OPINION: Mansfield Town manager Steve Evans a tactician not a tinkerman

Mansfield Town manager Steve Evans - Photo by Chris Holloway
Mansfield Town manager Steve Evans - Photo by Chris Holloway

Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans came under fire from some supporters last week as frustrations grew at the Stags’ goal drought - and missed opportunities to climb into the play-off places.

Four games without a goal — and just one in six matches — remarkably followed scoring four in successive matches against Hartlepool and Accrington.

Those heady days seemed a long time ago ahead of the visit of promotion rivals Carlisle United on Saturday, which eventually saw the Stags finally hit the net for the first time in 438 minutes — and claim a first win in five matches to re-ignite their play-off hopes.

The critical fans questioned Evans’s decision to change the formation after a terrific run throughout January and early February had yielded six wins and three draws from nine matches — 21 points out of a possible 27. The following six matches, before Carlisle, saw just five points out of a possible 18 gathered.

Some supporters said a switch from playing two out-and-out strikers and 4-4-2 to one man up top with another roving behind was the reason for the goals drying up.

Certainly the bad run, which began with the 3-0 defeat at Grimsby, saw the manager switch to a lone main striker.

The one game that was won in the run of five points from six matches — the 2-1 home success over Newport — came with two forwards playing in a 4-1-3-2. When Evans went with a lone striker, no goals were scored.

But was that a coincidence or evidence that changing away from a twin strikeforce was partly to blame for the poor run of results?

When you look back over the past couple of months, the better results have come playing two strikers, whether in a 4-1-3-2 or a 4-4-2 formation.

But anyone who has seen the majority of the last seven matches will tell you that chance after chance has been created in every match – as it was again, of course, on Saturday when a 4-4-2 attack-minded set-up was rewarded with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 win.

In fact, you could argue the win over Newport was achieved despite creating fewer chances than in the more recent matches with just one striker.

So is Evans tinkering unnecessarily with the side or is he switching his tactics to cope with the opposition?

For me the formation switches have not been tinkering for tinkering’s sake, but clever tweaks that on another day could and should have paid off.

Look at the missed chances at Cheltenham. Look at the missed chances just a week ago when Plymouth were so fortunate to be 0-0 at half-time. Had the Stags beaten Argyle, as they should have done, Evans would have been hailed as a tactical genius for toppling one of the division’s high-flyers.

How can the manager legislate for the whole team suddenly misfiring in front of goal for several matches?

Yes, you could argue the slight negativity in the formation going into the Grimsby game, where it all started to go wrong results-wise, might have been the catalyst for what followed. But the manager was no doubt trying to shore up the side after they shipped four goals a few days earlier to Accrington.

It seems a loss of confidence in front of goal, a lack of luck and injuries — the loss of Danny Rose was keenly felt for me — were more to blame for the lack of goals than any suggestion of Evans tinkering unnecessarily.

The manager got it right again for me on Saturday as Carlisle were well beaten and this time the Stags got their just rewards in front of goal.

Evans dispensed with a defensive midfielder to put out a more attacking line-up — three strikers in Green, who vindicated the manager’s faith with the opening goal; Coulthirst who scored one great goal and made the other; and man-of-the-match Rose, whose never-say-die enthusiasm leading the attack highlighted how much the Stags missed him when he was out injured.

It was a tactical masterstroke to leave out defensive midfielder Lee Collins (or his obvious replacement, Jamie McGuire, if Collins was injured) to allow for a more attack-minded midfield.

And Evans, having chosen to play Green as a winger, cleverly decided to put him up against Carlisle’s weaker full back rather than in his usual right-sided position when asked to play wide.

It was another sign that Evans is not a tinkerman but an experienced manager with tactical awareness — not to mention enthusiasm. Watching him celebrate the goals as he was forced to watch from the directors’ box — and listening to him bawling out instructions to the likes of Green from high up in the Ian Greaves Stand — showed how lucky Mansfield Town is to have Steve Evans as manager.