Exeter City will line-up against Mansfield Town on Saturday so ahead of the game Sam Moakes has picked out three Stags to watch out for.
It’s no secret that struggling sides need a quality leader and captain; for Mansfield, that man is Ollie Clarke. The midfielder has only been on the books, on a permanent basis, at one other club in his career: Bristol Rovers. Two years after joining the club’s professional ranks, after a period of several loan spells, Clarke ruptured his ACL as he neared the first-team. After recovering from knee surgery, however, Clarke went on to make over 250 appearances for Rovers, even captaining the side for the 2019/20 season.
He now finds himself at Mansfield, after joining in the summer of 2020. He has so far made 38 appearances for the side and, with veteran defender James Perch side-lined for the season after fracturing his skull, the leadership of Clarke is imperative to Mansfield regaining some kind of form. And, having recently played despite having his nose reset a few days prior, Clarke’s willingness to urge his team forward is evident.
Whilst he hasn’t quite made the impact for Mansfield that some thought he might, Danny Johnson’s clear talent means he should still be considered a ‘one to watch’. Johnson first came on to the radar of Football League clubs for his season for Guisborough United, where he scored at a rate of more than one a game. Whilst he did earn a move to Cardiff, the striker could not make an appearance and soon found himself back in non-league football with Gateshead – where he briefly featured alongside former Exeter striker Ryan Bowman.
After a period in Scotland with Motherwell and Dundee, Johnson signed with Leyton Orient in January 2020 and scored 17 times last season. Turning down a deal at Orient, Johnson joined Mansfield this summer. His start to the season has been somewhat quiet though; despite scoring three goals and notching an assist, Johnson has only started eight games. He is a clear goal-scorer, one that Mansfield need if they are to improve their season.
Now, there’s versatile, and then there’s versatile. If you think a striker that also plays at centre-back doesn’t make it into our ‘ones to watch’ section, then you might want to find a different programme. Oliver Hawkins is that man. He has featured in every Mansfield game so far this campaign, but exactly where he’ll play each game is a mystery. He scored two whilst playing up front against Bradford in August, but due to Mansfield’s injury crisis, has filled in at centre-back since late September. Yes, this makes his heat map just slightly confusing.
Speaking on his versatility, the talented 29-year-old insisted he is comfortable in either position: “It is exciting when I’m back there [centre-back] and it’s a position I’ve grown to really, really like. Don’t get me wrong, my number one option is being a centre-forward and scoring goals, but…the older I’ve got I’ve realised that centre-half might be a position I end my career in” – iFollow Stags.