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REVIEW OF THE SEASON - EVENING POST
25/May/2010 16:37:58

Stags fans must be patient in Football League bid
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

IT was in March, straight after Mansfield's 1-0 home defeat to

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York City, that it was confirmed in most supporters' minds.
Indeed, as they headed for the exit stairs, plenty were airing such a thought.
"That's it then," they could be heard saying, disconsolately, "another season in non-league football."
And that's just it. As long-time former Football League members, there is still a stigma about playing Conference football.
The sense from many Mansfield fans is that, with the club's 70-odd years of elite 92 experience, they shouldn't really be here.
The impression is that the Stags' stay at this level should only be temporary, fleeting.
And they feel that visiting grounds such as Histon's rudimentary, yet welcoming Glass World Stadium, and playing in front of tiny three-figure crowds at Hayes and Yeading is an onerous rather than pleasurable task.
With a perceived superior support, ground and financial clout, it is seen as only a matter of time before they are enjoying derbies with Chesterfield and Lincoln.
But, realistically, with the parachute payment as a former 'big boy' now at an end, they cannot think that way any longer.
The truth, however hard it may be to accept, is that, right now, they are just another Conference club. Anything else is simply a delusion of grandeur.
Mansfield are where they are for a reason and their history counts for nothing.
Regaining a place in League Two was never going to be a cakewalk. Although former boss Billy McEwan was not the most popular to reign at Field Mill, he did get one thing correct.
In manager's speak, he was spot on to say Mansfield had no 'divine right' to get back in the Football League.
It has to be understood that while it may be listed as non-league, the Conference is now a League Three in all but name.
The clubs in it are now almost exclusively full-time, rather than the part-time outfits most were a decade ago. Any advantage that used to exist for clubs coming down has all-but vanished.
Not only that, but as the years go by, the task facing Mansfield gets harder.
This summer, two more Football League 'stalwarts' – Grimsby Town and Darlington – will be joining an already sizeable pack of teams gunning for promotion out of the Blue Square Premier.
Luton Town, Rushden and Diamonds, Wrexham, Wimbledon and Cambridge United, plus whoever does not win the play-off final between Oxford United and York City, all have distinguished pasts and will hope to be in the mix.
Then, of course, there will be ambitious Newport County and other newly-promoted sides hoping to make a favourable impression.
Lincoln, Colchester, Darlington and Carlisle may have made quick returns to the Football League in the past, but they certainly did not face the tough level of competition now.
There are those who believe the Conference is the hardest league of them all to get out of – and it is hard to disagree.
Dean Saunders made the point after his Wrexham side had won 1-0 at Field Mill that only two sides can succeed, the rest fail.
It is not like promotion in higher leagues, where you have more bites at the cherry. One automatic spot and one through the play-offs leaves little margin for error.
It all means that expectant Mansfield fans are going to have to grasp the concept that there is going to be no quick fix.
It is easy to forget that Mansfield were a moribund club for several years before their eventual relegation.
A lack of investment under the previous regime prior to the takeover of Andy Perry, Andy Saunders and Steve Middleton, who have now been joined as directors by Steve Hymas, is not something to be overlooked.
The current owners have had to devote much of their energies into getting the club back on an even keel financially.
Off the field, there have been some promising advances.
The club are to be applauded for their innovative schemes, such as their cut-price season tickets and pay-what-you-want match against Gateshead.
Both have proved to be popular and demonstrate that while the owners are not in a position to bankroll the Stags to glory, they certainly care and have the club's well-being at heart.
There have, of course, also been one or two errors in judgment – such as the failure to give Jake Speight, arguably the club's most prized asset, a new, improved deal.
Instead, the club have pushed to take up a year option they had in his contract on existing terms.
It means the former Droylsden man is not being paid over the summer and has handed in a transfer request, when he might have been happily looking forward to next season at Field Mill had things been handled differently.
It's clear the only way Mansfield are going to make it back into the Football League is by building things slowly.
In their first season in the Blue Square Premier, Mansfield finished 12th, in the season just finished, they were ninth.
That is progress, albeit only slight, and not as significant as players, manager David Holdsworth, the board and fans hoped.
But it is a step in the right direction, nonetheless.
And while money helps any team, the last two Conference winners, Burton and Stevenage, are excellent examples of what can be achieved.
Neither were the richest clubs, but they had good work ethic and organisation, players who gelled and a manager who, crucially, was given time to make his philosophy work.
Whether Holdsworth is given time to see out his vision will, you suspect, become clearer as the 2010-2011 season pans out.

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Stags boss out to plug leaks after frustrating season
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

YOU certainly could not claim with any justification that Mansfield Town's games in 2009-2010 were boring, even if the campaign ultimately ended in disappointment for them.
Win, lose or draw, there has been plenty of goalmouth action for Stags fans to enjoy, although not always at the right end of the pitch as far as they are concerned.
During the course of Mansfield's 44 Blue Square Premier matches, 129 goals went in – an average of almost three goals per game.
Only games involving Hayes and Yeading (144) and relegated Ebbsfleet United (132) have seen more.
Like those two clubs, although not quite to the same extent, the reason for that is as much down to Stags' propensity to concede goals as much as to score them.
In Mansfield's case they have bagged 69 goals in their favour – the fourth highest total in the league behind Luton (84), Stevenage (79) and Rushden (77).
In fact, if you count the expunged Chester games, which they won 4-0 and 1-0, you can bump up their total to 74.
But frustratingly for the supporters and boss David Holdsworth, they have also leaked a less-than-impressive 60.
Considering none of the final top five teams gave away more than 40 goals, it has been pretty obvious what has been Mansfield's biggest shortcoming.
Having taken home a DVD after each game, it is a situation Holdsworth is only too aware of.
His game plan over the close season is simple: to tighten things up.
And as a successful former defender himself with Watford, Sheffield United and Birmingham, he believes he can do it.
"I think you can read a lot into the goals for and against column. It says everything in our case really," said Holdsworth.
"We have been exciting to watch and have scored a large number of goals over the course of the season.
"But too many goals have gone in at the other end for my liking.
"If you play a counter-attacking style, you can play a little deeper. But we haven't done that.
"We have gone for it and tried to win games and sometimes been a little too expansive.
"Certain players have to be more responsible about their defensive duties, especially in forward and wide areas.
"Keeping the ball in the right areas when you have got it is also important.
"And if you do give it away cheaply, then the players must get back in to make it hard for the opposition."
Last season, after taking over mid-term, Holdsworth was frustrated that none of his strikers finished with a double-figure goal tally.
He vowed to find a solution in his first full season in charge and has succeeded three times over, Jake Speight (17), Rob Duffy (16) and Kyle Perry (12) all passing that particular landmark.
But, as ever, Holdsworth is striving for more and feels that the trio and the club's other attacking players can contribute more.
He said: "The positive is that we have looked a threat going forward. Our three strikers have scored a vast number and all got to double figures.
"We have some very fine attacking players, but sometimes we weren't clinical enough.
"If you look at the two games against Grays, we had 44 shots and we only scored one goal.
"And there are a selection of other games we didn't put to bed, particularly at home, like Eastbourne, Tamworth and Altrincham and even games we lost like AFC Wimbledon, where we had two penalties, and Wrexham."
It is striking the balance between offensive and defensive strength that Holdsworth knows can often prove elusive.
But the players will continue training until the end of May, putting in extra work, in a bid to find that happy medium.
"We obviously want our goalscoring to continue yet be more difficult to break down when we haven't got the ball," said Holdsworth.
"That's the magic formula every manager wants, to score lots and lots and still keep it tight, like Chelsea do.
"I feel the points tally would have been closer to the top teams if we had not lost the Chester points and it happened at a vital stage.
"But, likewise, there were a lot of games where we drew when we should have won; where we couldn't kill teams off or when they had one opportunity and took it."
If there is one game that sticks out in Holdsworth's memory as changing the momentum of the Stags' season, it is their home clash with eventual champions Stevenage, back in September.
He said: "It was a ridiculous (refereeing) decision that cost us points that day and proved an important game in both club's seasons.
"It did change their season and ours as well. We lost a key player (Kyle Perry was sent off) at a time when we were going well."
Some fans lamented the departure of striker Daryl Clare, who scored two goals in a handful of appearances before going out on loan to Gateshead.
At the International Stadium, he went on to net 13 goals in 26 games, including the vital winner as the Tynesiders beat AFC Wimbledon to retain their Blue Square Premier status.
"I made a decision on Daryl Clare that I believed to be the right one," said Holdsworth.
"I knew I had Jake Speight, Kyle Perry and Rob Duffy, who were scoring an abundance of goals.
"No one wanted Daryl to succeed here more than I did, because I worked very hard to get him into a Mansfield shirt.
"Things happened, some of which will remain private, but I believe I did the right thing."
Mansfield are likely to have a smaller squad next season as the club look to cut their expenditure. But Holdsworth insists he is already used to working to a tight budget.
He said: "People say that I had a large squad here this season, but they forget I have sent 11 or 12 players out on loan to make sure the finances have been where they needed to be.
"I will make changes but they will be a lot smaller than they were last summer.
"The good thing is that most of the players are already under contract for next season and that will bring some continuity."
As someone who takes note of statistics, there is another that Holdsworth can take comfort from as he plans for next season.
Although, he may not be able to ring the changes and bring in players at the top of his wish list, change is not always for the better.
The evidence? Stevenage made just one change to their squad in 2009-2010 when they signed Tim Sills – and we all know how their season turned out.

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August: Stags get off to a flying start
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

ALL eyes were on how Mansfield's new-look team would fare at the start of their second season at Blue Square Premier level – and the initial answer seemed to be very well.
The Stags could hardly have got off to a better start, sweeping Crawley aside 4-0 in the Field Mill sunshine.
New signing from Port Vale, striker Kyle Perry, led the way with a brace and was joined on the scoresheet by fellow front men Rob Duffy and Jake Speight.
The trip to play Luton at Kenilworth Road was always likely to be a stiff test and it brought a first defeat by the emphatic scoreline of 4-1.
After going in front through Scott Garner, Mansfield were made to pay for sloppy defending from set-pieces. A penalty and an own-goal from Perry sealed their fate.
But the rest of the opening month saw the Stags establish themselves as genuine promotion contenders.
They reeled off four victories on the bounce, at Salisbury City, at home to Barrow and Ebbsfleet and at Chester City. The month ended with a 0-0 draw at home to Kettering who were also flying high at the time.
With the pre-deadline addition of Blair Sturrock to the ranks, who had helped Torquay United to promotion to the Football League the previous May, it really was an August that raised expectations.

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September: Holdsworth's men blow hot and cold
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

IT BEGAN and ended in disappointment, but there were encouraging moments in between.
September was a month Mansfield were knocked back slightly and the tone for what was to come was set at struggling Grays Athletic when they were held to a 1-1 draw despite creating a multitude of chances.
Three defeats on the bounce followed to set alarms bells ringing among supporters.
Boss David Holdsworth slammed his players for the 3-1 reverse at Kidderminster but felt his troops were unlucky to lose 3-2 at home to Stevenage (after leading 2-0 before Kyle Perry was controversially sent off) and 1-0 at Rushden (where the Stags went down to a Luke Jones own goal when the initial shot was heading wide).
But as was often to prove the case, Mansfield bounced back from adversity in some style, deservedly inflicting a first defeat of the season on Oxford United with a 2-1 triumph at Field Mill.
A straightforward 3-1 win over Hayes and Yeading followed, inspired by Rob Duffy's hat-trick.
But just when things were looking up, the Stags were brought back down to earth with a disappointing performance in a 3-1 defeat in Cumbria at Barrow.

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October: Mansfield boss scoops award
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

TAKING ten points from a possible 12 to sit fourth in the league, and knocking Altrincham out of the FA Cup, saw David Holdsworth end October as the Blue Square Premier's manager of the month.
A scrappy 1-0 victory over Forest Green in blustery conditions paved the way for a 2-1 league success at Altrincham, who were defying the odds with their excellent early-season form.
Mansfield seemed to be coasting at 2-0 after the hosts had two men sent off, but were made to fight all the way following a determined Alty comeback.
Another away success came on the south coast at Eastbourne Borough, where the Stags repeated the 2-1 victory they had recorded in Holdsworth's first away game after his appointment the previous January.
With manager Graham Heathcote being jeered by the home fans after a fall-out with the Mansfield boss, Altrincham returned to Field Mill for a re-match, but were comfortably disposed of 3-0 as the Stags made it to the first round proper of the FA Cup.
The big question was whether Mansfield could make it five out of five for the month, but they had to settle for a 1-1 Field Mill draw against a well-organised Histon side, Ryan Williams rescuing a point with a spectacular volley.

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November: Month to forget for Mansfield
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

DESPITE a terrific away success at Crawley, a 2-0 win completing a first double of the season, November was a disappointing month for the Stags.
That win at the Broadfield Stadium proved to be their only success as they were also dumped out of the FA Cup by Forest Green Rovers.
The Gloucestershire side were unlucky not to win the initial match at the New Lawn as they missed several good chances before Scott Garner netted late on to force a replay.
But they controlled much of the meeting at Field Mill, even if it took a large slice of fortune for Conal Platt to hand them a late winner.
Back in the league, Mansfield were expected to dispose of Eastbourne at home, but stumbled to a 1-1 draw, new signing Jon Challinor scoring on his debut.
And there was more disappointment for the travelling fans at Ebbsfleet as the Stags were the victims of an upset.
Ebbsfleet had not scored in and had lost their previous seven games prior to Mansfield's visit.
But Magno Viera gave them an early lead and although Rob Duffy soon equalised with a penalty, Holdsworth was left embarrassed by his side thanks to Peter Holmes' second half winner.

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December: Stags sign off with a win
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

ONCE again, Mansfield responded well in the face of adversity. Trailing 1-0 at the break in their first match of the month against Gateshead, questions were being asked if the wheels were beginning to come off.
But a rousing display in the second period saw them run out convincing 3-1 winners in the north-east cold and sleet.
As the Stags began to fight for consistency, they were again defied by Grays, this time at Field Mill, when their onslaught went unrewarded and they were held to a goalless draw.
If that was unfortunate, the team were poor against Tawmorth in the FA Trophy, going down at the first hurdle as former striker Iyseden Christie netted the opener.
The weather ensured it was not until Boxing Day that Mansfield were in action again and they were completely outgunned by in-form York City, for whom top scorer Richard Brodie bagged a brace in a 3-0 win for the Minstermen.
The year ended just as it has begun for the Stags, with a home victory. They had beaten Crawley 1-0 in Holdsworth's first game in charge and they signed off 2009 with a 2-1 triumph over Cambridge, keeping them in the play-off places.

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January: Jones on fire as snow wreaks havoc
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

JUST three games were possible in January as the worst snow for a number of years took hold.
The Stags had to wait until January 16 to get 2010 under way and they looked as if they had not played for almost three weeks too, going down 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon.
Both goals came early on and even the introduction of new signing from Rochdale, Jon Shaw, could not change the course of the game, although he struck a post.
When Chester City were the next visitors to Field Mill it was already obvious they might not finish the season.
Flooded with youngsters, the Blues were no match for the Stags and went down 4-0, Luke Jones scoring his first two goals for the club.
Another four-goal haul came as Mansfield made their second trip of the season to Forest Green Rovers.
They trailed 1-0 at half-time but powered back in the second half, with the help of Jon Challinor's long throws, as Jones, remarkably, netted twice more to add to strikes from Rob Duffy and Jake Speight.

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February: Nightmare month for Mansfield
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

IF October was Mansfield's peak then February was probably their nadir. Not only did they win just once, raising questions for the first time about their ability to reach the play-offs, but the ramifications of Chester's demise also became clear.
City were thrown out of the Football Conference at a meeting of member clubs at the end of the month, although the Stags had voted to keep them in.
As chairman Andy Perry explained at the time, that was for purely selfish reasons as Mansfield ultimately lost the six points they had won against Chester – and ground on rivals Luton and AFC Wimbledon who had only managed draws.
But the fact was, the Stags were hardly helping themselves on the field.
A 2-1 midweek defeat at Wrexham was not too disheartening, particularly after an encouraging second half performance.
But in front of a season-best pay-what-you want crowd of 7,261 against relegation-threatened Gateshead, Mansfield nervously fluffed their lines and went down 2-0 – only their second home defeat under David Holdsworth.
A third defeat on the spin at title-chasers Stevenage Brough followed, even though Jon Shaw had given the Stags a half-time lead.
But things did improve in the second half of the month as Mansfield went to Tamworth and recorded an impressive 4-2 victory.
They were less convincing at Hayes and Yeading but scrambled a 1-1 draw thanks to Gary Silk's stoppage time leveller.

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March: Play-off hopes fade away
Evening Post, May 11, 2010

HAVING dropped out of the play-off places, Mansfield needed to make a move in March but could not manage the results they needed in the big games.
The Stags had four home games in the space of 15 days but could only win one of them, failing to score in the other three. A point from a 0-0 home draw with in-form Luton would normally have represented a decent return, but wins were what Mansfield needed.
They got one in seeing off Salisbury City 4-2 at Field Mill but, again could not capitalise as a 0-0 draw with Tamworth was followed by the devastating blow of a 1-0 home defeat by York – the result which realistically ended play-off hopes.
But Holdsworth and the team insisted that was not the case and they bounced back in some style with a BSP best result, a 5-0 thumping of Histon at the Glass World Stadium, with a show of superb passing football.
Counting the expunged result against Chester, it was the sixth time during the campaign the team had scored four goals or more.
But that success over the Stutes proved a high point in what was generally a disappointing month.
The remaining two games, against Altrincham and Kettering, both brought draws and extinguished an unlikely late surge.
Jake Speight rescued a 1-1 draw against the Robins with a stoppage time strike before the Poppies levelled late on as the game at Rockingham Road finished 2-2.

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