The Mansfield View: why Benning is key

mansfieldIt has been a good season for Mansfield Town. Tipped by many to be relegation candidates (excluding this blog, it may be noted – season preview here), the Stags have defied common expectation to challenge for a top seven finish. What does the future hold? The Football Lab spoke to supporter Sam Binch (@SamBinch) of the Mansfield Musings blog to find out…

Mansfield have picked up 13 points from their last six games, putting them third in the League Two form table. What do you put this run down to?

Manager Adam Murray issued a direct plea to fans to back the team, particularly at home, after a run of poor results. The team’s home form has been terrible and very often we have conceded goals within the first fifteen minutes of games, causing the supporters to get on the teams back. That may have helped, also the return from injury of Mal Benning has helped massively.

You have not beaten a team outside the bottom ten this season. Why do you struggle so much against the better sides?

I think pre-Christmas, the manager has freely admitted that he wanted his team to be tough beat, and so was quite happy to not lose against the bigger teams in the division. Post-Christmas, there is no excuse really, other than we perhaps do not have the quality, resources, or size of squad that the likes of Oxford, Portsmouth, Northampton, Plymouth etc. We perhaps lack experience in certain areas.

A lot of the goals you concede come from crosses and set pieces. Is this an area the team needs to improve on?

Very much so. Earlier in the season it was something the team was working very hard on. In my opinion, the wingers at times do not do enough to help the full backs stop crosses. Also, our central midfielders are a bit lax when it comes to tracking runners. It is a bit of a mystery though when you have a 6ft 5in centre half!

Left-back Mal Benning came back from injury at the end of January. Has his return had much to do with your recent form?

He looks like he has never been away! Mal glides around the pitch and has begs of energy, taking a lot of corners and free-kicks. His overlapping runs from left back are a huge feature of our attacking play. For Mal, I think it was unlucky for him that Walsall have Rico Henry coming through, because I think any other club in League One would not have released him in the summer. He has hit the ground running upon his return and has arguably been the player of the season so far.

Centre-back Ryan Tafazolli started 31 of your 33 league games this season and you struggled in the two he missed. Is he an important player?

Very important. Benning aside he would probably win player of the season. He has finally started chipping in with goals this season, although they have dried up a little of late. He is the only player who does not have an option within his contract for automatic extension next season and will probably be playing in League One next season, regardless of whether Mansfield are. He has everything to make it at a higher level, tall, fast, calm and fantastic in the air.

Midfielder Mitch Rose has played out wide and in the middle this season. Where do you think is his best position?

Definitely central midfield. Ever since pre-season I have been banging on about Mitch not being a winger. He has done ok their on occasion but his all-action style would be much better suited to the centre of the park. He seems to be out of favour at the moment but I think he is deserving of a chance in the middle of the park.

Chris Clements seems a gifted midfielder. Would you say he plays best in a system that allows him to operate high up the pitch?

Not necessarily. He is a very good player, although before this season, I would say 50% of supporters would have got rid of him in the summer. I have always been pro-Clements. He is the most talented player at the club, when he is in the mood. Occasionally he goes missing, probably like all players at this level, but this season he has been much more consistent and had added goals to his game. His composure and range of passing are second to none.

Matt Green has been your main source of goals this term. What do you make of his overall performances?

He has been ok, but I think his goal tally this season is probably slightly below par. He has missed a lot of chances, but he works very hard for the team, playing pretty much every game, and has played up top on his own for the majority of the season. ‘Greeny’ will always be a legend at the club and can hopefully kick on for the run in.

Manager Adam Murray promised attacking football in the summer. Is that something the team has delivered on, or have you had to be more pragmatic at times?

The style of football has improve immeasurably from last season, but I would not necessarily say it has been ‘attacking’. For the first 15 games or so the team were pretty cagey, particularly at home. Strangely, away fans have probably seen the more attacking style. But the teams who conceded the least goals rather than score the most goals, tend to prosper come the end of the season. It has certainly been an enjoyable season thus far.

And finally, do you think you’ll make the play-offs?

I really hope so, but I think we may just fall short. We have the points on the board which the club seem happy about, but almost all the clubs in and around us have games in hand and the chance to overtake us. If you would have offered most fans a top half finish at the end of last season, or the start of this, they would have snapped your hand off.

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