• Dana Malt

What can Middlesbrough fans expect from Mansfield Town?

It’s the start of a brand new year which means the start of a potential FA Cup adventure for Middlesbrough.

Standing in their way is an in-form Mansfield side who have picked up 15 points from their last six games. Only Tranmere have accumulated more in that time.

Nigel Clough - son of Boro born Brian - is at the helm and at just over the halfway point of the season has his team sitting in 9th place, but they haven’t played a game since Boxing Day owing to Covid postponements.

Ahead of this game, Craig from the Mansfield Matters Podcast kindly gave us an opposition insight into what Boro fans can expect from The Stags.

How do Mansfield set up?

“Nigel Clough is a bit of a tinkerman at the minute. We’re on this excellent run where we’ve won 10 out of the last 11 games which is phenomenal.

“We’ve done it two ways really: we either play with a back three and use wing-backs or we’ll go to a solid back four when that’s not working.

“Every single game we get the team sheet, we look at it and we think ‘this is a surprise’. We genuinely don’t know how we’re going to play.

“We’ll try and press from the front. We’ll try to play through midfield using players like Stephen Quinn and Ollie Clarke, George Maris and George Lapslie to get us playing through that midfield.

“Coming up against a side like Middlesbrough, a Championship outfit, it wouldn’t surprise me if Clough completely changed it and went for a completely different system, and then on top of that you’ve got to take into consideration who's going to be available with Covid.”

Who are the players to look out for?

“The main threat will be Rhys Oates who will try and play direct and try and close things down. We try to get it down the sides and get crosses in towards the box and mix things up.

“He is absolutely on fire at the minute. He’s got pace and energy up front, he’ll try and close the goalkeeper down and try to push us as high up the pitch as physically possible.

“Whilst he’s not found his goalscoring boots in terms of hitting double figures yet, he’s really contributing and turning into a good signing for us. He’s starting to find his feet now and find out a little bit more about himself and become settled in the team.

“Stephen Quinn is an experienced player in that midfield. He really drives us, he plays down the left hand side of the midfield with Stephen McLaughlin - they’ve got a good partnership.

“Another one would be Oli Hawkins who can either play at centre half or centre forward. He’s been our utility man this season and has been absolutely excellent when he plays.

“The big one, really, is John-Joe O’Toole but there’s big, big question marks over him. He was a free agent around September, October time. We signed him on a short-term contract which actually ran out on New Year’s Day and he’s yet to sign that new deal which many Mansfield fans want him to do, so he’ll be a big loss if he’s not involved.

“He’s certainly one to look out for. He’s been involved in the last 11 or 12 games or so and we’ve only lost one of those games. He’s been pivotal in that.”

How has your season gone so far?

“To use an old footballing cliche, the season so far has perhaps been a tale of two halves. We started off really well, the first three games we were unbeaten.

“Then it all fell apart. We had a number of injuries. We lost our best defender in James Perch, our most experienced defender, through a fractured skull which has put him out for the rest of the season, and we didn’t really recover from that.

“Add into that another load of injuries and suspensions, especially to Stephen Quinn who got a six game ban, and we really struggled without his influence. That period of the season was difficult.

“In the last 12 games though we’ve really picked it up and that’s coincided with John-Joe O’Toole signing. He can play centre half or centre midfield - an experienced player. And Stephen Quinn coming back into the fold as well.

“Certainly a season of two halves already and we’re only half way through it. Where it’ll go from here though definitely hinges on the transfer window business. We’re thin on the ground with numbers Covid wise again, so everything is up in the air at the minute.

“We’ve just really enjoyed the last 12 games. To get 10 wins out of the last 11 in all competitions has been really fantastic for us and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do post-January.”

Thoughts on the game?

“It’ll be a tough tie on Saturday. Obviously Middlesbrough are pushing for promotion back to the Premier League - that’ll be the priority for the manager. Whether they’ll put a weakened side out for the FA Cup or not, who knows.

“Will it go ahead? Who knows, everything’s up in the air. One thing’s for certain though: the magic of the FA Cup, for Stags fans at least, is certainly there.”

Thank you to Craig from the Mansfield Matters Podcast for his insight!

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