With Mansfield Town on the verge of League Two safety, boss Adam Murray has challenged his player to go out and win their last three games and prove they are worth a contract next season ahead of Saturday’s trip to Cambridge United (3pm).
All but three youngsters are out of contract this summer, though Stags do have extension options on most of the players.
Tuesday night’s tense 1-0 home win over Tranmere lifted Stags to eight points clear of the drop with three games to go. But Murray isn’t about to let his players start dreaming of beaches and sun cream.
“There are still points to play for and I want to finish the season as strongly as we can and get three wins out of the next three games,” he said.
“That’s what I am pushing to do, The foot will go down again today. There may only be two weeks left of the season, but the project is only just beginning. We are not sitting on our laurels.
“Only Jack Thomas, Joe Fitzpatrick and Corbin Shires have definite deals for next season.
There are still points to play for and I want to finish the season as strongly as we can
“A lot of players are up, though for 90 per cent of them we have options if we choose to keep them.
“They are fighting for contracts. They know my thoughts and where I want to take this place. They know how driven I am. So they have three games to show me they want to be a part of what I am building.
“They have been absolutely superb for me so far. On Tuesday they showed their commitment, not just to the club but to me and each other. When it got tough, they got tougher and that spirit has been built in four months when it can take years to build.
“They now have three games to cement my thought process on them. Some may need to tweak it. But all is there to play for and nothing is set in stone or concrete.”
Murray was visibly drained after the emotion of Tuesday’s win, but today was refreshed and ready to go again.
“I enjoyed yesterday,” he smiled. “It was nice to be able to look back at the game and be on the back of a win as we’d not had one for a while.
“It’s very strange as in the last few games I thought we’ve been excellent. But Tuesday I didn’t think our performance was very good.
“But it was a master class in defending. We knew the game was going to be like it was.
“My frame of mind changed from Saturday after Plymouth to Monday morning. My frame of mind at the weekend was let’s throw everything at them and go for it.
“But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t a risk game. I knew they were going to have to go for it and be gung-ho so I thought their risk could be our advantage. With four up front for them it was hard to get out.
“It was more of a calculated performance. We were more than happy to defend our 18-yard box and I don’t recall too many clear-cut chances for Tranmere.
“If we had been pressing high up and taken the game to them, I think it would have left a lot of space and opened us up to be picked off.
“We wanted to stay compact with deep line defending and it paid off. For a defensive performance it was top drawer. It was a perfect game plan scenario as a coach.
“I went to watch Burton-Carlisle last night and I’ve never seen a game like it in my life. Carlisle scored after two minutes and then literally got 11 men behind the ball in their 18-yard box and didn’t cross the halfway line. That’s how important points are at this time of the season.
“It has been a really weird few months. We have dominated possession stats, largely because of the new way of playing. We have got the knack of keeping the ball. The next step now is being effective with it. It’s been a massive change the boys have taken on board.”
Murray was also full of praise for the Stags supporters, whose noise from before the game and throughout had the hairs on the back of the neck standing up and gave the players a huge boost.
“I saw my football club back on Tuesday and I have missed it,” he said. “Right from the warm-up, when the lads walked out and when I walked out, the noise was tremendous.
“Micky Adams was in front of me and thought it was his fans and started clapping back until he realised.
“They were superb. They started really well and when the nerves set in and we became anxious, they stayed with us and stayed positive, even when we were under the cosh.
“They don’t understand the influence they have on us. It was back to being our arena on Tuesday night and it was a massive part in us getting the three points. That is when we are at our best.
“I asked for the fans to be better last week and they have shoved that right up my backside on Tuesday. It was superb and I thank them for it.
“I would love more nights like that – but at the other end of the league.”
Martin Riley, Lee Beevers and Lenny Pidgeley didn’t play on Tuesday due to knocks and Murray said: “They will all have more treatment this week. A couple of them were borderline for Tuesday and we could have risked them.”
Cambridge have won just once in 10 games ahead of Saturday and sit once place ahead of Stags on goal difference with equal points.
Murray added: “I want to win the next three matches. Cambridge have been a bit like us – a bit shaky and I know from inside their camp that they wanted to get to the 48-point mark as quickly as possible.
“I want us to get our performances back on track and pick some more points up.”