A season of such rich promise for Mansfield Town is suddenly heading towards a miserable end – and a lack of discipline continues to dog Adam Murray’s men.
A game in which they had more than enough about them to win at Hartlepool United last Saturday ended in defeat thanks chiefly to two more penalties conceded plus a third red card of the season for Krystian Pearce.
That cemented Stags firmly at the top of the League Two bad boys in the FA Fair Play League.
Stags have now had seven red cards and 86 cautions this season, a poor record ‘bettered’ only by Peterborough United in League One with seven reds and 102 yellows.
The red cards tally is joint top in all five divisions with Charlton, Bolton, Chesterfield, Peterborough and Yeovil.
Stags have also now conceded 12 spot kicks this season. That combined with the red cards tells its own story and it is something boss Adam Murray simply has to change.
Pearce may have been unlucky with his last red card against Dagenham & Redbridge, though must learn that if he touches a striker with a hand in the box these days they will go down like a sack of spuds.
But at Hartlepool his man had got goalside of him and was about to pull the trigger.
To bring him down meant, not only did Pools have a penalty kick, but Pearce’s side would be short-handed for the rest of the game. He would have been much better off letting the player get a shot away, hoping Scott Shearer got a hand to it, and keeping 11 men on the pitch.
Mal Benning’s spot kick was also a silly one, drawn into lifting out a leg inches inside the box, despite protests it was outside. It wasn’t.
Despite all the good things they have produced, this new-look Stags side have let themselves down massively on the discipline.
Murray is adamant much of it is down to the naivety of a young side. However, Pearce is now 26 and should know better.
It is true this side is less physical and aggressive than Paul Cox’s teams and often easier on the eye.
But silly challenges continue to prove so costly, and while the standard of officiating in the division this season has at times been disappointing, no referees have a vendetta against the club, whatever the conspiracy theorists believe.
Almost all of Murray’s signings last summer have proved to be highly promising footballers.
But if they are to blossom and play a part in next season, they have to learn and learn fast on picking up cards and conceding penalties.
Although I will always love football, there is much I despise about the modern game – particularly the money-soaked Premier League - and the cheating that goes on with diving and feigning injuries drive me to despair.
Yes, there has always been an element of it in the professional game, but nothing like the theatrics we have to put up with as consumers nowadays – a trait that has leaked downwards like poison effluent from the Premier League and stemmed largely from the explosion of overseas players.
If some young fans now were to look back at full games from the 1960s and 70s they would be gob-smacked how little of the obvious cheating went on and how bone-crunching proper tackles were.
I can’t be a hypocrite so I won’t advocate Stags should be cheating much more themselves. But they do need to be aware of how an opponent is likely to react to physical contact of any kind and try to keep themselves out of trouble.
It’s called being street-wise and, despite their footballing promise, Murray’s side is currently anything but.
With the play-off dream now in tatters, Murray has targeted 60 points and a finish higher than the 11th of two season ago, which was all anyone dared dream of pre-season.
But, currently on 53 points and without a win in seven games, it is still going to take a massive effort to achieve seven or eight points out the last six games to do that.
And, with Stags’ poor record of not having yet beaten a side in the top half of the table all season, it would take something very special for them to put one over on former boss Keith Curle at play-off hopefuls Carlisle this weekend.