After an unseasonably long harvest of points in August, September and October and an unbeaten run that will live long in the memories of Stags fans (particularly if this is to eventually end up a successful campaign), the winds finally changed and brought a turbulent November...
Seasons have their ups and downs, but it will be surely telling how Mansfield respond to a month in which their unbeaten status vanished, first in ‘all competitions’ with defeats in three different cups, and then finally at the end of November in the league, to Swindon.
Despite the crushing disappointment of losing the League Cup fourth Round tie to Port Vale and the total of five defeats in the month, November offered a mixed bag in the league, which is after-all, the real prize. Other than the loss to Swindon, Stags picked up two wins and a draw in their other League Two fixtures, leaving them (at the time of writing) fourth in the table and seven points off leaders Stockport, with two games in hand. Form has certainly dipped from the heights of October, when teams feared the sight of MTFC on the opposite side of a team-sheet, but it must be said that no side has yet outclassed us.
The run of fixtures up to Christmas: vs Crawley (A), Sutton (A), Grimsby (H) on Boxing Day and Doncaster (H) will show us where we are, I feel. A good position by Christmas is the cliched benchmark, and indeed, sides who are top or second by the time The Great Escape airs, invariably break out of League Two confinement come May.
Every team has blips and times of adversity in a season, but Stags showed great togetherness during the unbeaten run and drew compliments from most opposition managers they faced for their well-drilled structure and game plan. This has to be something to inspire confidence among fans. We’ve been up there before in previous seasons, playing lovely stuff under David Flitcroft or savvy football with Steve Evans, but both of those teams had an air of vulnerability – either because the defence was susceptible or the manager likely to jump at the first whiff of a higher wage. Now, under Nigel Clough I feel secure.
It’s great to have a manager who you know won’t abandon you until the job is done, one who approaches team bonding, training and the implementation of his game-plan with fastidious attention to detail. It’s also great to have his honesty and values permeate down through the club. Nigel made headlines recently when criticised goal celebrations. "I don't really see the point of celebrating goals when the game is still in the balance. If you score a last-minute winner and you know it's almost the last kick of the game, then by all means. But do your celebrating at the end of the game”.
His former Forest teammate Roy Keane would be proud! In the next game, after scoring yet another goal, Davis Keillor-Dunn (now on eleven) clearly abstained from wheeling away, a mark of the respect these players have for the gaffer. Cloughy also drew praise from supporters for his participation in a YMCA rough-sleeping event at old club Burton Albion and in a subtle reference to comments from the then Home Secretary, said that “anyone who thinks that people choose [to sleep rough] should have a long hard think about it”. In a world of Steve Evanses and Joey Bartons, I’ll say it again…we’re lucky to have him.
Before this turns into the Nigel Clough fan club column, I want to look at the bigger picture for a moment. This month I attended a Premier League game for the first time in about fifteen years, Manchester City vs Tottenham. The last Prem games I’d been to were at Fratton Park, Portsmouth and before that, Villa Park and White Hart Lane – historic, characterful totems of the English game. My first ever visit to the Etihad made me reflect on what it is I want as a fan and why I prefer League Two, as well as the current state of Field Mill and questions being raised about our future there. In the bleak, damp surroundings of East Manchester, the deprived setting for City’s shiny stadium, I was stuck by the strong sense of nostalgia for Maine Road.
In a supporters’ bar before the game, there were referenced everywhere – scarves, murals, a huge sign reading ‘We Are The Kippax’ – a recognition of their famous former home terrace. And I looked around, as a tourist myself, surrounded by other tourists, in half-and-half scarves, posing for photos with a fake Champions League trophy, and it was totally soulless. No one sang songs – they didn’t know the words. For all their money and success on the pitch, City have abandoned the only thing that truly mattered – the focal point for their fan community, their home. If this is what progress looks like then label me a Luddite, because it isn’t for me.
This week I’ve read comments calling into question a future for Mansfield Town FC at Field Mill, our home and the oldest professional football ground in the world. While the (three) current stands are a far cry from the grand old terraces that preceded them, and the only plausible reason for the perennially bad pitch drainage is a voodoo curse by some Spireite plumber, ask said plumber what he’d give for one more game at Saltergate. The grass is always greener eh – well, it literally is in this case, but that’s beside the point! Could you imagine us anywhere else?
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