Mansfield Town defender Mal Benning said the players will use the hurt of last season’s promotion heartbreak to spur them on to glory next season.
Beginning his fifth season with the Stags, Benning admitted the hurt was still there inside him after Stags missed out on automatic promotion on the last day and then failed in the play-offs, despite their best season since he joined.
“I couldn’t even watch the play-off final. I saw the score and who went up but I didn’t want to watch it,” he said.
“The disappointment is still there. It’s something that’s going to be inside me, gearing me for promotion next year to make sure it happens.”
However, Benning maintains last season was otherwise the most enjoyable since he signed and the club had played the best football he’d seen
“I know we just fell short – and the fans backed us all the way to be fair,” he said.
“But personally, and as a team, it has got to be one of the best of my four seasons here playing-wise.
“We just needed that one little step – that final push – we missed out on in that last month.
“But I am sure everyone has seen the development of the team and the whole club.
“The feeling before the MK Dons game is something you don’t experience very often, knowing that you’re a game away from promotion. Then we had the play-offs.
“I know we were not on the right side of the results but I am sure if we were in that position again we will have learned from the experiences and make sure we get the job done.”
He added: “We should not build the game up too much as a team, just take it as a normal game.
“The game at the start of the season is the same as that game that is going to get you promotion. You should just do what you’ve been doing for the rest of the year.
“Last season when the fans turned up in big numbers away from home we didn’t really put the performances in.
“But I can’t say that at home as at home we were decent, we played some good football, and I am sure the fans loved it.
“It was just those few games where they did back us towards the end of the season, thinking we would get promoted in those games, when we did struggle a bit.
“I can’t really put a finger on why it was. We just couldn’t get any flow in the games.
“If you look at the MK Dons game we conceded an early goal.
“But it’s not as if we then strung some passes together and created loads of chances. We couldn’t get any flow.
“But it’s passed now and it’s onto next season.”
Two games really stand out for Benning in a season of fine displays.
“The highlight for me was the Bury game at home on Boxing Day,” he said.
“That has got to be one of the best games I have played in, in the sense of how the game was.
“Both sides like to play football and some of the football we played that day was the best I’ve been involved in. That was our best team performance of last season.
“Other teams must have watched that game and thought, wow, we’ve got to stop them from playing.
“It was a win against a promotion rival and took us to second or third as we leaped over them in the table and got to where we wanted to be.
“The home win against Notts County was good as well. We had a Christmas do afterwards too which brought that extra bit of joy to it.
“Winning a derby game like that the way we did and some of the football we played again was a joy to watch and a joy to be involved in.”
Benning admitted he would miss the big derby games with Notts County now also relegated in Chesterfield’s footsteps.
“Personally, for the four years I have been here, Chesterfield was the best derby I have played in,” he said.
“Notts is always a good occasion too. We always sell out the home games and they have a good ground where we get good backing.
“But this season we haven’t really got a close derby and it’s something I will miss.
“I used to watch my goal at Chesterfield daily – 10 times a day to be fair. Now it’s less. But when people tag me in stuff and remind me I watch it again and it brings a tingle to me still. It was a good feeling.”
After playing in almost every game of a long season, Benning is trying to rest up but is already missing playing.
“I have just been away with the missus for 10 days and we are hoping to get away once more for a bit more switch-off time,” he said.
“But I do need to get back into the flow of a bit of fitness work.
“I am beginning to miss football a bit now and I am looking forward to pre-season.
“After playing so many games last season I gave myself three weeks off. I am going to get back into it slowly now – nothing too strenuous. I’ll do some light jogging and some weights and conditioning work.
“Then two weeks before we come back I will step up the gears.”
Benning was happy with his first meeting with new manager John Dempster.
“The meeting with the new gaffer was positive,” he said.
“He said don’t dwell on last season – get yourself away. Switch off from football and get yourself geared up for next season.
“I have been here four years so I have seen the new gaffer around the place. I know what a top guy and top manager he is for them to win so many youth team titles.
“I was part of a good youth team at Walsall and even we didn’t win a title.”