Mansfield Town manager Adam Murray today declared keeping Mansfield Town in the Football League against the odds as the biggest success of his highly successful career.
Murray was tasked with keeping the club out of the Conference in December following the departure of Paul Cox and, despite dropping into the bottom two at one stage, he achieved his goal thanks to results elsewhere last weekend, despite a 3-1 defeat at Cambridge.
A vastly reduced budget and a long string of injuries to key players all contributed to making the task a big one and ahead of Saturday’s visit of Portsmouth, Murray said: “I have had five or six promotions in my career and this is bigger than all of them.
“As a manager, keeping this club in the Football League and everything we have come up against puts this top.
“This season has 100 per cent been a success. I said from the start of my reign that the battle would go to the wire and we have managed to complete the project with two weeks to go.
“It has been frustrating and tough for everyone involved at the football club – seasons like this always are. From within the camp we knew this season would be one of the hardest and most challenging in all aspects.
I have had five or six promotions in my career and this is bigger than all of them
“I knew when I took the job it would be one of the toughest things I have ever done. The last four months all we have wanted to do was see it over the line and now we can start looking forward to next season and what we can build.
“It is a bitter-sweet feeling as I always want to win everything and it’s been really hard this last four months.
“Credit has to go to the people who have have kept us on course with the challenge. With all the hard work, the focus, the sleepless nights and the stress levels, people deserve a pat on the back.
“It’s great to end the season with a medal hanging round your neck, but the challenge here was to keep the club out of the Conference. I couldn’t let us go back down there as we worked too hard to get out of it and I had too many injections in my body to get out of it last time.”
Murray added: “I put a lot of pressure on myself as I didn’t want to let the club down.
“I have asked players to go above and beyond and, although some of them didn’t turn up on certain occasions, at vital times the boys came to the party and no one can question that.
“I know we’ve had our ups and downs and some people have not performed to the maximum on certain occasions. But what they have done is keep this club in the League and for that they deserve a round of applause. The players deserve credit.
“We are where we are because of certain things and, as I have said, that will be addressed. But to sit here and say we are a Football League team next season after all we’ve gone through, it’s a major plus.
“For four months we have all been in 7am to 11pm trying to get this over the line, motivating, re-motivating, refocusing and re-energising with a group that have been low on confidence at times. It is hard to pick up points when you are down there and everything seems to kick you in the so and so’s.
“We should have been partying on Saturday, but we didn’t feel like it because we had lost and we were overly disappointed. As I said I learned nothing new on Saturday and we are where we are because of days like that.”
Murray now has the luxury of two final games in which he can experiment and blood youngsters as he looks towards building his own side for next season.
“The planning has already started,” he said. “We are now into our last two games and I want players to go out and enjoy it. I want the fans to enjoy coming to a match with no pressure.
“I hope the tension and the anxiety are gone from the ground. All the focus now is looking to build a side that can compete next year.
“We have already played some of the young boys like Liam Marsden, Jack Thomas and Joe Fitzpatrick and they’ve not looked out of place. They just need to grow into the speed of League Two.
“I want to see an XI out there that want to wear this shirt with pride, want to get on the ball and are not scared of making mistakes.
“I want to see an enthusiasm to be a footballer and say to the fans - I want to be one of you next season. I want to be on your journey and make Mansfield Town a success and a club to be proud of.”
Murray is also now working on his retained list next season with only three young players with a deal already in place.
He said: “I know the majority already. But there are still players fighting for contracts and still jobs at stake. I have asked questions of certain players on certain aspects and they have the chance over the next two weeks to come back at me.
“I don’t want to see another 45 minutes like Cambridge. It would be easy to say the job is done and we are safe. But I am too proud a man and have too high standards to let things slip. I don’t want anyone going through the motions.”
Murray said being pitched into a relegation battle rather than a comfortable mid-table situation this season would always stand him in good stead.
“I couldn’t have had a steeper learning curve,” he said. “I would love to write a book on the last four months, which have been immense in different ways.
“I have loved it and hated it, I’ve wanted to laugh, wanted to cry, suffered from sleepless nights, wanted to beat people up and wanted to cuddle people. I have taken major steps on my coaching and managerial career.
“People who know me as a person know I have to be successful. I have been a success all my career. I do demand a lot of the people that work for me and with me and I need people to step up to the plate.”
So will Adam Murray make a final appearance as a player on Saturday?
“Adam Murray would love to be in the squad but my kit doesn’t fit me,” he smiled. “So, unless I can find some super diet that will lose me a few pounds, I doubt it.
“It would probably have been my last game for the club from the playing aspect as I have learned in the last four months that a dual role is just not possible.
“I would never put this club in jeopardy or risk it if I wasn’t right. But it would be nice to say goodbye. I might still pull my shorts on – you never know!”