UNBEATEN MONTH IS THE GOAL FOR STAGS
UNBEATEN MONTH IS THE GOAL FOR STAGS
Evening Post, 02 February 2007
Alex John-Baptiste today challenged Mansfield to go through February unbeaten - just as they did last season.
Twelve months ago, the Stags beat Grimsby and Torquay and drew with Macclesfield, Wycombe and Wrexham.
They followed that up by sharing the points with Notts County and defeating Boston and Northampton in early March to put together an eight-game unbeaten run.
Defender John-Baptiste, who turned 21 on Wednesday, is looking for a repeat, starting against Shrewsbury tomorrow.
"We are definitely looking to string a decent run together, rather than getting results here and there," he said.
"If you look at the table, if we win the games in hand then we will be closing in on the play-offs.
"Consistency is the key. All the teams at the top get results even if they don't play that well. That is what we need to start doing."
John-Baptiste rates Mansfield's current nucleus of players highly and believes the squad could now be about to realise their potential under Billy Dearden.
John-Baptiste said: "We have 17 games left and if we can play as we have in recent games for the rest of the season then we can make a move up the table."
Although Sutton-in-Ashfield-born John-Baptiste has made no secret of his desire to play in a central defensive role, he has been quite happy to fill in at right-back.
He says that developing his versatility could be important if he is to go on to play at a higher level.
"It's different when you are playing in a wide position and it was hard at Chester because we were defending for so much of the time," said John-Baptiste.
"But playing in different positions can only benefit my career. Playing across the back four is a good asset to have and it gives you an advantage."
MULLINS RELIEVED AT HIS QUICK STAGS RETURN
WEvening Post, 02 February 2007
It is only natural for any player struck down by injury to worry if they will be able to get their place back when they regain fitness.
But for right-back Johnny Mullins, any such concerns have been short-lived.
The 21-year-old left the field with a nasty ankle injury in the 2-1 win over leaders Walsall and was forced to sit out the next game at Chester as a result.
In his absence, the reshuffled defence performed admirably at the Deva Stadium as the Stags earned a 1-1 draw after being reduced to 10 men following Barry Conlon's sending off.
And in Tuesday night's home game, where Mullins was confined to the substitutes' bench, Mansfield were already well on their way to a clean sheet in a 5-0 win over Torquay by the time he made a second half appearance.
Yet because skipper Jake Buxton is suspended for tomorrow's visit of Shrewsbury, Mullins has not had to wait long for a window of opportunity.
He is expected to slot back into his favoured position with Alex John-Baptiste taking Buxton's place as a central defender, alongside Norwegian Jon-Olav Hjelde.
Mullins admits his swift return has come as a relief to him. Uncertainty is not a feeling that many footballers are comfortable with.
And he hopes to do enough against the Shrews to cement his place in the games to come until the end of the season - even when Buxton is available again.
"You have to realise that it is a squad game, but it is great to be back in the side so quickly," he said.
"The back four have done well while I was out with my ankle injury and you can't expect to just walk back into the team.
"I realise that if Bucko had not been suspended, then I wouldn't have been in the team. But now I am, it is up to me to show the gaffer what I am capable of and that I deserve my place. I'm confident that I can do that."
Even though the Stags notched their biggest win of the season, some of the players were not entirely happy with their performances.
Mullins agreed that Mansfield did not show their best form and that they can get better.
He said: "It was a good performance, but not great. The lads came in a bit disappointed because they knew that, despite the score, they had not played to their full capabilities like against Hereford and Walsall.
"The difference against Torquay was that we took our chances, Gritts (Martin Gritton) in particular, and that probably made it look more comfortable than it was."
Mullins knows that the Stags are likely to be tested physically against Shrewsbury, who are renowned for their strength.
But the former Reading player is convinced Mansfield will match Gary Peters' men in that department, and let their football do the talking.
"Shrewsbury will be a completely different challenge to playing against Torquay, we are all well aware of that," said Mullins.
"They are physically strong and have a real presence and place a big emphasis on set pieces.
"But the good thing is that we now have Gritts and Hjelde in the side who will help us out at both ends of the pitch in that regard.
"I thought we were the better side when we played down there on the first day of the season but we conceded two bad goals from set pieces.
"We are determined that won't happen this time. We need to stand up to them and be counted and if we do that, then we can play our football."
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