Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough expects a ‘special’ Boxing Day contest against promotion rivals Northampton Town as Stags look to build on four points from the previous two matches in Sky Bet League Two.
The boss’ side were dramatic winners at home to Colchester before a well-fought point at Stevenage earlier this month provided back-to-back positive displays with Saturday’s scheduled match at home to Grimsby postponed due to a frozen pitch.
The club sit fifth currently in Sky Bet League Two and welcome the Cobblers to One Call Stadium for the first time since winning in both legs during last campaign’s 2021-22 play-off semi-finals.
Speaking to iFollow Stags in a news conference this afternoon, Nigel said: “We haven’t played for two weeks.
“That’s not ideal at this stage [of the season] with three [games] in seven days coming up and then [a period of] over two weeks without a game prior to that.
“We were just building up a bit of momentum we thought with the four points we got in the previous two games, and we desperately wanted to play against Grimsby.
“Boxing Day is always a big game. A special game.
“Supporters come out [in their numbers] and everybody looks forward to that particular fixture, especially with it being Northampton [as the opposition].
“I think it will have a little bit of something extra and we can’t underestimate their [the Cobblers’] desire to get a little bit of revenge for what happened in the play-offs.”
The gaffer’s side have recorded victories in the previous three meetings between the two clubs.
“It’s not bad blood or anything like that. It’s just a healthy, professional wish to turn the tables on the team that knocked you out the play-offs,” said the boss.
“We get on well with them [off the pitch]. They’ve got Jon Brady and Colin Calderwood, a nice fella, so we all get on well and had a bit of time [together] in Scotland [during pre-season].
“They’ve got Ben Fox playing for them who played for us at Burton.
“The way they’ve recovered from that [play-off] disappointment and the [fact that] they’re back up there in the top three again [this season] speaks volumes of them.”
Away from the pitch, the squad has been hit with illness in recent weeks.
“The biggest challenge we’ve got at the moment, which is I think in general around here, is illness,” Nigel said.
“The bugs and so on that are going round have laid down a few players. It’s coming from their children unfortunately.
“I think there are so many different viruses going around that are affecting kids that they are passing them on to their parents.
“We’ve had about five or six in the last week that have gone down with it [a bug] and it’s pretty serious as well. It’s not just a 24-hour bug.
“With injuries [however], we’re not too bad at the moment. It’s just the illness.
“Jordan Bowery has had it, James Perch has had it, Oli Hawkins has had it, George Lapslie has had it – just about all of them. So many of them have young families as well. It’s inevitable that it just gets passed on.”
The manager outlined the Stags’ schedule ahead of Boxing Day’s eagerly-anticipated clash – starting with a friendly at Lincoln City tomorrow.
“A good 45 minutes [for each player] at Lincoln on Wednesday, off Thursday and then in on Friday and Saturday,” said the boss.
“We’ve had Christmas day off for the last few years wherever we’ve been, and we’ve looked at it prior to that.
“Sometimes we’ve been in and sometimes we’ve been off, and the results really haven’t varied so we’re quite happy – especially with so many young children in the camp [belonging to players] – it’s a special time for them [the squad] to spend with their families.”
With January soon approaching, Nigel also provided an insight into the club’s potential transfer dealings next month.
“I think two or three ins and outs wouldn’t do any harm,” he said.
“We don’t want more numbers in terms of adding to the squad [total]. I think we’ve got enough [numerically].
“But, if there’s a couple of lads maybe going out that want regular football then that’ll free a couple of spaces up to get a couple of players in.
“We certainly don’t need wholesale changes in January. We just one, two, three – no more than three – just to freshen it up.
“We’ve had one or two enquiries for our lads. We’ve got one or two contract extensions ongoing as well with the current squad so we'll see how they go.”