Saturday, 13 January 2018

Birmingham City 0 v Derby County 3 - EFL Championship

Saturday 13th January 2018
SkyBet EFL League Championship
at St. Andrew's Stadium
Birmingham City (0) 0
Derby County (1) 3
Johnny Russell 19
Matej Vydra 56
Andreas Weimann 89
Attendance: 22,121 (inc. 3,488 away)
Birmingham City:
David Stockdale, Maxime Colin, Marc Roberts, Harlee Dean, Jonathan Grounds, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Craig Gardner, Jacques Maghoma, David Davis (Che Adams 66), Jeremie Boga (Jota 83), Sam Gallagher.
Unused subs -  Connal Trueman, Michael Morrison, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Cheikh Ndoye, Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Derby County:
Scott Carson, Andre Wisdom, Richard Keogh, Curtis Davies, Craig Forsyth, Tom Huddlestone, George Thorne, Johnny Russell, Matej Vydra (Chris Martin, 87), Tom Lawrence (Andreas Weimann 77), Sam Winnall (David Nugent 68).
Unused subs - Jonathan Mitchell, Chris Baird, Alex Pearce, Jamie Hanson.
Steve Cotterill's Birmingham City went into today's game on the back of three straight wins in a row, during which time they haven't conceded a single goal.
There's something that nobody ever thought they would be reading at any point during this season of (even more) turmoil at St. Andrew's.
Gary Rowett, the EFL Championship manager of the month for December, has had a decent season thus far at Pride Park, and subsequently, the Rams started the game in second place, twelve points behind runaway leaders Wolves, while Birmingham have given themselves a
fighting chance (or thereabouts) of clawing their way out of the relegation places, with their two recent back to back league wins against Leeds United at home and Reading away, which preceded last weekend's FA Cup third round win against Burton Albion.
Derby's form under Rowett, has seen the former Blues manager rewarded with a two and a half year contract extension, to fend off apparent interest from Premier League club Stoke City, who recently parted company with Mark Hughes.
When these two sides last met in September, the game finished one apiece, when Sam Winnall equalised for the Rams just three minutes after Lukas Jutkiewicz had given Blues (under the leadership of caretaker manager Lee Carsley) the lead, just after the hour mark.
There is an unwritten code in football, that all of the rub of the green stuff, the close calls, near misses, fifty fifty decisions, good (and bad) luck and what has recently become known as 'fine lines' and 'narrow margins', will more than likely prove to be a massive hindrance and burden to any side struggling at the wrong end of the table, while fortune smiles on those who are riding high.
I'm not suggesting for a single moment that the Rams were dead jammy to get all of the points this afternoon, far from it, they were ruthless and clinical in equal measure when it mattered the most and can justifiably claim to have earned this win and all of the plaudits and
points that went along with with it, but perusing my notes from the opening twenty minutes of this game... in fact recapping events for the majority of the first half if truth be told, it read like a very detailed witnesses statement, presenting considerable weight to the case that the aforementioned 'unwritten code' was evidently in operation today, at least before half time interval anyway, after which time Derby upped their input and won because, in the main, they were more organised and a better team than their hosts.
Inside the opening five minutes, Jeremie Boga was all over the Rams defence like a nettle rash and when his sideways pass was deflected into the path of Jonathan Grounds, the left sided defender struck a crisp shot that beat Scott Carson all ends up but crashed back into play off of the right hand upright.
3,488 Derby County fans
Andre Wisdom air kicked while attempting to make a straight forward clearance on the edge of his area that almost let Boga in, but recovered quickly to get a foot to the ball at the second attempt.
David Davis went close to adding a finishing touch after Blues unpicked the visitors defence with a well worked free kick routine straight off of the training ground and then Boga tricked his way to the dead ball line before pulling the ball back to Sam Gallagher, who hesitated briefly when a first time effort was probably best practice and Derby scrambled the ball away to safety.
But despite the Rams coming to terms with the pressure that City applied during the opening stages, with all of the aplomb of the Walmington-on-Sea home guard seeing off a full scale invasion of 'Fuzzy Wuzzies', they rode their luck a bit, didn't panic and counter attacked swiftly in the nineteenth minute, when Richard Keogh knocked a rangy pass into the path of Johnny Russell, who raced forward for forty yards and played an hopeful angled cross/shot across the Blues area, that lacked the power to trouble David Stockdale, but took a deflection (possibly two) in front of the goal and crept over the line.
Regardless of what occurred later in the game at this particular point in time, the team who arrived at St.Andrew's sat in second place in the table had just got lucky, with a capital F!

To their credit, Birmingham brushed themselves down and set about the task of getting back on level terms after going a goal behind against the run of play during the opening exchanges. Boga's quick feet created an opportunity for Craig Gardner who sent a ferociously struck effort towards the top corner of the net from all of twenty five yards, only for Carson to make an excellent save and tip the ball round the post at full stretch. With a keeper in that sort of inspired form, it is no wonder that this would prove to be County's tenth consecutive away league game without a defeat.
Sam Winnall got forward on the left for the visitors and picked out Russell with his cross, but this time, sans the assistance of 'a deflection (possibly two)', the Rams number seven's wayward effort ended up somewhere towards the back of the Tilton Road End.
The visitors upped the ante towards half time and a cross from a tight angle out on the right hand side of the area by Matej Vydra, moved about all over the place before bouncing off of the top of the crossbar and Winnall got away down the left flank again, but Tom Lawrence miscued his shot straight at Stockdale from the resulting delivery.
HT: Blues 0 v Rams 1
The first half chances that went begging, came back to haunt Steve Cotterill's side, when Derby doubled their lead in the fifty sixth minute, when Lawrence play ed a well measured ball over Birmingham's defence to free Vydra who buried an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net, in front of the celebrating away fans.
The Rams had the scent of victory in their nostrils now and when Russell cut inside and out-manoeuvred Maxime Colin, a reflex save from Stockdale was required to prevent the visitors from going three goals ahead. Winnall went close when he picked up a clearance outside the area, moved forward and hit a thumping shot, that Grounds managed to block and divert the ball past the post.
Davis combined with Gallagher, but the latter rushed his shot and put it over.
Blues kept working, hoping for a break to set themselves on the road to recovery, but Harlee Dean and the lively Boga could keep their goal attempts on target as the visitors defence pressured them in the air and then that old Devil the 'unwritten code' reared it's head again, as Grounds used his to meet Gardner's cross with a towering header that bruised the foot of the post.
The fates had been unkind this afternoon for Birmingham, who certainly didn't deserve to be on the end of a big losing margin on the back of this showing, but for all of that, Derby had that bit more about them in the final reckoning and finished the afternoon on a high, having put in a professional shift where they turned the screw on Blues at the optimum moments.
They aren't in an automatic promotion place on the strength of good fortune alone, this is a side who seem to be coming into their prime and on the verge of taking hold of the current season by the scruff of it's neck.
Tom Huddlestone was denied by Stockdale, as the increasingly busy keeper did well to hold on to the occasional England international's stinging shot, but right at the death, Derby claimed a third goal to add the icing and a cherry on top of their second half efforts, when David Nugent's sideways knock across City's six yard box was steered into the net by Andreas Weiman.
FT: Birmingham City 0 v Derby County 3
Blues will play worse than they did today and come away with something out of the game, while you get the impression that the visitors might just still have a couple more gears in their engine to move up through, as the intensity increases towards the climax of another intriguing Championship campaign. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Nottingham Forest 4 v Arsenal 2 - FA Cup R3

Sunday 7th January 2018
Emirates FA Cup Third round
at the City Ground, Nottingham
Nottingham Forest (2) 4
Eric Lichaj 20, 44
Ben Brereton 64 pen
Kieran Dowell 85 pen
Arsenal FC (1) 2
Pal Mertesacker 23
Danny Welbeck 79
Attendance: 27,182
Nottingham Forest offloaded their manager Mark Warburton last week, without having a replacement lined up, so Gary Brazil, the head of youth development at the City Ground has stepped up into the first team role in a caretaker capacity. His first game in interim control was a goalless draw at Elland Road against promotion hopefuls Leeds United, a result that Brazil cited as: "a nice foundation to build on."
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager has been handed a three match touchline ban, starting today, for comments he made about the referee Mike Dean, after the Gunners recent away game at West Bromwich Albion.
Half and half scarves. Don't do it kids!
Though to be fair Mr Dean does at times seem to lean somewhat into the realms of being an attention seeking and self aggrandising individual who likes to play up, almost theatrically, in front of the TV cameras, rather than  solely taking on the role as a arbitrator of fair play.
Monsieur Wenger will probably be in even more trouble anytime soon after chastising another referee, Anthony Taylor, on Wednesday night, calling his penalty decision against Arsenal in their 2-2 draw against Chelsea in a Premier League game as "farcical".
While not wanting to appear to be approaching any of the above from anything other than a completely neutral angle, I would have to concur that Eden Hazard did actually 'made the most' of the minimal contact that occurred when he went for a fifty/fifty ball with Héctor Bellerín in the latter incident and as for the former, it's common knowledge that Mike Dean quite often conducts himself in a manner that is an embarrassment to his profession.
But hey! If well paid professional footballers can make mistakes (check out Arsenal's defending at the City Ground today for evidence of that), then it stands to reason that on occasions high profile match officials also will and these things do tend to balance themselves out over a period of time.
For example, in that same Arsenal v Chelsea match, Jack Wilshere was lucky to have avoided being shown a second yellow card before putting Wenger's side in front in the sixty third minute. Shit happens.. and it doesn't necessarily always float in one direction.
In the run up to the game Forest placed a joke about Wenger's ongoing disciplinary situation on their club Twitter feed saying: "Mr Wenger, if you'd like to upgrade your stand ticket to a hospitality package then you can do so by following this link. #NFFC."
As it turned out, the Gunners manager sat in the directors box besides Jans Lehman, holding his head in hands, presumably in case he actually dropped it.
Alas, there is no room for sentiment when it comes to football business and Arsenal's directors need to look no further than their surroundings on the banks of the River Trent this evening, to see first hand what could happen in the long run, when a club hangs on for far too long to their manager, whoever that manager is, based on  his past reputation and former glories. Even Brian Clough's methods had passed their expiry date when he retired (the same year that Forest were relegated from the top flight) and it could be argued, quite convincingly, at this present time, that Arsene Wenger's approach, which was a breath of fresh air from 1997 to 2006, hasn't moved quickly enough with the times to keep Arsenal up to speed with the other 'top clubs' that they are bracketed in with.
Is Wenger too sacred a cow for his paymasters to ever consider slaughtering him? Hypothetically speaking of course, though a good number of Arsenal fans walking across the Trent Bridge tonight, would happily have plunged him over the wall, to meet his fate in the depths of the murky freezing cold water as they headed towards the station.
In old money, three FA Cups in four years would be a remarkable achievement, for any club; but times have moved on for those occupying the upper echelons of the Premier League, and though the most recent of those triumphs came as recently as last season and probably kept Wenger in a job, the complete disregard that he showed to the competition today, fielding what was virtually a stiffs side, against opposition he had obviously underestimated, showed the Frenchman to be either extremely naive, or arrogant in extremes... or possibly a combination of both.
Evidently, if truth be told, in spite of the performance against Chelsea in last season's final, Wenger knew that his side were merely picking up a consolation prize, which came nowhere near the real aspirations of one of the big guns. Personally I still love this competition and all that it embodies, right from the early qualifying stages onward, but I accept that I'm a nostalgic old fool, clinging on to the relics and memories of a bygone age, that isn't ever coming back.
Nottingham Forest deserved their win today and a place in the next round of the FA Cup and by the same token, Arsenal got exactly what their efforts warranted too, sweet FA!
Resting players today, for their forthcoming two-legged League Cup semi final v. Chelsea, was a massive mistake by Wenger. And besides, since when did the League Cup suddenly take precedence over the FA Cup? And why is it that highly paid, professional sportsmen need to take a whole week off before playing in a semi?
Perhaps I should try this caper too and phone my boss in the morning and tell him that I'm tired, so I've decided just come in for one day this week, so I can put in a maximum performance for a ninety minute day with a break half way through my shift. Then again, I've got bills to pay, so maybe I'll get up and scrape the ice off my car windows at 5.30AM with the rest of you wage slave suckers, while overpaid and under motivated superstars live a life of luxury, and idiots (like me today for example) shell out exorbitant sums of money to watch them merely going through the motions to pick up a hefty pay packet.
F-effing-FS! Modern day professional footballers are mollycoddled to f*ck!
And yet people still frequently ask me why I watch so much lower league and non league football instead of the fare that is on offer in the big time league.
While not wanting to take anything whatsoever from Nottingham Forest, who wholly merited their win, you would have to ask, that if the Gunners actually had almost 70% of possession, as they did according to the OPTA statistics people, why the majority of their movement went width ways across the pitch and back, in ineffective areas, paying scant regard to the fact that the goals are actually at either end of the pitch for a reason. And regardless of which personnel to (former) FA Cup holders selected, surely that should still adhere to the same set plays for free kick and corner routines.
Forest undid their visitors easily and often, attacked at will (and at pace) and to be quite frank, made Arsenal look second best all over the pitch, time and time again.
Truth be told, the Championship side wanted it more, much more and nobody could begrudge them this win on today's showing.
Ben Brereton laid down a marker for the home side, pressing Arsenal's central defenders and chasing down every ball right from the off.
When the opening goal did arrive in the twentieth minute, from Kieran Dowell's free kick just outside the visitors area on the right, Eric Lichaj had the Premier League side's pants down, when, having been played onside by an ineffective two man wall, he nipped in behind a static row of defenders, to get in between David Ospina and the near post, where he met the ball with a thumping header.
Just let this sink in for a moment... although Arsenal had fielded more or less a reserve side today, one of those defenders that didn't track Lichaj, or even spot his blind side run, owns a World Cup winners medal, and the keeper who was beaten to the ball next to his left hand upright by a player running across him from his right, is a Columbian international.
That very same World Champion equalised for the visitors within three minutes, when Theo Walcott appeared out of nowhere (I'd heard his name announced before kick off, but hadn't actually spotted him anywhere near the action as of yet), launched a free kick into the hosts area from out on the left which Rob Holding headed against the left hand post, before the ball ricocheted into the path of  Pal Mertesacker who buried the ball into the back of Jordan Smith's net from eight yards out.
Had Forest had their five minutes of fame and were now about to crumble under weight of  Arsenal's heavy artillery?
Where they hell as like!
In the final minute of the first half, while Wenger's side continued to live dangerously, playing an untimely game of head tennis in front of their own goal as they struggled to deal Matty Cash's right wing cross, Holding inadvertently provided a second goal assist, of sorts, when he nodded the ball away from inside his own six yard box to Lichaj, waiting for a loose ball inside the D, who took it down on his chest before dispatching a peach of a volley over the advancing Holding and into the top left hand corner the net, that left Ospina rooted to the spot.
HT: Forest 2 v Arsenal 1
Arsenal came out for the second half and unfathomably continued to persevere with their tippy tappy, going nowhere bleedin' fast passing rectangles, while Forest, spearheaded by the eighteen year old Brereton, who had already been denied three times by Ospina continued to shrug their shoulders dismissively at the reputation of their opposition and kept piling forward at each and every opportunity.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, obviously one for the future among the North Londoners ranks, was made to look like a fish out of water at times, but in reality, he's a midfield player, being forced to perform in an unfamiliar position and Forest had obviously pinpointed the left back berth he was occupying as a potential route to get in amongst Arsenal back line, and in effect it worked really well.
Indeed Forest's next goal came after Cash had punctured the left hand side of Arsenal's defence and went to ground over Holding's outstretched leg, with Brereton making no mistake from the resulting penalty kick.
Wenger's side were thrown a potential lifeline when Smith fumbled Alex Iwobi's through ball at the feet of Danny Welbeck and the England striker rolled it into the unguarded net from an angle.
But Forest weren't finished yet, Welbeck was manhandled in the home side's area, but the referee Jonathan Moss allowed play to go on despite Arsenal's appeals and as the manager-less home side countered, Armand Traore made a lung busting run through the left channel of Ospina's area and was scythed down from behind by Mathieu Debuchy as the Gunners number two took out Traore at the same time as he reached the ball.
Controversy surrounded Dowell's eighty fifth minute spot kick, as he slipped on his run up and appeared to contact the ball twice as a consequence, but after a consultation between the referee and his assistant the goal stood, but the game was all but over as a competition by now anyway, so it was immaterial how the final goal had been scored.
Chuba Akpom entered the fray for the visitors with three minutes remaining and made a cameo appearance in the two final pieces of action, for it was he who Joe Worrall fouled to earn himself a second yellow card and dismissal and in stoppage time the Arsenal substitute lobbed Smith from the edge of the area and as his effort bounced inches wide of the right hand post Walcott was unable to reach it and steer the ball on target.
It would appear that the twenty quid Theo Walcott t-shirts that are on sale in Arsenal's online shop are now available for a fiver... hold that thought.
FT: Nottingham Forest 4 v Arsenal 2
Today's defeat marked the first time that Arsenal had been eliminated in the third round of the FA Cup during Arsene Wenger's twenty one year reign at Highbury and Ashburton Grove, but there could have no complaints from them as they failed to reorganise tactically at any point in an effort to impose themselves on the game, while Forest gave them no time or space whatsoever to utilise their tendency to pass the ball to death with no end result.
A fair result all told, well played Forest and kudos to their caretaker manager Gary Brazil for his level headed, calm and very shrewd handling of the game.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Doncaster Rovers 0 v Rochdale 1 - FA Cup R3

Saturday 6th January 2018
FA Cup Third Round
at the Keepmoat Stadium
Doncaster Rovers (0) 0
Rochdale (1) 1
Calvin Andrew 18
Admission £15. Programme £3.
Attendance: 4,513 (547 away)
Prior to this afternoon, I hadn't seen these two teams play against each other since last year, or a little over a week ago on 29th December, to be more precise, when first half goals from Ben Whiteman and Alfie May gave Rovers a 2-0 win in a Friday night League 1 fixture , against Keith Hill's spirited Dale team who gave a very good account of themselves, but couldn't quite add the final touch in and around Ian Lawlor's goal in spite of some very impressive build up play, particularly in the second half.
In the interim, Whiteman, who it was assumed would see the remainder of the season out at Donny, has been recalled from his loan spell by Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder, because the Blades have suffered from a number of injuries to key players.
Today's encounter was, by and large, a symmetrical, backwards mirror image of the one that took place eight day's ago, with the hosts slinging everything but the kitchen sink at Dale in a virtually one sided finale to the second half this time around, but going down to the lead that the visitors had established before the break.
By all accounts there is a possibility that the influential midfielder, who turned out on loan for Mansfield town last season, might still return to the Rovers fold again this season at a later date, but only time will tell.
In between the two Rovers v Dale matches at the Keepmoat, on New Years Day, Darren Ferguson's side picked up a point on their travels at Peterborough United,
with the aforementioned Whiteman scoring a stoppage time goal to make the score 1-1, while today's visitors succumbed to a 2-1 home defeat against Blackpool with Mark Kitching grabbing a consolation goal in the ninety third minute.
Having weighed up Donny's strengths and weaknesses last time out, Keith Hill, still sporting his Jack Sugden apparel from last night's Emmerdale fancy dress bash, had concocted a game plan to overcome them. John Marquis had obviously been earmarked as one of the strengths and he was targeted after just twenty seconds, with a crude borderline assassination by Jimmy McNulty, who clattered into the Rovers number nine, with a knee high challenge inside the first twenty seconds of the game. McNulty was shown a yellow card while Marquis received treatment, but if the punishment had fitted the crime, then the visitors could've been down to ten men almost from the off.
Subsequently Marquis looked a yard off the pace for the remainder of the first half, as he tried running off his ailments, while his attacking sidekick, Alfie May, never really got into his stride all afternoon.
To be frank, I've seen May play far better than he did throughout today's lacklustre showing and it wouldn't have been a surprise to have seen him substituted for Liam Mandeville at half time as opposed to the eighty eighth minute, when the swap actually took place, while a number of home fans sat close by in the West Stand expressed their lack of approval with his input for the afternoon.
Rochdale's Ian Henderson was pivotal to most of the positive things that the visitors created, as they began to make in roads into Doncaster territory, particularly down the right flank, with the vulnerable left hand side of Rovers rearguard obviously having been earmarked as a weak spot.
By the end of the game, the Rovers faithful would be questioning the suitability of Andy Woolmer to referee any game of Association Football, along with his parentage, and even from my neutral corner I could probably see why they would feel that way; but those same supporters were probably un-sighted or possibly momentarily looking the other way, when Matt Done, who'd put in a great shift for Dale during the recent game between these two sides, came in for a few roughhouse and marginally fair but firm challenges, that didn't carry the same blatant elements of assault that McNulty's lunge at Marquis had, but nonetheless were still designed to rattle the visitors play-maker and knock him out of his stride.
But football is meant to be a competitive game and players will come into contact with each other at full tilt from time to time, especially when the match officials adopt a laissez-faire approach to applying the rules of the game.
547 Rochdale fans
Rovers had started on the front foot, but McNulty and Donervon Daniels were putting up a formidable barrier and protecting Josh Lillis' goal resolutely. Building on their solid foundations Dale went close when Done, drove a cross/shot across the face of Ian Lawlor's goal that fizzed passed the wrong side of the upright.
In the eighteenth minute the visitors probed forward on the right and Niall Mason was penalised for fouling Andy Cannon.
Joe Bunney delivered the resulting free kick towards the back post, clearing a scrum of players in the six yard box, to where Calvin Andrew timed his jump well and glanced a header beyond the reach of Lawlor to claim the only goal of the game.
A few minutes later, Marquis upended Done who was starting to impose himself on the game and picked up a yellow card to go with his bruises.
Rodney Kongolo was having a good game for the home side, helping out in defence one minute then terrorising the opposition on the right the next, but Lillis was putting in a determined shift and thwarting Donny when Marquis and Matt Blair both had half decent chances to level things up, while Daniels and Kgosu Ntlhe both made blocking tackles.
In stoppage time, Niall Mason's right wing corner was half cleared by Daniels is cleared, but into the path of Blair, who fed the ball into the path of  Alfie Beestin through the right channel, but he spanked the ball wide of the left hand post.
HT: Rovers 0 v Dale 1
Rovers had grown in stature towards the end of the first half and it was beginning to look as though it was only a matter of time until they were on level terms, but although they upped the ante even more after half time, it was proving to be a frustrating afternoon for Darren Ferguson and his side.
Tommy Rowe was proving to be a handful for the visitors defence, but they were still,  just about, hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Rowe put the ball in from the mix and it sat up perfectly Beestin who struck his shot from point blank range well, and on target, but Lillis pulled off a quite remarkable save to preserve his clean sheet.
"How the ****ing hell did you miss that Beestin? You're not good enough!" spewed forth an angry gentleman sat a few rows behind us. How on earth anybody could call that a miss and mistake the moment for anything other than a brilliant piece of goalkeeping is beyond comprehension.
Henderson struck a shot from twenty five yards that flew a few feet wide of Lawlor's right hand post and then started a move including Andrew and Cannon, that saw the ball knocked away from the Doncaster goal area into the path of Bunney who unleashed a rasping, dipping shot that narrowly cleared the crossbar.
Done dispossessed Matthieu Baudry and broke forward on the left hand side of the area, but the Rovers number five got back quickly to salvage the situation at the expense of a corner.
Having survived a spell of pressure, Donny were soon cursing their luck again, when a thumping effort from Marquis came off of the foot of the upright, after Kongolo had done well to create the chance.
Given the considerable influence he was now having as a deriving force behind an anticipated Rovers comeback, Rowe was by now being targeted with some man sized, full bodied tackles, one of which saw Daniels also go into the referee's notebook with fifteen minutes remaining.
Andrew had gone back to add his height to Rochdale's all out defence approach to the closing stages of the game while even Lawlor was going up the field for set pieces.
Rovers had four penalty appeals waved away as the crowd behind the goal they were attacking serenaded Mr Woolmer with a heartfelt chorus of "Your not fit to referee!" and I certainly thought that they were unlucky not to have been given two spot kicks, when the Rovers substitute James Coppinger was halted with a forearm smash and Rowe was taken out by a two footed foul.
Butler and Rowe were both guilty of missing opportunities as Rochdale hung on, much to the delight of their travelling supporters who sang them home across the finishing line... and Doncaster Rovers interest in the FA Cup was over for another year after Jamie Houghton, a loanee from Chelsea shot over the bar as the game went into added time.
FT: Doncaster Rovers 0 v Rochdale 1
Having just listened to the BBC Radio Sheffield football phone in: 'Praise or Grumble' on the way home, it was clear that the Rovers fans who called were adamant that poor match officials had cost their side a place in the next round, while Darren Ferguson lamented about his team not finishing the numerous chances that they had created. 
Personally, I reckon that Doncaster would've been on their way to a replay at Spotland, at the very least, if it hadn't been for the agility of the visitors keeper Josh Lillis.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Mansfield Town 3 v Carlisle United 1 - EFL League 2

Monday 1st January 2018
SkyBet EFL League 2
at Field Mill/ One Call Stadium
Mansfield Town (2) 3
Kane Hemmings 9, 75
Rhys Bennett 31
Carlisle United (0) 1
Jamie Devitt 67 pen
Attendance 3,632 (inc. 320 away)
Last season, Carlisle inflicted a 5-2 defeat on the Stags at Brunton Park, but goals from Matt Green and Shaq Coulthirst gave Mansfield a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture at Field Mill.
The previous meeting between these two sides, back in September, yielded a 1-1 draw, when Hallam Hope opened the scoring for the former Mansfield player and manager Keith Curle's side, before Calum Butcher netted the equaliser with a long range strike, after Kane Hemmings had missed a penalty.
Moving swiftly on to this year... following a narrow win against struggling Morecambe in their previous home game (they all count), the Stags picked up four points on their travels from a hard fought draw at Grimsby Town on Boxing Day and an apparently 'heroic' win at Adams Park against Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday afternoon,
where they picked up a maximum three points in spite of losing Zander Diamond and Danny Rose in the first half through injury (subsequently neither of them were available for selection today) and going a goal behind after just seven minutes when Adebayo Akinfenwa scored for the Chairboys.
Meanwhile, over the course of their three holiday season fixtures prior to their visit to Mansfield, Carlisle United had won 1-0 at Forest Green Rovers and 3-1 at home against Accrington Stanley, but lost 1-0 to Coventry City in their final home game of 2017; meaning that the Cumbrians went into today's game six points behind the Stags, who were one of four teams on forty points, along with Wycombe, Accrington and Colchester United, who all started this afternoon just three points away from an automatic promotion spot... and so the scene was set.
Mansfield Town:
Conrad Logan, Rhys Bennett, Mal Benning, Krystian Pearce (C), Alex MacDonald, Jacob Mellis (Will Atkinson 83), Lee Angol (Jack Thomas 88), Paul Anderson, Alfie Potter (Hayden White 79), CJ Hamilton, Kane Hemmings
Unused subs - Bobby Olejnik (GK), Paul Omari Digby, Sterling-James, Calum Butcher
Carlisle United:
Jack Bonham, Tom Miller, Danny Grainger (C) (Hallam Hope 45), Gary Liddle, Tom Parkes, Mike Jones, Jamie Devitt, Sam Cosgrove, Reggie Lambe (John O'Sullivan 80), Shaun Miller (Richie Bennett 45), Clint Hill
Unused subs - Morgan Bacon (GK), Samir Nabi, Mark Ellis, James Brown
Danny Grainger showed what a generous soul he is, when he gift wrapped a late Xmas present for Kane Hemmings in the ninth minute, in the shape of a woefully under-hit back pass to his keeper Jack Bonham, who was stranded in no mans land and Hemmings reached the ball first and took it round the visitors number one, before rolling the ball into an unguarded net.
Not wanting to feel left out from the goodwill to all men vibe, Carlisle's right back Tom Miller delivered the Stags yet another present when he made a complete mess of clearing Alex MacDonald's deep cross from the right, allowing Hemmings to retrieve a lost cause and nudge the ball forward to CJ Hamilton who turned the ball inside for Lee Angol who flicked the ball over Bonham with a deft touch, and though the visitors keeper got a slight touch on it with his fingertips Rhys Bennett had arrived in the nick of time at the back stick to add the finishing touch from close range.
Sitting on a comfortable two goal lead at the interval, the Stags would be aware that the visitors would be looking to get back into the game as soon as possible after the restart, especially when Keith Curle made a double substitution at half time sending on Richie Bennett and the impressive Hallam Hope, who to my way of thinking is one player who would be an asset to any promotion chasing team... especially Mansfield Town.
But it was the home side who made all of the early running and Bonham had to be alert to prevent Hamilton from giving the Stags a three goal cushion.
But in the sixty seventh minute the Cumbrians halved the deficit when Jamie Devitt spanked the ball into the bottom left hand corner of Conrad Logan's net from the penalty spot.
Debate over whether Carlisle should have had a penalty or not, is open to conjecture. But the match referee Darren Drysdale thought that a foul had been committed (personally I didn't) and no amount of pontificating about it until the cows come home is going to change anything.
Richie Bennett had burst into the Stags area through the left channel and took the ball past Logan and then went to ground. I reckon that having worked his way into a good position, he had let the ball get away from him as he passed the Stags keeper and went down theatrically to save face. But it's all about opinions innit? And regardless of whether there was any real contact or not, I wouldn't have batted an eyelid if Mansfield had been awarded a spot kick for a similar incident at the other end.
Besides which, any victory always tastes that little bit sweeter after you've suffered from a perceived injustice.
The drama continue to unfold, when the visitors should've drawn level, but didn't. Hope's left wing cross picked out Sam Cosgrove who got his head to the ball and turned it against the upright and saw it rebound to (R) Bennett who, with the goal at his mercy, and yards of space to operate in, crashed his shot against the bar.
The pantomime baddie had come unstuck and ended up with a great big custard pie in his face (Conrad Logan keeps one with his water bottle and spare gloves for if such an occasion should ever arise, or in case he feels peckish during a break in the action) and the crowd gleefully lapped up a moment of pure theatre. And less than two minutes later, Hemmings got in between Bonham and Miller to reach Alfie Potter's low delivery from the right and steered the ball into the back of the net.
Late in the game Bonham denied Hemmings a hat trick with a reflex save to his right from yet another quality ball from MacDonald.
FT: Mansfield Town 3 v Carlisle United 1
Mansfield travel to Cardiff City in the FA Cup on Saturday, which will of course, pitch their managerial team against the equally outspoken Neil Warnock on the touchline, that particular 'entertainment' might be worth the price of admission on it's own. Not that I'm condoning such behaviour and potty mouth language you understand.
The win today sees the Stags climb to sixth in the table, one point away from the automatic promotion places. For the benefit of those of you who haven't been paying attention, Mansfield Town have now lost just once in their last eighteen competitive games... just saying.