LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: Players and fans must hold their nerve and stick together to halt away wobble
Mansfield Town know how desperately they need to avoid a fourth away defeat in a row at this crucial time of the season at Crawley tomorrow.
After having such a fantastic away record and goals against record for so long this season, it was inevitable there would be a wobble somewhere along the line.
It usually happens at every club at some stage and it’s up to the players to ride it out and get back on form and also up to the fans to hold their nerve and stick behind their players.
One won’t happen without the other.
Promotion rivals MK Dons recently lost four out of five games but got back on the horse and have now won five in a row.
Injuries, suspension and a lack of full fitness for some players returning from injury have all combined to erode some of the swagger and confidence Mansfield possessed before this blip.
With the way this side collapsed in the final run-in last season, it’s inevitable some fans will be terrified of a repeat and emotions are starting to run high.
But I think it’s hugely unlikely and players should be cut a little slack to see if they can recover the missing away steel they have displayed for so long.
This time around it is the same manager but with better players. And home form is no problem at all.
Let’s be fair, even though they had started sloppily, Stags’ poor 2-1 defeat at Port Vale on Saturday could have been so different had Nicky Ajose netted his penalty at 0-0.
Once it was saved you knew Stags could be punished, and it was so typical of football that their usually impeccable defence blundered twice in as many minutes to allow an ex-Stags to bag a match-winning brace.
For the first goal a concussed Ryan Sweeney had gone down with a reaction to an earlier knock to his head to leave a gap a mile wide down the middle of the park while, for the second, some comedy defending saw Ben Turner clear against team mate Krystian Pearce to gift a fortunate Ricky Miller his second.
Already under fire from some fans, Turner has struggled to make an impact since his recent arrival, but he is a quality defender with extensive Championship experience and still only 31.
So Mansfield have clearly not seen the best of him yet - and he did arrive carrying an injury.
It would take a run of games to get himself fitter and used to his team mates and surroundings, but time is running out on that luxury and all he can do in the meantime is his best.
Getting the back three dream team of Matt Preston, Krystian Pearce and Ryan Sweeney reunited from injury and suspension is the best option and quickly. But it won’t be tomorrow.
The biggest disappointments in the three away defeats have probably been the displays of the most gifted players on the park – Jorge Grant and Jacob Mellis – both potential matchwinners who have failed to make the impact needed.
However, the returns from injury of Alex MacDonald and Otis Khan for the final stretch of the season are a boost as will be the return of top scorer Tyler Walker from suspension tomorrow.
Crawley are no mugs, having recently picked up a draw at in-form Bury.
But they were also held 1-1 at home by relegation-haunted Macclesfield two home games back and Stags would be disappointed not to come home with something.
MK Dons are unlikely to find life easy at Morecambe tomorrow and Bury don’t play, so three points could be massive for Mansfield ahead of two home games in six days next week.