Mansfield Town continued to put us all through the wringer this week with two home games eventually producing three more points towards safety.
Tuesday’s 2-1 home win against AFC Wimbledon was a thrilling rollercoaster in which it seemed Stags had tossed away two vital points before snatching them back in a dramatic finish.
That followed Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat by promotion hopefuls Bury.
Manager Adam Murray’s press conferences are never a dull affair and after Saturday he was livid, accusing some of his players of ‘complacency’, ‘going through the motions’ and ‘strolling around’.
After the drama of the Wimbledon win, he was far happier with his players but admitted to being ‘emotionally drained’ and ‘couldn’t wait for the end of the season’.
While agreeing with him that Saturday’s performance was below par of what they are capable of and a poor spectacle, I do think he was a little over-critical afterwards.
After all, Mansfield hadn’t beaten bury for 10 years, were soundly spanked 4-1 at home by them last season and comfortably seen off 2-0 at Gigg Lane just after Christmas.
At least last weekend, up against a very good Bury side who are likely to be plying their trade at a higher level next season, Mansfield were in the game until the end.
They also did well in frustrating the Shakers, offering very few chances, the winning goal coming from a free kick that was allowed to bounce right through to Nathan Cameron at the far post.
Reggie Lambe really should have scored Stags’ best chance and earned a point. But the defeat, while not pretty to watch, did represent a step forward for Stags on recent results against Bury.
Possibly some of Murray’s angry post-match outbursts were motivational and a sign of his growing managerial talents?
After losing at home, with a very winnable game at home to an AFC Wimbledon outfit with little to play for four days later, it makes sense to have your side hungry to get back out there and right wrongs. This they did in superb fashion.
Murray has also taken to turning round the sponsors’ backdrop board at Thursday press meetings and scribbling formations and statements in which to speak in front of.
There has been no mention of trawlers or seagulls yet, but I can see a book of the wit and wisdom of Muzza in the shops by Christmas.
Last week’s was: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
No one obviously passed that messsage on to Jamie McGuire, who had the bruising task of helping subdue ‘The Beast’ that is Adebayo Akenfenwa on Tuesday.
McGuire was asked to get in front of the giant-sized striker and upset him – something McGuire is very capable of and did very well on the night.
At times it was an hilarious sight as the two wrestled for the ball – a real Little and Large or David versus Goliath battle.
But, all joking aside, it worked well as McGuire turned in a second man of the match display in as many starts and show how important he can be to a squad.
What he lacks in passing vision, he makes up for in abundance with heart and tenacity and currently seems to be avoiding the usual constant bookings too – something young Jack Thomas needs to learn quickly.
For the neutral, the Wimbledon game was a real cracker with plenty of chances at both ends and the game played at a fast pace with both sides getting the ball forward early.
Two weeks to the night they snatched victory at Newport with a late winner, the importance of Rakish Bingham’s 87th minute goal on Tuesday cannot be underestimated.
Take a look at the other results on the night. Wins for Tranmere Rovers at Cambridge, Carlisle United away to Northampton, and Hartlepool United away at Oxford, plus a point for Cheltenham at Portsmouth underline that this relegation battle is far from over yet.
Although the Dons win lifted Mansfield up into 16th place, the gap to the drop zone with nine games left remains eight points.
Had Adebayo Azeez put away either of his good chances for Wimbledon at 1-1, the gap would only be five points.
Murray keeps insisting the job is far from finished – and nights like Tuesday underline that. It could still go to the wire.
The players needs to stay focused on the job as if the gap is only three points and the fans need to stick behind them.
Speaking of which, the web-based spat between defender Martin Riley and some of his critics this week brought a smile to a few faces.
It was hilarious to see some supporters announcing how rubbish he was on on the web on Saturday (he was far from on top form, but he wasn’t rubbish) and then get upset when he had a pop back at them via twitter, saying some of them were ‘clowns’ and ‘clueless’.
It seems they want one law for themselves and another for their targets as some fans took great offence.
If you have a pop at someone in public, and I don’t care what job they are in, you should never expect them not to be able to defend themselves.
Football fans pay good money and are always entitled to an opinion good or bad on players and performances. But players are entitled to opinions too.
Just be grateful Riley isn’t Eric Cantona (we wish)!
Onwards and upwards to Hartlepool on Saturday, who have found some good form of late just when they looked beyond help and adrift at the bottom.
Unlikely successive away wins this week have cut the gap to four points and given them a glimmer of hope.
It is not the most pleasant of places to go and Stags have to dig in and make sure first and foremost that they don’t get beaten in the hostile North-East.
The way Stags ran their hearts out against Wimbledon will ensure some very tired legs, so don’t be surprised to see Murray break up his winning side and use his squad wisely on Saturday.