LOMAS ON STAGS: Analysis - Hard work, but new-look Mansfield show rich promise
Saturday may not have been the most convincing of 3-0s at times, but the visit of struggling Crewe was a game that Mansfield Town sides of recent years would have struggled to win.
Steve Evans gave four home debuts in his new-look side and all impressed in a much harder-earned victory than the scoreline suggests.
Crewe have now won just twice in 21 games and manager Steve Davis must feel like his head is on the guillotine awaiting the drop. Most managers would be long gone with his record.
But his players deserved a lot of credit for refusing to lay down and die, despite conceding an early goal and then shipping another just after the break.
Yoann Arquin gave Stags a great start to the game when he netted from seven yards in the fifth minutes after Ben Whiteman had nodded down a Mal Benning cross.
He looked strong and quick and headed another chance over soon after.
Stags did ride their luck with a penalty shout when Zoumana Bakayogo took too long to go down.
But on the day Crewe did not have enough up front and did not deserve a goal.
New loanee Mansfield keeper Jake Kean looked as polished and assured as one would expect from a man with Premier League and Championship experience and made the only real save he had to produce with aplomb, pushing aside Georg Cooper’s second half shot on the turn.
That came seven minutes after Whiteman’s first senior goal had doubled Stags’ lead on 48 minutes, though keeper Ben Garratt let his 18-yard blast through his hands.
Whiteman, like fellow home debutant Joel Byrom, looked busy, passed the ball with confidence and enjoyed a first game to remember at the One Call.
But Crewe kept coming right until the 86th minute when Rhys Bennett made up for two earlier misses by stabbing home from close range from a corner for a match-sealing third.
With money tight in January, the crowd was down, but the home fans in there roared their team on throughout and can look forward to discounted football over the next two home games thanks to the club’s excellent new ticket offer.
With Stags’ fringe players getting an outing on Tuesday in the Checkatrade Trophy, competition for places will be huge by the time we get to Saturday’s Meadow Lane showdown against ailing Notts County.
The keeper and back four look assured of places, centre half Kyle Howins outstanding on Saturday, and it is in midfield and up front where Evans will have most headaches.
Attempts to bring in new players to throw into the mix before the weekend could turn that headache into a migraine – albeit a nice one.
But the Stags will head for derby day in fine fettle aiming to claw back more of the six-point gap to the play-offs.
And who would bet against a manager like Steve Evans achieving that?
But, despite a club record 10th straight defeat for Notts at Morecambe on Saturday, Stags can expect the Magpies to have a new manager in the hot seat by the weekend and know this game will be anything but easy.