With a quarter of the season gone things are taking shape in League 2, and whilst Wycombe would have expected to repeat last season’s successes and fly high in the table, much less was expected of Mansfield Town under their new leader Adam Murray.
As Mansfield limped over the line last season, Murray praised Wycombe’s turnaround as a model the Stags could follow. Even the most enthusiastic Mansfield fans wouldn’t have predicted how quickly Murray would be able to revamp the Stags’ style of football however, and the subsequent results that place the team in fifth position.
Mansfeld fans are entitled to feel that this early season success is sustainable.
Defensively, the addition of goalkeeper Brian Jensen has allowed the centre back pairing of Ryan Tafazolli and Krystian Pearce to blossom into one of the league’s best - Mansfield have conceded the joint-fewest goals in Football League 2 and come into this game on the back of another clean sheet away to fellow high-flyers Portsmouth.
Mansfield will have to be at their best defensively to nullify the attacking threat of Wycombe talisman Paul Hayes who will be keen to add to the paltry 18 goals scored by the Chairboys so far this season - only one more than bottom club Dagenham.
The Stags are developing into a careful and considered attacking force, content to keep possession and move the opposition around, probing for weaknesses.
Star summer signing Matt Green leads the line in front of Craig Westcarr, and both have scored four goals this season.
There is a tendency however for the Stags’ strong defensive shape to leave Green isolated at the turnover of possession, and Wycombe will aim to keep the speedy Green shackled and alone up front.
The victors of the midfield battle will determine how often Green receives support.
Mansfield will look to pack the midfield in their usual 4-5-1 formation to win the ball back and allow playmakers Chris Clements and Adam Chapman space to deliver incisive passes.
Murray often elects to deploy a destructive force to sit within the Mansfield midfield ranks, and if it is Jamie McGuire then Wycombe fans are likely to remind him of the reverse fixture last season in which the tough-tackling McGuire’s approach left more than the opposition’s ego bruised.
Wycombe’s manager Gareth Ainsworth will be well aware of the Stags’ midfield strategy however, and will be likely to fight fire with fire by deploying his midfielders Marcus Bean and Sam Wood to support the ever-deadly Paul Hayes up front.
It is likely that Ainsworth will emphasise winning the battles in midfield to build confidence in his team as prior to last week’s 1-1 draw with a ten-man Carlisle United Wycombe had suffered four straight defeats.
In spite of this the Chairboys sit in 10th, only four points behind their hosts, and could haul themselves back towards the play-off places with a victory at the One Call stadium, where Mansfield have only lost once this season.
Games of this magnitude can begin to define a team’s season. A victory for Mansfield will solidify their position amongst the top tier teams in League 2 and allow fans to dream of a push for the play-offs in manager Adam Murray’s first season.