Strength of character in Mansfield Town squad came shining through

Mansfield Town v Cheltenham.        'Alex MacDonald is mobbed by his team mates after scoring after just coming on as a late second half substitute.
Mansfield Town v Cheltenham. 'Alex MacDonald is mobbed by his team mates after scoring after just coming on as a late second half substitute.

Tyler Walker’s moment of madness a week earlier appeared to have come at the wrong time for Mansfield Town as they looked to cement their place in the automatic promotion places.

His one-fingered gesture at a linesman in the final minutes of the 1-0 victory over Forest Green Rovers — where ironically Walker had been the hero with his match-winning 21st goal of the season — meant the Stags went into Saturday’s home match against Cheltenham Town with just one recognised striker.

Walker’s two-match ban coincided with injuries to Danny Rose, Craig Davies and Jordan Graham — and manager David Flitcroft admitted it would be a blow to be without the player he called his talisman striker.

But Flitcroft need not have worried — they scored four without him!

In Walker’s absence Nicky Ajose led the frontline on his own — and his selfless performance epitomised what came shining through on Saturday... team, or rather, squad spirit.

There are so many highlights to point out from the 4-2 win over Cheltenham that reinforced my point.

Firstly there was the terrific play of Willem Tomlinson in midfield, who showed all the talent Blackburn Rovers saw in him to create chances in only his second start.

Then there was matchwinner Will Atkinson. Despite not being a first-team regular, he has bided his time when required and again put in a vital. committed performance — capped off with the crucial goal, a spectacular diving header.

Then there was the players’ reaction to the fourth goal when Alex MacDonald, like Atkinson a second-half substitute, came on and scored.

MacDonald’s celebration told you what a relief it was for him to be in action again after a long-term injury.

And the way the players celebrated with him told you how much they appreciated that.

Earlier, of course, CJ Hamilton had returned to his clinical best in front of goal to wipe out any thoughts of the threadbare Stags’ striking options for his manager.

Flitcroft afterwards also paid tribute to the strength in depth of his squad, the way players stepped up when required and the character and togetherness in the squad.

But the manager must also take some of the praise.

When Cheltenham fought back from two down to level in the second half fans could have been forgiven for thinking here we go again.

How many times last season — and earlier in this one — have the Stags emerged from a seemingly winning position with a draw?

But not anymore. This squad is made of sterner stuff and the manager is also not afraid to make changes that can affect matches positively.

The introduction of Atkinson proved crucial and earlier so did an apparent formation switch to a 4-3-1-2 that quickly led to Hamilton’s rapid double strike just before half-time.

The only downside for the Stags was the fact that the other League Two frontrunners also won. It is looking increasingly like three from four for the automatic promotion places.

But a year on since Flitcroft first arrived at One Call Stadium, the Stags are a far stronger outfit and one more than capable of not repeating last year’s late slide out of the promotion chase.