Ah the eve of the season’s opener, for football fans up and down the land it’s like Christmas Eve as a child, but for us Mansfield Town supporters today, it’s like the very first Christmas Eve when you truly understand what’s going on and believe Santa will only come if you’re fast asleep – we’re wrapped up the magic and excitement, tomorrow is five seasons overdue.
Opening day’s in the conference were never that exciting, if truth be told the weight of expectation and, at times, arrogance, ruined the one day where everything’s brand new and everyone played on a level playing field. This time around we can all sit back and enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass, the whiff of Bovril and that fresh click of WD40 sprayed turnstiles before watching newly built teams hatch from their pre-season protective shells.
I’ll lay this on the line now, and perhaps get some stick but after this week I’m used to it, I’m not bothered if this season fly’s by and finish outside the drop zone – so long as we’ve kept our league status this time next year I’ll be happy, once we’ve done that we can build. I never want to see Mansfield back in the conference again, so long as they avoid being a one season wonder I’m happy, anything else is a bonus.
Naturally I don’t expect this notion to be shared, as with two seasons which have seen excellent post-Christmas form there will be expectation somewhere from someone to do it again. Chairman John Radford clearly has a vision which will be achieved one day, it may even be this season if the Cox magic works again however as long as we compete and prove our worth, I’m sure he’ll be a happy man.
In a way that’s what this season will be about for me, proving our worth. Five seasons in the conference have taught us that we cannot be arrogant, we were relegated and acted like we we’re still a league club, it was only when we accepted our rank that our success came. Yes technically we are a football league club once again however you have to remember that opposition will look at us, for this season at least, as the CONFERENCE champions – a conference side out of their depth, it’s up to us to remain humble and show everyone that we not only deserve our league rank back, but that we can keep on climbing.
The lack of a striker signing is now an ever growing concern and the constant “Striker expected to sign by the end of the week” headline is doing us no favours. Rumours are strongly circulating that Havent & Waterloovile hit man Ollie Palmer is the man heading to the One Call Stadium; the 21 year old has scored over 30 goals in the past two seasons at a decent level and could well be the right piece of the jigsaw.
For now though, with his or indeed another striker’s signature not on paper, we have to work with what we’ve got – after watching pre-season I’d favour either Sam Clucas playing down the middle with Ben Hutchinson off his shoulder or Lee Stevenson playing off Matt Rhead – Jake Speight has the ability to get us goals but just hasn’t shone during the warm up matches.
Clucas is dangerous and has a good finish on him as has Hutchinson who for me plays well sat in that deeper role with space to create and drive the unit forwards. The Rhead-Stevenson combination works well too as demonstrated at Gainsborough on Tuesday, however this all depends on the leniency of the referee against the big man.
The game won’t be won or lost in the final third, it will be won or lost as a unit and Cox’s men have to stay tight and show the fight from the very first whistle. For me I’d go with Marriott in goal, a back four of Beevers, Dempster, Tafazolli and Jennings – Defensive midfield two of Murray and Howell with Dyer, Hutchinson and Meikle making an attacking midfield three behind Clucas.
I’m not Paul Cox and I’ll have faith in his team selection, knowing deep down that it’s not how you start its how you finish. If a striker does arrive then I’d leave him out until Exeter next Saturday, the only player I’d stick in if he did sign would be Calvin Andrew – I’ve been really impressed by his work rate, attitude and team work – just the type of player we want here at Mansfield Town!
Personally I’m gutted I won’t be there, I’ll be back in Mansfield anxiously pacing around my grandparents in laws kitchen waiting for the results to filter in after what’s been a tough week, thanks for the support again by the way! To those of you that are going, enjoy what will be a historic day and give them a shout from me and Em!
Scunthorpe will be tough to beat, last season’s relegation will have stung but as we know, in pain comes resilience and fight – especially from a side managed by Brian Laws, whose tasted success with Scunthorpe twice before during his two previous tenures at the club. The friendly club will give us a nice welcome with the welcome back to the football league posters; let’s hope for a good afternoon’s football and a positive result back in the league!
LAST TIME WE MET
With our league exile it’s been a while since we last met the Iron, the last meeting coming on January 3rd 2005 at what was then Field Mill. Scunthorpe were sat top of the tree but Stags, four games unbeaten over the Christmas period, were determined to grab their fourth straight win and subsequently dominated the first half, grabbing the opener through Adam Murray on 19 minutes. The second half was a more even affair but Stags clung on and claimed victory, thanks to the hands of Kevin Pilkington and an outstanding central defensive display from Luke Dimech.
Earlier in the season it was a meeting at tomorrow’s venue Glanford Park, Stags got off to a poor start conceding the opener within the opening two minutes as Ian Baraclough belted into the top corner. Adam Murray hit the bar whilst other efforts went astray as Mansfield attempted to level, they eventually found the net on 70 minutes as Dave Artell thundered in a header from Alex Neil’s pinpoint corner – earning a well-earned draw.
Of their 30 trips to Scunthorpe the Stags are even, with ten draws, ten defeats and ten wins – Cox’s men will be hoping for a similar result to the 1997 trip where a Stags side won 2-0 and in turn, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2000 encounter in which the Stags were thumped 6-0.
In total the two sides have net 74 times; Stags have 35 victories to the Irons 20 and lead the goal scoring chart 116-92.
New additions John McCombe, Jamie McGuire, Paul Black, Ian Deakin, Kieran Murtagh and Sam Clucas will all be wanting a debut, whilst defender Martin Riley will want his second debut after returning from Wrexham – however the fans favourite centre half hobbled off late on against Gainsborough midweek.
Paul Cox will also debut in the dugout, managing his first game in the football league.
Scunthorpe could hand debuts to Chris Iwelumo and Sam Winnall along with a second debut to Matt Sparrow – Stags’ James Jennings will come up against his brother Connor, who also looks set to make his Iron debut.
Written by Craig Priest
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