Mansfield Town’s walking wounded face a bleak few weeks unless boss Paul Cox is given permission to bolster his wafer-thin squad.
Saturday’s gutsy 0-0 home draw with in-form Cambridge United was definitely a point gained amid the circumstances of one of the worst injury crises the club has endured.
Everyone, including Cox, knew that, for a variety of reasons, Stags would need to go with a smaller budget and a squad of around 22 players this season.
The players brought in seemed good choices with their quality and adaptability and, in Liam Hearn and Luke Jones, great talent at both ends of the pitch.
But no one could have foreseen what would happen in such a short space of time with players going down with long term injuries like flies, including Hearn and Jones.
Further injuries to Jones and Ollie Palmer in training this week left Cox with nine first team players queuing for the treatment table and skipper Adam Murray styill suspended.
Injury crisis grows as Luke Jones ruled out for season
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Two blank spaces on the sub’s bench on Saturday underlined the graveness of their plight.
Other players went out to face Cambridge patched up and with painkilling injections.
So the outcome of a point and a clean sheet were reason for celebration with supporters, understanding the situation, warmly applauding them off for their efforts.
But somehow over the next week or two, players are going to need to come in or the slide towards the trapdoor will become inevitable.
Cambridge arrived on a high after scoring eight goals in two victories, but Mansfield made them work hard in a very tight first half before the visitors took over in the second half as Stags inevitably tired, the post and Sasha Studer saving them on more than one occasion.
Mansfield did have one slice of luck after 18 minutes which, had it gone the other way, would have surely seen them take a battering.
QPR loanee Jamie Sendles-White launched himself into a tackle on Richard Tait that many referees might have sent him off for.
The tackle sparked a melee of pushing and shoving before a few anxious moments as the officials discussed the tackle. So it was a huge relief when Mark Heywood eventually only produced a yellow.
With no Matt Rhead up front after failing a fitness test on his hamstring, Alex Fisher came in and turned in a hard-working display.
But he and Rakish Bingham were often on different wavelengths and Stags rarely looked like scoring.
Mansfield were screaming for an early penalty kick when Fergus Bell went down as goalkeeper Chris Dunn slid in to grab the ball at his feet. Instead Bell was booked for diving.
The Stags went on to play some neat passing combinations and ask questions of the visiting defence which at least appeased home fans critical of too many long balls and earned applause and encouragment,
But the nearest we came to a goal in the opening half was at the other end on 40 minutes as Michael Nelson got a goalbound header onto Ryan Donaldson’s corner which Bell cleared off the line, Liam Hughes’ follow-up clipping the outside of the near post for a goalkick.
Cambridge upped the gears after the break and talented Crystal Palace loanee Kwesi Appiah might have had a hat-trick inside five minutes.
On 53 minutes Studer had to make his first real save of the day as Appiah turned on the edge of the box and fired in a superb low shot that threatened to creep just inside the right post until the Swiss keeper got down to turn it away.
Appiah then should have done better when he nodded the ball tamely at Studer from close range on 55 minutes after Hughes had headed a corner back in front of goal.
And on 58 minutes Appiah again came close as he superbly controlled a long ball forward and crashed a shot from the right hand corner of the box that hit the base of the far post with Studer beaten.
Tom Elliott set up Hughes on 82 minutes for a low shot that again Studer proved equal to, diving to his left to block.
But, with Martin Riley, Ritchie Sutton and Sendles-White combining superbly, the Stags fully deserved to cling on for their clean sheet.
With Jones now unlikely to figure this season, Sendles-White could be in for an extended stay.
But Cox knows he desperately and urgently needs to further strengthen, if allowed, this week with games coming thick and fast.
STAGS: Studer; Sutton, Riley, Sendles-White; Beevers, McGuire, Heslop, Bell (R. Taylor 82), Freeman; Bingham, Fisher. Subs not used: Evtimov, Lambe, Marsden, Thomas.
CAMBRIDGE: Dunn, Tait, G. Taylor (Chadwick 80), Coulson, Donaldson, Champion, Elliott, Simpson (Dunk 56), Hughes, Nelson, Appiah. Subs not used: Lanzoni, Norris, Lennon, Bird, Naylor.
REFEREE: Mark Heywood of Northwich.
ATTENDANCE: 2,925 (410 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Martin Riley.