Following relegation after just one season in the now old second division, most Stags supporters felt it was important to strike early……..
Following relegation after just one season in the now old second division, most Stags supporters felt it was important to strike early, and all thought our best chance of getting back up, would be at the first attempt.
The vast majority of the players were kept on, meaning that those that had got us up in the first place would be given the oportuntiy to do it again. Keith Curle kept the players back in May 2003 for a whole three weeks after the season had finished, probably as punishment for relegation, but more in preperation towards the new campaign. During June some £20,000 was spent on installing new drains and generally improving the pitch at field mill, Perry Electrical came on board in the form of home shirt sponsorship (later to cover both shirts), and of course the fixtures came out, when the realization of not going to the likes of Loftus Road etc hit home, as the Stags were pitched away at Kidderminster for the opening game.
Just prior to the season starting, Danny Bacon left for Hucknall, but defenders Dave Artell and Tony Vaughan were offered a deal. The most successful of the pre-season friendlies was a 2-1 home win over Kevin Keegans Manchester City, as the stags made the premiersh*t side look very ordinary.
And so the season began on a hot and steamy day in Kidderminster. The week leading up the game saw temperatures hit well into the 90 degree area, and despite warnings that rail tracks were melting all over the country, what did our lot decide to do, yep you`ve guessed it!, so after a day waiting in stations suffering horrendous delays, we eventually arrived in Kidderminster to be met by a very large Mansfield following, so much so that the home side, who were quite blatently trying to rip us off by sticking us all in the higher priced seating, got what they richly deserved when about 200 hot and sticky away fans, forced open a gate for the empty terracing, and promptly got in for nothing.
Despite dominating the game, Stags were to go on and lose the game 2-1. Wayne Cordon scoring the Stags opening goal of the season. The patience of the large away following were tested when Curle took Larkin off, cries of “you don`t know what your doing” rang out from the terracing and seating area.
The Sky TV camera`s came to field mill during the week after, and after putting up a spirited display, it was to be another 2-1 defeat, to Sunderland in the Carling Cup, with the winner coming from Kevin Kyle in injury time. The fanzine Dejavu sponsored the match ball for the 1st home league of the season at home to Leyton Orient, and a lazy looking Stags could only manage a 1-1 draw, again a very late goal costing the Stags, Luke Dimech had opening the scoring. It was after this game that stories came out regarding Liam Lawrence, who was controversially dropped for the game, it was rumoured that he`d been seen out drinking during the week without permission from the gaffer, he was to apologize in the next couple of games via a t-shirt message saying “sorry”.
The first wins of the season came in fantastic style, a 3-0 away win at Southend in front of just 300 visiting supporters, with Christie exploding with a hat trick, was followed up by the best performance for a couple of years, as Scunthorpe were trounced 5-0 at Field Mill, and it could have been even more, the stags were off and running.
It was all brought back down to earth with an almighty bump though on a stormy afternoon in Wales and the trip to Swansea. The days leading up to the game had even seen Swansea make the game all ticket for away fans as late as the Wednesday before the match, meaning only 200 odd making the journey. Both Christie and Williamson saw red, plus six yellow cards were waved at the Stags players, this despite a mass brawl involving all players out on the pitch, Stags supporters were also subject to an horrendous afternoon, as they were spat at on the way out of the ground. It was a bad way to end a month that was beginning to show promise.
September started with a thrilling 3-2 home win over Macclesfield to propel the Stags into the top7. A fine draw at Oxford (1-1), saw Curle first try out his one up front tactic. More goal feasts were to follow in midweek when Bury came to town, a fantastic game saw 8 goals, luckily 5 of them for us, with both Liam Lawrence and Wayne Cordon netting two apiece, the result making the Stags the top scorers in the league for a short time at least. Yeovil decided to come and spoil all that though with a 1-0 smash and grab, mainly due to injuries beginning to mount up in the dressing room.
Luckily the injuries didn`t last long, but one thing that will live long in the memories of all Stags fans is the trip to Cambridge, which saw the Stags triumph with only 9 men. Christie and Day saw red at 1-0, but the nine men made it two nil, and then despite conceding a goal, hung on superbly to take all three points, the game also saw Keith Curle sent off, and have a big row with a policeman. The style was turned on again for a midweek trip to Bristol Rovers, as the Stags were three nil by half time, and it is how it stayed.
Luckily October started with a very poor Darlington side coming field mill and turning in an awful display, which allowed the Stags to walk away with an easy 3-1 win, a result that meant the Stags lept into second place in the table. Another comfortable (ish) victory over York at Field Mill, meant that 2nd spot remained ours, and more importantly established us as a promotion chasing outfit from the outset. With the Stags main strikers out injured or suspended, a new hero was emerging in the name of Chris Beardsley (no relation to Peter as far as we know!).
A long run in the LDV Vans thingy wasn`t to be as Stockport came and won by two goals to one, however the game saw a large crowd of 3718, with only 150 of them coming from Stockport. Faced with two tricky away games, the Stags were to soon come unstuck, despite a following of nearly 3000 at local rivals Doncaster, the Stags put in a woeful performance and were thrashed 4-2, a better performance at Torquay in midweek still couldn`t earn a point as the home side won 1-0. It was around this time that Liam was interesting Rotherham, luckily Keith Haslam turned down their initial bid of £125,000. The month was to finish on a high note though, as Cheltenham played poorly and the Stags ripped them apart with a 4-0 win, Larkin and Lawrence scoring two each, with Liams two both coming from the penalty spot.
November saw the Stags come to life again. John Helm and goals on Sunday were on hand to witness the 2-1 home win over Boston, whilst Bishop`s Stortford had a great day out in the FA Cup 1st round, even though the Stags coasted to an easy 6-0 win, Tom Curtis scoring his first ever goal for the Stags, as he ended up playing up front for the last part of the game. The stags didn`t let their foot of the gas as they promptly went to bottom of the table Carlisle and back into 2nd spot with a fine two nil win. Another goal thriller followed at home to a decent looking Huddersfield side, and despite being 3-1 down, the Stags fought back to draw 3-3 with a Craig Disley equalizer. Another of the fine away performances with one man up front saw over a thousand Staggies see a 3-0 success at sixseats, home of Northampton. The month finished with the club up before the FA for the Swansea farce, a £2,000 fine followed, unsurprisingly no action was taken on Swansea.
December started with another performance in front of the Sky TV cameras, this time it was nothing to do with the Stags though, Tony Adams had just taken charge of 2nd division Wycombe. An entertaining 2nd round FA cup clash followed, and the happiest man in the ground was Keith Haslam as the game finished up 1-1, and a replay at Field Mill. Lincoln city came to Field Mill and promptly took all three points with a 2-1 win.
The replay with Wycombe provided another thriller, as Liam struck home and injury time penalty, although the way Leeroy went down for it, upset the visitors. A 3-2 win set the Stags up for a 3rd round clash with Burnley. The build up to Christmas saw the Stags head up to the KC Stadium in Hull, a fixture that normally sees a lot of trouble between both sets of supporters, however a large police presence sees the day go off without much trouble this time, a large following of 1500 from Mansfield witness Neil MacKensie hit the winner 5 minutes from time to earn a fine 1-0 win.
A bumper boxing day crowd that struggled to get in saw the Stags win a scrappy one nil game at home to Rochdale, with Colin Larkin hitting the winner, although they festive spirit was ruined somewhat by Macclesfield a few days later, as they grabbed a late equalizer at Moss Rose to earn a 1-1 draw. With no new years day traditional fixture, all the hype was now surrounding the Stags clash with Burnley in the FA Cup, it turned out to be an anti climax though, as some poor refeering saw Jamie Clarke sent off early, and then one more from each side, although the scoreline of 2-0 to the visitors was probably deserved as the Stags were dumped out of the cup, although there was no need for Stan Ternant to say we used Bully Boy Tactics (he got his just deserts when he left Burnley at the end of the season!).
In the league the Stags struggled to entertain, although the 1-0 home wins against Kidderminster and Southend were very welcome, sandwiched in between was a trip to Leyton Orient, again Liam was left out against them, talk was that he`d been sold, although we found out later it was because all the transfer talk was affecting his performances. It must have affected the other players as Orient ran out 3-1 winners, we all stayed over for the night, and ended up in Stringfellows!
A blizzard at Grimford Park against Scunthorpe couldn`t put the Stags of gaining a creditable draw, with a 0-0 scoreline. There was just enough time in January for the revenge game with Swansea to be called off.
As we entered February, things were getting tight in the top 7, with teams swapping places on a match basis. Richard Pacquette joined on loan from QPR at the start of the month, although the vast majority of Stags fans wished he hadn`t have bothered, especially as the ex boss Steve Parkin put one over his old team as Rochdale trounced the Stags 3-0 at Spotland, which saw several Stags fans evicted for fighting amongst themselves, the wheels were beginning to fall off in more ways then one.
They sprung back on for a time on Valentines Day though, as a rain lashed Bootham Crescent, saw the Stags overcome York 2-1. Doncaster came and conquered field mill with the same scoreline, although the game was overshadowed by violence outside the away end after the game, with numerous arrested and injuries. A day out for our lot in Cheltenham at the end of the month saw more argueing not only from the fans, but also the players, as the Stags were played of the park, and were lucky to come away with only a 4-2 reverse.
March came, and the Stags were looking like they might even miss out on the end of season play offs. The game at home to Torquay in midweek was called off with the players virtually warming up, pity was all in the hands of the away following. Laurent D`Jaffo was added to the squad as they bid to bounce back into the promotion race, he had an instant impact as he scored the winner in a 1-0 home win over a disappointing looking Hull City side.
This was a rare bright spark in early march, as the two worst away displays for a number of years were then witnessed, firstly away at Lincoln, who thrashed us 4-1, if that wasn`t enough, a number of stags fans were then set upon on their way to the train station. Then came the trip to Bury, where the first chants of “what a load of rubbish” were sung, as the Stags somehow lost only 3-0.
Changes were made in the side in order to get it back playing again, the emergence of Alex John Baptise looked the most promising. Oxford cried like a bunch of babies when the wind got up in the home clash with them, the game being called off at half time, even though the wind had died down from the 1st half! The revenge clash with Swansea finally took place, and despite playing with only ten men, the Stags were fired up enough to gain a 1-1 draw, giving us all hope again.
The trip to Yeovil saw a fine 1-1 draw, even more so, because a win for the home side would have seen the Stags out of the top seven and the play off picture all together, we all felt at the time that we wouldn`t have got it back if we`d have lost it at this point. One of the games of the season followed as a fine Torquay side played their part at field mill, luckily the Stags edged them out 2-1, but mutual respect was paid by both managers for the football on show.
The fanzine Dejavu sponsored the home game with Cambridge at the beginning of the month, and despite a promising performance, the U`s nicked a point with the last kick of the game from a free kick, much to the anger of the home crowd, who for some reason turned on their own players, the game ending 1-1. Luckily there was no wind for Oxford to cry about the Tuesday after, and a fine display by the Stags saw them get revenge on the big softies by three goals to one, again the fans started to look at the top three.
A trip to Darlington`s posh new ground followed, shame hardly anyone visits it, 800 did from Mansfield and they witnessed a poor showing from the Stags, Darlington won 1-0, although it should have been more to be fair. Double the figure that went to Darlo, made the trip to Boston on a hot afternoon, and after taking over the pubs in the town, the Stags promptly took all three points with a fine 2-1 win.
The inconsistentcy was puzzling the supporters by this point. Carlisle came to field mill on the back of an amazing run that gave them a slim hope of staying in the football league, unluckily for us they continued it at field mill and went away with a 3-2 win, Liam missing a penalty in the final minute to keep their hopes alive (it didn`t work out for them in the end).
May saw the final two games of the normal season, and the Stags needed just a point from either to guarantee a play off slot. A trip to a packed McAlpine saw one of the best displays of the season as the Stags triumphed 3-1, to ruin Huddersfield`s planned promotion party.
A carnival atmosphere was had in the away end for the entire 90 minutes. The Stags had now confirmed their place in the play offs, now they could relax for the final home game against Northampton, the visitors couldn`t as they needed to win to sneak into the same play off set up, and that they promptly did, upsetting Yeovil who they pushed out with their 2-1 win, little did we know until the final whistle that we would then end up playing the cobblers in the semi final !