Steve Evans is under no illusions as to how important March is to Mansfield Town’s chances of achieving a top-seven spot this season - but has said: ‘It’s not squeaky bum time, yet’.
The Stags face a tough seven days against three teams all vying for promotion from League Two, with second-placed Plymouth Argyle first up at the One Call Stadium this Saturday (March 11).
A midweek trip to fellow play-off chasers Colchester United on Tuesday is next up for Evans’ troops before another home match against Carlisle United, currently in the automatic spots.
And the Mansfield Town manager believes his side need to show they can remain in the shake-up this month before the run-in, after two back-to-back goalless draws with Yeovil Town and Cheltenham Town.
Evans said: “March is big but it is not squeaky bum time, which is April. You have to earn the right to be in the shake up to get squeaky bum feelings. You get those when you turn up to the stadium and everyone is focused on winning the game.
“But of course everyone around the One Call Stadium will be checking their mobiles and their tablets - probably taking tablets - they’ll be checking results all around the country. We’re not in squeaky bum time and we have to make sure when April comes we are involved in the mix.
“At Rotherham United we had to win the last five or six games in a League Two season to be in the shake-up and it took us up automatically because others around us couldn’t take the pressure. So, we have to earn the right to be involved in Mansfield.
“Belief is important. We’re going to lose games between now and then. We’re going to play almost all of the top teams. We’re not going to beat all of them but we have to win more than we lose and, because we’re winning more than we’re losing and others are losing, it gives us an opportunity.
“We believed we could achieve as a group (at Rotherham). We didn’t get too low, we didn’t get too high. We knocked them down. The fundamental part of this is that we need to get a real opportunity in the next four or five games to be involved in the business end of the season.
Evans added: “I’ve said to the players ‘don’t be watching the play-offs at the end of the season - be part of it’.”
Stags haven’t found the back of the net in their previous two outings but crucially have kept two clean sheets, after four against Accrington Stanley and three to Grimsby Town of late.
“The first thing you have to do is get back on to the training ground and get back in to good habits, making sure you don’t concede,” said Evans. “That only comes through hard work. A lot of people think you can just switch that on and off but you can’t. There’s a lot of hard work gone in on the training ground and we’ve got that right.
“Do you forsake some of the attacking prowess? Well, to start with you do. Then you work a pattern and get back to normal. There’s five good chances against Yeovil and there’s three against Cheltenham. If we win both games 1-0 everyone says what fantastic performances away from home.
“I’m pleased with the performance at Yeovil in the second half, pleased with the quality of football, and I was pleased with the battling spirit at Cheltenham. I know they were down to ten but we still dominated the ball and sometimes; like a boxing match, you go to the last round or the last few minutes to break and make that chance.
“We did that. Unfortunately, on this occasion, we didn’t take them. It’s a three-game spell (Newport County, Yeovil, Cheltenham) where we’ve gone unbeaten but we didn’t pick up maximum points.”