Football - Stags stalemate as defences are on top

EXCELLENT defending from both sides brought the inevitable 0-0 draw when Lincoln City visited Mansfield Town this afternoon.

City, in crisis off the field, might have snatched all three points as Kevin Pressman twice had to pull off good saves from excellent Dean Keates free kicks while Simon Yeo headed against the post.

But it was the home side, lifted by that win at Oxford, who dominated for long periods and Adam Rundle was unlucky when Gareth McAuley cleared his first half effort off the line.

Rhys Day, Allan Russell, Stephen Dawson and, Jonathan D'Laryea and Richie Barker all went close, Russell wastng two really good openings.

But, in the end, the stalemate left Stags with five points from the 12 over the hectic Festive period.

"I am reasonably pleased with that," said manager Peter Shirtliff.

"It could have been more. But we have been unlucky at times and some of those players are running on empty right now as it has been a busy period.

"The game was a bit ugly at times. To be fair if we could have passed the ball a bit better to shown more composure in the final third then we would probably have gone on to win the game.

"If we could have got the ball down we could have caused them more problems. But it's not that easy when they are continually pumping the ball up in the air."

There were two changes to the Stags side that won at Oxford on Saturday.

With Gareth Jelleyman serving a one-game ban, Shirtliff shuffled his defence, moving Buxton to left back, John-Baptiste to right back and bringing in Hjelde to partner Day in the centre.

Coke returned to the side in midfield with Uhlenbeek dropped to the bench and Dawson pushed out to the right of midfield.

Lincoln suffered a pre-match bombshell with manager and former Stag Keith Alexander given 'leave' after a board meeting and another former Stags player, youth team coach John Schofield, put in charge.

But their former hot shot striker Yeo was given international clearance in time to return from New Zealand.

Little happened in the early exchanges though Stags laboured to clear the visitors' first corner.

The game finally produced a shot on target after 11 minutes as Yeo controlled and tried his luck from 30 yards but never looked like beating Pressman.

But Stags almost broke through on 18 minutes. Dawson cross low into the box and Rundle got away a low shot that beat Marriot but McAuley was there to clear off the line and a combination of McAuley and Marriott prevented Russell being able to net the follow-up.

Marriott required lengthy treatment after that challenge.

Soon after the game restarted, Arnold tried a swerving shot from almost 30 yards which Marriott was safely behind.

Pressman was called into action at the other end on the half-hour, throwing himself to his right to punch away a superb free kick from Keates which looked destined for the net under the angle.

And McCombe headed over from the resulting corner.

On 39 minutes Rundle drew two defenders to him on the left of the box before squaring the ball to D'Laryea who sidestepped one challenge before pulling a low shot narrowly wide.

Keates had a volley charged down and, as Stags tried to break, John-Baptiste was fouled by Hughes, bringing the game's first booking.

Mansfield might have gone ahead seven minutes into the second half. Buxton fed the overlapping Rundle who raced into the box and pulled back an inviting low cross. Russell had first stab at it but couldn't direct it and the ball ran to Dawson at the far post who wanted too long to get an effort away and finally, off balance, poked the ball harmlessly wide.

Robinson went down in the box under Day's late challenge but City did not ask for a penalty and the referee waved play on anyway.

Yeo guided a stooping header over from a Keates free kick shortly afterwards.

There were huge cheers from home fans on 57 minutes as leading scorer Barker replaced Russell.

But it was Yeo again who threatened as Buxton blocked his snapshot at the expense of a corner which Keates curled in and almost crept in at the far post where Robinson couldn't get the vital touch.

Stags had a new strike partnership on the hour as Birchall came on for Arnold.

A good move down the right saw Dawson hold off a challenge and play a pass to John-Baptiste whose first time stab deflected into the side netting.

On 69 minutes Rundle went on an energetic run down the centre before finding Dawson on the right. His cross picked out D'Laryea but he couldn't get his firm header on target.

For the visitors Keates had a powerful low shot superbly blocked by Hjelde and Foster blazed the loose ball well over the top.

Uhlenbeek took over down the right in place of Dawson for the last 17 minutes.

Marriott was behind Buxton's hopeful 35 yard blast before Mettam made his Lincoln debut in place of Hughes.

On 79 minutes Uhlenbeek's long throw fell for Day who drilled inches wide from 18 yards.

But Lincoln came even closer on 82 as Keates' glorious 35 yard free kick was palmed aside by Pressman and Yeo headed the loose ball against the near post.

Yeo was booked soon after for dissent after punching the ball away in disgust at a decision.

Barker almost snatched it in the last minute for Mansfield as he met Uhlenbeek's drilled cross with a diving header at the far post that passed wide.

Lincoln survived three minutes of high pressure stoppage time as Stags piled on the pressure.

John Schofield said afterwards:" I thanked all the players afterwards as I thought they gave me everything they had got under the circumstances.

"It has been a very difficult day as you can imagine. The gaffer has no bigger friend in that dressing room than me.

"The gaffer called me this morning to say he had been called into a meeting. Then I got a call at 11am asking me to take charge today.

"Everyone was shocked but we have got through today and now we will have to see what tomorrow brings.

"I have given the lads a couple of days off and they will report Thursday and we'll take it from there.

"I will carry on as if I am in charge on Saturday until I hear otherwise."