Pre-Match: Mansfield Town

Notts County’s pre-season programme takes a step up tomorrow night when Martin Allen takes a squad across to Mansfield Town’s Field Mill for the first fixture between the two sides since March 2008.

Supporter Craig Priest of Covering The Angles and Takeover Radio on 106.9FM was good enough to talk about the Stags ahead of the fixture.

What have the last 12 months been like you at Mansfield Town?

There’s never a dull moment! The last 12 months have been no different – just another chapter in our long & ever twisting story really! At the start of the last campaign the usual optimism was floating around, yet more new players brought in by the manager promised to make our season a successful one, in typical Mansfield fashion, none of them really matched up to the manager’s (David Holdsworth) promises.

A mixed start saw us sitting top of the tree after the first month of the season, however being top often makes you a target to be shot down & that’s exactly what happened, we never really recovered. Things got worse when the club was put up for sale, it had been on the cards for a while, especially after we we’re forced to close our youth set up when the football league money ran out.

Luckily the takeover of the club didn’t take long, after a week or so it was put up for sale, John Radford (or ‘Sir John’ as he’s called by many) rode back into town to buy the club and immediately pump in the funds to keep us alive. David Holdsworth panicked once more when the results became suspect and did hid usual trick – dipped into the loan market and signed countless players, who in all honesty, were no better than the ones we already had, the only saving grace being Adam Murray who was a breathe of fresh air in the centre of the park. The loan signings kept coming and a dressing room rift was clear for all to see, Holdsworth was living on borrowed time, had it not been for Kettering’s 2 own goals on a miserable November Tuesday night, he’d have been sacked. His luck didn’t last and after defeat at Forest Green Rovers a few days after the Kettering win, Holdsworth’s exit was imminent. He continued as normal on the Monday, slating his players and promising wholesale changes – before signing number 63 of his tenure could arrive, he was thankfully sacked.

Things seemed to be looking up, with the new owner taking his time over the appointment, fresh change looked set for field mill, however the stags never have a smooth ride – former owner and now landlord of the ground Keith Haslam came along and locked us out of Field Mill, a very dark and disappointing day in our history.

The snow covered everywhere and saved us from certain points deductions by seeing our scheduled games cancelled, caretaker boss Duncan Russell will never get as much credit as he deserves for managing a split dressing room, arranging impossible training sessions due to the weather and stop the boys from slipping down the table. Virtually nobody wanted him appointed as permanent manager, especially after being promised an ‘experienced league manager’. Results during his caretaker reign went for him and he was appointed until the end of the season, a good choice on reflection considering the amount of money presumably pumped into the legal battle with the Haslam.

Results under Russell we’re inconstant, a great start hammering Cambridge 5-1 was matched by a 7-2 new years drubbing at Grimsby, it was literally like being slapped by a wet fish. Very few signings were made, with more going out, our squad was trimmed from the ‘holdsworth million’ (well 30+) to about 25. Many wanted Russell sacked throughout his tenure, his saving grace was the FA Trophy run. Nobody expected us to reach Wembley after drawing Luton in the semi-finals, two magical games saw the underdog become victorious and Wembley beckoned.

The trouble was, due to the weather and our numerous cup games, our final 2 months saw us playing Saturday – Tuesday, with a Thursday game thrown in too towards the end. Injury’s hit, cup ties prevented players from taking part, some didn’t know weather to laugh or cry when Paul Hall came out of retirement to boost the numbers!

It ended in defeat at Wembley, 30 seconds from penalties. I watched on from the press box commentating for Takeover Radio 106.9FM and my heart was most defiantly broken by Chris Seniors late strike. It still hurts but on reflection Wembley was not about bringing home the cup, it was about rewarding us with a day to remember after season after season of disappointment. Parents got to see there young kids embrace Wembley, wear the stags colours & have the time of there lives, friends who met in the unknown corners of the UK following the boys on a Tuesday night got to stand together, sing together, cry together & ultimately, get another story to tell.

Last season was like every other, weird, wonderful, exciting & heart-breaking – but that’s part of being a football fan, we all keep coming back for more!

How are expectations of the season ahead of you?

This season the expectation is to return to were we belong, the football league. We’ve had enough of false broken promises, we’ve had enough of disappointment & the harshness of this torrid league. Duncan Russell’s departed, Paul Cox is the new man in charge, he’s stripepd away the wall paper, chipped away at the plaster and is building up from the brick work – hoping to prove that succsess is built on strong foundations. Yes we’ve got a rich owner and could just throw money out there, but Mr Radford’s playing it right, we can’t go anywhere without the lease on the ground, it’s still not sorted, but the promise from the top is that it will be soon.

I don’t claim to understand the legal issues, legality’s and politics have no place in football for me, there the ugly side of the beautiful game. All i know is, we’ve a manager in place who is proven with in the lower leagues, he’s hungry to bring success back to the club. The players he’s brought in are not particularly ‘wow factor’ players name wise, but their ability & desire will match that of Paul Cox – you can’t buy that.

An FA Trophy final would be great once more, just to prove that we can do it, last time we could only name four subs – the stags on show did us proud, but they were no were near the side they could have been. If the trophy thing doesn’t happen, it doesn’t matter, we’ve had our time – promotions more important.

I don’t think we’ll be challenging from the top, the leader of the race is always nervous, constantly looking over his shoulder which in the end will trip them up. This Mansfield Town side will blossom late on, the momentum will take us over the line. You may not see us, but boy will we be there.

Which of your players should Notts be wary of in their friendly game?

At this stage, it’s difficult to tell to be honest, we’ve not yet seen the first team play, I was speaking to Paul Cox this morning and he says the side on show at Nuneaton tonight will be nowhere near the finished article – he’s spot on. Pre-season for Paul Cox is about finding weakness and putting it right before the serious stuff happens, but that doesn’t mean we wont fight for the victory, after all winning is a great habit to have.

Tom Naylor is an excellent young defender, born & bread in the area he loves the club and will no doubt be playing in the premier league in a few years. Adam Murray is excellent on his day, especially when he’s just behind the strikers, his vision & control are a decent standard, his passing is excellent and he can finish too. Lee Stevenson is a good prospect as are the majority of players at the stags now, if i had to pick one player? Louis Briscoe, our top scorer last year flourished out wide and was our saviour in many games, he’ll be playing upfront this season so weather he’ll be the same player as last season, even so he’s a handful.

And then, who’s the weakest link? Anyone you think might struggle through the afternoon?

As with the last question, it’s difficult to tell as we’re brand new! Paul Cox will have the boys up for the challenge, the only struggle will be the realisation that it’s just a friendly and not a league fixture like years gone by – those days will return sooner rather than later.

Similarly, how much do you know about Notts? Who would you consider the danger men and who are you not too concerned about?

Notts have a great manager in Martin Allen, he will certainly get the players up to scratch and competing. Alan Sheehan who you’ve signed is ex-Mansfield and is a great capture for Notts, he’ll be difficult to beat. I’m personally not looking at anybody to be a strength or a weakness, pre-season for both sides is about tweaking weakness and basically getting things perfect for the season.

On a separate note David Grof who we had on loan from you last season is an excellent keeper, I think you’ve let a top quality keeper go there, it’s just a shame we couldn’t agree a deal to bring him here.

Finally, a prediction for the afternoon?

It will be a feisty encounter for sure, there is no such thing as a friendly for this one. The crowd will want to recreate the football league derby days atmosphere and that will make for a great setting. The end result, a Mansfield win 2-1.

Check back here after the match for Craig’s post-match thoughts!

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