Stags' left-back Mal Benning spoke to The Stag ahead of our 0-0 draw with Colchester United and supporters can now read that interview right here on mansfieldtown.net.
It’s a scenario some of the more experienced players in the Mansfield dressing room will have seen on countless occasions during their careers but, for Mal Benning, seeing a manager depart his post has been a whole new experience.
Although the flying left-back now has more than 100 English Football League appearances under his belt from his time with Walsall and with the Stags, he says Adam Murray’s exit as manager was the first time he has been at a club when that has happened.
The first Benning knew of it was shortly before the public announcement when Richard Cooper – then first-team coach but who has now switched to a role as a senior development coach within the youth set-up – texted to let him know the news, which came as ‘a massive shock’.
“It’s just one of those things that it happened that way, but as players we’ve just had to get our heads down in training and lift our performances. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Steve Evans was made the new manager, and he’s been great to work with too.
“He’s come in and made an impact instantly. He’s made it clear that he’s striving for promotion and all the players have bought into that.”
The arrival of Evans has certainly brought plenty of interest among the football community – and excitement among the fans in the stands.
The former Crawley, Rotherham and Leeds boss has already overseen home victories over Crawley (3-1) and Blackpool (1-0) during his short reign, as well as a draw to Colchester United.
The nine-time promotion winner has also underlined a desire to strengthen his squad in the January transfer window – with the full backing of chairman John Radford – meaning the current squad are well aware they need to prove their worth to remain part of the club’s plans.
Benning adds: “Everyone knows about the gaffer’s reputation for being fiery, but that is good, I think. His passion and enthusiasm rubs off. When he gets fiery you know he really wants people to sit up and take notice.
“Obviously when a new manager comes in, it does affect the players and how they think. Whether they have been in or out of the side, they know they have to make a good impression on whoever is coming in if they want to be in the team.
“That’s what I’ll be concentrating on doing. There is obviously some pressure to perform, but it is a good pressure because it will get everyone trying their very best and showing what they can do.”
Although losing out 2-0 at Exeter in their last league outing, Mansfield are still comfortably within striking distance of the play-off places and Benning can see an opportunity for Stags to progress under their new boss.
“There is a chance for us there if we can get it right, no doubt,” insists Benning. “The two home wins started us moving up the table, so it was a big disappointment to lose in the way we did at Carlisle, collapsing in the second half.
“But that is something we can learn from and now it’s all about trying to go on a good run and get some consistency going. We just have to try to stay in the frame leading into the New Year and not lose too much ground on the other teams.
“We are confident we can stay in contention and keep picking up the points. It’s great to get that winning feeling, especially such as the games like against Blackpool where we worked so hard to get it, and we want more of that feeling.”
One of Benning’s specific targets moving into the Christmas period is to get his name on the scoresheet, having yet to follow up the four goals he netted last season with any in 24 appearances during this campaign.
It’s certainly not for the want of trying – Benning is never shy to have a shot from distance and regularly takes direct free-kicks – but so far he has been out of luck, much to his chagrin.
“Obviously my first aim is to defend well and then after that support the attack when I can, so the scoring part is not the most important part of my role in the team,” explains the 23-year-old.
“But at the same time I managed to pop up with a few last season and I feel I have been in the positions to do the same again this season, without converting.
“It would be great to see one of them go in and I will keep trying to get into positions where I can score when I can.
“I do think my defending has got better and I’ve been working on certain aspects to try to make sure it does. It took me a while to get back to full fitness after the injury I had last season, but now I feel I’m doing alright, even if I would like to start influencing games a bit more.
“As a footballer, you always think there are things to work on and where you can improve. I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I feel it will come over time.”