Craig Priest’s Mansfield Town column: Nick Townsend is the right choice to replace Alan Marriott

A. Trailist 'keeper!! -Pic by: Richard Parkes
A. Trailist 'keeper!! -Pic by: Richard Parkes

The postponement of Saturday’s match with Birmingham City was not only bizarre, but also highly frustrating, not only for us supporters but for Paul Cox and his management team as the quest to replace the much loved Alan Marriott continues.

You can watch keepers all day long in training. This assessment counts for little though as it’s game time assessment that really matters.

I’m sure Cox will be looking to arrange a behind closed doors match to make up for the loss of the Birmingham game, but as each day passes, the new season draws closer – if we’re to start well, we need our back four to feel settled with a regular shot-stopper behind them.

This also works in the same respect for the keeper too, it’s obvious now that an experienced Football League keeper is pretty much out of the question – our target is young keepers on a minimum of a six month loan deal.

This has it’s pros and cons but they are pretty much irrelevant, all that matters is we give them a degree of stability that can then be passed on to our defence and through the spine of our side.

The two we have looked at so far are good choices, Nottingham Forest’s Bulgarian youngster Dimitar Evtimov and Birmingham City’s Nick Townsend, if I were Paul Cox I’d have one more game (Tomorrow’s encounter with Leeds United) to look at one more keeper, rumoured to be an unnamed swiss keeper, before settling on one and letting them spend the remainder of pre-season becoming accustomed to life as Mansfield Town’s number one.

Evtimov had little to do against Notts County but what he did, he did well, whilst Townsend had much more to do against Aston Villa and to be fair, put in an impressive display despite conceding three goals.

It would perhaps be unfair to compare the two based on one game each, especially when the games in question were so different in terms of the style of play and opposition.

At some stage though, Cox is going to need to make that choice – if I were in his shoes, at the moment on balance, I’d opt for Townsend. I felt he came across as a confident keeper who wasn’t afraid to make decisions or recover from errors easily.

His shot-stopping was top notch and, particularly in the second half against Villa, kept the scoreline respectable, his handling too seemed comfortable.

Neither Townsend or Evtimov have got Football League experience, Townsend has spent a month on loan at Lincoln and departed with nothing but positive feedback, but it will be very much a case of throwing them in at the deep end and hoping they can swim!

Another name rumoured to be in the frame is Sheffield United’s George Long. Long is another young keeper, aged twenty, but has much more Football League experience than the other two names that we know of.

This raises two questions, would Sheffield United be willing to loan him out on the cheap and if so, would he be allowed to play in the Capital One cup tie, if not – who do we have in reserve?

Moving away from keepers now and onto the several other A.Trialist’s that have appeared in Stags colours this past week or so, I think one-two more games looking at them is enough before we get a settled starting eleven in place.

None have been officially named but, as with the keepers, rumours and research suggests that on trial at the moment we have Rob Taylor (formerly of Port Vale), Shaun Harrad (last known to be on the books of Alfreton) and Sam Togwell (a former in-mate of Chesterfield FC).

The later didn’t appear against Aston Villa which could suggest the end of that particular line of enquiry, whilst Harrad has made substitute appearances against Notts County and Aston Villa and Taylor has started in both matches.

Harrad for me doesn’t offer us too much, we have Liam Hearn still to come in the next few weeks and have Ollie Palmer, Matt Rhead and the impressive Alex Fisher as well. Taylor on the other hand, is a player I’d be squeezing the budget just enough to sign.

He’s looked quite handy at both right wing-back (Notts County first half) and left wing-back (Aston Villa first-half), he looks strong in the tackle, has some pace about him and can deliver a mean set-play – these are valuable assets when you’re running with a smaller squad.

Whatever the case, the games keep coming thick and fast – the dawn of the new season is not far away now, let’s hope it’s not a case of jeepers keepers ahead of the season’s opener and us supporters, can approach it without the need of panic – who can forget two days before our season’s opener in the conference when Billy McEwan only had around six players signed!

Only in the life of a Mansfield Town supporter I guess!