Mansfield v Leeds United match analysis: Mansfield are shaping up nicely, but pre-season form counts for little

Liam Hearn steps up to score from the spot on his debut for the Stags -Pic by: Richard Parkes
Liam Hearn steps up to score from the spot on his debut for the Stags -Pic by: Richard Parkes

Two weeks ago a cloud as dark as the one that lashed Mansfield with heavy rain over the weekend appeared to be gathering over the One Call Stadium.

A squad thinner than a supermarket’s own brand of wafer thin ham and an ever shrinking budget seemed to offer nothing but doom and plenty of gloom.

Liam Hearn -Pic by: Richard Parkes

Liam Hearn -Pic by: Richard Parkes

But three games and three very impressive performances later and the darkness has given way to newfound optimism. Perhaps it wont be nine months of battling relegation afterall.

Although Mansfield Town’s squad is clearly smaller than it was last season that does not mean it is any worse.

So far, and I know it’s only been three pre-season games, including one against a Leeds United side who frankly did not seem interested, it seems that Paul Cox has invested his funds wisely to revamp what had the makings of a decent squad and bring in that little bit of quality lacking last term.

By and large Mansfield were defensively pretty solid last season. Add the returning Luke Jones, the emergence of young Liam Marsden and the potential signing of former Port Vale man Rob Taylor to Ryan Tafazolli (assuming Stags hold on to him), Ritchie Sutton and Martin Riley, and Stags have the right ingredients to keep it tight at the back.

Fergus Bell is stopped in his tracks -Pic by: Richard Parkes

Fergus Bell is stopped in his tracks -Pic by: Richard Parkes

Perhaps most importantly with the squad being thinner is the versatility of the defenders on offer, with Sutton, Riley and Tafazolli all comfortable in multiple positions.

What was lacking, as we all know, was a midfielder capable of getting stuck in, someone who could pass the ball, and of course, someone who could stick the ball in the back of the net.

A man that can be the game-changer and turn those tight 0-0 draws into a valuable 1-0 win.

Gone are bit-part players - the deadwood if you wish to be cruel - such as Lindon Meikle, Louis Briscoe, Lee Stevenson, Ross Dyer, and, more than likely, Anthony Howell, all of who added little firepower or creativity to the side and had minimal impact when they came off the bench.

In comes Alex Fisher, Liam Hearn, Simon Heslop and Fergus Bell so far, In comes experience and in comes goals. That’s a pretty good swap in my book.

Heslop impressed me against Leeds. He seems to be a player who likes a tackle and to work hard as well as a player who actually looks to spray a pass around and retain possession.

He seems to be a player with the ability to break the opposition’s play up and springboard Mansfield on to attack.

He also looks like a footballer with an eye for the sort of long ball that will catch a defence napping, the sort of ball over the top that is perfect for Liam Hearn.

Speaking of which, you don’t get a much better debut than the one enjoyed by Hearn with two fine goals in his 30 minute cameo.

The signs are already good, a very calmly taken penalty, which he himself won, and a sweet finish which saw him dink the ball over the Leeds shot-stopper to seal the thoroughly deserved victory.

Hearn will no doubt get more game time against former club Grimsby on Friday night as Cox tries out different pairings with Fisher and Matt Rhead battling it out to be the preferred striking duo.

Hearn now needs time to get fully match fit before too much expectation and pressure is placed upon him.

The only worry for me is how Mansfield will cope when injuries and suspensions kick in. Make no mistake, the squad is smaller than last time out, but the first eleven and bench which Cox has at his disposable has what it takes to make a decent stab at the League Two season.

With just three trialists being fielded against Leeds, it seems Cox is starting to narrow down in options and is close to making up his mind on the final make-up of his squad.

The questions now is has Nick Townsend done enough to earn himself the number 1 spot and what will Cox do to address the lack of width available to him?

It is very easy to get carried away by last night’s win, but it pre-season wins count for precious little if Mansfield get thumped by Northampton when the season finally kicks-off on 9th August.