KEY STAGS DUO SET TO MISS THE BIG KICK-OFF
KEY Mansfield Town defenders Tony Vaughan and Adam Eaton look set to miss out on the big kick-off at Kidderminster Harriers on Saturday (3pm).
But fellow defender Bobby Hassell (hamstring) has a better chance and player-manager Keith Curle has bolstered his rearguard this week by giving short term contracts to Dave Artell and Luke Dimech who have impressed while on trial.
Eaton has spent the summer recovering from ankle and groin problems and has also had a tight hamstring while new signing Vaughan is still having problems with an ankle injury picked up in a tackle with Iyseden Christie in training.
Both are likely to have been in the manager's first choice 11 to start at Aggborough this Saturday as Stags begin their task of regaining their Second Division status at the first attempt.
"We are hoping Bobby will be back in training today and he should be OK for Saturday," said Curle.
"Adam and Tony are close and should both be back with us within the week. But I am not going to throw them into a game to lose them for the next three. They have to be right.
"Both have missed a chunk of pre-season and we need to get their base fitness levels up.
"If they miss out on Saturday then hopefully they will have a fight on their hands to get back in the team.
"If they are not fit I won't be rushing them back. The league is a marathon, not a sprint."
Naturally Curle was disppointed that the experienced Vaughan, his only one-year contract signing of the summer so far, had got injured in training.
But he said: "These things happen and I have told my players I want to see them give their all in training and go for the challenges as it makes it easier to do the same on a Saturday."
Curle was delighted to get Artell and Dimech on board this week, though he would have prefered to take both on board for the full season.
"It is all I can offer them at the moment which they understand," said Curle.
"They know I am not being disrespectful. This gives us a chance to have a better look at them against League opposition and for them to stake a claim for a longer contract with the club."
Artell has tasted promotion from Division Three as part of Rotherham United while Dimech (26) has 24 caps for Malta and has skippered their U21 side.
A dual British and Maltese passport holder, Dimech has played in 16 UEFA Cup ties, played in his country's Euro 2000 qualifiers and played 245 games for Sliema Wanderers in Malta where he has also played for Birkirkara FC.
As a youngster he originally had a trial with Lincoln City which didn't work out. But his ambition to forge a career in England has burned on and, after finishing last season with League of Ireland side Shamrock Rovers, he was back over here for trials this summer and was recommended to Mansfield Town by a scout.
Defence was certainly the problem area for Stags last season as, without their rearguard problems, their healthy goals total would have seen them comfortably in mid-table.
Curle has taken that on board and now has seven central defenders to choose from as well as good competition for the full back spots.
Rhys Day and Tony Vaughan face stiff competition from Artell and Dimech along with hot teenage prospects Alex John-Baptiste and Jake Buxton, not forgetting the vastly experienced Curle himself.
"The heart of your defence is a key area of the football field," said Curle. "And once you start getting injuries and suspensions it is nice to have quality in abundance.
"We want to play attractive, flowing football but I do want a brick wall for other teams to come up against at the other end of the field."
After the disappointment of last season's relegation, Curle cannot wait to get started on his first full season in management.
"Bring it on," he said. "I can't wait to get started now. Ask any manager in any of the divisions and he will tell you he wants to win that first game.
"But it's not the be all and end all. If we don't win Saturday we have plenty more games to come. Jut because a team wins their first game or not doesn't mean they will be promoted.
"But evereyone here is feeling in a confident mood. If we can win half our games we know we will be up.
"From day one of coming back in here for pre-season training, last season has gone. We won't dwell on what happened. We are living for now and our objective is promotion.
"We are trying to be successful at this football club, individually and collectively. Our confidence has been helped by the way we played against higher League oppostion in Manchester City and Coventry and, overall, pre-season has been good.
"Also we have had pleasing results back from the work we have done with West Notts College on monitoring our fitness levels over pre-season.
"The lads came back pretty fit but they have shown an excellent increase in fitness since then."
Curle has had Kidderminster watched pre-season and said: "They look to play the game the right way and get the ball down and seem to have a blend of youth and experience not unlike ourselves."
Former Stags central defender Matt Gadsby (knee) is a doubt though should return to training today. And fellow defender Scott Stamp is also trying to shake off an arm injury.
Harriers boosted their depleted squad with the signings of defender Kenny Coleman from Wolves, defender Adam Willis - once at loan with Stags - from Swindon and midfielder Graham Wood from Wolves.
And they were set to bolster their strike force yesterday with the signings of Andy Bishoip on loan from Walsall and the experienced 'Flying Postman' John Williams from Swansea.
Stags chairman Keith Haslam said: "We've had a good pre-season and I feel very positive about how the season could pan out.
"It's a big week for us with Sunderland's visit in midweek.
"The young lads who got us promotion two years ago are still here but are more experienced and we have added quality to the squad since then. You don't lose your ability and I am optimistic."
Latest | August 2003