When you’re riding high at the top of the table and are on an extended run without defeat, one thing always creeps in no matter how hard you try to prevent it – arrogance.
You think that you have a divine right to win games and opponents, especially mid to low table ones, get overshadowed by a fear of defeat. After defeat at Wycombe on Good Friday there was (even more of) a sense that the play-off dream was pretty much over – and that coming up against the league leaders would end badly.
And then there are footballing script writers who, like all good writers, like to add an early twist to the tale – step up Matt Green to score from two well struck set-plays to put a majority of non-expectant Stags fans, and the entire Northampton travelling contingent, into a state of disbelief.
The best dramas though have further twists to the tale and the writers of Monday afternoon’s walk along the cobbles, thought it best to remove Jamie McGuire from the action and ‘see what happened’.
At two-nil up, when the ‘referee’ flashed the red-card in the Liverpudlian’s general direction, I turned to our little group and said ‘we’ll be lucky to come out of this with a point’.
The statement came not because we’d be reduced to 10 men, but because our best player had just been taken away – a bit like that detective who gets too close to solving the case and then meets their maker mid-way through episode two of the epic six-parter.
For those that just spat their tea out at my statement about McGuire - the rest of this column isn’t for you – come back next week, I’ve got no time for the frankly ridiculous ‘McGuire is a liability’ group.
When he first arrived at Mansfield Town, he was exactly that.
A hot-head who’d fly carelessly and needlessly into challenges and pick fights with blades of grass for fun.
Over time, and heavily under the influence of Murray, he’s mellowed and become the guy we’ve missed on the pitch every since Adam Murray switched a muddy midfield for the dugout and a range of snazzy jumpers.
I’m not saying the McGuire transformation is 100 per cent, had it been I’d have nothing to write about, but for those that still see this hot-headed time bomb, I ask you kindly to go back to his first booking on Monday when he was pushed by a Northampton player in the wake of his challenge.
Did he turn around and start a mass brawl? No - he walked away, barked some encouragement to his team mates and got on with the game.
McGuire watches the game well and pull the strings. He’s a vocal leader who will dig in and pull bodies in and out of situations, he’ll congratulate and encourage, he’ll motivate in a way which doesn’t come across as ‘I’m right you’re wrong’.
After he was sent off, there was nobody doing this. And that is exactly why we went onto concede two goals and walk home (after a 20 minute wait for the gate to open!) feeling like we’d lost.
Credit to Northampton, they did their homework and got McGuire walking a tightrope – he knew it the minute the red card flashed.
I for one don’t lay the blame on his shoulders. There were comments online post match about how he got an ovation as he trotted off for an early bath – there’s a reason for that, those clapping knew he’d run his socks off and that our best chance of beating Northampton had gone.
There’s a lot of talk about missing Murray’s influence in the middle of the park, McGuire is the man to re-light that particular fire.
Yes, it’s no use if he’s suspended, but I honestly believe that those days will die and that Monday’s double booking and subsequent early bath, was not the work of a careless hot-head, but the work of an excellent manager who simply combined research with a bit of luck from the referee.
Good luck to Northampton, they deserve to go up after the issues earlier this term off of the pitch. They had a game plan, stuck to it and just about got away with it!
Mathematically the play-offs are still reachable, but it think there are stronger teams than us that will get there.
If I were Murray, I’d be sniggering at those comments for him to be removed, aiming for a top 12, maybe top 10 finish and saying to my players – next year we’re going for it, show me why you should be a part of it.