It was disappointing to miss out on automatic promotion in Saturday’s final game of the regular season, but top three was always a long shot for Nigel Clough’s men and, having ended the 46-game campaign by more than matching the best side the division has to offer, they have to be fancied in the play-offs.
Northampton Town had all but booked their place in the top three when extraordinary scenes at Bristol Rovers saw the Gas hit an unlikely seven goals to ruin their party.
The Cobblers now go into the semi-finals with a huge sense of disappointment and their chins on the floor.
Stags felt exactly the same back in 2018/19 when a win in their last three games would have gained them automatic promotion and they lost all three.
There was a huge sense of failure around the place and it was no huge surprise when they were then knocked out by Newport County in the semi-finals.
This time Stags look fresher, hungry, hard to beat and have a better, more experienced squad.
Having dragged themselves up from second bottom to be late to the party they carry the upwards momentum.
It is ironic it should be Northampton again, Stags having dispatched them in the play-off semi-finals 18 years ago across two titanic legs only to be pipped on penalties in the final and left angry over a wrong decision by a linesman that cost them the winning goal.
The styles of the two sides are hugely contrasting and Stags must avoid giving away silly free kicks to a side so powerful at set plays.
But home form this season has been record-breaking and if Mansfield can head for Sixfields with a lead after Saturday’s first leg, they have proved very adept at getting results away from home this season too and the Cobblers will find it hard to wrest away anything Stags can gain from the opener.
The play-offs are brilliant, glorious, heart-stopping and heart-breaking affairs and we should all be prepared for anything over the next week.
But there is a huge feeling this could be Mansfield’s year.