Tuesday night will see a massive game in Mansfield Town’s bid for promotion this season, the Stags welcoming the EFL League Two champions, Leyton Orient, to the One Call Stadium.
Nigel Clough’s side have, somehow, battled on in recent months, the injury-hit side putting together a nine-match unbeaten run which has kept them in the play-off mix whilst Richie Wellens’ Orient side have pretty much led from day one.
Now though, it’s pretty much crunch time for Clough’s charges; an unbeaten run of nine matches has them, alongside five other sides, separated by just four points, with the Stags, and fellow promotion rivals, Stevenage Borough (who Mansfield beat 1-0 last time out, Davis Keillor-Dunn netting early on) both have games in hand on their rivals.
The Stags however, have been rocked by injuries over the past few months and, although the likes of James Gale (grogginess) and Riley Harbottle, George Maris (little run-outs) and Callum Johnson have just about returned to Clough’s match-day squad, Louis Reed is still a little way off, among others, and now, the recently returned Stephen McLaughlin is out for the rest of the season.
The Irish defender, who has only made a handful of appearances in 2023 due to an ankle injury, was replaced in the recent win over Newport County (Hiram Boateng and James Gale netting in a 2-1 win) having picked up a knee ligament injury; it’s an injury that would not only see him miss the final four games of this season, but also a chunk of pre-season.
Clough said of the loss of McLaughlin, and other injury worries, at his post-match press conference: “He (McLaughlin) has had scans and stuff, he got quite a nasty whack on his knee, this time, when he came on against Newport last week.
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again this season.”
Of the others on the side-lines, Clough also updated on Ollie Clarke and Louis Reed, adding: “(Clarke) is coming on well, it was an impact injury on his knee but he’s coming on…..doing a little bit of work on his own.
“He’s not too far away.
“(Reed) hasn’t actually joined in training yet, so we’ve got to be careful with him (as well).”
January signings though, they’ve strengthened the Stags depth at the right time with the likes of Alfie Kilgour and Davis Keillor-Dunn amongst the goals, and the recently returned Callum Johnson brining a much-needed impetus.
It’s been an impetus that has helped towards the Stags putting together an unbeaten run of nine games, and, since the turn of the year, losing just four of the twenty matches played.
Over the last ten, Orient have a similar record to their hosts on Tuesday, with just one loss in their last ten outings also, their loss coming two games back, 2-0 at Gillingham, meaning both sides have picked up seventeen points from an available thirty.
“I think the two crucial ones as well are the ones against Stevenage and Orient here,” Stags boss, Clough, said recently.
“(They are) two of the best teams in the league, so we can’t afford to lose those.
“I hope it’s not that tight when we go to Colchester (last game of the season) – I hope we’re in it – and just to be in it at this stage of the season is good.
“But we know where we should be.”
After losing last seasons’ play-off final, Clough’s charges would have expected to have been pushing for automatic promotion this time around.
Although games are running out, victory (which is a must in the promotion stakes) will go a long way to boosting an outside chance of sneaking into the last, automatic promotion place; even a draw will see the Stags move up two places, to sixth.
Meanwhile, the champions will be looking to open a ten-point gap between themselves, and second place Northampton Town, having won the title with a 2-0 win against Crewe Alexandra last time out, second half goals from George Moncur (penalty) and Charlie Kelman.
Four games take place in League Two as eighth place Mansfield Town host champions Leyton Orient, and third place Stevenage Borough make the trip to tenth place Swindon Town on Tuesday (25 April) night, 19:45 KO.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @mansfieldtownfc Lucas Akins will be hoping to help Stags towards the Playoffs.