Craig Priest looks ahead to tomorrow’s pre-season trip to Keys Park...
After a tight 1-0 victory over Evo-Stic Southern Premier side Leamington at the weekend it’s time to hit the road again as Paul Cox’s men travel to Northern Premier League outfit Hednesford Town.
Everyone has favourite clubs and favourite places to go, I have to say that despite only one trip to Keys Park, Hednesford is one of those clubs and grounds. Last year’s friendly gave such a vibe with friendly, helpful staff and a neat well kept stadium – I actually can’t wait to go again! Another reason for my excitement/ eagerness is the fact that I know Hednesford will be a real tough test for us and yet more lessons will be learned as we look to get the new intake of players gelled in with the remaining names from the last campaign.
On Saturday at Leamington it was a complete split between old players and new ones, mixed in together for 45 minutes apiece. Paul Cox, Adam Murray and Richard Cooper spent the whole game scribbling notes and will undoubtedly mix the pack again as they look to reinforce those weakening areas – something unachievable simply by picking the ‘best 11’ from the entire 90minutes but by letting the football dish out the lessons, coming up against a quick, intricate and physical team – feats which Hednesford have in their locker.
It was this fixture during last pre-season in which Paul Cox learned the most about his new set of players, a 3-2 victory for us was tighter than the scoreline suggests, Alan Marriott the hero in the last minute keeping out a ferocious long range effort from Chris Clements who, as we know, will be appearing for us in this year’s match. Yes I know your all shouting at your laptops right now ‘it’s a different team!!’ you’re quite right in most respects, my reflection of last year’s match comes from an event after the match as Paul Cox kept his side in the dressing room and read them the riot act and openly admitted doing so in the post match interview. The fact he did so highlighted that he took everything seriously and that we would not have a relaxed attitude against the so called lower ranked sides who in truth always pose the toughest test. That night at Hednesford stood us in good stead especially towards the latter end of the season when we needed results against a struggling Stockport, Kettering and Hayes & Yeading.
I hope that my comparison between the latter three clubs and Hednesford doesn’t seem disrespectful as it’s certainly not meant to be, Hednesford will always cause you problems and are always a well drilled side difficult to break down, you don’t get three consecutive play-off finishes for nothing, I just hope that this season they can take things one step further and grab promotion – last season’s defeat a bitter one at the hands of Bradford Park Avenue who we’re 5-0 victors.
Despite losing Chris Clements their leading goal scorer last term to us and young defender Cheyenne Dunkley to Kidderminster, Rob Smith has kept the core of his squad and his already seeing the results with two big pre-season wins, 5-2 and 5-1 respectively.
With Clements instrumental last season the Keys Park outfit had a strong campaign as mentioned last time out, finishing with 73 points in 5th place, knocking in 67 goals with a squad that barley rotated over the course of the season, Rob Smith’s side losing only nine matches last season.
It looks like Paul Cox has everyone bar Jake Speight and John Thompson to choose from tomorrow, this time next week I’m sure we’ll have seen everyone in action as the Stags, and the Mansfield Matters commentary team, are ready for three games in four days! Our shape, fitness, desire and togetherness will be tested during the course of what is a gruelling schedule, is it too much too soon or is it the best way to prepare for what will be a long, hard but hopefully successful season? Time will tell.
If you’re thinking of heading to Hednesford and want some additional information, click here to read the travel guide.
Despite the problems we had on Saturday at Leamington I can (99%) assure you that we will be online for tomorrow night’s game, I’ve spent all day working on solutions whilst the station manager investigates our 3G stick problem.
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