Paul Cox will use Mansfield Town’s last two games to finalise his thoughts on his retained list and begin sitting down with players to discuss their futures next week.
Cox was upset over the lacklustre display in Monday’s 2-0 home defeat by Cheltenham and admits some of the players have come as far as they will be going with the club.
He also said he believed next season would be much tougher in League Two than the current campaign.
Cox said: “We have set such high standards here throughout the club and I just thought that wasn’t us on Monday. A lot of people paid a lot of hard-earned money to come and watch that and the least they deserved was for us to work hard.
“We let ourselves down in what would have been a very good game to win. I believe it was solely down to mindset. I am looking for a massive improvement this Saturday against Torquay.
“I do not like losing and I will always keep raising the bar higher.
“I think the season has been immense. It’s been a great season back in League Two. But you can never stand still in this game. You always have to look to improve.
“There will be some players here who throw in the towel, some who think they have achieved something and some who lose the hunger. There will be a million and one personal traits out there.
“But I am more hungry now than I have ever been in my career.
“I knew this season we would be up against some massive clubs with good managers and good players and we have had to bite and scratch for everything we have got.”
He added: “If you look at the bigger picture and we finish in the top 10, if someone had said that before the season started I know you would absolutely have torn their hand off.
“But If we do finish mid-table to top 10, it’s for a reason. Maybe I am being hard on myself but I never want to celebrate mediocrity.
“We are nowhere near where I want to be. If anyone wants to look back and admire what we have done the last three years then so be it. But I am looking at the next three years.
“I won’t set any silly targets for next season. I have got to sit down with the chairman and board and have a look at where the club wants to go.”
Cox knows it is not going to get any easier and added: “I believe next season will be even tougher than this one.
“The four clubs coming down will all be big clubs and a number of the clubs from this year will improve their resources, squad size and quality.
“So we have to raise the bar. I will be working extremely hard this summer and the players will too. We know what went wrong and where we have improved. I hope we can carry on this journey.
“I have not spoken to one player yet. I will probably get this Saturday out of the way and have a chat with my staff.
“I need to sit down with the chairman and see roughly where we are.
“I have been speaking to people throughout the season and have highlighted players that tick boxes.
“It will be down to players available, costings and the desire to improve.
“But I do owe it to my current players to sit down and have a chat whether it is good news or bad news.
“It was just about being professional and I will make honest, professional decisions on players that I feel I am not going to go forwards with.
“I have a lot of honest players here and it’s going to be tough with some of them as I believe some have run through a brick wall for this club. I have got to make some horrible decisions.
“Some I already have in my head, some are still 50-50. For those we have two games left for them to prove they still want to be here and carry on the journey.
“Sometimes honesty is a stark reminder about what’s happening but I would rather do that than shield things up.
“We have still got two League games to go and, whatever is said, players are still being paid to play and win football matches. It is the same as when people have to work two weeks in hand.”
Of the ‘tougher’ League Two that will lie ahead next season, Cox said he was particularly looking forward to locking horns once more with old Conference rivals Luton Town, who have just claimed the Stags’ championship trophy.
“Luton are a massive club and I would like to congratulate them on getting out of the Conference because it is a hard task to get out of it,” he said.
“There are a lot of big clubs in there. Knowing Luton as I do they won’t want to stop now and they will want to strengthen and go again.
“It is nice to have the rivalry with them. It is nice going own there as it is usually a hostile environment – but a good one – with a noisy atmosphere to play in.
“They will be two good games and I am looking forward to them.”