`

LOMAS ON STAGS: Biggest game in years looming for Mansfield

Stags manager, David Flitcroft.
Stags manager, David Flitcroft.

It is completely understandable that manager David Flitcroft wants to play down Saturday’s derby at Meadow Lane and protect his players from the hype of the build-up.

But one glance at the table shows there is no getting away from the game’s enormity.

Some supporters have already labelled the game the most important for the club since the win at Hereford and home win over Wrexham that same week that got Mansfield back in the Football League in 2013.

It is hard to argue with that to be honest.

For quite some time there has been a feeling that the third and final automatic promotion spot may end up being a straight contest between Notts County, Mansfield Town and Wycombe Wanderers.

With just 10 games to go now, that still looks the case.

County sit in that third spot with 65 points from 37 games.

Stags, in fifth, are three points adrift and a poorer goal difference by three, but with a game in hand.

A victory at Notts on Saturday would really open things up.

However, sandwiched between the local rivals are Wycombe who have played the same number of games as Mansfield but have a point more.

With Stags having already played the Chairboys home and away, they will have to hope they spill a point or two, which is almost inevitable, starting away at Barnet on Saturday.

But the next two weeks are make or break for Mansfield’s automatic promotion ambitions with a tough trip to in-form Forest Green after the Notts game followed by clashes with the top two – Accrington and Luton – over the very toughest of Easters.

Flitcroft is correct to say that, whatever the result at Meadow Lane, there is still a further 27 points to contest after that in the final nine games.

But with the top sides rarely slipping up, automatic promotion could soon be beyond Mansfield and leave them with only the play-offs to aim for if they don’t start winning games.

After three successive draws the Stags are only five points better off than the sides striving to replace them in that top seven so it couldn’t be much tighter.

The one thing no Stags fan wants to do is end the season pondering what might have been had Steve Evans not left the club with 12 games to go.

No matter what is said, the players were always bound to feel shellshocked and a bit surreal to suddenly have a new manager with different ideas at the helm at such a crucial time of the season.

They have come into the club, worked hard, and gelled superbly as a unit under Evans’ ideas only to be kicked in the teeth by their leader then walking out on them.

To take hold of the situation and keep them on track was always going to take a huge effort by Flitcroft.

He needs a win as soon as possible - and where better to achieve that maiden victory than in front of over 4,000 Stags fans away to their local rivals?

Whatever happens, Stags know they must try to avoid defeat at the very least.

But Flitcroft admitted this week that the time for caution was gone and, after letting a 1-0 lead slip for three successive games, he said his players must now take risks and go for killing off sides when on top.

It all adds up to a potential thriller and the table could look very different on Saturday night either way.