MATCH PREVIEW: Tough task as Stags try to edge nearer a Wembley final
Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans said his side were underdogs tomorrow when they face in-form Wycombe Wanderers at home in the quarter-final of the Checkatrade Trophy (7.45pm).
Wycombe are now 15 games unbeaten, stretching back to a defeat in this competition on 9th November, and firmly in the League Two play-off hunt in fifth.
But Stags know Wycombe will also have one eye on their big FA Cup fourth round tie at Tottenham on Saturday and Evans promised them a physical battle tomorrow with both sides just two games from a Wembley final.
“It’s a really tough game for us,” he said. “We are playing a team that’s higher up in League Two than us by some way.
“They are 15 games unbeaten, playing with real confidence, and have some excellent players.
“They have some players that people are trying to buy and Wycombe keep saying no. So that tells you the standards they’ve got are pretty high and our task is pretty tough.
“It probably tells you that Wycombe Wanderers will come to the One Call and start as favourites.
“But Cambridge United started as favourites on Saturday and we undid that.
“We are at home, but unusual for us for my teams at home, we will be the second favourites.”
Evans continued: “It is an important game for us and it’s an important game for Wycombe Wanderers. They have a big week and we have a big week.
“They have two cup ties. They’ve got ourselves and then they go to Tottenham, and the one thing the Wycombe Wanderers players will realise, and I can say it now before they get on the coach, is this game will be physical tomorrow night.
“We will see a direct style from Wycombe.
“But we will be strong and physical and if it ends up they (Wycombe players) can’t come through it and miss the Tottenham game then so be it. I am sure Gareth (boss Ainsworth) will have addressed his players, he is a good manager.
“I am looking forward to seeing him, he is a good friend of mine as are his family. It will be a good cup tie played by, I think, two good sides.”
Wanderers’ current run of success has hugely impressed Evans who said: “It is testament to Gareth Ainsworth. “Since he first got the job I have been mightily impressed with some of the work they’ve done.
“The chairman, of course, is a massive Leeds United fan and we helped them when I was manager of Leeds. We took a team down to Wycombe in the international break and I think they got a good crowd from it and some much needed revenue at the time.
“So there are excellent relationships behind the scenes.
“Any manager that can get his team to go 15 matches without defeat is doing lots more right than he is ever getting wrong.”
Both sides now have to get their team selections right with an eye on the weekend.
“Gareth will want to progress in the competition,” said Evans.
“He may have one or two he chooses not to use as can they do the intensity of tomorrow and then the intensity at White Hart Lane? I am not so sure they can. But that’s for him and I can only worry about the Stags.”
Mansfield will be without cup-tied quartet Joel Byrom, Ben Whiteman, Hayden White and Shaq Coulthirst and, having to field at least five of your starting XI from the weekend, will have limited options.
Evans said: “We are going to change personnel. Some are forced because the lads are cup tied and some won’t be forced, but we are going to make some changes.”
Ending Wycombe’s unbeaten run tomorrow is a tall order, but Stags ended Cambridge’s eight-game unbeaten run away from home with something to spare on Saturday so are going into this one full of confidence.
“To end Cambridge’s run, first and foremost, was very tough,” he said.
“We had to produce a really good performance and I think we were the better side in the second half.
“But there wasn’t a lot in it and it’s a team I still firmly believe will be in the play-offs at the end of the season.
“Wycombe Wanderers are another one I can see being in there. You don’t go 15 games unbeaten and have no prize at the end of it.
“Their prize has been in cup competitions so far as they’re still in this competition and still in the FA Cup with a magical draw.
“I am sure that the proceeds when they arrive next week from that draw will help Gareth Ainsworth and his chairman continue to stabilise the football club.
“It’s pleasing to see them doing so well. But, obviously we don’t want them to make any further progress in the Checkatrade Trophy tomorrow night.
“We can get ourselves in the draw for the semi-finals, but we have to earn that. No one is going to give us that. No one is going to give it Wycombe either.”
Stags put covers onto the pitch today with temperatures expected to hit zero or below tonight. But Evans insisted: “The game will be on. The pitch is perfect underneath.
“We trained next to the stadium today and, even without covers, that was fine.
“Those covers will make sure and the ground staff here are excellent. Looking at the forecast I have no doubt the game will be on.”
He added: “We need supporters to come out in good numbers tomorrow night.
“We know it’s a competition there is no great excitement in the early part of it. But when to get to the later stages of it, it’s important to the club and it’s important for the town.
“It’s then about what we do. If we can have a big performance tomorrow night we’ll be in the next round.”
Admission to the game is just £10 adults and £5 concessions.