A FORTNIGHT from hell at Field Mill has seen the Stags’ play-off hopes all but killed off.
And, while anything can happen in football and there is still just under a quarter of the season to go, you can’t help wishing for the current season to now end and start thinking about the next one.
Although rarely finding top gear, Mansfield had seemed to be doing enough to stay in those play-off places until that kick in the teeth of six points, deducted for Chester’s demise last week, was followed by an almost fatal inability to win in two crucial home games this week.
Naturally the club wanted to play down the crucial neccessity of beating Tamworth on Saturday, but fans knew it was as much of a ‘must win’ game as there has been this season and, even though the visitors’ methods were not very pretty, much credit has to go to Gary Mills’ men for taking home a 0-0 draw.
Then York came and stole a single-goal win on Tuesday and suddenly the season looked in tatters.
Boss David Holdsworth now has to put on a brave face for his players and keep them battling on professionally. But an eight point gap with just nine games to go is a mountain and a half and probably unsurmountable.
So what went wrong?
Should Stags have gone up this season or were we all expecting too much?
Certainly Holdsworth deserves much praise for taking over a side in freefall, bottoming out the crisis, and pulling the club upwards over the past 15 months.
This season represents the big first step forward since the terminal decline of the Haslam years set in.
But, even though other clubs in the BSP had bigger budgets, you still can’t help that feeling that this talented squad has underachieved rather than overachieved this season.
Holdsworth has brought in some decent signings and at times they have shown capabilities well beyond the Conference.
So is the recent stutter of just two wins in nine games the fault of the players or the manager?
Some fans have accused the side of increasingly turning into a long ball team – and it is true that at times they have lumped the ball forward to nowhere instead of looking for a pass.
But is that down to the players or instructions they have been given?
Holdsworth denies any long ball game intentions and is correct in saying that using the potent weapon of two of his players’ long throws to get the ball into the danger zone, or Alan Marriott trying to find Rob Duffy directly when the full backs are hemmed in, are not necessarily the mark of a long ball team.
It is just mixing it up. But the side have not mixed it up enough recently and too little football has been played.
So is it down to players panicking or suffering a lack of vision that has sometimes seen the ball kicked long and hard to no one instead of to the yellow short to their left or right?
Surely you don’t go with two wingers and ball-playing midfielders like Gary Mills or Kyle Nix if you just want to play long-ball? And they have asked questions of sides when they have played it on the floor.
The inconsistency of the occasionally awesome Louis Briscoe and the less effective second half to the season of Ryan Williams have certainly seen less threat down the wings than the manager would have been wanted.
Also, the goals have dried up for early season hotshot pair Rob Duffy and Kyle Perry while injured livewire Jake Speight has been a massive miss at a crucial time. All these factors are important to what has happened recently as has the lack of a settled midfield.
Despite so many changes, the defence has continued to do a great job as has keeper Alan Marriott, whose penalty save on Tuesday night was absolutely superb.
But, although this season a big step forward, it would seem Holdsworth has not quite got the formula right yet – very few mznagers do immediately anywhere – and he will doubtless be busy in the summer transfer market.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and while everyone is bitterly disappointed with how this campaign has turned out, to see calls for Holdsworth to be sacked on fans’ web sites are premature and misguided.
You can’t keep chopping and changing, managers need time to get the right blend and backing from the supporters and chairman.
Fans are so fickle and some of those now calling for his dismissal were probably people who were calling on Andy Perry to give him a contract and worried when those rumours of Notts County wanting his services began drifting around.
And, let’s be fair, without the six points deducted for the demise of Chester City, Stags would still be in the thick of it rather than sitting under the table waiting for the scraps to be dropped their way.
After last season’s ridiculous points deductions, Stags may rightly have that ‘hard done to’ feeling at the moment.
The only way the Four Amigos are going to be able to continue to steer this ship onwards and upwards is with cold, hard cash.
So for those ‘supporters’ who say they are not attending any more home games or buying a season ticket for next season, that is simply going to create a vicious circle for the Stags and the people who bought the club back off the hated Haslam and gave it back so well to the community.
Look around the sides in the BSP and those who have gone up in recent years and understand it is never a one or two-season job getting out of this league.
It takes time, patience and money – three commodities that seem to have run out at Field Mill for this season.
But we still have nine games to negotiate, starting on Saturday.
David Holdsworth said last season that the best thing about Histon was the road out of there!
Well, having missed the game there last year, this Saturday I will make my debut in the reputedly tight Histon press box.
The Cambridgshire club have only won one in seven and Stags must be quite relieved to play away from home after the recent pressurised run of four at home on the trot.
So maybe Holdsworth’s men can at least get back to winning ways and make sure they tread water in ninth position if not push back upwards.