Patience is a virtue, as Mansfield Town make it nine wins out of ten
PAUL Cox had called for his Mansfield Town players to play with confidence, but that he would not tolerate arrogance.
He spoke about how, with nine games in the month of March, the squad's mentality and physicality would be put to the test.
And with the first of those games against rock-bottom Telford, a team without a league win since the start of October, he would certainly not tolerate complacency.
On Saturday, his side showed another quality, as did the home crowd, as they went about their business to put another three points on the board.
That quality was patience. Yes, some fans might have turned up expecting another cricket score given the vast difference in form of both sides.
But, in the end, a narrow 1-0 win sufficed and everybody went home happy, the side up to third and more importantly just three points off leaders Wrexham, who were held by Alfreton, with a game in hand.
The scoreline could have been greater as Stags rattled the woodwork four times in the first half, had a goal ruled out from Luke Jones and saw Ryan Young make a couple of good saves in the game.
But despite going in goalless at the break, there were no boos or jeers at the interval, as would have been the case earlier in the campaign. It was quite the opposite.
And the reward came four minutes after the restart. Matt Green capitalised on some poor defending and kept his cool to make it 1-0.
While the lead could not be extended, the game was closed out and the points were on the board – a ninth win in their last ten league games – 27 points out of a possible 30.
Cox was forced into one change as John Dempster did not recover from a knock to his ankle picked up in the 1-0 win at Lincoln on the Tuesday so Ritchie Sutton slotted straight in alongside Luke Jones.
On the bench, Exodus Geohaghon returned to provide defensive cover while outcast midfielder Jamie Tolley was also back on there, given the injury to Anthony Howell.
Mansfield looked to get on the front foot from the off and just six minutes in, Chris Clements fed Louis Briscoe who raced at his man and unleashed a vicious effort which beat goalkeeper Young but crashed back down off the underside of the bar.
There was a feeling it would be an easy afternoon but there was a scare on 16 minutes when Ian Craney swung in a free kick to the back post and Jordan Rose got up to meet it but his header across goal went wide of the far post.
Clements and Green then combined to tee up Briscoe who smashed a first-time shot just over the bar from 20 yards as he continued to look dangerous when given room.
But a big turning point in the match proved to be just before the half-hour mark when the hosts had a huge let off.
There had been no threat but then Steven Jones went forward, Sutton made the tackle only to see the ball rebound behind him and Jones darted clear, one-on-one with Alan Marriott, but the Stags goalkeeper saved with his legs.
Stags responded as captain Adam Murray, who was excellent from first whistle to the last in leading his men, fired a superbly-struck shot beyond Young but it crashed back off the crossbar with the goalkeeper well beaten.
Former Nottingham Forest defender Karlton Watson cynically chopped down Lee Stevenson on the edge of the box and was booked before Colin Daniel and Luke Jones both went close.
Five minutes before the break, Green worked his way to the byline on the right and produced a superb lofted cross to pick out Daniel at the back post, but he struck the upright before Stevenson floated the ball in from the left byline and Young tipped onto his bar.
Despite the pressure and possession, it was still goalless. But four minutes into the second half and the Stags had the lead as Green robbed Watson of the ball, broke clear, kept his calm and where Jones had faltered for Telford in the first-half, he did not as the striker fired left footed into the bottom corner.
Telford's Rose drove a shot at Marriott before Mansfield's Clements missed the target after good work with Stevenson and then Stevenson himself struck a near 25-yard free-kick that was moving in the air but just went the wrong side of the far post.
After Luke Jones had a header ruled out for a foul, Watson's nightmare continued as he chopped down Murray and was booked for the second time in the game and rightly given his marching orders.
Still Stags pushed to make it comfortable and substitute Lindon Meikle stung the hands of Young, while Green was also denied at close range by the goalkeeper.
It didn't matter; 1-0 proved enough to continue the Stags' march and they showed all the qualities asked of them from their manager to get the month started in the best possible way.
A long trip to Woking lies ahead on Wednesday before entertaining Stockport. Then follow three big games against promotion rivals Grimsby, Forest Green and Wrexham.
Confidence will be required, mental and physical strength too. But you also get the impression Saturday won't be the last time patience will prove a big factor.
But when it is, Mansfield's players – and fans – have proved they can hold their nerve when needed.