LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: Tinderbox atmosphere ahead as under-fire Dempster tries to set Stags season ablaze

John Dempster - disappointment at Vale Park, despite a great away point.
John Dempster - disappointment at Vale Park, despite a great away point.

The One Call Stadium looks set to be a real tinderbox on Saturday as Mansfield Town manager John Dempster tries to somehow get a damp squib of a season ablaze.

The under-fire Stags boss has seen his critics grow in numbers by the week as summer expectations of a promotion push fail to materialise with the midway point of the season ahead during this crucial month.
After a disappointing FA Cup exit at 10-men Shrewsbury Town last weekend, Dempster knows the knives are out for him and just how much his side need to make a good start against visiting Cheltenham Town on Saturday.
Anything less and the murmurs from the stands will grow and grow and that will make life uncomfortable for him and the players.
Some fans say they will stay away. But most will head down there to see if the rookie boss can at last produce the magic moment that finally kickstarts his campaign properly.
But the omens are not good.
Mansfield's home form all season has been largely poor.
They have only won two of their nine League Two games there – the third worst record in the division with only Morecambe and Stevenage worse at home.
Dempster had promised things would improve on the pitch – and indeed they largely have in recent weeks with some decent football and spells of dominance in which the Stags have threatened to finally hit top gear.
But, sadly, few of those improved displays have actually produced wins at the end of them.
It is so frustrating for manager and supporters alike as the Stags showed two weeks ago at leaders Swindon Town that there was little to choose between the sides.
No one is running away with League Two and a run of results could bring anyone into contention at the top end.
But Stags have only once produced back-to-back League Two wins all season when they won at Grimsby Town before hammering visiting Oldham Athletic back in early October.
Since then it has been a string of false dawns and missed opportunities,
And Saturday's game at League One Shrewsbury Town was yet another missed opportunity.
The home side played the last half hour with 10 men after Ollie Norburn was sent off, but the visitors failed to rise to the challenge and hammer home their advantage, failing to muster a single shot on target in that final half-hour which ended with two late Shrewsbury goals.
There is no doubt the loyal Dempster had earned a shot at the hot seat with his work at the club and growing prowess as a coach.
It has been a traumatic first four months to his first team career and he admits he has made mistakes, as have all managers before him.
But managers struggle to win any sympathy from fans when the side are not winning.
Five other clubs in League Two have already pulled the trigger and made a change.
John and Carolyn Radford want to give Dempster every opportunity to make this work and have seen what jumping the gun at changing manager too quickly can do a few miles down the road at Notts County.
Saturday marks game one of five huge games in December against clubs that Mansfield would like to think of as play-off rivals were they up there with them too.
Instead Stags go into the game languishing in 15th, after only 21 points from their 19 games so far has sat them 13 points short of the top three and only two points above third-from-bottom Walsall.
If they want to keep Dempster as their boss the players simply have to roll their sleeves up and produce the goods – and quickly.
Cheltenham are a quality side this season and sit fifth.
They have had a little wobble recently with a defeat followed by three draws in League Two.
But they did win away at leaders Swindon in the last round of the FA Cup before their disappointing 3-1 home exit to Port Vale last weekend.
Getting the disgruntled fans onside early and keeping them there will be the trick for Mansfield on Saturday.
Anything less and the air in the stands will probably turn blue for more reasons than the cold and the pressure on Dempster will grow to boiling point.
As honest as the day is long, Dempster is making no attempt to bury his head in the sand or give excuses as some managers might.
He has been very open in saying he agrees that so far it simply has not been good enough and this season, like the previous three, have been a poor return for the owners.
Players simply have not performed up their required standards.
Summer signings that everyone was so excited about have not quite set the place alight while established performers at the club have seen their performance levels drop too.
To not even be in the mix at this stage is a bitter disappointment after the promise of the past three seasons, but no way will the Radfords, Dempster or the players give up and write it off just yet.
The league is average, the points are there and past seasons show it only takes three or four wins in a row to get yourself right in the middle of it.
To make that happen in December would take something very special with the league positions of the opposition.
Dempster knows if he is to stay in position and win the fans over it will now have to be done the hard way.
If December goes by the form book then his job will be hanging by a thread.
He and the players will definitely need tin hats on Saturday if they don't start on the front foot against the high-flying Robins.
Patience has been exhausted with some fans already convinced they want a new manager and it feels like even a win won’t change their opinion at the weekend.
But most Stags fans will always appreciate players who get stuck in and give their all and the XI that go out on Saturday cannot afford to leave anything out on the pitch.
They and the manager want the ground behind them willing them on, but they will have to earn that after recent results and give the long-suffering fans something to actually cheer and believe in again.