270 minute of league football has now elapsed between Mansfield and the Imps without a clear winner.
Two EFL Trophy games and the opening league encounter of last season saw clear victors, but in the crucial stages of last season and all of this, there’s been nothing to separate us. We get late goals, they get late goals and yet we’re till deadlocked.
Last night, the draw was certainly more valuable to us than them. They’re fighting for a top three spot but, bar the shouting, we have more or less secured ours.
That’s a bold claim I know and I’ll come to it in a bit, but first the game.
This write-up will be different to most because of the fact the game was televised. There’s been plenty of punditry available, whether it’s our own beloved Michael Hortin, Sky’s Lee Hendrie or the studio guests. Everyone has a view on the game and I suspect my view is very similar to theirs.
Firstly, we were poor in the opening exchanges. Certainly their goal was very unlike us. Danny will have fumed at conceding early, our game plan would have been something like contain them as long as possible and slowly break them down. I imagine it surprised them too, they’re a great counter-attacking side but I doubt they expected to get such an early opener.
They started with a great pace though and we were seemingly caught cold. Danny said after the game the players are not robots and the first half wasn’t as they were programmed, but I think that Pearce header affected us more than usual. Maybe we knew what was at stake, maybe the fact it was a high pressure game replicated some of that worry we’ve seen at home.
Whatever the issue, passes went astray and we didn’t offer much going forward.
It wasn’t on the scale of the Exeter game, we showed more cohesion than that. What we didn’t do was deal with Gethin Jones down one flank, something that I found surprising. They played something like a 3-4-3, which meant our wide players could have tried to overload those areas, but it was Jones getting all the joy.
I wouldn’t have picked him out of their side as the main man at the start, but Hamilton, Walker and Grant didn’t get the breaks they were looking for. They created plenty and should have gone in at the break two goals to the good when Walker drove wide from eight yards.
We weren’t without our chances, when the patterns of play came off it looked good. Harry and John combined nicely to give Danny Rowe a decent chance and that wasn’t the only one. They’d retreated after their first goal to a degree and when we got it together, we certainly threatened.
There’s not a lot more to labour on in the first half. We weren’t entirely at the races and the better team took the lead into the break. I suspect they will have been disappointed because they had chances to inflict more pain on us, but despite not being at our best we matched them toe to toe. In terms of clear cut openings, there was little to shout about, but we did compete.
I tell you something, I like Neil Bishop in the midfield for them. He’s one I thought might be a bit old for this game now, he’s 37 and that’s veteran by any standards, but he played with a real confidence. Whereas at times their attack was hurried and lacked that clinical edge, he grounds their other players and must surely be one of the main reasons they’ve done so well this season.
Also, while I’m unusually doling out praise for Mansfield, the lad Sweeney at the back is a class act. We’re spoiled with our central defenders but if Cian Bolger is indeed upper League One quality, Sweeney is exactly the same. He’d fit into our back four with ease and there’s only a handful of defenders at this level I’ll say that about.
Honestly? I was worried at half time. I had a sicky feeling sat on my stomach and it wasn’t the reheated rice and curry I’d had earlier in the day. It was ‘the fear’, the ghosts of ’83 and ’07 all surrounding me, laughing that we might fall once again.