_ Craig Priest looks ahead to tomorrow night’s trip to Cambridge United.
Following our 5th consecutive home victory on what was a historic day for the Stags on Saturday, the mood in the camp is positive and bright. Without wanting to be the kid who comes in and spoils the party, I just want to echo the words of Paul Cox ‘let’s take one game at a time and just enjoy it’ – the Stags boss said something interesting at this morning’s press conference, saying at this morning’s press meeting at this stage of the season, it’s about managing minds not bodies and that we should concentrate on today before thinking about tomorrow.
To some that statement may seem like he’s saying ‘let’s concentrate on today’s training rather than prepare for tomorrow’s game’ – it’s not it’s a metaphorical statement, meaning take one game at a time picking up points step by step, rather than charging for the finish because by walking calmly and collectively, you see more of what’s ahead and can prepare for the obstacles, whilst running is actually setting you for a dangerous fall. To some it may seem like a really negative ‘he doesn’t believe’ statement but when you step back and think about it, it’s a very wise statement – by walking calmly and collectively together you stand a better chance of achieving, whilst more importantly – you enjoy it and appreciate it a lot more. The biggest successes’ in life are not necessarily the ones you get trophies and awards for, but are the moments you appreciate for being the time of your life. On the grand scale of things, it’s another foundation to the winning, successful mentality the former Eastwood boss had brought to Field Mill.
Let’s take tomorrow’s opponents for example, prior to Christmas Cambridge fans must have been thinking this would be the season they’d return to the football league, for the first time since there relegation to the conference at the end of the 2004-05 season following 35 years of league football. A successful run of results saw Jez George’s men climb from mid table to the play-offs picking up just one defeat in 19 outings between August and December, a run which moved them from 12th to 5th – climbing to third during that spell, which included four wins from five games, the final one being the 2-1 win against us at Field Mill earlier in the season. Four consecutive draws followed the U’s Field Mill victory before Darlington eventually ended the steady climb towards the play-offs. In truth the U’s have barley recovered in 2012 and from their seven league outings this calendar year; they have won just two, being defeated in the other five. This run of bad results, which also an FA Trophy quarter final exit to lower league Wealdstone, has seen Cambridge fans give up hope of the play-offs and already start looking ahead to next season.
I very rarely read internet forums but thought it’d be interesting to see what U’s fans make of their league position and current club crop, as last season we we’re in a similar position. As I mentioned a proportion seem to have given up on the play-offs with a few supporters signalling Saturday’s 2-1 defeat away at Forest Green as the game which ended hope, others seem to mark the day hope went as new years day, a 3-2 defeat away at conference debutants Braintree Town. The statement ‘Cambridge won’t make the play-offs’ seems to be shared by the majority of U’s fans, a poll on the clubs unofficial message board reveals that 65.8% of supporters think former Youth Development man Jez George will fail to take Cambridge to the play-offs at the end of the season, after keeping the club in the conference last season.
It’s interesting to see supporters mindset change looking through that message board, this is by no means a dig at anyone as everyone is entitled to their say, at the end of the day it’s form which dictates mindset really, take us for example. From October to November we picked up just two wins in eight games, Alfreton (3-2) & Braintree (4-1) both at home, on paper that’s a bad run, but in actual fact out of those eight games we only lost once (ironically to Cambridge) drawing the other five fixtures, but because we’d drew so many – hope seemed to fade. Looking at our last eight games now, we’ve again only lost the one (Newport away) but rather than draw a fair chunk of the others, we’ve picked up victories over Forest Green, Hayes & Yeading, Ebbsfleet, Darlington, Tamworth and Lincoln – drawing the other game in the eight batch 0-0 with Luton. Proof really what a winning run can do for you, the difference is that back when we got the first victory (during our last eight games) over Forest Green, we’d had two difficult games against York (including throwing away victory in the last minute on new year’s day) and a defeat at Southport, so naturally our mood was down. What we’ve done is crept up slowly and have taken each game as it comes, we’ve never really looked too far ahead – something as I said at the top of the piece, we must continue to do. We know what Tamworth will throw at us on Saturday but we’ve got to take on Cambridge yet, concentrate on today before thinking about tomorrow.
With a home defence ranked 3rd in the league, Cambridge have only conceded an average of 0.67 goals per game, boasting a clean sheet percentage of 47% at the R Costing’s Abbey Stadium. At the other end Luke Berry leads the front line with 8 this campaign; the U’s net an average of 1.53 goals per game at home however again the former Football League sides form tends to boil down to who scores first, leading 14 games this season the U’s have only gone onto lose one of them, drawing three – winning the other ten, meaning 33 of the 49 points they’ve collected so far have been picked up when scoring first. Switching it the other way round tells you the U’s, formerly known as Abbey United, have struggled when going behind – conceding first on 15 occasions this season, clawing their way back to victory only three times, grabbing a draw four times, losing the other eight. Confidence and mentality go a long way in this division.
As always though I reiterate that games aren’t won on stats or on paper, only hard work and determination will get the results, take Gary Roberts’ strike on Saturday as the prime example, as we kept the ball but we’re forced away until the vital moment, a gap opened up and BANG. Early injury news suggests that skipper Adam Murray along with winger Adam Smith and Gary Roberts, is ranked as 50/50 for the game, from the way Paul Cox speaks and from being around the dressing room on occasion, I get the feeling no matter which player is picked, as a unit – they’ll be focussed on getting the job done, one step at a time, game by game.
Victory tomorrow could see us climb into the play-off places as it’s our game in hand over fourth placed Southport and seventh placed Kidderminster, I’m sure the boys would appreciate the support so get along if you can and make as much noise as Saturday – immense! Fear not if you can’t go, I’ll be live from 7.30pm on 106.9FM and around 7.40pm on our MM-LIVE page with full match commentary, be sure to get lots of texts and tweets in as once again, I’m going solo as Scott prepares for a vital cup game against Birmingham City Whites the following afternoon – he’ll be back on Saturday at Tamworth and he’ll also be writing his weekly blog this week, so keep an eye out for that!
One more game, hopefully three more points – softly softly catchey monkey!
_Last Time We Met:
In one of only three home defeats so far this season, Cambridge grabbed one of their three victories from conceding first. Matt Green thought he’d set the sky on fire, rounding the visiting keeper from Lindon Meikle’s pass, however a double from Harrison Dunk ensured the only fireworks on bonfire night would be spelling the name of Cambridge United, as the U’s took home all the points.
The Stags and the U’s have matched up many times down the years, with the Stags marginally better over the 29 fixtures between the sides (league and cup) which began back in the old division four, 30th August 1972. The Stags successes has come more at Field Mill however, only three wins have been recorded at the Abbey – including last season’s 5-1 route on 28th December 2010. On the goal stakes it’s a close one, the Stags again just sneak it 48-47. Over all Mansfield have collected 12 wins to Cambridge’s 10 – with the other seven games ending level.
Stags 1-2 Cambridge LINE UP: [4-4-2] Marriott, O'Neill, Futcher, Sutton, Freeman, Meikle, Murray (C), Howell, Hegarty (Moult), Dyer, Green . SNU Redmond, Thompson, Connor, Bolland.
Podcast – Commentary from Craig Priest
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