No panic as Stags kick off with threadbare squad

Mansfield Town manager Paul Cox  -Pic by:Richard Parkes
Mansfield Town manager Paul Cox -Pic by:Richard Parkes

Although Stags launch their busy pre-season friendlies schedule with a mouthwatering home clash with neighbours Notts County on Saturday (3pm), manager Paul Cox is not yet worried over the gaps still showing in his threadbare squad.

Cox has just 16 players signed on at the moment and is without a goalkeeper or any natural left sided players.

But, although he is finding it tough operating on a reduced budget this season, Cox is confident he will get the right men in the end and preached patience.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, Stags will warm up with a behind-closed-doors friendly away to a Championship club on Thursday.

“A lot can happen in a week,” said Cox. “We have a behind-closed-doors game on Thursday and we will have a lot of trialists involved. We have five or six trialists in now and maybe a couple more coming in.

“I have been asked by the club in question to keep the game under wraps. But it is a Championship club and on their training ground. It will be a good work-out.”

A goalkeeper, a couple of left-sided players, a midfield player that can get forward and score goals in the number 10 role, and maybe another central midfield player are Cox’s main targets.

But, with Alan Marriott leaving the club, fans are most concerned about bringing in a new keeper.

Cox said he had keepers lined up but he was having to wait patiently for a go-ahead right now.

“We are talking to players and clubs consistently,” he said. “But the problem is the clubs want these players back in for pre-season training to do fitness tests and have a good look at them. We have to be respectful and wait until the clubs allow us to go to press and say we have signed anyone.

“There is no panic situation here. We have got to do things in a logical manner and time scale. All I am concerned with is getting things ready for the 9th August when the season starts.”

He added: “We have always been close to signing one (a keeper). But we have go to be patient. I have to be very, very shrewd this summer in what I bring in. First and foremost there has to be a sense of realism in our targets and what we can pay. Money talks at the end of the day.

“We have made offers to numerous players but missed out to other clubs. We know we are dealing with some big hitters in this league now.

“It is tough. You think you have done a deal but then someone comes in and hijacks it. I am not going to complain about it. It just makes me work even harder.

“A number of them may be loan signings and I have to cast my net wide and far.

“I envisage by the second week of games I want to have quite a settled unit. But if a potential signing is available I won’t be afraid to use them in the games.

“We have 16 players signed on and will be running with a squad of 22 maximum, which may work out at 20 to start with. So I have to make sure I bring in the right player at the right price that is right for Mansfield Town.”

Although bookies are tipping Stags for the drop, Cox is quietly confident his side might raise a few eyebrows if he gets the players in that he is hoping for.

He said: “There needs to be a sense of realism where we are now and where we are going. I want us to be competitive and that’s all I can promise this season. We are having to do things a bit differently.

“I am not going to sit here crying over spilt milk. No one has come back negative with what has happened with the budget cut and the way the boys are working hard puts a bit of a spark in me. We are going to need that team bonding and togetherness to see us through this season.

“If I get the right four, five or six players I want then we could have a smile on our face.”

Although both sets of fans will want to see their side win a local derby on Saturday, Cox insisted: “All I am concerned with right now is fitness and conditioning. The boys have reported back in excellent shape and are looking fit and strong.

“But you don’t get match fit unless you are playing games, and the games are about to come thick and fast. Without any silly challenges, I want to see a competitive match. I don’t like to see testimonial-type games in pre-season.”

After Notts come the likes of Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Leeds United and Cox feels the experience of playing against clubs of that pedigree can only stand his young squad in good stead.

“We have a squad with an average age of about 23. If they can’t learn from playing the likes of Villa, Birmingham and Leeds then we are going to be struggling,” he said.

Ollie Palmer and Luke Jones will hope to be involved this weekend after picking up minor injuries in training while new signing Liam Hearn, coming back from a serious knee injury, may be wrapped in cotton wool until the Leeds game to give him an extra couple of weeks of training and strengthening, though Cox said he is looking impressive.