At 27, Martin Riley is aware he could be the grand old man of Mansfield Town’s central defence as they head to Riley’s old club Shrewsbury Town tomorrow for what will be the sternest of tests.
Riley has the promising Ryan Tafazolli, back from injury, as well as on loan pair Jamie Sendles-White and possible debutant Luke Waterfall battling it out with him for the three central defensive slots away to a Shrews side that has a 100 per cent home League record.
“That’s a scary thought,” he smiled. “We did an old versus young game here a while ago and I was on the old team. I am getting on a bit now.
“I have been joking that I have taken Jamie Sendles-White under my wing and he’s looking up to me as a role model.
“But coming from a Premiership team into League football, it’s a different kettle of fish. He is a young kid learning the game and I will do all I can to help him.
“I have only trained with Luke for the last week but he has already played a fair few games. He looks solid and I know the gaffer rates him quite highly.
“We now have Ryan Tafazolli and Luke Waterfall as competition and it is needed.
“Healthy competition is so important. We are going to be fighting for places. It’s always nice to have someone pushing you from behind. It is a subconscious thing, but I know I am a player that needs to be pushed.”
Shrewsbury, where Riley spent a few months in 2008, have just reeled off five straight League wins and he said: “Shrewsbury are doing well – they are flying. So it’s a great game for us.
“I think over the years I have been here we have always turned up for the big games. We always relish them and the boys are looking forward to it.
“It’s not far from my home so I have a few friends and family coming over. It’s a nice ground, I spent a short time there a few years ago after I left Wolves, though I don’t think there is anyone still there from that time. But it’s a great club.”
Stags haven’t won in seven games, ending a run of four draws with a home defeat by Southend two weeks ago before their FA Cup tie with Concord was postponed last week.
“Everyone is eager to bounce back and put that game (Southend) to bed,” he said. “More importantly we need to get some wins on the board. Drawing is all well and good, but if we are to make an impact on this league we need to be winning games.
“We have some of injured players coming back which will freshen things up and helps push the boys already playing games.”
He added: “Once again it’s a very tight league. A couple of wins and you are right up there.
“You saw this at the end of last season when everyone was talking about us getting dragged into a potential relegation battle and we ended up a few points off the play-offs. It is a strange league.”
As soon as Shrewsbury are out of the way, Stags can turn their attentions to the rescheduled FA Cup visit of Concord Rangers, of Conference South, on Tuesday with Cambridge away awaiting the winners in round two.
Former Wolves player Riley knows only too well that victories in both those games could land the club with another dream tie in round three.
“That’s the plan, that’s the magic,” he said. “Wolves away at Molineux would be nice.
“I have reached the third round a few times and played against some big teams.
“Southampton was my last big one at St Mary’s when we came up against the Theo Walcotts and Oxlade-Chamberlains – those top players.
“Look at last year, we drew Wolves or Oldham in the next round and I was absolutely buzzing thinking Wolves would definitely beat Oldham at Molineux in their replay. But they went and lost.
“Then we drew Liverpool again but went and lost our replay with Oldham. We were inches away from playing Wolves at Molineux and Liverpool at Anfield.”
To read a preview on the Shrewsbury game with Paul Cox click HERE