Pompey tester as Stags aim to take play-off fight to last weekend
Manager Steve Evans is hoping a win over title-chasers Portsmouth on Saturday and favourable results elsewhere can leave Mansfield Town heading for Crawley with their play-off fate in their own hands the following weekend.
Stags are one point and one place outside the top seven and face a massive test against a superb Pompey side who are already promoted.
“The minimum objective is for us to be fighting for something at Crawley – and we’d love that to be in our own hands,” said Evans.
“We know what we have to do. We have to get three points and hope that something goes our way elsewhere to put it in our hands.
“There are a lot of clubs with the same ambition on Saturday all the way down the table to Accrington.
“It’s a fantastic tribute to the strength of League Two that there are so many good teams.
“I would rather go to Crawley where we don’t need to worry what’s happening around the country. But I don’t want to worry about next week – our only focus and concentration is Portsmouth.”
Despite being at home, Evans admitted: “I think we are underdogs. Portsmouth will be favourites, though I don’t want to say that too loudly.
“But top can beat bottom in this league. That’s the way it is.
“It is fantastic that we’ve got ourselves in the position where we are fighting for such a prize with two games to go, and we have to make sure we deliver a good enough performance to make sure we’ve still got a prize to fight for with one game to go.
“What’s important are the performance, as that usually brings the result, and the league table at 5pm.”
Evans has nothing but admiration for Portsmouth and manager Paul Cook.
“They are one of the best sides in the division by far,” he said.
“The manager is up there with the best of them, his assistant is up there with the best of them, the players are up there with the best of them.
“The one thing Paul Cook does is get his recruitment right as he showed at Chesterfield and Portsmouth. I looked at his stats and I think he’s the most successful stats manager that Portsmouth have had since the 50s, and I can remember some of the successful times under Harry Redknapp.
“That’s brilliant for Cooky and brilliant for Portsmouth.
“He cares. He is passionate and does his homework. He obviously knows a player, he knows how to get winning football into his team, he puts a big emphasis on team spirit in the dressing room and he is character and a winner.
“He is the type of manager, when I go to watch football, that I like to see – he gets very passionate.
“I said the other day they will grace League One for sure.
“They have fantastic supporters that have been behind their team in recent times, which for them is coming out of the darkness.”
Although they need Doncaster and Plymouth to slip up, third-placed Pompey’s ambition remains the League Two title.
“Portsmouth’s objective at the start of the season would have been to get promoted and they are still trying to be champions,” said Evans.
“Doncaster Rovers have not been looking after themselves in the last few weeks. I saw some words attributed to Darren Ferguson that he’s not happy.
“Then I know Derek Adams down at Plymouth. I know we may have had a war of words but I do have a lot of respect for the guy and they will fight for the title until the death.
“But Portsmouth will be waiting for those two to slip up.
“The pressure to get promoted lay at their door at the start of the season and they dealt with it which is why I have so much admiration for Cooky. They have been fantastic.
“But we’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves.
“We’ve got a job to do. We have an opportunity to get into the play-offs to fight for promotion
“We’ll have a game plan and a change of game plan if that’s not been beneficial to us. But first and foremost we have to work as hard as the Portsmouth team as they are an incredibly hard-working side.
“Paul Cook insists they defend from the front and they attack from the back.”
Stags are expecting their biggest crowd of the season and hoping for the biggest since the return to the Football League.
Pompey have sold their 1,500 allocation but Evans hopes the Mansfield public will turn out in force too.
“Our chairman and chief executive deserve that sort of support from the town and the players do,” he said.
“This squad wasn’t built until January but they’ve taken us to within a win of, I think, being in the play-offs.
“The Radfords are fantastic people. They’ve not only saved this football club but they’ve got them out of non-League football and into the Football League then had, they would think, a couple of period where it’s stagnated. But it doesn’t look like it’s stagnating now.
“It would be fantastic for them to come out the boardroom on Saturday and see a full stadium – it’s what they deserve.”
He added: “I’d say to our fans be loud and proud. You’re going to see that in the visitors’ end. They are going to be loud and proud.
“We want a big support behind us. There will be a fantastic atmosphere for our players. Some will handle the occasion without blinking and others might need a bit of cajoling at different times.”
Just before Evans joined the club in November the Stags went down 4-0 at Portsmouth and had two players sent off.
Evans said: “I hope it’s different on Saturday! But Portsmouth beating any team 4-0 is not a surprise home or away. They have some very gifted players.
“We want to be in the game at 70 minutes with the momentum of the home support helping us get over the line for three points.
“But if you say to me now we’ve got a point and the others lost we’d take it because we’ve virtually put it in our own hands then.”