Mansfield Town manager Paul Cox paid tribute to his side’s battling qualities and to super sub Matt Rhead after last night’s crucial 2-0 home win over promotion rivals Grimsby Town.
Despite good spells of possession and a string of half-chances, Grimsby were shot down by goals from Matt Rhead and Adam Chapman and denied at the other end by the safe hands of Alan Marriott as Stags sit second going into the last 10 games, on equal points with leaders Wrexham with a game in hand.
Cox said: “Tonight’s win took a bit of grit and determination. I don’t think we played particularly well in possession, but you must give credit to Grimsby, who are a very good side.
“You also have to give credit to Alan Marriott, who had a superb game.
“He pulled off a few good saves tonight. Alan has been a bit redundant of late, but tonight he showed what a good keeper he is.
“I though we looked like a cat caught in front of the headlights in the first half and, in front of a big, vocal crowd, we played the occasion and not the game.
“Our retention of the ball and passing were poor. We got into good positions but didn’t hurt the opposition like we have been doing.
“But our shape was good and we looked structured and hard to break down. I thought the desire and hunger was there and I was pleased how we applied ourselves.”
The game swung on the 56th minute substitution of Lee Stevenson, replaced by big Matt Rhead, who had broken the deadlock inside eight minutes of coming on.
“I decided to make the change after deciding it wasn’t a game for Lee Stevenson,” said Cox. “He wasn’t getting a lot of room in that little hole and we had sometimes tried to be a bit too intricate.
“The big man came on and changed the course of the game. He stopped the ball coming back and got his head in where it hurts. We played a bit more direct to him and not many people like handling him or competing with him.
“I said the whole squad would come into play – everyone will be needed. And you need someone like Matt Rhead. Every time he comes on he shows his heart for this football club and puts his health on the line – where he put his head for the goal was immense.”
On Chapman’s 20 yard blockbuster second goal, his fourth in four days, he added: “It was an excellent strike and I hope there are a few more in the locker.
“I have told him not to waste them all and we may need a few in the next 10 games. It is testament to what a good player he is.”
Although the whole town is now buzzing about Stags’ chances of automatic promotion, Cox was keen to play down the situation and keep feet firmly planted on the floor.
He said: “This was a good win, but it’s chip paper tomorrow. All we’ve done tonight was chalk another game off – that’s all we can do. We are not getting too above ourselves and we have another tough game on Friday. If we are still in a position to have a chance of going up near the end of the season then good, if not we just dust ourselves down and go again.”
Last night’s win also set a new club record for successive wins since the Stags first joined the Football League.
“That’s nice and I am well chuffed for the players,” said Cox. “They’ve worked ever so hard for each other. Tonight they didn’t play that well with the ball but worked extremely hard without it. They have earned all the plaudits that are coming their way.”
Even though Grimsby brought an army of 806 fans with them, the current run is finally starting to bring a few stay-away fans back with just under 3,000 home fans creating a cauldron of noise last night.
Cox said: “I say it time after time, this crowd have a massive part to play in where this club goes – and I don’t just mean into the Football League. When they get behind the team you can see the lads running for them.”