John Lomas’ Stags blog: Defeat by Dagenham is unthinkable
Stags have enough work to do already, and the thought of them not taking the three points on offer this weekend is a grim one.
Adam Murray has already stated he feels the club will need at least 53 points to stay up looking at past relegation figures.
They currently have 35. Put simply that is another 18 points needed – six wins from 14 games.
It doesn’t sound too big a task, especially if you watched the guts and glory of last week’s home win over Luton.
But if you were at Oxford last Saturday, the task will look like a mountain range the size of the Himalayas.
The loyal travelling contingent will deserve a medal at the end of the season for some of the poor away displays they have had to sit through.
Saturday ranked alongside Dagenham & Redbridge as one of the worst.
Not surprisingly, Stags have the second worst away record in the division with only stranded bottom club Hartlepool United being worse by a single point.
The only wins Stags have recorded on the road have been at Exeter and AFC Wimbledon while they have also come home with a share of the spoils from Portsmouth, Tranmere and York in three away games in succession back in October.
But they have now lost five away games on the bounce and on Saturday looked out for the count from the start at the Kassam Stadium after giving their all against Luton.
Boss Adam Murray had a difficult decision to make on Saturday. His injury-hit squad were clearly stretched and tired after the Luton win, but they all deserved to keep their shirts.
Should he break up a winning side and throw in much of his bench at Oxford to give players a rest or would sticking with a winning formula be best? Murray opted for the latter and the decision flopped dramatically with only one shot, and that a poor one, on target all afternoon.
Inevitably the knives came out in some quarters, despite the praise heaped on him and his embattled side just four days earlier. But that is the nature of the beast. Had he changed the side completely and lost he would have suffered the same abuse from the same quarter.
Some have also slammed Murray for saying his players were tired at Oxford and suggested they did a 50-hour week in a factory job to see what real life was all about.
While there is an element of truth in that, it also has to be said that whatever job you are in, from factory work to building, if you have a strained muscle or a nasty gash with stitches in, chances are you would expect a few days off work with a doctor’s note.
Some of those players out there are having to go through the pain barrier and were simply spent.
I think against Luton they showed how much they care, so to suggest some of them went out at Oxford and didn’t try is harsh.
Oxford simply had a bigger, fitter squad with more options and energy on the day.
Disaster days like Saturday are largely down to Mansfield Town’s budget being slashed by half and a dreadful run of luck over injuries to a much smaller squad. That is also real life as much as a 50-hour week in a factory.
That said, it didn’t make it any easier to watch and everyone was relieved when the referee finally blew his whistle at 3-0.
After four games in two weeks, this blank midweek is much-needed as Stags recover and lick their wounds.
But as soon as Saturday’s Dagenham game is out the way, Mansfield must quickly prepare for a long haul to the hostile environment of Newport away where, as at Swansea and Wrexham, I have personally experienced some unpleasant anti-English sentiment in past seasons.
The Exiles are flying high, just two points off the play-off spots, and anything gained from there will be gained the hard way.
So just where are the 18 points going to come from – assuming it won’t be any more that’s needed?
Well Stags do have seven home games to come. But they include Shrewsbury, Portsmouth, AFC Wimbledon and Bury, all of whom will be tough nuts to crack.
That leaves the clashes with fellow strugglers Dagenham, York City, and Tranmere as almost must-win six-pointers as there is not much room for error with six wins out of seven needed if Mansfield are to achieve safety at the One Call Stadium alone.
Otherwise, the Stags have to be looking to somehow pick up and improve their abysmal away form at this late stage of the campaign.
The thought of games at Newport, Southend, Plymouth, Cambridge and even Accrington don’t offer high hopes.
So the trips to relegation rivals Cheltenham and Hartlepool look to be key in picking up that elusive third away win to relieve the pressure being stoked up on home expectations.
So you can see why I feel defeat on Saturday is unthinkable.
Stags fans more than played their part in the win over Luton, and beating a club of the Hatters’ size is always sweet.
But on a cold Saturday in February against decidedly unglamorous opposition, this is when the club needs those fans to turn out more than ever and make some noise.
However, unlike Oxford away, the players will have to dig deep and, from somewhere, at least pull out some semblance of a performance to get those fans behind them from the off.