LOMAS ON STAGS: Bold bid but Exeter will hold out for big money for Watkins

Mansfield Town Manager Steve Evans 
Picture by Dan WestwellMansfield Town Manager Steve Evans 
Picture by Dan Westwell
Mansfield Town Manager Steve Evans Picture by Dan Westwell
The news broke today that up-and-coming Exeter City star Ollie Watkins looks to have been the target of a bold £350,000 bid by Mansfield Town.

That is a measure of how much chairman John Radford and new boss Steve Evans want promotion.

But, with Exeter above the Stags in the table and harbouring play-off ambitions of their own, it was always unlikely the Grecians would buckle at that price though it’s very hard to see him still being with them by the start of next season if he continues his current rise to fame.

Stags chase Exeter wonder kid – click HERE to read story

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Already several Championship clubs, including Barnsley and Rotherham are keeping tabs on Watkins and were he to move it is almost certain it would be to a club of that stature rather than the Stags.

Steve Evans does a fantastic job in talking up his club and their ambitions – and no youngster could ever doubt the Mansfield manager when he says ‘join me and I could have you in the Championship in two or three seasons’.

But at the age of 21, Watkins will see that time as now.

Any fee of £350,000 is not to be sniffed at in this division and it is a fantastic gesture by Radford to back Evans on this.

But Watkins is a home-grown product at St James Park and let’s not forget they sold a previous home-grown player – Matt Grimes – to Swansea City for £1.75 million back in January 2015. So they are no pushovers when it comes to getting what they want for a player they have nurtured.

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So, even if Evans and Radford decide to up their offer to the half-million mark before next week’s January window deadline, I can’t see Exeter succumbing.

Evans has brought in six new faces already in this window with the hope of two more permanent and one more loan.

It remains to be seen if the manager can now pinpoint and secure a player further down on his list below Watkins with time running out, though with what he has already brought in, Stags should have enough in their armoury to mount a serious play-off challenge.

That now remains their sole target as, sadly, it wasn’t to be last night in the Checkatrade Trophy when Wycombe showed their resolve and character to come from behind and snatch a semi-finals spot just when it looked like the Stags may be home and dry.

Click HERE to read match report

Click HERE to read Steve Evans’ views on the game

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The 2-1 win showed exactly why Gareth Ainsworth’s men are now 16 games unbeaten and, with their resources and stature in the game, I personally hope they now go all the way and win it.

Despite another small crowd and a freezing cold night, it was a cracking full-blooded cup tie with players knowing they were just two games away from a Wembley final.

Matt Green’s first half penalty had Stags in the box seat with just 18 minutes to go.

But a mistake – probably his first in a Mansfield shirt – by loanee keeper Jake Kean saw him spill a speculative long range effort and he was punished as Scott Kashket buried the loose ball from close range.

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It was then left to ‘The Beast’ - Ade Akinfenwa – to apply the coup de grace as he controlled a high ball and turned the defenders to slot home the winner with just nine minutes to go.

Had Stags been able to call on four of their cup-tied players last night it might have been a different story.

But let’s not forget Wycombe made six changes of their own ahead of this weekend’s big FA Cup tie at Tottenham and fielded two highly inexperienced centre halves who coped superbly with the twin threat of Matt Green and Yoann Arquin.

So any Stags fans who had been researching hotel prices for Wembley will have had to shelf those plans for now.

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But don’t throw away the details – you might still need them for May and the play-off final.

With the cup-tied players raring to go and Stags hurting collectively as a group after last night, struggling visitors Leyton Orient could feel the backlash in front of a bigger-than-usual crowd this Saturday when John Radford’s two-for-the-price-of-one ticket offers comes to town.