Duo return for crunch clash
Craig Disley and Les Robinson could return to the side for tomorrow's eagerly-anticipated all-ticket affair at home to Carlisle.
Less than 2,000 seats remained yesterday for the all-ticket clash with Carlisle which Stags need to win and then hope Plymouth can beat Cheltenham, who are two points ahead of Mansfield, to make the dream come true.
"All we can do is make sure we prepare well and are spot on against Carlisle and get the victory," said manager Stuart Watkiss.
"What happens elsewhere is out of our hands though there would be nothing worse than if Cheltenham did slip up and we didn't win our game. It would be galling, really sickening.
"We need the crowd behind us, though they have done that all season, and we need to get out there and dictate the tempo of the game early which has been the common denominator in all our good performances this season.
"Too many times in the past our fans have had a meaningless last game of the season so I am delighted that we've kept the season alive to now."
But Watkiss is also prepared for the heartbreak as well as the glory.
"If it isn't to be our day then you have to say Cheltenham deserve to be above us as the season is over 46 games and you are where you deserve to be after that many games," he added.
"If that happens we will look forward to the play-offs, which are a fabulous event, very exciting, and go into them full of confidence.
"I feel absolutely fine right now though it's usually on the morning of a match you feel any nerves.
"I just go to the gym early on and work them away. If the gaffer is on tenterhooks he could pass it on to the players.
"Carlisle are in a lot of turmoil off the field right now and it's hard to know how it will affect their players tomorrow. It could affect them badly or bring them together like a family."
Watkiss may recall midfielder Disley and skipper and central defender Robinson after both impressed in the midweek reserve game.
Stags (probable): Pilkington, Hassell, Robinson, Reddington, Tankard, Sellars, Murray, Disley, Corden, Greenacre, White.
Watkiss' words of praise
Although it will be Stuart Watkiss who takes all the plaudits tomorrow if Stags go up he still had words of praise for former boss Billy Dearden.
Dearden built much of this young Mansfield side before quitting to join Notts County in January and leaving assistant Watkiss the task of seeing it through.
Notts need to win tomorrow against Huddersfield to ensure their Second Division survival and Watkiss said: "I will be ringing Billy to wish him well. "Let's hope it's a good day for both clubs and we all hope Notts can do it.
"I still speak to Billy on a regular basis and the help and advice he gave me while he was here were invaluable to me.
"The ideal scenario would be Notts to stay up and us go up so we have two big local derbies with them to look forward to next season."
WATKISS: 'PREPARE FOR A FEW SURPRISES'
Evening Post, 19 April 2002
MANSFIELD boss Stuart Watkiss has hinted there may be changes from last week's team that lost 3-1 at York City.
Chris Greenacre and Adam Murray are both expected to play following their injury scares from earlier in the week, but other options have become available after the reserves lost 2-1 at Rochdale.
Captain Les Robinson came through an hour after missing the last two games with a calf strain and Watkiss was also pleased with the way Craig Disley performed for 70 minutes.
He said: "Craig looked a lot like his old self and gave me a lot to think about and it was good to see Les back as well.
"They have certainly given me plenty to think about and there could be a few surprises."
Watkiss believes it will be crucial for his side to play at their own fast tempo if they are going to claim the required points from Carlisle's visit.
He said; "We have got to be patient and we have got to play at the tempo that has been the common denominator when we have put in the good performances that have brought the rewards this season.
"We didn't really have that at York although we did control the game.
"We have got to work hard and fast when we have not got the ball and then we will play at the right tempo when we have got it."
Stags had to settle for a 1-1 draw at home to the Cumbrians last season but did win at Brunton Park in November when Greenacre scored the only goal.
Any points return for Cheltenham would leave Stags to fight out a play-off campaign but Watkiss is keen to point out that there will still be a second chance.
He wants his team to finish on a roll so they can take confidence into the play-offs if they need to extend their season.
He said; "If it is the play-offs, then that should be something to be enjoyed but we don't want to go into them if we don't have to.
"The worst-case scenario is for Cheltenham to lose at Plymouth and we don't get the job done over Carlisle.
"We have to make sure we win because we don't want our season to finish on a whimper."
Carlisle have not won under caretaker manager Billy Barr, who took over when former Stag Roddy Collins was sacked two weeks ago.
Midfielder Peter Murphy will miss the game because of suspension and Tony Hopper is currently struggling with a stomach problem.
Rumours that central defenders Mark Winstanley and David Rogers have left the club have been scoffed at and both are expected to play.
The club has been under a transfer embargo since October and the latest story links Dido, the Brazilian who used to manage Vietnam and play at Flamenco with Zico, to the vacant manager's job.
MANSFIELD (FROM): Pilkington, Hassell, Reddington, Barrett, Tankard, Sellars, Williamson, Murray, Cordon, Greenacre, White, Kelly, Bingham, Robinson, Pemberton, Disley.
CARLISLE (FROM): Keen, Birch, Maddison, Andrews, Winstanley, Allan, McGill, Rogers, Jack, Hopper, McDonagh, Stevens, Foran, Thwaites, Nixon, Dickinson, Halliday.
STAGS MUST WIN AND PRAY FOR PILGRIMS
Evening Post, 19 April 2002
After spending Tuesday night staring at page 416 of Teletext as Carlisle brought their team back into the promotion race, it is questionable how much energy Stags supporters have left in the tank.
But now they are being required to provide their team with another push and will undoubtedly do so in their thousands at Field Mill tomorrow afternoon.
The fingers have been crossed for a few weeks now and every Stags fan can remember the times when promotion appeared a cast-iron certainty and, at other times, when it appeared they were rowing the boat with only one oar.
But, deep down, there seems to have been a general acceptance that, after Stags had become the one of the top three whose form stuttered, it would go down to the wire.
If they come through tomorrow, then the whole town will deserve to have a great celebration as it would symbolise a magnificent achievement for a squad short on both numbers and experience.
It would also stick a welcome two fingers up to any subscribers to Alan Hansen's old adage that "you cannot win anything with kids".
There have been times when they have been dazzling this season and others when they have needed a shoulder to cry on. But they have put themselves in the position of knowing two results going in their favour will see them up.
The problems arise if everything doesn't go according to plan, as it is certainly no foregone conclusion that Plymouth will see off Cheltenham and Stags will beat Carlisle.
The first difficulty will be picking the team up for a play-off campaign, which should not be much of a problem if Cheltenham get their result and Stags still win.
A run of three wins from four games is the sort of form that any play-off team would like to take into the lottery, but it would be hard to prevent a defeat tomorrow cascading into the sort of damaging slump that could seal their fate.
Stags approach this match in the knowledge a play-off place has been assured.
Notts know if it doesn't go their way, it's all over. The door will be shut and they will be looking up directions to Exeter and Leyton Orient.
But Mansfield do have that second chance.
Obviously no one wants to have to use it, but it should not be abandoned because it could come in very handy.
Another danger would be the search for a scapegoat, whether it be the chairman, who - despite turning the club around financially and bringing the town a stadium the envy of many Division Three teams - is still unpopular among some supporters, who feel he should carry the can after some disappointing results of late.
This will serve no purpose because, whatever the result tomorrow, or, if need be, in the next couple of weeks, the future still has to be planned.
The young players have shown they can play entertaining football and the public of Mansfield has reacted by virtually doubling attendances this season.
It has been a great place to be this season, with plenty of memorable moments, fine goals and entertaining games and hopefully all three will be in evidence come tomorrow afternoon.
They can move on from this season and there is a chance for the club to move from this and use the season as a foundation both on and off the pitch.
The infrastructure is in place, with an impressive ground and a group of youngsters who deserve an opportunity to gain the greater exposure that promotion would bring.
A success tomorrow could do just that, but only if everyone's nerves can take it.
Let's just hope they get the result they need and someone near you has a radio tuned to events at Home Park - because we are in for a memorable and nerve-wracking afternoon.
The low-down on automatic promotion
IF Cheltenham lose and Mansfield win, the Stags will be promoted.
If Stags don't win, Cheltenham will be promoted, whatever result they get at Plymouth.
If Cheltenham draw, Stags would need to win by nine goals.
OR . . .
If Cheltenham lose by three goals, Stags lose and Rochdale win by four goals at home to Bristol Rovers, Rochdale will leapfrog Stags AND Cheltenham to go up on goal difference!
MURRAY IS DETERMINED TO SIGN OFF WITH A GOAL
Evening Post, 19 April 2002
ADAM Murray has declared himself fit for what he describes as "the biggest match in Mansfield Town's history".
He wants to cap a successful loan spell at Field Mill with the goal that takes the club into Division Two.
Murray, who has shaken off an ankle injury in time for the big clash with Carlisle, believes there is enough confidence in the camp to take Stags up and is determined to help his team-mates realise their promotion dreams.
He has scored seven goals since arriving from Pride Park in February to keep Stags in the promotion frame.
However, he warned the sort of lapses in concentration that contributed to their 3-1 defeat at York could not happen again if they are going to snatch the third automatic promotion spot.
He said: "It's going to be a big game because there are going to be a lot of people there and we are relying on Plymouth to do us a favour.
"Hopefully, I can pop up with another goal and we can get the win.
"Since I have been here, it's been absolutely brilliant, but we have been going through a bad patch and it is vital we get back on track.
"It's got to be one of the biggest games in the club's history but I know that if we play well, we are going to get the win."
Murray has featured in 40 Premiership games for The Rams but had not scored a league goal until he arrived at Field Mill.
He is consequently surprised to have hit seven goals in his 12 games for Stuart Watkiss's side and puts it down to the way Stags play.
He said: "I think it just shows the way the team plays.
"We take the game to teams and, at Derby, I didn't get the chance to get forward as much as I have here.
"The chances have arrived and I have taken them, so hopefully I'll get some more on Saturday.
"At the moment I think I am on one of those streaks where everything I hit seems to go in. Everything I have touched has just flown in.
"I don't normally score goals and I don't think I've scored this many altogether, let alone in just 12 games."
Murray said he did not stay at home on Tuesday night to wait for the Cheltenham result as he and team-mate Lee Williamson dined out. But they still kept up with events at Brunton Park.
"Cheltenham drawing at Carlisle was massive for us," he said.
"I was sitting in a Chinese with Lee and we were phoning his dad every ten minutes so he could tell us what was going on.
"It was a bit nerve-wracking but they have now given us a chance and we have to take it."
Murray's 30-yard effort put Stags in the driving seat at York last week but defensive lapses allowed the Minstermen to take the points.
He said it was vital they did not fall into the same trap tomorrow.
The defeat at York looked to have confirmed Stags' place in the play-offs but they have been given a lifeline after Tuesday's draw.
He said: "As soon as we kicked off, we took the game straight to them. We had 23 attempts on goal and most of the play but, throughout the team, our defending was shocking.
"We let our concentration slip and we got punished for it. We have got to learn from that and make sure it doesn't happen against Carlisle."
WE'LL MEET AGAIN
Evening Post, 19 April 2002
Just three months ago, Stuart Watkiss and Billy Dearden were working side-by-side.
Tomorrow 20 miles will separate them as they go into, potentially, the most crucial 90 minutes of their football careers.
But they will share one wish - that next season Notts County and Mansfield Town will face each other in Division Two.
The two managers will wish each other luck on the telephone before kick-off tomorrow.
Dearden's Notts will be scrapping to avoid relegation from Division Two as they face high-flying Huddersfield Town at Meadow Lane.
And Watkiss's Stags are looking to secure automatic promotion from Division Three in a huge game against Carlisle United at Field Mill.
Dearden said: "Notts and Mansfield playing each other in Division Two next season - that would be the perfect scenario to emerge from this weekend."
Watkiss was Dearden's assistant manager at Field Mill until his boss took the top job at Meadow Lane in January.
The Stags boss said: "I wish Billy, Gary Brazil and everyone at Notts County all the best for tomorrow.
"I usually speak to Billy on a Saturday and this week will be no different.
"The ideal scenario for everyone would be to see both teams in Division Two next season.
"That would give everyone to do with Stags and Notts County big local derby matches to look forward to next season.
Dearden added: "Obviously I will be focussing heavily on the job we have to do at Meadow Lane this weekend but it would be good to see the Stags win promotion."
He said his former assistant could face an uphill battle if Mansfield were sucked into the play-offs, instead of gaining promotion tomorrow.
"I think they could struggle if they end up there," he said.
"Everyone starts off level in the play-offs, but if you are the fourth team, the one that has just missed out on automatic promotion, you can consider being in the play-offs a failure.
"Hopefully, they will do it tomorrow.
"And hopefully, we can get the points that will keep us safe and we will be playing each other next season."
Dearden insists his own side - who only need a draw for safety - will be looking for a win.
"I would not send them out there looking for a draw, that is dangerous ground," the Notts boss said.
"We want a win, nothing less.
"With our recent record at Meadow Lane, we should not go into the match with any fear.
"We have to remain focussed but, really, I think that the team has enough about it not to be overawed by the occasion."
Huddersfield have already secured their place in the play-offs but a win would give them a potentially easier route to the final at the Millennium Stadium.
Meanhwhile, Watkiss said he and his players aimed to approach the game like any other.
"I don't think I will be nervous until tomorrow morning.
"Then I will just go down to the gym and burn it off, because if the manager is nervous then the players are bound to suffer.
"They will be coming in at the same time as they always do and there is no reason why anything should be different.
"I know we are capable of beating anyone in Division Three and we just have to go out there and prove it by beating Carlisle."
Although victory may not be enough for Stags to avoid the play-offs, Watkiss wants to finish the regular season on a high.
He said: "If we are in the play-offs then we want to go there on the back of three wins from four games.
"If we need to go into the play- offs then, so be it, but I would rather be sat watching them in a bar in Tenerife."
HEARTBREAK OF PLAY-OFFS WAS MY WORST TIME
Evening Post, 19 April 2002
WHEN I look back at my most painful moment in football, I genuinely fear for Mansfield Town.
Because if they do end up in the play-offs, after looking so likely to win automatic promotion for so long, they could easily blow their chance altogether.
That could easily happen - I speak with the voice of experience.
I only had a few failures in my career, the most notable being losing in the League Cup final with Forest.
But the one that hurt the most was with Notts County.
In the 1988 season, we looked as though we would be dead certs for automatic promotion.
In the end we just missed out, in the same way that Mansfield could, and ended up in the play-offs.
They play-offs did not seem much consolation.
And when we then lost to Walsall, in the semi-final, I don't think I have ever felt so low as a result of football.
I got myself in such a state that Gary Mills had to take me back to his house and look after me.
I was inconsolable.
The biggest problem facing Mansfield, if they do miss out, is that while they feel as though they have failed, the other three teams in the play-offs will see it as an opportunity.
All four teams will start on an even playing field. Where they have finished in the league will count for nothing.
And I know from experience how hard it can be to lift yourself in this situation.
It is hard to be positive when you have missed out on automatic promotion - you feel robbed, you feel as though you shouldn't have to go through the play-offs, even though you have known the situation all season.
Some might say it would be a nice day out at the Millennium Stadium.
It would. But only if you win.
Having said that, both Stags and Notts should go into Saturday's matches with hope.
Because both can still achieve their goals.
Plymouth will want to win their final game of the season, having already secured the Division Three title.
And I would not be surprised if they defeated Cheltenham, which would leave the door open for Stags, as long as they win their match against Carlisle.
The one consolation for Stuart Watkiss will be that the match is at Field Mill.
Their record there in recent months has been superb and - even though Carlisle seem to have a reputation for being involved in final-day upsets, ever since goalkeeper Jimmy Glass scored to keep them in the league a few years ago - I would back Stags to get a result.
There is still a slim chance that they will not have to go through the play-offs.
The team I fear for more is Notts.
The question you have to ask there is how motivated Huddersfield are going to be.
They may already be in the play-offs, but the result of this match can still have a say in who they are likely to play in the semi-finals.
A win for them could see them claim fourth place in the table, which would ensure that they play the second leg of the semi at home, which can make a significant difference.
I don't think Billy Dearden's side should even give a thought to what is happening at Wrexham, where Bournemouth need to win to have any hope of sending Notts down into Division Three.
They cannot afford to do that.
Nor can they afford to play for a draw against Huddersfield.
A point would be enough to keep them up, but they would be foolish to see it that way.
As Brian Clough used to say, it only takes a second to score a goal.
And it would only take Huddersfield a moment to score a goal in the last minute and condemn Notts to Third Division football.
Notts have to go for a win, they have to go all out against Huddersfield and hope they can continue their superb recent home form.
Personally speaking, I will have my fingers crossed for both sides.
Hopefully they will be crossing swords in Division Two next season.
ROBINS SET OUT TO SPOIL THE PARTY
Evening Post, 19 April 2002
FOR Steve Cotterill's Cheltenham, the task is simple.
If they come away with a point from their trip to Home Park, Plymouth on Saturday, they will secure a place in Division Two, which, in the age of the £50,000-a-week player, is nothing short of remarkable.
Five years ago, when Cotterill took over from Chris Robinson, they were in the Dr Martens League.
However, since then, they have not looked back and under their young manager they have had their best season, after reaching the last 16 of the FA Cup before being knocked out by West Bromwich Albion.
After a season when the Whaddon Road club has exceeded many expectations, Cotterill is confident his players will give their all, including former Stag Lee Williams.
He said: "The race has gone to the last game of the season and so be it.
"The players' effort has been magnificent all season.
"We will be determined to get a result down there just as we were determined at Carlisle and hopefully, we will get that bit of luck we need to see us through."
Admission to the match has been the hottest ticket in town since Paul Sturrock's side clinched the Division Three title on Monday.
The stadium, which now holds 19,500, will be full to bursting point as Cheltenham travel south, hoping to spoil the party and clinch a promotion spot for themselves.
Plymouth have conceded just 11 goals at home this season and their two home defeats, against Shrewsbury and Rochdale both came in the first month of the season and, now they do not need to get anything from the game, there will be an urge to relax.
However, a win would mean they reach 102 points, an achievement that would match Swindon Town's record for the bottom division in 1986.
That target is on many minds among the faithful but Sturrock is still expected to give some of the fringe members of his squad a game, including his son Blair.
With the job completed, however, Sturrock, who won numerous honours during his time with Dundee United, wants his side to enjoy the moment.
He said: "You only taste these things once or twice in you career and there will be a percentage of them who will never taste an occasion like this again, so they have to make sure they enjoy it.
"I will have to see who will play because there are some players who need a run out but I don't want to take away from the enjoyment of the occasion."
PLYMOUTH (FROM): Larrieu, Worrell, Wotton, Coughlan, Beswetherick, Bent, Adams, Hodges, Evans, Stonebridge, Keith, Phillips, McGlinchey, Sturrock, McCormick, Taylor.
CHELTENHAM (from): Book, Victory, Brough, Duff, Griffin, Williams, Yates, Finnigan, Milton, Alsop, Naylor, Tyson, Lee, Grayson, Walker, Muggleton.
Meanwhile, Rochdale still have a mathematical chance of pipping both Cheltenham and Stags and their manager John Hollins said they would go all out for a big win over Bristol Rovers.
They need to win by four goals while Cheltenham lose by three and Stags are also defeated.
He said: "What have we got to lose? Nothing. We have to make up a goal difference of seven.
"It is possible and until it's mathematically impossible, I will believe we can get into third."
Latest | April 2002