Crawley Town have begun their 2019/20 SkyBet League Two campaign in promising form and are preparing to host Mansfield Town at the People's Pension Stadium on Saturday.
Aided by prolific Birmingham City-loanee Bez Lubala, who recorded his sixth goal of the season against Macclesfield Town last Saturday, the Reds have taken 11 points from their opening seven games. Poised in a fine mid-table position, Gabriele Cioffi's squad are only missing out on a place in the top seven due to goal difference.
The 11th-placed side host 12th-placed Mansfield Town this weekend and we caught up with John Lomas, sports editor of our sister title the Mansfield Chad, to get the lowdown on last year's play-off semi-finalists:
Q: What were Mansfield's realistic pre-season ambitions and how are they panning out?
A: David Flitcroft had a top three budget for the past two seasons, failed to get them over the line, and paid for it with his job. Former skipper and academy manager John Dempster was promoted from within, as a rookie boss, and had a tough first month with one win in eight games and up to ten players out injured or suspended. But, like Flitcroft, he has been fully backed for a top three place and promotion is expected this time around. They did start slowly last season with far less problems but came good and the summer additions have all been quality.
Q: What were the summer comings and goings? Has the budget gone up or down?
A: The same promotion war chest is on offer and the chairman will spend again in January if need be. The summer signings have been excellent, bringing in established goal aces Nicky Maynard and Andy Cook on permanent deals while the promising Dapo Afolayan is on loan until January from West Ham. Keeper Aidan Stone has strengthened that department and Kellan Gordon looks a decent right wing back from Derby. The giant Leeds loanee, Conor Shaughnessy, was man of the match on his debut as a holding midfielder on Saturday and youngster James Clarke, signed for Stags' U21s, has already been promoted to the first team squad.
Q: How is the manager doing in the fans' eyes?
A: As a new manager, Dempster has much to prove. Three titles in four years with the youth team counts for nothing and some fans have been very critical over his first month, despite his injuries. He has drawn too many games for them so far and tended to be overly-cautious when ahead with his subs. But it's early days and he is very confident this will be a successful season.
Q: What is the latest team news with injury and suspension etc?
A: No.1 keeper Bobby Olejnik is two or three weeks away from a return from a serious ACL knee injury last season. Andy Cook has had an ankle injury, but is expected back in training some time this week. Big centre forward Craig Davies missed a big chunk of last season with ankle problems and is still working his way back slowly. Dapo Afolayan had a niggle in his knee last week but should be back training, while right wing back Hayden White is struggling after suffering a knock on the ankle he broke last season, but he should be back for Saturday.
Q: Who is catching the eye and who are the ones to watch?
A: Danny Rose is back to his best up front after a nightmare season last time around and has six goals already. He wins so much in the air for a small striker and is deadly around goal. The 6ft 4in Shaughnessy was assured and impressive on his debut on Saturday and could yet prove a massive signing if he carries on like that. Stags' back three of Pearce, Sweeney and Preston were the division's meanest defence last season and, after a shaky start, rarely able to all play together with injury and suspension, they chalked up a second clean sheet in Saturday's win. If they can do their jobs, the side has lots of goals in it.
Crawley Town's encounter with Mansfield Town takes place this Saturday (14th September) at The People's Pension Stadium. Kick-off at 3pm.