Mansfield Town manager Adam Murray has spoken of the different views fans have on the two clubs’ start to the season as they head for promotion rivals Luton Town on Saturday.
Stags have had some frustrating results at home and could have been higher in the table, while the Hatters are in the play-off zone and are thought to have started well.
However, with a quarter of the season gone this week, Murray pointed out that Stags will be a single point adrift of Luton if they can win there on Saturday in a game that is always played in the manner of a ‘local derby’ due to the club’s old rivalry from their time together in the Conference.
“I was listening to a lot of press this week and people were saying what a good start Luton have had, and they have,” said Murray.
“They’ve had some big results already, but if we go there and get a result on Saturday, we are one point off them. So it’s all about perspective isn’t it?
“We are confident. The boys are in a good mood and have worked really hard this week.
“We have had a good week this week. It’s a big statement but we obviously feel we should be inside that top seven now.
“But we are probably a little behind schedule from where I wanted us to be. That’s for a number of reasons, but we will get back to where we believe we can be.
“After the first quarter, if someone had said to us we’d be three points off Portsmouth and four points off Luton, we would have taken that.
“We are in an okay position with a lot more to come.”
Murray continued: “It’s taken a bit longer than expected.
“We have not had the cohesion wanted in a number of areas. If I am being brutally honest we brought more new faces into the building than we planned to do.
“We have also had a couple of well-documented situations that have gone on that have not helped.
“The injury situation didn’t help either, but that’s football at times. We can talk about it. Is it a reason? Is it excuses? It’s whatever glasses you’re looking through. But it obviously all affects it.
“We are on the right track now. We spoke about the process with the players this week and we believe the process is right. We have just got to keep doing what we are doing and improving what we are doing.
“We are very confident we’ll be in or around it all season.
“We are only one point off it and there is a lot more to come. I think we’ve seen over the last few weeks, performance levels have gone up.
“Apart from the first half on Saturday I think we’ve been really good lately, though not taking the three points when we should have done.
“It’s fine margins at the minute. You turn one of those draws into a win and you’re in the play-offs and it’s a totally different conversation.
“The boys are positive. We’re very optimistic about the rest of the season and we are excited. There is an excitement in there.”
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Murray was full of praise for Stags’ supporters last weekend.
“The reaction of the fans on Saturday was fantastic as I think they can see what’s coming and know it’s just around the corner,” he said.
“It was a good feeling. It was good for the players, even though they were frustrated. I think everyone saw that second half they gave everything to try to win the game.
“Apart from probably one of the best young goalkeepers I’ve seen, we would have won it.
“I knew he was half-decent but I didn’t realise how good he was, not just the saves he made but he commanded his area fantastically. We were putting set plays into the box and he was on the edge of the area catching them, which you don’t see nowadays.
“If it wasn’t against my team I’d say it was a pleasure to watch.”
Murray, a former Luton player himself, enjoys the passion of the games with the Hatters.
He smiled: “It’s a weird one isn’t it? It’s like the Grimsby one – the local derby that’s four million miles away!
“It is so not a local derby. It’s like us playing Plymouth in a local derby.
“We had some good games against them in the Conference and we’ve had some good games against them in the League.
“Luton is a good football club. We can’t get away from that. Credit to Nathan (Jones), I think it’s in the best place it’s been for a long time.
“They are playing a good brand of football and I think he’s got the club as one – which is tough to do. He is doing a great job there and he has signed some excellent players.
“They’ve got one of the best strikers in the league in Danny Hylton. He has been fantastic for them this season.
“It is going to be a tough game for us – we’re not stupid. We’re going to have to be on our mettle, but we go into it unbeaten in five. We’d have liked a couple more wins in that, but know we’re strong.”
He added: “Obviously I played there for a short time – and if I am honest I was awful there. In fact I don’t think they will even remember me playing, I was that bad.
“I didn’t have the time there I was hoping to have.
“They obviously get decent crowds, but it’s a two-way thing.
“It is a club with a lot of history and the fans are passionate. It’s like any football club – the environment can go two ways.
“If the sun is shining and the roses are out, it’s brilliant. But if that changes it becomes a problem, a bit like our place. It’s something you take into consideration.
“It’s a tough game, a tough place to go, a good team, good manager; but we’re in the same boat.”
Murray said he had tried something new this week to involve players more in preparation.
He said: “We needed something a little bit different in terms of our preparation for the game this weekend as well which put a bit more onus on the players, which they were fantastic at. It surprised me a bit to be honest.
“We are getting to where we need to be. This isn’t a one-year or two-year thing. This is a long-term project.
“With the way we are doing things at the minute we are making sure the football club is going to be a competitive club for years to come.
“It wasn’t last year we wanted to be fighting for the play-offs, we want it to be this year and next year as well, in this league or the league above. That’s the aim for this football club now, not messing around at the bottom of the league or being in the Conference. We’re moving forward.
“We want to get in the play-offs. That’s what we want to do.”
Forest loanee defender Alex Iacovitti is back in the squad this weekend after his Scottish U21 duty.
Explaining why he missed out last weekend, Murray said: “He didn’t get back until Thursday last week and they have Thursdays off.
“We’d done a lot of our work and we started with the five defenders on the pitch. At home we want to be attacking.”
West Brom loanee defender Kyke Howkins returned from his hamstring injury last week and Murray said: “They are a Premiership club so we expected him to come back in tip-top condition.
“He’s only a kid so he is fit, he’s strong, and I thought he was excellent on Saturday.”
Also back from injury for the first time this season last weekend was midfielder Jack Thomas, who came on at half-time.
“Jack is just Jack,” said Murray. “I thought he looked strong when he came on and he’s obviously in our thoughts for Saturday now.
“Again, he is a younger versions of Jammer in his passion and his enthusiasm to want to play football and want to enjoy the game. He cares for the football club.
“When you have that genuine feeling you can’t make up or con people with, it shows through. I think we saw that on Saturday when both Jack and Greeny came on.
“I think they added that little bit of oomph.”
Apart from the concerns over a leg injury for Jamie McGuire that could keep him out on Saturday, the only player still out injured is centre half George Taft and Murray said: “It’s good now. We had a little bit of a slight concern last weekend when he felt a little bit tight, which worried the physios.
“But he upped his rehab on Monday or Tuesday and he feels really good now.
“He was back out on the pitch yesterday, so touch wood, that’s going to go to plan and we will see Tafty soon because he’s another plus for us.