Craig Priest previews tomorrow’s trip to Cambridge United....
As another week comes to an end, Paul Cox and his team prepare for a trip to the famous educational city of Cambridge, as they face Cambridge United. In contrast to last week this one has been uneventful with no injury crisis or game postponements; it’s been all about focussing on the game and picking up a much needed three points away from home.
Our home form is a respectable 7th in the divisional standings following last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Hereford United, however our away form again matches the weeks weather, cold, damp and boring as we sit 20th in the away table. I wrote prior to AFC Telford and Macclesfield about the importance of away form and turning things around, I won’t harp on too much about it this week but I feel if we can grab three points tomorrow, it would lift our spirits a little ahead of Reg’s Return with the Imps midweek and the show down with early pace setters Forest Green Rovers, both at the One Call Stadium.
I’m not usually one for looking too far ahead but I am aware of the tag which comes with October, usually dubbed ‘Black October’ due to previous season’s poor form, I’m looking ahead today to try and turn ‘Black October’ into ‘Bright October’ as, given our recent state of “anxious” play we need to be positive again and not let ourselves crumble. Tomorrow aside our league fixtures for the next month or so come in batches, batches which our form at certain locations could either dent or strengthen our hopes, three points tomorrow and it could well be the basis for the latter to come to life.
Our first ‘batch’ see’s us where we are most active, at home as we face struggling Lincoln City and fiery Forest Green Rovers. After that we head out on the road for two league encounters, a Friday night televised trip to Dartford is followed by a midweek visit to Nuneaton, batch two of our upcoming games.
Prior to the Dartford trip and post Forest Green we have an FA Cup fixture, drawn on Monday so could either face three back to back home fixtures, or three consecutive away trips – if it’s the latter then tomorrow is the last real chance we have to build up some confidence in the dressing room on the road, as the last thing we’d want at this stage of the season is a cup exit and two league defeats or uninspiring draws. For example, at the moment you can see we are anxious away from home trying to force the issue of a win – if we lost tomorrow could you honestly put your hand on your heart and say you’d be up for a lengthy trip to Dartford followed by a trip to Nuneaton?
Following the trips to the aforementioned duo it’s back home for batch three – a double header with Southport and Luton, games we need to be going into on a good run of form, if we don’t then they’ll be added pressure for the two home games as, once there out the way we face three away games, which could become four back to back depending on the FA Trophy draw, trips to Macclesfield, Stockport and Hereford are all penned in either side of the Trophy first round date!
I guess some may read this and panic as we go for a place where we show play-off form to places where we show relegation form like the flick of a switch, whatever you do DON’T PANIC, in the time scale I write about a LOT can change, my actual point was about tomorrow’s game and the boost it could give us. A win would lift weight from our shoulders and extend our unbeaten run to four, which in turn creates momentum – a defeat on the other hand deflates us and all of a sudden we get sucked into ‘Black October’ with frowns on our faces and a down beat attitude. I’m not heading to Cambridge saying we NEED to win; I’m heading there saying if we relax a little and get a win by playing WITHOUT worry, then we’ll be set up in the right mindset to deal with the interchanging banks of fixtures.
So how do we beat Cambridge or what do we need to do to ditch the anxious football like a gangster dumps a rival off the M25 flyover? Well aside from relax in possession and not let self doubt or outside influences rush the play, not much. Against Hereford last weekend it wasn’t pretty or that inspiring but, if it wasn’t for the mistake we’d have won that game – I think tomorrow will be a similar story. Hereford came with a game plan, Cambridge won’t have one other than ‘Showing the new boss what we can do’ following Richard Money’s appointment as Head Coach a few days ago. Sides with a new manager often step up their efforts to impress and to win as individuals know there place is no longer safe, however in doing this what you’ll often find is more margin for simple error – so what we need is experienced heads who are good readers of the game that can pull the strings, Andy Todd – this is your moment. The player-coach has been out with a knock lately and dusted off the rust midweek, playing and marshalling the reserves in their 1-0 victory over Gateshead in the Central League – League Cup.
Some would say 45 minutes isn’t enough to come in for the full 90 and have proper influence on a game, remember though that here we are talking about Andy Todd, a man who could play six games in one day and still have energy for a jog to the shop and back! His influence was exactly what we needed to get our first win of the season against Kidderminster and could be just the tonic tomorrow as we search for our first away win since the aforementioned trip to Aggborough on August 18th. With Adam Murray potentially out with the reoccurrence of that ankle problem, we certainly need a leader in the midfield, adding to the presence & experience of Thompson & Pilkington in the back four, both introduced last Saturday and, if we are to be consistent, both players who should keep their place.
Up front there has to be a place for Matt Green who, like Todd, played 45 minutes on Wednesday and looked sharp. We’ve certainly missed the dangerous hit man up front, the only question being who partners him? Matt Rhead, target man and a proven partner to Green – Jake Speight, power and pace, yet to play with Green and perhaps seen as a too similar player – Ben Hutchinson, a combination of Rhead & Speight with a dash of intelligence thrown in too, played with Green during the first half on Wednesday and together they frightened Gateshead’s young second string, Hutchinson the one on the score sheet. A lot of people will be fetching their Craig voodoo dolls from the draw again as Ben Hutchinson is a player who a lot say should have been released in the summer, I have to disagree, I’ve always said Hutchinson is a player that will benefit the first team when given the chance, he drops deep to collect things and can not only find the back of the net, but pass – if we’re looking for a Dyer replacement, Hutchinson may not tick all the boxes or be an exact match, but it’s worth a go. Remember I spoke about Cambridge perhaps demonstrating simple errors? Well Hutchinson could well be the one to exploit them along with Todd and as such, be the first domino falling in our away day chain.
Matt Green looks a cast iron certainty to return to the line up with his suspension now over, Player-Coach Andy Todd and defender Andy Owens who have both been out of late both played midweek as mentioned, the latter completing the full match. Nick Wright, who made his first start last Saturday looks set to miss out whilst Gary Roberts, Jamie Hand, Alan Marriott and Ross Dyer are all definitely out. Player-Assistant/ Skipper Murray could also miss out but a safe bet would be the infamous pre-match injection for our lion hearted legend to play anyway! There’s still no mention of Jamie Tolley, remember him? We signed him from Wrexham; he played against Newport and was subbed after about 15 minutes at Gateshead...
Cambridge director of football Jez George has handed over a reduced squad to new head coach Richard Money who, according to reports, looks set to be without defenders Kevin Roberts, Michael Wylde, James Jennings, Blaine Hudson and former Stag Scott Garner. The dangerous Harrison Dunk, who was outstanding against Stags at the One Call last season, also looks set to be out along with striker Sam Smith and midfielder Billy Gibson. The ex Luton boss does have one Ex Stag at his disposal though; Danny Andrew is currently on loan from Cheltenham.
LAST TIME WE MET
2-1 was the favoured score between the two last season, Harrison Dunk netting twice to give Cambridge victory at the One Call before Ross Dyer and Louis Briscoe netted at the R Costings Abbey Stadium to overturn a James Jennings free kick.
The two are again no strangers with several meetings down the years, meeting a total of 30 times since and including the 1972-73 season. The Stags have had more success with 13 wins to ten, netting 50 goals to 48 in total.
Away from the One Call Stadium Mansfield have only beaten Cambridge four times, losing eight and drawing two of the 15 games. There have been many memorable matches at Cambridge too; I doubt any Stags fan will forget the 2-1 victory in 2003, a match in which Stags finished with nine men following the dismissals of Iyseden Christie and Rhys Day. In more recent years who can forget Mansfield’s festive feast a few years back under Duncan Russell’s tenure, running out 5-1 winners.
Both sides have scored in every game so far this term and if history’s anything to go buy, tomorrow looks set to be one not to be missed.
If you can’t get to Cambridge tomorrow, then put your feet up and turn up your radios, 106.9FM, from 2pm – same time via MM-LIVE as Stephen Thirkill joins me for full match commentary.
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