Saturday 2nd May, 1998 – Mansfield Town 1 v 0 Swansea City – Nationwide Football League Division Three
TROUBLE AT MILL – THANK GODNESS IT’S ALL OVER By John Burgum
SWANSEA left the war behind them at Field Mill to head for the calmer waters of the close season to regroup and plan for a new campaign where failure would be unthinkable.
While no-one at Vetch Field is prepared to talk in such definite terms, there is an underlying feeling of great expectation about the future of the club which has just endured one of the worst seasons in its 86-year history.
To achieve the massive degree in improvement demanded by both the manager and his masters will require a considerable amount of investment and skilled man management.
Although the club’s Silver Shield owners are ready to back the judgment of Alan Cork in the transfer market to stiffen those prospects, there are other key areas which need to be addressed urgently.
Not least is the club’s appalling disciplinary record, which has produced 10 dismissals spread across six players and an endless string of bookings and suspensions.
It is the worst record in the club’s history and could yet land them in serious trouble with the Football Association of Wales.
While Swansea can argue with some justification that referees are producing red cards at the drop of a hat for trivial offences – Charlie Hartfield’s dismissal for pushing Mansfield striker Steve Whitehall would have brought no more than a yellow card not so long ago – there can be no excuse for the indiscipline which has accompanied such a poor season.
Only Doncaster, Brighton, Hull and Cardiff finished below Swansea in the third division but in the disciplinary league Swansea are bottom of the class.
Hitting players where it hurts in their pockets should get the message across, but it really should not be necessary. There are enough experienced players on the staff to realise that they cannot flout the laws and hope to get away with it, whatever they think of them or the officials who have to implement the laws.
Poor discipline has been one of the root causes of Swansea’s many troubles during 1997-98, but there are other deficiencies, again sorely underlined at Mansfield, which are in need of care and attention.
Swansea must find a goal scorer and ensure that their players are fitter, sharper and certainly more tenacious. Far too often they have been brushed off the ball and turned inside out by the opposition.
All those failings were apparent at Mansfield where Swansea were caught up in a bitter feud directed at chairman Keith Haslam. The under-fire Mansfield chief endured a constant barrage of abuse from the fans and did not re-appear in the directors’ box after a half-time pitch protest.
The tension on the terraces certainly spilled over on to the pitch where Swansea always looked second best physically after Julian Alsop had sent an early opportunity wide of the far post with the goalkeeper beaten.
“I keep telling the players that when they come away to places like Mansfield and get a goal scoring opportunity they have to take it. Missing them has been a problem all season,” said Cork.
It was one of the few clear-cut openings Swansea created but the biggest disappointment was the failure to put stand-in goalkeeper John Schofield under any pressure in the last 20 minutes after Ian Bowling had been sent off for stopping Richie Appleby in his tracks outside the area.
“We had a man advantage but we never had a shot on target. That was very disappointing,” complained Cork.
Instead, Mansfield survived without any undue alarms to claim the points through the only goal of the game from David Kerr, who drilled a low shot from 20 yards which went through the legs of Matthew Bound and surprised teenage goalkeeper Jason Jones.
Had it not been for the young debutant, a goal-line clearance from Bound and several timely tackles from Keith Walker and Jonathan Coates, the lively Whitehall and his equally effective strike partner Iyseden Christie might have scored earlier.
Mansfield’s impressive late-season run, stretching to 11 unbeaten matches, never really looked under threat. Despite the many off-the-field problems their players were always sharper in thought and deed.
SWANSEA pulled club captain Keith Walker out of a tense affair because they feared he could miss the start of next season.
Mansfield goalkeeper Ian Bowling had already been sent off for a professional foul on Richie Appleby, and with protesting home fans clearly trying to influence Middlesbrough referee Graham Frankland Swansea felt the next borderline offence would also be met with a red card.
No sooner had striker Steve Whitehall complained about one Walker tackle than Alan Cork took his central defender off 15 minutes from the end and it proved a very wise decision.
“I did not want to see Keith suspended from the start of next season. You could see the way the game was going that someone else was going to go. That was the only reason I took him off,” explained the manager.
Three minutes from time Cork’s gut feeling came true. Midfielder Charlie Hartfield squared up to Whitehall right in front of the dugouts and Hartfield’s greater show of aggression brought a red card.
It was Swansea’s tenth dismissal of the season, far and away the worst in terms of indiscipline and it clearly did not please Cork, who will be without Hartfield and top scorer Tony Bird for the start of next season.
Bird’s suspension for throwing mud at a linesman at Cambridge last month has been confirmed by the Football Association of Wales as a four-match ban. Hartfield will get a three-match sentence for violent conduct.
“Apparently the ref said he sent off Charlie for pushing the Mansfield player twice. But they were both pushing each other the first time so it was a bit unfair to send him off,” said Cork.
Four other players were cautioned on a difficult day for the officials, and certainly Swansea’s players were all caught up in a chain of events directed at the Mansfield chairman Keith Haslam, who had to call in the Professional Footballers Association to pay wages last week.
Two of the younger Swansea set, goalkeeper Jason Jones and substitute defender Karl Munroe, both teenagers, were playing in a League game for the first time.
“I thought Jason did OK after a nervous start. He made a couple of good saves although his kicking was a bit erratic and that was down to nerves,” said Cork.
“Unfortunately the shot for the goal went through Bound’s legs. Jason saw it late and was scrambling to try and keep it out,” he added.
Mansfield: Bowling, Williams, Harper, Kerr (Sedlan 82), Eustace, Hackett, Schofield, Peacock, Christie (Clarke 67), Whitehall, Tallon. Unused: Hassell.
Sent-off: Bowling (71). Booked: Kerr, Whitehall.
Goals: Kerr 52.
Swansea: Jones, Jenkins, Coates, O’Leary, Walker (Munroe 75), Bound, Cusack, Hartfield, Alsop (Casey 80), Mainwaring (Phillips 55), Appleby.
Sent-off: Hartfield (87). Booked: O’Leary, Walker.
Referee: G B Frankland (Middlesbrough).
This report was kindly reproduced courtesy of the South Wales Evening Post