Winter break could be a blessing in disguise for Mansfield Town

Mother Nature and Jack Frost may have had the laughs over the past two weeks, seeing three of our games postponed however something in my mind is telling me that this year, a back log of fixtures will be a help to our season, rather than a hindrance, writes Craig Priest.

Every year there seems to be a couple of weeks break and most years with our wafer thin squads, we haven’t really dealt with the pressure of a fast paced fixture list. Avoiding the arguments of what can be done to rectify the weather enforced breaks; I look at our scenario this season compared with our situation a year ago.

Whilst going well in the FA Trophy, our league form seemed to be chugging along with hope of reaching the play-off’s fading away with the evening sun. The big freeze which arrived November to December time, saw us play just two games, our FA Trophy first round fixture and a thumping 5-1 victory away at Cambridge.

The fixture back log, brought on by trophy commitments and more adverse weather saw us having to play 19 matches during our final two months, including a mammoth four home games in seven days during April. We we’re often left short non more so then when we headed to league leaders Crawley Town at the end of a busy March when Duncan Russell was only able to name three substitutes, Alan Marriott, Steve Foster and Mark Preece respectively.

Do I think the epic backlog contributed to the Wembley loss? Possibly, but in my heart I know a cup final is an adrenaline driven fixture and that weather you’ve played 10 games or 100 the previous month, cup final magic will always get you through. If anything we could have possibly done without two ‘big freezes’ and league/cup rulings interfering with who could play in the cup final, however there’s the difference – last season’s run in and cup final was always a gamble, this season it’s about chasing the big dream, promotion back to the football league.

This year I feel we are more equipped to deal with a sprint finish, so far its 13 fixtures over the final two months with eight crammed into March. However with other team’s potential cup commitments and the aforementioned deadly duo’s freezing weather plans, it could become much more hectic. Obviously getting promotion requires the right personnel and as I’ve said in many of my previous posts, that personnel is within our dressing room. The run in and getting promotion requires a little more – strong mindset.

It’s so easy when there’s a busy schedule to become fatigued and allow your mind to tell you to give up – that may have happened to a few of our players last season, especially when they arrived in Hayes! A fair percentage of our lads this season have points to prove and some may have to fight that ‘give up’ voice at some point, but as a unit I think this current bunch of Staggies, can get each other through – and if any need guidance from the top, I think Paul Cox is more than capable of delivering the goods, he is a very clever manager and the months ahead will prove it.

At the minute we are on good form and despite the break, I am confident our fortune will continue to be good. Games coming thick and fast when you’re on a good run of form is a good thing, you forget about league positions and analysing the teams around and begin to start enjoying the game more.

Soon the pace of the games arriving picks up, and with the winning, the points tally ticks over at a healthy speed, before you know it, it’s good bye mid-table obscurity and hello play-offs.

Only one thing threatens to buckle our smooth ride, the imminent departure of John Dempster. The Crawley loan man plays his final game for us against Darlington on Tuesday night before heading back to Steve Evans men on Wednesday, we’ve said it time and time again – he will be one hell of a loss, which we have to manage with minimum fuss.

Hopefully a replacement will have arrived before Tuesday allowing him to watch how the lads play and get a feel for the club, I have full faith in the gaffer the replacement will fill the massive void left by Dempster.

One final thing to say about the run in is of course fitness, Cox and Moore will be running the lads hard and making sure they’re ready, we have some good quality waiting in reserve, discounting the players who started against Ebbsfleet and the boys out on loan, we have 12 players (11 outfield) waiting in the wings for their chance, all of whom will no doubt be getting valuable minutes under their belts for our new look reserve team in the friendly fixtures arranged,

That’s it for this week; bring on Saturday’s trip to Newport, finally a game to watch and hopefully, another step, in the right direction.