After a disappointing performance at home to bogey side Accrington Stanley last weekend, Mansfield Town will look to bounce back on the south coast against Portsmouth.
The Stags turned in their worst home display of the season, being outplayed and outrun by the visitors, especially in the first half.
The performance improved in the second 45 minutes, with Stanley being forced back into their own half for long periods. Despite this, Mansfield never truly threatened, and any chances created came through persistence and set pieces rather than any moments of skill.
Frustration at Accrington’s time-wasting and gamesmanship boiled over towards the end, when captain Adam Murray needlessly slid through their centre-half in an attempt to keep the ball in play.
He was harshly sent-off in my opinion, but I was surprised to see the club appeal, as it was clearly a foul, and there was no mistaken identity or any other obvious reason to contest the decision. Unsurprisingly, the appeal was quickly dismissed by the FA.
That means the Stags will be without him for the next three matches. His leadership, determination and presence on the pitch will be sorely missed.
A far bigger concern though, and one which is no doubt at the forefront in the minds of most supporters, is that this will mark the start of our annual winless run under Cox. This has happened from about this time to the New Year in every season under his management. Even when we won the Conference, we were stuck down in 14th place at the start of November, with a dismal display at Dartford being a particular lowlight.
Last season was no exception. After victory at local rivals Chesterfield at the end of September, our next three points came on 29th December at Cheltenham. In that time, we had slumped from third in the table to prime relegation candidates. Ironically, a home defeat to Accrington, where we conceded two injury time goals, combined with defeat at Rochdale on Boxing Day, appeared to kick-start our season.
Supporters will hope nothing quite as desperate will be as necessary in this campaign.
Another worry is the growing injury list at Field Mill, with Ryan Tafazolli the latest to be stuck on the sidelines. Other central defenders John Dempster and Luke Jones are still injured, which leaves Cox with a selection quandary for Saturday. Either he moves Lee Beevers into the back three and brings back Liam Marsden, who was unlucky to lose his place in the side in the first place, or he changes formation to a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.
Most fans would prefer the latter option I would guess. However, away from home, at a place where the best tactic for us may be to frustrate the opposition and their supporters, I could understand Cox retaining his now favoured formation.
Whether the 5-3-2, 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2 formation works at home, where the onus is on us to attack, is another question.
Perhaps the most damaging injury over recent weeks has been the loss of midfielder Chris Clements. The creative midfielder limped off in the first minutes of the second half of our victory against Carlisle United.
During his time at Mansfield, Clements has often been a peripheral figure. No-one has doubted his talent but there have been questions raised about his ability to do ‘the dirty side of the game,’ and not go missing in the heat of the battle.
However, his performances this season have impressed, especially in the home matches against Morecambe and Carlisle. Is it a coincidence that since his injury, we have conceded six goals and scored none?
Hopefully, he returns soon and recaptures his early season form.
What do you think? Email your views to Stephen Thirkill