BBC INTERVIEW WITH SHIRTLIFF
Shirtliff taking his Stags chance
By Pete Oliver
Mansfield Town boss Peter Shirtliff had to bide his time for a crack at club management.
But now that time has come, he is making the most of the opportunity by reviving the fortunes of the Stags.
When a 600-game playing career came to an end a decade ago, Shirtliff set his sights on a managerial career.
He paid his dues on the staff at Leicester City and Barnsley and then joined Mansfield last May as assistant to former Sheffield Wednesday team-mate Carlton Palmer.
When Palmer's ill-fated reign bit the dust in September, Shirtliff, 45, finally got the call.
"I wanted a job earlier. I have been on the short-list a few times and not got the job but I was lucky enough to be in the position here," he told BBC Sport.
"I am enjoying the job. I enjoy working with the players and I enjoy the responsibility.
"I have had a good response from the players and that's as good an accolade as you can get."
When Shirtliff replaced Palmer, Mansfield had won just one of their opening nine games and were in the bottom three of League Two.
His first game in a caretaker capacity brought a League Cup win over Southampton, although they did not bottom out in the league until going to the foot of the table at the start of October.
However, a steady improvement since earned Shirtliff the job on a permanent basis a month later and a disappointing January apart, Mansfield have barely looked back.
"We had six points from the first nine games and seven from the first 12 so we have done well from there," Shirtliff said.
"Since the first 12 games, and if you take those out of the equation, we have been one of the form teams of the division.
"The players have worked hard and taken on board what we have tried to do and we have had some good performances."
On a national scale, Mansfield's greatest claim to fame this season came when they were on the receiving end of Alan Shearer's record-equalling 200th goal for Newcastle United in the third-round of the FA Cup.
More pertinent to them, though, is their current run of just one defeat in 11 games.
Despite not quite enough to force them into the play-offs, it has raised hopes for next season if Shirtliff can add successfully to a squad that is a classic mix of youth and experience.
Half of Shirtliff's regular side is no older than 21, while at the other end of the age-scale goalkeeper Kevin Pressman and defenders Gus Uhlenbeek and Jon-Olav Hjelde are 106 between them.
Captain Richie Barker fills the middle ground with the 30-year-old striker leading from the front with 22 goals this season.
If he can keep the players he wants Shirtliff believes four new faces could do the trick, although he admits that the summer transfer merry-go-round will have its role to play.
He added: "We have got the nucleus of a decent squad and one that is very capable. It's now about what we are allowed to do in the summer, budget-wise.
"Some of the players are out of contract and you never know what that brings. You can't legislate for certain things.
"There is always some uncertainty but we will work round that and I have contingency plans.
"I'd just like to improve all the time and keep chipping away so that we move forward in the right direction.
"We have improved and if we continue in that vein that will give us stability and a benchmark to work from.
"There are a few clubs in this division who could push on and play higher. But it's one thing saying it. You have to do it."
Latest | April 2006