Chase is well and truly on for Mansfield Town after Southport win
THE declaration has been made. The chase is well and truly on for Mansfield Town.
After a slip-up a week ago against Kidderminster following the FA Cup exploits with Liverpool, boss Paul Cox sent out a damning warning to his troops.
Although games in hand, they had slipped to nine points off the play-off places in the Blue Square Bet Premier at the halfway point in their campaign.
Changes were made, with Lee Stevenson, Colin Daniel and Luke Jones all being given their chance.
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And after a midweek victory at Stockport, they went to Southport on Saturday and not only beat the snow, but the Sandgrounders too.
The 2-1 win on Merseyside means the Stags have clawed back six points on fifth place, are just three off the play-off places and still with games in hand.
Some of the qualities from that solid run at the end of last season were on show as they recorded a fourth successive league victory on the road and afterwards, the twinkle was back in the eye of Cox.
For the hardcore Stags fans who dug their cars out of the snow to head to the north-west, they wanted repaying on a freezing afternoon.
While back in north Nottinghamshire there had been heavy downfalls, at Southport it had not been as relentless, yet it still took volunteers to clear the pitch on the morning of the game.
And the hosts must have been thinking it was all worthwhile in the sixth minute as a poor ball to Adam Murray in the middle of the park was pounced upon by Alan Moogan who broke forward, fed Shaun Whalley on the right of the box and he cut inside before curling a superb effort beyond Alan Marriott into the far corner.
For the first 15 minutes, Stags were very sloppy, it was a worry. But from there on in, Mansfield took the initiative.
Matt Green threatened with a header before, on 19 minutes, Daniel went on a powerful run beyond the full-back before cutting it back to Murray, whose first shot was blocked before he hammered home the rebound.
Stevenson then started to come into his own.
Known as a natural goalscorer at both Eastwood and Belper before, his chances have been few and far between since joining Mansfield 18 months ago.
But on Saturday, he showed his knack of being in the right place at the right time as he found himself shuffling his feet down the left of the Southport box before getting his effort away, only just over the bar.
After a Stevenson shot spun into the path of Anthony Howell six yards out, he fired an effort on the turn only to see it blocked before John Dempster cushioned it at the back post from a corner, touched back to Stevenson who lofted a strike towards the back stick – but there was just too much on it.
But Stevenson's perseverance paid off nine minutes into the second half, as he put the Stags ahead.
Howell's pass to Stevenson on the edge of the box picked his team-mate out in a central position, saw him turn away from his marker before pulling a well-taken left-footed shot into the far corner, wrong-footing Tony McMillan who got down to his left too late.
It was Stevenson's second goal in two games since coming back into the team and his third in four starts this season and finally, with him only going to get sharper, he could have an integral part in the chase that lies ahead.
But so could Daniel, who was outstanding, a constant menace down the left as Mansfield controlled the game.
Green nearly scored on 66 minutes when he turned and thundered a fierce effort that McMillan could only parry but Stevenson lost his footing as he looked to poke home the rebound and after being partially cleared, Ritchie Sutton blazed just over from 20 yards.
There was a scare for Stags before the game was out as Lee Beevers headed clear off the line from Charlie Joyce, after Marriott was caught off his line from a corner before Whalley diverted Karl Ledsham's low effort the wrong side of the post.
There was still time for substitute Louis Briscoe to make an impact, in stoppage time, as he ended a mazy run by hammering a 20-yard effort beyond McMillan, only to see it crash back off the crossbar.
It did not matter, the game was won and more importantly than the back-to-back wins and closing the gap by six points in the process, the Stags appear to have a steel about them.
In the past, both last year at Mansfield and during his successful time at Eastwood, Cox's teams have always finished the season strongly.
On the weekend's evidence, against an in-form Southport, Stags looked to have that hunger the manager has been searching for. As a result, the chase is well and truly on.