Team news: Mansfield Town v Luton
Team (from): Grof, Collett, Silk, Spence, Istead, Naylor, Foster, Preece, Stonehouse, Cain, Nix, Murray, Thompson, Briscoe, Smith, Mitchley, Higginson.
Team news: Mansfield will be without Kevin Sandwith and Rhys Day, who are both set to miss the rest of the season with knee injuries, as well as Alan Marriott (broken finger) and Luke Medley (hamstring). Dan Spence is a continuing doubt with a hamstring injury that has sidelined him in recent matches. Paul Connor serves the final match of a three-game ban following his sending off at Hayes and Yeading last weekend.
Team (from): Tyler, K. Pilkington, G. Pilkington, F. Murray, Gnakpa, Howells, Kroca, Lawless, Newton, Keane, Carden, Willmott, Walker, Barnes-Homer, Morgan-Smith, Graham, Gleeson, Owusu.
Team news: Luton hope to welcome back Keith Keane after illness, but Danny Crow is definitely out with a knee injury. Shane Blackett (groin) and Charlie Henry (ankle) are long-term absentees.
One to watch: Robbie Willmott. The former Cambridge United winger did not play in the two FA Trophy games against Mansfield because he was cup tied, but has been a prominent figure in their league campaign since moving from the Abbey Stadium in the January transfer window. Has scored four times in ten appearances.
Manager: Gary Brabin. Was formerly the Hatters' assistant before stepping up into the top job at the end of March in place of Richard Money following a 2-1 defeat at struggling Southport.
Stags defender relishes Luton challenge
WHILE Tom Naylor has gone from strength to strength since Mansfield Town's last skirmish with Luton, the same cannot be said of his team.
The central defender's performance in the 1-1 FA Trophy semi-final second leg draw at Kenilworth Road, particularly as an unproven teenager, was sensational.
It was a breakthrough performance in which the former youth team player announced his arrival for good on the senior stage.
Since then, Naylor has visibly grown in stature and put in a run of consistent displays that means he is now one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Already his team-mates and the Stags' management are predicting big things for him – certainly a successful career at Football League level.
For the Stags, though, things have not gone quite so swimmingly since the memorable celebrations in Bedfordshire.
Their following league match at Histon set the tone, where they did scrape a 3-2 win against the league's bottom side, but only after being 2-0 down at half-time.
In their next seven games, just one win was forthcoming – 2-1 at home to Rushden – before a morale-boosting 2-0 triumph over Bath City last time out.
But that has not disturbed the confidence of Naylor, one of those already under contract for 2010-11.
The former Ashfield School pupil is focusing only on the next challenge, which in this case is another meeting with the Hatters.
This afternoon's visitors have changed direction since the FA Trophy double-header, with former Cambridge boss Gary Brabin replacing the sacked Richard Money, the man Mansfield boss Duncan Russell accused of being a 'sore loser' after missing out on Wembley.
A new boss, however, will not detract from Luton's desire to make up for that disappointment by completing a league double over the Stags, having beaten them 2-0 on their own patch back in September.
"Luton want revenge because they wanted to go to Wembley as well as us, but they can't take it away from us now," said Naylor.
"They are a very good side, third at the moment. We are going to have to play well, with everyone focused and working hard, if we are going to be able to match them.
"But I reckon we can get another good result, just as we did here and at their place in the FA Trophy.
"I enjoy playing against people like (Lloyd) Owusu and (Matthew) Barnes-Homer. They are both quality players and you want to play against the best.
"It will be a good test and hopefully I can come out on top.
"I don't think it was hard to lift ourselves after the game and the celebrations down there. Everyone was buzzing about getting to Wembley.
"I don't think we took our minds off the job either, it's just that we have played sides who really have something to fight for and they got on top of us.
"We probably didn't handle it well and we haven't been able to get three points that often. But after beating Bath we need to crack on from here and finish in a good position."
That victory over the Romans on Thursday was secured by goals from sub Conor Higginson and Kyle Nix.
But of more encouragement to Naylor and the rest of the back-line was a first clean-sheet in ten games, particularly after recent Field Mill lapses.
Naylor said: "We got that first goal and then we needed to defend well, which we did.
"We have scored first in quite a few games but then conceded, which happened against Southport and Barrow.
"The second goal came at a really good time for us, because that took a lot of the pressure off at the back.
"We got that clean-sheet and as a defender that's what you want. That's what you go out to achieve every game but it was our first in a while and a real bonus."
Mansfield currently sit 11th in the table with 57 points from 41 games and with a game in hand on Rushden and Newport.
Naylor is hoping Mansfield can bridge the four-point gap to Wembley opponents Darlington in eighth over the last five league games of the campaign.
"If we can move up a couple or three places and finish not too far outside the play-offs, then we can look at it as a half decent season," he said.
"We have had a change of manager and that always makes it hard, so if we finish well, we can make it look respectable."
Central defender Kevin Sandwith limped off on Tuesday night and has since been ruled out of playing at Wembley with a knee injury.
Naylor says it is rough on the former Chester and Oxford man, who has helped his own development.
He said: "I feel massively sorry for Sandy. He's a good friend of mine in the changing room and he has looked after me as I have made my way into the team.
"I think he has been a different class since he has moved into the middle as a centre half.
"You wouldn't wish it on anyone to miss Wembley because it's a big occasion for everyone."
Wembley is aim for Stags' central midfielder Nix
KYLE Nix is determined to use the end-of-season run-in to push his claims for a place in Mansfield Town's side for the FA Trophy final at Wembley – and a new contract.
The central midfielder's near two-year stay has been severely interrupted by a succession of injuries.
And since returning to fitness, Nix has found his path blocked by skipper Adam Murray and Tyrone Thompson.
But the former Bradford man has been given a chance to prove his worth after the Stags' 4-0 defeat at Hayes and Yeading last weekend.
He figured in the 1-1 draw with Barrow on Tuesday and then scored in Thursday's 2-0 win over Bath.
Nix now has his sights set on playing well enough to stay in the team.
His next chance comes this afternoon as Mansfield host Luton in the third of three consecutive home matches.
"It is still my aim to prove what I can do because the timing of my injuries has not been great," said Nix. "When I have played I think I have done well, like when I came in against Luton in the FA Trophy having not played for nine or ten games.
"You have to wait your turn but now I'm in, I want to stay in and play at Wembley, just like anyone else. But I also know it's about my future career."
Boss Duncan Russell is expecting Luton to be on a revenge mission after Mansfield clinched their Wembley spot at the Hatters' expense.
He said: "I might have to bring my flak jacket and helmet like when I was in the army! It's going to be a cauldron of an atmosphere and they will want to turn us over.
"There are some tired legs, but I will just urge the team to give me 100 per cent again and if I get that, win lose or draw I can't complain."
Brabin: Stags still have something to play for in league
BY JAMES CUNLIFFE
Gary Brabin is convinced that Mansfield Town won't take Luton's league visit lightly just because they have a date at Wembley for the FA Trophy final next month.
The Hatters lost out 2-1on aggregate to the Stags in the semi-final last month so there will be scores to settle for them.
Since dumping Town out of the FA Trophy the Nottinghamshire side have only won three out of eight matches with one of those a 2-0 win over Bath City last night (Thursday) – their third of four games in a week. Nevertheless, the Kenilworth Road chief thinks they will still harbour hopes of sneaking into the Blue Square Bet Premier Play-offs as they are only ten points away with a game in hand.
Luton meanwhile, are still trying to cement their spot in the end of season shake-up so Brabin expects a battle on his hands at Field Mill in order to push ever closer to that goal.
“After the 2-0 win last night I think they [Mansfield] were saying that they still had an outside chance of the play-offs,” he said.
“They seem like they're fully focused on the league as well. In that sense, it is going to be another tough encounter for us but as long as we concentrate on ourselves then I'm sure we'll be OK.
“We need all these little tests to put us in good stead for when it really matters.
“I don't want to talk too much about the opposition. They've got some good players but so have we.
“When we gel and perform to our maximum I think we are a really good side.”
The Hatters boss also believes he is starting to see the confidence flow back into his squad after watching them earn a point at Conference champions Crawley in midweek.
“I sound like I'm harping on about the same things but I mean it. We are focused on ourselves, we've tried to do things a little bit differently and I think the lads are really relishing it,” said Brabin.
“I've seen some outstanding performances in training. I believe in the lads' ability and it looks like they are getting better and better with each game.
“Hopefully we can keep picking up the points, cement our position, keep progressing and get ourselves bang on for the play-offs.”
After playing with his formation during the 1-1 draw at the Broadfield Stadium on Tuesday, the manager was keen to stress how important it is that the teams he selects can mix it up according the situation in front of them.
“I want to try a few things but I don't want to do it for the sake of it,” he said. “I don't want to damage the long term effect of the side but I think it is important that we have a plan B up our sleeve, which we have spoken about as a group.”
In team news, Keith Keane has recovered from the illness that kept him out of the midweek trip to Sussex while striker Dan Walker's form in the reserves will see him in the squad for tomorrow's game at Mansfield.
“Dan is a real talent and I've spoken a lot about him since I've been in the job," said Brabin. “He's a cracking player and he wants to be part of things and he's done himself no harm with his last two reserve team performances, so he's another player who is in my thoughts."
Latest | April 2011