Can a first defeat of the season, at home to League One outfit Port Vale, be classed as a negative after what Nigel Clough’s Mansfield Town side has produced this season?
On the night, yes, the majority of fans in the One Call Stadium, an expectant 7,432 would have left disappointed following a 1-0 defeat prevented not only a trip to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1975 (Mansfield lost 4-2 against eventual winners Manchester City that day), but also halted a near record-breaking run, they equalling that at 20 matches.
THE LOSS TO PORT VALE
It would be the League One visitors who’d enjoy the better chances in the encounter, on-loan Sheffield United midfielder, Ollie Arblaster coming closest on a number of occasions and was proving a nuisance.
Connor Ripley, son of former footballer Stuart Ripley, and current Valiants shot-stopper, prevented a Stags goal; following a cross from Louis Reed, the mercurial Davis Keillor-Dunn firing an instinctive volley goal-bound.
The decider though arrived five minutes into the second period, Vale’s on-loan Tottenham Hotspur striker, 19-year-old Alfie Devine, producing a fine solo effort after pouncing on a loose ball in midfield and shooting from outside the area, skidding off the pitch on its way past Christy Pym and into the bottom corner of the goal.
Both sides had chances late on in the contest, second half substitute Rhys Oates with Mansfield’s best, but, it wasn’t to be for the hosts, who must now dust themselves off quickly, and focus on a promotion push.
Mansfield vs. Port Vale was as follows – Christy Pym, Jordan Bowery, Aden Flint, Lewis Brunt, Calum Macdonald (Stephen McLaughlin, 83), Louis Reed (Baily Cargill, 90), Aaron Lewis, Ollie Clarke (Hiram Boateng, 59), George Maris (James Gale, 59), Davis Keillor-Dunn, Will Swan (Rhys Oates, 59)
WHAT THE GAFFER SAID
Afterwards, Stags boss Nigel Clough told BBC Radio Nottingham: “I didn’t think we were too good in the first half.
“That’s probably the worst we’ve played in quite some time, we did well to get in 0-0 at half-time – it was a relief.
“They were a yard sharper, they are League One players not League Two players and it looked like it at times, the calmness on the ball.
“We never really got to grips with them in the first half – though we had three or four situations, but we couldn’t score.
“I thought the second half was much more even – we started the second half well and the goal came a little against the run of play.
“We thought we could have a go at them in the second half and we did.”
THE UNBEATEN RUN
Stretching back to the 2-0 win away to Colchester United (Riley Harbottle, James Gale), at the end of the 2022-23 season, Mansfield Town have been on an incredible, unbeaten run, prior to Tuesday night’s League Cup exit at the hands of Port Vale.
Two goals were netted in each of the first two games this campaign also, a 2-2 draw away to Crewe Alexandra opening the 2023-24 season, followed by a 2-0 win at home to Grimsby Town.
A first league win of the season was picked up at home to Morecambe, a Lucas Akins brace and one from Davis Keillor-Dunn wrapping up a 3-0 success, before back-to-back draws; it was those that were a pitfall last season, draws, and again, this time around, there’s perhaps been too many so far.
A penalty shoot-out success away to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup at the end of August afforded continued cheer, whilst a 3-0 win away to Accrington Stanley, in early September (Davis Keillor-Dunn, George Maris and Aaron Lewis netting), moved the unbeaten run on.
Another shoot-out win, this at home to Peterborough United, saw the Stags further themselves in the League Cup, in late September, but back-to-back goalless draws threatened to derail it all in early October then, after a 3-2 win over Doncaster Rovers in the EFL Trophy, a pair of 4-1 wins, on the road, were most certainly enjoyed.
A come-from-behind masterclass was witnessed at Meadow Lane as goals from Louis Reed, Baily Cargill, Aden Flint, and Lucas Akins, gave the Stags a stunning win over hosts, and fellow high-fliers, Notts County, in the Nottinghamshire Derby, in mid-October, before, ten days later, hosts Harrogate Town suffered the same fate, Lucas Akins’ quick-fire brace sandwiched between efforts from Lewis Brunt and George Maris.
The unbeaten start to the 2023-24 season continued this past weekend when at home to Walsall as the Stags went nineteen in all competitions (twenty inc. Colchester at the end of last), Aden Flint and Jordan Bowery sealing a 2-1 result that sees the Stags fourth (joint-third) in the table, after fifteen matches (they’ve a game in hand on the front three of Stockport County, Notts County, and their next opponents, Wrexham).
At the back, Christy Pym and his defence have kept seven clean sheets thus far, whilst at the other end of the pitch, and scoring-wise, Davis Keillor Dunn leads the way with eight goals and four assists in nineteen played, he’s followed by Lucas Akins (7), George Maris (4/2), Rhys Oates (3/2), Aden Flint and Louis Reed (2/1), with another six players having netted one apiece.
Next up for the Stags, it’s the Emirates FA Cup at the One Call Stadium, Nigel Clough’s charges welcoming fellow League Two high-fliers Wrexham on Saturday (4 November) night, KO 19:45.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @mansfieldtownfc a frustrating night as Port Vale go on to reach the last eight.