Club captain John Dempster this week shook off the rust in a behind-closed-doors friendly as he prepared to return to the Mansfield Town squad after a three-game suspension for Saturday’s visit of high-flying Oxford United (3pm).
But, after a fine display from the Stags’ defence in last weekend’s 8-1 FA Cup victory at St Albans City, Dempster must wait to see if he walks straight back into the team.
A Stags side were beaten 2-1 by a very strong Bradford City side at One Call Stadium on Tuesday in which Dempster completed the 90 minutes.
Manager Paul Cox said: “Steve Parkin brought an excellent side down and it was a really competitive game, not a friendly.
“It was a full-blooded game which is what I wanted. You don’t get your players match-fit and sharp by wrapping them in cotton wool. Some of them have put the cat among the pigeons for Saturday.
“But I think the boys in the back four were outstanding last Saturday.
“They had to withstand a lot of pressure in the first half and a lot of teams might have given up when they were 1-0 down.
“It’s nice to have options. The side has picked itself of late with the injuries and suspensions.”
Starting a tough run of four games against top seven sides this month, Stags go into the game without a goal in 428 minutes of League football and without a League win in six.
But they did end their overall drought in style last weekend with the eight goals against St Albans and Cox said: “It’s nice to get that monkey off our backs, scoring goals and getting that win.
“I know we have only lost four all season, but it still seems an eternity since we actually won in the League with all the draws.
“The win gives us the right kind of impetus building into Saturday.
“The boys have never shown me any sort of attitude that would worry me. All teams go through this blip.
“Sometimes at this place, if you don’t win every game in succession then everyone seems to be on a downer. But the boys have got an unbelievable team spirit. It was nice to see them put the performance in and get the result as well as scoring a lot of goals.
“They are good players. But it is easy for those little doubts to set in. So last Saturday’s win will do their confidence a power of good.
“They are all big games and we are playing chase with the four sides we’ve got to play.
He added: “It’s a tough run now until Christmas and I think we’ve only got two home games after Saturday.
“But we do have players coming back now. I could have bleated about woe is us with so many injuries and suspensions. We lost more or less the complete spine of the side that started the season. But you just get your head down and hope you come through the other end.
“The quality of this league is consistent. There are no easy games. You can’t take your foot off the gas. You have to give every game the respect it deserves or you get punished. We have come a long way in the last two years and we now need to get back to what we are good at.”
The queue for the treatment table is now diminishing with Chris Clements completing a rehabilitation spell at St George’s Park in Burton today.
“Chris Clements is back training with us tomorrow, which is a massive plus, as are Martin Riley and Ryan Tafazolli,” said Cox.
“But we may lose Ollie Palmer for Saturday with a hamstring injury. We will give him a test before the weekend.”
Stags will also welcome back defender Lee Beevers on Saturday after a one-game ban while Oxford look set to lose skipper and important defender Jake Wright with a hamstring strain.
The visitors are on a roll away from home, winning four and drawing two of their last six games on the road.