CHOPPING and changing managers after a string of poor results does not always guarentee success in football. Sometimes sticking with what you know is the best recipe for long term success.
And for Mansfield Town, that was certainly the case during the 1991-92 season as the club got their reward for refusing to sack manager George Foster following relegation at the end of the 1990-91 season.
With just one game left of the 1991/92 season, Mansfield Town were one place below an automatic promotion spot and needed results to go in their favour if they were to achieve their season-long dream of automatic promotion.
George Foster’s men had to beat Rochdale, who themselves needed to win to sneak into the last play-off spot, at Field Mill and hope that either Rotherham or Blackpool slipped to defeat to secure a return to Division Two at the first attempt.
And for iconic striker Phil Stant, who was signed that summer from Fulham, keeping the club on a stable footing was the key to securing their place back in Division Two.
“We knew we had a good squad and that we could score a lot of goals,” he said. “We had a good squad but also a stable squad and George did not make many changes that season.
“I think that this is the best way to go in football and the way to breed success. We already had the nucleus of a good squad following the relegation of the previous year. I was added to the team and the fans just took to me straight away, which really helped me settle in at the club.
“The fans were great that season and really helped us at Field Mill.
“It would have been easy for the club to sack George the season before, but they stuck with him and the rewards were there for all to see.”
In front of 5,671, the Stags started nervously with the visitors doing most of the pressing in the early stages.
But Stags always looked dangerous on their brief attacking forrays and Stant could well have fired Mansfield into the lead after just six minutes when Alan Reeves almost played his keeper into trouble with a misjudged back-pass, but the ball ran away from the eager Stags striker.
Three minutes later Jason Pearcey was called into serious action for the first time when Payne capitalised as Cliff Carr slipped. The ball was then fed to former Mansfield Town midfielder John Ryan who saw his effort stopped as Pearcey went down bravely at the feet of Ryan.
The visitors continued to press for the goal they so badly needed and nearly broke the deadlock on 25 minutes when Reeves rose well to power in a header from a Paul Butler corner which was expertly cleared off the line by Ford.
But despite not being able to make the breakthrough in a tense first half, the expectant crowd was buoyed by news from Lincoln that Blackpool were losing 1-0, thanks to a penalty from Matt Carmichael.
If Stags could hit the front the promotion dream really would be turned into reality.
And three minutes after the break that dream began to turn into reality after excellent work down the right flank between Stant and Ford
Stant, who was named Chad player of the season, tried to hook home a cross from Gary Ford. It was denied on the line by Milner and the ball ran to Ian Stringfellow, who drilled home from close range to send the Field Mill faithful wild.
The Lancastrians did their best to keep their own hopes alive and nearly levelled the contest on 69 minutes when Ryan sprung the offside trap with a perfectly-time run.
But Carr somehow got back and superbly tackled Ryan to turn the ball back safely to Pearcey in the Mansfield goal.
Perhaps there was no better man to confirm Mansfield’s victory and subsequent promotion than hero striker Phil Stant.
The magic marksmen beat the offside trap on 73 minutes to reach Ford’s chipped through ball and, after steadying himself, he picked his spot and safely tucked the ball home to make it 2-0 and ease some of the tension around the ground.
However, Rochdale pulled a consolation goal back in the last minute when Payne fired home from 20 yards after Fairclough failed to clear his lines. But it was too little too late for Rochdale, who were left with the task of having to beat champions Burnley to deny Barnet the last play-off place.
All eyes and ears then turned to Sincil Bank as fans across the ground tuned in to radio commentary as the crowd waited anxiously for Mansfield’s promotion to be confirmed.
The afternoon took another dramatic turn when the Blackpool fans invaded the pitch after rumours had falsely circulated that Rochdale had equalised, before the game was finally re-started.
And once the final whistle sounded at Sincil Bank, the biggest roar of the day rang out loud around Field Mill as Mansfield’s fantastic season finally ended in promotion..
The memorable result vindicated George Foster’s brave prediction that Stags would not need to go through the agony of the play-offs before clinching promotion - a belief he stuck by right to the very end as the automatic promotion dream appeared to be dying.
It is a day that still occupies a fond place in the memory of Stant, who said: “We knew that we just had to take care of our result and then hope that the rest would follow. It was a very nervous wait as we waited for the Blackpool result to come in, then there was a tremendous sense of relief when we knew that we were promoted.
“The celebrations that day marked the end of a long season, and a season where we had lots of ups and downs.
“I scored a lot of goals that season, but it was a team game and we all worked hard to get our rewards. You do not forget any success in football and that was one of the best days in my Mansfield Town career. I remember going into town that night and the whole place was buzzing. It’s a shame to see the club out of the Football League and I hope they can bounce back to where they belong.”
For BBC Radio Nottingham pundit and lifelong Stags fan Martin Shaw, the long wait for promotion to be confimed is something he still remembers well.
He said: “There was an excellent atmosphere that day. I remember it being very nervous towards the end of the game when Rochdale pulled a goal back. and when we were waiting for the Blackpool result to come in.
“It seemed like we were waiting for the result from Lincoln for a very long time. Lincoln had been in very good form that season at home and I was confident that they would beat Blackpool, but I was worried the game would be abandoned following the pitch invasion.
“It was really surreal to be waiting for the result as we were but thankfully it all turned out right.
“I think it was really fitting that Phil Stant scored the decisive goal. It was his season that year and he was one of the few players who were still cheered when they returned to Field Mill to play against Mansfield. The Rochdale match is in my top five all time days being a Mansfield Town fan it was that special.”
MANSFIELD TOWN: Pearcey, Carr, Charles, Noteman, Fee. Gray, Ford, Holland, Stant, Stringfellow, Fairclough. Subs: Wilkinson, Clark.
MATCH: Mansfield Town 2 Rochdale 1.
VENUE: Field Mill, 2nd May 1992.