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Cardiff will be huge test for in-form Mansfield

Neil Warnock.'Cardiff City v Leeds United.  SkyBet Champipnship.  Cardiff City Stadium.'26 September 2017.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Neil Warnock.'Cardiff City v Leeds United. SkyBet Champipnship. Cardiff City Stadium.'26 September 2017. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans knows a thing or two about producing FA Cup giantkillings down the years.

But he also knows it will take something special for his in-form League Two side to spring any third round surprises tomorrow away to a Cardiff City side firmly in the hunt for a place in the Premier League.

“We do have some players capable of stepping up and playing,” said Evans.

“Whether they can play regularly against the likes of Cardiff is always about opinions.

“We do have some big game players. Whether some of them are going to be fit, we’ll find out at 3pm on Saturday.

“But it doesn’t matter where I’ve been as a manager or what players I’ve managed, in the words of the great Bill Shankley – it’s 11 v 11 men. That’s all it is.

“We know on the day if Cardiff turn up and are really at it, it’s going to be a long afternoon for us.

“We have to turn up and make sure we do things in the game that make it a good afternoon for us and not a long one.”
Evans remains a massive fan of a competition that some believe is becoming increasingly devalued.

He said: “I value progressing massively. I’ve been very fortunate and gone to the fifth round on a couple of occasions with some fantastic giantkilling along the way.

“I’d never decry anyone who comes and performs a giantkilling. If Shaw Lane had beaten us we’d have been most receptive, offered a handshake and wished them well as I’ve been on the other end of it.

“It’s the best cup competition in the world outside of the World Cup for players.

“Everyone talks about it worldwide – it is highly valued.”

Only beaten once in 18 games, the Stags head for the plush Cardiff City Stadium at a time when the high-flying Bluebirds have just uncharacteristically lost four games on the bounce.

But Evans believes that will make them even more dangerous tomorrow.

“Cardiff may have lost their last four games, but you look at the QPR game and you can understand why Neil Warnock would be disappointed,” he said.

“We’ve had that in our season with some difficult decisions.

“But they have a fantastic squad of players and in Sol Bamba they have not only a man-mountain on the pitch, but a leader. He is a good guy who was with me at Elland Road and a top class player.

“Neil has assembled a squad of real quality which is why they are competing to be in the Premier League and why he chose Cardiff over a number of clubs, as he was going to get the investment to put that squad together.”

Warnock is expected to make changes and Evans added: “If I could shake his pack, I’d shake it as whatever is going to drop out is a quality player.

“The FA Cup is a fantastic competition – that doesn’t change. Do we want to win? Yes, we do. Is it going to be extremely tough whoever Neil picks? Yes, it is.

“I’d expect him to make a number of changes but I don’t think they will be wholesale.

“I have nothing but respect for Neil and his staff, Andy Dibble, who worked with me at Rotherham, and Kevin Blackwell, who I see often.

“We are going to have to make changes ourselves anyway as we have a few knocks from the weekend and two or three not in today because of the viruses in the camp.

“We don’t need to help Cardiff in any shape or form whatsoever by telling them which players.

“They are already large odds-on favourites to deal with us.

“Many people expect that to happen. We have to go there with the belief that it could be the day they don’t really perform and we do.

“We will be minus some key players, but they also will as Neil will choose to be.

“We will prepare as will any other game and set our stall to try to win a football match.”
Evans is looking forward to crossing swords once more with old pal Warnock.

He said: “Have you ever seen Neil Warnock wounded before? He has just lost four games in a row.

“I’d love the statisticians to tell me how many times that’s happened in his career, even in the Premier League.

“I don’t think he was losing four. He’d always nick a win in there somewhere.

“He is a gifted manager. We’re looking forward to it.

“It will be tough. Neil is in your face on the side, his players are in your players’ faces on the pitch and they will be big, strong and physical.

“There will be a mixture of styles. They can go forward nice and early and put long throws and free kicks into the box, but at the same they have some wonderful technical players.”

Asked if those four defeats meant it was a good time to play Cardiff, Evans said: “It’s always a good time to play them as we are in the FA Cup, we are in the third round and the prize is huge – probably more for us than them.

“They have set their stall out to be in the Premier League at the end of the season.

“This is a stadium built for Premier League football and a fantastic facility. I don’t know how busy it will be and that’s of no interest to me. All that will interest me is what’s happening on the grass.”

Stags had sold over 800 of their 1,500 allocation by Wednesday night so should have a four-figure following for their first ever game at the Cardiff City Stadium.

“I’ve said it before. 99 plus per cent of the Stags fans are incredible,” he smiled.

“The away support and noise generated at Coventry will stay with me forever. It will take some surpassing.”