with a young full back from a Premier League or Championship club, as the Stags squad is still light in that area.

That is exactly what Murray did, bringing in young Alex Iacovitti, signed on loan for the season from Nottingham Forest. He can play at full back or centre half and has already played twice this season in Forest’s first team. He therefore looks to be an excellent acquisition for the Stags, and he was on the bench against Cambridge.

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