Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans said he was full of admiration for table-topping neighbours Notts County ahead of Saturday’s derby showdown at the One Call Stadium (1pm).
While Stags were seeing their six-game run halted by defeat at Cheltenham on Tuesday, the Magpies were reeling off their sixth straight wins at rivals Exeter and Evans admitted: “This is a real test – a real benchmark.
“This is the league leaders who have gone around the country turning win after win after win in the opening weeks.
“It doesn’t put any pressure on us. Nothing will be won or lost on Saturday.
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“If Notts come here, do a job, put on a performance and get a result, does it mean they are going to get promoted? I have seen a lot better teams further clear than this and not got over the line. It’s a long season.
“But, currently Notts deserve comfortably to be league leaders.”
Notts boss Kevin Nolan saw his side draw 0-0 with the Stags in his first game in charge last season and Evans said: “Congratulations to Kevin – what a job he has done.
“He has added selectively to the group, though he did inherit a good squad it has to be said. People forget the squad was put together the season before to be a promotion squad.
“They are the best team in the league – the table demonstrates that clearly. More importantly, from the research we do ahead of games, their performances are matching it as well.”
He added: “They may be local rivals but that doesn’t take away the respect we have for Kevin and his staff and some of the players on the pitch.
“They have some players I know well – Adam Collin in goal who made that penalty save for me that took my former club Rotherham into the Championship – and Rob Milson – who played a massive part in that season as well.”
County’s on-loan midfielder Jorge Grant has now scored eight goals already this season, but Evans said it would be wrong to concentrate his side’s efforts on stopping the Forest prospect.
“They have too many good players to concentrate on Jorge Grant,” he said.
“Jon Stead has always been a top class striker, who has played at the highest level. It doesn’t matter whether they play Alessandro or Forte, either one will complement him.
“They’ve got the boy Yates, who we tried to sign on one occasion, and Milson centrally.
“They are a good side with options all round the pitch. So it won’t be about one man.”
He continued: “You have two clubs here on Saturday who have not had the greatest seasons in recent times. But they’re top of the league and doing fantastically well.
“People are looking on this this almost as a promotion game which, so early in the season, is ridiculous. But isn’t it fantastic for Mansfield Town that we are talking about promotion?
“When I came here 10 months ago we were talking about survival so we’ve made a lot of progress – and there is a lot more progress to come.”
A win would have an extra special significance for Evans.
“It would be good for us to get three points on Saturday as it would absolutely mirror the 19 points for the same number of games I had when we were promoted at Rotherham,” he said.
“But this is a really tough challenge for us. They are a squad that has been assembled for well over a season.
“We are a squad that are two or three months old, though I know some people want to dismiss that.
“Those that do dismiss it really don’t know what they’re thinking about when it comes to putting a squad together and how long it takes.
“I repeat, whether we win on Saturday or not, we will be a much better team results-wise in the second half of the season.
“If we can bounce back into that play-off group on Saturday and put on a good performance to get three points we will be way ahead of schedule.”