Mansfield Town v Middlesbrough, Saturday 8th January 2022, 12.15pm

I’ve been attending each round of this season’s FA Cup since the opening Extra Preliminary round back in August. As we’ve now reached the Third Round I had the option of continuing my streak to a ninth successive round by taking in a Boro game away at Mansfield.

The bad news, however, was that we had only been allocated 1700 tickets. At fifteen quid a pop they would be in high demand and I knew that I wouldn’t have sufficient priority points to get one. With that in mind I got in touch with Mansfield early on and nabbed a couple of hospitality tickets in the 1861 lounge for forty quid each. Result, as they say, and a bargain too.

Stadium parking wasn’t included in the price but I was ok with that as I didn’t want to be trapped at the ground after the game. We ended up in a car park about five minute’s walk away and Jen and I just followed the locals on a route that included a short cut through someone’s garden.

We had an hour to while away in the lounge before the 12.15 kick-off and after my second breakfast of the day, this time a full English, we were entertained by the recollections of former Mansfield player Micky Laverick. His heyday was the mid-seventies and I got the impression that era was Mansfield’s peak to date.

As kick-off approached we made our way out to the Ian Greaves Stand and our centrally located seats in the upper tier. My records state that I’d been to the ground before, thirty-five years previously in the first Rioch promotion season. Even after looking around, I’ve no recollection whatsoever of the game or even the day.

We were sat two rows behind the media people. I’ve no idea who does the Boro commentary these days as I gave up trying to connect when I was in Russia. I didn’t see anyone behind a microphone that I recognized but I was able to keep an eye on the young lad from the Northern Echo typing his updates.

The Boro support had the stand to our left. They kept up a decent volume throughout the game and the “Mansfield’s a shithole” ditty raised a few laughs from the home fans around us. “It is, mind” said one, “but it’s our shithole”. I know the feeling.

I was a little worried to learn that this was the strongest team that Mansfield had been able to field for a while. As we only had three players starting that I’d consider to be in our first-choice XI there was potential for an upset. It all went well to begin with though and we were two up early on with chances to put the tie out of Mansfield’s reach within the first twenty minutes.

The home side were better in the second half and we struggled to stay on top. It seemed to take a while for Wilder to get his instructions understood and as we gradually replaced the fringe players with regular starters Mansfield got back into it.

There were joyous celebrations all around us as they pulled one back and then equalized. Had the game gone to extra-time then I’d have made them favourites to win. As so often happens these days though Isaiah Jones made the difference when his injury time cross was diverted into the net for a match-winning own goal.

Roll on Round Four.

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