Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans said that huge ‘six-pointer’ games like Saturday’s visit of play-off rivals Exeter City underline how important dropped early season points become.
Evans has dragged the Stags away from relegation fears since his arrival in November and taken the club to within a point of the top seven – with the Grecians their target in seventh spot.
But, despite the enormity of the game, Evans maintained the three points on offer was exactly as important as the three points on offer in each game in August and onwards.
“It’s going to be really tough for us,” he said.
Click HERE to read the Big Match Preview – all you need to know
Click HERE to read Stags’ team news latest
“This is a team that way back when they beat us in December I said would end up in the play-offs or fighting for it and I believed it.
“The manager has had a big part to play in that and, more importantly, his recruitment. His players have been excellent for him. We’ve been playing catch-up.
“Three points lost August, September, October prior to our arrival – they never come back. Even in November and December prior to us making the squad stronger, they never come back. They are gone forever.
“That’s why I have always spoken to my players at the start of a season about the three points on the opening day being absolutely crucial. People look at me as if I’m nuts.
“But nine promotions tells you that three points in August is the same as three points in March and April.”
Although fans are building up the importance of the match, Evans was maintaining a calm head while trying to keep the butterflies at bay.
It is being billed as the biggest game for the Stags in a long time, but Evans said: “Supporters will say that because that’s how they feel and I’m never one to knock them
“But we have to concentrate on the next League game, which is the biggest, which is Exeter.
“You do get nervous in the lead-up to the game. If you’re not then give the game up and go to Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon.
“There will always be that little butterfly feeling when you start games. I get it when my team play reserve games.
“But when the game starts, exactly the same as players, the nerves go. Match officials are the same.”
He continued: “We are playing against a team full of good players, top players - with two or three of them in the team of the year - and a good manager who possibly could say he should be in contention for manager of the year himself.
“We always say in football that supporters can always dream and get excited, but we have to remain calm and put in the hard work.
“You do 99 per cent of your work on the training ground, then you are relying on those gifted young men – and we have a lot of gifted players in the dressing room and a lot of gifted staff at the club.
“But the supporters are going to play a big part on Saturday for me. We’re playing against a quality side, quality players, and the game will be on a knife-edge either way.
“There is a big prize for both which is to get into those play-offs. I know Exeter City are on the cusp of them now, but they are hanging in there as opposed to being really in them and we want to be really in them, as I’m sure Paul Tisdale does as well.”
Stags pushed City hard all the way before a 2-0 defeat in Devon in December and Evans recalled: “When you look at the 90 minutes, perhaps a draw would have been fair.
“In the first half we were totally out-played in fairness to Paul and his players. We could have been put to bed. It could have been a comfortable two or three – we hardly registered a striker on goal.
“But second half was a role reversal. We absolutely dominated the game and missed chance after chance before we were sucker-punched in added time to make it 2-0.
“You come away from that and think when we’ve been as poor as that in the first half, you’ve no right to get anything. though over the 90, you’d say a draw.
“But they got the points largely based on that first half of the game when we should have been dead and buried.”