The look of delight etched on John Dempster’s face at the final whistle at Carlisle United on Saturday said it all.
His first win as a Football League manager gave him pride, elation and relief all at once.
Though his joy must have been slightly tarnished by having to suspend two key players for an alleged off-the-field breach of club discipline.
After so many years in football, Dempster is well aware of the job’s demands and how quickly you can go from hero to zero with supporters.
But even he must have raised his eyebrows at some of the comments made after three very trying games to start a new season with.
Despite a few stutters (and some bright spots), Stags managed to get through those opening three games unbeaten (not counting a penalty shoot-out), so to hear of fans wanting David Flitcroft back was simply astonishing.
Flitcroft was hung, drawn and quartered after successive failures to get the club over the promotion line just four short months ago. How fickle football is!
At least the early Dempster dissenters partially took the heat off keeper Conrad Logan, who had already had to soak up unwarranted flak from a section of own ‘support’ over the first three games.
Appointing any rookie manager has its risks. But every single top flight manager was one once and there is little guarantee a big name/big spender will do any better.
Carlisle away is never an easy game and Dempster adapted his formation and personnel for it to absolute perfection.
Knowing they would have to really dig in and battle, he chose grit and determination over flair and creativity and CJ Hamilton and Otis Khan had to start the afternoon on the bench.
That meant Will Tomlinson started the game in midfield alongside fellow battlers Neal Bishop and Alex MacDonald while the impressive Kellan Gordon continued as right wing back where Hamilton might have hoped he would slot in.
The end result was three points, a first clean sheet, two very good goals and a display that restricted the home side to very few actual shots on goal.
Home fans were unhappy with referee Carl Boyeson, particularly when he suddenly stopped play and awarded a drop ball to Mansfield, who quickly worked it into the net for their second goal.
With this being one of the new summer rules brought in that play must be stopped and the ball given back to the side in possession if it touches the referee, fans could be forgiven for being a little confused.
But the home fans, and certainly the very biased home club Tweets, were unkind about Stags players pretending to be hurt when all looked to be genuinely painful bangs.
Don’t forget this is the club where Matty Blair was jeered from the field on a stretcher, home fans shouting ‘cheat, cheat’ as he was taken to hospital with a cruciate knee ligament injury that sidelined him for a year. So much for a Cumbrian welcome!
On a happier note, this was also the ground where Dempster made his Football League debut in 2001 – a less successful night where his Rushden & Diamonds side were 3-0 when he came on a nervous substitute.
It will now forever be the place where he got off the mark as a manager too.
With four of his next five games at home (including last night’s scheduled home clash with Leyton Orient), Dempster will be hoping he can quickly get the majority onside for the big push ahead.
One thing he does need is squad togetherness and a shared focus.
So the last thing he needed was to have to suspend two of his important midfield players, Jacob Mellis and Dion Donohue, for an alleged serious breach of discipline.
The hugely talented Mellis is no stranger to controversy and was of course famously sacked from Chelsea for letting off a smoke bomb at their training ground as a youngster. But everyone is innocent until proven otherwise.
Dempster will want to get to the truth of what happened as soon as possible and deal with it as it’s hard enough to stay on winning ways when everyone is focused together, let along have distractions like this at a crucial time of the new season.