Two successive friendlies on Saturday treated Mansfield Town fans to a glimpse of almost every player in the squad for the forthcoming season.
A lunchtime 2-2 draw at neighbouring Clipstone was followed by a thrilling 4-3 win at Carlton Town at the end of the afternoon with many fans making the trek down the A60 to see both games.
Having been away for the Rainworth game, this was my first chance to see Adam Murray’s summer acquisitions and, while results are immaterial and players are still ring-rusty after only two weeks back, there was much to be impressed with.
Murray sent out a solid-looking XI at Clipstone for the noon kick-off, but the XI selected at Carlton had much more of a first choice side feel to it and those players are likely to be the ones the XI who took on Clipstone are fighting to take the shirts off.
Click HERE for Clipstone report
Click HERE for Carlton report
Click HERE for Adam Muray’s reaction
Torrential rain and a flooded lawn at home had me calling the club on the way to the Clipstone game to make sure it wouldn’t be a wasted journey.
I was assured the game was on and by the time we kicked off the rain had stopped, though water continued to drip down my neck for the entire game from the gap at the back of the stand.
With Jamie McGuire assured in a centre half role and Adam Chapman largely running the show from his deep midfield position, the Stags poured forward and squandered several early chances.
Instead, it was the home side who stole a ninth minute lead against the run of play, albeit with the goal of the game, as Martin Brissett got the better of Corbin Shires and judged a superb chip to perfection to give Scott Shearer no chance.
However, Stags were level on 34 minutes when Mitch Rose let fly with a fine low shot from almost 35 yards that beat keeper Steve Hernandez.
The visitors should have gone in ahead as Clipstone’s goal led a charmed life with Adi Yussuf, CJ Hamilton and Rose all going close.
Most impressive for me in that first half was new target man Pat Hoban.
By no means as tall and broad as Matt Rhead, he held the ball up well, made intelligent runs and was always neat and tidy, wasting little.
Doubtless Danny Rose will start the season alongside Matt Green if Adam Murray goes with two up front, but in Hoban Stags look to have a very viable Plan B on this brief, early evidence.
The only other new signing in action at Clipstone was winger CJ Hamilton who looked to have frightening pace but failed to put over telling crosses at the end of most of his bursts. But he has plenty of time yet to get his sights set better than this and worked hard for the team on the day.
Young defender Louis Danquah marked his first pro contract with a decent game at left back, eager to join in with the attack at every chance. And Murray fielded a young unnamed trialist at right back who improved as the half went on and also bombed on well.
Having missed earlier chances, an eager Yussuf finally got his goal on 57 minutes, shielding the ball before turning and burying a good finish inside the near post from 10 yards.
From then on we were treated to the inevitable succession of substitutions with Stags finishing up with mostly youth players.
In the end they were unable to hold out against the more experienced Cobras side as Reece Littlejohn got into the box on the right and blasted a low shot underneath the keeper from a tight angle eight minutes from time.
There was a cameo appearance from Stags’ new first team coach Karl Hawley up front. But he only had one sniff of goal as his first effort was blocked and his follow-up curled harmlessly to the keeper.
With no electric or wifi, there was then a panicked spell of trying to tether my laptop and get q report online via the world’s slowest internet connection.
I left Clipstone in bright sunshine and, despite the warnings, I still ended up 100 yards from Carlton’s ground, but the wrong side of a bus only section.
With kick-off 40 minutes away there was time to park up, avoid risking a ticket and race up the road on foot.
Despite a stiff breeze, the rain stayed away from Carlton, though looked like it might have earlier grown the grass a few inches longer than needed which didn’t help the game flow.
A beer, cider and sausage festival was in full swing pitch-side to help add to the atmosphere of the day out and it seemed rude not to sample the Cajun and Hemlock sausages.
Carlton’s ground is one of those rarities that has a press box behind the goal – never the best.
But it worked out well as Mansfield attacked our end in the first half and we were able to enjoy seeing five new signings in full flow towards us.
The game itself was a seven-goal treat with Stags taking the lead three times before the youngsters again began to give the first teamers a rest.
The kids even added to the tally as delighted young striker Jason Law rose to head home a Tom Marriott free kick before Carlton made it a tight finish when pulling one back on 77 minutes.
Matt Green put away two well-taken goals and looks very sharp for so early in the summer.
Busy midfielder Kevan Hurst also caught the eye with his link-up play, crosses and set pieces while Chris Clements was energetic and showed the occasional moments of brilliance we know he has in his locker.
At the back George Taft, in his first friendly outing, looked a giant of a defender and was composed and solid.
Fellow new boy Rhys Bennett was a constant menace coming forward from right back while left back Mal Benning made his mark with a fine low finish to get on the scoresheet.
Danny Rose looks a good foil for Green up front. Small, quick and nimble, he will work League Two defenders hard this season.
Ashley Hemmings showed some good touches but struggled to get into the game at times and we have much more to come from him.
Although only a friendly, Murray will be annoyed with lapses at the back from Krystian Pearce and keeper Brian Jensen, with a poor kick-out, that gifted Carlton goals.
I was equally annoyed that no wifi or electric meant a dash to find access to get the second report online!
But overall this was a fine day’s preparation work for the club and full day’s entertainment for the fans.
Maybe this double friendly day will become an annual event?