Preview: Mansfield Town

That’s three wins in a row now after victories in the FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy over the past week, although it doesn’t quite feel that way. The Maidenhead game was about simply avoiding an upset, while Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy clash with West Brom’s under-21s was essentially a glorified reserve match.

Nonetheless, we’ve gone from being on the verge of a month without either a win or a goal to three wins in a row and seven goals in three games. This season though won’t be judged on how we do in the FA Cup or whether we got knocked out of the Checkatrade Trophy in the group phase, it’s about promotion but hopefully this gives us a sense of momentum heading into a tricky fixture against Mansfield Town – one of the pre-season promotion favourites.

Possible Line-Up

Probably the biggest thing to come out of the past week was Jordan Ponticelli’s goals against Maidenhead. His inclusion against Luton seemed almost a last throw of the dice by Mark Robins to find a goalscorer, and yet his two finishes against Maidenhead justified that gamble, demonstrating both excellent technique and movement. It’s way too early to be expecting him now to shoulder the burden of being our main goalscorer, but Ponticelli has shown that he can at least be another weapon in our arsenal.

Liam Kelly’s fitness permitting, it’s hard to see the line-up for this Mansfield game being all too different from the Luton game. While Jordan Shipley and Tom Davies impressed in the FA Cup, they unfortunately occupy the positions of some of our most reliable performers this season in Liam Kelly and Jordan Willis. With Ryan Haynes and Jack Grimmer looking threatening from full-back in recent games, our attacking threat has diversified from just giving the ball to Jodi Jones.

Last Time We Met

You have to go back a long way to find our last competitive meeting with Mansfield Town, with the most recent clash between us and them coming in the League Cup in 1975. Gordon Milne’s Sky Blues were the victims of a cup upset against then-Division Three (League One in today’s money) Mansfield Town at Field Mill.

The last league meeting between the two sides came in the 1963-64 season, this season is only the fourth season that we’ve been in the same division as Mansfield Town.

How Are They Doing?

Mansfield were, justifiably, one of the heavy favourites for promotion heading into this season. Having ended last year fairly strongly, manager and serial promotion-winner Steve Evans made some big early moves in the summer transfer window to further strengthen his squad. Only Luton looked to be on a par with Mansfield heading into this campaign.

However, Mansfield have struggled to get going this season, despite occasionally showing signs that they can be a force to be reckoned with at this level. Evans’ overhaul of the squad over the summer arguably brought in quantity over quality, in particular, failing to add the proven goalscorer to the ranks that Evans clearly sought after.

While Mansfield have a lot of physical and powerful players at the back in the form of Zander Diamond, David Mirfin, Rhys Bennett and Krystian Pearce, keeping goals out has been a particular problem for the Stags this season. Evans has tended to chop and change his back-line on a fairly consistent basis, which hasn’t helped matters – for example playing winger Paul Anderson at right-back.

There also has seemingly not been adequate protection from midfield, with Mansfield looking the same level of physical presence in the centre of the pitch as they do at the back. With the more creative Jacob Mellis suspended for this game, Mansfield are likely to operate with two box-to-box midfielders in the centre of the park, Calum Butcher – who scored for Burton in a win over us a few seasons ago – and Joel Byrom – who has been a key creator of chances for Mansfield since signing in January.

Possible Line-Up

The pace and industry of winger Alex MacDonald will have to be contained, while there are further pacey wide options in the form of CJ Hamilton and ex-Solihull Moors star Omari Sterling-James. While summer signings Kane Hemmings and Lee Angol haven’t clicked yet up front for Mansfield, the former was absolutely lethal during spells in Scotland and the latter was Peterborough’s top-scorer in League One only two seasons ago, so shouldn’t be written-off.

Mansfield’s most reliable forward this season though has undoubtedly been Danny Rose. A hard-working striker and surprisingly good in the air for his size, Rose has eight league goals in 14 games this season. Interestingly, he was linked this week with a move to either us or Notts County, which seems unlikely to happen given the investment Mansfield have made in attaining promotion this season.

Prediction

Despite an underwhelming start to the season, Mansfield cannot be treated lightly and are a side that should finish in at least the top seven this season once they get going. They are a physically powerful side and with Steve Evans in charge, they will undoubtedly be incredibly tough and frustrating to break down should they take the lead in this game. Additionally, they are one of the few teams at this level who have the firepower to really put us to the sword if they can hit their stride.

While I think the character of our squad means we’ll be up for the battle of this game, my main concern is whether a front two of Marc McNulty and Jordan Ponticelli will be able to get into the game against the physicality of Mansfield’s back-line. If we don’t get the first goal, this could be an immensely frustrating afternoon for us.

I predict that this will be a 0-0 draw.

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