Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough says his squad are ‘looking forward’ to the challenge of facing second tier Middlesbrough in the Emirates FA Cup third round this Saturday (12.15pm).
The Stags battled to impressive victories in the previous two rounds against higher opposition at League One sides Sunderland and Doncaster.
Speaking at a news conference at One Call Stadium, the boss discussed his players’ excitement at the possibility of causing another potential cup shock.
“The majority of them [the squad] are back in and everybody is looking forward to it,” he said.
“I think the fact we haven’t played since Boxing Day heightens it [the excitement to play the fixture] a little bit.
“As a footballer, when you don’t play you should be champing at the bit for the next game.
“We think it’s a good draw. We know that Chris’ [Wilder] priorities will certainly be the league, since he’s gone in there, he’s had an impact immediately.
“They’re [Middlesbrough] in the play-off places so they have a realistic chance of getting promoted [to the Premier League].”
The fixture will be Mansfield’s first since an incredible 3-2 comeback victory at home to Hartlepool on Boxing Day – a game in which multiple Stags’ players were missing due to Covid.
“They’re coming back at various stages this week and at different levels of fitness.
“We’ve had a couple more cases already this week, so they’ll be missing for Saturday.
“I don’t think it [preparation for matches with games being postponed frequently due to positive Covid cases] has been ideal.
“We played Salford on the 11th [December] and then we played Boxing Day, the next game hopefully is going to be the 8th [of January].
“January and February are looking quite busy.”
The boss is hopeful that absentees from the Hartlepool game; George Lapslie, Stephen Quinn and Harry Charsley could all return to face Boro.
Meanwhile, defender John-Joe O’Toole’s contract is set to expire and the manager gave an update on the likelihood of the 33-year-old extending his deal further.
“Negotiations are ongoing,” said the boss.
“He has got better offers from elsewhere and a higher division so we’re battling against that at the moment.
“We’re a bit unlucky that he’s done so well because that’s attracted other teams.
“But, we’re still hopeful that we will manage to persuade him to stay.”
The weekend’s fixture is another opportunity for the boss to mastermind a cup shock, something he has a successful track record of accomplishing.
“We thrive on being the underdog and have done over the years.
“There’s no greater feeling for the supporters and the club when you do cause an upset.
“We’ve already caused two [upsets] in the earlier rounds, it would be lovely to make it a third one.”
Watch the manager’s interview in full now at: mansfieldtown.net/ifollow.