Craig Priest writes…
The dawn of the 2019-20 season is nearly upon us, as Mansfield Town and us long suffering fans prepare to hit the League Two road once more, starting how we finished – going toe to toe with Newport County.
But the question is, are we ready? Are we really ready for the long road ahead, to try once more to achieve promotion, and make Mansfield Town FC a League One team?
I don’t think there’s a truly honest answer to that question to be honest. You can answer ‘Yes’ in terms of tactics, fitness, shape etc, but you can also answer ‘No’ – not just for the same reasons, but also because of the past campaign and the changes in-between.
Personally I believe that any team, manager, or player, who says that they are ready, is a liar. It’s not a negative, it’s just that the road is so long, I don’t believe that you can be ready for every possibility the longevity of a season can throw at you.
Reflecting on last season for a moment, we spent the campaign answering ‘Yes, we’re ready’ as we were so focussed on the long term goal of promotion, we didn’t see the stumbling blocks infront of us – we neglected the short term.
John Dempster’s hit the nail on the head, focussing on the short term is more important – because it gives you more control over results and points which then effect the long-term. Last season we clearly didn’t manage the short term problems, firstly injury.
We never had a plan B for those innocuous issues – nobody could have predicted the injuries to Davies, Oljenik and White, nor the detrimental affect they’d have – but in the same breath, we didn’t really deal with them particularly well either. We didn’t have a buffer of players ready to come and step in, nor did we have any plans to alter shape and approach should said personnel not quite fit, instead we opted for square pegs in round holes and brought in faces / bodies whose long term ambition, was not particularly woven with Mansfield Town FC.
So far this pre-season we’ve seen new boss John Dempster change shape, change match approach and use players to match their strengths – he’s not filled a team sheet to make the numbers up, he’s filled a team sheet to compete in the most effective way for the players whose names are on the paper. What is more, we also appear to have created a buffer between the Academy, Under 23s and First Team, meaning should those players need to step in – they’ll be capable of swimming strongly in the ocean, rather than drowning in the river.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we have to look at Mental Approach. We’d already been hit with the injuries and as mentioned, when it came to the last ten-or-so games of the season, had personnel in the dressing room who knew they wouldn’t be there after May.
So straight away you question if they were fully committed to going out to see out a game and get victory. Likewise when you’re so focussed on gaining promotion, when it starts slipping away, the expectation creates such a wright of pressure it’s like playing on quick-sand – and when you’re not finding a way around that either, that grasp of promotion slips further and further and further away.
It’s like your car’s engine cutting out at the top of a hill, you’ll only continue for so long before you’re at journeys end.
The mental approach doesn’t just go for the team, it goes with individuals too. The back three carried this excellent record which naturally everyone wanted to beat and pick away at, which certainly happened towards the end when it mattered – the prime example THAT MK Dons goal.
Danny Rose had such a torrid campaign, first with the whole transfer saga and then with the horrific injury – you show me a man who that doesn’t take its toll on and I’ll show you a liar. And yet, he was still required to carry the team – talk about playing with the world on your shoulders.
My point is not to look back on what went wrong, but to highlight that putting every focus on that long term vision, just makes you blind to the things in front of you – the factors that will drive you to the long term goal. It’s that whole, look after the pennies and the pounds will follow mentality.
A month or so ago now, I wrote about John Dempster potentially being thrown into the inferno – so far he’s conducted himself with real calm to put out the flames. The additions that have been made, both with personnel and structure, have in my opinion made us a far better squad to cope with the expectation of promotion – approaching in a more manageable way.
Naturally there will be some comparisons as the season gets underway, it’s almost akin to a relationship breakdown and then a new one beginning.
For so long you’ve lived with the person who you adore, you become accustomed to a certain way of life and whilst there may be blots on the canvas, you are contempt enough to never see that relationship ending. You have visions of future life, marriage, kids, a house a dog etc that you become oblivious to the little factors which are going to blow the whole thing apart.
Then all of a sudden, it ends. All of that hope, expectation and dreaming – gone, with the click of a finger. You spend a period of time grieving in a sense, building up an anger in how and why the one person, the one thing you so desperately crave, is no longer a part of your life.
One day though, they move on and whilst it hurts deeply to see someone else living out your vision, your time comes. It’s here where my long winded analogy becomes relevant to the good ship Dempster, as you’ll enjoy the new but you’ll also compare with the old and you’ll go one of two ways – you’ll either carve out a nice new journey, or you’ll spend for ever languishing in regrets and get drowned to the conference, no matter what you try.
It’s to regret and still have love and admiration for the old, of course it is, it was part of your life – but if you don’t learn and give yourself the chance to grow, try out new things, happiness and success will always be out of your reach.
Do we need Tyler Walker to fire us to the top, when we have Nicky Maynard, Andy Cook and a refreshed Danny Rose? Do we need to play 3-4-1-2 every week because of the defensive record, when adapting shape and approach could prove the difference between one point and three? Do we need to panic and get players in who doesn’t buy in to what we’re trying to achieve, when the same infrastructure and quality is deeper within our own ranks anyway?
Are we ready? No, of course we’re not – not for the entire season anyway, but that’s the beauty of football isn’t in – experiencing the unexpected. What counts is that John Dempster has us ready for the first game at Newport on Saturday, all we need to do is say that last season was what is was and it’s gone, let’s just focus on giving Dempster and the players our unquestionable support in the here and now, because I believe that if we do – we’ll be richer for it in the future.
I said earlier that if you look after the penny’s the pounds will take care of themselves – well what about if you look after the points, game by game, the promotions will take care of themselves?!
Newport, let’s go!
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