Rock solid Luke Jones takes his chance and now eyes Mansfield Town promotion
IN THE stands, there was a figure sat watching in Exodus Geohaghon.
The giant defender has almost become the forgotten man.
But his omission from not just the starting 11 but the bench as well tells you just how good a form Mansfield Town are in at the moment.
It also points to the strength in depth, especially as alongside him was Ben Hutchinson, the former Celtic forward the other player in the 18-strong travelling party not to make the final cut of 16.
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He has not featured since a slight hamstring strain kept him out of the 2-0 defeat to Kidderminster on January 12.
But Luke Jones came in from the wilderness and grabbed the chance, playing a leading role in a run of six victories from the last seven matches.
The defender, brought in last summer for a second spell with the Stags, started the season first choice but then fell out of favour, also being cast away from the first-team squad for training when manager Paul Cox trimmed the squad.
After not featuring since September, he appeared for a cameo in the 3-0 win at Macclesfield, also scoring, before being back out of the first team until Geohaghon's injury.
But after returning in the 3-1 win at Stockport, he has not looked back, scoring twice as he proves a threat in both boxes and also looks solid at the heart of defence alongside John Dempster.
And with his 17th appearance of the season set to come at Luton tomorrow, the 25-year-old is hoping to keep Geohaghon on the sidelines for a while yet.
"I am just delighted and happy to be out there playing again and doing well for the club. It is nice to be in the team and on a good run," said Jones.
But it is not about him, it is about the team and he feels the gritty 1-0 win at Hyde in midweek to kick off a run of three straight away games, was just what was required.
"To go to places like that, those are the games you have to make sure you get the three points," he said. "We did not play pretty stuff but we got the three points, which was the main thing.
"It could have been more and it got a lot tighter in the last ten minutes that it should have done but we had chances in the first and second half.
"It was a professional performance and we will take that.
"We have to show this kind of form if we are going to make a push for it and we saw again the other night that shocks keep happening, with Grimsby losing.
"We have to make sure we are not one of those shock results and the more you do that, and get that consistency in putting points on the board, it will help our cause."
The only blip in the recent run was defeat at Newport but Mansfield followed it up with a 3-1 home with against Cambridge before collecting three points at Hyde.
And it leaves the league wide open, with sixth-placed Mansfield three points off third with games in hand, and just eight points behind leaders Wrexham, with two games in hand and also still having to play the Welsh outfit twice.
With top spot well and truly a possibility, Jones is relishing the 16-game run-in.
The central defender said: "The Cambridge game was probably more important than we realised because we had to bounce back quickly after a defeat otherwise you have a hangover effect.
"Hopefully now we can get more points on the board in the next two away games.
"For whatever reason a team has not been as strong this year and teams are losing to each other all the time.
"There are a good eight teams right in the mix for the title so there is good competition.
"The first target is to push into those play-offs and then we have to keep looking to push as high as we can and you can only do that by looking to take three points from each match."
And with managerless Luton tomorrow, who are promotion rivals, and struggling Lincoln on Tuesday, a team also without a boss after parting company with ex-Stags manager David Holdsworth, Jones is eyeing another big push.
"It was important to start the three games away from home with the win at Hyde and it allows you to go into Luton with confidence and then Lincoln is always difficult," he said.
"They will be scrapping and looking to impress the new managers who could come in so they will be very tough."
Jones has five goals so far in his 16 appearances this seasons and sees no reason why he cannot extend that tally given the delivery from set-pieces, especially since the signing of left-back James Jennings.
He added: "The deliveries have been good of late and it gives you half a chance so it has been pleasing to get on the scoresheet a few times and hopefully that will continue because I think we look decent on set-plays.
"Jennings has come in and he has a great left-foot and his free-kicks and corners have been great for us, so I hope to add a few more."