Key defender Martin Riley was a happy man after a suspension lasting almost a month ended this week and he made his Mansfield Town playing return in Tuesday’s home Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat by Chesterfield.
And, as he prepared to face Bristol Rovers in League Two action at One Call Stadium tomorrow (Saturday, 3pm), Riley was quietly confident that Stags will be competing at the right end of the table this season.
“It was a long three and a half weeks with no Tuesday games. It dragged on. So I was buzzing to be back out there,” he smiled.
“I thought we played well. We were pretty decent at the back. It was a soft goal to concede but I was fairly happy with the game.
“I was gutted to miss the first game at Chesterfield, but there wasn’t much I could do.
“Tuesday was a spicy affair to say the least and I was gutted to lose. But I am glad I experienced it.”
Riley suffered a series of elbows to the face and head in the early games before an elbow off the ball by York City’s Richard Cresswell finally made him see red at Bootham Crescent and he followed Cresswell down the tunnel for retaliation.
Said Riley: “There seems to be something about me that people want to elbow me. Maybe I get under their skin?
“I had taken an elbow the game before, stayed down and their player was sent off. If I had done that at York I think the same result would have happened. But something went off in my head and I lost my cool There was a bit of afters and he sent us both off.
“At the time I didn’t really think I’d done anything. But when I spoke to the referee afterwards and saw the replay I did raise my hands and grabbed him or whatever.
“It’s easy to say you shouldn’t react. But it’s hard in the heat of the game.
“The ball was nowhere near us at the time and that’s the reason I lost my cool. He’s really tried to do me. It’s not like me, I am normally the coolest one on the pitch to be honest. But something happened that made me lose my head.”
Riley refused to make any predictions about where this Stags side could end up this season but said early targets of just staying up would be seen as an underachievement by the players.
He explained: “I know some fans were saying at the start of the season that just to stay in this league would be an achievement. But, as a group of players, we think we are a lot better than that. It has showed in the first 10 games that we are a lot better than just staying up. That would be an under-achievement.
“We haven’t set any targets. But we would like to stay where we are now – and I think we have got the squad to do it.
“We just want to win every game we play in. Everyone could tell we want to win on Tuesday night. It’s important now that we are back at it on Saturday.
“We have got to get back to winning ways. It was a bad result and a bad performance last Saturday. I hope that we put that right on Tuesday night. We didn’t win but the performance from the boys was brilliant. If we do that again on Saturday I am sure we’ll get a result.”