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Boss looking to up the ante for Newport clash

23 February 2017

Stags’ boss Steve Evans says his side need to return to the type of performances which have seen them climb to the brink of the play-offs, starting with Saturday’s match against Newport County AFC.

After a nine-match unbeaten run came to an end against Grimsby Town last week, Stags sit in eighth position in Sky Bet League Two, one place behind Colchester United on goal difference. 

And the manager believes the competitive nature of Sky Bet League Two means the teams who aren’t necessarily fighting for a play-off spot are often the ones who pose the biggest threat. 

“I’ve always maintained, and I said it in the week when I met the fans, which was a fantastic evening, that we have two or three games against teams who are not involved at the top end, they’re always the most difficult to win," the Stags' manager said.

“The games against the top sides always take care of themselves, that always comes down to quality and we think we’ve got a lot of that. 

“We can only focus one at a time; let’s deal with Saturday, we then have a massive week ahead of us – with two long trips down to Yeovil and Cheltenham.

“If you look at the points differential between fourth in the table and down to [15th], it’s not much more [than to seventh place]. We’re five or six points away from being at the top end of the play-off group, so it’s all tight.”

Stags welcome the Exiles to One Call Stadium this Saturday (25 February, 3.00pm kick-off) and the gaffer has commended Newport boss Graham Westley for how much he has improved the South Wales outfit since taking over in October. 

“The first thing I’ll do is give Graham enormous credit. I think when he went in there, they were pretty much sunk and he’s given them real hope.

“They’ve lost one game in seven or eight and I’ve watched the full re-run of their visit to Cambridge last week and there’s only one decision that the FA could make which was to overturn the red card given to young Mitchell Rose. 

“If that’s not given and there’s no penalty and it’s a corner like it should be, then it’s a very credible draw at a very difficult place to go.

“I think possibly if we’d be taking on the team that we took on at the start of the season, I think it would be quite comfortably a Stags’ win. But Graham has made the difference which has given them a real fighting chance of staying in the [English] Football League.”

Defender Hayden White will be suspended for the visit of the Exiles after being sent off in last week’s defeat to Grimsby, whilst the boss also revealed that Kyle Howkins received a set-back in his comeback from his knee injury in mid-week and the club is awaiting the results of a scan which will reveal how serious the setback is. 

However, centre-half George Taft is progressing nicely and performed well in a behind-closed-doors match earlier this week. 

“George played and came through really well, I’m delighted with him. He’s getting fitter by the day, unfortunately the opposite of that is Kyle came off at half-time with a little niggle up at Middlesbrough in his game for West Brom. That’s a little set-back for him but George has come through.

“We’ve got players that can play in that position (right-back). Lee Collins is very accustomed to there, Rhys Bennett can go across there, there’s no issues with that, young Ben Whiteman has played in League One for Sheffield United there, so we’ve got no issues about being able to cover that position for us, none at all.”

Moreover, it has been revealed that striker Tyler Blake has extended his loan spell at Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division side Mickleover Sports until Saturday 22 April. 

Supporters will be able to view Steve Evans’ news conference, in full, on Stags PlayerHD later today. 

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