PREVIEW: Mansfield Town v Luton Town

This season hasn’t gone exactly to plan for Mansfield so far, writes Mike Simmonds.

Touted by many as genuine title contenders before the campaign began, they have struggled badly for consistency which has crippled their attempts to launch a genuine assault at the top of the table.

Back to back defeats in their opening games, saw them concede eight goals in the process, before the Stags looked like they had got back on track with five wins from the next seven games.

Since then though, they have won four just out of 11 matches, with five draws, and only just squeezed through in the FA Cup first round at Slough on Tuesday night, beating their Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central opponents on penalties.

Mansfield’s current position of 10th has been built on their home form with six wins from nine games, taking 20 from a possible 27 points as apart from the opening day 4-3 defeat to Newport, they have yet to be beaten in front of their own supporters too.

Boss Paul Cox tried to rebuild his whole side during the summer, making a raft of new signings with no less than 14 new players joining.

These included the likes of George Pilkington and Godfrey Poku from Luton, Nick Wright (Kidderminster), John Dempster (Crawley) and Wrexham’s duo of Jake Speight and Jamie Tolley.

Much of the new vaunted line up haven’t come off for Cox though, with Pilkington, Tolley and Luke Jones barely featuring so far.

It appears Cox has finally settled on a starting line-up, as he his kept the same team for the past three games, but is now forced into a chance for the Hatters clash after captain Dempster was sent off in extra-time for violent conduct against Slough in midweek.

The former Kettering played had forged a solid defensive partnership with Exodus Geohaghon of late, conceding just two goals in four matches, so his absence is something of a frustration to the boss, who said: “I thought the centre back pairing was really coming together and I have kept the same side for the third game running because it was developing.

“We will be forced into a change, which is not ideal, but it is a chance for somebody to step forward and stake a claim for a regular place.”

Striker Matt Green has yet to hit the heights of last season which saw him finish as one of the top scorers in the Conference, with almost 30 league goals to his name.

Four in his first six games looked like he would carry on his prolific ways, but he hasn’t scored since September 4, a run spanning seven games.

Just two wins in their last eight Conference matches have seen frustrations creep in with the fans this season too, with the Stags’ players receiving abuse after a number of home games.

Captain and assistant manager Adam Murray added: “We have gone into a siege mentality and have to as the abuse has got personal.

“We were here last season and I’m past worrying about it. I’m focused on playing football and working for the boys out there who care.

“There is a lot of things at the club behind the scenes, a lot of politics where people are trying to stir up trouble and it’s turning on the players now.”

Team news: Hatters welcome back both Simon Ainge and Jonathan Smith, who were unavailable for the FA Cup match with Nuneaton.

Stuart Fleetwood and Adam Watkins are both pushing for selection after injury and illness, although Jon Shaw remains touch and go after his thigh problem.

Danny Spiller and Garry Richards continue to remain absent,

Mansfield are definitely without John Dempster after his red card, with John Thompson more than likely to replace him.

Top BSBP scorer: Stags – Jake Speight (6). Hatters - Stuart Fleetwood (10).

Man in the middle: Ross Joyce - official has taken 12 games this season, showing 38 yellow cards, with two reds so far, while his last game was the 3-2 home win for Hyde over Grimsby, where he handed out three bookings.

Joyce took Luton twice last season, the 0-0 draw at Alfreton and also the 3-1 win for Town at Tamworth, where he showed two red cards to the home side.

In charge: Paul Cox. As a player, he had spells at Nott County and Hull City before dropping into non-league where he turned out for Kettering Town, Halifax Town and Hucknall Town.

In 2003, Cox began his coaching career as assistant manager at Eastwood Town, taking charge in October 2006.

Led them away from the Unibond Division One relegation zone and then guided to the club to two successive promotions along with the third round of the FA Cup.

Resigned on May 5, 2011 and was unveiled as Stags boss on May 19, 2011, signing a new two year deal in April this year.

View from the opposition: Goalkeeper Shane Redmond - “There has been a lot of made of the not-so-great start to the season but we are getting back to where we were last season.

“Sunday is a great chance for us and then we have Macclesfield away on Tuesday.

“It is going to be a big game, hopefully a big crowd and it will be rocking.

“I feel we will be okay as we have done well of late, tightened up at the back. We maybe just need to score a few more goals.”

One to watch: Jake Speight. 27-year-old is top scorer for the Stags this season with six goals in 15 league appearances.

Began his career at Sheffied United, but dropped back into non-league and then had a prolific spell at Mansfield before snapped up by Bradford City for £25,000. Went to Port Vale and Wrexham, scoring 21 league goals in 38 appearances for the Welsh side last season, before Mansfield snapped him up for his second spell.

Friendly faces: Town striker Jon Shaw joined Mansfield on a free transfer back in January 2010 and scored three goals in 14 league appearances, before moving to Gateshead the following summer.

Former Town skipper George Pilkington played 172 times for Luton, scoring 12 times before moving to Mansfield on a free transfer in the summer, but has made just four appearances so far for his new club.

Midfielder Jamie Hand is also with the Stags. He played 15 times for Town, netting twice, after moving to Kenilworth Road on loan from Hayes, but injury has restricted him to one substitute appearance for Mansfield and he is now on loan at Eastleigh.

Godfrey Poku is another who signed for Mansfield after leaving Luton in the summer, but he hasn’t even played for the Stags and is now out on loan at former club Southport.

Adam Murray spent a brief spell at Luton as he made seven appearances after joining from Oxford on a free transfer. He went on loan to Mansfield in September 2010, making the move permanent in January and has now made almost 100 appearances, recently signing a new one-year deal as player assistant manager.

We’ve got form: Town haven’t won at the re-named One Call Stadium since the League Cup 4-3 triumph back in Septemper 1989.

In fact that is their only success in 13 matches, with five wins and seven defeats suffered by Town, while Stags have notched 24 goals to Luton’s 13, with Hatters failing to net in five outings.

They have only scored once in their last four visits as well, with two of the clashes ending in goalless draws.

Last time out: Hatters were held to a 1-1 draw in their visit on August 23 last year. The hosts had led through Matt Green’s 26th minute strike, before Will Antwi equalised on 78 minutes.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Dean Beckwith, Jake Howells, Ed Asafu-Adjaye (Dan Gleeson 56), Will Antwi, Curtis Osano, James Dance, Amari Morgan-Smith, Danny Crow, Aaron O’Connor (Dan Walker 61), Adam Watkins.

Did you know: Mansfield have already used 30 players in the Conference already this season, as opposed to 24 by Luton.

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