Baby Steps

>Dean Saunders continues his learning curve as coach, and I’m hopeful that he’s making more correct calls than he used to. He certainly appeared to have learned from a recent mistake yesterday when he made a crafty, match-winning substitution.

Gareth Taylor’s introduction with Adrian Cieslewicz was a departure for Dean Saunders. The obvious comparison was the Cambridge match; indeed, Saunders said it was a similar scenario after the game at Field Mill. However, his reaction to the situation was completely different, and much more astute.

I’d argue the Cambridge game wasn’t particularly similar to yesterday’s. Frankly they weren’t as threatening as Mansfield despite having plenty of second half possession, but despite a lack of real threat on our goal, Saunders withdrew one of his strikers, putting on a defensive midfielder. The result? We left poor Andy Mangan horribly isolated up front and a side which was used to throwing the advantage away took the lead from their manager, surrendered the initiative totally, and nearly lost despite being 2-0 up late on.

Saunders was very unhappy when the BBC’s Ian Beddow questioned the substitution afterwards, calling it a “clever dick question” and complaining that any point could be made with the benefit of hindsight. He was wrong; it was absolutely the key question to ask after a match that had turned on the change, and as for the charge of abusing hindsight, well what else can we use to analyse a match? I must say that in commentary, Steve Edwards and I were both making the same point as the substitution took place, as I’m sure Ian did.

Saunders, a cornered, wounded animal, defended himself by coming out fighting, but yesterday suggested that privately he’d taken the point on board. We were under a great deal more pressure and only defending a one goal lead, albeit defending it admirably, Mansfield chances coming rarely. The spectacular implosion at Wimbledon four days earlier meant Saunders might have been even more inclined to draw further into a defensive shell. Instead he made an excellent call.

We were defending grittily but unable to keep the ball higher up the pitch, so Mansfield were able to pile pressure on us constantly. This time, instead of bringing another defensive player on, he kept two up front and introduced Taylor with immediate results. He gave a fine cameo performance, holding the ball up superbly, winning headers, and relieving the pressure in textbook manner. The result was a surprisingly comfortable last fifteen minutes, apart from an injury time volley from Luke Foster which drew a superb injury time save by Chris Maxwell (and incidentally should have resulted in a red card for Foster, already on a yellow, who took his frustration out on the keeper when the ball was crossed back in with a brutal foul).

We might have forgotten what qualities Taylor brings to the side as a result of his enforced absence through injury, but he reminded us of what he can bring to the side with that canny performance. Clearly Saunders hadn’t forgotten Taylor’s attributes, and his positive use of them earned us a hard-fought three points.

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