OPINION: Fine margins for Mansfield Town in the tightest of divisions
Is your Stags glass half full or half empty? League Two this season is turning into one of the tightest for many years with just six points separating second-from-bottom Exeter and sixth-placed Crewe.
Had Mansfield Town won at Portsmouth on Saturday they would have been in that sixth place. Instead, the disastrous last 33 minutes saw a promising week come to a juddering end as they slipped to 18th place after only their second away defeat.
The 4-0 reverse might look to anyone who was not at the game that the Stags were well beaten. In fact, for an hour they appeared capable of earning a point as they strived to cancel out an early penalty and only the woodwork denied them an equaliser before Kyle Howkins and Alex Iacovitti were sent off – leading to Pompey’s late three-goal rush that gave the scoreline a lopsided look.
Now the Stags are now just three points clear of the relegation zone, but also just three points off a place in the play-off positions.
It is very much a case of fine margins at the moment, but the pressure is rapidly mounting for Adam Murray’s men to quickly find their form at the One Call Stadium, where they have won just twice.
Match reportMurray: ‘We’ve got to take that on the chin’The next two matches, both at home inside four days against Crawley and Blackpool, could be pivotal to the rest of the season. Win them both and the Stags will fly back up the table and into the play-off mix again. However, failure to win either match and they could slip into the bottom two and be dragged into a battle at the wrong end of the table.
Last week had started so positively. A promising performance as the Stags were knocked out of the FA Cup by Division Two leaders Plymouth was followed by a terrific 3-2 win in the Checkatrade Trophy at Championship Derby County.
The success against The Rams’ under-21 side earned the Stags a second round tie at Carlisle and much praise for their performance, capped by Chris Clements’ fine solo last-gasp winner.
Manager Murray reiterated his doubts about the format of the competition following the victory and again said promotion was his aim for the season.
But that was made a little harder by the self-inflicted wounds at Portsmouth. Those two red cards for poor challenges (Howkins received two yellows) followed another mistimed challenge, this time from Matt Green, that gave away the early penalty for old foe Gary Roberts to convert.
Murray would have been tearing his hair out, if he had any, following the challenges. But he must have been pleased as the 10 men still created chances to level, before the nine men conceded three goals in the final six minutes.
Those goals left the Stags without a league win in four matches and just one from 11 league games - and dented their previously respectable goal difference.
Murray said he would ignore the final half hour of the heavy defeat and concentrate on the first half, which he said left him “chuffed to bits.”
Supporters will be hoping they will be chuffed after the visit of Crawley on Saturday. They have called for more attacking performances, formations and tactics at the One Call Stadium following the disappointing home results this season.
The Stags must send them home happy soon and start to redress the lack of victories. The run of three wins from the first five games of the season seems a long time ago.