RUSSELL, ISTEAD, PREECE, BRABINREACTION
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New Wembley scare for Stags after Luton draw
TOM Naylor's hamstring injury during Saturday's goalless draw with promotion hopefuls Luton - the team Mansfield Town defeated in the FA Trophy semi-final - may not be as bad as Stags first feared with Wembley just three weeks away.
Defensive star Naylor limped off after only 34 minutes of the gutsy 0-0 home draw with what looked a hamstring pull and his Wembley hopes in tatters.
But, having played twice in four days before this one, Naylor's problem was initially diagnosed as a tight hamstring plus fatigue so fans will be keeping their fingers crossed on him and Luke Medley, who limped off in midweek.
Manager Duncan Russell said: “It was more a precautionary thing as his hamstring felt tight.
“We didn't want him to try to play through it and end up rupturing it. We will have to see what the physio tells us tomorrow.”
On the game, he added: “That felt like a victory to be honest.
“We lost Luke Medley in midweek and we lost Tom Naylor today so all these games are taking their toll and we have got to nurse them through.
“Everyone today has done a job. We are missing our two first choice strikers, but the two young lads up there today worked their hearts out, bless them.
“On another day, if I could have put my strongest team out I think we could have got a victory today. Now we have got to go again on Tuesday.
“Hats off to the lads for that performance. No other team had to go through playing Tuesday, Thursday then today.
“Again we tried to take the pressure off them and told them to just go out and enjoy the game and all credit to them.
“I was pleased with a second clean sheet on the trot as you don't lose with clean sheets and we are always capable of nicking a goal which I thought we were going to do near the end today.
“It was nice to hear the fans cheering at the end, though a few still had a go at me which is their prerogative as they pay their money.”
Mark Preece finally made his debut after signing last summer, replacing Naylor, and impressed.
“It was a great feeling to come in and get a clean sheet,” he said.
“It was great to come back to play at Field Mill in front of the home fans. I was on crutches for eight weeks and sat at home trying to keep my head. But it's all paid off today.
“It was a tough game and I am sure I will find it hard to move tomorrow. I was struggling with my lungs out there too.
“It was a big game to come into and we defended really well and 'Groffy' was brilliant. Steve Foster is a warrior and he talked me though the game.
“It is what I have been training for for the last couple of months.
“Everyone is fighting for a Wembley shirt right now.
“I think Tom Naylor is struggling so I hope I might get my chance to show what I can do over a full 90 minutes on Tuesday.
“But I hope Tom isn't too bad as he has been fantastic all season and we want him back as soon as possible.”
Steve Istead said: “You always like to win at home and put on a show for your supporters but we are as happy as you can be with a point.
“Luton came here to set their stall out for revenge for the FA Trophy but I think we dealt with them really well.
“It was nice to be clapped off at the end and appreciated for all we did.
“I was really happy to be in central midfield where I am most comfortable, though I will help wherever I can in the side.
“I thought we were really solid today. We haven't many players due to injuries but we grouped together and worked for each other today.”
Hatters boss Gary Brabin said: “You'd like to think certain things tell the story and the fact that their goalkeeper got man of the match shows a true reflection of the game.
“I was disappointed not to win it as we created enough chances. We worked hard and played some good football but it just wasn't to be.
“Armari (Morgan-Smith) got an early knock and then Claude (Gnapka) had to come off before half-time as well and he had been causing them a few problems.
“So I was delighted that this group of players kept on trying to do the right things. Now I need to keep them.”
Russell calls for Stags fans to repeat their 'fantastic' backing
DUNCAN Russell has urged the Mansfield Town supporters to repeat the 'fantastic' backing they gave the players against Luton when Grimsby visit Field Mill tomorrow night.
The Stags fought hard to earn a 0-0 draw with the third-placed Hatters to make it five points from nine in three home games since Tuesday.
On occasions, the home crowd has barracked manager Russell and his players but this time they were fully behind a below-strength home side and applauded off their team come full-time.
"The crowd were fantastic and those at the back of the (Ian Greaves) stand never stopped singing," said Russell.
"Normally you can come in at half-time and one or two players will be worried about what the crowd are shouting, but we didn't even have to think about that against Luton.
"I know there was a different expectation than against some other clubs, but we would love to get that every week.
"I realise that to do that we have to get results and we all want to get this club back in the Football League.
"But it makes such a difference when the fans are tremendous like that. I know it gives me a lift when I hear them singing for us and I know it does the players as well."
Russell was proud of the way his troops kept going despite the absence of the likes of Paul Connor, Adam Murray and Luke Medley.
The first two of that trio should be back available for the visit of Grimsby tomorrow
Istead delighted to bounce back from personal disappointment
MANSFIELD Town midfielder Steven Istead was pleased to bounce back from a disappointing day at Hayes and Yeading to help the Stags to a point against Luton.
The Stags were hammered 4-0 in West London last weekend and, playing out of position at right-back, he endured a particularly torrid time.
But after missing the 1-1 draw against Barrow and 2-0 win over Bath City in midweek, Istead was recalled to face the Hatters in place of the unavailable Adam Murray.
He worked hard in partnership with Kyle Nix as Mansfield fought out a goalless stalemate – the same result as when the teams met at Field Mill last season.
"Everything Hayes and Yeading hit went in, but at the same time we know we were nowhere near good enough," said Istead.
"Unfortunately, I was playing out of position there and it made sense to bring back Silky (Gary Silk) to steady the shop because he is a proven right-back.
"I was a bit gutted to come out of the side, but at the same time I would have done the same thing had I been the manager.
"You do have these blips and the important thing was how we reacted – and we have reacted well as a team.
"We have had three positive home results since Hayes and we have kept two clean sheets.
"It wasn't pretty at all stages of the game against Luton, but at times we played some good stuff.
"It was a lot better when Conor (Higginson) dropped in on (Keith) Keane, who was getting a lot of ball in a holding position.
"I know you always want to win at home, but I still think that was a good result, all things considered, and I was glad to play a part."
Istead was delighted to be back in familiar surroundings at the weekend after his previous three games had all been covering on the right for injuries.
He said: "I enjoyed playing in the middle of the park, it felt a lot more natural to me.
"I know people say you should be able to play anywhere, it's a bit more difficult and if you make a mistake in defence, it can cost you.
"It was hard work at first, but we managed to get through it as the game went on."
It was announced before the game that Mansfield have now sold 10,000 of their 15,000 allocation of seats for their trip to Wembley for the FA Trophy final against Darlington on May 7.
Istead is delighted that people are getting behind the club in such numbers for their biggest game of the season.
He said: "I know from being at Hartlepool when we got to the play-off final how terrific it is to have such a fantastic backing.
"I know we don't see all of those fans week in, week out, but it's great to see the whole town getting involved for such a big occasion."
Preece hoping to come from nowhere to seal Wembley spot
MARK Preece is hoping he can come from nowhere to claim a Wembley place at the heart of Mansfield Town's defence.
The central defender signed from Forest Green Rovers in the summer believing he could become a first team regular.
Injuries have hit him hard and seen him endure a frustrating campaign where his only previous competitive action has come out on loan at Eastwood and Telford.
But Preece was given an unlikely opportunity off the substitutes' bench on Saturday against Luton went Tom Naylor limped off with hamstring problems.
It was one the player took with both hands as he excelled in helping to keep a clean sheet in the Stags' 0-0 draw.
Now he is eyeing a possible first start of the campaign for Mansfield against Grimsby tomorrow.
"It was a chance I didn't expect, but one I have been waiting a long time to get and I'm absolutely buzzing," said Preece.
"I hope that Tom gets back because we need everyone fit and he has done brilliantly for us this season, but football is a selfish game in many ways and I have to stake my claim now I have a chance.
"It's definitely a chance to push for Wembley. It's not been a fantastic season for me, but that would be a nice finale.
"I was included in the game in pre-season but then I rolled my ankle in the final game of pre-season.
"Then when I came back in October, I had two loan games at Eastwood and did my knee, which needed an operation and kept me out until January.
"Only then did I get back and I went out on loan to Telford in February, which was great to get some games under my belt.
"I can't describe how frustrating it has been because I've gone from playing regularly to being out for six months.
"You get bored and you have to try not to get sloppy with your fitness. You just have to keep your discipline and hope it pays off."
Preece was impressed with the way his Mansfield team-mates went about things, considering it was their fourth game in eight days.
He said: "It wasn't the easiest of games to come back into and I though the lads did well because there are a lot of tired legs.
"It takes an unbelievable toll on the body to play as many games as we have which people don't realise unless they have done it themselves.
"You have just one days' rest and then there's another game, which people just aren't built to do."
Brabin pleased with Hatters effort
LUTON Town manager Gary Brabin believed his side had done more than enough to record a win at Mansfield Town on Saturday after home goalkeeper David Grof was named man of the match yet again, writes Mike Simmonds.
The Stags keeper picked up the award when Town lost 1-0 in the FA Trophy semi-final first leg last month and was at his best again to deny Alex Lawless, Robbie Willmott, Matthew Barnes-Homer and Claude Gnakpa amongst others during the match.
Brabin said: “You'd like to think certain things tell the story. Their goalkeeper getting man of the match, probably shows a true reflection of the day.
“We're disappointed we never got the win, we created enough chances, but it wasn't to be.”
The boss was also disappointed with the performance of referee Seb Stockbridge, who he felt hadn't afforded his side enough protection.
He added: “We had bookings, they've had bookings, we've had three players needing attention, that didn't show a true reflection on the game.
“We had an early knock for Amari (Morgan-Smith). He had to come off at half time, but we think it's okay, he felt like he ran it off a little bit.
“Claude (Gnakpa) caused them a few problems, he's had to come off injured as well, that's two losses for us.
“It was the third hectic challenge on him. I'm disappointed with that, but it's no reflection on Mansfield, I thought they were whole-hearted. I'm a bit disappointed with the referee as he gave us a booking for the first challenge on Keith Keane, I just can';t get my head round that
“I'm pleased with a lot of aspects of the game. I thought Alex Lawless ran his socks off again, I thought Claude looked really dangerous.”
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