Summer signing Lee Collins is hoping to get the nod to properly begin his Mansfield Town career at last when high-flying Plymouth Argyle visit tomorrow.
Centre half Collins, 26, was hailed as a great signing when he arrived at One Call Stadium from Northampton and given the captain’s armband pre-season.
However, injury wrecked his chances of starting the campaign.
Now, after one start in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Notts County and three appearances as substitute, he looks likely to replace suspended skipper Nicky Hunt at right back tomorrow – a position he is very comfortable in.
Said Collins: “I can play all across the back four. I am predominantly right-footed, it’s just I have somehow always played on the left and left back all my career. I have no problems stepping in there. I’ve got to go in there and give it my all.
“My injury was just a spell of bad luck really. It happened a week before the season started after working so hard to try to keep a place for the opening game. We’d started to form a good partnership and looked a solid back four.
“I had a slight twinge against Leicester. I though what was that and ran it off. In the week after in training I thought there is something wrong with this and went and got it checked as soon as we could. Everything was dealt with really professionally and I got it diagnosed.
“I had a stress fracture in my second toe in my metatarsal. It was the week before the season started and was just bad luck really. It was from years of over-compensating in the way I was running. So I have got new orthotics in my shoes that have re-compensated it – so to speak. So I am running normal now and I get no pain.
“But the lads have stepped in and done the business really so I can’t complain.
“I’ve had a few minutes, but I can’t be knocking on the manager’s door when the lads have got the second best defensive record so far.
“So it’s just one of those. I’ve got to bide my time. There’s plenty of games left.”
Collins’ lay-off was the open door needed by Ryan Tafazoli, who has been in superb form at centre half ever since.
“I had no doubt he could do that,” said Collins. “He is a solid defender. I think we’ve got some of the best defenders in the league really, so for one of us to drop out, there are definitely adequate replacements to step in.
“Krystian Pearce - he’s been there, done it. He’s did it from an early age when he was representing England through all the age groups. He’s done amazing. He is solid, strong, but he’s really composed when he gets the ball as well.”
On full backs Hunt and Mal Benning, he added: “Hunty has been around the block for god knows how long. But you wouldn’t think it. He runs around like a youth, gets on it, drives us forward, and he’s got a lot of quality about his game.
“Mal lets his left foot do his speaking for him and he’s got an absolute engine with his lungs to back it up too.
“The whole squad is really together. It’s a really good environment to be in. Obviously we are going through a good spell and it’s when you go through bad spell when you see true character. But I have no doubt that in this group we’ve got it.
“The group, the way the manager has got the lads, it’s just a really good atmosphere to be around. Not in a way the lads get too comfortable and take things for granted. Everyone wants to succeed.”
Northampton fans were shocked and disappointed by Collins’ departure and he said: “It was very flattering. I still live down there and still bump into their fans every now and again and they tell me the same.
“I like to think they valued my time there. I definitely valued it. But this is a new chapter in my career and I am grabbing it with both hands.
“I sort of read the signs for the few months building up to the end of the season that I wasn’t going to get a new deal. I was playing week in week out but I knew something was missing and that I wasn’t going to get a deal.
“I had a few clubs interested. Obviously I thought about my family and moving. I have a four-year-old girl and she has lived in about five or six houses, so I took that into account.
“But the biggest thing was I came in and had a sit down with the manager for 45 minutes to an hour. We didn’t talk about money or anything like that. We just talked about his plans, what he expects from me, what he wants to do this year and it really excited me. That was the biggest call for me.”
Collins began his career at Wolves, but before he could play a first team game, was sent on loan spells to Hereford and Port Vale before a permanent move to Vale Park.
After 162 appearances for them, he had spells at Barnsley and Shrewsbury before settling at Northampton early in 2013.
“It’s had its ups and downs but I’d like to think I have had a solid enough career so far,” he said.
“The highlights have been getting promoted from League Two to League One, getting a move to the Championship and signing for Mansfield.”
While at Barnsley, Collins was in the same squad as Stags legend Bobby Hassell.
“I didn’t realise how much of a cult he was until I came here and we went up to Barnsley to do his testimonial,” said Collins.
“He is a lovely lad. He’s had an amazing career and all the best to him for what he does in the future.”
Hassell has now gone to play in India and Collins added: “That’s amazing. It’s a new chapter in his life. It just showed at the testimonial game. He’s paid his time here and there and it was nice for the fans to show their respect.
“It will take a long time to fill those shoes, but I will give it a go.
“I want to play as many games as possible. I want to win games. I want to get goals and I want to get promoted.”
Collins knows how tough tomorrow’s game will be.
“Plymouth are not up there by fluke,” he said. “They’ve really gone for it this year.
“Some of my mates played them a few weeks ago and said they were a really strong outfit. They couldn’t break them down very well and they counter quite well. We will have a game plan for them and we will have to execute it on Saturday.”
He said Stags were keen to bounce quickly back from the Luton defeat last weekend to return to the top seven in what is a very tight division so far.
“Especially second half, we really took it to them. They just got their goal and sat behind it for the rest of the game whereas we really went for it which we should have done in the half. We can move on and learn from it, but there was definitely a point there for us.
“It’s the same every year. You can have a little bad run and two wins on the bounce and you are straight back in the mix. There is nothing to worry about.
“We definitely don’t want to do back to back losses. But a couple of wins and you are right up there and it takes a few weeks for you to fall out.”