LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: Battling Bishop turning back the years
Neal Bishop is proving to be one of the most important signings at Mansfield Town for many a year.
The veteran midfield warhorse was absolutely outstanding in the games against Morecambe and MK Dons last week after a one-game suspension and a free weekend due to international call-ups allowed him time to clear up a niggling injury.
Mansfield have not really been able to boast a midfield general of this quality since Adam Murray and his presence allows players like Jacob Mellis and Otis Khan to express themselves more.
Bishop rarely wastes the ball, tries to keep it simple and, even at the age of 37, has the energy and enthusiasm for the game of a teenager.
There were rumours he could be Mansfield-bound the previous summer which came to nothing, fuelled by sightings of him out in public socialising with chairman John Radford and CEO Carolyn Radford.
But Bishop was recruited this year and has proved to be the glue that holds together a potentially explosive Mansfield midfield.
His timing in tackles is fantastic. He is like a bird of prey, holding off until the vital moment and then striking.
The number of times he gets in a vital toe-end during a game is excellent.
Thankfully he is feeling as fit as ever and age really is just a number until your body begins to tell you otherwise.
Mellis also gave us a huge reminder of his quality in Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with MK Dons with an imperious first half display, capped by a spectacular long range rocket goal to remember.
With Timi Elnik and Calum Butcher also challenging for a midfield slot and Alex MacDonald to come back from injury, this does look to be one of the best collections of midfielders the club has had for a while.
With the defence also continuing to look so impressive, beaten only on Saturday by a bolt from the blue caught on the wind, it is the forward department that currently needs to step up a gear.
At the moment the club look one goalscorer short once more, though with three excellent players fighting for two places, backed up by promising youngster Jordan Graham, they certainly do have it in them to produce.
All Stags fans know what Danny Rose can do and he will surely finish with double figures as a minimum.
The experienced Craig Davies has been in and out with injury and needs a run of games to get himself going. But on his better days he has looked an upgrade on Kane Hemmings.
However, young Forest loanee Tyler Walker needs a goal to regain some confidence after his early season exploits, which see him still sat as top scorer with seven but without a goal in seven matches after netting three in as many games in September.
He is working hard and making the right runs, but his finishing is currently letting him down.
On another day he might have finished Saturday’s first half with a hat-trick.
In the end a 1-1 draw was the right score between two excellent sides who managed to produce a fine footballing spectacle, despite a freezing, gusting wind.
Whatever the result of tonight’s rescheduled trip to Crewe Alexandra, Mansfield now face two games against bottom six sides - Cheltenham away on Saturday and Grimsby at home on Tuesday – which offer the possibility of points.
By Saturday week Stags will have played both their games in hand at last and we will all better know what sort of task David Flitcroft’s men face in piercing those top seven places.
After that comes the big FA Cup first round tie at home to Charlton Athletic which has caused a big furore this week after the club were asked to move the game to the Sunday due to overseas TV interest.
Unfortunately that now means they will kick off at 12.45 on Armistice Centenary Day and that has angered some fans who see it as disrespectful of the FA to enforce playing that day.
But money talks loudest in football these days and Stags are stuck with it.
Some may stay away and head for cenotaphs.
But the club have promised to put on a Remembrance Day ceremony of their own pre-match, so no one at the game will have the chance to forget the day and the sacrifices made.
It will be an emotion-charged day and, even though the club, staged a similar ceremony last Saturday, it is right and proper they do it again on the big day.