Defender Stephen McLaughlin says where the club has come from in recent months, to now be fighting for a place in the top seven heading into the final game of the season, is ‘unbelievable’.
McLaughlin was speaking after Mansfield’s hard-fought 2-2 draw with Salford City.
The Irishman was on target twice at Peninsula Stadium, first with a precise 20-yard free-kick in the 15th minute and then from the penalty spot on 45+3 minutes.
The result means Mansfield need just a point from their final game of the season to secure a Sky Bet League Two play-off spot, which McLaughlin is heartened by after the club found themselves in 23rd place after losing 2-1 to Exeter City on 23 October 2021.
McLaughlin told iFollow Stags after his point-clinching brace: “From where we’ve come from is unbelievable and it’s an absolute credit to the whole lot of us. The fans as well because when we were on that bad run they stuck with us home and away, and we’ve come a long long way.
“We’re a bit down because we knew [with] a good win here today, on Saturday we could’ve done it [secured promotion], but we’re in good spirits.
“If anybody said ‘you’ll reach the play-offs’ after Northampton away [on 16 October 2021] people would laugh at you. [We were] second from bottom now look where we are, fighting to get promoted, it’s a good place to be.”
Salford took an early lead in the game through Jordan Turnbull’s header after 90 seconds, before Matthew Lund’s header equalised for the hosts on 52 minutes. McLaughlin was disappointed by the way Mansfield conceded the two goals.
“It was a bit hectic,” he said. “Salford are a good team. They needed to win today so it was always going to be very tough.
“[In the] First ten minutes of the second half, if we saw that out we could’ve gone on to win the game comfortably because Bish [Nathan Bishop] didn’t really have too many things to do [after that]. He had a couple of long-range shots [to deal with] but nothing really to trouble him.
“We didn’t see it out. We made a few errors leading up to that [second] goal. The gaffer [Nigel Clough] always says ‘if you make a few errors in and around your penalty area you’re going to get punished against a good team’. We didn’t stop the cross and we didn’t follow the runner into the box and we got punished for it.”
The 31-year-old notched his sixth and seventh league goals of the season, including his third against Salford this term.
On his superb free-kick goal, McLaughlin said: “It was a good passing move [to win it]. A free-kick is really 50/50 but I’ve just put it in the bottom corner. I couldn’t even see the keeper because he was stood behind the wall.
“I was just like ‘get it on target, get enough power on it and anything can happen’, even if he saved it I think Lucas [Akins] was there for a tap in but it went straight in for me.”
On his penalty, he said: “I take them in training, I’m confident of hitting it.
“I’ve only taken one penalty this season, I just took my time and put it up the middle. I knew he [Salford ‘keeper Tom King] was going to overcommit to that save.”
The full-back concluded by crediting the incredible Mansfield fans ahead of the club’s crucial clash with Forest Green Rovers at One Call Stadium this Saturday.
“It’s going to be a great game,” he said. “We know at home that we can beat anybody any time, we’re really looking forward to it.
“[Our fans were] incredible. They out sang the home fans, you’d think we were the home team today with the fans. They’re a credit to themselves and I can’t wait for Saturday because they’re going to pack the stadium again and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Watch the full-back's interview now by clicking here.