Craig Priest writes...
As football day approaches again I write with hope, hope that Stags can get back to winning ways following defeat in Newport and hope that the recent run of wins wasn’t just a ‘Positive Blip’.
It’s almost a sense of De-Ja-Voux really as, post Christmas last term we went on a good run of results (six games unbeaten) before being beaten by Newport! The 1-0 defeat to Edinburgh’s men last term was then followed by five consecutive wins and an unbeaten run of eight games – A similar run this term would not only move Stags into the play-offs but realistically, begin a title chase.
Using last terms post Newport defeat run of eight games and looking at this seasons fixtures for the next eight games, I wouldn’t say it was impossible for Stags to spark a title chasing run. Current leaders Grimsby are eleven points in front of Paul Cox’s side who have two games in hand over them, however during Mansfield’s next eight games the sides are set to meet at the One Call Stadium so who knows, by the time I pen that preview the gap could be a lot shorter.
Naturally wanting to hunt down the league leaders relies on other teams beating current table toppers Grimsby, if it were that fact last term when Fleetwood were top it would have been verging on impossible however this season, the league is wide open and anyone of a number of sides could still take the league title and indeed be sitting top after each game.
From Stags next eight games there are a maximum of 24 points up for grabs, I personally feel that if Mansfield can keep their focus on a game by game basis, achieving the maximum is certainly a strong possibility and achievable. Some would say that the first goal would be getting in the play-off positions and ensuring we become uncatchable to those giving chase, whilst I agree to a certain existent, I’m a firm believer in aiming to be the very best and in turn have full faith in the current squad.
None of the next eight games are easy, we face a fairly even keel as we’ve got home games with Cambridge, AFC Telford, Stockport and Grimsby and away trips to Hyde, Luton, Lincoln and Woking. What gives us an advantage over other sides is our clogged fixture list, not one of the teams above or below (apart from Luton) has got as many games in hand over those above – the fact we’re playing two games a week keeps us fresh and confident, especially that trio of consecutive away games in the space of eight days.
At Newport it’s not the fact we we’re tired or off the pace, we played on a tough pitch with little idea on how to adapt whilst facing a team who were not only the best attacking side in the division, but knew every divot, mud patch and hard area of the pitch and rightly used it to their advantage. Some of the defending from Cox’s men was encouraging whilst some was questionable, the second goal a major example, however things didn’t drop – we got through the first half level and began the second brighter, if Newport’s keeper hadn’t been positioned where he was for Stevenson’s early second half goal bound header, there’s no doubt it would have been a different result altogether.
As I mentioned in the match report, it was catch 22 for Cox, did he stick with the same side that had netted 13 goals in two games or adapt to suit the pitch and risk losing the fire power? It’s too late to dwell, the focus has to turn to Cambridge United.
I guess it’s another catch 22 tomorrow really too over James Jennings – his move from Cambridge in January was permanent so, like Geohaghon against Kidderminster, he can play against his former employers, however should he?
For me probably not, nothing against Jennings’ his set plays have impressed me and his defending hasn’t worried me too much, however that said Cambridge’s’ players and manager will know Jennings’ weaknesses better than anyone and will be relying on them to create their attacks, it’s for this reason there should be a recall for Ritchie Sutton tomorrow.
By re-introducing the former Port Vale man into the fold from the bench, a straight swap for Jennings, you force Richard Money’s hand a little and make Cambridge adopt their approach to the game. Moving Lee Beevers back to the left hand side wont phase our back line as Beevers is certainly stable enough to play there, the same can be said for Sutton who will in turn ensure the right hand side is tight and secure, allowing Briscoe or Meikle, depending on who Cox starts with, more advanced freedom.
During the last meeting, Cambridge certainly enjoyed the better afternoon as they trounced a pathetic Stags 4-1, an afternoon which saw John Thompson and Exodus Geohaghon taken off injured and the back four with more holes than a broken siv. The system Stags employed that day, 4-3-3 was an embarrassment as new signing Solomon Tiawo failed to fit in with his new team mates in midfield – just over four months on however the system employed now is much more stable and works to full effect, even if numerous changes are made tomorrow to freshen things up, I think it still will as those players waiting to come in have been training in and playing in the same system in practise matches and have looked hungry when making the odd appearance from the bench.
If Stags can go into tomorrow’s match with refreshed focus and concentration then hopefully, another run of victories can begin – this season is wide open and certainly there for the taking, time now to go and do it I guess!
LAST TIME WE MET
As mentioned above the last time these two locked horns was back in October, a match which was an embarrassment to watch as a Stags supporter. No heart, passion or desire was shown by the majority of the players which began in bizarre fashion as Paul Cox handed a month’s contract to trialist Solomon Tiawo purely so he could play a 4-3-3 system, a move which, by the full time whistle, backfired.
Stags were atrocious and slumped to a 4-1 thumping as Cambridge netted the opener through Michael Gash on nine minutes before doubling their advantage on 48 minutes again through Gash. It took under 60 seconds from the re-start for Cambridge to find a third as Tom Elliott fired home past Shane Redmond, who wrongfully took the flack. United added the clinical fourth on 58 minutes as Ross Jarvis thumped home a header before Jake Speight laid claim to Stags’ consolation on 71 minutes.
Stags and Cambridge have met a total of 31 times down the years, Stags recording 13 wins to 11, netting 51 goals but conceding one more (52). At the One Call Stadium, Stags haven’t beaten Cambridge since 2010 when Keigan Parker’s penalty following a James Jennings handball and subsequent red card, proved enough to take all the points. In the 14 meetings at the One Call, Mansfield are the significantly better side with eight wins to two and 22 goals to 15.
Stags boss Paul Cox again has no fresh worries ahead of tomorrow’s match, only Ross Dyer and Jake Speight will be missing as they continue their road to recovery.
Cambridge head coach Richard Money, whose first game at the U’s helm was against Stags earlier in the season, says he’ll have to tinker with his selection tomorrow. The former Luton boss is without the services of Tom Elliott, Harrison Dunk and Curtis Haynes-Brown.
Unable to make it to the match tomorrow? Then join myself and guest Stephen Thrikill for regular updates throughout the afternoon, with build up starting at 2pm via our MM-LIVE page and 106.9FM.
Join in the debate too via text and twitter, do the Stags have enough quality and desire about them to mount a title charge or should the focus be on the play-offs. Send your thoughts via twitter @mtfcmatters or text 07804 15 66 37
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