MATCH ANALYSIS: Progress made as Stags slip into summer

Mansfield Town v Cambridge Utd.
Second half coming together.
Mansfield Town v Cambridge Utd. Second half coming together.

It was a shame Mansfield Town couldn’t end the season on a win on Saturday, but most fans left One Call Stadium with a feeling of satisfaction and a tinge of excitement of what may be to come next season.

The 0-0 stalemate with former play-off rivals Cambridge United left Adam Murray’s men finishing in 12th spot.

But, while they may have failed to overhaul the 11th spot finish of two years ago, they did earn 64 points this season, compared to 60 two seasons back and also ended up with plus eight on goal difference, having finished on minus nine that season.

So the season does represent progress and, with all the off-the-field work going on, it is obvious that Murray has put in a lot of building blocks for the future.

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Click HERE to read boss Adam Murray’s thoughts

Despite being in the play-off running all season, Stags’ challenge fizzled out in the end and, with plenty of bigger budgets than their own to contend with next season, Murray knows another play-off push will be just as tough if not tougher.

So the retained list and his success in bringing in a handful of X-Factor players this summer represent crucial decisions and provide another big test of his negotiation skills with bigger wages on offer elsewhere.

The fact that few fans remained in the stadium to applaud the players as they came back out for a farewell after the final whistle showed most minds were already on the summer – no one even tried to invade the pitch at the end.

But, on a typical sweltering final day of the season, it was also a fair reflection of a game to forget.

I can’t remember a match with so few chances at either end – Stags producing the only serious on-target shot of the 90 minutes.

It had begun promisingly enough with chairman John Radford unveiling the old North Stand clock, now installed on the Bishsop Stret gantry in memory of director Steve Hymas’ late daughter, Kim.

We also saw Ryan Tafazolli scoop all the player of the year awards, including Chad Readers. Then the youth team paraded their championship trophy.

But the afternoon offered little else to applaud.

Cambridge, suffering the hangover of missing out on the play-offs the previous weekend, did have a go in the early stages and won a string of corners.

On six minutes skipper Luke Berry was narrowly wide from 20 yards while on 15 minutes Ryan Ledson smashed over a volley from a tight angle after Berry had lifted an inviting ball towards him.

Stags gradually worked their way into the contest and thought they had scored just before the break as Matt Green volleyed in from close range after Tafazolli had headed on an Adam Chapman free kick, only to see an offside flag raised.

Sadly the talented Tafazolli didn’t reappear after the break, having picked up a knock, and it was probably a disappointing way end to his Stags career with a summer move likely.

With skipper Lee Collins moved into the centre of defence, he took it on himself to lift the side with some superb bursts forward.

And when teenage striker Zayn Hakeem was introduced for a debut on 56 minutes, things really livened up as the home side took a firm grip with the pace and enthusiasm of Hakeem causing much worry in the United rearguard, as did the runs of James Baxendale.

On 61 minutes Chris Clements saw his low shot cleared just in front of goal and we did get a frantic, shoving contest after James Baxendale was hacked down, but Cambridge held out for the point.

The visiting fans spent much of the second half playing with a big beach ball and, with the sun beating down and players toiling, there was little doubt summer had arrived and, for a couple of months now, football reverts to rumours and dreams on beaches of what may lie ahead next season.