MANSFIELD Town manager Paul Cox was left seething tonight after his side produced exactly the sort of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ display he had spent all week warning them against as they flopped 2-0 at home against in-form Kidderminster Harriers today.
Cox slammed his side for still having their heads in the clouds after all the bright lights of their superb FA Cup showing against Liverpool six days before.
Last Sunday they were cheered off by the home fans, but today they were booed from the field after a below-par first half saw the excellent Harriers dominate and open a 2-0 lead inside four decisive first half minutes.
Stags did play much better after the break and, when Sean Clancy was sent-off on 74 minutes for his lunge at Lee Beevers just three minutes after coming on as a sub, the visitors did offer Mansfield some hope.
But, try as they might, Stags could not find a way past the superb Harriers rearguard with keeper Danny Lewis and defender Mickey Demetriou simply outstanding.
Matt Green ended the afternoon without a goal to his name, yet he hit the bar and post and twice had efforts saved by Lewis on an afternoon of high frustration.
After the game Cox hinted that the display had made up his mind about one or two of the players and, with the January transfer window open, he needed to go out and bring in some fresh faces who could show more mental toughness than some of his current squad in the second half of the season.
This was the fourth year in a row that Mansfield have failed to beat Kidderminster at home. But it was no great surprise as this game represented a ninth win in 10 for the West Midlanders, who have soared from the foot of the table, without a win in their first 10 games, to go into fifth place and the play-off places with this win today.
Unsurprisingly Mansfield were unchanged from the previous weekend’s heroics against Liverpool for the game that marked the halfway point of the campaign for Cox’s men.
In a highly entertaining first half, Harriers were straight onto the attack down the left, Beevers in well to prevent Gittings getting on the end of a low cross on the edge of the six yard box.
Stags also had to clear a Kidderminster corner before almost snatching the lead at the other end on six minutes as Green launched a low 20-yard shot that clipped the outside of the right post.
Geohaghon, booed by the away fans after his brief spell with the Harriers earlier this season, got in a good block as Rowe swivelled for a shot to concede a second corner as Harriers played with the confidence and purpose you would expect from their recent run of form.
The visitors then won a central free kick just outside the box which was cued up for Demetriou to fire a rising shot over the bar.
But Harriers should have scored on 12 minutes after a poor defensive header from Geohaghon. That saw Vincent draw Marriott and square for Malbon, who only had to find the gaping goal from eight yards but somehow fired over.
Stags replied with two corners, Lewis easily blocking Meikle’s hopeful 25-yard shot when the second was cleared to him.
Demetriou made a good block on a low Howell cross to concede another flag kick which again the visitors cleared.
A good break, instigated by Clements’ disguised pass and Meikle’s strong run, then saw Briscoe on target from 20 yards out on the right, but the save was easy again for Lewis.
Marriott had his first save to make on 20 minutes, in the way of a rasping Rowe shot after Harriers had got down the right.
But Kidderminster were ahead on 21 minutes from a free kick conceded by Beevers 20 yards from goal in a central position which saw Demetriou step up to fizz an unstoppable finish past Marriott.
Meikle was wide on Mansfield’s next raid with a rising near post effort.
It was almost 2-0 on 24 minutes when a through ball found Malbon who saw Marriott brilliantly tip away his finish.
But the visitors did double their lead a minute later as Vaughan superbly sidestepped a lunging tackle from Beevers in the box and, from not the best of angles, smashed a finish across Marriott and inside the far post.
On 28 minutes Stags came desperately close to pulling one back as Dempster headed a Clements corner on target and Lewis reached up to block and was relieved to see a defender hook clear as it dropped onto the line with Green lurking to try to edge it over.
Marriott was down at his near post again to block a low shot from Johnson after he had left Beevers on the floor with his tricky footwork on the right.
Green fired straight at Lewis from a 20 yard free kick on 35 minutes as Mansfield struggled to find a way back into the game.
Meikle then got a good nod-down onto a far post Briscoe cross, but Gowling got a leg in the way of Green’s finish.
On 37 minutes Harriers attacked down the right with Johnson’s cross inviting a powerful stooping header from Demetriou which hit the base of the post, Harriers’ players then claiming the ball hit a home hand in the box in the ensuing scramble.
Thompson’s late challenge on 41 minutes saw him cautioned.
Meikle had a fleeting chance as Harriers headed a long Geohaghon throw towards him, but his 20-yard snapshot was well over the bar.
Green came so close to a goal in the first minute of stoppage time as, given room just outside the box, he saw his powerful shot come back off the bar and then bundled the follow-up wide.
Manager Cox made a double change down his right side at half-time, withdrawing Thompson and Briscoe and sending on Daniel and Sutton, Meikle switching wings.
Within seconds of the restart, Johnson had curled a shot well wide of the far post as Harriers sounded out a warning that they were not about to sit back on their two-goal advantage.
Sub Daniel enjoyed his first run on 51 minutes, racing powerfully down the centre before pulling a low shot wide.
Dempster looked hopefully at the referee as he went down from Dunkley’s challenge from the home side’s first corner of the half, but referee Mr Ford was unmoved.
Then Sutton blocked a low Rowe shot as play passed swiftly from end to end.
Meikle did well to dribble his way into the Harriers box soon after only to shoot wide of the near post with other options to his left.
Meikle then cut in from the right to drill a low ball into the box which Green reached with an outstretched leg to force another good save by Lewis to his right.
Lewis also easily caught a far post header from Geohaghon from a Daniel cross.
Dunkley was booked on 63 minutes for hauling back Green as he tried to go clear.
Home fans wanted a red card, but Green was 40 yards from goal with other defenders around him too and it was always going to be a yellow only.
With 19 minutes to go, Harriers freshened things up with a double change, Clancy and Blissett coming on for Johnson and Rowe.
Then we had a flurry of cards with Malbon booked for a foul, Green booked for arguing an offside decision, and then Harriers had Clancy red-carded within three minutes of coming on for showing his studs in a needless lunging tackle on Beevers.
Beevers tried to carry on after treatment but was unable, so Stags threw on Rhead for the last 12 minutes, who at lest won everything in the air and caused problems.
Gittings found himself in space running at the ball 20 yards out but fired over with Marriott at his mercy as the game became ever more stretched.
From another Stags corner on 84 minutes, Murray acrobatically hooked a good effort on target which Lewis blocked before he was fouled in the follow-up melee.
With a minute to go Lewis turned away a close range header from Rhead from a Geohaghon long throw as Mansfield began to realise it wasn’t going to be their day.
Meikle was just wide in stoppage time from a fierce Clements near post cross, though it came at him so fast it hit his shins and he was unable to place it.
But the final whistle brought the inevitable boos from a crowd boosted by the previous week’s showing against Liverpool.
How many of them come back for the visit of Nuneaton on 22nd January is another matter with two tough away games to go before then. It really is crunch time for Paul Cox and it seems almost inevitable there will be movement in the transfer market this week.
STAGS: Marriott; Thompson (Sutton H/T), Geohaghon, Dempster, Beevers (Rhead 78); Howell, Murray, Clements; Briscoe (Daniel H/T), Green, Meikle. Subs not used: Wright, Stevenson.
KIDDERMINSTER: Lewis; L. Vaughan, Dunkley, Gowling, Demetriou; Storer, Malbon (Shakes 88), Gittings; Vincent, Rowe (Blissett 71), Johnson (Clancy 71). Subs not used: Williams, N. Vaughan.
REFEREE: Declan Ford of Lincoln.
ATTENDANCE: 2,405 (208 away).
STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Green.