LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: What a difference a year makes for high-flying Stags

Mansfield Town chairman John Radford with ex Stags boss Steve Evans.
Mansfield Town chairman John Radford with ex Stags boss Steve Evans.

One year ago on Wednesday, high-flying Mansfield Town’s season began to dramatically unravel as manager Steve Evans walked out on the club with 12 games to go.

That sparked a chain of happenings that saw new boss David Flitcroft unable to get the promotion push over the line and a summer of anger and hurt as a massive missed opportunity.

However, 12 months on Stags are looking in much better shape and after Saturday’s 1-0 home win over rivals Forest Green Rovers, fans are starting to believe the pain of last season’s late collapse can be wiped away with promotion.

Mansfield are already one point better off than they were after 34 games last season when Evans shocked the club by heading off the his ‘dream job’ at Peterborough.

With Evans already sacked at London Road this season, many Stags fans will be celebrating their ‘dream double’ if his old club can rise into League One this May too.

Those last 12 games last season yielded only 12 points and Mansfield’s promotion hopes died on the last day of the campaign for the second year in a row.

Much has been said about what happened, a lot of it conjecture.

Did new boss David Flitcroft try to change too much too soon? Did some of the senior players disagree with his changes and rebel? Were the squad far from fully fit under Evans’ training programme?

Whatever the reasons, that flop is very much now history and can be put right over the next nine weeks.

This time around the squad looks more talented, more hungry and is already sat in a top three promotion place.

The blip of defeats at Newport and Notts County was blown away on Saturday with a much-improved display to push Forest Green seven points adrift of the Stags.

Stags are now eight points ahead of seventh-placed Carlisle United, so the consolation prize of the play-offs is already looking rosy.

But no one wants the lottery of play-offs if they can help it and Stags are already seven points clear of fifth-placed Colchester United.

With MK Dons just two points adrift of Mansfield in fourth place, the three automatic promotion spots look like being three of Lincoln, Bury, Stags and the Dons right now unless anyone comes in with a late charge.

Mansfield’s next three games look inviting on paper with a trip to a poor Port Vale side that has lost four in a row and not won in seven sandwiched by a home game with Cheltenham and a game at Crawley, both sides destined for mid-table and nothing much to play for already.

So by the time Lincoln arrive for the big top-of-the-table clash live on Sky TV, excitement could be at fever pitch at the One Call Stadium.

The only real concern right now is the increasing lack of available strikers.

With Tyler Walker’s silly red card on Saturday, Mansfield will be without four of their five recognised frontmen on Saturday.

Walker has been magnificent all season and is still young.

So fans will forgive him for his rush of blood to the head in giving ‘the bird’ to the linesman over a meaningless throw-in decision deep into stoppage time. It is part of his learning curve.

But the pressure is now on Nicky Ajose to deliver and for the other players to step up and chip in with goals against a Cheltenham side with one of the six worst goals against totals in the division.