Surprise packet Stags aiming to prove the doubters wrong
Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans is determined his side can prove the doubters wrong and steal a place in the play-offs.
Evans has maintained the Stags are this season’s surprise packet in the shake-up and now sit a single point and place outside the top seven with two games to go ahead of Saturday’s huge home test against promoted Portsmouth.
Evans said: “No one thought we could come into this run-in facing the likes of Luton Town, going down to Wycombe, going down to Stevenage, hosting Portsmouth, and get in the play-offs - nobody still believes we can do it.
“I spoke to a manager yesterday who still thinks we can’t take it to the last day. So we still have a lot of people to prove wrong.
“But Portsmouth will come to town with a big support, an excellent management team and to be honest they probably have the best players in the league when you break them all down individually. They have some super talent and this is a big ask for us.”
Third-placed Pompey will arrive still fighting for points to stay in the race for the title. But Evans believes their efforts will be in vain.
“They can’t win the title,” he said. “I still think it’s Doncaster’s and if Doncaster slip up then it’s Plymouth’s. You’re not going to have two slipping up.
“But quite rightly the staff down at Portsmouth are going to focus on that, saying if those two don’t win their last two games we can still win it.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the top two will take care of that. But you can’t take away the fantastic job that Paul Cook has done this season.
“Comes the big club, comes the big budget, comes the big pressure and you have to say he and Leam (Richaardson) have managed sometimes in difficult circumstances and been criticised some weeks, but the belief from a distance never seemed to go away.
“He has done a fine job and we all know Portsmouth Football Club will grace League One. They are a fantastic club and it wouldn’t surprise me to see what I did at Rotherham and them take them up back-to-back to the Championship. That will be the expectation from Cooky himself.”
Evans is expecting an exciting game with a great atmosphere on Saturday.
“We are looking forward to it as Portsmouth will be,” he said. “They have been playing with a little bit of freedom in their last couple of games since they got promoted and that’s what happens.
“They will look forward to coming to the One Call Stadium and showing us why they have been promoted.
“We have to focus on ourselves and it will be all about what we do with the ball and what we do when we are out of possession - that will make the difference as to whether we can close the gap even further.
“We are currently a point outside it. So if we can close that gap to zero points to go down to Crawley on the last day then we’d certainly have accepted that when we walked in the door, and we’d have accepted it a month ago.”
Stags are hoping the town will turn out in force to help the club over the line.
“It is a great test for the people of Mansfield for me,” said Evans.
“I used to say at Rotherham you have to come and show us what it’s about, and they packed the stadiums out for the big games when it was about promotion and fighting for something.
“The people have Mansfield have been fantastic since I walked in. They are good people. There were people queuing here for tickets this morning and it’s a fantastic feeling.
“We do need a big support. The away end will be full and they will be in good voice as they always are around the country. It should be a good atmosphere.”
Whatever the result on Saturday, Evans just wants to see his side take the fight to the final game.
“If we take six points from the last two we will be in the play-offs. I said that before we went to Stevenage,” said Evans.
“I said if we could take seven from nine we’d be knocking on the door but if we took nine from nine we’d be in there. I still believe that. The other teams can’t all beat each other.
“For example on the last day you have Exeter v Carlisle. They can’t both win. It’s tough all round. There are a number of clubs around us fighting.
“Blackpool are in it, Carlisle probably have a home banker on Saturday against Newport, who have practically got themselves safe now for me.
“I’ve got a little feeling we can add to our points tally on Saturday then the minimum is we can take it to Crawley. If we get three we’ll probably take it to Crawley in our own hands.”