Stags aim to narrow keeper shortlist as big guns hit town

Dimitar Evtimov.
Dimitar Evtimov.

Mansfield Town are hoping to narrow down their goalkeeper loan shortlist this week as they take on big guns Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Leeds United over an exciting six day period at One Call Stadium.

The Stags, without a senior keeper on the books, used a Wolves keeper in the 4-1 behind-closed-doors win at Huddersfield Town last Thursday before Nottingham Forest’s 6ft 3ins Bulgarian U21 international Dimitar Evtimov (20) played in Saturday’s sparkling 3-1 home win over Notts County.

For tomorrow’s (Thursday) visit of Villa, manager Paul Cox has lined up a Birmingham City youngster with a Swiss keeper flying in to take part in Saturday’s game with Birmingham and Cox then needing to decide who to put in against Leeds United on Tuesday.

Cox also has another decent candidate in the pipeline if his club let him come and said he is in no hurry to rush into a decision.

“We will have a good look at a number of them and make sure we are heading in the right direction,” he said.

“Football clubs in general have been excellent with us and we have had faxes from clubs offering us keepers with Football League experience. Another is a Premiership keeper, not Lewis Price, who has shown an interest in coming to us.

“We have one whose name I don’t want to mention who we are in advanced talks with. We have agreed something with him, but there is a complication with his parent club as their first choice keeper may be on the verge of moving on and they would need to bring in another keeper before they would let him out.

“But I have seen him numerous times and he is held in very high regard.

“I thought Dimitar was excellent on Saturday and he is still in the frame. I have been very impressed with his attitude. To be fair I don’t think we saw him under a lot of stress on Saturday but everything he did, he did very well.

“After this Saturday we may have a second look at one of them before making a decision. But it is not something I am overly concerned about and I won’t rush into anything. We still have a good number of games left to play pre-season.”

Cox had hoped to bring back last season’s loan keeper Lewis Price from Crystal Place with the Selhurst Park club paying the bulk of his hefty wages like the end of last season.

But interest in Price’s services from another club look to have ended that possibility.

“Another club has come in who want to take Lewis as their number two so that now looks dead in the water,” said Cox. “We only paid £250 a week towards his wages last year so he was outstanding value for money for what he gave us and he is a great keeper and a great boy to work with.

“We’d like to thank Palace for helping us last year and hope we continue that good relationship with them in the future.”

A secretive Cox ran the rule over several unnamed trialists in the County game on Saturday and had half a dozen more come in on Monday, with some of them set to figure in the big friendlies this weekend.

“It is exciting to have three massive clubs coming here,” he said. “All three will test us and put us under stress and, hopefully, show us where our weaknesses are.

“It is good to win games. But sometimes it’s not a bad thing to lose in pre-season and see the bad in your unit and where things need improving.”

Cox plugged two of the gaps in his small squad this week when he signed left back Amari’i Bell on loan from Birmingham and brought in free agent midfielder Fergus Bell.

“It’s now all about match fitness and upping game time, said Cox. “Everyone has done 45 minutes so far and we will up that to an hour for the Villa and Birmingham games. Making anyone play 90 minutes twice in three days would kill the boys right now.”

Defender Ryan Tafazolli turned an ankle on Saturday and will miss the Villa game tomorrow, though should be fit for Saturday or Tuesday.

Luke Jones’ pre-season injury should be cleared up for him to face Leeds, if not earlier.

New signing Liam Hearn and Lee Beevers are both expected to be pitched in against Leeds with Hearn coming back from a serious knee injury and Beevers having had a summer operation on his problem shoulder.

Cox is hoping to add another behind-closed-doors game to let him look at players away from the glare and scrutiny of a public match.

Against a young Huddersfield side last Thursday, Stags triumphed 4-1 with goals from Ollie Palmer, Matt Rhead, Alex Fisher and a trialist.

Cox denied the club had received a bid for Sam Clucas last week and said there had been no new interest shown in his players.

“I am quite happy with that as I want to keep my best players,” he said.