As Christmas fast approaches, Mansfield Town boss John Dempster will be hoping for a season of very good cheer indeed to stave off growing calls from Stags fans for him to be sacked.
One of the pre-season favourites yet again to achieve promotion from League Two, they missed out on the narrowest of margins twice in 2018/2019, losing the decisive encounter with Milton Keynes Dons and then the lottery of a penalty shoot-out against Newport County in the play-off semi-finals.
John and Carolyn Radford booted David Flitcroft from the dugout for those failures, and swiftly appointed the one-time Scotland U21 international to the main gig at Field Mill, having presided over the academy for several years.
Many pundits wondered whether this would signal a shift in emphasis when entering the transfer market in the summer window, but the acquisitions in particular of strikers Nicky Maynard and Andy Cook from Bury and Walsall respectively would’ve been out of the reach of the vast majority of their competition in the fourth tier (despite the well-documented problems the Shakers had prior to their expulsion).
Having had the luxury of the entire summer break and pre-season to imprint his own philosophy on the Nottinghamshire based outfit, Dempster has not delivered any kind of consistency in results or performances. Indeed, they’ve only enjoyed a single stint of winning more than once in a row, and both of those were in different cup competitions.
Looking specifically at the league, only on one occasion has the obvious talent in the squad really told; however, the 6-1 thrashing of Oldham Athletic increasingly appears to be an outlier. On the whole, expected goals (xG) have been roughly on par with the opposition, and in games where they’ve managed a degree of dominance, it’s rarely translated into wins.
It’s difficult to diagnose one exact cause. The spine of the team is the same as the previous term; along with Danny Rose, Maynard and Cook have contributed well to the goals tally, if not explosively.
The Stags still normally have superiority in ball possession, and get plenty of shots off. However, the main change this year is just how many they’re facing. Where previously you could rely on Neal Bishop to nip the opposition counters in the bud, or even if he was breached, the rock-solid backline, this is no longer the case.
Mansfield manager John Dempster has come under-pressure after a poor run
It should be remembered that this is Dempster’s first senior managerial position, but the crucial pre-winter transfer window period is already well underway.
Whilst he appears to retain the confidence of the board for now, this is much less apparent in the stands and perhaps in the dressing room, too.
Previous incumbents Flitcroft and Steve Evans had many flaws, but could call upon a wealth of knowledge and experience that the current manager could acquire in time if he is able to show an improvement in the immediate short-term.
Despite their disappointing first half of 2019/2020, they sit 10 points off Northampton Town, who currently occupy the last play-off berth. Teams have recovered from far worse deficits over the years in the basement division to haul themselves into the top seven… and few of them will have had the collective ability that’s at Dempster’s disposal.
Within that last point lies the crux of the matter: I am personally an advocate of letting young managers get their chance and be given an appropriate amount of time and space in which to breathe.
Many clubs don’t operate that way in reality, and Mansfield are no exception to that. Dempster's current failure to nail down an identifiable style of play and shape would, were they doing better, appear as though he had the tactical nous to not just assume that one single method would work.
As things are, the consensus seems to be that a change of personnel is required whilst the possibility of fulfilling many people’s lofty predictions for their season still exists. The Radfords are in a better place than most to make that change whilst attracting a high calibre of applicants.
Dempster’s best chance at avoiding his P45 is still to win (and win well) at Crewe Alexandra on the weekend, but it then has to be followed up with a similar display when hosting Northampton Town. Both those sides are where supporters would dearly like their team to be right now… and neither are likely to be in a giving mood.