BIG MATCH PREVIEW: Hartlepool United v Mansfield Town – Saturday, 2nd April 2016

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BIG MATCH PREVIEW – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

After a tough March with games against some of the division’s big guns, it doesn’t get any easier for Mansfield Town as they begin April with a trip to the North-East coast to face bang-in-form Hartlepool United.

Pools pulled off a superb 2-1 win at high-flyers Leyton Orient on Easter Monday and kept a fourth consecutive clean sheet for the first time since 2006.

Goals from Billy Paynter and ex-Stag Nathan Thomas extended their unbeaten run to six games, including four wins.

Thomas, who left Mansfield in the January transfer window has flourished after going back home and is a potent weapon for them right now.

Pools, in 17th place, are now all but clear of the relegation mire and enjoying their football.

At the same time the Stags have seen their play-off dream all but destroyed by a run of six games without a win, despite playing well in almost all of them.

Adam Murray’s men have slipped from fifth to 13th in that spell and are now eight points short of the play-off places with only seven games to play.

Yes, a win and defeats for the sides above could re-ignite hopes of sneaking back into that top seven. But realistically it’s a tall order now.

It would seem this Stags squad is going to be looked back on as good but not quite good enough.

Murray will make the necessary tweaks in the summer to bolster the weaker areas and the current squad now have seven games left to make sure they are among the players kept on.

Click HERE to read a report from Stags vs Northampton on Easter Monday

Click HERE to see the video highlights of Stags v Northampton

Click HERE to see highlights of Leyton Orient v Hartlepool United last weekend

STAGS TEAM NEWS

Mansfield are hoping centre half Ryan Tafazolli will be fit enough to play after limping out of Monday’s draw with Northampton midway through the first half with a dead leg.

Stags will definitely be without suspended pair Adi Yussuf and Jamie McGuire but will welcome back Reggie Lambe from international duty in the Caribbean Cup with Bermuda.

POSSIBLE STAGS STARTING XI (4-1-3-2)

Shearer, Alfei, Tafazolli, Pearce, Benning; Collins; Rose, Clements, Daniel; Dieseruvwe, Green.

HARTLEPOOL TEAM NEWS

Craig Hignett admits he has a dilemma whether to keep the same XI or start looking at players he’s not yet seen in League Two action now their status is all but secured for 2016/17.

Pools have been unchanged for four matches in a row – not conceding a goal - and that’s likely to stretch to five on Saturday.

Hignett said: “They have earned the right to play, they know what they are doing, they look defensively sound.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve drummed into them that we’re a team, we’re all together no matter what happens with setbacks, it doesn’t matter.”

POSSIBLE HARTLEPOOL STARTING XI

Carson, Magnay, Bates, Jackson, Carroll, Featherstone, Gray, Hawkins, Thomas, Paynter, James. Subs: Bartlett, Richards, R. Jones, Bingham, Oates, Woods, Walker.

KEY BATTLE: ADAM JACKSON v MATT GREEN

Adam Jackson had not played a senior game until joining Pools on loan from Middlesbrough in November but has taken to it like a duck to water.

Jackson has been magnificent at the heart of the defence in the current run of four clean sheets in a row alongside former Boro star Matthew Bates and will be looking to keep Stags’ star striker Matt Green scoreless.

HARTLEPOOL ONE TO WATCH: NATHAN THOMAS

Nathan Thomas was an inspired signing from Mansfield by former boss Ronnie Moore in the early days of the transfer window.

Thomas struggled to last the pace early on but is now into his rhythm.

He is now the main attacking spark for Pools with countless assists and has even stuck in two goals.

Adam Murray brought Thomas to Mansfield last summer and here and there he showed bursts of electric pace, ambitious shooting and moves in which he was almost unplayable.

Unfortunately they were few and far between and it ended up with him telling the club he was homesick for the North-East and wanted a transfer.

The move has paid off for him and Thomas will be wanting to prove a big point on Saturday and show Stags his true qualities.

Click HERE to see video of Nathan Thomas scoring a pearler for Stags pre-season against MK Dons.

OPPOSITION MANAGER: CRAIG HIGNETT

In his first managerial role, Craig Hignett had worked at Pools as number two to Colin Cooper in 2013-14 and, in fact, his departure to become Aitor Karanka’s No.2 at Middlesbrough signalled a dramatic slump in fortunes at the Victoria Ground with the side coming close to relegation.

Hignett had been out of work after a fall-out with Karanka last season and was not just Pools’ first choice to replace Ronnie Moore but their only choice.

Since he took over they have lost only three of their 11 games and moved up from 22nd in the League Two table to their current position of 17th.

Hignett’s 19-year playing career began with four years at Crewe and ended at Hartlepool.

The 46-year-old played 194 games for Middlesbrough between 1992 and 1998 and he also had long spells with Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers.

Click HERE to see a video of some of Hignett’s classic moments as a player

HARTLEPOOL SEASON SO FAR

Four wins out of four at the start of the season proved a false dawn as last season’s ‘Great Escape’ artists steadily slipped down the table to just above the relegation zone.

Goals were hard to come by, though Pools were not helped by a series of postponements which left them with a fixture backlog.

Boss Ronnie Moore was sacked in February and Craig Hignett has since transformed their fortunes with the club currently on a six-game unbeaten run.

LAST MEETING

Saturday, 21st November 2015: Mansfield Town 3, Hartlepool United 1

Mansfield Town’s agonising five game wait for a win or a goal was finally ended in this game as they saw off Hartlepool United 3-1 at One Call Stadium, with Matt Green bagging a brace.

Green ended the drought after 474 minutes with a brave finish in the 24th minute.

An unlucky Krystian Pearce own goal then put Hartlepool back into the game on 37 minutes.

But sub Adi Yussuf netted a scorcher within three minutes of coming on in the 55th minute before Green secured the points nine minutes from the end.

Stags created many chances on a freezing cold afternoon and could have had this one safe before the break.

United did rattle the home woodwork at 0-0 and again near the end as they plugged gamely away.

Click HERE to read a full match report

Click HERE to see video highlights of the game

GROUND AND TICKETS

The land on which Hartlepool’s 7,856-capacity Victoria Park resides was originally used as a limestone quarry, which was owned by the North-Eastern Railway Company.

However, in 1886 the land was bought by West Hartlepool Rugby Football Club for the development of a new rugby ground.

The ground was named the Victoria Ground in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

In 1908 West Hartlepool RFC. went bust leaving the ground vacant. Shortly afterwards, the ground was registered under the name of The Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company Limited, a football team representing both the town of West Hartlepool and the original settlement of Old Hartlepool. This team developed into Hartlepool United.

To get there by car, from the A19 take the A689 towards Hartlepool.

Stay on this road following the Town Centre signs for 2.8 miles, over two roundabouts.

Go straight over the next two sets of lights, passing Hartlepool College on your right. The next left takes you to the stadium.

If you miss the turning, go past ASDA on your left, left at the next roundabout and then left at the next traffic lights for the ground.

Hartlepool railway station is only a 10-minute walk from the ground.

Leave the station and go straight up a short approach road.

At the end of the approach, turn right and head up Church Street towards the large church. At the end of this road is a bridge and junction with the A689.

Go straight across the junction and the ground is in front of you on the left hand side of the road.

If you want to buy a ticket in advance the Stags do have an allocation in the Smith & Graham Away Stand at Victoria Park on sale now until 4pm Friday, though you can pay on the day for the same price.

Adults £20

Students £10

Seniors (60+) £10

U19s £10

Valid ID may be required if purchasing a student, senior or U19 ticket.

Stags have also received a small allocation of tickets for wheelchair spaces, which can be purchased through the Mansfield Town ticket office.

Don’t forget to read the match report at www.chad.co.uk after the game.

Keep in touch with all things Mansfield Town 24/7 via our new Mansfield Town Live Scribble feed.

The button link is located on the menu just below the main Chad masthead at the top of our home web page – www.chad.co.uk.

From there you can reach our scrolling Stags news, including live tweets throughout the matches and pre and post-match stories plus features, Stags blogs, videos, slideshows and Stags Retro items.

It is a treasure trove of everything any Mansfield Town fan could want to read and from there you can also trawl back through older material you may have missed.

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You can also have your say on all things Mansfield Town by emailing sport@chad.co.uk.