LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: Heartbreaking ending, but Stags have moved forward after a season to remember

Picture by Howard Roe/AHPIX.com;Football;Skybet; Play Off Semi Final;'Mansfield Town v Newport County'12/5/2019  KO 6.00pm; One Call Stadium;'copyright picture;Howard Roe;07973 739229''Stag's Krystian Peace consoles Ryan Sweeney after losing the penalty shoot out
Picture by Howard Roe/AHPIX.com;Football;Skybet; Play Off Semi Final;'Mansfield Town v Newport County'12/5/2019 KO 6.00pm; One Call Stadium;'copyright picture;Howard Roe;07973 739229''Stag's Krystian Peace consoles Ryan Sweeney after losing the penalty shoot out

Emotions are running raw today for supporters, players, manager, staff and owners of Mansfield Town Football Club.

To ultimately miss out on promotion when so well placed at Easter is heart-wrenching – and to lose a play-off semi-final on penalties a week after missing out on automatic promotion at the death makes it feel twice as bad.

The Stags should have had enough to get over the line, but ultimately a list of things went against them and football can be such a cruel mistress.

However, once the pain eases, everybody needs to take a step back and survey the full and bigger picture.

Not surprisingly, some of the knee-jerk reaction is to again change manager and start all over again. But that’s throwing a family of babies out with the bathwater.

WHAT DO FANS THINK OF THE SEASON AND THEIR MANAGER?

OWNER JOHN RADFORD SPEAKS AFTER SEMIS EXIT

For starters, some fans are saying the club has gone backwards this season.

But possibly they did not pass maths at school as a fourth place finish this time around is definitely higher than eighth and 76 points more than 72.

The club has certainly taken huge strides overall with boss David Flitcroft successfully linking youth with a path to the first team and the new training ground all but ready.

He has already brought youngsters through into the first team squad as potential stars of tomorrow and got so much more out of the likes of CJ Hamilton and Jacob Mellis with his expert coaching and management techniques.

Crowds were massively up and the standard of football until the latter part of the campaign was some of the best we have seen in years.

Then there was a new club record unbeaten run of 15 away games amid a 17-game unbeaten run - the club’s best run since 1976 – before a 3-2 defeat at Carlisle on 5th January.

Let’s go through the other major criticisms.

Some say Flitcroft had no Plan B when things were not going well, but you have to say his best Plan B was Craig Davies – an excellent signing who sadly picked up a long term injury and we will not see the best of until next season.

Unfortunately, a suitable replacement was not there for him in January, though you’d have expected more from Nicky Ajose, who again then picked up an injury. But he is a different type of forward to Davies.

The loss of the safe hands of keeper Bobby Olejnik with serious injury was a big blow, and the broken ankle of hugely influential right wing back Hayden White so devastating.

The signing of Forest loanee Jorge Grant was met with glee and his early outings saw him win man of the match after man of the match. So who could possibly have predicted he would suddenly go off the boil and become public enemy No.1 with some fans? He has so much talent if it could be harnessed. But his signing has been wrongly criticised.

Also, as the finishing line got closer, the side did play less of the attractive football that had given them such a firm platform and at times sent it long too early and too easily. But you can bet that wasn’t the game plan from Flitcroft.

That comes from pressure and the finishing line becoming clearly visible and is something a young squad will have to learn from.

Who could have predicted that of five strikers, four of them would spend lengthy spells out injured and only one play regularly to carry the goalscoring burden?

To get where they have with that sort of luck is testament to those who did play and to the division’s best defence.

They also managed to still finish the division’s fourth top scorers.

Luck in football is supposed to even out. But to suffer those two awful decisions at Newport on Thursday and to also lose key midfielder Neal Bishop for the second leg with injury were body blows.

That home semi-final was a thrilling, punishing, exhausting, exhilarating watch for the sell-out crowd who watched two teams slug it out like two boxers who kept getting up off the canvas.

It could easily have finished 4-4 or 4-0 to either side and was a marvellous advert for the division, especially for a 0-0.

But, ultimately, this squad just didn’t have enough to get over the line.

However, they don’t need too much more and it will be Flitcroft’s job this summer to use his third Stags transfer window to bring in the final ingredients needed.

People talk about Flitcroft having a top three budget - but that is never any guarantee to success - ask Notts County – and bear in mind he was still carrying some big earners signed by Steve Evans.

This summer we will get a much better indication of his capabilities in the transfer market.

The goalkeeping department is fine and I would keep Jordan Smith on if possible as he was largely safe and unlucky to lose his place.

Add big Ben Turner on a permanent deal and you have your central defence sorted with a wing back cover needed, preferably one who can cross with both feet.

Midfield needs another one, an in-form Grant would be perfect, an out-of-sorts Grant pointless.

The major surgery needs to be up front where Stags need at least four decent strikers.

The other worry is that, having missed out on promotion, the vultures may now come calling for Stags’ better players to offer them a far easier route to League One or even Championship football.

Any of Stags current four central defenders could earn a decent move, Jacob Mellis and CJ Hamilton can play at a higher level and will Tyler Walker now be back in Forest’s plans after such a successful outing?

It makes for a fascinating summer and, despite its painful ending, history will show this has still been a fabulous season in the club’s history.