Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough happy with first three months as they return from break to take on MK Dons
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Stags sit fourth with a game in hand and only a point shy of second-placed Wrexham and Clough said: “It was nice to get a few days away from training and it was good thinking time more than anything, reflecting on how the first three months of the season has gone.
“Generally we have to be extremely pleased with how it's gone. We've only lost the one league game - and I am still angry about that.
“But in general terms I think we're in good shape with players coming back injury.
“It's looking good, despite only one point from the last two games. That doesn't change what we've done over the last three months.
“We have played well. We're not ones for stats as they can be manipulated but people tell me we are right up there with expected goals, forward passes, forward entries, shots and things like that as well as having one of the best defensive records.
“So all those things suggest we are on the right track and we have to keep it going for the next 20-odd games.”
He continued: “We have shown a bit more resilience this season than last to get draws out of games which is why the Swindon defeat was so upsetting.
“Coming back twice against Tranmere is the sort of resilience we're going to need over the next six months in order to stay there and thereabouts.
“I hope the players have gone away and had a think too. Physically we are in good shape and most of the players have played a lot of football so it came at a good time for them.
“As always it is more mental as the season goes on. We need to think about what we can improve on, what we've done so well and what has caused us problems as we have an important 27 games coming up.
“We have no more distractions in the cups. You always want to stay in them, but when you get knocked out there is also a benefit to it.”
Stags were boosted by an earlier than expected return of midfield general Ollie Clarke against Tranmere.
“We though we might need him in the conditions against Tranmere. I think he had one training session and he came on and had an impact as he does,” said Clough.
“He got the crowd going straight away as he got a shot off. He was unlucky not to score as it took a deflection. He is an important player for us.”
Stephen McLaughlin has worked hard through the 10-day break and Clough added: “He is training and he will probably be back on the bench on Saturday if he comes through this week.”
But Stags will be without suspended midfielder Louis Reed, who was one game away from seeing his four yellows wiped out.
“He just needed to get through one more game against Tranmere,” said Clough.
“He was aware of that, but he couldn't avoid the yellow card with the circumstances leading up to it as the lad was close to going through.
“He tried to delay it as much as he could but then just caught him from behind. It was a definite yellow card and bad luck. It was one of those things.”
James Gale and Elliott Hewitt continue to work towards returns from injury and the manager added: “James is coming along will be back towards the end of January and Elliott continues to hit his markers and is scheduled to be back training early February which is only six or seven weeks away from joining in which is great news.”
Clough admitted he may not need to do much in the January transfer window if everyone stays fit and results continue to come.
“January is going to depend on how we get through the next six games. We're very happy with the squad at the moment,” he said.
“There is always something crops up where you might take one. But if everyone comes through unscathed from the six games in 24 days from Saturday, which is a heavy schedule, then we may just leave it.
“We will see what sort of shape we're in then, but it's a nice position to be in and not be desperate.
“There are 18 points at stake and it could go either way. But we want to still be there or thereabouts still.”
On Saturday's opponents MK Dons, he said: “They are a very dangeorus team with some very good players – a lot of them League One players as well.
“They are a good footballing side all over the pitch and I would not rule them out making a late charge as well just because of the quality of the squad.
“Mike Williamson will have made a few changes since coming in and he's proved at Gateshead what he can do. So it will be a very tough game for us.
“We need to get on the front foot. We had a lot of the ball against Tranmere but didn't create as much as we'd have liked. Some teams are coming and sitting and we have to break them down without being vulnerable on the counter.
“Tranmere twice took the lead which means they can sit in there. If you can get the lead yourself then that goes out the window. That first goal is so important – it can change the whole game.”