Stags Gain Promotion

Mansfield Town 2-1 Accrington Stanley (16.04.2024) EFL League Two

At the fourth attempt in recent years, the Stags have been promoted, yes promoted, to the third tier of English football, for the first time since appearing in the old Second Division, in 2002-03.

A lot has changed in Mansfield in the past two decades, back then they were managed by the duo of Stuart Watkiss (player-turned-coach at Mansfield, 1996-2004) and Keith Curle (player-manager 2002-05); current Stags boss, and the EFL League Two Manager of the Season, Nigel Clough, well he was in the midst of his final years as a player, with Burton Albion, between 1998 and 2009 (he returned between 2015 and 2020).

Fast forward to the present day, and with Clough having taken the reigns at the One Call Stadium in November 2020, replacing Graham Coughlan, it’s been a roller-coaster couple of years; at the third time of asking though, Clough has taken them up.

Losing the Play-Off final in 2022, against Port Vale, Clough’s charges fell away last season, finishing in eighth position and missing out on a play-off spot on goal-difference from Salford City. Now though, they’ve overcome those hurdles, despite a few wobbles since the turn of the year, and can finish the 2023-24 season as runners-up to champions Stockport County, the pair, along with Wrexham, taking the three, automatic promotion spots.

Including success over Accrington Stanley, victory in the last three outings for the Stags got them over the line and into second place, on goal-difference, from Wrexham, with two games remaining, and they started early in their promotion party, in front of a near 8,000 crowd.

The game was shy of two minutes old when the opening goal arrived, Stephen Quinn taking an early corner, quickly, to George Maris, who proceeded to curl the ball in to the Stanley box, took a nick off defender Tommy Leigh, and past Radek Vitek for the Stags’ attackers’ tenth goal of the season.

The hosts created several chances in which to double their advantage before the break, Maris flashing an effort wide of Vitek’s goal just after the half-hour mark having been found by Lucas Akins the stand-out chance.

Halfway there and within five minutes or so of the restart, that lead could have been doubled, twice in fact; mercurial attacking midfielder, Davis Keillor-Dunn, a revelation this season, saw his first effort fired straight at Vitek having been found with a pass from Tom Nichols, then immediately after the same would curl an effort over from range.

A couple of half-chances fell to the visitors, Leigh attempting to make amends from full 25-yards out, before the home lead was finally doubled just after the hour; pandemonium engulfed the One Call when, having seen his initial effort saved by Vitek, Irish international, Stephen Quinn, followed up to tap home the hosts’ second of the game, and his fourth of the season.

The usual plethora of changes followed with Clough bringing on that of Ollie Clarke, Aaron Lewis, James Gale and Will Swan in quick succession, with Elliott Hewitt entering the fray for the closing stages, replacing Akins who’d put in a shift at right-back.

The visitors did halve the deficit with five minutes remaining, the ball having been played out to Jack Nolan, who’s cross was met by, of all people, Tommy Leigh, who controlled, turned, and fired a right-foot volley past Christy Pym.

Victory though, and with it automatic promotion to EFL League One for the 2024-25 campaign, belonged to Nigel Clough and his Mansfield Town side, but there’s still a bit to play for, runners-up spot still up-for-grabs.

It’s between Mansfield and Wrexham for second place, the pair locked on 82-points apiece, the Stags holding court on goal-difference with two-to-go; Mansfield host Gillingham next (20 April), before finishing the season away to Barrow (27 April), whilst Wrexham, they travel to Crewe Alexandra (20 April), before closing the season, at home, to the champions, Stockport County, a week late (27 April).

Mansfield Town – Christy Pym, Lucas Akins (Elliott Hewitt, 84), Aden Flint, Jordan Bowery, Stephen McLaughlin, Louis Reed, Hiram Boateng (Ollie Clarke, 67), Stephen Quinn (Aaron Lewis, 67), George Maris (James Gale, 74), Tom Nichols, Davis Keillor-Dunn (Will Swan, 74)

After the game, Stags boss, Nigel Clough, told BBC Radio Nottingham: “It’s a huge relief to get over the line.

“We didn’t want it to go to Saturday (home to Gillingham) and possibly the week after going to Barrow.

“The MK Dons result from Saturday gave us the incentive to get it done (tonight).

“We had a couple of chances in the first half to double our lead then Quinny did that.

“It was ideal getting that early goal, it settled everybody down.

“I think people were expecting a bit of an avalanche of goals after that, but football is not like that.

“The main thing is we got the three points, another win and have gone second in the league and we are there.”

With two games remaining, four Stags are finishing the season in doubling figures, scoring-wise; Davis Keillor-Dunn has notched an impressive 21 goals thus far, Lucas Akins has fourteen to his name, whilst the pairing of Geroge Maris and Will Swan sit on ten apiece.

Roll On League One; the Stags are Going Up!!

*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).

*Main image @mansfieldtownfc the promotion celebrations are already under way.

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