A painful look back on the season just ended. . . .
A battling draw at newly-relegated Brentford in the opening day sunshine offered much promise and no clue as to the heartache to come.
A 4-1 midweek drubbing at League One Oldham Athletic followed in the Carling Cup as Stags were ripped apart by the awesome Craig Davies. But, with Oldham a league higher, no-one was too worried.
Lincoln then turned up at Field Mill for their customary good result as they won 3-1.
But the first real signs of what was to come appeared at newly-promoted Morecambe where a lacklustre Stags were outplayed and outfought as they crumbled 3-1, keeper Jason White making his first big error of the season with an own goal after only five minutes.
The Morecambe display was quickly wiped away with a comprehensive destruction of Stockport County, Stags romping into a 4-0 lead within 32 minutes before the Hatters pulled two back for a semblance of respectability. But Stags finished with 10 men after Lee Bell was red-carded.
Lee Bullock and Ian Holmes were added to the squad and Danny Reet and Rory Boulding sent out on loan.
No one cared about a 1-0 Johnstone Paints Trophy midweek home defeat by Rotherham, only 1,578 turning up to watch. Another 1-0 home defeat by Rotherham later in the season would have much more far-reaching consequences.
A Sunday trip to promotion favourites Peterborough United saw a decent first half display and Stags even level after 53 minutes, big John McAliskey netting one of his few goals for the club. But Mansfield were beaten 2-1 in the end at one of their bogey grounds.
Then the misery really started as Stags continued to lose the next five, making it seven on the bounce in a truly miserable month.
A goal direct from a corner after just three minutes put hated local arch-rivals Chesterfield on their way to a 3-1 success in an absolute cracker at Field Mill, Stephen Dawson's cracking eighth minute equaliser the only moment of cheer for home fans. And home skipper Jake Buxton was sent off for two yellow cards to compound the misery.
Off-field problems also saw the ground's capacity again reduced.
Another dreadful showing then saw Stags lose 1-0 at a very poor Accrington Stanley and then by the same score at home to an equally poor Dagenham and Redbridge - a result that dumped Stags firmly on the bottom of the table.
Mansfield hit back with a gutsy display at home to eventual champions, the physical MK Dons. But, with some abysmal decisions from referee Darren Drysdale (who was lucky chairman James Derry didn't get hold of him at the end), Stags were unfairly pipped 2-1.
If the players had shown the same energy and enthusiasm Mr Derry did by the tunnel at the final whistle all season they would still be a League club!
At this point it was announced that Mr Derry had sorted out a deal to buy the club and there was much celebrating. Sadly it proved premature as the deal fell apart time and time again.
A trip to Rotherham saw Stags charitably gift the cash-strapped Millers a 3-0 advantage before pulling back two late goals to make them twitch a little.
A decent display at Barnet saw Stags only come away with a point when they should have had three, Muggleton also saving a penalty.
But a win finally arrived on 20th October and it was at home to neighbours Notts County with Mickey Boulding grabbing both in a 2-0 success - a first clean sheet of the season for the injury-ravaged Stags.
There followed a decent 0-0 draw at Shrewsbury where Stags had to play for the second half with 10 men after John Mullins was red-carded for a second bookable offence. Also Matt Hamshaw was stretchered off in a neck brace and given oxygen after he was flattened from behind and his breathing passage became obstructed. Thankfully he recovered well in hospital.
Macclesfield Town were hammered 5-0 at the Mill on Bonfire weekend, the first four goals arriving inside the first 21 minutes with Simon Brown grabbing a hat-trick.
How Stags could have done with one of those goals when they travelled to Macclesfield at the busines end of the season. And how they could have done with another display like that from the hugely disappointing Brown who otherwise had a season to forget.
A midweek trip to classy Hereford saw the Bulls claim a 2-1 win but Stags were again unlucky with one of the home side’s goals being well offside.
It brought an end to Stags’ four-game unbeaten run - that proved to be their best run of the season. They also failed to win back to back wins all campaign.
Blue Square South outfit Lewes were comfortably dispatched 3-0 in the FA Cup first round, the Bouldings becoming the first brothers to score in a game for Stags since 1911.
But November ended on a low note as Mansfield turned in a lacklustre showing at Rochdale where they were lucky to only lose 1-0.
Mansfield were given a tricky Sunday afternoon trip to Harrogate Railway in FA Cup round two before the live Match of the Day cameras but, amid heavy rain, came through their examination 3-2, despite some late scares.
It was a first away win since 3rd March.
The pre-match talk centered on Stags refusing to help the non-League minnows pay for a temporary stand to seat more supporters.
And there was fury from fans when Keith Haslam finally decided not to sign the Derry consortium takeover. He appointed Stephen Booth as the new chief executive to broker a sale and insisted he was walking away, would have nothing more to do with the club and would not take another penny from it.
However, it was later revealed he had been given ‘severance pay’ and yet was back more than once before the season ended and continued to pull the strings.
Back in League action Bradford looked a decent side as they took a point in a lively 0-0 at Field Mill.
Mansfield then headed for Grimsby to take on their fellow strugglers. The Mariners won 1-0 and never looked back as they simply soared away from trouble. Frustrated skipper Buxton verbally lashed his team mates for their efforts afterwards.
Any hopes of Christmas cheer at Chesterfield were dashed by two Spireites goals inside 10 second half minutes to leave the 1,467 visiting fans miserable.
But Stags pulled off one of their results of the season on Boxing Day as they saw off high-flying Peterborough 2-0. Walking out of the ground all smiles, Stags fans could not in their wildest nightmares have expected the next 10 games at home to produce an abysmal nine defeats and a draw.
The first of those came on the following Saturday when Accrington won 2-1 and defender Martin McIntosh was sent off.
With injuries and suspensions, Dearden was desperately looking at the transfer market.
Hated ‘franchise’ club MK Dons looked a class apart at their plush stadium as they edged home 1-0 in second gear on New Year’s Day, though few of the cheering 9,583 ‘home’ crowd were from Wimbledon!
And Stags were left with a striker shortage as first Mickey Boulding and then his replacement John McAliskey pulled up injured inside 17 first half minutes.
Without an away win in 10 months, few gave Mansfield a prayer at League One Brighton in FA Cup round three. But amazingly the Stags pulled off a shock 2-1 success, Ian Holmes the match-winning hero.
Brighton fans, who know all too well about removing hated chairmen, joined the Mansfield fans in protesting against Keith Haslam.
But the Stags quickly went from heroes to zeroes when in midweek a simply dreadful display saw Mansfield really turned over for the first time all season as Wycombe gave them a finishing lesson with a 4-0 win.
If home form was dreadful, all of a sudden away form was soaring and Matt Hamshaw bagged a winner at Chester for Stags’ first away league points since the previous March.
The topsy turvy form continued as Darlington stole a 1-0 win at Field Mill and Premiership Middlesbrough also edged home 2-0 before the Match of the Day cameras as Stags gave the nation another good account of themselves.
That match will be largely remembered for former Stags boss Carlton Palmer using the BBC cameras to support good friend Keith Haslam against the home supporters’ campaign against their owner who controversially returned to the club to watch the game. The Beeb later apologised.
But Stags took the decent form they showed against Boro’s millionaires to Lincoln four days later and a thrilling last gasp Mickey Boulding goal earned a 2-1 win.
And Dearden drafted in young winger Will Atkinson from Hull and big non-League striker Jefferson Louis to strengthen his squad.
The crazy home and away results continued as Brentford stole a late 3-2 win at Field Mill, Louis scoring on his debut, before he did the same with a 90th minute goal at promotion hopefuls Wycombe in a 2-1 win.
A poor home showing allowed Morecambe a 2-1 win - a game that saw ‘Cigargate’ erupt as Haslam turned up again on his birthday and became embroiled in a row with stewards, Stephen Booth and James Derry about smoking indoors in public. Haslam later publically apologised.
But the players bounced back from the Morecambe debacle to shock another top side away, wining 2-1 at 10-man Darlington, coming from behind in the process. It was a fifth straight away win. However, Lee Bell’s season all but ended there with a bad knee injury.
Chester then became the seventh successive side to win at Field Mill with two late goals in a 3-1 success before the rot was finally halted with a home point against Bury, the Shakers grabbing a 1-1 draw with an 84th minute equaliser.
The month began with another last minute breakdown of a Derry deal to buy the club as the gloom intensified.
With games running out Stags knew they mustn’t lose at Wrexham - the only side below them - and left Wales with a 1-1 draw in a game they should have won, Boulding taking his season’s tally to 20.
Hopes were high with sucessive home games to come but they were shattered as Rochdale coasted to a 4-0 win at Field Mill, ending Billy Dearden’s reign as manager, and then Hereford edged a 1-0 win, despite a superb showing in Paul Holland’s first game as caretaker manager, Stags playing far more flowing football.
Ex-Stags Billy McEwan was expected to be named as the new manager.
However, Holland’s hopes of getting the job were boosted by winning 2-1 at Bradford but still the home win wouldn’t come as Grimsby won 2-1.
Easter Monday saw a lacklustre Stags easily beaten 2-0 at Bury but an ultra-positive Holland was still given the job until the end of the season.
To be fair, he made a pretty good fist of it thereafter, that Bury performance being by far the worst.
March ended with a tense 0-0 draw at neighbours and relegation rivals Notts County.
A public appeal was made by James Derry for more backers to help buy the club and up popped a certain Mr John Batchelor!
Batchelor immediately caused a huge furore at Field Mill when he revealed he wanted to go it alone and quit the consortium and then told the nation he would rename Mansfield Harchester United after the fictional Sky TV Dream Team. The long suffering fans did not know whether to laugh or cry.
A broken Derry resigned as chairman after his third takeover bid failed and Mayor Tony Egginton replaced him.
On the field April began the same as March with a crucial clash with Wrexham. This time the Stags finally produced a home win as ice cool finishes by John Mullins and Louis cemented the Dragons’ position at the bottom.
There followed a result that ultimately proved so costly. Stags coasted into a 2-0 lead against visiting Barnet before the Bees hit back with ex-Stags Adam Birchall finally levelling for a very telling point.
Both sides scored own goals in a not unexpected 2-1 midweek defeat at in-form Stockport where Buxton was again dismissed.
More precious points slipped away at a poor Macclesfield Town where Mansfield simply could not muster a goal in a nailbiting 0-0 stalemate.
With only three games left, the club were billing their situation as ‘The Great Escape’.
And they pulled off the first leg in style with a Mickey Boulding hat-trick shooting down visiting Shrewsbury 3-1, despite going behind after only two minutes when Jason White faied to keep out a deflected shot.
The gap was now down to a single point and, with other sides having a tougher run-in, Stags were almost favourites to stay up.
But, on a day that will be forever remembered at Field Mill, the carpet was pulled from under them in spectacular style as Rotherham won 1-0 with a freak goal from over 40 yards that left White red-faced and fans ashen-faced.
It came 19 minutes from time by sub Jamie Yates as other scores began to go against them and the final whistle saw tempers boil over in the West Stand, with fans’ fists flying and owner Keith Haslam attacked.
Stags were left relying on Stockport to win at Chester in midweek to keep the fight going until the last day of the season.
But Chester grabbed the point they needed and by 10pm on Tuesday, 29th April 2008, Stags’ 77-year League tenure was over.
With over 1,000 away fans behind the goal, Mansfield’s final game at Dagenham and Redbridge was, not surprisingly, a damp squib as a deflated Stags were defeated 2-0 by a home side in party mood after only just avoiding the drop themselves.
Stags skipper Buxton saw his season end early with his third red card of a traumatic campaign.
Was that red card his Stags’ farewell?
The season ended with massive uncertainties over the club’s future with takeover talks rumbling on and manager and players’ futures up in the air.
Immaculate defender John Mullins just pipped 25-goal hero Mickey Boulding to the Chad Readers’ Player of the Year.
But both are likely to be part of a mass exodus of players in what probably be the biggest summer turnover of players ever seen at Field Mill.
Tearful fans now await their first Blue Square Premier League fixture list with trepidation.