Another busy week, so apologies this has had to wait until today. Once again the random match selector throws a curve ball – with the cheers from our imperious victory at Field Mill last Saturday still fresh in the memory, we return to Field Mill (aka The One-Call Stadium) for this one.
Mansfield Town v Colchester United Saturday 18th August 2018 Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4) Attendance 3,909
Match #24 of the series, and my one and only trip to Field Mill so far, and just over a year or so ago near the start of our 2018/19 campaign. Not my first match of this season, I’d already travelled to Notts County on the opening day, coming away thinking 0-0 at one of the likely promotion contenders wasn’t a bad point at all – and look how that turned out...
My years following the U’s have almost always been beset by one constant banana skin, the oft fallibility of our rail network. I therefore approached this one with a certain amount of trepidation – nearly five hours each way, with three changes there and back to negotiate. Plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, bad enough that I could miss kick-off, but far worse the possibility of not actually getting home that night. If proof was needed, as I departed that morning, I was still wrangling with GWR for a refund after significant delays getting back from Notts County a fortnight earlier.
This is a match for which I don’t have the programme, though do still have the matchday ticket – slightly disappointed that I didn’t cop a freebie for this one and had to pay face value. Also, baffled why the instructions were “Turnstiles 9-12 vs Carlisle United” – wrong CUFC Stags…
Despite my concerns, the four-leg journey to Mansfield (via Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham) was completely trouble-free (insomuch as a near 5-hour journey can be trouble-free), and with plenty of refreshment during the journey, I arrived in good spirits to hopefully see the U’s maintain their solid start to the season. I joined a modest throng of what must have been about 200 of the faithful in the North Stand, still in good voice though.
Other than being managed by David Flitcroft, there really weren’t many names in the Mansfield squad that day that meant much to me. For the U’s, Norris was on the bench again, yet to make his league debut, though he had played (and scored) in the previous match at Cheltenham in the League Cup (we lost 5-6 on penalties). Mind you, Mansfield had put down a marker of their own the same night, smashing six past Accrington Stanley.
For the first half, the U’s were clearly more than happy to sit deep for the most part, soaking up any pressure that Mansfield could exert. That turned out to be very little to be honest, quite surprising considering they blew Stanley apart in their previous match, and there was more than a suspicion that we were watching two teams that were far too wary of each other to show any real commitment to have a go. That’s not to say there weren’t chances, fairly early on CJ Hamilton cut in from the right and let fly from outside the box, but it never looked likely to trouble Dillon Barnes. On 18 minutes, a rare U’s foray forward earned a corner, and from Dickenson’s corner to the far post, Prosser’s header bought a good save from Conrad “who ate all the pies” Logan. Still, by and large an eminently forgettable first half of unimaginative football saw the game 0-0 at half-time. A welcome boost for me was spotting Durham and Gerry off to the right as I headed for my half-time Bovril, good to see them both and share a friendly wave.
Without wishing to appear cynical, I think we’ve largely given up hope that McGreal will deliver a morale-boosting kick-up-the-arse team talk at half time, and this game did not appear to buck that trend. The second half started in much the same vein as the first half finished, neither side really putting either under consistent pressure, and the U’s particularly looking more and more happy to hold on to a point. Flitcroft was the first to realise things needed to be changed if he was to get anything from the match, bringing on Craig Davies approaching the hour mark. On 72 minutes McGreal changed things around, taking off Senior (who was being constantly manhandled without any protection from ineffectual referee Michael Salisbury) and replacing him with Luke Norris for his league debut. However, my hope that this would change our approach to the game, in fact the game full-stop, proved somewhat optimistic. Flitcroft clearly saw the same too, and five minutes later tried a double-substitution, bringing on both Neal Bishop and Danny Rose.
Finally, with less than ten minutes to go, the dour deadlock was broken. Davies had a right-footed attempt blocked on the edge of the box, picked up the rebound, and instantly lashed a left-footed absolute pile-driver past the despairing dive of Dillon Barnes. A match like this really didn’t deserve a goal of that quality, it was an absolute rocket (reminiscent of Crawley’s opener in the Carabao cup), and Barnes had no chance. And that looked to be that – the U’s, devoid of any attacking intent all match, were suddenly trying to find third and fourth gears we had hardly used all game. However, we did give it a go, and for the remainder of the match it was Mansfield more than happy to sit deep and soak up wave upon wave of U’s attacks. With less than five minutes to go, McGreal brought on Eastman, and then Mandron, to try and rescue something from the game. Hope came with the announcement of four minutes of extra-time, but still Mansfield kept us at bay.
In the final seconds of extra-time, Mandron picked up a half-way line long throw from Jackson, cut across the edge of the penalty area and unleashed a ferocious left-footed shot, which Logan did well to palm away for a throw-in near the corner flag. Four minutes were already passed, this clearly was going to be our one last chance – Jackson hurled it long, right into the six-yard box, and inexplicably Logan made no attempt to jump for it at all, letting it slip between his hands for Sammie to stab home from point blank range.
We went absolutely mental, talk about last gasp! I’m not even sure the referee restarted the game, it was that close to the end.
Mansfield Town 1 (Craig Davies 81’) Colchester United 1 (Sammie Szmodics 95’)
As gratifying as it was to snatch a point in that manner, and it probably was the fair result, there was no disguising it hadn’t been a good performance by the U’s, and with worrying signs of things to come for that season. Still, it did mean we all went home reasonably happy.
As for my journey home, everything went well until I reached Bristol for my eighth and final train back to Chippenham – I’ll leave you to work out which train on the destination board was my one…