PAUL Cox’s first game in charge of new-look Mansfield Town ended in frustration as Stags were held 1-1 by Bath City at Field Mill, reports John Lomas.
In front of a bumper gate of almost 4,000 home fans, Cox could not have wished for a better start as goal ace Paul Connor headed them into a third minute lead from a Matt Bell cross.
But, after Stags failed to take another of several good opportunities, the part-timers were level from Adam Connolley’s deflected 35th minute strike.
There were some excellent performances from home players with full backs Bell and Luke O’Neill plus centre half Martin Riley shining as well as Jon Worthington in the centre of midfield and Matt Green up front.
But too many times Stags went for the long ball option and wingers Andy Todd and Louis Briscoe were not utilised often enough to get crosses in.
Stags forced 11 corners to Bath’s three and pinned the Romans in their own box for the last 20 minutes without being able to deal the killer blow.
Stags, with players out injured and Joe Kendrick suspended, gave debuts to six of their 15 new signings with five more on the bench, including defender Nick Wood, who has signed a one month deal as cover.
Tom Naylor was joined by three debutants in the back four in O’Neill, Riley and Bell while player-coach Todd and Worthinton made first appearances in midfield and Green got the nod over Dyer up front.
Bath’s back four included Preece and Stonehouse, both released from Field Mill this summer.
The kick-off was delayed to accommodate the long queues of fans still trying to get in with the club offering £2 admission to anyone producing a Wembley FA Trophy final ticket stub from last May.
There was also a minute’s silence for ex-Stags player Jimmy Goodfellow and club stalwart and ex-deputy safety officer Trevor Mitchell, who have both passed away.
The game finally kicked off in a cauldron of noise and within three minutes that noise was even louder as Stags grabbed an early lead.
Bath failed to clear a Bell throw on the left near the corner flag. Bell was then allowed to whip in a cross which found Connor unmarked five yard from goal and he guided a superb header wide of Garner’s fingertips.
On seven minutes Connor helped a clearance on to Green who, from a tight angle, still found an on-target finish that forced Garner to beat away.
However, a slip by Naylor on nine minutes saw him miss his header and let in Phillips whose low finish was only just wide of Marriott’s left hand post.
Soon after Green cut in from the left and unleashed a low shot that took two deflections before going out for a corner.
Full credit to Bath as, a goal behind, they had to start probing and did so, Hogg starting to cause some problems with good wingplay wide on the right.
Jones almost produced an equaliser on 19 minutes as he rose highest to meet a Hogg corner but couldn’t direct his header on target.
Green was let loose on the right once more from Briscoe’s forward ball and this time his low finish was deflected for a 22nd minute corner.
From that the Bath goal led a charmed life as Riley met the corner with a header that hit the left post and came back out to Naylor whose shot hit a leg and went up onto the bar and came back to him, his second attempt being saved.
On the half-hour Preece almost saw an early end to his return to Field Mill as he went in on Murray with his studs showing, leaving the Stags skipper needing treatment.
But, despite the home fans’ chants of ‘off, off, off’ the centre half escaped with a booking.
Phillips was wide from 25 yards as Bath looked for a way back in.
And that opening came on 35 minutes. Hogg did well on the left by-line to pull back an inviting low cross to the edge of the box where Connolly’s low shot took a deflection and gave Marriott no chance in goal.
You could feel the sense of deflation on the pitch and in the stands as a game that could have been all but won by Stags was suddenly level.
In first half stoppage time the home side won their sixth corner but the referee spotted pushing and blew for a free-kick and half-time.
Todd had a shot charged down and Bell was well off with the follow-up as Stags began the second half on the attack.
A Murray flick invited Connor to chase the ball down, but keeper Garner left his line quickly and just managed to prevent the striker sidestepping him.
Green did well to chase down Garner and force the keeper into a poor kick out, the ball reaching Connor who, with Garner out of position, was then robbed by a crucial Preece tackle.
A tug on a defender by Green on 58 earned the Stags striker a yellow card for persistent fouling after several warnings.
A minute later Bath might have been in front as Hogs’ right wing cross was helped on towards Phillips who, right in front of goal, sent his header down Marriot’s throat.
It was Bath who were playing the better football at this stage, keeping it on the ground and Russell tested Marriott with a low 20-yarder that was easily gathered.
Seconds later Green came inside from the right and ran along the edge of the box before forcing Garner down low to his right to gather a shot that lacked any real pace.
With 20 minutes to go, goalscorer Connor was replaced by Dyer up front.
On 72 minutes the physical presence of Dyer saw him hold off two defenders to leave the ball loose for Murray whose finish was too high.
A minute later Murray returned the favour as his ball forward saw Dyer beat the keeper to it, turn and try to force it into the empty net only to see Preece back to clear off the goal line.
This was better from the home side and Stags made a second change up front with 14 minutes to go as Meikle made his debut in place of Green.
Adam Murray was lectured for dissent after he blew his top over a succession of fouls against the home side.
On 85 minutes Naylor got a firm head onto a Bell corner only to see it fly over the top as frustrations grew.
Pushing forward near the end, Stags were almost caught on the break as Murray’s long cross found an unmarked Hogg who could get no power on his header at the far post.
Twice near the end Meikle went for the wrong option when loose in the box, losing the ball after taking too many players on when he should have passed and then forcing Garner to save at his near post with team mates better placed.
Todd might have been a last gasp hero but failed to get his head on the ball right in front of goal after an O’Neill free kick was helped on.
But the Romans held on for an excellent point.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Naylor, Riley, Bell; Briscoe, A. Murray, Worthington, Todd; Connor (Dyer 70), Green (Meikle 76). Subs not used: Redmond, Stevenson, Wood.
BATH CITY: Garner; Simpson, Jones, Preece, Stonehouse; Russell, Connolly, Burnell, Hogg, Russell (S. Murray 74); Phillips (Cook 90). Subs not used: Matthews, Rollo, Webb.
REFEREE: Darren Handley of Lancashire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,997 (80 away).