EVENING POST PREVIEW OF SEASON
Ian Wilkerson's excellent preview of the season.
'UNKNOWN' STAGS COULD DELIVER A FEW SURPRISES. . .
by Ian Wilkerson, Evening Post, 08 August 2002
In December, it will be two years since I started covering the Stags, but I can still remember the reactions of my former work colleagues when I informed them I was taking the job.
A straw poll would have indicated that less than 20%could offer a description of Mansfield's location that was more precise than "up norf".
No one knew that Billy Dearden was then the manager and they played at Field Mill.
A discussion on the intricacies of the FTSE share index or the shipping forecast would not have resulted in as many blank faces.
Now that Mansfield Town have moved up to Division Two after playing some sparkling football, particularly in the first half of the season, and reached the third round of the FA Cup after stuffing Huddersfield 4-0, they are bound to receive a higher profile. Aren't they?
Don't make me laugh.
The fact BSkyB have already decided that the glamorous clash between Swansea and Wolves is just the game to whet the appetite in the Worthington Cup, rather than Stags v Derby, just goes to show what little attention the football world pays to events at Field Mill.
Mansfield will be written off for a number of reasons.
Firstly, even the most ardent fan couldn't say there wasn't a time towards the end of the season when they thought Stags had blown it.
Their away form in the run-in was pretty poor and littered with defensive errors and it goes without saying the eradication of such mistakes would be most welcome - and crucial if they are going to make any impression.
Also, everyone thought Mansfield was a one-man team last season and now that one man, Chris Greenacre, has gone to Stoke City.
Nobody could fault Greenacre for moving on after two great seasons at Stags and it is true that, had they been without his 21 league goals, the play-offs would not have been guaranteed.
But, to adopt such an attitude is a great disservice to the rest of the squad who helped Stags into their first Division Two campaign and anyone who thinks Stags will be a soft touch might just be in for a surprise.
It is interesting that Greenacre's achievements were recognised on a regional level at the Century awards while the club gongs went to Bobby Hassell and Lee Williamson.
Watching the team on a regular basis allows you to take in the bigger picture and there is always more than meets the eye.
But, while the legacy of Greenacre will be talked about by commentators from the outside until at least Christmas, Stags fans seem to have put him to the back of their minds already.
Much of this appears to be down to the fluidity with which the new signings have been ushered into the action towards the end of the pre-season campaign.
Colin Larkin looks to possess the pace to trouble any defence in Division Two and the quality of Neil Mackenzie's passing should provide plenty of ammunition.
Both have settled in well and, before dismissing their progress out of hand, some commentators might do well to remember few clubs in Division Two have had the funds to spend a six-figure sum on a centre-forward this season.
So, despite being written off by virtually everyone, I think Stags will have too much about them to end up in relegation trouble.
Rotherham and Brighton have, in the last two seasons, gained consecutive promotions, but a repeat from the Stags would be unexpected by all but the blindly optimistic.
But a season of consolidation which would establish the Stags as a Division Two outfit rather than one of the basement boys would do fine and if they could finish say, 14th, I'm sure the vast majority would be content.
Having watched Division Three football for the last season, offering suggestions as to who will do well is a bit of a stab in the dark.
With the money flying about at Cardiff, one would think they are rightly established as favourites, but after watching money not buy success with Hull in Division Three, when they were going to walk away with the title, it is easy to be cynical.
Obviously, it is easier to comment on the teams that have come up with Stags.
Plymouth were rightly champions last season and should do well again, particularly with their support increasing at a significant rate.
Their manager Paul Sturrock has a habit of devising playing systems that will leave many puzzled and I fancy them to adjust well.
With Joe Kinnear at the helm, Luton are always going to talk a good game and the acquisition of one of their favourite sons, Tony Thorpe, will be a huge boost.
He is nailed on to score plenty of goals for the Hatters and, if he has his shooting boots on, they are right to aim for at least the play-offs.
Play-off winners Cheltenham, however, are the one team out of the four who I think will struggle a bit.
Their former manager Steve Cotterill, who is now Greenacre's new boss at the Britannia Stadium, was a huge influence on their style of play and you have to applaud the achievement of gaining promotion when, five years ago, they were in the Dr Martens League.
However, I think this might just be a step too far. Their style of play is pretty direct and I just get the impression they might get found out without Cotterill's undoubted coaching ability.
At the top, I suppose you have to look at the teams who are coming down and, while Stockport's adjustment from last year's disastrous season may take a little bit of time, I would think both Crewe and Barnsley, who, whenever I have seen them play over the years, always play decent football, should be in the end-of-season shake-up.
While plenty of the teams who struggled last year may find it difficult to better their finishes in the current environment, there is one team whose plight might cause me to offer an ironic cheer.
Two years ago, the place I left to come here was Swindon, a club seemingly always in financial trouble.
And six points against them would mean that a few people in my old Wiltshire haunts may have cause to find out exactly where Mansfield is.
Latest | August 2002