ALTHOUGH Mansfield Town’s BSBP season ended with whimper, not a bang as they lost 2-0 at Bath City on Saturday, there was fantastic news for Stags fans as Duncan Russell hinted he could have all his key injured players back for the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
Adam Murray, Paul Connor, Danny Mitchley all look set to make a return to training this week and other key players were rested at Bath, the result all but sacrificed for the big game the week after.
Russell said: “I had others on the bench I didn’t want to play as I didn’t want them getting injured. But we should have my full squad for next week which is an exciting prospect.”
But he wasn’t happy with the displays of one or two in the Bath defeat and must also consider whether to appeal against Steven Istead’s 15th minute red card which didn’t help matters.
It was an awful game to watch for the visiting fans and Russell said: “That was horrible. The biggest thing for me was that a couple of players didn’t really give me a performance and I have told them in the dressing room.
“They were thinking about next week. But I told them they had to understand they had to put on a performance. I wasn’t happy with it at all.
“I can only put it down to what is happening next week. They lowered their standards and I need to sort it for next week.
“Bath are a decent side but if we had kept 11 men on the pitch we might have had a bit of a chance.
“With 10 men they kept coming at us, finding the spare man in midfield, and it seemed only a matter of time before they scored a goal.
“I will look at the DVD and I will appeal for the lad if it is how he is telling me.
“Stevie didn’t mean anything by it. They were all over each other and he just clipped him with his foot.
“But the referee saw what he saw. I tried to ask him about it at the end but he wouldn’t speak to me. I thought he was a poor ref anyway.”
The big Wembley week build-up has got underway, starting with yesterday’s open day.
Russell said: “We will head to London Thursday or Friday. We are hoping to use Arsenal’s training ground but, if not, we can use Tottenham’s.
“It is a massive game for everyone concerned and I must make sure the players don’t get too excited.
“I must keep the nerves down. Too much stimulation can have an adverse effect. We will mix it up a bit for them in training.”
Ashley Cain said: “That was a massive disappointment as we wanted to finish on a win, going into Wembley.
“But when you have a player sent off so early it is always going to be tough.
“It was backs against the wall trying to close them down. Working so hard it was hard to get a performance out of the lads.
“I got injured against Luton and it’s taken longer to get better than first thought. Today was the first time I felt near enough 100 per cent but we were always on the back foot.
“It has been frustrating as I and everyone know what I can do.”
On his Wembley prospects, he added: “It is a big pitch – my kind of pitch. It will be the biggest game of my life so far. I just have to be patient now and hope I have done enough to get the nod.”
Defender Mark Preece was close to the challenge which saw Istead sent off and said: “I saw the tackle but I was watching the ball.
“Then the referee popped up with a red card. The ref said Stevie kicked out after the ball had gone.
“It seemed a bit harsh. Now he can’t play at Wembley. You don’t need to tell him, you can see it on his face how disappointed he is. He came in to apologise to the boys.”
Preece has only just come into the reckoning due to injuries after spending most of the season injured, out on loan or out of favour, and added: “Everyone’s sights are set on a start. I have enjoyed the run of games I have had. The gaffer has a few tough decisions to make now on shirts with players coming back.
“All you can do now is run your heart out in training, do your best, and hope. Everyone has a massive part to play anyway whether they are on the pitch or in the stand.
“It will be one of the best things in my career so far and I am looking forward to it. I just hope I can play to top off a bad season with a good end.
“Even to be out there for the warm-up would be great. You want to be part of the occasion.”