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Stags can mount promotion charge, says skilful midfielder

3 February 2017

He may be short in stature, but midfielder James Baxendale is certainly not short on thoughts as to why Mansfield Town have started the New Year on such a charge.

Coming into 2017, the Stags’ form had never been anything other than average, having struggled to put together a strong run of results both under previous boss Adam Murray and in the early stages of Steve Evans’ reign.

But since the new gaffer has been able to bring in new blood and put his own stamp on things since the turn of the year, the effect has been instantaneous.

Stags have won five and drawn one of their five league and cup matches in January, with a recent3-1 victory at Cambridge United particularly catching the eye.

Out have gone Adi Yussuf, Chris Clements, Mitch Rose, Alex Iacovitti, Darius Henderson, Oscar Gobern and Kevan Hurst to be replaced by Joel Byrom, Yoann Arquin, Jake Kean, Ben Whiteman, Shaquile Coulthirst and Hayden White, along with Alex MacDonald and Alfie Potter on transfer Deadline Day.

Those acquisitions have, in the view of the 5ft 8ins attacking midfielder, helped no end in instigating a turnaround in form but, as he explains, a simple change in personnel is not the only reason Mansfield now find themselves just three points off the play-off places.

“I think we have a belief now, which comes from the manager, and even when we went a goal down at Cambridge we knew we could still go on and win the game,” says Baxendale. “We can score goals now and control the games better by having more possession.

“Before the Cambridge game the talk in our dressing room was that it was a benchmark game. We knew that it was a game to show we could go on to better things in the second half of the season rather than letting it drift away – and that’s just what we did.

“We are able to dictate a little more than we did and we are able to impose ourselves on the game more, which you can see in the upturn of the results.

“Alongside that, I think the training is now a lot sharper, with a lot of competition for places, which is keeping all of the boys on their toes. People know that they have to play well, and keep playing well, or they won’t be in the team.

“The manager also demands that the team works very hard. As a team, that should be a given, but he is making us understand the need to do it, and is also giving us the confidence to go out there and play like we know we can.”

It’s been mixed fortunes for Baxendale so far since Evans took charge, being handed four starts and making a further six appearances off the bench.

The former Walsall player has shown flashes of what he can do during that time, not least when he provided the assists for both Pat Hoban goals in the 2-0 Checkatrade Trophy victory over Oldham.

Baxendale admits: “It’s nice to have been involved in the majority of games, but every player wants to be starting all the time.

“But it’s a long season and the squad is always going to get utilised to the full when you have so many games in such a short space of time.

“It’s up to me to keep my head down in training and show what I can do, along with when I do get game time, and prove that I’m ready to take my chance as and when it comes along.”

Doncaster-born Baxendale has been impressed with a number of the new players who Evans has brought in so far, particularly one of his rivals for a midfield slot.

And he is welcoming the expected addition of more reinforcements, even though it will make his own task of securing a regular starting berth that much harder.

“Joel Byrom has done really well since coming in, but it’s what you’d expect, because his past record speaks for itself,” says Baxendale. “He’s been a major influence in the middle of the pitch.

“He and other players are helping control the games for us, which is what you’d expect because a lot of the lads are coming in from a higher level and add that bit of quality.

“To see a £300,000 bid for a player shows just how ambitious the club is and how much they want to kick on. If you are going to be successful, then everyone has to be pulling in the same direction and the chairman is definitely looking to do his bit.” 

Following tomorrow's match away at Barnet, Stags face a double header at home, versus Hartlepool United on Saturday 11 February, followed by the visit of Accrington Stanley three days later.

And Baxendale insists that making life tough for visitors to north Nottinghamshire will be hugely important in continuing to turn the season around. 

He adds: “We have a decent enough away record this season, but our home form has picked up, and we need that to continue. We want to make teams fear coming to the One Call.

“As always, though, it’s about approaching one game at a time and not getting too far ahead of yourself.”

While recent results have reinvigorated talk of securing a play-off place, it will not have escaped the attention of some fans that a long unbeaten run would mean challenging for an automatic promotion berth is a possibility too.

They will, no doubt, recall the 2012-13 Football Conference-winning season when the Stags came from nowhere to take the title, securing 12 victories in a row and 16 wins from 17 matches en route to the summit.

Baxendale is more cautious, however, saying: “In football, things can change around overnight, but as far as Mansfield is concerned, we just need to keep the run we are on going for as long as possible. We need to take baby steps.

“If we can keep things going as we are, then we are definitely going to challenge for the play-offs. If things are going well, you can then look at the possibility of automatic nearer the end of the season – but only then.” 

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