Mansfield Town boss Adam Murray signalled his intentions in midweek to ‘let his players off the leash’ last Saturday – and they rewarded him with a rampaging 4-0 win over Crawley Town to register their first home win of the season.
Crawley did finish the game with 10 men after Gwion Edwards’ needless challenge on Nicky Hunt on 50 minutes – but by then Stags were already 2-0 up and sitting pretty.
With 14 new faces, Murray had began the new campaign cautiously, rightly trying to build from the back and make his side solid and hard to beat.
That had certainly worked with Stags’ only League defeat being a single off night at Accrington.
But with so many flair players in his side restraining their natural instincts and three successive 1-1 home draws in a row, Murray decided both he and the players had to be braver on Saturday.
That move saw the side come out in rampant fashion and they almost scored inside the first minute as Nicky Hunt made a great interception to send Craig Westcarr on his way to force England U19 keeper Freedie Woodman down to concede a corner at his near post.
That set the tone for a largely one-sided afternoon, though Stags did have to wait until the 44th minute before Nathan Thomas, recalled in place of Reggie Lambe, thundered home his first goal for the club.
Thomas was allowed to operate in his natural left wing position while Westcarr moved up to just behind Matt Green to prevent the striker being as isolated as the week before.
The midfield all got up quickly to support to, and the rewards were there to see with the goals shared out between four different scorers.
Crawley have had their financial issues and arrived with only five named subs from their small squad. But this was still a side that operated at a higher level last season and one that had already achieved some decent results this season.
So it was a joy to watch Mansfield make such light work of them and sneak into the top seven play-off places for the first time.
As Murray remarked afterwards, Crawley are not a bad side, but Mansfield made them look like one.
In a tight first half, the Stags did have a scare midway through when Krystian Pearce allowed Matt Harold to get goalside of him and begin to bear down on Brain Jensen. But, all credit to Pearce, he gave chase and managed to get in a crucial sliding challenge as the Crawley man tried to finish.
Otherwise, Mansfield’s approach play deserved a goal – and it arrived a minute from the break.
Lee Barnard’s attempted pass to Jimmy Smith just outside the box was cut out by the alert Thomas, who burst powerfully into the box and, from an angle on the left, drilled an unstoppable finish past Woodman at his near post.
Right on the whistle Ryan Tafazolli was given a free header from an Adam Chapman corner which sailed inches wide of the far post with Green straining to get a vital touch.
However, they didn’t have to wait too long after the interval to net that all-important second.
A Chapman corner was cleared out to just outside the box where Mitch Rose drilled a low shot through everyone and under the dive of Woodman. There was the suggestion of a deflection en route, but Rose was not about to relinquish his first goal for the club.
The game swung even further into Mansfield’s favour on 50 minutes as Crawley were reduced to 10 men. The home bench were up in arms as Edwards went over the ball and stamped on Hunt right shin right in front of them and the referee raced over to agree and brandish a straight red.
It was a needless card and spelled the end of any hopes Crawley had of a revival but was maybe an indication of how much Mansfield were in charge.
Green almost made it 3-0 on 67 minutes as he raced onto an inviting Chapman long ball, harried two defenders and won the ball, muscling into a position just inside the box from where his low shot clipped the post.
But his first home goal since his summer return did come on 71 minutes as a corner was cleared into the Mansfield half where the immaculate Chris Clements picked out a superb crossfield pass to find Westcarr onside on the left. From the by-line he drilled a low ball across which Green turned home from close range.
Stags grabbed a fourth a minute later as Green returned the favour, sending Westcarr through onside to calmly sidefoot home.
So far Murray is keeping all his promises. He is telling fans along the way what he is doing and why and each stage is being achieved.
Having let his team off the leash on Saturday, you would imagine they would be kept on a slightly tighter rein at Luton Town this weekend where they know the longer they frustrate the Hatters fans the sooner they will turn on their own players.
Saturday was the right result and the right performance, the home side still going long at times when it seemed Green may cash in, but also playing some good passing stuff along the way.
The only disappointment was, for the second successive home game the attendance was below par with, having lost so many between the opening day and the second and third home matches, Stags lost another 300 home fans.
Now sitting in the top seven, if they can impress at Luton, it is to be hoped the stayaways are tempted back for the visit of high-flying Plymouth the following week.