Mansfield Town defender Matt Preston believes with having last season’s rock solid back three back together again and the confidence from a first home win, Stags can now kick on at last as they head for Crawley Town on Saturday.
The opening month of the season saw a variety of defensive combinations as injuries and suspensions forced changes.
But Preston, Krystian Pearce and Ryan Sweeney, last season’s meanest League Two defence, produced a clean sheet last weekend to show what the side had been missing.
“It’s definitely been a factor,” said Preston. “It’s not just injuries. You’ve had me and (Jacob) Mellis getting sent off which has not helped the gaffer at all.
“With the injuries as well it’s been a bit of a mix and match at times.
“Familiarity is key. It puts your mind at ease. It’s good to have a solid base to play from.
“It’s nice to come into training knowing what will be playing. We want to get back to how we were last season, which is solid.”
The 24-year-old added: “We want clean sheets every week and we’re building our base on that. If, from that, we can start playing how we used to, it can only be a winning formula.
“It’s about knowing people’s strengths and weaknesses. You know what a certain player wants and you know what you need to do to cover a certain player.
“It’s having that familiarity of knowing what they want, how you can help their game and how they can help you.
“I feel like we all gel off the field and that helps us when we come on it. Me and Chief (Krystian Pearce) travel in together so we have that extra two hours together.
“We bounce off each other and that helps us on the pitch.”
However, Preston knows none of them can take their places for granted.
“There’s a lot of competition,” he said. “If you know that you’re not on it, then someone can potentially come in and do better than you, which is obviously going to push you to strive for better.
“It’s definitely a good thing having someone breathing down your neck.
“Defensively Saturday was maybe my best game of the season. Everyone can do better, but defensively I was solid, which is obviously what you want from a centre-back.
“I want to play as many games as I can and getting as much experience as I can. Hopefully I can add some goals to that.”
Stags beat Scunthorpe 2-0 last weekend to register an overdue first home win of the season.
“Hopefully Saturday gives us a confidence boost and we can kick on now,” said Preston.
“We need to put a string of games together and a few wins – I think that will settle everyone down.
“Then we can start playing the way we need to, especially at home. Last year we made it a fortress here and we need to get back to those sorts of ways.”
He continued: “It was a good feeling to get the win on Saturday.
“But I still get the feeling we’re not playing exactly how we’d want to be playing right now.
“Having said that it’s good to be saying that after a 2-0 win. There are a lot of positives to take from winning but I feel like we can get better as a team and me as an individual.
“It’s just a matter of converting what we do in training and putting it on the pitch. “Saying that, I think a lot of games aren’t going to be pretty, so it’s good to see that we can play the ugly side as well. We were very robust on Saturday and showed a resilience. We need to do that in all our games.
“We’ve got the win, so now we have to keep our high standards in training and take that into the game, keeping the momentum.”
Preston notched his first goal of the season against Scunthorpe and revealed the three centre backs are enjoying a race to see who can score the most.
“For my goal, originally I thought ‘I have to get back’ but I thought I’d take a risk and stay up,” he said.
“CJ (Hamilton) has put in a good ball for me and I’ve managed to stretch out a leg and put it to the opposite way to the keeper was going. As much as a defender can, I tried to time my run at the back stick – so I’ll take it!”
He added: “There’s a little bit of a goalscoring competition between me, the Chief and Sweens (Ryan Sweeney).
“Chief is leading the way at the minute. He’s coming for Danny Rose, he keeps saying but I’m trying to stay with the pack and I want to get as many as I can.
“It’s banter, but Chief will take it as seriously as he can until Rosey is out of sight. It’s good to have that little bit of competition within the squad.”
Ahead of Saturday’s game at Crawley, Preston said he wanted opposition teams to fear Stags rather than having to worry about them.
“I don’t know too much about Crawley and their signings this season,” he said.
“But a lot of League Two games are going to be tough games. We have to approach each game with the right mental attitude and get the win.
“I feel that if you concentrate too much on the opposition it can be a bad thing, they should be concentrating on stopping us – I think that’s the sort of mentality you’ve got to have going into games.
“All the games are going to be tight so it’s about whether we can keep the high levels that we’ve got and get a win.”