As the season canters towards it’s finish, with just five games remaining, it’s at this stage where the divisions for next term begin to take shape – with proud promotions and heart-breaking relegations happening.
When we host Notts County on Saturday at the One Call Stadium, it will be three whole years to the date that Matt Green latched onto Matt Rhead’s flick on, from Alan Marriott’s punt downfield, at Hereford and scored THAT goal which put the Conference title and promotion back in our own hands.
Three years on and the two teams battling for automatic promotion that term could not be more further apart – rivals Kidderminster have never really recovered and stare relegation from the Conference in the face, whilst we sit stable in League Two – in with a (long) shot of the play-offs, but more importantly in a great position to build next season and push on further.
I’d hate to imagine it being the other way around, or even contemplate what might have happened had... (A) Green’s shot not hit the net or (B) the original fixture at Hereford gone ahead as planned - and they say games in hand AREN’T vital!
It’s tough because at the minute there’s a lot of angst that our phenomenal start to this season has fizzled out and that, once the final curtain is drawn – on paper we’ve had just another average mid-table season.
Like all supporters up and down the land, we long for the thrill of promotion and beg to not be drawn into a relegation dog-fight.
No-doubt Saturday will be a good atmosphere as we play for bragging rights. I guess it’s also a good time for reflection, as without Green’s goal at Hereford, games against Notts County would only be possible in pre-season friendlies.
While we all remember the jubilant scenes of that epic night, does anyone remember that days earlier we could have saved ourselves the heartache of “needing a win”, but failed to do so as Braintree spoiled the party?
A win would have put Paul Cox’s Mansfield five points clear at the top with rivals Kidderminster kicking off later in the day.
Had we won and they lost we’d have been crowned champions on the motorway (if memory serves me correct, I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!)
The sun was shining at Braintree, despite the usual problems for press pre-match!
Matt Green, who else, gave us the perfect start in front of over 1,200 travelling fans – a third of the overall crowd.
Yet Mansfield looked nervous and crumbled in the second half. Braintree’s keeper kept everything at bay and our defence crumbled as the heavens opened.
Matt Payne levelled before Kane Sheppered put the hosts ahead and ended a great run that took us from no-hopers to the brink of something special.
I wouldn’t call it fortunate that we beat Hereford - it’s a history we can be proud of and one which, on the face of things, has set us up for another season in the Football League and a chance to try and progress further, which I honestly feel we’ll do.
Those few days of Braintree and then Hereford away, followed by the Wrexham game where Green’s penalty dotted the Is and crossed the Ts, were one hell of an emotional rollercoaster and certainly times I never wish to forget.
I look forward to making many more memories on Saturday as Notts County head home (hopefully) empty handed, let’s face it – it could have been oh so different!
Anyone for a derby-game at Alfreton followed by a trip to Woking?
No, me neither!