LOMAS ON STAGS: Big February as Stags fans start to dream once more
Mansfield Town go into a crucial February very much back in the play-off chasing pack and fans are dreaming once more.
Stags’ hopes had begun to fade as they fell away to 18th after the November defeat at Portsmouth and were still 17th after the 1-1 home draw with Doncaster on New Year’s Eve.
But boss Steve Evans’ injection of talent in the January window has so far worked wonders and remaining unbeaten in their five League games of 2017 so far has seen them storm back up to 10th place, just two points off the top seven and, whisper it, now having closed the gap to the top three to just nine points.
At one stage the play-offs seemed a big ask - and no one is getting ahead of themselves.
But with plenty of games still to go and the new players gelling game by game, who would ever bet against Steve Evans doing the impossible and edging Stags into the fight for the automatic promotion places?
If they aim that high and fail, chances are they will be in the play-offs anyway.
But the new-look side, with six new players in already and more due overnight, looks like it could give anyone in this division a game.
So, without a doubt, the month of February is a crucial one.
It begins with the toughest of the games, on paper, away at eighth-placed Barnet this Saturday.
Stags will be up against big John Akinde, who always causes them endless problems and has hit 19 goals to date.
But this time they will face him with a back four that has chalked up five clean sheets in the last seven and won at places like Cambridge and Blackpool.
Were Mansfield to come away from that with a win, they then face two home games in four days against strugglers Hartlepool and Accrington, the first of those games with a larger than usual crowd due to the club’s cut-price ticket offer.
Grimsby away will be far from easy with former Stags star Chris Clements having extra incentive to put one over on his old team mates.
But the next game is bottom club Newport County at the One Call, which ambitious Stags must expect to win ahead of a Tuesday night trip to Yeovil – a club that Stags did the double over last year and have already beaten this season with 10 men.
The fact that Mansfield last week made a club record £350,000 bid for a player and then turned down a cash offer for one of their better players at the weekend sums up the burning ambition down there right now.
An increased crowd with last weekend’s ticket offer were also treated to a superb second half after a poor first, which should encourage some of them back.
The club also helped improve the atmosphere last weekend with a new ‘singing section’ complete with a drummer in the Ian Greaves Stand.
So all is set for an exciting second half to a season that looked to be petering away, and I for one would not bet against Stags being there in the final reckoning right now as the Evans revolution gathers pace.