With Mansfield Town now just two games from a Wembley final and looking forward to a massive local derby at Notts County on Saturday, there is a great buzz around the club this week.
The Steve Evans era is starting to settle down with three clean sheets in a row, most players getting up to speed with fitness and the best competition for places the Stags have enjoyed all season.
Although fans here and around the country have largely boycotted the Checkatrade Trophy this season after the big clubs’ academies were shoe-horned into it, now, with all but one of them out and Wembley getting nearer, it is likely many fans will suddenly start to take an interest.
It is to be hoped tomorrow morning’s draw is kind to Mansfield with a home draw against one of the lesser lights.
Stags deserve a decent draw, having had to play two of their three Round One group games away from home before a draw away at the then League Two pacesetters Carlisle followed by a draw at home against a League One side, albeit a struggling one in Oldham Athletic last night.
The fact that Oldham are bottom of League One and haven’t won or scored in five games does not disguise the fact that they are a bigger club than Mansfield with better quality players, which some of them showed in fits and starts.
But, even with three changes to give fringe players some game time, the Stags matched the visitors for work rate and enthusiasm and, in the end, two late Pat Hoban headers won a match that lacked any real quality on the night.
It has been a great start for Sheffield Wednesday loanee keeper Jake Kean, who has yet to concede a goal in his three outings and made the few saves he had to make last night with aplomb.
It has helped having such a mean defence in front of him with Kyle Howkins in commanding form in the centre.
He limped off last night and Stags will be keeping their fingers crossed as to lose him for the Notts game would be a huge blow.
With Stags showing the ambition last night, full backs Mal Benning and Rhys Bennett were able to get forward often to cause problems down the flanks.
The game also offered a chance to impress for out-of-favour pair James Baxendale and Hoban – and impress they did as Baxendale twice cued up headed goals for Hoban in the last six minutes.
The small number of Stags fans that turned out did their best to encourage the players, but it must be tough to lift yourself on a night like that against a higher quality opposition in what can sometimes feel like a reserve team atmosphere.
Stags twice rode their luck with Latics chances, once at 0-0 and again at 1-0, and by the end fans were making plenty of noise and perched on the edge of their seat until Hoban’s stoppage time second made it safe.
Now boss Evans has big choices to make for Saturday, though I believe he will largely go with the side that beat Crewe 3-0 last weekend.
With Notts on a downward spiral, managerless, on a club record 10 straight defeats and also suffering a hitch to the club’s proposed takeover this week, Mansfield must have been rubbing their hands together at the prospect of taking on their neighbours on such a down moment.
However, the takeover looks to now have been sorted out and that and a new manager are expected to be announced tomorrow.
Both bits of news will hugely lift Notts players and fans alike and suddenly the mood of the game has swung the other way with a far more positive home attitude developing and a much tougher afternoon in prospect than might have been for the visitors.
However, Stags will be hoping their army of up to 3,400 fans can help make all the difference as they try to extend County’s agony for one more weekend.