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September 28, 2012 by mapperleystag1

Many new faces, few worthwhile additions, significant errors in judgement. A look at some of the reasons behind Mansfield Town’s mediocre start to the season.

Owner John Radford’s declaration that he would invest all necessary resources in ensuring that Mansfield Town would “smash the league” has led to an unnecessary amount of transfer activity and upheaval at the One Call Stadium over the summer and early part of the season. We look at the repercussions in allowing manager Paul Cox carte blanche in the transfer market, which has led to the Stags’ unimpressive start to the season.

When Mansfield Town suffered the disappointment of narrow defeat to York City in extra-time in the playoffs in May, the majority of fans could find reasons for optimism for the following season. Most observed that if the Stags retained the core of the side that had performed so well in the New Year, and added quality in a few key positions, then they could avoid the lottery of the playoffs by mounting a sustained title challenge. After all, this was a side that had won 14 of the last 16 games of the season, dropping points only against the champions Fleetwood. Furthermore, if leading marksman Matt Green had been available for the playoff second leg and not suspended due to a controversial sending off at York in the first leg, the outcome of the tie might have been different.

However, fast forward to the first game of this season and much of the squad had been overhauled. None of the defence that had proved such a solid foundation at the end of the previous season were in the side. In its place was a back four that shipped four goals to an average Newport County side, three of which came from set-pieces. Whilst this unacceptable defensive display has as yet not been replicated at home, there have been three more defensive debacles at the footballing fortresses of Gateshead, Grimsby and Ebbsfleet. Last season Mansfield only lost seven times and never conceded more than three goals in a game; ten games into this campaign and the Stags have already lost four times and have conceded four goals in three of these defeats. This is a damning reflection on Paul Cox’s summer defensive signings, with the likes of Luke Jones, Lee Beevers and Andy Owens a clear backward step in comparison with the back four of Luke O’Neill, Exodus Geohaghon, Martin Riley and Ritchie Sutton.

Whilst Cox has done his best to dismantle a successful defence, his consistent wasting of money has perhaps been more startling. The perfect cases for this are the aforementioned Geohaghon and defenders George Pilkington and John Thompson. In the summer Geohaghon was a free agent but was not signed by Cox. However, after the shambolic performance at Grimsby, Cox decided after all that he did want Geohaghon back, which resulted in Mansfield having to buy the player from Kidderminster and undoubtedly paying him higher wages than he would have demanded in the summer. Whilst Cox should be applauded for having the bravery to make a decision which leaves him open to ridicule, his criminal waste of money was unacceptable. Moreover, I would imagine that if he had the opportunity, Cox would re-sign Riley, who has impressed greatly at promotion rivals Wrexham and forged an excellent understanding with Geohaghon last season.

Paul Cox is not the only one wondering why he signed all those players in the summer.

However, the Geohaghon farce pales into insignificance with his man management of Pilkington, and to an extent that of ex-Championship defender Thompson, who also previously captained Notts County to the League Two title. Pilkington was brought to the club from fellow promotion contenders Luton Town, where he had been captain for many seasons. After a disappointing debut against Newport, he was sidelined for special treatment by Cox, being hauled off at half-time in the following fixture at Gateshead, with rumours of a verbal, even physical confrontation between the two. None of this has been, or is likely to be ever confirmed, but since this incident Pilkington has not featured in the side, with other players seemingly more immune to being dropped. Equally, after a horrific injury resulting from an on-field assault last pre-season, Thompson has not featured in Cox’s plans, despite no adequate replacement found for O’Neill at right-back. With their experience and leadership, it seems strange that neither player is playing regularly. In both cases, it appears that there may have been off-field disputes between player and manager, which have resulted in probably the two best-paid players at the club not being in the side- there have been ample opportunities for Cox to re-introduce them, due to suspensions, injuries and poor form but he has chosen not to do so. Whatever the reasons, it is a significant waste of money, added to an ever-growing list which includes summer signings Godfrey Poku, Nick Wright, Jamie Hand, Jamie Tolley and John Dempster, all of whom have not featured consistently or are out on loan, already seemingly surplus to requirements.

A rare picture of George Pilkington in a Stags shirt, one of many players who signed in the off-season who has not featured as often as expected.

Cox’s decisions in the transfer market, plus bizarre tactical decisions which are too great to discuss at length now, have put Mansfield on the defensive from the outset this season. The quantity of signings was ludicrously high and the quality of many of them has been suspect or impossible to gauge, due to their lack of competitive action. After last season’s performance, Cox deserves a chance to rectify his errors of judgement. However, you get the impression that time and patience is running out quickly.

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