What a year 2013 has been so far for the Stags. It all began in sub-zero temperatures at local rivals Alfreton Town on New Year’s day; little did the supporters, or the management team and the playing squad, know what was going to follow in the next 5 months. From the heartbreak of being denied a dream replay at Anfield, to pure jubilation in the 94th minute at Hereford in the penultimate game of the season, the year certainly brought its ups and downs – but by the end of April there was one very big “up”. Mansfield Town were back where they belong; in the Football League.
Since the end of April, many things have changed at Field Mill (or the One Call Stadium). Firstly, the ground itself has been modified and tweaks have been made in order to get the ground up to league standard. I talk about these tweaks lightly, although they actually cost the club £148,000 according to the club’s owner, John Radford. Having visited the ground twice in pre-season now, the only noticeable change to me is that the tunnel now stretches out closer to the pitch, but many improvements have been made behind the scenes, as can be seen here. The pitch itself looks in pristine condition and will hopefully remain that way for our first home league match on the 10th August.
In terms of the playing squad, many things have remained similar and in the same mould, with all but a few from last season’s squad being offered new deals for the new season. However, two major players from last season will unfortunately not be rejoining. The first who announced he would not be coming back is Luke Jones, who moved onto Stevenage. After defensive frailties at the beginning of last season, Jones was dropped along with a few other members of the first team squad, and seemingly disappeared from Paul Cox’s first team plans. He was reportedly close to a move to struggling Stockport in January, but due to injuries and suspensions, got another chance in the first team in January. The impact he made was astronomic, and he was a key part of the spell that saw 13 straight wins, and eventually promotion. He will be sorely missed, but a chance at League One football was too hard to turn down at the age of 26. The second departure has been well reported; Matt Green left to join Birmingham City, after scoring an incredible 57 goals in two seasons for us. Every goal he scored seemed to have some significance, and it was fitting that his penalty on the final day of last season helped secure promotion. I’m sure I speak on behalf of most stags fans by saying he will be missed massively, but hopefully an adequate replacement can be found!
In addition to those who have re-signed, the squad has been improved in all areas apart from up front, with 7 new players joining so far. These faces have been on show in pre-season, and all have impressed in one way or another. However, it is fair to say that one new face has impressed the most; Sam Clucas, Hereford United’s player of the season from the left wing, turned down Crewe to join the Stags, and, on first impressions, we are very thankful! He impressed in his first home friendly against Nottingham Forest, and according to Sky Sports, impressed the Forest staff that much that they’re weighing up a bid for him. He scored this great effort against Peterborough and hopefully there are many more great strikes to come in a stags shirt. Other signings include centre half’s John McCombe, who helped Port Vale to promotion to League One last season, and Martin Riley, who rejoined after a year away at Wrexham. Our struggle at this present moment in time seems to be finding a striker to replace Green. Last week a bid was accepted from an unnamed League One club for a striker, however negotiations have since broken down. This player was rumoured to be Lucas Akins from Stevenage, who apparently had too high wage demands for Cox’s liking. A fresh bid is being lined up for another unnamed player in the next week who “has the calibre of Green” according to Cox.
In my opinion, the squad is not quite ready with August 3rd fast approaching. I feel we are missing one or two pieces to complete the jigsaw to be ready, but I have full faith in Cox to have everything shipshape for the opening day. Final league position for me is another aspect open for debate. I have seen many people hoping to “do a Crawley” or “do a Stevenage”. For me, I think this is slightly out of our reach. Looking back at Fleetwood’s performance last season after winning the Conference, I would be more than happy to finish where they did. They have clearly consolidated their League Two spot and are now looking to push on further with the signings they have made so far this pre-season. It is very important not to have overly high expectations, as I’m sure some York City fans will tell you. They were in real trouble at one point towards the end of the season and in the end did well to survive! I would personally take a lower mid-table finish, or anywhere above the bottom two really. John Radford has expressed his desire for us to be champions again, however I think he may have been a bit giddy when making the comments – obviously I would love that to happen, but the likelihood is very slim.
So, will this season be as frantic as last? Another crack at the red half of Merseyside would be nice I will admit, but hopefully this season is a little bit more relaxed than last. By the end of it, my hope is that we are re-established as a Football League club, and that we have got a squad together that is looking to push on further in seasons to come. I suppose only time will tell!
Written by Connor Wigley, We Are Going Up’s Mansfield Town blogger
Connor tweets at @ConnorWigley