Mansfield Town may feel they are underdogs when Oldham Athletic visit in Saturday’s FA Cup first round tie, but some bookies have them down as favourites to beat the League One strugglers.
Stags sit sixth in League Two and host a visit from an injury-hit Latics who have only won once at home and once away in all competitions all season, sitting 19th, just a point above the drop zone.
Former England midfielder David Dunn has just been appointed manager after a spell as caretaker since Darren Kelly was sacked in September and Stags boss Adam Murray said “They’ve got a new manager and we have watched the games and they are a very good side - probably under-achieving at the minute.
“They want to play football, so it should be a good game on Saturday.
“My players have worked really hard this week. We have the GPS stuff up and running now and the data from the sessions this week has been high. It’s been a great week. We have refocused. We’ve had a few team meetings.
“We worked all day Monday and Tuesday and it’s been good to have a recap on where we are are at, what we need to do better, what we are doing really well and we go into a game on Saturday that will be a great challenge.”
Murray knows if his side are to progress, they will need to improve their frustrating home form where teams are coming to defend and the Stags have only won twice and have lost the last two.
Murray said: “A person with a football brain will see the type of games we are having at home.
“When you are away from home, teams have to try to beat you. Away from home they will settle for a point. I spoke to someone from our opponents (Wycombe) on Saturday and their set-up was to get a draw.
“They worked on our threats all week – and you’ve seen that. We’ve got to be better with our end product at home as teams are going to come and try to shut up shop against us.
“We are facing a different problem at home. Away from home teams have to come out at you which leaves them vulnerable. At home now we’ve go to re-invent little bits to make sure that when teams want to come and defend against us we know how to break them down and that’s the problem we are facing.
“Portsmouth’s home form is exactly the same as teams go there and think they have just got to defend.
“To be in that position here after 16 games I am proud of that. It is frustrating at times as you look at the game on Saturday – 74 per cent possession and 13 shots on target and we’ve lost. You have to take that as a learning curve and find out if we come up against that again what do we do?
“I look at that as a positive and the football club should. These teams are looking at us in that manner now after just 16 games.
“The way football is going at the minute, a lot of teams play on the counter-attack. Plymouth are top of the league, they play with a holding midfielder and one striker. Say that to Joe Bloggs in the street and he will say that’s defensive.
“But a lot of teams are very defensively-structured, playing on the counter-attack with a lot of pace, especially away from home. It doesn’t matter what division you are in, when you’re away from home you do set up differently.
“Oldham are a division higher than us and a team that likes to play football so I don’t envisage they will come and play with eight at the back. But they are away from home.”
He added: “I hope it’s going to be a good football game but we are going to have to be on our guard from their threats as well. They’ve got some big players and we need to make sure defensively we are solid. At the same time we are not going to sit back or set up to defend. We are going to attack and I think at home you’ve seen we do play with numbers forward. At times it can leave you vulnerable.
“We try to play on the front foot at home and sometimes the need to score straight away leaves you a little bit isolated defensively. We have conceded a couple of early goals at home, not through bad defending but probably through a lack of patience of needing to score quickly. We have go to get that balance right and it’s all part of the learning curve.
“But I am enjoying the journey so far. It’s throwing up challenges that are positive. I had the opposite last year where it was throwing up challenges that were life or death challenges.”
Murray relishes the atmosphere of the FA Cup.
“It’s a different feeling,” he said. “Last year it was my second game against Concord.
“With the previous cup games this season, because our focus was on the league, we’ve tweaked a few things and looked at a few things.
“But the FA Cup, as a player you want to play in it. You go home on a Saturday and it’s not Match of the Day that you watch but the FA Cup highlights and it was always something special.
“It’s the same now as a manager. The build-up has a different feeling about it. There is obviously not the intensity of pressure having to get the three points and stay in that successful zone we want to stay in all season, but there is a new challenge that we want to go and express ourselves against a better team.
“We have worked on a few things this week that I think will make us a better team at home and we will be putting them into place. Knowing this group, when we work on certain things they carry it out so I am looking forward to Saturday.”
In central midfield Oldham have Liam Kelly suspended, Mike Jones currently injured and on-loan youngster Jay Fulton understood to be ineligible to play, so boss Dunn is hoping he won’t be forced to don his boots again.
However, the Latics are expected to give a first start to former Stoke striker Ricardo Fuller, who has made two substitute appearances after signing a three-month deal.
Stags will be without centre half Krystian Pearce as he completes a four-game ban. They are also waiting on clearance from Notts County to say if on-loan left back Blair Adams can figure.
The game is also something of a revenge mission for Mansfield as, after a fine 1-1 draw at Boundary Park, Oldham knocked them out of the FA Cup with a 4-1 replay win at Mansfield in 2-13/14 to deny Stags a second tie with Liverpool in as many seasons.
Last season Stags lost in a home replay to Cambridge having knocked out non-League Concord Rangers, also in a replay, in round one.
Neighbours Chesterfield and Notts County both face similar banana skins to the Concord one when they travel to FC United of Manchester and Salford City respectively.
“Managers will be going into those games with a bit of a grimace on their face as they are tough games, especially with those two clubs as they’re not bad clubs,” said Murray.
“It’s not as if you’re going to turn up and walk over them. I think our game is a bit different as we will be underdogs.
“Oldham will come here and expect to beat us. It gives us a challenge to show people how far we’ve come. It’s a good tie for us. We know it will be a challenge but there is no reason why we can’t go and beat them.”