LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: Can season have a happy ending in mammoth winner-takes-all showdown?

Mansfield Town v Stevenage.'Despair in the Stags ranks as Stevenage go ahead late in the second half.
Mansfield Town v Stevenage.'Despair in the Stags ranks as Stevenage go ahead late in the second half.

David Flitcroft’s belief that the season would see late twists and turns and go down to the wire have been proved 100 per cent accurate.

Like some corny Hollywood script, the final game at MK Dons always looked set to be a breathtakingly huge winner-takes-all promotion showdown – and so it has proved.

Both clubs have had big chances to avoid that but stuttered and failed to take them and we are now left with an absolutely mouthwatering fixture that will have both sets of fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Also, after so many weeks of wanting Bury to fail, suddenly Stags fans will be rooting for the Shakers at Tranmere Rovers tomorrow night to kill off Rovers’ hopes of cheekily sneaking into third spot on the last day if they can win their last two games and Stags and Dons draw on Saturday.

Even if Tranmere can hold Bury, their goal difference is far inferior to Mansfield which may be key for Stags at MK where a draw would then be enough for promotion glory for Flitcroft’s men.

Saturday’s home defeat by Stevenage was absolute agony to watch for Stags fans.




Mansfield were completely on top for the first 20 minutes before Stevenage suddenly woke up and battered them until half-time.

After the break Stags then paid the price for chasing the win, which they had to do, twice getting caught on the counter.

The timing of Stevenage’s winner in the third added minute was particularly cruel.

But that goal didn’t change the need for a draw or win at MK this Saturday. Only a win would have left Dons needing a cricket score victory.

The arrival of Storm Hannah did not help matters on a freezing cold afternoon at the One Call Stadium.

Yes, it was the same for both sides as the strong wind blew a gale downfield in each half. But you wonder what might have been in stiller, calmer conditions for the home side’s hopes of playing more football.

Certainly, Mansfield did not hit the heights of some of their previous home displays by some way.

However, much credit has to be given to a superb Stevenage team that are punching well above their weight but have now added Stags’ scalp to their season’s haul, having taken four points off the Dons, and held Bury and Tranmere along the way.

The win left them 10th, two points off the play-offs with only one game to play but with probably too many sides queuing for seventh place above them and a poor goal difference.

Either way, it’s been a great season for Stevenage and they will feel proud of their achievements.

For Stags, they need to dust themselves down and get their chins back up to enjoy the big game atmosphere and thrive in it at Stadium MK or risk freezing like rabbits in headlights.

Dons have the sixth best home record in League Two while Stags have the eighth best away record, winning six and drawing 11 of their 22 away games to date.

It’s an excellent record to only lose five away all season so far and suggests Stags have it in them to at least draw at an MK side wobbling with nerves just as badly as themselves and held at home by struggling Port Vale last time out.

Having been in the top three for a few weeks and enjoying such a good season, the last thing Stags and their fans want right now is the thought of the play-offs.

For a side to give as much as Stags will need to give to the cause on Saturday and miss out on automatic promotion on the last day of the season, you would fear for them mentally and physically to suddenly be pitched into a two-legged play-off semi-final.

It would be a shattering experience to lose on Saturday and leave Flitcroft with a mammoth picking-up job.

But, for now, that scary scenario won’t be on anyone’s mind.

All eyes are on Stadium MK and hopefully only needing to avoid defeat.

Lincoln, Swindon, Crewe and Colchester have all come away from there with maximum points this season and Mansfield are very capable of doing that.

They will go down the day before and prepare properly and they will be backed by a huge army of noisy away fans desperate to make it feel like a home fixture.

All Mansfield Town have to do now is turn up one last time and do themselves justice.

The first goal will be mentally crucial to both sides in what is likely to be a torturous but exhilarating 90 minutes.

Those Mansfield players flat out on their feet and almost in tears on Saturday need to summon up something from inside of them to produce the biggest 90 minutes of their lives next weekend to bring this Hollywood story to a happy ending.