Defender Ryan Sweeney says his first full season at Mansfield Town could be his best in the game – if the Stags clinch promotion from League Two in their ‘winner-takes-all’ showdown at MK Dons on Saturday.
The former Stoke City centre back, who signed a permanent deal in January after a successful loan spell, was an unused substitute when AFC Wimbledon won the 2016 League Two Play-Off final at Wembley, beating Plymouth Argyle.
But he says Saturday’s crucial match at promotion rivals MK Dons will be the biggest of his career.
“If we get the promotion we so badly want it will have been an unbelievable season and my best one in football,” he said.
“If picked, it will be the biggest game I have played in – a winner takes all.”
Sweeney, 24, who has played more league matches this campaign than at any time in his career, said the end to the season was not like any other game, but the Stags just had to play the football that has seen them contest the automatic promotion race all season.
He added: “If we win we are promoted and it is the same for them (MK Dons). We will prepare to go down there to win a game of football, to implement the things we have done this season to get us into this position.“
Sweeney was full of praise for his team’s defensive work all season, including back three colleagues Matt Preston and captain Krystian Pearce.
“The way we play, pushing the wingbacks on, leaves us pretty exposed, but his (Preston’s) pace and power and one-v-one defending is top class,” said Sweeney.
“Pearcey in the middle of us two, he protects that position. If we have to come out of our slots he is always there backing us up. He has been brilliant and is the glue in there, talking and organising. Quite rightly he has picked up the accolades of getting in the PFA team. He has been top class.”
But he stressed that the defensive efforts involved the whole team, not just the defenders.
“We have had a solid base to work from. It has not just come from the back three, the way we press teams high up the pitch and the way the front lads and midfield have put in an amazing shift for us… the way they protect the back three is a collective thing.
“We have had 18 or 19 clean sheets. It is something to be proud of.”