After a two-week break, Mansfield Town boss Adam Murray has ordered his side to start taking the scalps of promotion rivals ahead of Saturday’s visit of Leyton Orient.
Although the Stags remain seventh in the play-off spots, they are still yet to beat any of the sides in and around them and, despite some superb performances and hard-fought draws, have yet to beat a side in the top 15 of League Two all season.
With no FA Cup game last weekend, Stags enjoyed a breather while eighth-placed Orient were battling out a draw with Scunthorpe United, leaving them the distraction of facing a replay on Tuesday.
“This is a game we have a real focus on,” said Stags boss Adam Murray. “We want to beat one of the big boys now.
“We are picking up some good results against a lot of teams and we want to cement ourselves in that top seven. To do that you have to beat teams in and around you.
“I think Leyton Orient will end up inside the top three/top four this season. You look at the squad and the resources they’ve got, they are one of the big clubs in this league and it is going be a good challenge for us – a tough one, but another chance for this group to pit their wits against some of the better players in this league and see how we fare.”
He added: “We are in a good place at the moment. We feel confident. We feel fresh mentally and physically.
“We want to kick on again now. We’ve put ourselves in a good position and, being honest, against all the odds as we were relegation favourites a few months ago.
“We just need to keep doing what we are doing. The sides we’ve played, Plymouth, Oxford – even Northampton, we’ve performed really well against them. The big thing we are finding in those tougher games and top of the table clashes is that a one per cent lack of focus costs you.
“In certain games you might be able to get away with the odd error and cover it up at the other end. Against the top teams you don’t get that chance. Northampton was a perfect example. We had one lapse of concentration and we conceded.
“So Saturday will be all about focus and concentration and sticking to the game plan.
“Also we are at home and, for me, we haven’t really kicked on at home yet. Our away form is top drawer. What we now need to do is get our home form to that standard. If we do that we will be right up there.
“We are really confident as a group that on Saturday and for the rest of the season we can start turning that around and making this a place people fear coming.”
Murray said the current two-week break had been perfectly-timed.
“We’ve been working hard and it couldn’t have come at a better time really,” he said.
“We’d been through a hectic schedule that I think caught up with us at the back end of the Exeter game.
“We had in in our minds that we wanted to get through the Barnet game, then we had a free weekend to balance the rest and recovery up and put in some work on the training ground.
“Going Saturday/Tuesday/Saturday/Tuesday was a shock to the system. It was the first time we’d done it this season and we lacked time on the training ground.
“Physically it had its demands and though we tried to freshen it up, sometimes with a small squad you lose that flow and that consistency.
“The break was needed in every aspect and the boys have worked well.”
Murray’s hopes of a behind-closed-doors friendly proved difficult to organise, but they did end up with a much-needed outing for players needing minutes.
“It’s tough getting a team to play in that break as a lot want to the time to rest or had games,” he said.
“So we played the Nike Academy again on Friday down at St George’s where the surface was top drawer. We were comfortable in our environment, knowing we were not going onto a parks pitch where we were risking injuries.
“The lads that needed a run-out got a run-out and we worked on a bit of stuff.”
Along with injured full backs Nicky Hunt and Mal Benning, Stags will also be missing midfield ace Chris Clements on Saturday as he serves a one-game ban.
But striker Chris Beardsley, who broke his nose on his playing comeback at Barnet two Saturdays back after recovering from a stress fracture of the shin, will be in the squad.
Orient could include former Stags striker Ollie Palmer, who left the club in the summer.