Craig Priest writes....
When you’re on an excellent run you can sometimes forget about the ugly side of the beautiful game, tomorrow’s opponents Gateshead are a side currently grudging their way through the ugly side of the game.
The adverse weather has pulled the carpet from underneath their feet and forced Gateshead to play their home games away from the International Stadium, probably three quarters of the Heed’s season has been played on the road and the league form has suffered somewhat.
Back in August when the sides last met, Gateshead were on a semi-decent run and were looking lively and like they were in for another good season, fair play results did begin to go sour before the pitch problems which ultimately led to the departure of now Stockport Boss Ian Bogie in December. However the pitch problems caused delay in games, and although Gateshead have sort of caught up now, form struggled as the players had no familiar surroundings to adapt too.
Roughly ten games were postponed before Gateshead’s decision to ground share with Hartlepool, the heed though we’re unable to play all their remaining fixtures at Victoria Park and have also been forced to play, well pretty much anywhere available – York, Carlisle, Blyth and Boston have been used so far whilst Middlesbrough’s riverside stadium will stage their final game of this term.
The heed, now under the management of Anth Smith, find themselves a point outside the relegation places after clawing their way out of trouble in recent weeks, seemingly accepting their situation and opting to fight, recording recent wins over leaders Kidderminster, Hereford and play-off chasing Macclesfield, the latter coming on the back of six successive defeats.
My point is, when you’re flying high like us often you are blind to the games ugly side, tomorrow Gateshead will come to the One Call Stadium without the pressure of an away game and adapting to different surroundings as there used to it. They have seen AFC Telford drop out of the division and will be eager to edge themselves away from the drop-zone, despite being just a point clear at the moment – grabbing three points tomorrow would go a long way to securing survival for another season.
Stags on the other hand are chasing the title and out of the top three have the so called easy fixture, leaders Kidderminster travel to Luton who will be very keen to keep the faintest of play-hopes alive whilst third place Wrexham, eight points behind Stags now, travel to inform play-off chasers Macclesfield on the back of a poor defeat at Hyde yesterday.
There are no easy games in this division, Mansfield need to do what they do best, keep winning! It’s as simple as that really. There are naturally a few distractions now as we enter April; the final push includes THREE mammoth games in hand on Kidderminster, the first of which comes on Thursday as the Stags travel to Wrexham. Paul Cox has been named Manager of the Month for March so there is the dreaded ‘curse’ to think of, not that one exists, and – I’m not sure if you’ve seen this but if Stags grab their 12th straight win tomorrow they will equal the record for consecutive wins in the conference, currently held by Burton Albion and Hereford United.
Records are nothing to me, as I’m sure is Coxy’s manager of the month accolade – it’s winning and progressing as normal which matters. Bring on tomorrow which is just one more step, one more game. Do you rest legs ahead of Wrexham, do you risk rocking the boat – this is a squad game, we’ll see – whatever happens, so long as there are three points on the board for Mansfield Town FC well, frankly my dear – I don’t give a dam.
LAST TIME WE MET
At lot has happened since these two sides last locked horns back in August, a game in which in-form Gateshead trounced ten men Mansfield 4-1 at the Gateshead International Stadium. Luke Jones netted for Stags to level after 15 minutes but further strikes from Nathan Fisher and Chris Bush added to 9th minute opener from Liam Hatch before Fisher rounded things off late on after Lee Beevers collected his second yellow card.
The sides have a history in the conference and back in the football league between the 30’s and 50’s – in total they have met 39 times sharing 130 goals, of which Stags trail 60-70!
At the One Call Stadium there have been 19 meetings, Stags have record eight wins, suffering six defeats and playing out five draws – the also lead the goals 31-26.
Narrowing things down to the conference, the Stags and the Heed have met seven times, the Stags last win over Gateshead came at the One Call Stadium on April 25th 2011. Trailing 2-0 at the break at comeback was inspired by Paul Hall, no seriously, and Adam Murray, the latter netting a brace to level the game with a minute to go before providing the assist deep into injury time for Louis Briscoe to net and steal all three points.
With the game coming so quickly after Saturday’s encounters, both managers could be tempted to change things. Manager of the month Paul Cox will probably stick with a winning side whilst Anth Smith may be tempted to change things as the Heed look to end of sequence of four games without a win, although they are three unbeaten with three draws.
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