Radcliffe had earned their Semi-Final appearance with some great performances throughout the FA Challenge Cup but unfortunately we were drawn again against Mansfield Town.
The boys knew they were in for an incredibly tough test but my pre-match talk was all about belief, starting well and getting stuck in early.
From the KO though it was clear that the boys were still in the changing room and from the very first attack Mansfield dropped the ball down the right wing, cut it back to the D and slotted home for 0-1 (1). The worst possible start and within a few minutes it was 0-2 with a carbon copy slot home from the edge of the box yet again (4).
Well, it could have been a very long 74 mins coming up but, to their credit, Radcliffe finally woke up and started to compete. Not only that but they started to create and Mansfield were finally given something to think about at the back. A good bit of play led to a corner and Oliver Jones-Wilkinson delivered to the back stick for a sensational header from Ollie Skinner to halve the deficit 1-2 (8).
Radcliffe were now the better team with some lovely football leading to half chances but lady luck just wasn’t with us. A ball hammered out by a Mansfield player was inexplicably given as a corner and we were punished against the run of play when the opposition reacted quicker to the third phase ball and slotted home for 1-3 (23).
The boys didn’t lose their momentum though and for the remainder of the half you wouldn’t have known who were the professionally coached team…
Radcliffe couldn’t finish off their chances though and this would come back to bite them.
The second half started with Mansfield looking to kill off the game and with only a few minutes gone they managed to make it 1-4 with a scrappy effort (42).
When you’re not in the luck, you’re not in the luck and unfortunately, they managed to create another by drilling a hard, low cross that Will Quilter could only divert into his own net – no fault at all 1-5 (54).
The score line really flattered Mansfield but they’d been clinical where Radcliffe hadn’t and this ultimately was the difference.
Radcliffe never gave up and Ollie Skinner had a cracking effort across goal that nearly added another were it not for the keeper making a great save.
With the clock almost out, Mansfield created a final goal with their striker beating three and delivering for the best of the day to make it 1-6 (79).
Radcliffe were out of the cup at the last hurdle but it had been much closer than the 1-6 score line suggested.
My man of the match goes to Oliver Jones-Wilkinson for his never say die efforts in front of the midfield, epitomising the grit and determination of this squad this season.
Unlucky boys, beaten by a team that took their chances and earned the ability to coast a little at the end.