In opposition this season: Mansfield Town

Mansfield Town will provide Exeter City’s first opponents of September when they travel to St James Park for a League 2 clash. Oliver Roderick takes a look at the Stags as another of the Grecians’ early opponents this term.

Last season
Nobody could have asked for much more from Paul Cox’s Mansfield Town on their return to the Football League, as the Stags finished 11th.

An eight-game unbeaten run spanning late August and the whole of September had Town looking like genuine contenders to secure a second successive promotion, but they fell off after they lost every game in November, part of a run in which they lost nine games in 13, with no wins in that period.

Things picked up towards the end, with an undefeated run stretching from mid-March to mid-April, while on the final day, a 1-0 win at the Memorial Ground consigned Bristol Rovers to relegation to the Conference.

The summer so far
You need more than just two hands to count all of the players who have headed for the exit door at Field Mill this summer.  Ben Hutchinson, George Pilkington, Paul Black, Godfrey Poku, Ian Deakin, Ross Dyer, Jake Speight and Lee Stevenson, who scored Mansfield’s winner at St James Park in January, were all let go soon after last season’s conclusion, while winger Louis Briscoe, just one appearance shy of his 200th for the Stags, was also let go.

Port Vale snapped up Town’s Colin Daniel, James Jennings left for Forest Green and Keiran Murtagh has gone to Woking, while goalkeeper Alan Marriott departed after failing to agree a new deal.

With all those departures, Paul Cox needed to bring some replacements in. The first arrival was Luke Jones from Stevenage, who is now in his third spell as a Stag; former Grimsby striker Liam Hearn joined, and fellow striker Alex Fisher came in from Italian Serie C club AC Monza, having previously played in Spain and Belgium.

The manager

Since taking over in 2011, Paul Cox has led to two impressive finishes in the Conference – the second of which ending in promotion and the league title – and a very impressive 11th in their first season back in the fourth tier last term.

Spending five years at hometown club Notts County as a player, Cox spent most of his playing days in non-league, where he was on the books at Kettering Town, Halifax and Hucknall.  He moved into management in 2003 when he was named assistant at Eastwood Town in the Northern Premier League, and took the top job as boss of the Badgers three years later.  Leading them to the Conference North via two promotions, Cox attracted the attentions of Blue Square Premier side Mansfield, who made him their new manager in May 2011.

Having secured a mid-table finish on his first crack at Football League management, Cox will be tasked with crafting a side that can improve on that achievement in the coming season.

Ones to watch

The Stags have managed to keep hold of last season’s top-scorer, midfielder Sam Clucas, who found the net 13 times in all competitions. Matt Rhead, who scored six goals and finished as runner-up to Clucas, is also still at the club, with those two players looking to pose the biggest threats.

Alex Fisher, who joined from Monza in Italy, brings European experience into the Stags’ ranks, and has returned to England having once been an Oxford United player.

Head to head
It’s all-square in the historical stakes as both Exeter City and Mansfield boast 19 wins against the other.  The Stags took four points off the Grecians in League 2 last season with a goalless draw at Field Mill and a 1-0 win at SJP just after the turn of the year. 

After Mansfield got the better of the Grecians in the first meeting between the sides in December 1931, City would win the next four, a feat the Stags would replicate between August 1962 and January 1965.  Exeter City fans who are old enough won’t want to be reminded of a League Cup first round match at Field Mill – Mansfield were 6-2 winners, and that is the biggest margin recorded in any of the instances of this fixture.

Exeter City wins: 19
Mansfield Town wins: 19
Draws: 17

Club links

Current Grecian Craig Woodman spent time on loan at Mansfield Town from Bristol City in 2004, making eight appearances and scoring one goal for the Stags. 

Former Exeter loanee George Pilkington was released by Mansfield at the end of last season, while George Foster, who is currently a scout at Swansea City, was a Mansfield player for ten years after a spell on loan at SJP.  He would go on to become player-manager at Field Mill. 

Shayne Bradley also spent two years as a Stag after a loan at Exeter City, while former centre-back Lee Richardson, Fred Speed, Jonathan Fortune and Welshmen Jason Rees and Darran Rowbotham have all played for both.

Key clash
Mansfield Town 0-1 Exeter City, Field Mill, Friday 21st December 2001
Having risen to mid-table after some poor early-season form, Exeter City gave their travelling supporters an early Christmas present as Barry McConnell’s second-half penalty won three points at Field Mill.

The Grecians rose to eighth as a result of their victory, while the high-flying Stags found themselves stuck in fourth.

Mansfield’s odds of winning League 2 this season are rated by Sky Bet as 33/1.  The Stags sit at 13/2 to secure promotion, and the odds of the Stags being relegated to the Conference Premier just two seasons after their promotion in 2012/13 are 8/1

On the opening day, Paul Cox’s side will travel to Sixfields to face Northampton Town. The Stags’ odds for that one are 2/1 on Sky Bet, with the Cobblers at 6/5 and the draw 23/10.