Craig Priest’s Mansfield Town column: Stags need courage and fight against Northampton Town

Paul Cox.
Paul Cox.
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Stags need to recreate Hereford magic or the curtain will soon be drawn.

Over these past few weeks I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on last season and the vast difference between the side which romped from the back to take the conference title last term to the side which look disorientated, out of luck and, at times, out of their depth in league two this term.

Thinking about it, the answer is a mixture of courage, fight and flare – all of which were evident in the back ground from the moment Stockport’s Danny Hattersley missed his early penalty in mid-January when our spectacular run began to the moment Matt Green tucked away his late first half spot-kick against Wrexham to seal the deal in April.

The more games that passed, the more that magical concoction grew and, at Hereford, when we came very close to throwing it all away, the mixture exploded and what we witnessed will never be forgotten.

Eleven months on, we find ourselves at the wrong end of League Two after a disappointing run of results and luck.

Tomorrow as we head for the rapidly improving second bottom Northampton, I can’t help but wish for a repeat of that night at Hereford.

We need courage, fight, flare and belief to get three massive points as without that and without the points, I fear the fight is over and the inevitable will happen – the champions will fall.

I had to take a deep breath of disbelief in myself writing that, I’ll always back the players to stay up but as I eluded too at the top of the piece, there’s a frailty about us this term and defeat against Northampton could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The cobblers are improving under former Oxford boss Chris Wilder following his recent switch from one end of the table to the other.

They have that bit of energy about them and are unbeaten in their last five with three wins and two draws.

We, on the other hand are struggling, you can argue that the performance from the referee midweek against York cost us dear and whilst you’d be right in some respects, whatever you say can’t disguise the fact that we have no killer instinct.

Apart from a few attempted worldies from Jamie McGuire and unfortunate misses from Matt Rhead – what did we have against York to win the game?

What I did notice against York was the fire in Adam Murray’s eyes, I’ve that numerous times before noticeably one infamous Tuesday evening in Hereford!

I hope the fire keeps burning and Paul Cox makes the relevant changes to help that fire spread, mainly by changing the ineffective system back to a more traditional 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1.

Sam Clucas has the potential to shine, but not by sticking him on the right of a forward three.

Matt Rhead too is more articulate than he’s give credit for but you won’t see that whilst directional football is the only game we know.

I believe there’s a hidden quality within Mansfield Town, I always have and, whilst there’s the slightest glimmer of hope, I always will.

The lack of courage I think has stemmed to the touchline too, I mentioned earlier the missed penalty at Stockport – at the start of that game the struggling Hatters we’re all over Stags who started with five across midfield, following the missed penalty,

Paul Cox changed it by encouraging players to push up, a flat 4-5-1 became a disciplined and effective 4-2-3-1, three points came home and the avalanche began. The courage was evident then, it needs to be now.

Yes, you could argue that options are less now but there are still enough reinforcements to plug the Stags’ titanic-like whole. Will it happen, I can only hope – role on tomorrow when we face Northampton before a mammoth few weeks which includes the visit of arch rivals Chesterfield.

Right, where’s that DVD of Hereford away gone…