The past two seasons have seen Mansfield Town come so near yet so far from League 2 promotion, missing out on the play-offs on the final day of the 2017/18 season and missing out on automatic promotion on the final day following defeat to MK Dons at the end of last season.
Given the money invested in the squad, those outcomes were huge failures and, unsurprisingly, David Flitcroft was relieved of his duties. It could be argued that the failure of such a talented squad stems from higher up, from the ego of the manager. Before Flitcroft came in, Steve Evans was at the helm – and despite what you think of him, he was a solid manager at Mansfield, departing Field Mill with the team in fifth, two points away from the automatic spots. Flitcroft underwhelmed at Swindon but found himself helicoptered into the ground and took the reins. He then managed to steer the Stags out of the play-offs but kept his job and was backed heavily last summer.
Given the back five Mansfield played with, and the individual qualities of Krystian Pearce, Ryan Sweeney and Matt Preston combined with the experience of Conrad Logan, it was little surprise that the Stags had the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 41 goals in the regular season. However, when the going got tough, the big names failed to deliver, and once again it seemed as if the pressure got to the players, winning just three out of their final 13 matches.
The Radford’s have seemingly changed their approach this season, employing from within as John Dempster was promoted from the academy to take on the manager role. This is smart, Dempster loves the club and has been in and around it most of his career, I can envisage him bearing neither the ego of Flitcroft nor the attitude and general repulsiveness of Evans.
Unexpectedly, he has been backed heavily already, with the whole footballing world witnessing the diabolical announcement video of Nicky Maynard from Bury. Beyond the glamourous announcement, Maynard is a terrific signing who had an excellent season for Bury last season, hitting the 20-goal mark. Beyond that, Nicky has played at all levels of English football, including more than 200 games in the Championship with 60 goals.
An early signing for the Stags saw Walsall and former Tranmere Rovers striker Andy Cook join on a two-year deal. Saddler’s fans appeared to have mixed views on Cook, with some questioning his attitude and desire at times. Regardless, he finished as top scorer at the Bescot stadium last season with 17 goals in all competitions and featured in 43 of the 46 league games.
Fan opinion could not have been more contrasting during his two-season stint at Tranmere, with the Super White Army adoring their number nine, hailing him ‘Super Andy Cook.’ During his time at Prenton Park, he managed half a century of goals in 87 games and was instrumental in their promotion back to League Two, scoring in the final. Cook is a big, powerful centre-forward, that will bully defences, but beyond his force and strength is a very composed finisher and a seasoned striker.
On paper, a strike partnership of Maynard and Cook is enough to terrify defences. They have a fine balance between pace and skill, and strength and power. With a combined 245 career goals, this pair should light up the league next season.
With the goals sorted, it is crucial for Mansfield to carry on their defensive record from last season. Keeping hold of Krystian Pearce may prove difficult, with a host of League One sides and nobody’s favourite side Salford allegedly interested in the 29-year old Barbados defender. Personally, I think keeping hold of Pearce could be the difference between automatic promotion and play-offs for the Stags.
The aim for Mansfield simply must be a top three place at the very least this season. The investment into the squad over these last three years is yet to come to fruition, how long before the Radfords decide to stop? Will it be third time lucky for the glamorous Stags?