Driving to Nottingham from Durham is not to be recommended on a Saturday at the present time. First the journey to Notts County cost me an extra hour because of congestion. Yesterday I had a lunch engagement with Gerry at the Pizza Hut prior to the game and consequently set off at 1020hrs, anticipating some delay but I did not arrive at the stadium until 2pm. The A1 in North Yorkshire and at Barnsdale Bar and then the section of the M1 after the M18 were all traffic blackspots with delays, minor accidents and frankly poor lane discipline all conspired to make me miss my Pizza Hut meal! (Other restaurants are available).
Gerry told me that we had dodged a bullet because the Hut was packed with at least three children’s parties, but I was once again apologising for my tardy timekeeping. Clearly an overnight trip may be the answer. Ironically the journey home was a delight, 1hr 45mins door to door. In between the U’s faithful went through every emotion fathomable, from the depths of despair to pure ecstasy and everything in between.
Readers of a nervous disposition should be warned this is not for the faint hearted.
Durham was damp and overcast and 16 degrees, but the temperature quickly rose and after the delays I arrived at the Stadium Car park at 2pm to be told by an over zealous traffic steward “Are you on the list”. When I answered that I wasn’t, but that I always park here when coming to Mansfield, he replied that the Car park was full and only those on the list would be allowed in. Considering the attendance was a paltry 3,909 (as I learned later) I was somewhat surprised.
He directed me to the Retail park where parking “helpfully” is limited to two hours only on Matchdays, but fortunately good old British Rail were at hand with a car park very well situated for the Away supporters and only £3 for 24 hours.
This allowed me to gain access to the ground by 2.15pm and here the Stewards were friendly and obliging. The hunger pangs were partially sated by a Steak Pie (overly dry but with good quality steak pieces) and a tea.
Gerry arrived fresh from Frankie and Benny’s and we noted a liberal sprinkling of the pitch surface (which was immaculate) just as Meadow Lane had been.
Once again, the luckless Tom Eastman had been relegated to the bench and the enigmatic Courtney Senior was playing right wing otherwise the team was as I had suggested in my pre-match missive.
JM had elected to play four at the back with the following in a 4,4,1,1 formation:
Jackson Prosser Kent Vincent-Young
Senior Lapslie Pell Dickenson
Ross Wright Comley Collins Norris Eastman Mandron
The weather was warm and sunny 24 degrees and a well-watered pitch. Mansfield had started the season similarly to the U’s with a win and a draw, but their exploits in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday had been exceptional putting Stanley to the sword with a 6-1 thrashing. All the more surprising then that the attendance was down on opening day and also surprising that the faithful were limited in numbers to 196, but they were in good voice. Generously the entire North Stand was given over to the faithful, unlike at Meadow Lane where we were corralled into a small area in the corner!
Mansfield's ground is declared to be the oldest in the Football world and the old disused Bishop Street stand is once again mothballed and resembles a demilitarised zone. This is in stark contrast to the Ian Greaves stand which is splendid and very impressive.
The first half could best be described as dire, although Gerry would opine that it wasn’t that good!
The problem was that Mansfield showed little of their attacking prowess and the U’s were content to sit deep giving Frank Nouble nothing to feed on and confining Courtney Senior to only one attacking foray.
Dickenson’s corner in the 18th minute found Prosser at the far post and his powerful header was saved by Logan in the Stag’s goal. Barnes was not troubled unduly at any stage of the half.
On the rare occasions that Colchester did get forward Courtney Senior was unceremoniously hauled down by the Stags captain Pearce, earning the Mansfield man a deserved booking and on the stroke of half time Nouble at last got forward and having run past two defenders he too was checked by Sweeney who again was rightly booked.
Half time arrived, and Wessex emerged from the top row of seating and it was good to see him.
The second half brought no changes from either team and the game progressed at a glacial pace as had the first. JM seems to be unable to deviate from his tactics of being entirely content with a point away from home.
Now without wishing to be unduly unkind, Mansfield’s keeper Conrad Logan cut a corpulent and rotund figure, wearing a jersey which was two sizes too small. The faithful gave a more graphic and colloquial view of the home shot stopper however! Still what he had done in the first half, he had done with competence.
The faithful demanded a change and JM obliged with the substation of the ineffectual Senior with Norris after 72 minutes. Little seemed to change however. Things became heated on the touchline between the managers following a challenge from the enforcer Harry Pell which earned him a booking and then Prosser and White had a stand off in the penalty area during a Colchester attack.
Flitcroft then made a double substitution in the 77th minute and brought on Bishop and Rose for Mellis and Khan to go with three up front.
Craig Davies, who had been Flitcroft’s first change, looked to have won the game for Mansfield on 81 minutes, when he initially tried a shot which was blocked and when it came back to him he struck it left foot from 20 yards passed the despairing dive of Barnes and into the top half of the net. Cue scenes of joy from the home faithful who previously had been quiet and reserved previously.
JM was now forced into changes and despite the fact that the goal was conceded after 81 minutes he still waited and then made two changes in the 87th and 88th minutes. First Eastman came on for Vincent-Young (who was one of the players laid low by the gastro-enteritis bug) and Frank Nouble was replaced by Mika Mandron.
Now Manchester United fans have a song which they sing about Tony Martial and the faithful have their own version which they sang with gusto about Mika Mandron:
“Mika Mandron came from France
The English press said he had no chance
£50 thousand down the drain
As Mika Mandron scores again!”
Now just as Mourinho has let Martial down so JM is lukewarm about Mandron. This argument has long been touted by me. Mandron is frustrating because his work rate is high, but conversion of chances limited.
Now yesterday after 87 minutes of dross, Colchester finally came to life after the arrival of Mandron, the team started to come forward with intent. Mansfield had little answer, and many must have thought why we had done so earlier.
Tom Eastman’s arrival allowed more players to play in advanced positions, two strikers in Mandron and Norris were now employed and Szmodics in support and Dickenson was given the freedom of the left third of the field at last.
The Stags were well and truly in a rut and when the board went up showing 4 additional minutes we hoped that this pressure would pay off.
In the 94th minute Mandron turned swivelled and shot powerfully and Logan moved smartly to his left to palm the ball out for a throw in. The resultant seismic waves were recorded as a 5 on the Richter scale.
Everyone came into the mix bar Barnes. Jackson delivered one of his long throws which Logan came for and inexplicably allowed to slip right through his arms into the path of Sammie Szmodics who from 2 yards out scored with aplomb.
Cue scenes of relief, delirium and unabated joy from the faithful. In truth it would have been a travesty if we had lost this game. And even with rose tinted spectacles neither side deserved to win. Our elation was countered by utter deflation for the home hoards who were definitely not singing anymore and headed for the exit even before the final whistle, which came soon after, was blown.
The players received plaudits from the faithful and an emotional JM kissed the badge in celebration.
We had got out of jail in a match where we had been poor for long periods. But this is the thing. When Colchester attack as they did in those last 8 minutes, no team in league Two is going to be able to resist the onslaught. But why does it take a late goal from the home side before the team wakes up and smells the coffee.
JM take note, do not drop Eastman again, ensure that our strikers are used effectively and take the game to the opposition away from home. It is all about confidence. I had explored the options available to JM in my pre-match missive. JM chose to play the Port Vale team line up yesterday and there is nothing wrong with that, but instead of allowing them the freedom to express themselves he shackled them which stifled Senior, Dickenson and Nouble.
The old maxim of winning home matches and drawing away is good enough for promotion but this league is going to be close this season with any side capable of winning against another. JM must be confident that if playing similar team formations, he is not afraid to play the exciting forward running football shown against Port Vale at the JobServe stadium away from Essex, particularly at our promotion rivals like Mansfield.
This can be a special season for the U’s, but only if the shackles are removed and players allowed to show their worth. JM must also decide how to effectively use his strikers and in which pairing. I like the 3,4,3 formation with two strikers and one out and out winger, two at home perhaps.
In other news Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe scored the winner for his loan club yesterday.
I have also promised Gerry that I will not miss the fish n chip supper at Cleethorpes when we play Grimsby, which once again is a Tuesday night!
Colchester now have a double header against Crewe and Northampton. Six points from those matches and we will have started the season tremendously well.
Up the U’s