Deja vu for the Stags, but too soon to be downhearted

Mansfield Town v Sheffield Wednesday.'David Flitcroft.
Mansfield Town v Sheffield Wednesday.'David Flitcroft.

Television sports presenter Des Lynam always used to say league tables were meaningless until four or five matches into a season.

That’s why during his stint in the Match Of The Day hot-seat you rarely saw them on television screens until mid-September.

In today’s world of clubs and fans demanding instant success, they appear almost before the final whistle of the first match.

Des was right of course, they are meaningless... but the early matches do offer a good guide as to how the rest of the season is likely to pan out.

That’s why, five matches in, it is now probably fair to judge manager David Flitcroft’s progress with his much-changed squad.

The disappointment of the Stags slide away from first the automatic promotion race, and then even the play-offs, after he came to One Call Stadium towards the end of last season was wiped away in the summer.

A terrific pre-season filled the fans with optimism, and that was only fuelled further as the goals rained in on the opening day as Newport were dispatched 3-0, before Accrington were hit for six in the League Cup.

A 2-2 draw at Yeovil did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm, but when Colchester United hit back to grab an injury-time equaliser 10 days ago at One Call Stadium and deny the Stags a second successive home league win, there was a sense of deja vu.

Remember the early days of last season when Luton Town, like Colchester promotion favourites, somehow fought back at to deny the Stags a famous home win?

That feeling that we have been there before was enhanced by draws at the two newly-promoted clubs, first Tranmere Rovers and then Macclesfield.

Both teams are far from expected promotion contenders — in fact, Macclesfield are probably destined for a relegation battle — and in both matches on the road the Stags had good chances to win.

That’s why comparisons are already being drawn with last season’s ultimate disappointment.

An unbeaten pre-season and opening five league matches might sound good, but the Stags are currently in the bottom half of the table.

The second half display at Macclesfield on Saturday was awful — the way the Stags fell away was worrying.

Just like last season, there is already a feeling that too many draws could dash the dream of playing League One football next season.

There is certainly a lot of pressure now on the Stags, with many saying they must beat Carlisle at One Call Stadium on Saturday, even if the Cumbrians are currently fourth.

However, rather than judge the Stags on the terrible last 45 minutes at Macclesfield, surely it is only fair to look at the overall encouraging start.

Gone is the beligerance of former manager Steve Evans.

Instead, Flitcroft has quietly got on with the job of building his own squad — and he has got them playing neat, attractive football.

It is, at times, easy on the eye and exciting the fans — and the new signings are having an influence.

The only thing that is really missing at the moment is a killer instinct in front of goal — and the ability to keep a clean sheet regularly.

In two of the five matches the opposition has been shut out, but the second-half goals conceded to Colchester and Macclesfield are the difference between mid-table and second place.

In fact, you could argue that if keeper Conrad Logan had not gifted Colchester their equaliser, and if Tyler Walker had not missed a golden opportunity at Tranmere, everything in the Stags garden would appear rosy.

Flitcroft must, like the fans, be so frustrated — yet equally delighted that a lot of his buys are hitting form.

Strikers Craig Davies and Walker have scored goals; in midfield, Otis Khan has been catching my eye; and Stoke City defender Ryan Sweeney is looking solid.

Despite the plus points, critics say the unbeaten start to the season must be judged against the level of opposition, with arguably just one — Colchester — expected to finish in the top half.

But, for me, that is harsh. It is still early days, although Flicroft knows — and we all know — that if the Stags are to mount a serious push for promotion they have to start turning some of these draws into victories very soon.