Pivotal fortnight for Mansfield Town starts with crucial clash at rivals Carlisle United
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“They won't decide our season but it can have a pretty big say, the next three especially against teams in and around us with two away from home and Salford at home in 10 days time.
“There are nine very important points up for grabs.
“Carlisle's success up front comes from being very solid defensively. That is their platform and they break from there.
“We saw how dangerous they were at our place a few months ago.
“They get back in there and the second they win it, they hit on the break.
“They do press you a bit more at home but it is still very effective the way they play.
“They have three or four very good threats up top - that is another of their strengths. And Callum Guy, ex-Derby, is one of the steadiest and confident midfielders in the league.”
Stags, in sixth, are six points adrift of Carlisle, but with a game in hand.
On Saturday Clough's men then head for Tranmere Rovers, who are 11th but only five points behind Mansfield, before hosting fifth-placed Salford City, only two points ahead of Stags, a week on Saturday.
“We have two very long journeys on the spin this week and that is part of what you have to contend with, going up to Carlisle on a Tuesday night and being ready to compete,” said Clough.
“Carlisle had a very long journey coming back from Wimbledon on Saturday, but they earned a very good point and a clean sheet, so I am sure they will relish playing us tomorrow.
“You could see it coming at the end of last season when Paul Simpson came in. “They improved and have had a great run in the last two or three months and are now just ahead of Northampton in that third spot.
“But they are not too far ahead of us and we are chasing that third spot too.”
He added: “It has levelled out a little bit up there. Leyton Orient and Stevenage may be a bit too far ahead, despite their defeat on Saturday. But that third spot is there.
“Right down to halfway there are only a few points in it to the play-offs. So it's going to be close and it's an exciting league.
“I would rather be a few points clear, but it is good for the competition when there are so many teams involved. It's what the play-offs were brought in for, to keep so many teams involved in the last third of the season.
Stags will check on keeper Christy Pym's finger injury, but Scott Flinders will keep the shirt if Pym has not fully recovered.
“Christy still has his finger in a splint and we will see how he is after training,” said Clough.
“But every game we can get by without him, Scott is performing so well there is no point in risking Christy until he is 100 per cent.
“But Christy is still our No.1 and when fit will probably come back in.
“Scott is a great lad to have around and he is not just a back up. He challenges Christy every day. He knows Christy is No.1 but is there if we need him.
“Callum Johnson is probably a little bit further ahead than where we thought he would be and the injury not as serious as first thought.
“He is out doing some running so he could be back for the Salford game if he can train next week.”
Stags head to Carlisle in good heart after Saturday's 2-0 home win over in-form Gillingham and Clough said: “Saturday's win was just what we needed – a good, solid home performance and a clean sheet. Everybody did their jobs and we made no mistakes.
“A lot of managers will tell you that it's now not about performances at this stage of the season – and they are spot on. It's about results.
“At the start of the season you're looking for patterns and good signs going forward for the next eight/nine months.
“When you reach the last 18 games, you're looking for the wins and the determination and desire and all the things you need to get in the top seven.”