LOMAS ON MANSFIELD TOWN: Strap yourselves in for a thrilling December!

Mansfield Town v Bury.'Bury go ahead in the first half.
Mansfield Town v Bury.'Bury go ahead in the first half.

After a 10-day break suddenly we find ourselves in December and the real business part of the season.

With games coming thick and fast between now and the New Year plus the all-important transfer window, seasons and dreams can be made or broken in that time.

After rust had clearly begun to form on the players during the lay-off we can all be thankful for last night’s Checkatrade Trophy clash with Bury which gave Stags a chance to sharpen up as well as a kick up the backside in a poor 1-0 defeat, which would also eliminate any complacency ahead of their dramatic return to League Two action on Saturday against local rivals Notts County.

A glance at the table for any neutral would suggest a home win is on the cards, but football – and local derby games in particular – are never that straightforward.

With that torturous run of midweek games over, Stags can then prepare for a trip down to Forest Green the following Saturday where an excellent start to the season has seen them tail away with three defeats in their four November League Two games, which has left them sat a single point outside the play-offs.

Stevenage provide the pre-Christmas Saturday opposition, again away from home, and they sit only a point behind Mansfield.

Anything from those two trips will be a bonus ahead of Festive home fixtures against David Flitcroft’s two former clubs - Bury and Swindon Town – before a bracing but tasty New Year’s Day’s trip to Grimsby Town.

Saturday’s visit of Notts certainly has extra spice with it being the first game in charge for new boss Neil Ardley.

Not only did County rush in much too quickly to get rid of Kevin Nolan, they then rushed in too quickly again to appoint the unproven Harry Kewell and saw him come up short.

But Ardley is a man who has seen it and done it at this level and looks a shrewd choice for their third manager of a miserable season.

At AFC Wimbledon he took over a similar struggling outfit, saved them from the drop and revamped them before motivating them to soar up the table to snatch a completely unlikely promotion.

They won seven of their last 10 to make the play-offs and beat Plymouth in the final.

Ardley had done a fantastic job and fulfilled his brief and more.

But, what is still a tiny club, not surprisingly, then struggled at League One level, only staying up last season in their penultimate game, and this year losing 12 of their first 17 games, costing Ardley his job.

However, he left the Dons knowing he has probably taken them as far as they are likely to go.

At Notts he knows the potential is so much greater for a club with such history and that once graced the top flight.

It has been dark days for the Magpies, but Stags know his arrival will lift everyone at Meadow Lane in time for derby day.

Stags fans watched Notts splashing the cash in the summer and players like Krystian Dennis, Kane Hemmings, David Vaughan, Enzio Boldewijn joining them with a certain amount of envy.

But it is now County’s fans who will be looking at Mansfield Town with envy as Stags sit pretty in the top six with Flitcroft’s additions looking excellent value.

County have suffered with injuries, there is no denying that.

But the 41 goals they have conceded – the worst in the divisions – compared with the 14 conceded by Stags underlines the main difference between the sides.

Plugging the defensive holes will be Ardley’s first major task along with hoping his injury problems improve. But he can do nothing major until the window opens.

So Stags need to get at Notts on the front foot on Saturday and make sure they are kicking their neighbours while they are down and not allowing them any encouragement.

A fifth home win in a row against the Magpies would be a nice early Christmas present for the Mansfield faithful.

Rampant Stags have scored 13 goals in those last four home wins too.

If the home defence can play anything like it has been doing, I can see some very miserable Magpies heading home on Saturday and a very full notebook for Neil Ardley.