THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Stags didn't expect to be challenging at top

icon league2b5 October ~ The desire of nearly everyone associated with Mansfield Town at the start of the season was consolidation. Most fans hoped the Stags would be competitive in our first season back in the League and would not need to scrap for survival in the way we had seen newly promoted York and Wimbledon battle in recent seasons. However, after losing our first game, an eight-game unbeaten run sees us in third place, having just beaten previously undefeated league leaders and biggest local rivals Chesterfield at their shiny new home last Saturday.

Our style of play is not particularly fluent or spectacular but it is organised, disciplined and highly efficient. If Chesterfield's neat play deserved to win the game on Saturday, Stags manager Paul Cox made sure his team did win and there is evidence he is developing a significantly better outfit than last year's Conference winners.

The departure of last season's top scorer and Conference player of the season Matt Green to Birmingham appears to have helped the evolution of the squad which, in large part, is the same as last season. The addition of a few astute signings, including the promising Sam Clucas to midfield, a summer signing from Hereford, has added more class and creativity and overall the team has more depth.

Cox's managerial record shows that his teams start slowly, picking up momentum in the second half of the season. By the end of December 2012 Mansfield sat 11th in the Conference and despite expectations that things would improve, only the most optimistic fans were still predicting we'd be champions.

The worry this season is that we've started too well and the team will fall away. At the moment there's little to suggest that will happen but it's natural to think it will – it's been 25 years since Mansfield have had more than one consecutive season of success.

Hartlepool will provide an interesting test today. The Stags will go into the game as strong favourites which is not a position we expected to be in a few weeks ago. There's also the possibility of a comedown following last week's victory at Chesterfield. However, if we can secure another win it will consolidate our position in the top three, which is somewhere we'd love to be in May next year. Colin Dobell

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