Mansfield Town secured their first win, and scored their first goals, for over a month on Saturday afternoon as The Stags finally turned patient possession and countless chances into points on the board against visiting Hartlepool.
Overall, the performance was not dissimilar to recent weeks, but at long last Matt Green displayed a ruthlessness in front of goal, aided by a sublime showcase of wing play from the returning Nathan Thomas.
The talented wideman Thomas, making his first league start since late September, terrorised the Hartlepool back line time and time again, whipping in numerous tantalising deliveries.
One of which provided the assist for Matt Green’s first goal in eight games, and his first in open play since the 29th August.
His performance highlighted all that the Stags have been missing of late.
As mentioned, Mansfield have had plentiful possession in promising areas in recent games, but were missing a player with flair, willing to take on their opposite number.
Adam Murray has spoken about his team ‘lacking an -factor’ this season and in my opinion, Nathan Thomas can be that ‘x-factor’.
At the age of 21, Thomas has only started 11 league games in his career.
After an auspicious pre-season, during which he scored two goals and created four, the winger began the campaign as first choice but has since found starts difficult to come by, having failed to achieve the high standards he had set on a consistent basis.
Still an inexperienced professional, and playing in a position which tends to harbour ‘hot and cold’ players, inconsistency is to be expected.
However, it is that element of unknown which makes Thomas such an exciting player to watch. Fans love to see a marauding winger playing with the belief that they can leave defenders in their wake every single time they receive the ball.
The youngster can sometimes take unnecessary risks in dangerous areas, which coupled with his tender age is plausibly the reason he has been sparingly used, but supply him with the ball within 35 yards of goal and witness supporters budge towards the edge of their seats.
Just as tension began to rise on Saturday, with the score tied at one goal apiece, a young striker earning himself the reputation of ‘super sub’ smashed an unstoppable 20 yard strike into the top corner, 126 seconds after his introduction.
It was Adi Yussuf’s third goal for Mansfield since joining from Oxford City in the summer.
Each time Yussuf has been on the scoresheet, The Stags have gone on to secure all three points, scoring at least three times in each of the games he has located the back of the net.
The former Leicester trainee is still chasing match fitness after fasting for religious reasons during pre-season, but has displayed a real strikers instinct thus far, causing problems for defenders during limited cameo performances. He turned provider for Green’s second goal, taking congratulations from all outfield teammates, going some way to demonstrate his popularity within the dressing room.
Those of you who read this blog or follow the Stags will be well acquainted with talisman Matt Green’s recent struggles in front of goal, the statistics of which have been highlighted above.
Since my previous piece calling for patience in the long-term, three more games had passed and chances had come and gone for Mansfield’s number ten. Scrutiny of the strikers wastefulness had intensified on messageboards and social media, with calls for Green to be dropped or the system to be altered.
With opportunities still falling the way of the forward, the issue was clearly a mental or technical failing rather than anything Adam Murray could effect tactically.
The proverbial monkey was well and truly shaken from his back on Saturday as Green bagged two goals in a game for the second time this season. With the next fixture approaching in such quick succession, fans, coaches and Green himself will all be hoping that he can carry the confidence gained on Saturday into Tuesday’s game against Exeter.