10-men Mansfield Town make a point about their character

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It may only be the middle of October, but this is a vital time for Mansfield Town on the pitch.

They will be playing twice a week in six of the next seven week as they try to climb into the top half of the table and the promotion race.

It couldn’t get much tougher this week with Saturday’s match at Swindon followed by a trip to Morecambe on Tuesday and the visit of high-flying MK Dons, who like the Stags have lost just once, next weekend.

That’s why the character shown by the 10-man Stags at the County Ground this weekend was vital.

The red card for Will Atkinson following two yellows might have been disputed by the versatile player and many Stags fans in the County Ground, but that does not matter.

What does is that the amber and blue battled for 48 minutes with the man disadvantage to retain their unbeaten away record this season - and have still lost just once in League Two.

It would have been easy to cave in when Atkinson was dismissed and accept yet another defeat at a ground where the Stags have a terrible record, not winning for 11 matches.

Instead, they showed real grit and battling qualities to earn the point in a sixth successive away draw — a club record.

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The previous five away draws felt like two points dropped — this was definitely a point gained and a marker laid down for the rest of the season away from the One Call.

Yes, the fact that the Stags have still to win away from home might not be considered promotion form by many, but if they can just turn the odd home draw into a win more regularly then they will be back on track for a place in the top seven.

Afterall, they are only five points outside the play-off places with two matches in hand, have lost just once and have the second best goals against record as well as an unbeaten away record that stretches back nine matches into the end of last season.

I believe the Stags are good enough to get into at least the top seven. Their brand of passing football is something new for the supporters to enthuse over, even if that has so far been translated into too many draws and not enough wins.

But if you combine that passing style — the Stags look as comfortable in possession as any side at One Call Stadium I have seen for a while — with the determination shown at Swindon on Saturday, then Flitcroft’s men are well on the way to a successful season.

There is also no doubt that the players have a belief in what the manager is bringing to the side and are taking on board his changes.

He would have desperately wanted not to lose on his return to the club where he was manager before being tempted away by the Radfords and their project to take the Stags up through the divisions.

So when Atkinson was dismissed he would have thought the worst. Instead, he reorganised his side and the players then gave everything for the manager to grind out a positive result.

Their workrate also showed the players were determined to bale out one of their own, with Atkinson reportedly distraught after his red card.

They might have been helped a poor refeering decision late on as the home side threatened to score, but the Stags had earned that little bit of good luck through their hard work.

They maintained their shape admirably under the circumstances, especially, for me when you consider that my man of the season, Neal Bishop, was missing from the midfield.

It was only one point, but the goalless draw at Swindon saw the Stags make their point.

Now they need to back it up with a win at Morecambe. Roll on Tuesday... not to mention the FA Cup draw on Monday.