Mansfield Town’s highly anticipated League Two campaign finally gets underway at Crewe Alexandra this Saturday with boss Steve Evans tipping the Railwaymen to be up there challenging too.
The Stags go into the campaign as bookies’ favourites for promotion.
But, after one season in League Two following relegation, Evans believes Saturday’s opponents are ready to chase a League One return.
“They stabilised last year after relegation, but looking from a distance this year I’d say the board have probably added a bit more money to the budget,” said Evans.
“You don’t bring Chris Porter in on cheap money or keep players around like Chris Dagnell if you are not investing in your squad. It looks a really competitive Crewe this year and I think they’ll be challenging.
“Our boys have come in today and there seems to be a bit more focus. There is always a great atmosphere but it’s a bit quieter than normal and that’s because they know the big opening day is coming soon and it’s a very tough one at Crewe.
“Paul Raynor watched them (Crewe) first hand yesterday and I watched them 10 days ago so we are very aware of what they are about.
“We will be very much focused on what we can do and how we can influence that game.
“There is a lot of work to be done on the team and the shape prior to that.
He continued: “I think Crewe are much stronger. They have got better players in the building.
“They have one or two very good young players they had last year who probably just buckled a bit when the pressure came for them to get the manager and club points.
“But they seem to have a real maturity about them in pre-season as kids do when they grow up.
“But when you talk about kids, they also have the likes of Porter and Dagnell up front who are probably 60 years old between them. “So they have a nice bled of that youth and the chemistry of the more experienced players, very much like we’ve tried to do.”
Crewe appointed former Stags defender Dave Artell in January after the sacking of Steve Davis and he has just signed a 12-month rolling contract.
“I think a good man (Davis) lost his job and it’s great to see him back in football down at Leyton Orient,” said Evans. “They will be challenging in the Conference National.
“But at Crewe, Dave has gone in there and he is an experienced player who has come up against my teams many times. Big Dave is a real competitor on and off the pitch and it’s going to be tough. I think Dave has done a super job.
“They have signed some good players. They play with a really good structure. They have one or two very talented kids who will no doubt go for money as part of the way that Crewe Alexandra do things.
“So we know how tough our opening day is – but we know how tough our opening 10 games are.
“I have already said if we are in that top group after 10, we’ll get promoted. I don’t hear any other managers saying that, but I believe that.”
He added: “Our challenge is to be in that top group after 10 and it’s really tough.
“We come out of Crewe and, forgetting the cup game which is tough, we have to play Forest Green, just promoted with the momentum, go to Accrington, where no one likes to go, followed by two or three local derbies.”