YOUNG GUN HAS NO FEAR
YOUNG GUN HAS NO FEAR
Evening Post, 13 May 2004
Teenage defender Alex John-Baptiste has already been tipped for the big stage.
And the 18-year-old central defender insists he has no fears about going into the play-off semi-finals against Northampton at Sixfields on Sunday.
John-Baptiste has played the last 11 games of the season and is looking forward to the play-offs with a confidence that belies his age.
He said: "We are ready and raring to go and we have got to keep our form up. We do not fear anyone.
"We will take on whoever. We're a confident bunch of lads and are good away from home just as we are at Field Mill.
"We can handle the big-match pressure. We proved that at the likes of Hull, Yeovil and then Huddersfield the other week.
"There is a good team spirit and the confidence is sky high.
"We are going into the play-offs full of hope."
After making his debut at the end of last season, and impressing fans and fellow players alike, comparisons to Des Walker have been made - with those in the game hailing him as a Premiership player in the making.
But after a handful of impressive appearances earlier in the season, he lost his place through illness and it led to a long wait for another chance.
However, after being thrown into the team in March, after a disastrous run of results, he has gone on to prove he is worthy of all the hype.
John-Baptiste plays in a manner fitting a defender twice his age. He reads the game superbly, is calm on the ball and has an electric turn of pace. And he has forged a formidable partnership with Rhys Day since he came into the side 11 games ago.
The fans love him, attackers don't. But despite all the plaudits and talk of a future in the top flight, John-Baptiste is as calm and level-headed off the pitch as he is on it.
"It makes me feel good when people say those things," he said. "But it is a back four. We are a team and work together.
"It makes me feel happy that I have got people backing me, but I am only young and a lot can happen.
"There are a lot of areas of my game I need to improve upon and that is what I have to do. I just want to keep my head down and keep working hard.
"Luke Dimech and Dave Artell were outstanding at the beginning of the season and I had to wait for my chance. I know I have got to play well otherwise they will get back in the team. There is a lot of competition for places.
"But playing regularly is very good and I have got to try to keep my form going. That has been a massive achievement for me this season and I want to keep playing at that same level."
John-Baptiste praised manager Keith Curle for his help in improving his game.
"The gaffer gives us plenty of tips when we are on the training ground, about covering runs and getting on the right side of the strikers.
"It is really good because he has been there, done that - and we have got to listen to him."
Crunch time as play-off fever hits Mansfield
MANSFIELD Town have spent much of this season being told they are the best team their opponents have faced, whatever the result.
But now is the time the inconsistent Stags have to prove their undoubted class with two crunch play-offs matches against Northampton Town this week which have really captured the imagination.
Following Saturday's 2-1 win for Northampton at Field Mill, which clinched the Cobblers' play-off spot, the sides clash against at Sixfields this Sunday (3pm) with the return at Field Mill next Thursday (7.45pm).
Fans queued from 1am on Tuesday to snap up the 1,200 available tickets for Sixfields with many season ticket holders missing out.
Manager Keith Curle is hoping that seven players who were still not back in training by Tuesday will all be fit for Sunday. And on last weekend's defeat, he said: "What's gone has gone.
"We will let the media and supporters reflect but we are only looking forward here now. It's easy to sit and look back on tales of woe, adulation and expectation through the season. But the coaching staff here are focused only on the two games with Northampton."
Curle is optimistic Stags can do the damage in the first leg.
"Northampton are a team more suited to playing away than at home with their counter-attacking style," he said.
"They are a threat from set pieces and out wide and if you let them play their game at their tempo they can and will cause you problems.
"We will take each game on its merits. You won't win the tie in one game or lose it in one game.
"People think we have the advantage by going away first. That is only the case if you then get the right result.
"In a two-legged affair you certainly don't want to lose the first game. You want something to play for at Field Mill.
"Northampton have to make sure they don't give too much away at home as well and they know we have already been there and put three goals past them this season."
The extra day to prepare this week at least helps get Curle's squad back to fitness.
Full backs Tony Vaughan (hamstring) and Bobby Hassell (calf) missed last weekend's game.
And Liam Lawrence (illness), Jake Buxton (knee), Alex John-Baptiste (back), Tom Curtis (ankle) and Wayne Corden (knee) were all resting up rather than training as Chad went to press.
At least Adam Eaton has now come through two games without a severe reaction, although is experiencing some inevitable soreness.
One player who won't be involved again this season is striker Iyseden Christie.
He will undergo more X-rays on his broken foot tomorrow (Thursday) to determine if it is healing on its own or needs to be pinned.
Mansfield chairman Keith Haslam can't wait for the play-off games and said: "Obviously we'd have liked to have won on Saturday, but at least we have the second leg of the semi-finals at home.
"We shouldn't be frightened of anyone now. We need big time players and we need to be professional in the two games ahead.
"I thought we played well against Northampton on Saturday and their second goal was dubious as I thought he was offside, though the officials didn't agree.
"We are in with a good chance now. It's amazing how things kept changing constantly with Yeovil in the play-offs one minute and then Northampton back in.
"Look at last week, Huddersfield had champagne waiting on the touchline and yet they are now in the play-offs.
"As the manager has said, there are bound to be twists and turns and there probably will be ups and downs in the two semi-final games.
"Northampton are an experienced side who have had a marvellous run. So by no means will it be easy.
"But we have enough experience in our side now and Northampton told us after the game that we are the best side they've played."
Northampton's Director of Football John Deehan said: "We have two big games with Mansfield to look forward to now. For me they are probably the best footballing team in the division.
"They play terrific football and showed no malice in the game on Saturday . But I think we were just about worthy winners."
Team manager and former Stags star Colin Calderwood added: "Mansfield are a very good side and when we played them at our place you would have thought they would go close to automatic promotion.
"Recent results show they are very capable and their performance today, in patches, showed they can cause us problems in the semi-finals.
"We are just delighted to have the chance to play them. We respect them as a team."
Liam Lawrence was named Chad Readers' Stags Player of the Year on Saturday.
Chad sports editor John Lomas is a guest on the panel of BBC Radio Nottingham's Match Talk on Monday (6-7pm, 95.5FM and 1584am) when Stags fans will get the chance to discuss the previous day's play-off first leg action.
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