League Two Play-Off 2nd Legs: Mansfield’s Class Should Show9 min read
League Two A: Mansfield v Newport (1-1 agg.)
Mellis magic for Mansfield
Mansfield Town played perhaps the best quality football in the first leg – a 1-1 draw at Rodney Parade.
In the first half, Jacob Mellis found pockets of space behind Matt Dolan, Josh Sheehan and Scot Bennett which allowed him to pick reverse passes into forward Tyler Walker or wing-back CJ Hamilton, with the latter scoring the opener.
Mellis appears to perform better in a setup that does not include Jorge Grant; not because the latter is not a similarly talented technician, but rather the midfield platform offered by ball-winner Neal Bishop and midfield dynamo Alex MacDonald appears to free up Mellis that bit more.
The incision of Mansfield’s attacks will give David Flitcroft optimism that his side will be strong on familiar soil, where we can imagine they will not be forced to do the dirty side of the game quite as much – or rely on Conrad Logan to make good saves from close-range.
Flitcroft has been loyal to the goalkeeper – even since Jordan Smith joined on loan from Nottingham Forest – and the ex-Rochdale man’s shot-stopping ability was vindicated in South Wales, even if his decision-making was slightly brash at times.
Newport County are a threat from crosses and set pieces.
From both of those scenarios, target man Jamille Matt acts as a focal point with Padraig Amond picking up scraps in the penalty area.
The likes of Dan Butler and Matt Dolan can produce a high standard of deliveries, too – and centre-back Micky Demetriou is a long-throw specialist.
The question is: to what extent should Newport commit to playing to those strengths?
If they push too many men forward to best utilize Matt’s presence, they risk leaving themselves open to Mellis threading through balls in behind.
Push too many men back, though and they might contain Mansfield but they would struggle to feed Matt from the right areas.
The Exiles have lost their last 10 league away games against teams above 18th; which would suggest they are yet to find the right balance on the road.
The first leg draw has to be seen as a positive outcome for Mansfield: it softens the initial psychological blow of missing out on automatic promotion and gives them an opportunity to grow into the tie.
League Two B: Forest Green v Tranmere (0-1 Agg.)
Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green Rovers will have both left Prenton Park with mixed emotions.
The 1-0 win for Tranmere, which came through Ollie Banks’ long-range first half strike that narrowly crossed the line, meant they take a lead back to Nailsworth – but they also failed to take full advantage of the 10-man advantage they held for 75 minutes.
🚀 – Oh my word, what a strike!
Ollie Banks opens the scoring at Prenton Park in sensational style, firing @TranmereRovers ahead with this absolute rocket! 💥
Watch the @SkyBetLeagueTwo play-off semi-final live on Sky Sports Football now or follow: https://t.co/E4pG28UvKq pic.twitter.com/rHdtS1fYtP
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) May 10, 2019
Forest Green, by contrast, have a deficit to overturn but they also limited the damage after Gavin Gunning’s ill-advised retaliation against Jay Harris meant the defender saw red.
Forest Green limited the damage
Greens manager Mark Cooper will be pleased with much of his side’s defending on the Wirral.
Lee Collins, a first half substitute who slotted into the middle of the back-three, showed strong leadership skills while Nathan McGinley looked solid; he also made two adventurous runs in the second half that gave his teammates some breathing room.
Carl Winchester put in a selfless shift in central midfield while Liam Shephard proved a competitive operator at right wing-back; in the closing stages, prompted by George Williams’ arrival from the bench, the Gloucestershire outfit caused one or two nervy moments.
Equally, Cooper will hope his players do not have to dig in quite as much as they did in the First Leg and perhaps find it easier to play their natural game.
When Forest Green have been at their best, they have had Farrend Rawson making forward forays from the right centre-back position, or wing-back Joseph Mills stretching the pitch from the left.
Because the onus is on the Greens to attack here, we can expect to see more of those trends and perhaps there will be more support for front-man Christian Doidge.
Tranmere can be pleased with certain aspects of their performance on Friday, because they enjoyed the territorial advantages for much of the contest.
Manny Monthe was a commanding presence at centre-back, Jake Caprice, a rampaging runner from right-back and David Perkins, a controlling influence in midfield.
However, the one area in which they let themselves down slightly was their shooting, with James Norwood being especially culpable.
Tranmere’s marksman has scored a hugely impressive 29 goals this season and 64