AFC Press the Self Destruct Button as Stamford Stand Firm

It was a game of high drama at the Forest Town Arena on Saturday (October 1) as plucky AFC Mansfield were defeated by Stamford in an Emirates FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round tie.

AFC had proven themselves to be giant killers in the previous two rounds, with victories over clubs two levels above them on the pyramid, first with a win over Stratford Town and then a smash and grab away win at fancied Coalville Town. So with Stamford playing in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, one level above their hosts, another potential shock was on the cards. And despite AFC taking an early lead, it all unravelled in bizarre fashion.

Mansfield went ahead after  Matt Plummer’s downward header from a floated free kick was well saved by the Stamford ‘keeper only to rebound to in-form Oli Fearon, who planted the rebound firmly into the back of the net.

Stamford, backed by a large following that gave the hosts their biggest attendance of the season by far, were a disappointment in the first half. They found it hard to make their loftier level of football be told.

So, in desperation, Stamford boss Graham Drury used all three of his subs by the hour mark and it was one of those subs, striker Ryan Robbins, who drew the tie level with a smart finish low to Jason White’s right-hand post.

Then things began to turn on Mansfield. Goal scorer Fearon was given a straight red for retaliation after he thought he’d been unduly dealt with by a Stamford defender. The referee was given no alternative but to send him off after he raised his hands to the defender’s face.

That should’ve been Stamford’s cue to take the game by the scruff of the neck but instead, Jordan Smith used his elbow to flatten Mansfield’s Jimmy Ghaichen in an off the ball incident which resulted in him following Fearon down the tunnel early. 10 aside now, and all to play for.

In what had become an end-to-end, spicy affair, Mansfield were denied by the woodwork twice and the tie looked to be heading to Stamford for a replay. A fair result perhaps.

But with just seconds remaining, Mansfield’s Jimmy Ghaichen had a moment of extreme madness in his own box when he inexplicably lashed out at a Stamford man who was going away from goal. The referee had no option but to point to the spot. Quite what Ghaichen was attempting only he will know. There was no danger. Whether he was still fired up from being elbowed, or whether he panicked we’ll never know, but it was a crazy challenge.

With time ticking on, Ollie Brown-Hill stepped up to the plate and fired home. Huge cheers – largely in relief – were heard from the strong travelling support.

As the game commenced, the ball was touched a mere two times before the ref signalled the end of the game. Stamford had progressed with a 2-1 victory which was handed to them on a plate.

It means that my allegiance switches from AFC Mansfield to Stamford and a mouth watering tie against National League side Wrexham now awaits The Daniels.

Before I wrap up, I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed my three visits to AFC Mansfield. They’ve been a joy to watch, and some of their players could certainly play at a higher level. I wish them all the best for the season ahead.

For me, I now go to the Zeeco Stadium in south Lincolnshire later this month – if I can get a ticket; it’s rumoured to be an all-ticket match that will be in high demand.

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Stamford celebrate their equaliser

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Full time scenes

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More scenes after the final whistle

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My last look at the Forest Town Arena. For this season at least. Who knows, it may just be au revoir.

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AFC Carve Out a Diamond Result at Coalville

AFC Mansfield pulled off another FA Cup shock on Saturday (September 17) as they beat Coalville Town on their own patch, despite the home side being two levels higher then AFC on the non-league pyramid.

That pyramid seemingly means nothing to plucky AFC, who beat another side two levels above them in the last round in the form of Stratford Town.

This 2nd Qualifying Round took time to get going. A tepid first half saw little chances, with both sides cancelling each other out.

But after the break the tie exploded, and things boiled over. Coalville’s Liam Walshe was sent off for kicking out at an AFC player having seemingly been stamped on. There was no caution for the AFC player, much to the annoyance of the home bench.

Annoyance turned to frustration for Town as they dominated play but could not find the net, the post denying them their best opportunity.

As the game became an end-to-end blood and guts cup tie, AFC’s Gary Bradshaw escaped the defence and latched onto a looped ball before finishing neatly on the volley.

Knowing that a major giant killing was on the cards, even at this level, the bench exploded in jubilation. It was stark contrast to Town’s bench as they looked on bemused as a second Town man, Danny Jenno, received his marching orders for having words with the ref.

With only 9 men, Town pushed for an equaliser. Five minutes of added time was announced but despite balls pinging into the box and keeper and captain Sean Bowles coming close to getting a touch to a knock down from a corner, AFC held firm until the final whistle.

Again players and coaching staff – and a small band of travelling supporters – were ecstatic. They’d done it again.

They’re will have been dancing in the streets of Forest Town on Saturday night, and rightly so.

  • AFC host Stamford AFC of the Northern premier League in the 3rd Qualifying Round next month.

The Ground

When the small Leicestershire village of Ravenstone could no longer handle a successful and ever-growing football club, something had to be done.

The decision was to relocate Ravenstone Miners Athletic to Coalville in 1995, and the club adopted the new name of Coalville FC and Owen Street became their new home.

The ground is accessed by a dusty dirt track, and there’s a decent sized car park for those driving. For those relying on public transport, well Coalville is not the easiest place to visit. A train to Loughborough and a bus ride is your best bet.

The ground is accessed by just two turnstiles. More than enough considering the average attendances are one of lowest in their league (the Evo-Stik Premier Division by the way).

The turnstiles open out onto a spacious area with the club shop (cabin) to your left and what appears to be a storage cabin to your right. Inside there was a CTFC drum. But that’s where it stayed on my visit. Continue right and you pass the snack hut which serves the usual fodder for very reasonable prices plus faggots, not something you see every week on a footy club’s menu.

Further on is Jack’s Bar, a second floor bar with a pool table in the centre – making space tight – and two TVs showing Sky Sports.

Go past that and you get to the ‘coffee shop’, a tin cabin with further snacks and warm drinks. Next to this is a lively stand packed with home fans.

You’re able to walk the whole way around the ground, passing another stand on the far side of the pitch. Behind the east goal is another lively little stand; behind the west stand is woodland. Netting prevents balls getting lost in the greenery.

It’s a quaint, well set out ground with a lot of character and made for an enjoyable afternoon.

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The team sheet

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Jack’s Bar

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Things begin to get a little spicy…

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AFC celebrate a fine victory

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See above

 

 

AFC Upset Stratford in Poetic Style

AFC Mansfield sniffed some non-league giant killing in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round at the Forest Town Arena on Saturday, September 3.

AFC, who only formed in 2012 and are embarking on only their second FA Cup adventure, hosted Stratford Town, who play in the Southern League, two steps above them on the non-league ladder. And it was they who took control of the first half, wasting a hat full of chances and being denied by AFC keeper Jason White and the woodwork.

However, in AFC number 10 Gary Bradshaw, they have a player with vision and ability, and he very nearly caught out Town keeper Niall Cooper with an audacious 30-yard raked lob which Cooper just about managed to keep out with a goal line clearance. His relief was palpable.

And it was Bradshaw who put the hosts ahead in the second half with a cool finish after being put through one-on-one with Cooper. It wasn’t against the run of play either, as AFC made a fist of it after the break.

It was met by total hysteria from the bench, but it was lucky for AFC that this goal was allowed at all. It came after a truly bizarre incident. The referee pulled up with an injury, much to the amusement of the crowd as you can imagine. But amusement turned to bemusement as the ref could not continue his officiating duties and had to ‘come off’. The problem was, no 4th official. This prompted an appeal to the crowd as to whether any refs were in attendance, first from AFC boss Rudy Funk (great name) and then again over the PA. But no joy. There was no one qualified to ref the game.

With the game now in doubt, serious discussions were going ahead on the touch line as the crowd could only ponder as to what was going on. After 10 minutes of deliberating, it was decided that the linesman would become the ref and a Stratford sub the linesman. Controversial perhaps. It certainly raised eyebrows amongst the AFC contingent, and questions as to our new man’s integrity may well have come into play had anything controversial happened.

But alas, we could finish the game. And what a game. Stratford levelled through a thumping Guy Clark header from a corner. Nothing controversial there. But if Stratford thought they could turn this game around they were wrong.

From a Town attack, the ball was cleared to Oli Fearon on the left flank. He picked the ball up well inside his own half and just ran, using his power and pace to barge past soft Stratford challenges. Then, suddenly, he was in on goal. Surely not. Surely AFC couldn’t win it in impeccable style could they? But they could, and they did. Fearon’s industrious run was finished with a sublime slot past Cooper and the Forest Town Arena erupted again.

It was an incredible goal that, by rights, should be replayed over and over again, but you’ll be hard pushed to find even a grainy You Tube clip of it, sadly.

AFC hung on for a famous victory. Fearon’s excellent goal proving the difference in a brilliant game of football played in wet conditions. They now go to Coalville in the second qualifying round and who knows how far this little club can go.
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The line-ups

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Reffing hell: “Is there a ref in the house?”

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AFC celebrate Bradshaw’s opener

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Scenes at the final whistle as AFC beat Stratford 2-1