Within the space between the loss to Salford and now, two encouraging displays at the One Call Stadium have got the place rocking again. As the debt and quality of the squad burst into full bloom, the gaffer is left with some serious choices to make ahead of Leyton Orient on Saturday.
Its back again, that sweet winning feeling that does all the difference for the remainder of the weekend. A dominating performance, particularly during the first half saw us secure our first points on the table this season. Some of that free-flowing football we got familiar to see last season could also be spotted on the day. Perhaps not asking as many questions to their defence with all the possession we possessed, but still very much in control against another possibly direct promotion rival in Tranmere.
As Clough pointed out shortly after the game, they created very little, with their biggest chance coming as a result of a poor pass from Jordan Bowery. But Christy Pym dealt with the danger the few times he was called upon, and again showed what a solid figure he is guarding the net.
In the end it was a set piece that spilt the two sides. A goal that as far as I am aware, isn’t decided on the issue of who scored it. Although official reports say Harbottle, I am certain the youngster won’t argue with O’Toole in the wardrobe, risking getting on the bad side of the Irishman. Nevertheless, who nicked the goal has only academical interest. Three points on the board was all that mattered, and hopefully it will serve as a springboard for building momentum, as we enter the period of the season, that one year ago proved disastrous for us.
There might still be uncertainty around the goal scorer, but there is no doubt about the man providing the service on the corner. We had early signs during pre-season that Harim Boateng was a wonderful signing, and he really stepped up in this one. Both a smart, technical and strong player on the ball, he gives the team a whole new dimension. He will be a vital key for us to find a way through teams that will lay low and happily settle for a draw, which will be the case in many home fixtures this season. Fully deserved, he picked up the man of the match award after a brilliant display.
Possibly an even better performance was shown Tuesday night. There wasn’t much reflecting that it was only the first round of the Carabao Cup being played at the One Call, as we welcomed neighbours Derby County to a feisty battle. Not just a special occasion because of the Clough link that is within the clubs, but also internally in the Nufsfjord family.
English football has been at interest for generations in Norway, and my father also had an early love for the English game. As fate would have it, he was drawn to the entertaining side Derby County and their charismatic manager, Brian Clough.
Coincidentally I find myself supporting the club that is being managed by the son of the man that once drew my father’s fascination towards this beautiful game. Therefore, it was also extra tension and feelings involved for us in what usually is just labelled a Mickey Mouse cup, used only to get squad players up to speed. In the end I had to endure a bit of stick from him as Derby snatched the win, but I’ll take it, as I rarely have been more pleased about a cup exit.
Clough said in advance that he would use the tie as an opportunity to experiment a bit with the squad, but at the same time send out a strong side with the aim to win the game. A somewhat anonymous first half was overshadowed by a terrific second half.
At times dominating a strong Derby side with the likes of Knight, Sibley, Thompson, Smith, Forsyth and Stearman. The amount of chances created is something to build upon, and give us even more encouragement heading to the capital and Leyton Orient on Saturday, but also more headache for Nigel Clough.
Clough didn’t make many changes to the starting line-up, but the ones he did had a real impact Tuesday night. Many, myself included have been screaming for the introduction of Kellan Gordon in the starting eleven, despite Clough only rating him as a third choice at the moment on the right wingback in a formation perfectly suited for his qualities.
His performance down the right-hand side against Derby must have if not convinced Clough, at least made him reconsider his pecking order again. Bowery will most likely suffer a suspension following that direct red card, although Clough hinted for them to review it and file a complaint. Akins suffered a groin injury which saw him being put out of the team midweek during the warmup. Depending on the condition of Akins, it might be time for Gordon to start a league game this weekend.
George Lapslie also reminded Clough of the quality that for the time being is stuck on the bench. The energetic midfielder was one of the best players on the pitch and was just inches away form being first on the score sheet as his attempt hit the woodwork in the first half. His work rate is never in question.
The post-match interview he did resemble a fairly happy lad, and he doesn’t strike me as the type of player that would complain about his gametime, but it hurts me to see him benched week in, week out. Still remember buzzing when his loan from Charlton was made permanent. Alongside Gordon, I would love to see Lapslie back in the line-up.
Many scratched their head’s as new signing Anthony Hartigan was presented. Young, with regular playing time in League One the season ahead he looks like an exciting signing, but few had predicted that Clough would bring in another midfielder.
I would say we are a bit overloaded on that area now. In football things have a way of changing quickly, and by the looks of it, skipper Ollie Clarke seems to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. That tells a lot about the quality and debt in that apartment, but it can also be a dangerous game, leaving so many high profiled players out of the starting eleven.
It’s a tough task for Clough, picking out a team for Leyton Orient, at a venue we historically struggle. The hosts start to the season has been terrific, having six out of six points in the league and still not conceded a goal. Thomas James is banging in screamers on a regular basis and they look a strong side.
It looks to be a heated afternoon at Brisbane Road, and the debt of the squad will really come in handy as Clough himself said. Having five substitutions at his hand, he is likely to make use of all of them Saturday. The potentially big blow ahead of the game is that the gaffer wasn’t sure whether Boateng will be ready, having both an ancle and hamstring injury to deal with. It will be a big blow if he misses the fixture.
The swich of Hawkins up front proved efficient as he banged in a tremendous goal against Derby. In his first interview as a Mansfield player, he mentioned he wanted to prove he wasn’t just a “head on a stick”, and that equalizer was the definition itself on what he wanted to prove. Saturday I would expect him back in the middle of the defence, leaving room for an impressive Will Swan up front.
As an extra spice from now on, I will also predict score and line-up ahead of league games.
Pym, Akins, O’Toole, Hawkins, Harbottle, McLaughlin, Boateng, Maris, Quinn, Swan, Oates
Months of anticipation building up to a new season came crushing down after a disappointing opening display at Peninsula Stadium. But there is no time to dwell with the pain, as we return to familiar territory.
It was supposed to be a Saturday full of joy and the mood was tuned to party mode. Football back on the menu, weekend rituals back in the schedule and life finally once more made sense. But instead, we hit a massive bump on the road, and fingers are being pointed at manager Nigel Clough, reflecting on the first league match of the 2022/2023 season.
There was a lot of eyebrows raised when Clough presented his first starting line-up of the season. Jordan Bowery and Lucas Akins working as wingbacks while Stephen McLaughlin left his highly successful role on the left side to be pushed into the middle of our defence, cutting options of him linking up with Stephen Quinn as well. Not to mention the highly discussed subject during pre-season, of a new system being put in place with three central defenders.
Everything during the final preparations looked good and the new formation seemed to fit the group well. But reality hit us hard, and already panic seems to be spreading amongst the supporters. Some of the decisions made on the day can fairly be questioned.
Phrases like “never change a winning team” and “don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken” can also have some truth to them after those 90 minutes, with Clough having the majority of players that produced the highest number of points gathered since October 2021 still available this season around. With the likes of Ollie Hawkins and James Pearch unavailable as well you could argue playing the formation Clough has planned for the season was an unnecessary risk for the opening match.
But nevertheless, another game in the bank with a new formation for a team working on adapting to the gaffer’s new plan. A formation I can see working for us in time, adapting to it, and getting key figures back in the line-up.
The loss at Salford will be necessary experience, especially for Riley Harbottle, who got his first taste of senior football at this level. We should also take into consideration that Salford is no easy opponent, and I expect them to finish in around the play-off spots this season. Let’s classify the opening day as an accident during progressive work and look towards the next challenge this weekend.
A league opening day is always exciting, but I am at least as excited for the Stags to return to Field Mill. Especially with the tremendous support and sale on season tickets that has been going on this summer. Football can often be short memory based, and with the loss at Wembley and Salford as the freshest results in our minds, previous achievements is easily forgotten. But we are returning to a stadium which saw us create an incredible record.
Eleven straight home wins, and a flow only matched by the likes of Man City and Liverpool puts a good perspective to the journey we had in the latter stages of last season. Fittingly, what started that streak was a 2-0-win home to Tranmere. To replicate that line of results isn’t very likely, but I am positive that we can have one of the best home records in this league as things stand.
Tranmere themselves also had a bad experience on the opening day. Losing 2-1 at home to last season’s relegation battling Stevenage, and Mr. Unpopular at Mansfield and basically everywhere else in England, Steve Evans.
Another ex-Stag, Kane Hemmings scored the goal that for long seemed to be the point splitting goal, but in the end the visitors secured a fully deserved win. Tranmere looked to have enough worrying about what Stevenage had coming, and at times looked fragile, especially on set pieces, losing the game on a free kick goal where they lost both duels in their own box.
Sweet music in the ears of our returning giant Ollie Hawkins. The big man delivered a heart felt and honest interview prior to what will be his season debut, having been suspended following the sending off at Wembley. He received a lot of stick after once more loosing his head on the pitch, ultimately being the final nail to the coffin on the day.
Understandably he faced a couple of tough days, but support from his closest, and time as a healing tool he is set to return to the pitch. He has also worked on himself as a player, cutting silly and unnecessary challenges as he was the first man in the books of the officials on a number of occasions. Seeing him in the middle of the three centre backs should also be of aid, avoiding his pace being exploited as much as previous. I am sure he is going to be a vital piece to Cloughs puzzle this season, and I hope he receives a good welcoming back on Saturday.
Mansfield away was a fixture nobody looked forward to in the campaign we put behind us, and it is time to give Tranmere and the rest of the league a proper remainder of how that experience can be. Clough made a good point in his interview before Saturday, and I genuinely believe he is spot on.
As teams enter away grounds that are packed and noisy, there is no better feeling than to silence the home crowd. It feels like a psychological win for the players on the pitch on the same level as a rocking home crowd boosts the home team. Therefore, it is vital that the lads feel the support as I am sure they will from a sold-out Field Mill. Still early days, and the prize of having a shorter preparation period as a result of the play-offs is still affecting the players.
Tranmere on Saturday may turn out to be a game of patients, and they will need all the support you can muster. Making Field Mill the fortress it was is a job far too big for only eleven men. It requires the whole town, and as sales has suggested, this town is more than capable of the task ahead. Enjoy football being back on the Mill Saturday, sing your heart out, as I will overseas, and together gather the first win of the season. Up the Stags!
With a new season just moments away, I found it fitting to share some of my thoughts and give a sort of preview ahead of Saturdays fixture at Salford. Shedding light upon new signing, expectations and more in the perspective of a Stag located in the middle of Norway.
I’d always wish I had more of a romantic story to tell when people ask me why on earth I have such a love for the Stags, coming from Norway. The unflavoured, straight truth to where the roots of this relationship began was in a typical boyhood room, alongside one of my mates and a league table of what was then known as the Coca-Cola Football League Two. We both decided to attach ourselves to one club each. No research of club history, stadium, or current squad, just our natural instincts as tools.
Without giving it a second thought, my finger stopped on Mansfield Town, alphabetically placed on 13th place as the season was yet to begin. Years later I’ve often placed myself in the head of the 15-year-old me, trying to figure out what went through my mind at that moment of time, without getting any wiser. I guess in some strange way, that innocent pick of a team that day, with only my bare instincts to guide me has its own sort of romance to it.
Back then, in 2007 to be precise it wasn’t an easy task to keep track of all the matches, transfers and appointments as it is today. And without causing any more damage than necessary, we all remember the outcome of the 2007/2008 season, which made it even harder for me to stay up to date with the Stags.
Luckily, a relatively speedy recovery back to the Football League, improved social media platforms and the introduction of iFollow got me right up to speed with everything that I craved, except that wonderful atmosphere at Field Mill on a matchday.
From overseas I lived through all the highs and lows following the Stags, including the 2021/2022 season, which has got to be one of the most turbulent seasons a football club has ever produced. And form my apartment in Trondheim, plain and match tickets were booked in a heartbeat as the match official blew his final whistle at Sixfields Stadium and Mansfield booked their place at Wembley.
It has been a difficult and long summer for all of us following that dreadful afternoon at the capital on the 28th of May. With wounds freshly inflicted upon us by a sharp Port Vale side on the day, Nigel Clough and James Pearch stood in the tunnel of Wembley, straightened up, talking about how they would channel the pain, disappointment and frustration into a positive reaction and successful campaign this coming season.
Weeks of dwelling with that play-off final loss in the heating sun has finally come to an end, and what better venue to unleash an instant response than Peninsula Stadium. The stadium that just months ago saw our dreams of automatic promotion getting crushed in a two-all draw against a Salford side, also with ambitions of finishing at the top end of the table in what promises to be a season packed with drama. Without doubt will it be a special occasion that gets our 2022/2023 season of and running.
Nigel Clough is set for his second full season as Mansfield gaffer, being appointed in November 2020. He had an instant effect, taking over a struggling side previously led by Graham Coughlan, and guiding the Stags to a mid-table finish in the end. Last season’s early stages were overshadowed by freakishly many injuries, suspensions and generally things not going our way. From that silly penalty given at Colchester, Quinn losing his head home to Harrogate, an equalizer not given at Swindon, all the way to that away loss against Exeter, concluding a fourteen match long winless streak.
But as the players and the manager pointed out countless times, the supporters got behind the team even in the darkest hour, highlighted with a wonderful moment of recognition between players and fans finding themselves at Field Mill during that wonderful display witch only resulted in a 1-1 draw against play-off winners Port Vale.
With Clough really having left his fingerprint on the squad and the club all together, and despite ending the season with heartbreak, there has been a positive development since his entry. It isn’t given that we will hit the ground running when we kick off this season, but let’s hope we are in among the top end of the table approaching the new year, instead of another autumn with avoiding relegation as the topic around the tables at Sandy’s.
That we can get a normal full season with Clough in charge. Yes, the results and the performances the team delivers are of course down to the manager and ultimately his responsibility, but with all those factors working against us early days last season, we have to excuse Clough and give him the benefit of the doubt which luckily the board did on that occasion.
The early signs that we can attach our hopes to for the new campaign, such as summer signings and pre-season friendlies have been very good. The gap left from loanee Nathan Bishop and fan favourite Marek Stech has been filled in with promising looking Christy Pym, who has been looking soiled the brief time he has been at the club. Scott Flinders is a very solid and experienced backup choice, at such a level that he is a serious contender for Pym, which is a nice and healthy position to be in. His experience can also come to good use for our own promising Owen Mason if he doesn’t find himself on a loan move these coming weeks.
The long-anticipated loan signings from Premier League neighbours Nottingham Forest, Will Swan and Riley Harbottle has also left a good impression. Swan sadly got a knock which saw him miss the Sheffield United game, but he got on the last minutes against Oldham.
He has been a fresh breath and another string to our offensive bow the time he has been playing so far. Many and smart movements, and he is looking hungry. Some resemblance to a previous Forest striker on loan, without adding that type of pressure to Swan’s name. Harbottle whom earlier spent time at Forest’s pre-season camp has been quality from what we have seen so far. Unafraid, good on the ball and a physical presence fits right into the description of what we need as Clough looks to change the system to three central defenders. However, the youngsters haven’t been here for that long and still need time to adapt I imagine, so be patient as they find their footing in the club.
A man that already has settled in fine is Harim Boateng. He has used the summer well and seems to be fitting right into the first eleven. Our new number 44 has been pure quality in the friendlies and looks a different breed of midfielder than what we’ve already got. Strong, technical and a wonderful vision of the game he will without doubt be a success this season.
Getting a player like him on free agent is a great bit of business. Credit where credit is due, Clough and David Sharpe must have entered negotiations with Boateng with some serious competition, likely from clubs finding themselves in League One as well, and that tells you a lot of how the club is viewed form outside at this point. Along with the Irish duo Quinn and McLaughlin extending their stay at the club, this is without a shadow of a doubt the best deal done this summer, and I can’t wait to watch him on a weekly basis. As Clough himself said it, there is no point in recruiting unless it improves and changes the squad. By the early looks of it, that is exactly what we got with all five signings.
As the numbers back up, I’m not the only Stags fan excited at the start of the new season. At this moment of time nearly 4 500 season tickets have been sold. That is a tremendous amount of support, and everyone involved deserves a solid pat on the back. As support increase in numbers and expectations reach new hights, it has been pointed out that it may add extra and perhaps unwanted pressure to deliver on the pitch. But coming with an outside perspective and first-hand experience of how things are going in my own country, where people rarely ever show up anymore, this excitement and enthusiasm building around the club is something to cherish.
Yes, football is a result driven industry and short-term results will have an impact on the number of supporters that are bothered to show up. That has always been the case. But I would hate to see the momentum that has been building up collapse in an instant because of turbulent times, which is bound to happen at some point for any team in this sport. If last season taught us anything, it’s that nothing changes as quickly as in the game of football.
I would have loved to be a proud owner of a season ticket myself, but for the time being I must settle with the odd trip here and there. So, to all you Stags out there; take pride and ownership to what is happening in your local football club. Enjoy the thrill of the ride that the 2022/2023 season has to offer as I will, 1 400 kilometres northeast of Mansfield.
Hopefully throned with promotion in the end, but if that isn’t the case come May 2023, then so be it. I honestly cannot see project-Nigel Clough end in anything other than League One at some stage, but nothing comes with a guaranty. The only thing that is certain is that the club is in a much better state than it was when Clough was appointed. I’m going to leave you with the stanza created by Herman’s Hermits, sung by the Mansfield faithful’s season after season, but rarely felt more accurate than in just this moment. “Something tells me I’m into something good”. Come on you Stags!
Hailing from Norway, Stian is a journalist who saw the finger of fate start an association following the Stags! Using a combination of iFollow, Mansfield Matters and air-miles to keep upto date with the club, Stian will be putting pen to paper on a regular blog for us this season!