Frustration was the name of the game as Mansfield slid to a tense and narrow 12-10 defeat at home to Spalding in the Midlands 3 East (North) division of the National League.
Victory would have taken Mansfield close to a place in the top five of the table on the eve of this Saturday’s big local derby against Ashfield. But the loss sees them trailing fifth-placed Spalding by eight points.
Head coach Wayne Robinson said: “I thought we played well in parts, but we just couldn’t get any momentum going. Our lack of discipline cost us dear.”
The match was a stop-start affair, with a whistle-happy referee blowing for no fewer than 15 penalties inside the opening quarter. It meant there was little in the way of flowing rugby.
The first half followed a similar pattern in that one of the teams would get some possession, play through maybe one or two phases, and
then play would be stopped for an infringement.
At one point, Mansfield kicked a penalty to the corner, set their lineout on the five-metre line and commenced to drive, only to then give away a penalty and further anger the official, who then marched them back 45 metres to the halfway-line. For context, a referee can march a team back ten metres if he feels it necessary, so the Eakring Road faithful were left trying to figure out which five offences had been dished out!
This restart at halfway worked well for Spalding, who took their opportunity to tap the ball quickly, a tactic they employed numerous times, and take advantage of a slow Mansfield defence to register the first try of the game. A successful conversion saw them take the lead 7-0.
However, Spalding were not safe from the wrath of the merry whistle-blower either. A defensive lineout for the visitors was stolen by Mansfield and, through a brief period of exerted pressure, the referee awarded a penalty try to the home team. These days, a penalty try is automatically worth the full seven points, so the hosts were back level.
The Spalding defence didn’t like this decision and opted, rather unwisely, to try and get the referee to change his mind. All that happened was the visitors not only conceded the seven points but also saw a man sent to the sin-bin to close the first half.
The second period opened with a penalty converted by Regan Hubbard to take Mansfield into the slenderest of leads at 10-7.
However, not long afterwards, Spalding scored what turned out to be the deciding try in the corner. A missed conversion meant the lead was only two points and left still plenty to play for.
But much of the half was marred by indiscipline and saw the wealth of penalties from the first period continue. Two yellow cards for Mansfield and two red cards for Spalding capped what was a fractious and frustrating game.
Mansfield had their opportunities but just couldn’t get the final play to stick, either dropping the ball or giving away a penalty. Equally, Spalding struggled to get a foothold on the game despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession.