WATKISS TALKS ABOUT THE CREWE HUMILIATION
'I HAVE LOST IN THE PLAY-OFFS AND HAD TO RETIRE THROUGH INJURY, BUT BOTH OF THOSE WERE EASIER TO TAKE THAN SATURDAY...'
Evening Post, 04 September 2002
Mansfield Town's 5-0 defeat at home to Crewe on Saturday was the club's worst league reverse at Field Mill since 1966, bringing an end to the honeymoon period that followed last season's memorable promotion. It hit manager Stuart Watkiss harder than any other football setback, as he tells IAN WILKERSON
You would think the disappointment at hearing his playing days were finished would be the most heartbreaking time in anyone's footballing career.
But, for Mansfield Town boss Stuart Watkiss, the pain he suffered when he had to hang up his boots has now been superceded by watching his team collapse to a 5-0 home defeat against Crewe Alexandra.
It will be five years next Friday since he sustained the ankle ligament injury that, after eight months trying to fight back, forced him to accept his playing career was finally over.
But, now, he feels worse and hopes his players are hurting too.
The statistics speak for themselves.
Saturday's match was the first time since December 1986 that Stags had conceded five goals at home in the league, when they lost 5-1 to Wigan.
It was the first time they had lost 5-0 at home in the league since a defeat against Bournemouth in October 1971.
That defeat now jointly holds the record as Stags' second-worst Football League home defeat, behind the 7-1 drubbing QPR handed out in September 1966.
Watkiss, who first made his debut for Wolves when he was 17, found it hard to hide his disappointment.
He said: "I have lost in the play-offs and had to retire and both of those were easier to take than Saturday.
"I felt humiliated and ashamed because when a team of mine goes out and performs like that, it inevitably reflects on me.
"Obviously, it is frustrating because there is not a lot you can do, but the nature of our business is that the manager is the one who has to take responsibility for the team.
"But it was, by far, the worst experience I have had in football, and that includes when I was told I couldn't play anymore."
The size of Watkiss's squad has not helped the situation, which has now seemed to come to a head.
He admits he is quite happy with the 23 players he has assembled for Stags' first assault on Division Two for a decade.
But when ten players queue at physio Barry Statham's door and another, Scott Sellars, is ruled out due to suspension, the manager finds himself without options.
He said: "I stood on the sideline and I was helpless.
"We did know we had to play with a back four but I didn't have the personnel to deal with that and it's a horrible feeling when you look on.
"You know what you need to do but you are unable to do anything about it."
Jamie Clarke was introduced to the action at half-time but Stuart Reddington, who is a central defender and not used to fulfilling a full-back role which requires different qualities, was uncomfortable at right-back.
But there was no way back and, as we all know when we return from a disappointing result, it dwells on the mind and is as hard to shake off as a common cold.
Quite what experiences then manager Tommy Cummings went through after the QPR game 36 years ago are unclear but, in the 21st century, there can be little escape.
Football fills hundreds of column inches on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings and, with matches televised around the clock and analysed in minute detail, it is hard when you want to leave it all behind.
But, somehow, Watkiss managed it and found solace in tales from the Wild West.
He said: "Usually on Sundays I spend all day watching football but it was different this week.
"I didn't watch the live games, Goals on Sunday, The Premiership or anything.
"I just sat and watched old Westerns all day. I didn't pick up a paper until about 9.30 on Sunday night and that was the first time I knew what the other scores were in Division Two.
"You know it's bad when I spend a Sunday doing that."
Having conceded 18 goals already this season, the last nine coming without reply in the last three games, there is plenty of doom and gloom about.
Sometimes the images of Watkiss being carried off by fans after the 2-0 win over Carlisle that gave the Stags promotion seem to have happened an awful long time ago.
But the new season is still only six games old and Watkiss still aims for the stars.
He said: "It was a great disappointment but life goes on. We have still got 120 points to play for and if we win our next 40 games, we will win the league.
"The main thing is that we have to make sure that such a defeat never happens again.
"We have had six games and, apart from Saturday and the defeat against Chesterfield, I think we have been the better side in the other four matches and, in general play, we have adjusted well.
"But Saturday was atrocious and the fans have every right to be disappointed with what happened. What we have to do is remain positive and soldier on."
While talking of records, it is perhaps ironic that Saturday brings Queens Park Rangers - who, a few years ago, would have been contemplating away games at places like Highbury and Old Trafford - to Field Mill.
A dramatic improvement is required, much akin to the encouraging show put together for the visit to Stockport last Monday.
But it is not beyond them and Watkiss will be doing everything in his power to leave August 31 firmly in the past.
"If we are not firing on all cylinders we are going to be in big trouble," he said.
The situation is not grave yet and Watkiss will be hoping he will have more Sundays in the company of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, rather than John Wayne, in the remaining weeks of the season.
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