Despite having a superb season to date, Ryan Tafazolli admitted he and Lee Collins would be looking over their shoulders this weekend when Krystian Pearce comes back from a four-game ban.
Tafazolli and Pearce had forged a steely central defensive partnership before Pearce was sent off against Bristol Rovers and, in his absence, former Northampton star Lee Collins has been magnificent and won man of the match against Oldham last weekend.
“Those two are both exceptional players.” said Tafazolli. “We push each other every day.
“I know if it’s me and Lee Collins playing or me and and Krystian Pearce or Krystian Pearce and Lee Collins, we all know the other one is just waiting for one of us to muck up to allow them to come in.
“Every time we go on the pitch we know we have to play at 110 per cent because we have the other one breathing down our necks. It’s great to have that competition which really does help.
“Both are unbelievable players and probably too good for this league. Breaking down their games, one is obviously a lot more physical than the other, Lee is a great reader of the game and great technically for a centre half. They are both very quick and they are both a pleasure to play with to be fair. Whoever plays, you are replacing the other with just as good a player.
“They both have experience, a lot of League games behind them. Every day in training I learn from them.”
Before the season kicked off it seemed that Collins would be the club’s new skipper and Tafazolli left out until an injury to Collins let Tafazolli back into the picture.
“My pre-season was a bit of a weird one where Collins and Pearce were playing and I wasn’t playing much,” he said.
“But you never know what can happen in football. Injuries can occur and when they do you’ve just got to take your chance with both hands. It’s been a good start to the season for me personally. As a team it’s been good for a lot of people, so hopefully that will continue.
“The determination has always been there. It was just keeping that focus and consistency. If you keep working hard and stay dedicated you will see results, and that’s what’s paid off for me so far this season.”
Tafazolli is now one of the longest-serving players at the club as he plays his fourth season with the Stags.
“I think only Chris Clements has been here longer than me now which feels odd,” he smiled.
“Time has gone so quick, it feels like I’ve only just joined here a couple of months ago. It’s flown by.
“Mentally I think I am a lot stronger now. When you are that age you don’t realise how big a part the mental side of the game is. But if you can get yourself mentally strong you’ve always got a chance in this game.
“I am now more experienced too. I am able to read the game better and I think I am a bit better at everything from four years ago, better in the air, better on the ball, better all round. But the biggest thing is being mentally stronger.”
Another strong to his bow this year has been four goals already, making him joint top scorer. But he has no expectation of ending up top of the charts.
He said: “I think the likes of Matt Green, Craig Westcarr and Adi Yussuf will probably claim that title, but I’d like to get to around 10 goals this season. I am on four at the minute so if I don’t get to 10 it would be an under-achievement now.
“I’ve never really got that many goals before in previous years but this year with the new set pieces you never know and I am hoping for 10.”