STUTTERING STAGS MUST REDISCOVER FORM
STUTTERING Stags travel to Cheltenham this Saturday looking to quickly rediscover their promotion form before entering a make or break March.
Mansfield, so disappointing in last Saturday's crucial 2-1 home defeat by Doncaster Rovers, now face an increasingly tough task to get into the top three automatic promotion spots.
And March sees them play a string of six pointers.
The crunch run begins with Tuesday's visit of play-off hopefuls Torquay United to Field Mill (7.45pm), the Gulls bubbling after a win at title challengers Hull last weekend.
Also to come to Field Mill in March are Hull, third-placed Oxford and the 'grudge' match return with Swansea City.
Away from home Stags must visit play-off contenders Yeovil Town and Lincoln City with the trip to Bury the only one against a side in the wrong half of the table.
"It's a tough month and this is definitely the time to earn our money, manager and players," said boss Keith Curle.
"We must go into the month with no fear. We have a platform to perform on. These are the games you want to play in and be involved in.
"It's not like we're up against any unknown entities. We have played all these teams before, had a good look at them, and seen nothing to be frightened of. On our day we will give any of them a game."
But they will certainly have to show a big improvement on Saturday, their second defeat in three games.
Doncaster's win, before almost 8,000 fans, put them top of the table and Curle admitted: "We just didn't handle the pressure well on the day.
"There were times when it was on to play and we decided to get rid of the ball and there were times we tried to play in the wrong areas when we should have been getting rid of the ball.
"Too many of my players were on the back foot and not doing the job required of them.
"I could sense a bit of naivety and we seemed to start panicking because we were 1-0 up. The worst thing we did was score as we suddenly became anxious.
"We had a lot of young lads out there and one thing young players do is often make the wrong decisions.
"As soon as Doncaster got a goal back I knew it was going to be difficult. But we still had two great chances after that.
"I think we are missing Tom Curtis a lot at the moment. He does the 'horrible' side of the game well. For all the criticism he's had, it just shows that sometimes you don't miss someone until they are not there."
He added: "Thankfully, there are still enough games to go. It was frustrating not to have capitalised on other results going for us on Saturday.
"But we have sat and watched the Doncaster video, collectively got ourselves together, and the lads know what a big game this is at Cheltenham on Saturday.
"I know the Doncaster game was bitterly disappointing for the players and supporters. But you can't keep harping on about it day after day. We have to be positive and look forward and bounce back like we did at York."
Curle believes there is an outside chance of Curtis being available after recovering from a cartilage operation.
Bobby Hassell is also back in full training after his injury.
Three other players nursing knocks from the weekend are Jake Buxton (hamstring), Colin Larkin (hamstring) and Lee Williamson (sore back) but all three are expected to be available.
However, Neil MacKenzie saw a specialist with his knee last week and was advised to have a cartilage operation which he underwent this Monday.
On the Cheltenham trip, Curle added: "I know John Ward from my days at Wolves so I know Cheltenham will be organised.
"He is a respected coach. I think they will be quite defensive-minded. They don't like giving anything away and we must make sure we are on the front foot, though mindful they can hit us on the break.
"After Saturday we must just make sure we produce a good performance."
Curle admitted he is scouring the country to try to bring in one or two more faces on loan to pep things up for the crucial month ahead.
Current loan signing Richard Pacquette has one goal under his belt but struggled to make the hoped-for impact overall so far.
"It is difficult with loan players as you want them to come straight in and be better than you've got," said Curle.
"I know that a match fit Richard Pacquette will be a handful. But right now he is still trying to get out of reserve team mode."
Tickets are now on sale for Stags' all-ticket home game with Hull City on Saturday, 6th March.
Central defender Dave Artell will miss that Hull showdown with suspension after picking up his fifth booking on Saturday.
Stags will prepare for Saturday's trip to Cheltenham with two days training back at Field Mill on the top pitch instead of Forest Town Welfare. Supporters are welcome to watch.
Latest | February 2004