Two huge tests ahead against rivals as Mansfield Town return to action

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After a blank weekend due to snow, Mansfield Town are back in action with a bang with successive games against promotion rivals this week.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) they head for Northampton Town before another huge test at Stockport County on Saturday and boss Nigel Clough admitted: “The last 13 games are all big games and all significant, but we are playing somebody who is up there with us this week.

“Northampton got a great point at Hartlepool on Saturday and we know from our tussles with them over the last couple of years how difficult it will be.

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“To come back from the disappointment they had on the last day of last season and then losing a play-off semi-final I think speaks volumes of the character of the manager and the team.

Action from last season's play-offs semi-final victory for Stags at Sixfields.Action from last season's play-offs semi-final victory for Stags at Sixfields.
Action from last season's play-offs semi-final victory for Stags at Sixfields.

“I am sure they will be thinking about us beating them there in the play-offs last season and using it as an incentive. We were brilliant on the night in doing what we had to do and getting the job done.

“We got the goal and defended it superbly. Hopefully we can have a similar feeling after this Tuesday's game.

“Obviously with Saturday's postponement we now have three consecutive away games, but it will mean we have a good balance of home games coming up in the last 11.

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“But these are two big ones against sides on contention with us for promotion or play-offs. So they will be two tough games for us.”

He added: “It is so tight up there. You watch the results coming in on Saturday, but there is not much you can do about anybody else.

“The only concern is we have played the least number of games in the league now, along with maybe one or two other teams. So we've got to make those games in hand count when they come up.

“Initially these two games will be a battle. You will get the odd freakish game like Carlisle away where you score four goals in the first 35 minutes which only happens once a season maybe.

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“Mostly it's about the first 30 minutes, staying in the game and battling, and if you get a goal then brilliant. But try not to concede. I don't think it's a bad thing if you can get to 0-0 away from home at half-time. Then the onus is more on the home side to go out and get a goal.”

With 10 players missing last week, Stags had some good news this week with keeper Christy Pym fit again and defender Stephen McLaughlin back in training with an outside chance of facing Stockport.

“It's almost a day to day thing – the majority of them are not far away now. Anyone back would be a help,” said Clough.

“It's just that final little bit and, with 13 games to go, what we don't want to do is push them and all of a sudden they're out for four or five games which is a big chunk of the remaining season.

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“But at some point they will have to come back in. It is just judging the right time. They're all at different stages with different injuries as well.

“Christy Pym trained last week so he should be available providing there's been no reaction.

“Otherwise, Elliott Hewitt, Rhys Oates and George Maris are the closest.

“Elliott is probably 50-50 for Northampton at best.

“Rhys is doing a bit of training at the moment. It's just whether he can sustain any contact really. We are being cautious with him and we'll see how he is this week.

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“George can do a certain amount but can't just do that explosive sprinting.

“He is back running and may well join in some time this week.

“Louis Reed is coming on well but no return imminent. We hope he will start running this week with a view to joining in over the next couple of weeks. He's not too far away.

“Callum Johnson will be a few weeks though.”

On his side's amazing run of bad luck with injuries, Clough said: “You look for patterns with injuries so you can address it.

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“Are they hamstrings? Do you have groin injuries? Then you can say are we doing this in training or is it the surfaces?“But there has been absolutely no pattern to it whatsoever. We have had two players both have two shoulder injuries in the same season and you'd perhaps expect one every couple of years.

“The knocks we've had have been contact injuries and almost freakish at times. There is nothing we can do about them.

“I have never known anything this sustained, having eight or nine out for a number of weeks. So it's credit to the squad that we're still in contention.

“You look at teams that are successful and they maybe make two or three changes but it's usually the same team out most weeks. We would love to be able to do that.”