Mansfield Town Season Preview: exciting signings

mansfieldFollowing five years of non-league football, and an uninspiring period under Paul Cox just after promotion, it seems things are finally looking up for Mansfield Town. Manager Adam Murray has built bridges with supporters and his recruitment to date has been a source of great encouragement. Can we expect further progression from the Stags this season? The Football Lab spoke to Sam Binch (@SamBinch) to find out.

Top half finish, nine places higher than the year before – and a 7-0 aggregate win over Notts County! You’d have to say 2015-16 was a solid season for the Stags?

Yes I think solid is the right word. I think offered at the start of the season most fans would have taken it, but expectations were raised by a great start and talked up throughout the season by the management.

Adam Murray only made three loan signings last season. Is he a manager that plans for the longer-term? Will that help the development of your impressive youth team?

I think Murray has said that he prefers to have all his business done early and work with a small group, the feeling being that team spirit will carry you a long way. For the first week the whole squad including youth train and stay at Brooksby college, so in effect a week is like a month in terms of the players being together 24/7 and bonding. I think with the new loan restrictions, youth will certainly be called upon throughout the leagues and the youth have been blooded in all friendlies thus far.

Key centre-back Ryan Tafazolli has left for Peterborough. It must be a blow to see one of the best centre-backs in League Two walk out for next to nothing?

It is, but it wasn’t unexpected. Ryan is too good for League Two and at this level it is unfair to stand in the way of players given the opportunity to play at a higher level and earn more money. Ryan left with class, unlike certain other ex-players, and I think the majority of fans wish him all the best for the future.

You lost 2-1 to Bristol Rovers last season in a game that saw three sending’s off, a great Tafazolli volley and a gut-wrenching 98th minute winner from Matty Taylor. Where does that match rank among the most exciting Mansfield games you’ve seen?

More sickening than exciting I would say. We were doing really well at the time and having worked so hard to get back into the game it was gut-wrenching to have a point snatched away from us at the death. It certainly worked out well for Rovers in the end!

You only picked up 14 points in 20 games against teams in the top 10 last season. Why do you think you struggled to that extent in those matches?

I think for the first half of the season it was understandable. We punched above our weight and were trying to build confide by not losing games. It became disappointing going into the new year, having built a platform, that the management seemed to lack belief in ‘going for it’ against the top teams, usually playing with an isolated striker and hoping for a bit of luck. Hopefully the management have learned from their mistakes this time around.

New defenders Rhys Bennett and George Taft play at right-back and centre-back respectively, but both are versatile. Given the new loan market restrictions, is it important to have players who can adapt to more than one position?

Definitely. It’s certainly strange to see towering Rhys Bennett galloping down the right wing! They both appear to be good on the ball and come highly rated. We also have Lee Collins who can play anywhere across the back four, as well as defensive midfield.

Centre-back Lee Collins took over the captaincy in January. Have his long commutes from Northampton affected his on-field contributions?

Not in my opinion, but there is a portion of our support yet to be convinced. It was a strange start to last season for him as I think we all expected him to be first choice, but Pearce and Tafazolli were playing so well he could not get into the team. He eventually came in and performed shakily at right back, but improved as the season went on. Murray loves him though and calls him a ‘proper man’. I think he’s most likely to be used at the base of a diamond.

You had been very praising of left-back Mal Benning in our previous interview. Do you hope to get a full, injury-free season out of him?

I’m staggered he is still here to be honest! Left footed players are usually highly sought after and there’s not many better in League Two than Mal. His injury last year probably meant teams weren’t as aware of him as they should be, so maybe helped in a strange way. He suffered quite a serious knee injury so to see it has had no lasting effect is fantastic. He smashed a customary effort into the bottom corner in the latest friendly.

Goalkeeper Brian Jensen and midfielder Jamie McGuire are staying. Could they have been given new deals based on leadership, low wage demands and the need for depth, more than anything else?

I think that is probably fair. Jensen didn’t let anybody down last season and was first choice for a large chunk, whilst McGuire also put in some improved displays. I think Murray sees both as an integral part of his off the field team and it’s easy to see why.

Midfielder Chris Clements seems to have ability, but has been criticized at times for a lack of consistency and goals. Does he need to rectify that this year?

Clements is a player who continually splits opinion amongst fans. Some would happily release him tomorrow, others say he is our most technically gifted player. I personally think he is a very good player and was brilliant for the first half of last season, finally adding goals to his game. He got an injury, and then his form suffered a little along side the rest of the teams. Hopefully this can be his season.

Some fans feel disappointed that winger Matty Blair has left for Doncaster, after the club stuck by him during his long-term injury. Do you share that?

I was very disappointed in him I have to say. The club looked after him brilliantly, put a lot of faith in him and he seemed to appreciate it. Rumours are that he was offered a reduced deal so he went elsewhere. He played well towards the end of the season, the County game in particular, but on the whole I’m not that bothered that he has gone. He’s a very inconsistent player who 9/10 has little end product.

Kevan Hurst got a lot of assists for Southend when they went up. With his experience, Pat Hoban’s strength plus the pace of CJ Hamilton and Ashley Hemmings, it seems Mansfield now have players who can create in different ways…

I think that was the aim. Last season it was pretty much get it to Matt Green and see what he can do. Hurst looks like a player who can deliver quality from wide positions, whilst Hoban has looked sharp and held the ball up well in pre-season. Hemmings has not shown much yet but Hamilton is absolute lightning but struggles for end product. I’m looking forward to seeing what Adi Yussuf can do with a full pre-season behind him. He struggled to adapt full time football last season, playing mainly a super sub role and whilst frustrating at times he either scored or found himself in a position to score when making an appearance. He looks very sharp and had already bagged 2 in 2 friendlies.

Matt Green is by far your top scorer and yet, it seems, he is not uniformly valued by Stags fans. Is that accurate? And if so, why do you think that is?

I think it’s wrong to say he is not valued, but perhaps us fans expected too much of him last season having been out for two years with injury. It took him a while to get going and had he took even half the good chances he missed last season there would be 10 extra goals on his tally. Green has absolutely destroyed other players in fitness drills we have had access to thanks to the club and can hopefully hit the ground running this time around. He also has two in pre-season thus far.

Some fans believed last season that you were one good striker off a top seven team. Is new signing Danny Rose the final piece of the jigsaw?

I have to say I really like the look of him. His movement looks first class and he is really good in the air. If he can weigh in with ten goals. Yussuf chips in with a few extra and Green can at least equal his tally, we should be there or thereabouts. Although we have signed Hoban, I think we are missing a 6ft 3 plus target man for nodding in crosses and as a change of plan.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

It looks really tough this year I must admit. Doncaster have strengthened well, whilst Crewe have two top strikers at this level in Lowe and Dagnall. Plymouth have made some decent additions but have lost some important players. It’s impossible to say though. Pompey I’m sure will be challenging. County’s squad looked mighty impressive last season, as did Pompey’s, but both failed to get over the line, whilst teams like Bristol Rovers, Accrington and Wimbledon all massively overachieved.

Where will you finish?

At the moment, I would say mid-table again. I think the squad is slightly better this time around but I think the competition is going to be a lot tougher. I’ll say 12th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Mansfield have adequately replaced Tafazolli whilst adding creativity. Rose could be the clinical finisher required to fire them into the play-off places. 6th

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