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Defender chase on as Derby Day looms
MANSFIELD Town are hoping to sign Bristol City defender Mark Lever ahead of Saturday's mouthwatering local derby visit of Chesterfield (11am) and Bank Holiday Monday's trip to Stockport County (3pm).
The 6ft 3ins central defender was due at Field Mill for talks last night (Tuesday) as manager Stuart Watkiss tried to shore up his leaky defence ahead of the crunch clash with Stags' bitter arch-rivals.
The comanding Lever (32) is available on a free transfer and the only sticking point could be the gulf in wages from what he was earning at City and what Stags can offer him up here. However, if the deal breaks down, Watkiss has another target he will turn his attentions to.
Stags are currently the top-scoring side in the Nationwide League with nine goals after Saturday's 3-3 draw at Wycombe. But only Luton have conceded more with seven of the nine Mansfield have let in coming from set pieces.
“It's not rocket science. It's obvious to anyone where our problems lie and I hope I can get Mark in the building,” said Watkiss.
“If we had shown any quality of defending at set pieces we would be top of the league right now or at least second.
"We need someone who will head the ball and Mark fits that bill. He is an old fashioned type of centre half who will bully centre forwards and get a head on things.
"With over 400 games behind him he is good at organising everyone around him which is what we are missing right now so I hope we can sort something out with him."
“Yes we have had a decent start and if anyone had offered us four points from the first three games we would have taken it. But our general play has warranted more than that.”
There is an air of huge anticipation in town ahead of Saturday's derby battle.
“It is a massive game for us and we are all looking forward to it,” said Watkiss. “There will be a big crowd and a special atmosphere.
“It is one of the first fixtures everyone looked for when they came out.
“Chesterfield got off the mark last Saturday with a good win and will come here with a bit of confidence. They have also just taken Dave Reeves back which will give them a lift.
“We certainly owe them one after they did the double over us two seasons ago and they have had the better of latter meetings.
“I was here as youth team manager when they thumped us 4-0 at Saltergate two years ago and that really hurt everyone.
“We certainly don't want to experience those feelings again. As long as my lads show the same commitment and effort as the first three games then I will be happy.”
He added: “Field Mill will be no place for the faint-hearted on Saturday. I am sure there will be lots of tackles flying about and a lot of individual battles.
“We have to match them in that department and then hopefully make our passing game do the talking. If we can do that I believe we can have a good day though we know we have to defend better than we have of late.
“We know exactly what to expect from Chesterfield. They will play for set pieces and look to put the ball into our box at every opportunity.”
And there is little respite for Watkiss' depleted squad with a trip to Stockport on Monday.
“With two games in three days you obviously need a bit of luck and hope you get no more injuries,” he said. “ We only have around 15 or 16 fit pros right now which is not ideal. We will have a roll call on Sunday morning and then start planning for Stockport.”
The Chesterfield game is all-ticket and none will be on sale on the day. A few tickets remain and will be on sale until 5pm on Friday.
Injured full backs Bobby Hassell and Allen Tankard are still not back in training and are not expected to figure in the squad for Saturday. But striker Shayne Bradley is hoping to get some action in this afternoon's (Wednesday, 2pm) reserve game at Notts County.
Watkiss is delighted that, despite having such a depleted squad right now with injuries, tactically he and assistant Neil Richardson seem to have got everything right so far.
“We have had a plan for each of the games so far and the players deserve a lot of credit for carrying them out as ordered,” he said.
“The players available have dictated what we have had to do. But we played Wayne Corden instead of Scott Sellars on Saturday and he scored twice and, when big Andy White was looking tired, we sent on Iyseden Christie and he grabbed the equaliser which is pleasing.”
Stags miss out on Curle
Stags eventualy missed out on former England defender Keith Curle last week after he opted to join Steve Parkin's Barnsley.
Manager Watkiss said: “Other clubs were interested in him and it is unfortunate though understandable he went to Barnsley.
“But my priority is a long term centre half and Keith was only ever a short term solution. Finances dictate we can only bring one in and I know what my priority has to be.”
Mansfield Town reserve keeper Michael Bingham has been told he can leave the club.
But manager Stuart Watkiss stressed it was purely a financial measure and nothing to do with footballing matters.
Watkiss spent most of last week looking to bring in a new central defender to shore up a defence that leaked six goals in the first two games.
“Michael is a smashing lad who has done nothing wrong, is a great trainer and a pleasure to have around the club,” said Watkiss.
“Unfortunately for him, the harsh reality is that I pay him a good wage to sit on the bench every week and we need that money to bring in other players.
“We have young Jason White here who can be reserve keeper, though, with all due respect to Jason, it is not a case of him ousting Michael - it's purely over finance.
“Jason is 19 and has just signed his first pro contract. We do have every faith in him, though if Kevin Pilkington was injured we would probably bring in a loan keeper to cover.
“Jason's elevation is maybe a little too soon in his career but it also offers a great opportunity for him.”
Bingham's name has been circulated around Second and Third Division clubs.
Latest | August 2002