Mansfield Town 4 Harriers 2
Venue: Field Mill
away fans: 147
Can it get any worse?
As soon as the team was announced today the inevitable was going to happen. We were going to lose!
If proof was needed that Mark Yates does not take on board the criticism of his selection tactics from the first two games then this was it. Again we started with Dean Bennett and Simon Russell at the expense of Matt Barnes-Homer and Martin Brittain and again it took until those players to come on to look anything like a threat to an ordinary Mansfield side playing for the first time at this level.
He said himself at the end of last season that the formation with Darryl Knights in 'the hole' works so why don't we play it anymore. We get something that looks like it but Justin Richards is no Iyseden Christie and never will be, but Barnes-Homer could be.
MBH came on for the hapless Michael Bowler ten minutes before of the end of, a rather long, first half and immediately gave us more edge up front. It was when Brittain came on early in the second half for Simon Russell that we really looked up for it.
The first half was a torpid affair from both sides with countless passes going astray. Town, with former Harriers Michael Blackwood and Alex Jeannin both starting for them, were probably the better of the two and so it proved, but in a somewhat lucky fashion, not once but twice.
We'd had a couple of attempts on goal - I'll call them attempts and not shots that didn't really trouble the Mansfield keeper Paddy Gamble from Justin Richards and Darryl Knights - when the home side were gifted a penalty. Mark Stallard ran onto a ball to the inside edge of the box and Bowler tapped his ankles while hopelessly trying to get to the ball. Stallard instinctively felt the slight contact and 'tumbled' to the floor with a big grin over his face.
The ref inevitably pointed to the spot and Stallard volunteered to plant it straight down the middle with Adam Bartlett diving out of the way. Ten minutes later and the lead had been doubled when Jason Lee lobbed a ball onto the head of Michael Blackwood to bury in the back of the net. The crazy thing is that Blackwood was in a position in front of goal that he would never have been found in while at Aggborough.
We tried to rally but once Yates had realised that we hadn't got any idea he took off Bowler and bought on Matt Barnes-Homer. Instantly there was an improvement and we now had more threat up front but then just before the fiftieth minute of the first half disaster struck.
Matt Somner crossed the ball to the near post but it then took a deflection and bounced up into the air and onto the crossbar. Bartlett tried to reach it but could only send it rolling along the bar and then down to the feet of Stallard who gratefully tucked the ball home. A freak goal!
HT: 3 - 0
At the start of the second half we looked a different side to the one that had gone in to the break. Right from the off we took the game to Mansfield and within minutes had got our first real shot on target when Russ Penn hit a shot that came back off the post. The ball was cleared upfield to Andy Ferrell but he blazed the return ball over wildly.
Fez found himself in the referees notebook for the second time this week after a tackle on Nathan Arnold and from the resulting free kick Stallard fired the ball in and Bartlett managed to grab hold of at the second attempt.
Simon Russell then tried to get a piece of the action and sent a shot just wide of the post. It was never going to go in anyway.
On the hour Martin Brittain arrived on the field to replace Russell and that was when we looked at our best. He attacked the known Mansfield weak point, Alex Jeannin, and provided cross after cross into the box.
Just under ten minutes after his arrival the comeback started.
Richards headed the ball on for MBH to take it into the box and draw the keeper. He slipped the ball under Gamble and wheeled away in celebration.
It was still 3-1 though and it could so easily have been four if Jason Lee had put away the loose ball from Arnold's shot but he lifted the ball over the bar with an open goal at his mercy.
With the Harriers still pressing to get a second comeback goal came the most controversial decision of the day. Richards broke free and with just Alan O'Hare between him and the goal the Town defender sent him crashing to the ground. With the Harriers fans rightfully baying for a red card the referee stunned everyone by just punishing O'Hare with a yellow.
No matter though because the resulting free kick was sent over by Brittain and flipped over the bar by Gamble. The ensuing corner produced an even better conclusion when Brittain again sent over a great ball that was then headed back for Richards to volley into the back of the net, leaving Gamble no chance of stopping.
We piled on the pressure now as we went in search of the third and equalising goal but good keeping saw the chances that fell MBH's and Richards way denied.
With four minutes of extra time left to play it looked like we would not be able to claw that third goal back and the inevitable happened. On the counter attack Nathan Arnold picked up the ball just inside his half and ran past three Harriers defenders with not one of them prepared to put a foot in to stop his progress.
He ran on into the area and played the ball through to Somner who then passed it on to Aaron O'Connor, who had only been on the field for a few minutes, to send a shot in across the goal and beyond the reach of Bartlett.
Have lessons been learnt by Yates from this game? It appears so because following the game he said that some of the blame was down to his starting team selection and it must be addressed in time for the visit of Altrincham next Saturday.
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