OPINION: What have we learned from Mansfield Town’s pre-season?

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Mansfield Town boss Adam Murray said he would learn a lot from the two highest profile pre-season matches - against first Bolton Wanderers, newly-relegated from the Championship, and then Premier League newboys Hull City – followed by the more physical challenge offered at Alfreton Town where the Stags enjoyed a lot of possession compared to the Hull match.

He won’t have been the only one as the new-look Stags first defeated Bolton 2-1, lost 1-0 to Hull City – in England manager candidate Steve Bruce’s last match in charge - and then drew 1-1 at Alfreton.

With all of his first-team squad, apart from Jack Thomas, getting a run-out in most of the matches, those fans who watched will have taken away their own views - and surely most of those will have been a lot of positives?

Of course, pre-season friendlies will never be a true guide to what lays heads for a forthcoming season, but there were signs over the three matches that Murray has assembled a stronger squad than 12 months ago.

A squad that looks far comfortable in possession and wants to pass the ball, a squad that can keep its shape under pressure, and a squad that has more guile and experience.

It is also a squad that includes five new players with experience of winning promotion from League Two, if you include Pat Hoban’s time at Oxford, although of course he was also a Wembley promotion winner last season on loan at Grimsby.

Perhaps the only downside for me was that the desire to pass the ball and play football in defensive errors occasionally led to giving away possession cheaply, putting the defence under unnecessary pressure. 

But overall the signs were encouraging that throughout the squad - defence, midfield and attack - the acquisitions will all help the Stags to progress next season.

Danny Rose up front is winning many free kicks, an aspect of the game that the Stags did not seem to have last season. I am not sure that he will be the fox-in-the-box some have described him as if you look at his career goalscoring record so far, but you never know.

Certainly when you consider we now have Matt Green, who looks back to his best with added strength on the ball; the already mentioned Hoban, who can use his strength and aerial presence as an alternative Plan B; and Adi Yussuf, who hopefully will be fitter than last season and able to last longer on the pitch, then Murray has many options up front.

George Taft looks a class act at the back and a more than capable replacement for Ryan Tafazolli to play alongside Krystian Pearce. At right back Rhys Bennett has also shown that his pace will be an added bonus.

In midfield Kevan Hurst has also impressed with his deadball skills and attacking ability, while the pace of Ashley Hemmings or CJ Hamilton – one of whom will presumably start on the left – is a lovely selection choice for Murray to have to make.

Certainly Hamilton’s lightning bursts will take him past many defenders in League Two over the coming months, but he must make sure there is a decent end product more often than not..

But for all the new players and their impact in pre-season, there has been one standout feature of the warm-up matches for me - the diamond 4-1-3-2 formation in midfield and the importance of Lee Collins to that as the defensive midfielder.

He ran some of the games when in that position and the extra defensive cover he provides could be vital this season. Whenever one of the back four stepped up to make a challenge Collins was there, slotting into the back four to fill the gap.

Add to that his versatility at being able to fill anywhere in the back four if a player gets injured - or looking at the worst case scenario sent off - then Collins could be the most important player of the season.

Adam Chapman also fulfilled that role for many pre-season minutes, but he is not a natural defender like Collins and the side and formation did not look as effective.

It will be interesting to see Murray’s starting 11 at Newport for the launch of the League Two season. I am pretty sure that most fans would think they know at least nine of the starting 11 now, with possibly the left side of midfield and the goalkeeper’s position up for grabs.

But as we have seen over the months, Murray often throws a surprise in his starting line-ups. Does that mean the 4-1-3-2 so often seen in pre-season won’t be used?

Does that mean Danny Rose, seemingly his first-choice alongside star striker Matt Green, won’t start a Newport?

We will all see next week when the real action starts and the long journey to what I hope could be an end-of-season play-off final at Wembley begins.