Mansfield Town fans were expecting a roller-coaster when Steve Evans was appointed manager in November.
And by anybody’s standards it’s been a busy week for the Stags, but a good one, with a well-earned and fully deserved point against league leaders Doncaster Rovers on Saturday, the signing of four new players as transfer window opened on Sunday, and then victory at Blackpool on Monday.
Saturday against Doncaster was a hugely-improved performance by Mansfield from the dire display on Boxing Day against Morecambe.
The first-half against Doncaster was competitive but with no good chances for either side and the Stags ended the year with no goals in the first halves of the 16 home league and cup games played so far this season. A depressing statistic.
Mansfield got on top early in the second-half and were deservedly in front when Mal Benning’s long range shot was diverted into the bottom left corner of the net by Green. Review of the video showed it was a really clever back-heel from Green.
The Stags missed chances to extend the lead but disaster struck on 77 minutes conceding a penalty. Scott Shearer was out quickly to save very well at the feet of Liam Mandeville, but the loose ball fell to Tommy Rowe, and Shearer dived at his feet also, allowing Rowe to dive over him. These are almost always given as a penalty and it was here, Mandeville sending Shearer the wrong way from the spot.
Doncaster nearly won the game on 89 minutes when Houghton headed against the inside of the left post and the ball somehow ended up in the grateful Shearer’s arms.
A competitive game with a good display from the Stags appreciated by the home fans, and the 1-1 draw was in my opinion a fair result.
The opening of the transfer window on Sunday saw Steve Evans bring in four new faces; Yoann Arquin, Ben Whiteman, Joel Byrom and Jake Kean. And there are more new faces to come. Steve Evans revealed that he’s made two cash offers for players and he’s waiting to hear back from those clubs (he noted that the offers are not hundreds of thousands of pounds).
He also confirmed that Mansfield had been interested in Northampton midfielder Lawson D’Ath but the deal has fallen through.
On Monday, and with the four new faces in the starting line-up, the Stags deservedly won 1-0 at Blackpool courtesy of a deflected shot from Matt Green after 29 minutes on his 30th birthday. Arquin closed down a clearance on the halfway line, then played the ball forward into the path of Green who collected the ball on the edge of the centre circle, powered forward and his shot from just inside the area took a deflection off Pugh chasing back, helping it past the keeper into the bottom right corner of the net. A welcome stroke of luck for Mansfield.
Green’s goal was his 79th for Mansfield in league games (FL and Conference). He just has Harry Johnson (104), Ken Wagstaff (93), Chris Staniforth (88), Steve Wilkinson (83) and Ted Harston (81) in front of him in Mansfield’s all-time top goalscorers list.
Mansfield came within a whisker of extending the lead in the second half. Whiteman played the ball diagonally to Arquin just outside the area, to the left of centre. He controlled the ball beautifully and lobbed a volley over the keeper but it finished inches wide of the right post, just in front of the Stags fans.
Blackpool rarely looked like equalising until three minutes into stoppage time when Mark Cullen fired just wide from inside the area.
Of the new signings, Byrom showed a lovely left foot with some good delivery from set pieces, and looked a calming influence in the centre of the park. Keeper Kean didn’t have a difficult save to make, but made some fine catches and punches from balls into the box, including one take somewhere near his penalty spot, and he generally looked commanding.
Arquin impressed with his assist for the goal and his tremendous control and volley to go so close with his shot. He also showed pace and power going forward. Whiteman played on the right wing and after a slow start, showed some good quality. He played one good ball to Arquin to set up that near miss, and made an important header off the line in the first half.
The new signings will have their first chance to impress the fans at home with the visit of Crewe on Saturday to the One Call Stadium. If they continue like they did on Monday, it could be an exciting second half of the season.