Five things we learned from Mansfield Town v Middlesbrough
Despite the disappointment of a cruel late FA Cup exit against Middlesbrough, there was still plenty to cheer Stags fans – he’s five things we learned on Saturday
1: Nigel Clough still has that FA Magic
The Stags boss is a big fan of the competition and has enjoyed some great cup runs and giantkillings in the past.
His side may have been knocked out on Saturday but his words at half-time inspired a sensational second half fightback from his players that saw them deserve at least extra-time if not victory against a high-flying Championship side.
Cruising at 2-0 up inside 14 minutes, by the end Boro knew they were fortunate to get through with Clough able to get Mansfield into a higher gear and create enough chances to win two cup ties.
2: Rhys Oates is fast becoming a fans' favourite
The forward has really found his feet since arriving from Hartlepool United in the summer and showed again on Saturday he will be very hard to shift from the team.
Oates is simply a human dynamo and his never-say-die chasing and habit of getting into great positions in the box have the fans cheering his every move.
Defenders simply hate a forward like him as they never get any peace.
He could have had a hatful of goals on Saturday but his late equaliser made up for the earlier misses and the sight of him racing through and rounding the goalkeeper produced the afternoon's biggest roar from the stands.
Stags fans always appreciate a trier and Oates is certainly that. And has now hit six goals too.
The stick he got from his old fans at Hartlepool on Boxing Day show how much they miss his energy.
3: Mansfield Town definitely have what it takes to achieve this season.
Mansfield had some players missing and others not full fit after Covid on Saturday but still gave a huge scare to a side with genuine Premier League aspirations.
Chris Wilder may have left one or two of his top guns out and, with injury and illness, sent out a patched-up team, but it was still one brimming over with £18m of talent – and by the end Stags had given them a searching examination.
A run of 10 wins in 11, despite struggling to get a full side out, showed the courage and determination they possess and that was plainly evident again on Saturday.
They have already clawed themselves up the table from the drop zone to within touching distance of both the play-offs and the automatic spots. A couple of additions in January will help and if Stags can find the form they showed second half on Saturday few sides will relish playing them in the second half of the season.
4: Stags need to add another defender to get Oli Hawkins back up front
The sheer height and ability of Oli Hawkins has meant one of Stags' most potent attacking threats has been lost after he was asked to fill in as a central defender.
Hawkins said he has enjoyed the role and would happily play a whole season there.
But he is better employed up front where he had netted six goals and won everything in the air earlier in the campaign.
Stags do have a decent selection of centre halves. But with James Perch out for the season, John-Joe O'Toole undecided over his future and Covid quickly able to take out another at a moment’s notice, Farrend Rawson missing with illness on Saturday, Clough could do with one more as cover and get Hawkins back terrorising defenders at the other end.
The way he buried his far post header to get Stags back in the game on Saturday was a stark reminder of that.
5: Jason Law is banging on the first team door
When all fully fit, Stags do have a wealth of riches in midfield which has posed a problem for Jason Law,
Since coming through the ranks he has been a fringe player, employed as an odd job man, playing up front, out wide and even at full back on his odd call-ups.
But a longer spell in midfield in the second half of last season showed just how much he has matured as a player and he has looked very much at home in the centre of the park in his seven outings this campaign.
Coming on a sub on 72 minutes, the sliderule through ball he threaded into the path of Rhys Oates for Stags' equaliser on Saturday was one of the best passes of the season.
He is giving Clough food for thought and, still only 22, has time on his side.