OPINION: Where have all the Mansfield Town goals gone?

Ben Whiteman might have scored the Stags in the goalless draw at Cheltenham. Photo by Chris Holloway
Ben Whiteman might have scored the Stags in the goalless draw at Cheltenham. Photo by Chris Holloway

It must be driving Mansfield Town manager Steve Evans mad. In January and the early part of February his new signings quickly gelled and the goals flowed.

Twenty goals were rattled in during the nine league games that started with the creditable home draw with leaders Doncaster Rovers.

Loan midfielder Ben Whiteman, for example, scored in three consecutive games, defenders Rhys Bennett and Krystian Pearce chipped in and strikers Matt Green, at first, Danny Rose and Shaq Coulthirst added vital goals.

But after scoring four in successive matches, the goals dried up. Just two have been netted in the following four matches (one from the penalty spot).

And, of course, on Saturday that included drawing another blank — the third in four matches — at Cheltenham, who had to play with 10 men for 72 minutes.

Yet the previously-clinical Stags are still creating plenty of chances, but crucially now struggling to convert them – and, at times, coming up against goalkeepers in fine form.

It started with the 3-0 loss at Grimsby — the Stags’ only defeat in the league in 2017. The Stags finished the match well beaten, but Green — starting a league match for the first time in six — and Coulthirst could and should have scored goals that would have changed the whole complexion of the match.

Last Saturday, in a scrappy match against Newport, the Stags needed the help of a red card and a penalty to win 2-1. Pat Hoban was the main guilty party in front of goal this time, squandering a clear double chance on his return to the starting line-up as fewer chances were created but again wasted — apart from Pearce’s well-taken equaliser and Coulthirst’s penalty.

In midweek the Stags should have won in the goalless draw at Yeovil after carving out a hatful of opportunities.

Whiteman, back to something like his best, had five efforts on goal, Joel Byrom blazed over when he ought to have netted and Coulthirst and CJ Hamilton also had chances.

It was frustrating for the faithful travelling fans and probably doubly so for Evans and his management team.

Evans bemoaned the wasted chances after the game, saying: “You make five or six clear-cut, golden opportunities and you have to take one of them. We will play a lot worse than that and win.”

That frustration was magnified even further as the Stags drew a blank again, at 10-man Cheltenham, just four days later – with Evans again pointing to a lack of quality in the final third but again pointing out the players’ commitment could not be faulted.

MATCH REPORT: Cheltenham 0-0 Mansfield Town

For the second successive Saturday Hoban might have scored and Whiteman also went close with shots that had been flying in just a few weeks earlier.

Apart from stating the obvious, that the players need to be more clinical and show more quality in front of goal, Evans will be struggling to put his finger on why the ball is not hitting the back of the net like it was just a few weeks ago.

Is it down to confidence? Is it down to luck? Is it down to the loss of Rose and Green to injury? Is it down to successfully shoring up the defence after conceding seven goals in two games against Accrington Stanley and Grimsby.

Whatever the reason, Evans will be hoping that his players find their shooting boots for what is looking like a crucial eight days.

Home Saturday matches against high-flying Plymouth Argyle and Carlisle United, with a trip to play-off rivals Colchester United sandwiched in between, will be a tough test for the Stags.

They need to pick up points — and score goals — to maintain their exciting surge up the table and into the play-off race.

Had they won at Cheltenham, the Stags would still have been outside the play-off places, albeit on goal difference.

But, more importantly, they would have closed the gap on others in the race for the end-of-season drama ahead of facing the better teams in the division for what is looking like an extremely difficult run-in – all but two of their final matches are against sides chasing promotion.

However, all is far from lost. In fact, over the years the Stags have made a habit of beating the top teams and struggling against those on paper you would have expected them to beat. And two goalless draws on their travels is hardly a reason for the Stags to panic or be too disappointed.

Remember Christmas and the New Year? The Stags lost at home to Morecambe, a game they would have expected to win, but then matched leaders Doncaster and gained a point.

The Mansfield Town rollercoaster is rumbling nicely along. Yes, it might be on an uphill curve at the moment, but get set for a thrilling ride over the next few weeks.