After the 3-0 hiding at Cheltenham Town and then watching the Robins’ 4-1 win at Colchester two weeks ago, Mansfield Town manager Steve Evans is under no illusions how hard Saturday’s visit of Cheltenham will be.
Stags have lost only once in 14 League Two games but were well beaten at Whaddon Road earlier in the season and have failed to beat Cheltenham in any of their last six meetings.
“I have to say Cheltenham were excellent down there,” said Evans.
“In my opinion Gary (boss, Johnson) does a wonderful job.
“He was ill for a while but has got himself back to good health and the wee man is in the trenches with his hat on and he’s fighting. We have a really good relationship away from 3-5pm. We are both very committed.
“They have very good players in their squad and one or two who may go higher in the transfer window if they’re subject to offers, though it’s nice to see the Cheltenham chairman say in the press this week they’re not looking to sell anyone.
“They are in good position financially which is credit to the wonderful job the chairman’s done there. I think he took over in quite difficult circumstances.
“I think Gary has embraced it and it’s almost become a Gary Johnson club now. It will be tough for us.”
Evans added: “This is a team that in their last away game won 4-1 away at Colchester and it could have been seven or eight.
“When Cheltenham play like that they are formidable to play against.”
Johnson has picked up a Cheltenham side threatened by a return to the Conference and given them stability.
“The ship was three quarters of the way under the water and the chairman called for someone who was very experienced. I have nothing but praise for Gary,” said Evans.
“Look at the job he did at Bristol City, which is now being followed up by his son Lee – it’s an amazing family story.
“Gary has that motivational ability to get the best from players and he is doing that. They have blossomed under him.
“Even on the roads now they are starting to have the type of performances and results that make you say the hard work that Gary and his staff are putting in is coming to fruition.”
Evans still has nightmares about the game at Cheltenham, but said sometimes you just have to take your hat off to your opponents.
He said: “They looked like Real Madrid when we played them – and we looked like The Ruddy Duck! Sometimes, that’s because the home team were so good.
“They had some real cohesion and tenacity. It could have been more – we got away lightly, given our performance.
“We have to say on the night we didn’t play well. But sometimes you have to come away a day or two later and say that Cheltenham were very good.
“They passed it, they moved it around, were strong, and they took their chances when they came, which was important. And they got the important decisions.
“All we can hope, whoever the referee is on Saturday, is that he has a good game for both teams, not just for Mansfield Town.
“This is an opportunity for us to stay in that top group, and we have to grab these opportunities when they come as football seasons fly by.”
Stags will take many positives from their display over two games with Championship Cardiff City in the FA Cup, finally bowing out in Tuesday’s replay.
“It was always going to be difficult but I thought we matched them for much of it and I was proud of the players,” he said.
“It wasn’t to be and we have to learn from it.”