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Two Tribes Go to War


sherm
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Peter shot up, bolt upright. The sweat poured from his brow, the sheet stuck to his skin, and his breathing heavy and laboured

"You've got to stop this. Shes gone, its been, what, seven, no, eight months now?"

He looked at his alarm clock. 6.32. He was due to be up in 28 minutes, not a time he'd been up at in a while. But, today was no ordinary day. It was June 12th, 2001. The day he started a new chapter, a new dawn of his career. But he had been through strife to get here. Boy, was that an understatement!

A stellar playing career, not one that was hugely successful, but one that certainly meant that his name was recognisable. 506 career games, across 19 years, and three clubs. The first ten of those years, from a 16 year old YTS at Everton, to a mature, highly sought after midfielder at 26, were probably the best of his career. He played 329 games, endearing himself to the fans thanks to his tough tackling, the box to box running and his commitment to the cause, and not one fan begrudged him, or resented him, when he moved to Manchester United in 1989, for a fee of £450,000

It was to be this move that shaped his career the way it went, but unfortunately, it wasn't in the way he had hoped. He had done his best to forget the day, but it will always be there in the memory, the back of his mind. It was February 24th, 1990. He had been an ever present in the midfield, the fans had really started to warm to him, despite the teams struggles, and he was just concentrating on his game. The visitors to Old Trafford were Leeds, a huge game, one the fans demanded a win in, and they were getting their wish, 1-0 up after 27 minutes, when it happened

The ball had fallen loose in the middle of the pitch, and David Batty had raced in to get it in a 50-50. Both men crashed in, but the sickening crunch could be heard all round the ground. Everyone froze for what seemed like minutes, when in reality it was about 5 seconds, before Batty was up like a shot and signalling to the sideline. Immediately, everyone knew it was bad. Something was dreadfully wrong...

--

He shook himself out of the covers, headed downstairs and flicked on the kettle. He needed some coffee to clear his head. He was still a little hazy as to how this had come about. Just a week ago, he was thinking about a little coaching, maybe try and head into one of the youth teams in the 2nd Division, when a call from a gentleman called Roy Gallagher had changed all that. Roy was (and still is), as he explained, the Head of Personnel at Mansfield Town - Peter had not even been aware that role existed in football, but far be it for him to argue!


The Stags were looking for a new manager, due to some difficulties previously, and they wanted a clean slate. Someone new, someone fresh, and basically someone from outside of the club. This was a chance to get his foot in the door, and while he would be starting from the bottom, with the merest of coaching experience, it seemed an opportunity too good to refuse

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So, after a long absence from both this forum and Football Manager, I'm back.  This is a game I started with story intentions, but I want to ease myself back into it so it likely won't be flooded with posts. It's a CM01/02 game, a version I still, to this day, love playing. Hopefully, I still remember how to do this!

--

His private life had always been just that - Private - but there had been some major setbacks in his early life. An abusive father and an alcoholic mother had seen him adopted at the age of just 5, taken in by the most wonderful couple, Mr and Mrs Bramall. They gave him everything he ever wanted - and not just material things - but love, attention, and encouragement. It was that remarkable couple that raised him, made him the man he is today, and that he owes everything to. Unfortunately, Ray passed away seven years ago, his body unable to cope with the Lung cancer that ripped through him, but Marie is still going strong, at 79

However, there were certain things in his life that he couldn't help. One of the most painful, and certainly most unexpected, was his wife leaving him. They had met at a function for the Everton players, he as a player, aged just 18, and Leanne as a waitress. He had seen her and instantly proclaimed to a team mate that some day she would be his wife. He was persistent, but not to a level she was uncomfortable with, and eventually she relented and agreed to a date. One became two, two became three and so on, until eventually, they were in no doubt they were in a relationship. That was 21 years ago now, and while they had ups and downs, as any couple would, they married in a small ceremony in 1984. Peter never asked her, and she never told him, but he felt the lack of children, and the focus on his career, was something she always resented, and from 1993, when he moved to Nottingham to try and revive his career with Forest, that was, really, the beginning of the end

He had not, however, prepared, or expected, to find out in the way that he did, just how much it was the end. He had been finishing off his practical exam for the UEFA 'Pro' Licence, one which would give him the final touches and allow him to start afresh as a coach, off the field. He had driven home from London on a cold and wet November night, wanting to surprise her with a takeaway and a bottle of wine after a few rows of late. There, he saw it. He walked into the bedroom to see her in bed with another man. He hadn't realised who the man was, and to be honest, he hadn't cared. He raced downstairs, packed up some stuff, and, despite pleas of "I'm sorry" and "We didn't want you to find out like this", he drove to a hotel and collected his thoughts...

--

The job - he had been preparing. He had done his research on the club, and in particular the playing squad. There was talent, no doubt about it, but it lacked depth. There was also an alarming lack of wingers, which meant he probably needed to adapt and work with what he had - particularly with no money to spend on recruits, and a very limited wage budget. Mind you, this was Division 3 right?

He had acquired a small flat, just a ten minute drive from the ground - thanks to some help from the club - and had pressed and ironed his best suit, the grey pinstripe winning out over the navy blue. So, at 8.20, he grabbed his car keys, headed out to the Sierra, and began the journey

Field Mill, a place he could call home over the next 12 months (well, hopefully, at least!) was one of the oldest grounds in the Football League. The club themselves, owned by the much maligned and controversial character Keith Haslam, had garnered a reputation as a "Yo-Yo Club", flitting between the Third and Fourth Tier for several years now, and they just wanted some stability and a man who could provide that. His notes and files were tucked under his arm as he walked through the doors to the reception area, where he was greeted by a smiling young woman and a surly looking man in his 30's

"Mr Daish? Welcome to Mansfield"

She extended her hand, followed, somewhat reluctantly it seemed, by the happy looking chap

"My name is Charlotte. I'll be your PA and Club Liaison Officer. And this is..."

"Phil Grant. Don't get used to me though. I'm leaving in three days. Just going through the motions"

Charming

"Pleasure to meet you both. Phil, if you have other business you need to take care of, I'm sure Charlotte can take it from here?"

He flashed a warm smile at the girl, while Grant shrugged and turned on his heels before heading off

"I'm sorry about that Mr Daish, he's just..."

"Charlotte, please. Less of this Mr Daish stuff. Let's not be so formal. It's Peter"

The next few hours were spent getting an introduction to the club, meeting the board, and his backroom team (as scarce as it was), before preparing for the Press Conference and the Players arrival back for training, before eventually, at 4pm, after a long and arduous day, it was time for home. Just before leaving, Charlotte did turn round and ask if there was anything else he needed

"No, you get yourself off home love. It's been a long day"

The grateful smile was unwavering, and she headed out the door
 

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It had bothered him that he couldn't show people what he could do at United, but he was never the same player after that injury. A broken knee cap, torn ACL and medial ligament. 16 months out, and though he tried a comeback, it was inevitable and a year later, he headed to Forest, for a snip of what he had moved for to United, to try and revive his career. It's fair to say he did OK, 122 games and the fans were always on his side, which meant a lot to him. The club also allowed him to go through his coaching badges, happily funding the courses, and as he hit 32/33, he was beginning to wind down on the field and take more notice of the coaching side of the game

..

His footballing education had begun within weeks of him moving in to his new adopted home. Ray was a huge Liverpool fan, and adored Shankly and his side (quite understandably), and every Saturday, he would sit down in his chair, his radio on, listening to the results and updates. He slowly began to sit with him, getting used to the game and what went on, eventually joining in with the kickabout games with the other lads on the estate. He usually did well in these games, but hadn't realised it was because he had talent, and figured it was because he was pretty big for his age and could handle himself. Having joined the local boys club as soon as he could, and they had a phenomenal couple of years, reaching the North West Counties U14's final, which was played at Prenton Park. It was this game that got him in on the YTS at Everton, as he played an absolute blinder, unaware there were scouts at the game, and within a month, he had signed terms with the Blue half of the city - much to Ray's chagrin!

He wasn't a fancy player. but was always passionate, kept things simple and wore his heart on his sleeve, which is why he was so popular with fans. Yes, everyone liked a drink back then, the players would go out on a regular basis, many smoked, it was just a different game back then. Goals were not his biggest commodity, 46 in a career speaks volumes, but sometimes, you have to recognise what you're good at

--

The first ten days was a whirlwind. Players needed to get used to the new methods, but the first four training sessions, a ball never came out. He made it clear that fitness was the priority. Division Three was a simple level, therefore it needed simple things to perform in it. Players who were fit, and a simple, no nonsense formation. None of this fancy formation stuff you see these days. Knowing he needed to bring in reinforcements, he had worked quickly to bring in new additions to his backroom team and send the scouts out to look for possible new signings

Rob Campkin was an experienced man, having trawled around the lower divisions over the last seven years, and suddenly finding himself out of contract, he seemed ideal, and had the knowledge of this level to help bring in the right players. He was joined by Spencer Field, a less experienced man but he had made it clear he focused on youth and would fit in nicely with what they were trying to do. Finally, a new coach was added, as Russell Beardsmore penned a deal to join his bench and boost the numbers

Within a few hours of joining, Campkin and Field headed out on assignments, and as he sat in his office with a pen and his list of free agents (who said everything needed to be computerised?!) he was distracted by a knock on his door

"You wanted me Peter?"

"Ah Charlotte, come in"

He greeted her with a warm smile. She had settled in well, and he knew she had been worried about losing her job when he came in, but he would have been foolish to tamper with the structure already there

"I hope you don't mind love, but there's a few people I need you to contact and set up meetings with?"

He handed over a piece of paper

"Of course. When do you want to do the meetings?"

"We're in Scotland for a couple of friendlies from Friday, but I'm coming back Sunday night so from Monday would be ideal"

"No problem. I'll get all that sorted. Anything else I can do?"

"Actually, yes there is..."

He had been told she had been working Saturday morning to catch up, but without pay. That was to stop. No employee of his worked without pay, so he told her she didn't need to do that, and not to worry about things

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"Listen lads, I'm not gonna stand here and say do this, do that. I ask for one thing from my players, and one thing only. A hundred percent effort. If you do that, we'll achieve what we deserve to achieve. You've all had the chance to work together and get used to each other and how we play. First game is Saturday, let's go out there and just do what we do. Now, go home and get some rest, be here sharp, 5pm tomorrow night for the coach"

Pre Season had been a mixed bag. A really mixed bag actually. So much so that Peter wasn't sure what to expect going into the opening game of the season. The first two games had been in Scotland, and after a 3-1 win over Forfar, with goals from Sisson, Bacon and Greenacre, the mood was optimistic. However, three days later, a completely different eleven lost 2-0 at Stranraer. The defeat was disappointing enough, but the performance was terrible. Peter wasn't actually present for the game, having headed back to Mansfield to try and wrap up some deals, and seeing the game highlights and reading the match report that had been sent to him, it enhanced his opinion that they were much, much needed

There were six days before the next game, which saw Burnley travel to Field Mill for a third pre-season game, and it was pleasing he was able to introduce four new additions into the squad for that game. Adrian Littlejohn was a veteran of the lower divisions, having trawled through them over the last ten years, and he would bring some valuable experience into the fold. He was joined by Spanish midfielder Agustin. He had just been released by Levante and looked absolutely perfect for the role sitting just in front of the back four. He was strong, physical and loved a tackle (reminded him of someone he knew, come to think of it!) and was a signing he was excited about

Full Back had been one of the positions, on both sides as it happened, that needed strengthening, and one on each side had been introduced. Karl Owen was a quick and agile right back, not the greatest technically but solid and had the agility to be able to bomb up and down the right hand side. It was a similar story for Portuguese youngster Vitor Pereira, although slightly better technically, he had the stamina and agility to run for 90 minutes down the wing, which was a massive part of how he wanted to play. The new lads all got minutes during the game too, a highly entertaining 2-2 draw, one which drew lost of positives to work with

 

--

"Bastard"

He slammed the phone down, having to check he hadn't actually broken it

"Problems?"

He looked up to see Spencer Field, a lopsided grin on his face, walking through the door

"Sort of. Alistair Asher has had his head turned, wants to leave"

"What's the bid?"

"Two hundred and thirty grand. Crewe. I mean don't get me wrong, we can't really complain at the cash, but I wouldn't have let Lee go if I'd have known this was going to happen"

The Lee in question was defender Lee Williams. He hadn't shown a lot during the first three games, and when Kidderminster offered fifty grand, it was snapped up like a shot. The same fee was acquired for Wayne Corden, a man who didn't look good enough for this level, so it was a mystery to Peter why Stoke, a division higher, wanted him. Still, a hundred grand in the coffers was not to be sniffed at

On the plus side, over the previous week, two more pre season games had come and gone, and three more new players had come through the door. Carlos Marques had actually been recommended by Vitor Pereira, and having got him in on trial, he was suitably impressed enough to pen him to a two year deal. Vance Warner signed on the same day, a versatile player who could play in defense or midfield, and he was keen just to get back into playing, his enthusiasm shining through from day one. However, probably the best signing he made in terms of quality, was Belgian forward Moukoko. He had kind of thrown a bid in just to try his luck, but when he got wind that there was actual interest, he took it seriously. He was a skilful player, creative and probably far too good for this level, so when he turned down six other clubs and agreed to join Mansfield, Peter was ecstatic. It had, indeed, been the promise of regular football that had swayed him, according to the player himself

Marques and Warner were in the squad for the game against Runcorn, probably their best performance, albeit against Non League opponents, as Shayne Bradley and Adrian Littlejohn grabbed a brace a piece to secure a 4-0 win. Moukoko had not made it in time and was in the stands for that game, but he made a 30 minute cameo against Doncaster. It was obvious he wasn't up to fitness levels yet, but his quality was evident, and he set up both goals in the final 15 minutes of the game. Problem was, they were 4-0 down at the time, and the two goals made no difference to the result

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Asher completed his move to Crewe, and Stuart Reddington, who had only seen 14 minutes of action in five Pre Season games, moved to Boston for a minimal fee, while two more players came into the squad, sandwiched either side of the final game of the six friendlies. That game itself was against Portsmouth, a 2-1 defeat but the performance had been pretty good. Solid and looking steady on the shape, they had created chances too. Many of those had come through the play and vision of Dutch midfielder Wouter Kos. Formally on the books at Ajax, he had been deemed not good enough due to his diminutive stature - standing just 5'6 - but he was more than good enough for Division Three. He was joined by another midfielder, David Edwards happily signing a deal with the club. He had a formation that needed three central midfielders, with a player sitting deep in front of the back four, so it was imperative he had an abundance of options to pick from, and he felt he certainly had that now

..

They had both sat down and discussed the possibility of children. He had been indifferent, while she had wanted them. Eventually, or so he thought, they had both agreed that due to the unpredictability of his career, it wasn't the best thing for either of them. However, looking back now, that was something that probably lead to the downfall of their marriage. He also realised now it was probably too late. He was 39, 40 next year, and children was something not on his agenda. He did still get nightmares though, visions if you will. Was it his fault? Could he have done something to stop it? At least once a week, he woke up in a sweat, needing to calm himself, and worrying about things. He had tried therapy, psychoanalysis, plenty of things, but it had done no good

He was hoping that the new job would have helped to appease this, but unfortunately it hadn't, at least not yet anyway, and he would just deal with it as and when. He had come into the final training session on the Thursday before the first game looking a little bedraggled, but if Charlotte had noticed, she certainly didn't say anything. He had taken the session, feeling a little better, and once everyone had gone home, he hung about just to finalise a few things, However, thinking he was alone in the ground, he was startled to hear a knock on his door and a voice speaking

"Sorry, didn't mean to make you jump"

He turned to see his PA stood with a steaming mug in her hand

"Don't worry. I thought I was the only one left here. What are you still doing here by the way?"

She blushed, ever so slightly

"Oh I thought I'd get myself ahead. I'm off tomorrow and didn't want to come in on Monday behind. Besides, I thought you could use this. Milk and two sugars right?"

She popped to cup of tea on his table with a smile

"Hey, you get yourself off home. You're a young girl, you've got a life to live. And that's right. How did you know?"

She tapped her finger to her nose and winked

"It's my job to know"

And with that she turned and skipped out the door

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Oche balboa - Thanks a lot mate, much appreciated

--

He paced the changing room. Kick off was 15 minutes away. His team had warmed up, they had trained well all week, and the trip to York was finally here. Obviously nerves had kicked in, but he had faith in his team. He took one final deep breath, turned to his players and clapped his hands

"Right lads, let's have your attention..."

He had given his team talk. Keep it simple, play your game, and don't panic if things don't happen early

Things had started well, Greenacre testing Alan Fettis a couple of times, but Kevin Pilkington himself had to make a couple of decent saves. The two styles were contrasting, York trying to play it long, while the visitors tried to keep it on the floor, pass it about, and keep their shape. However, the home side managed to find the breakthrough, a long ball finding its way to Chris Brass, who jinked his way to the byline, before firing a low cross into the box for Aidan O'Kane, who controlled it and scuffed his shot into the bottom corner. It was a scruffy goal to concede, and it was the only goal before the break, but there was enough to see that they could get back into the game

Words of encouragement had been dispersed, and they came out quickly into the second half. Littlejohn fizzed a shot past the post, while Michael Sisson shot straight at the 'keeper, but it was Chris Greenacre who levelled things up, collecting the ball from Wouter Kos, before muscling his way through and smashing the ball past Fettis. The home side had a drop of heads then, and less than ten minutes later it was 2-1, Kos turning scorer this time after a pass from fullback David Jervis - the best player on the pitch by a mile - and sliding the ball home. The Dutchman doubled his tally two minutes later, slotting home from the penalty spot after Bradley was fouled by Darren Edmondson, before Jervis sealed it, a third goal in a nine minute spell, and a deserved one for him personally, with a 20 yard daisy cutter into the bottom corner

..

He had been delighted with the win, especially the resolve his team had shown in the second half, and there was more reason to be cheerful in the days after the game, as both Liam Lawrence and Shayne Bradley returned to full fitness after knocks. With games coming thick and fast, a Saturday/Wednesday schedule looking to be the norm once the season had kicked in, and with that in mind he boosted the numbers in the ranks, as three more players joined, albeit two of them went straight into the youth setup. Artur Jorge was a promising midfielder, with quick feet, an eye for a pass and definite potential, while young Englishman Lloyd Dyer had an abundance of pace and could hone his craft over the next few years. Experience was added too, in the form of Jean-Marc Adjovi-Boco, and while he had been told he wouldn't play much, his experience and knowledge of the game would help the dressing room and the atmosphere indefinitely

--

One of the most memorable days of his playing career was the first time he stepped out onto the pitch at Wembley. It was the FA Cup Final, against Watford in 1984. Out of the four finals in the competition he appeared in in the 80's, when Everton were probably the second best team in the country, behind Paisley's Liverpool, this was the only one he won. It's always a special time for a player when they run onto the hallowed turf, and Peter was no different. He actually got man of the match in that game too, running the show and grabbing the assist for the second goal from Andy Gray. He cherishes that medal, along with his two First Division winners medals - they're hung on his wall in a frame - and he has that to look back on with fondness

It affected him for a good few months after she walked out. He was despondent, hitting the bottle on a more regular basis, throwing things, snapping at people. It was actually a simple suggestion from a friend in the local pub that set him on the path to recovery

"Mate, she's gone. I know it's hard right now but you need to accept it. Until you do, you'll be like this"

"It's not that easy"

A snort

"Course it is. Here..."

He handed him a card with a number on it

"...give this guy a call. He's in property, got flats for rent. He could set you up with a new place, start the process"

He had done just that, and within six weeks he had set himself up in a new flat in Mansfield. He had been doing some coaching with Forest, mainly the youth teams, but it was Sporting Director Frank Clark who had mentioned the post at Mansfield. He had contacts and put his name forward, and with the clubs blessing, he advanced into the managerial role at Field Mill
 

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He was looking for his team to build on their opening day victory, but there were a couple of changes. Michael Sisson had been the subject of a bid from Burnley, and his head wasn't right so he dropped from the squad altogether, while Carlos Marques and David Edwards came in for their debuts, in place of the unfit Bobby Hassell and Vance Warner. Hartlepool had problems of their own, a series of injuries causing them to field three teenagers in their starting line up and a further two on the bench, and it was - much to Peter's delight - never really a contest. From the moment David Edwards marauded through from Agustin's through pass and slotted underneath Jim Provett in the tenth minute, it was a sea of yellow and blue. Wouter Kos had a chance, firing over from the edge of the box, and Moukoko missed a guilt edged chance, one that he should really have scored, and the 1-0 lead at half time should really have been more

Changes came, with Danny Bacon and Liam Lawrence coming on for Edwards and Moukoko, who were still not at full fitness, and Lawrence made the difference, putting in a man of the match performance despite only playing half a game. The blonde haired midfielder loved to run at defenders, and it was one of these jinking runs that set up the second goal, as he pushed the ball past the full back and whipped in a cross, which headed straight to the back post for Chris Greenacre to meet it full on the half volley and smack it into the roof of the net. The striker grabbed his second, and the decisive third, just a minute later, finding himself clear on goal from Karl Owen's long ball and he dinked it over the 'keeper to seal the points. He was replaced by Shayne Bradley before the end, and having taken their foot off the gas, the game sauntered into a 3-0 win

..

"Boss, got a sec?"

Rob Campkin popped his head round the door, waving a file while doing so

"Sure, come in Rob"

His scout sat down opposite him

"What can I do for you?"

"Well, first things first, Michael has gone. Paperwork was all signed off this morning"

"OK. Well it's a loss coz he was a useful player, but £250,000 in the budget doesn't do any harm"

"Well that's my second point. Been doing some scouting and there's a few players in this..."

The file landed on the desk

"...that could help with squad depth. And now we have a bit of budget to play with, might be worth looking at"

--

The League Cup provided a distraction from league duties, and a visit from Halifax was scheduled. They had lost both of their opening games which may have led to his decision to ring the changes, as 8 new faces came in from the Hartlepool game. It was one of these faces, Adrian Littlejohn, who grabbed the headlines, as he grabbed all four of the goals in a 4-1 win. It was his pace that caused all sorts of problems, as time and time again he found himself getting in behind the visitors defence, and this was the method of the first goal, as a long clearance from Jamie Clarke saw him get on the end of it and slot the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot. The second came fourteen minutes later, a jinking run and a little one two with Artur Jorge and he lashed the ball past the 'keeper. His hat trick was completed three minutes later, the ball falling to him on the edge of the box from a corner, and a little curled finish sealed the game. His fourth was a tap in just before the hour, and even the consolation for the visitors couldn't dampen the mood

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He had made some very good friends in the game during his playing career, friends he was still in contact with now. Stuart Pearce shared a similar love of music, while Ian Woan, despite his party animal lifestyle, also became a good friend during his years at Forest. Pearce was the consumate professional, always trained, always gave his effort on the pitch and never, ever complained. Woany was a superb footballer, brilliantly gifted and had a beautiful left foot, and a lot of his time in midfield at Forest saw them playing alongside each other, although he was the better player to watch and Peter did the hard work (Think a certain Water Carrier comment comes to mind here!)

He joined the club the season after Clough had left, but that Frank Clark team was something else. They actually still hold the record of highest finish by a newly promoted team, when they finished third in the Premier League in 1995. Collymore and Brian Roy led the line, Steve Stone and Colin Cooper were the spine of the team, Mark Crossley in goal, with players like Des Lyttle, Steve Chettle and Stuart Pearce protecting him. Everything just clicked and they picked up result after result, and that third place was just sensational. 

..

"Danny?! When you're in that position you've got to go across the 'keeper"

He stood watching the players train, his mind whirring with the thoughts of the game in two days time. Despite a 100% record, he was still not happy with some of the things he'd seen

"Bobby, what's the problem?"

He walked over to his central defender who had pulled off to the side of the pitch, doubled over and heavily breathing

"Sorry gaffer. Struggling a bit today"

"What's up? A tweak?"

"No, my stomach. Been killing me for a couple of days"

"Right, get yourself off to the physio and get checked out. No arguments"

Hassell had looked like he was about to argue but seemed to think better of it, and turned and headed inside

..

"Are you sure?"

"..."

"Damn. Alright, thanks Frank. How long are we looking at?"

"..."

"OK. Cheers mate"

The news wasn't good. Hassell had contracted a virus and would be out for a minimum of 10 days, while Liam Lawrence had strained his calf and needed some recuperation time, which meant a rethink of the team sheet for the next game

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A trip to Rochdale saw changes - he was starting to wonder if he would ever be able to field an unchanged team - but once again, the team started on the front foot, Karl Owen heading over from a corner, while Bacon and Littlejohn, retaining his place in the side after his four goal haul the previous game, both testing the home side's goalkeeper, but yet again it was Greenacre who took the game by the scruff of the neck, muscling his way through the defence and managing to poke the ball into the goal while off balance. The home side did come back into the game, creating a couple of chances before the half time interval, but Kevin Pilkington saved both of them and the lead was intact at the break

The game was won within 20 minutes of the restart, although Greenacre had gone off as a precaution, and it was Danny Bacon who took charge, curling home a beautiful strike from almost 30 yards out. It was a goal worthy of any game, and he turned provider for the third, skipping down the right hand side of the area before a delicate cut back found Wouter Kos and the little Dutchman placed the ball beyond the 'keeper to seal the points. Stamp pulled one back for the home side, but David Edwards continued his good form and restored the three goal lead before the end

--

The positives were there for all to see. Chris Greenacre looked like he had his shooting boots on in the early stages of the season, Kos and Edwards were forming a decent partnership in the center of midfield and David Jervis and Karl Owen looked like a pair of fullbacks who could carry the team for a few years yet, Jervis in particular impressing with his work horse ethic and ability to bomb up and down the wing. That said, if the right players became available, there was always that chance, and numerous files sat on his desk

He had managed to add another option in the midfield, Geir Ornulf Olsen arriving on a free. The Norwegian was big and physical and would give a different option to Kos and Edwards, offering more of a defensive solidity. The new man was in the stands for the final game of the month, as Shrewsbury made the trip to Field Mill. They had the same early record as Peter's side, having won their opening three league games, so he expected a tough game, but he was surprised by just how flat they were, his side cruising to a 2-0 win. Greenacre headed home the opener inside five minutes, rising highest to head home Moukoko's corner, but there was just nothing offered from the visitors. Their only bright note was full back Iain Jenkins, who charged up and down the right hand side, but he was pending a move to Spurs and obviously wanted to impress his potential new employers. The frustrating thing was the lack of clinical finsihing in the game, his side creating an abundance of chances, but it wasn't until the 88th minute that the second goal came, another from Greenacre sealing the points and ending a very very good month

---

August 2001 Results
[Division Three unless stated otherwise]

York 1-4 Mansfield
[Greenacre 50, Kos 59,pen 61, Jervis 68 ; O'Kane 37]

Mansfield 3-0 Hartlepool
[Edwards 10, Greenacre 65,66]

League Cup Round One
Mansfield 4-1 Halifax
[Littlejohn 20,34,37,57 ; Clarke 65]

Rochdale 1-4 Mansfield
[Greenacre 28, Bacon 57, Kos 65, Edwards 88 ; Stamp 72]

Mansfield 2-0 Shrewsbury
[Greenacre 5,88]
 

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Thanks a lot 10-3. It's certainly been a good start!

---

On the awards front, Peter and his side had dominated, with the manager gong going to him, while Chris Greenacre and Wouter Kos picked up Player and Young Player of the month respectively, a fine reward for their efforts for the month. A small congratulory email from the Chairman was all the ceremony he was going to get - and all he felt was needed - and it was back down to business. Transfer offers had been submitted for a couple of players, Garforth forward Graham Marchant, although competition was fierce for his signature, and Chesham United's attacking midfielder Victor Renner, a tricky little player who could add depth to the squad. Liam Lawrence was back to fitness, as was Bobby Hassell, which meant a full selection for the next game, a nice headache to have

"Gaffer, can I have a word?"

Shayne Bradley had approached his manager at the end of the Thursday afternoon training session, looking a little sheepish

"What can I do for you Shayne?"

"I was just wondering, have I got any chance of playing the next game?"

He had envisaged this coming. Not a bad thing, a player wanting to play games

"Look, I can't promise you starting the next game. Chris is in good form at the moment and it wouldn't be fair to drop him. You'll get your chances though, I promise"

"That's fair boss. Thanks for listening to me"

It would be nice if he could have every conversation go that smoothly but realistically, he knew that would never happen

..

The draw for the League Cup had thrown them up in an away tie against Division One Manchester City, a nice draw in the circumstances, and the team were in a buoyant move for the trip to Oxford. Card school had been established at the back of the bus, the senior players trying their best to frisk the younger lads for their money, but a lot of them had their heads screwed on and were smarter than that

Liam Lawrence came into the starting line up for the Oxford game, as did Olsen and Carlos Marques, and all three were very solid. Marques especially impressed, his ability on the ball and his vision not something expected from a center back at this level, and it was a pass from him that started the move for the opening goal, his diagonal ball over the top finding Liam Lawrence, who fizzed a cross into the near post and Greenacre (that man again!) flicked the ball into the goal. Bradley replaced Greenacre at the interval, the striker complaining of a tight thigh, and the substitute had a big hand in the second goal, holding the ball up really well before flicking the ball round the corner to Lawrence, who set himself and drilled his shot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner. A simple win and a decent performance, which was always nice to see

--

As so often happens, there were murmurs around the fans about the early season form and a possible Play-Off push, but after five games it was far too early to discuss and he quelled all the talk about it. Not only that, but he was working alone this week, his PA having taken the week off to visit her sick mother in the hospital, so he was working extra hours. Marchant had chosen Tranmere over them (and several other clubs), but the Renner deal looked set to be finalised, his medical arranged for the next day and he would be a useful component to the squad. 

That went well and the youngster penned a three year deal, although he wasn't in the squad for the home game with Cheltenham, but again, changes came, with Bradley, Bacon and Disley all into the starting eleven, while Greenacre, Edwards and Moukoko all rested. This may have made a difference as they started slowly, the passes in the final third not being good enough for the first quarter of an hour, and it was Kevin Pilkington who had to make a few saves, keeping out Mike Duff and Julian Alsop, but the game changed in the 20th minute, Lawrence jinking into the box and going down after a tackle, the referee Mickey Trenton pointing to the spot, and Wouter Kos converting into the bottom corner with a beautiful spot kick.

This meant the visitors had to push on more, which they did, and it left spaces down the flanks to be exploited, which he saw his team do, but the second goal, the killer of the game really, came ten minutes into the second half, Craig Disley threading the ball through for Littlejohn to latch onto it and round the 'keeper, sliding the ball into the empty net and making it six wins from six in the league, topping the table by three points

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"Peter, a word?"

Chairman Keith Haslam had seen his manager walking past and commandeered him

"Morning Keith. Problem?"

A smile crossed the businessman's face

"Not at all. Just a quick thankyou. Under budget and started the season well"

"I agree but it's early yet. This team is still gelling and learning, sky's the limit. This year though, focused on a respectable finish"


He had played it down, both to his chairman and the press, but that didn't stop the local press running an article about possible promotion. But Peter knew that was the way it worked, so he knew it was business as usual, and he made sure that the players knew that, giving them and extra zip in training in the build up to the next game. There was actually a little bit of needle between them and their next opponents, as transfer target David Collins had changed right at the last minute, opting not to join Mansfield in favour of a touch more money

Ironically though, Collins was not in the starting line up for the trip to Kidderminster, only taking his place on the bench, while Bradley, Disley and Hassell started in place of Greenacre, Moukoko and Vance Warner. The game got off to an electric start, Disley smacking the post within the first thirty seconds, but it didn't take too much longer to open the scoring, Wouter Kos curling home from the edge of the area. The little Dutch maestro was controlling the game, picking passes, sliding in his team mates, and even though the score at half time was 1-0, it could, and probably should, have been more. Bradley missed a couple of good chances, Kos himself could have scored again and Craig Disley tested the home 'keeper again.

The second half was a frenzy, five goals coming in a 19 minute period, but fortunately for Peter, four of them came for his side. The first though, came from Kidderminster, Ducros seeing his shot parried and Williams following up to smash into the roof of the net. Liam Lawrence decided the game was his to win, and he jinked his way through eight minutes later, skipping past his last man and firing into the bottom corner. He put the game almost out of reach three minutes later, meeting a loose ball breaking to the edge of the area and hitting a rocket of a shot into the goal before the 'keeper moved. Two more followed, as David Jervis met a Littlejohn cross at the back post to nod home, and Bradley grabbing his goal eventually, using his pace and strength to get through and finish with aplomb, securing their biggest win of the season

--

He always tried to make training sessions fun, but he also knew, especially at this level, that fitness levels were key. The sides that got promoted were usually the fittest, not necessarily the best, but he often wondered why they couldn't combine the two, and that's exactly what he wanted to achieve. He had added a couple more youngsters to the ranks too, as Michael Beckham, a young striker released by Chelsea, and 17 year old midfielder Amit Bose, both talents and earmarked for the future, and they went straight into the reserve squad

Contract extensions for some players were proving difficult, with players either wanting higher wages than the club could afford, or ridiculously low minimum fee release clauses, and this was making tying down the best players a chore. Greenacre had an offer on the table, David Jervis had just accepted one, but other than that, the rest were proving difficult

The next game ticked off the schedule was a home game against Scunthorpe. It was probably the worst performance of the season, struggling to create, being frustrated by the visitors and their tight, organised midfield, and the only real chance fell to Moukoko, who fired wide from 12 yards. They continued in the same vein in the second half, the lack of clear cut chances a slight worry, but it took a defender to break the deadlock and seal the game, Karl Owen taking a chance and staying forward from a corner, the ball finding its way to him, and he took a touch before rolling it into the bottom corner

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He had discovered that Phil Grant, the charming bloke he had first met on his arrival at the club, had been in such a mood because he was expecting to be offered the Manager's role, so he had been narked when it didn't materialise, but having replaced him with new coaches and the backroom team well integrated, it was in the past now

"I'm not sure to be honest Russ, I'm torn between going full strength or resting a few"

He sat on the corner table with his coach, having had the toughest day of his short tenure so far

"Well after today I think full strength is out the window. Chris, Agustin, Bobby and Moukoko all ruled out for the game aren't they?

A sigh

"Yeah. It has kind of forced my hand a bit. I mean don't get me wrong, would be nice to show everyone what we can do against stronger opposition but we've got to be realistic"

"I think you already know what you're going to do don't you boss?"

--

His coach had been right, he did know what he was going to do, and when they boarded the Team Bus to Manchester on the Wednesday, he had been scribbling notes and team sheets, but he had a decent idea of the eleven he would field

The noise was electric around Maine Road. Manchester City had made a flying start to their League campaign, so they were in a buoyant mood. This showed too, as City made an equally flying start to the game, Darren Huckerby racing through to latch on to an Eyal Berkovic through ball, rounding Pilkington and slotting home into the net. From then on it was an open game, and it was a delight to Peter how his team matched up to their more illustrious opponents. Littlejohn, Bradley, Renner and Disley all missed good chances, while Wanchope, Berkovic and Benarbia missed good chances for the home side. Disley levelled up the game on the 77th minute, flicking the ball home at the near post from Liam Lawrence's corner, which was enough to send the game into extra time.

The extra time was more of the same, 30 minutes of end to end football, but both goals came in the opening period. Vance Warner lashed a ball in from 8 yards out after a goalmouth scramble, not the scorer that anyone would have expected, but four minutes later, Huckerby bagged a brace, using his pace and firing into the corner. More chances followed and both 'keepers were tested, although the home side had Nick Weaver to thank for ensuring penalties, as he pulled off a ridiculous double save right at the end, first tipping the ball onto the post from Bradley's header, then saving from Disley from point blank range, and penalties beckoned

Peter's side won the toss, electing to go first, and Adrian Littlejohn slotted home the first easily. Wanchope smacked his in straight down the middle to even it up, but then the unfortunate Craig Disley watched as his penalty hit the right hand post, flew across the line and off the other post. Having been their best player on the day, it was a shame he missed, and his misery was added to when Huckerby sent Pilkington the wrong way. Vance Warner made no mistake, levelling the scores with a rocket into the top corner. The home side had the advantage though, and made it three out of three when Kevin Horlock scored, and they were in a great position when Neil Lazarus fired wide. It only needed one of the last two for City, and it came with the very next one, Nick Summerbee firing home and sealing the 4-2 shootout win
 

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It was a hard defeat to take, simply because of how well his side had played, but it was his job to pick the players up for their next game, a visit to Lincoln in the league. It might have been a tougher task than expected with the players being tired after 120 minutes, but if they were, they didn't show it. They were absolutely rampant through the game, and by the end of it, they had recorded 24 shots on the home side's goal. Liam Lawrence opened the scoring, collecting the ball from David Jervis and jinking into the box. He was clipped just as he was about to shoot, winning the penalty, and he picked himself up, dusted himself off and fired it home himself. The 1 goal advantage had also turned into a 1 man advantage, as the culprit for the foul, 'keeper Alan Marriott, was shown a straight red card, probably a little harshly. From then on, there was only one winner. It was a sea of yellow and blue, wave after wave of attack, and it was just before the half hour mark that the lead was doubled, Greenacre latching on the Karl Owen's pass and deftly lobbing the ball into the goal. The striker doubled his tally five minutes later, rising highest to head home Moukoko's cross, thundering the header into the goal, and his hat trick followed seven minutes later, tapping in with his left foot at the back post to complete the perfect hat-trick

The first half scoring was not complete, Moukoko drilling a left foot shot into the bottom corner, and the Belgian scored again two minutes after the restart to compound the misery. 6-0 ahead, with almost an entire half to go, it could easily have been worse, but Peter saw his side take their foot off the gas, as they probably earned the right to do, and aside from a couple of chances from substitutes Bradley and Bacon, the game fizzled out with a comfortable win for Peter and his side

--

"You're joking? When?"

"..."

"Tell him to get to my office as soon as he gets in!"

He slammed the phone down, the anger inside him reaching boiling point

He had come in that morning in a terrific mood, following the win at the weekend, but it hadn't taken long to see that mood spoilt, as his coach Russell Beardsmore had informed him that Danny Bacon had been in the press over the weekend, not speaking favourably about his manager. He was distracted by the ping on his computer, the email with the article coming through...
 

Quote

"I'm being victimised!"

Mansfield Town may have started their Division 3 campaign with a 100% record, but that isn't enough for some players

Striker Danny Bacon has made only 4 appearances, two of them off the bench, and this has seen the striker voice his concerns to the media

"I just don't get it. I know the manager is new to this level and new to being in the hot seat, but he must be able to see I'm one of the best players at the club. I'm worthy of a starting spot and if I don't get one, I'm sure there's plenty of other clubs who'll give me one..."

--

The rage continued to boil, and he had almost calmed down when there was a knock at his door

"Come in!"

A sheepish looking Bacon popped his head around the door

"You wanted me gaffer?"

"Don't give me that. You know damn well what I want. Sit down!"

The striker sat in the chair his managed indicated

"Can you explain this Danny?"

The fidgeting began

"Well, erm. All it is boss, it's just..."

"Come on son, spit it out"

"I just don't get why I'm not playing. My contract is up at the end of the season and how can I renew it if I'm not playing games?"

Peter sat on the corner of the desk

"OK. I get that, but why didn't you come to me. I can't have my players going to the Press over my head and slagging me off"

"I didn't..."

"Save it lad. Here's what we'll do. Chris is banging goals in for fun at the moment, and I have options to back him up. I don't envisage you playing any time soon, so I'll put you on the transfer list. If we get the right offer, you're free to go"

"But gaffer..."

"That's my final word. Now off you go to training. I expect 100% commitment before you leave"
 

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Peter hadn't wanted to be so firm, but he needed the players to know he wouldn't be messed about. They had responded well in training, knowing the situation with Danny Bacon, but there were a couple of injury worries, Greenacre tweaking his ankle and a doubt for the final game of the month, while Carlos Marques had a slight thigh issue, but he had no concerns with Shayne Bradley and Vance Warner coming into the team for the game against Halifax

Once again, they started well, flying out of the blocks. David Jervis fizzing a shot past the post, Bradley heading the ball over from a corner, and Geir Olsen firing wide from just inside the box, but it was Wouter Kos who opened the scoring, running onto Bradley's flick on and firing into the goal with his right foot. It was a typically Route One goal, but the second, four minutes later, was absolutely superb football, Jervis linking with David Edwards, who flicked the ball round the corner for Moukoko, and his ball with the outside of his foot was exquisite, finding Shayne Bradley who trapped it and slotted home into the goal. The game was never in doubt after that, and while there was only one more goal, Bradley heading home from a Jervis free-kick within a minute of the restart, it was another comfortable day at the office, and made it an astonishing ten wins from ten

..

September 2001 Results
[Division Three unless stated otherwise]

Oxford 0-2 Mansfield
[Greenacre 14, Lawrence 59]

Mansfield 2-0 Cheltenham
[Kos pen 22, Littlejohn 55]

Kidderminster 1-5 Mansfield
[Kos 3, Lawrence 68,71, Jervis 76, Bradley 79 ; Williams 60]

Mansfield 1-0 Scunthorpe
[Owen 81]

League Cup Round Two
Man City 2-2 Mansfield (aet)
[Disley 77, Warner 95 ; Huckerby 7,99 - City won 4-2 on pens]

Lincoln 0-6 Mansfield
[Lawrence pen 15, Greenacre 29,34,41, Moukoko 44,47]

Mansfield 3-0 Halifax
[Kos 25, Bradley 29,46]
 

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Oche - Cheers mate. I couldn't have asked for a better start in the league if I'm honest. The City game was unfortunate as we played well , but that's football I suppose!

---

The mood around the club was, rightly so, buoyant. The League form was impeccable, having won every game and built up an 8 point lead at the top, and this platform had given them scope to change their plans for the season. The manager had also been praised internally for his handling of the Danny Bacon situation, the board indicating he would be backed unequivocally in those situations, and he had built his own backroom team. It was always a telling sign when the players turned up to training with a smile on their face

If there was anything he was concerned about, it was the depth of the squad. The main core of the squad was fine, but if they picked up injuries, particularly going into the final couple of months of the season, it might see a few of the younger players drafted into the squad, but that was a stone he would turn when he needed to

"Morning Boss"

"Jesus, Spence. You scared the life out of me"

"Sorry. You got time to go through this list?"

He waved the file in his hand

"Yeah course. Take a seat"

Both men sat down around the table, as Spencer Field drew sheets out of the file he had brought with him

"Right, number one. Simon Rusk, Boston. Been making noises about wanting away but rumour has it he'll sign a new deal with a release clause"

"OK. He plays same position as Agustin though? Oh thanks Charlotte love"

He flashed a warm smile as his PA popped down a tray of tea and biscuits

"He does but we need two options in every position"

"True. Next?"

"Mark Arber, Barnet. He's a defender I love. Strong, quick, reads the game really well"

"Nice. Cost?"

"Ah, well that's the thing. Slightly out of our price range at the moment, but he's one to look at for next season"

The two men spent the next half an hour discussing more options, before eventually they got down to their own players

"Now, what are we doing about Bacon?"

"I can't have a player doing that Spence. I've listed him, and it seems like there's early interest. Until then, he's in the reserves"

"Fair enough. Everyone else off limits?"

"For the right price, I'll consider anything. Although I've got a list of players earmarked for extensions"
 

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The long trip to the South Coast was next, as the team travelled down to Plymouth with a clean bill of health, for the first time in what seemed like weeks. While these coach trips were not pleasant, unfortunately, at this level, flying was out of the question

The home side had started well, and sat fifth in the table thanks mainly to the free scoring Ian Stonebridge, and the creative Martin Phillips, but they had conceded more goals than anyone in the top ten, so Peter was sure his side could get at them early. He was proved right, as Agustin fired a beautiful ball over the top, which Moukoko gathered in his stride and fired towards goal, but Romain Larrieu was equal to it. David Edwards found himself free six minutes later, but he dragged his shot wide. The opener did eventually come, in the eleventh minute, Jervis combining with Moukoko down the left, the full back whipping a ball back to the penalty spot and Liam Lawrence meeting it on the half volley and smashing it into the corner. Jervis was causing all sorts of problem down the left, and it was his jinking run into the box that brought about the second goal, a leg coming out and bringing him down in the box. Lawrence stepped up and whipped it into the top corner, doubling his and the teams tally

It was a continuous wave of attack, but the Larrieu wall between the Plymouth goal kept them at bay for the remainder of the first half. Greenacre was replaced at half time by Shayne Bradley, while Bobby Hassell replaced Adam Barrett, and it was the substitutes who had a hand in the third goal, Hassell clearing a ball that found Wouter Kos, the little Dutchman sliding through Bradley, who saw his shot parried but straight into the path of Liam Lawrence, and the midfielder slotted into the unguarded goal to seal his hat trick and the points for his side

..

An offer had come in for Danny Bacon, Crystal Palace offering £100,000 for the forward, although Peter wasn't sure he was ready for that level, but it didn't matter and the bid was swiftly accepted. Bacon had been plying his trade with the reserves since the bust up, and his performances had not been at the level to even consider bringing him back into the fold, so it was one less problem to deal with. That said, the win at Plymouth had extended the confidence within the players, and they welcomed Torquay for their next league game, looking for a 12th win in succession

Moukoko had felt a twinge in training, and it hadn't improved, so he was replaced by Adrian Littlejohn, while Wouter Kos was in need of a rest and Geir Olsen replaced him in the midfield. The visitors had struggled early in the season, but Peter had been keeping a watching brief on a couple of their players, defender Troy Douglin and midfielder Chris Brandon, although both were on the bench for the game. Peter saw his side flying out of the blocks, and within six minutes they were ahead, a lofted ball over the top by Agustin finding Greenacre clean through on the visitors goal, and he continued his red hot form by netting his 11th of the season, sliding into the goal with ease. The rest of the half was fairly serene, a couple of chances falling to Edwards and Vance Warner, but it only took 70 seconds of the restart to double the lead, Littlejohn with a turn of pace that got him away from his man, and he fired the ball into the goal before the 'keeper could move. The Jamaican justified his selection six minutes later, doubling his personal tally, and effectively sealing the points, playing a beautiful little give and go with Karl Owen and breaking through to poke the ball home. A fourth was added on 76 minutes, David Edwards crisp drive deflecting into the roof of the net off Steve Woods and 4-0 didn't flatter them in the slightest

--

"We've got to start being realistic, after the start we've had, promotion is a real possibility"

Breaking down the weekend on the Monday morning, Peter sat with his coaching staff

"We're a quarter of the way through the season..."

"Russ is right. We have to prepare for it at least"

A heavy sigh

"OK, OK. Well as well as the lads are playing, we definitely need strength in depth in certain areas to compete. Mainly in goal and defence"

"I agree. Kevin is easily the standout number one but Mike Bingham is only young and not ready for this level just yet"

"What about in defence?"

"If we get a couple of injuries in key positions we're in trouble"

The chatter continued on until the players were seen heading for their warm up through the window

"Right, I'm off to training. Spence, can you draw a report on Swansea for me? Russ, I want you take Chris and Shayne off for some shooting drills. Get Victor and Liam too"

"Right gaffer"
 

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Training in the build up to the game had been good, but Spencer Field's report had urged on the side of caution. Swansea had players that could cause all sorts of trouble, the two that had been picked out were creative midfielder David Romo and man mountain Mamady Sidibe, who had been causing all sorts of trouble for defenders thus far. Their position of 8th in the league did not do justice to their quality on the field, and Peter had urged his players to keep it tight early on. For once, they didn't listen to him, and within 11 minutes they were two up, Jervis crossing for Chris Greenacre to power a header past Roger Freestone, before Kos slid in Edwards, who finished deftly over the onrishing Freestone. Whether it was complacency, the ability of the home side, or a combination of both, he wasn't sure, but two goals in the space of eight minutes from Casey, and then Williams, levelled up the game. The home side took the lead on the stroke of half time, thanks mainly to an absolutely horrendous error from Jamie Clarke, as he misplaced a pass to Karl Owen, which Cusack intercepted and raced through to lash the ball home

The second half was a barrage of Mansfield attacks, but despite chance after chance after chance, Freestone and the Swansea goal were impenetrable, with Bradley, Renner, Edwards (twice) and even Carlos Marques all testing the 'keeper. Pushing forward nearly cost them a fourth too, Cusack firing wide at the end of a swift counter attack, but the home side held on and Eddie Evans blew time on the first defeat of the season. Peter found his way through to the opposite dugout, shaking the hand of John Hollins as he got there

"Well played John"

"Aye you too. Think you'll be up there come the end of the season you keep playing like that"

..

His first defeat as Mansfield manager hurt, and he worked the players hard in their next training session, expecting to see a reaction from them. However he may have worked them too hard, as David Jervis, Chris Greenacre and Wouter Kos all picked up knocks, ruling them out of the next game, but there were a couple more tactical changes on top of that, as Warner and Renner came in for Clarke and Lawrence as they welcomed Macclesfield to Field Mill

It was a laboured start, both sides seemingly trying to find their feet in the early minutes, and only one chance was fashioned in the opening ten minutes, Lee Glover feeding Rickie Lambert but the striker fired over. It wasn't too long after that the opener came, a lovely interchange down the right hand side freeing Moukoko, and the Belgian pulled it back for David Edwards to run onto it and sweep the ball low and hard into the bottom right hand corner. It was the perfect start, and it got even better twelve minutes later, Edwards clipping the ball through for Renner, who's shot was parried, but only to Shayne Bradley, and he easily knocked the ball into the open goal. The game was effectively sealed on the stroke of half time, as Vitor Pereira scored his first goal for the club, and boy was it worth the wait, a goal of the season contender. Owen had cleared it down the right hand side, and while it looked like it was going out, Edwards kept it in, flicking it into the path on Renner. He played a long crossfield pass to Bradley, who nodded it down into the path of Vitor Pereira, and the Portuguese defender connected with the ball on the bounce, smashing it into the top corner. Bradley scored his second twenty minutes from the end, sealing an emphatic win and bouncing back in the best way possible
 

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"Shayne, come on in son"

The striker sheepishly walked in, which surprised Peter. He'd expected him to be a bit more buoyant after his brace

"Well played at the weekend. Two goals and man of the match"

"Yeah.."

"What's wrong son?"

"Erm, well, I'm still not happy boss"

And there it is

"You're playing a lot more, rotating with Chris. You score when you play. What's the matter?"

"Well, I was speaking to my agent, and we think it's maybe time for me to sign a new contract?"

"OK. Well I appreciate you being honest with me Shayne, but as a rule I don't negotiate until theres at least 12 months left. You've still got more than two years on yours I'm afraid"

"But boss..."

"Tell you what I'll do. Set up a meeting with Charlotte, bring your agent, and we can discuss it. No promises though"

"Yes gaffer"

He trudged out despondently. He'd never understood the modern footballers attitude, and Bradley was a strange one to figure out

--

The were back to full strength for the visit of Southend, the second of three successive home games to end October, and the game was pretty much sealed inside the first ten minutes, as goals from the on form David Edwards, and a wonderful free-kick from Moukoko saw the two clear. They did carve out several more chances, including hitting the woodwork a remarkable four times, and while they should have had more definitely, it didn't make much difference and they picked up three more points in a game that, while not much of a contest, was pretty much one sided through the duration of the ninety minutes

The league table made good reading, his side having picked up 42 of a possible 45 points thus far, sitting ten points clear of second placed Hull - incidentally many peoples favourites for the title - and twelve clear of Rushden. This lead could be stretched even further because they were the next two games his side faced, starting with Hull's visit to Field Mill. Gary Alexander and Lawrie Dudfield had 16 goals between them this season, while their formidable central midfield pairing of Theodore Whitmore and Neale Mann caused problems for any side. Greenacre started up front for Peter's side, while Liam Lawrence was back in the starting line up, along with Vance Warner and Neil Lazarus

It was a more physical game than they had previously been involved in, something which suited Hull a lot better than Mansfield, and it was thanks to Kevin Pilkington that they were still level after twenty minutes, the 'keeper pulling off saves from Gary Alexander, who was proving to be an absolute nuisance, and Theodore Whitmore on a couple occasions, while Wouter Kos and Liam Lawrence only really had half chances at the other end. The visitors did finally take the lead just after the half hour, Gary Alexander justifying his performance with the goal he deserved, using his strength to outmuscle Carlos Marques and lash the ball past Pilkington

It didn't take too long for Chris Greenacre to level the game, at what was the start of a crazy minute of football. The striker's equaliser was timed at 33:46, and it was 34:29 when the ball was picked back out of the Mansfield net, as a long ball from Ian Ashbee straight from the restart found Lawrie Dudfield, and he controlled it on his chest which took him past the defence and slotted the ball home. There had hardly been time to breathe for the fans, or players for that matter, but it turned into a pulsating game in the second half, the only mystery being how there was only one more goal. Dudfield, Alexander, Mann and Ashbee all forced saves from Pilkington, while Kos, Lawrence, Littlejohn and Greenacre did the same at the other end, Lawrence missing an absolute guilt edged chance five minutes from the end from point blank range. Fortunately he had levelled the game up nine minutes into the second half, collecting the ball from Jervis and jinking his way past three players, before firing the ball across the goal and into the far corner

--

October 2001 Results
[Division Three unless stated otherwise]

Plymouth 0-3 Mansfield
[Lawrence 11,pen 17,56]

Mansfield 4-0 Torquay
[Greenacre 6, Littlejohn 47,53, Edwards 76]

Swansea 3-2 Mansfield
[Greenacre 3, Edwards 11 ; Casey 19, Williams 27, Cusack 45+1]

Mansfield 4-0 Macclesfield
[Edwards 12, Bradley 24,70, Pereira 45+2]

Mansfield 2-0 Southend
[Edwards 3, Moukoko 9]

Mansfield 2-2 Hull
[Greenacre 34, Lawrence 54 ; Alexander 31, Dudfield 35]

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"Hello"

"..."

"That's fantastic. Both of them?"

"..."

"Perfect. They'll be in for training in half an hour so I'll grab them then"

He put the phone down and immediately pushed a button on his internal phone

"Hello?"

"Charlotte, can you send Chris Greenacre and Wouter Kos to my office when they arrive?"

"Will do"

Less than 20 minutes later, both Greenacre and Kos were sat in front of him

"Morning lads. Sorry to drag you in before training"

"No worries boss. What's up?"

"Well I just wanted to thank you both for signing your new contracts. It shows fantastic commitment and sends a great message to the fans"

Greenacre smiled across the desk

"Happy to gaffer. Enjoying my football at the moment, all the lads are"

"Good. Well off you both go to training, I'll be out in ten"

They had both signed four year extensions, but Greenacre had insisted on a release clause of just shy of three million - which, while he didn't want to lose him - that would soften the blow severely

--

Rushden were second in the scoring charts, behind only Peter and his side ironically, so it would be too much to ask for a high scoring game - or that's the theory when two high scoring teams meet. Well, nine goals and ninety minutes later, that theory was blown out of the water. 17 shots on target between them, nine of them turning into goals, that's a hell of a ratio

Greenacre had tweaked a previous injury in the training session, which meant Bradley came into the side, and yet again the striker delivered, heading home the opener after just seven minutes. He was involved in the move for the second goal too, as he headed down into the path of David Edwards, who fed Liam Lawrence and the midfielder lashed home past Billy Turley. It had looked like a comfortable start, but the home side, and Duane Darby in particular, decided they had better turn up, and two goals in the space of sixty seconds levelled things up, the second a remarkable strike, taking the ball on his chest and volleying home from almost forty yards, having spotted Pilkington off his line

It had been a remarkable start, but from that point on, the game was all about one man. Belgian midfielder Moukoko felt he needed to win the game on his own, and he scored the next four goals in the game. The first came just before the half hour, as he marauded forward and stroked the ball home beautifully. Ten minutes later, a sweeping attacking move from a Rushden corner, starting with David Jervis, who swung the ball out to Liam Lawrence, who fizzed a ball across the box to the back post, which Bradley nodded back and Moukoko was there to tap in. It was a brilliant team goal, one which wasn't seen too often at this level. The Belgian completed his hat trick two minutes later, collecting the ball from Edwards and firing low, past Turley and into the corner. The 5-2 half time scoreline had almost put the game beyond doubt, but it definitely was when Moukoko bagged his fourth, a simple finish from Kos' through ball. The scoring wasn't finished, Darby completing his own hat trick eleven minutes from the end, but it made no difference and the game of the season ended in a win for the visitors
 

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"So, Peter, how's the heart after that?"

"Well it was certainly one for the neutrals Steve, can't argue with that. But we got the win and I'm delighted with it"

"Moukoko stole the show today, he's some player isn't he?"

"He's a joy to work with. He has so much natural ability, and he's a natural leader. He took the game by the scruff of the neck today and decided he needed to win it himself, and he did just that"

"Definitely. Too early for promotion talk?"

A laugh from the manager

"Oh come on Steve, you know better than that. Far too early, all we're focused on is winning as many games as we can"

"Can't blame a guy for trying. Well, thanks Peter, we'll let you get on and debrief your team"

"Thanks Steve"

The local paper had agreed to an interview after each game, and while dealing with the media was never fun, he recognised it was an obligation he needed to fulfil. Mind you, it was always easier when you'd won the game 

--

"What news Russ?"

"Hit and miss gaffer. Rusk wants to see his contract out as Boston have a chance of promotion, so might have to be next season"

"Damn. Any other news?"

"Well there's a striker in Non League, I think he could be a useful back-up"

"Good idea. I don't think Shayne will last until the end of the season. Who's the kid?"

"Stuart John Dawe. Plays for Atherstone United. He's a big lad, 6'4, strong, great in the air. Won't cost much"

"OK. Get a bid in and lets see what we can do. Anyone else?"

"Aye. Halesowen defender, Lee Collins. Again, seems like he wants to wait till the end of the season, but he's worth keeping an eye on"

"Collins? Any relation to the other one we chased?"

"Don't think so"

...

The trip to Carlisle was a fair old journey, but as well as a League game, Russell Beardsmore and Spencer Field were using the game as a scouting mission, as there were three players on their books that looked like they were useful. Liam Lawrence hadn't travelled, his wife had given birth a few days before so he had been granted leave, while Kos wasn't fully fit and was left back in Mansfield and not risked

Victor Renner came in for Lawrence, and he took his chance as well as he could, linking up with Moukoko and wriggling free of his marker, before sliding the ball home. It was three minutes later when the lead was doubled, Renner spraying the ball out wide to Jervis, who had bombed forward, and his cross found Greenacre in the box, the striker rising highest and powering a header past the stranded 'keeper. John Hore was one of the Carlisle players on the radar, but he hadn't had chance to show what he could do, due to the way the game was going, while Johnny Allan was on the bench. Greenacre doubled his personal tally just before the half hour, effectively sealing the game, when he took the ball down from Jervis' long ball and lashing a shot across the 'keeper into the bottom corner

The second half laboured out a little bit, the home side trying to shut up shop and damage limitation, but as hard as they worked and the effort they put in was to no avail, Moukoko grabbing a goal to make it four. The Belgian had been controlling the game and deserved his goal. It was quickly becoming apparent he was far too good for this level, and he would need a new contract as soon as possible to fend off interest from other clubs. Richie Foran did grab a consolation, a brilliant goal to be fair, as he whipped a left foot shot into the corner, but Greenacre finished the scoring and completed his hat trick just before the full time whistle, collecting a threaded pass from Geir Olsen and calmly slotting the ball home
 

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He sat in his office after everybody had returned home from training, going through some last minute transfer targets and earmarkinng the ones he felt were viable options. He was just about to leave when his mobile rang - an unknown number

"Peter Daish"

"..."

"Reidy. How are you mate?"

He sat back down in his chair, a smile on his face as his old Everton colleague Peter Reid's North East tones drifted through the line

"..."

"Good. Family OK?"

"..."

"I appreciate that. I'm sorry I haven't been in touch sooner, you know how it is?"

"..."

"Sounds good. Well when you have a break for internationals, come down and take in a game and we'll catch up afterwards?"

"..."

"OK mate. Take care and I'll speak to you soon"

..

It had been nice to speak to his former colleague, although he did feel a little guilt about his lack of contact and vowed to be better at speaking to old friends. His mood was a buoyant one, and while his side travelled yet again, heading to London for their FA Cup 1st Round game against Kingstonian, it had rubbed off on the players. It was however, a slightly different set of players, as the Non League opposition had seen him make several changes to the squad. Key players such as Chris Greenacre, Moukoko, Jamie Clarke, Agustin and Liam Lawrence were left behind and given a chance to rest, while fringe players such as Amit Bose, Neil Lazarus, Lee Robinson, Jean-Marc Boco and Vitor Pereira had all been given the chance to play

The chairman had hinted that a cup run would be beneficial, and Peter fully expected his side, even while not full strength, to come through the tie unscathed, and 90 minutes or so later, he was not disappointed, the players trying their utmost to push for a regular place. Craig Disley was the outstanding player on display, scoring one and making the other two, and it was his through ball to Shayne Bradley that saw the striker open the scoring, as he faked to shoot and put the 'keeper on his backside, before calmly rounding him and slotting home. It would take a while for the second goal to come, but it wasn't for want of trying, as Bradley, on more than one occasion, Olsen, Lazarus, Warner and Robinson all had chances at the home side's goal, but it was Craig Disley who sealed it, collecting the ball on the left hand side, cutting in past his man and thumping home a drive into the goal. Disley's corner allowed the third goal too, as it sailed over everyone to the back post, where Neil Lazarus stood unmarked, and, surprised how easily the ball came to him, he poked it home for a simple finish
 

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The FA Cup game had been a distraction, but a positive one, from league action, but on their return, he was faced with some transfer activity. The reserve squad had been looking a bit bare and he felt some additions were needed, so he had added two young players to the ranks. Young striker Michael Beckham was still very much a work in progress, raw and inexperienced, but scout Spencer Field had seen enough to warrant him to be offered a deal. Explosive, sharp and a good reader of the game, he was someone they felt they could work with and develop. He was joined by Lloyd Dyer. Having been deemed not good enough by current Division One leaders West Brom, he had been released less than ten days earlier, and he was a player Field had really liked, urging a contract offer be sent to him. It was, and the young midfielder duly signed on the dotted line. Feeling he needed an extra striking option, he had also faxed offers off for two players. Stuart John Dawe was already on the radar, but Michael Dunwell of Bishop Auckland had also been brought to his attention, although his current season tally of fourteen goals in nine games might make him a little harder to pry away, but an offer was made nonetheless

The fourth and final game of the short month was another away game. That made it four out of four. He had made a mental note to sound out the chairman about complaining about whoever does the schedules as that was bloody ridiculous, the team seemed to be spending more time on coaches travelling these days. It was another trip to London, and 4th place Leyton Orient, who had harboured their own ambitions of promotion, so a good performance would send a real message to the rest of the league, and that was exactly what he said to the players

Once again, he wasn't disappointed, as he watched his strongest side absolutely blow the home side away inside the first half, thanks in the main to a hat trick from (yes, you guessed it!) Chris Greenacre, his second consecutive hat-trick. The striker had opened the barrage early on, collecting the ball with his back to goal, turning his man with ease and flashing a shot across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. Moukoko doubled the tally, Greenacre winning a free-kick around 25 yards out and the Belgian flighting a beautiful curling shot into the top corner, leaving no chance for the stranded 'keeper. The game was over ten minutes later, some nice interchange play down the left saw David Jervis whip a cross from the byline into the box, and Greenacre rose between two defenders to power home a well directed header. The striker secured the match ball just after the half hour mark, breaking the offside trap and collecting the pass, before deftly dinking it over the onrushing flash of green, wheeling away before the ball had even crossed the line

As was to be expected, they took their foot off the pedal in the second half, and no more goals came, but a nice, easy second half where they kept the ball and toyed with the home side followed, and a quick glance at the table after the match saw their lead at the top stretched to 16 points - nothing significant at this stage, but a nice cushion to have, at least

--

November 2001 Results
[Divison Three unless stated otherwise]

Rushden 3-6 Mansfield
[Bradley 7, Lawrence 21, Moukoko 29,39,41,67 ; Darby 24,25,79]

Carlisle 1-5 Mansfield
[Renner 9, Greenacre 12,28,88, Moukoko 61 ; Foran 73]

FA Cup Round One
Kingstonian 0-3 Mansfield
[Bradley 27, Disley 76, Lazarus 88]

Leyton Orient 0-4 Mansfield
[Greenacre 4,25,33, Moukoko 15]

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His playing career was fairly unspectacular. He considered himself very lucky to have played for the Everton side in the 80's that he did, the talent in that squad was immense, and had Paisley's Liverpool not been around, they'd have dominated English football. He never harbored regrets about the way things turned out at Old Trafford. It was just one of those things, many footballers have gone through something similar, and he always vowed not to live his life with regrets. That said, his early life hadn't seen the introduction of football until he was 10. His adoptive father had taken him to a game as a birthday present, shown him the matchday experience, if you will, and from then on, he was hooked. He began kicking a ball outside his house from the morning after, playing in the park, and it soon became obvious he had somewhat of a talent for the game

He joined the local boys club not long after, before eventually his school team found a place for him, and it was there he was spotted by Everton. They were actually scouting one of his teammates at the time, but his performance in the game, the North West Counties Schools Final, turned their attention to him. Within a week, he had spoken to their chief scout and manager, and he had signed on, never expecting his career to follow the path it did

..

The idea of promotion had been flirted, but dismissed just as quickly, as there was still lots of business to take care of first. While they were a team that could outscore anybody, and so far they had shown that, it only took an injury or two to key players, suspensions, and there's always going to be a loss of form somewhere along the line. He didn't want his players to become complacent, and that was the message that was sent across to the players as they welcomed 4th placed Luton to Field Mill

Vance Warner had come into the team for Jamie Clarke, who was in need of a slight rest, while Neil Lazarus replaced David Edwards, who had felt a twinge in his back in training a few days earlier, so he wasn't risked. The game had potential to be tough, as the visitors were a good side, but Wouter Kos gave them an ideal start as he raced onto a through ball that was slipped through to him by Moukoko, and the midfielder slotted the ball under the 'keeper to give them the lead. Their dominance was for all to see, as they controlled the game up to that point, and it was half an hour into the game when the lead was doubled, Jervis sending a ball over the top to Moukoko, and the Belgian, continuing his rich vein of form, cut inside and curled a low shot into the bottom corner past the outstretched fingers of the 'keeper. 

The visitors did perform a lot better in the second half, as Carl Griffiths, Liam George and Nuno Valois all created chances and forced saves from Pilkington, while Greenacre and Disley created the best chances for Mansfield, but the game wasn't secured until the final ten minutes, as Agustin, with a low drive, and the Kos, with his second of the game, following up a Greenacre shot, sealed a 4-0 win, one which, in truth, flattered them slightly

--


"Penny for them gaffer?"

Russell Beardsmore had walked into the TV room to find his manager staring off into space

"Sorry Russ, was miles away"

"What's up? Even you can't find anything negative about things at the minute?"

This brought a laugh

"Not quite. We need some reinforcements in midfield though. Wouter and Dave are playing majority of minutes and they need to start getting rested somewhere. Lazarus and Olsen are decent but one more would be ideal"

"OK. I'll get Spence onto it"

The team were set to travel for their next game, as FA Cup action saw them drawn against Scunthorpe. A division above, albeit struggling, it was a game that Peter felt was very winnable, so the only changes he made were bringing in Bradley for Greenacre, who stayed home to get some rest, Carlos Marques for Vance Warner and Geir Olsen in for Wouter Kos, but other than that it was a strong side who took to the field. The home side looked sluggish from the start, misplacing several early passes, and the crowd were clearly getting on their back, and it was one of these loose passes that led to the goal, Moukoko nipping in to intercept and sliding through Bradley, who curled the ball home really well. He usually took his opportunity when he played, and while he hadn't made anymore noise about regular game time, it might not be long before it rose to the surface again. The goal seemed to wake Scunthorpe up after that, and Alex Calvo-Garcia tested Pilkington a couple of times, but it was youngster Adam Cheeseman who levelled the game, racing through on goal and finishing underneath the advancing Pilkington

It was a fairly even game after that, both sides feeling each other out, and it was eight minutes into the second half that a moment of magic brought the game to life. Moukoko sprayed the ball out wide to David Jervis, and the fullback hit an absolutely sensational pass with the outside of his left foot. It sailed through the air, right into the path of Shayne Bradley, who, in one motion, took it down and struck it firmly into the goal. It was a wonderful goal, worthy of winning any game, and it was almost a shame there were a couple more goals added, as Bradley tapped in from four yards to complete his hat trick, before Moukoko sealed the points with a simple finish, and the Third Round beckoned

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"Honestly, I've really got no interest in this silly competition. We've got enough to bloody be getting on with"

"I get that gaffer but it's a good chance to stamp our mark and show we mean business"

He stood there pondering for a few seconds, but his mind was made up

"No. Rest a few lads. Chris, Jamie, David and Moukoko can all stay behind. Wouter, Kevin, Liam and Karl on the bench"

The competition is question was the Vans Trophy, and with Second Division Blackpool the opponents in the first round, Peter had taken the decision to rest eight of his first team regulars, four dropping to the bench while four stayed back in Mansfield. While he would never send a team out that he didn't think could win a game, he did think it was a good opportunity for some of the fringe players to impress. It was a slow start from both sides, the early stages seeing both sides finding their feet and coming to terms with each other, and it wasn't until Victor Renner fired a shot wide in the eighteenth minute that any goal was tested. The pace did pick up a little after that, and reserve 'keeper Michael Bingham had to make three good saves in the first half, as Graham Fenton, Danny Coid and Richie Wellens all created chances, At the other end, Renner was causing all sorts of problems and Geir Olsen was taking every opportunity to bomb forward, and it was the Norwegian who had the best chance for Mansfield, striding through before hitting straight at the 'keeper

The second half started with a blow, an injury to Neil Lazarus forcing a change, and Wouter Kos came into the game. This was the turning point as the little maestro controlled the tempo from that point, picking pass after pass to his teammates. It was the Dutchman who was the scorer though, Renner feeding Vitor Pereira down the left and the Portuguese full back sliding it back to the edge of the box for Kos to drive home the opener. The home side were level not long after, Fenton capitalising on a mistake by Vance Warner and racing through to slot home. It wasn't the best game to watch, but the Division Three leaders more than held their own for the final 20 minutes, aswell as 30 minutes of added time, and penalties beckoned. Despite their tired legs and the effort they'd put in, there were volunteers aplenty, and the first ten penalties, five apiece from each side, found the net in a sublime exhibition. Tommy Jaszcun stepped up and just about scored the eleventh, Bingham getting a hand to it but not enough to keep it out, and then it was the turn of Victor Renner. The youngster had been a bit part player so far but had been one of the best players on the pitch. Inevitably though, this meant he put just too much purchase on the shot and it sailed wide of the post to condemn them to defeat

--

While not hugely disappointed, and somewhat encouraged by the performance of his fringe players, he had still felt the need for reinforcements in the middle of the pitch, and just two days later, he had brought one in. Glenn Hartmann was a 6'4 giant of a German, who could also represent Norway. He was physical, read the game well and wouldn't shirk a tackle, just the kind of 'protector' - for want of a better word - that the creative players needed. His wealth of experience would prove vital too, and keen to get back playing having been without a club since June, he penned a three year deal within an hour of discussing terms

He wasn't in the squad for the next game, but did take a seat in the stands for the visit of Darlington, and he wasn't disappointed as his new teammates put on a show in an emphatic performance. They were back to full strength for the game, and that showed because by half time, the game was out of sight at 4-0. Greenacre had continued his golden touch, heading home the opener from a Jervis corner, before the striker flicked the ball on for David Edwards for the second, a goal that was out of the very top drawer, the Welshman running on to collect Greenacre's flick, letting the ball run across him and unleashing a stunning volley into the top corner. Maybe this stunned the visitors into submission, and less than two minutes later it was three, Kos this time collecting Karl Owen's crossfield pass and following his midfield partners lead and clipping home. Greenacre scored his second, and a third in eight minutes, to kill off any slim hope there may have been, and 4-0 it stayed to extend the lead at the top to 17 points

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Hartmann had impressed in training, putting himself about and using his size and power to impose upon the midfield, which allowed Peter a small smile. That was exactly what he had wanted from his new signing. Hartmann had trained so well that he earnt himself a starting spot for the next game, as York made the trip to Field Mill. There were more changes as he tried to use the squad to it's full potential, and a much changed team took to the field. David Edwards tested Alan Fettis early on, while Shayne Bradley fired wide when he really should have hit the target. The game was a battle, York realising they couldn't compete on a football scale, so they made sure they were physical and tried to stop the home side playing, and in all fairness, it took a little bit of magic to open the scoring, Victor Renner flicking the ball around his marker with an outrageous piece of skill, before an outside of the foot cross found Neil Lazarus and the midfielder slotted the ball home on the run. The goals dried up after that, but that wasn't for lack of chances, as Bradley, substitute Stuart Dawe, Renner and Edwards all forced saves, but the game petered out into a simple 1-0 win

..

"We need to try and tie down all of them. Chris and Wouter have already agreed, and there's at least four more we need to sign"

Peter was sat with Russell Beardsmore and Spencer Field assessing the squad contracts. He had realised that their current form and the possibility of promotion meant that their players could attract attention, and he wanted to ensure that didn't happen

"OK. Who do you have in mind?"

"David Jervis. He's been superb this season. Liam Lawrence and Moukoko, definitely. Jamie Clarke too"

"Fair. Speak to them individually?"

He nodded

"Aye. I'll get on to their agents tomorrow and sound it out"

The men parted ways, and the next day, things went well, with Moukoko, Jervis and Jamie Clarke all agreed extensions fairly quickly, but Liam Lawrence proved more of a stumblimg block

"I'm sorry gaffer, I need the clause in the contract"

He sighed and rubbed the top of his nose

"Liam, I get that. I really do. But I can't allow you to have a clause that's so low. If we're going to lose you to another club we need to be compensated"

"Mr Daish..."

Lawrence's agent had decided to interject himself at this point

"...my client has made his terms clear. If you're not prepared to reach an agreement, then this conversation is over"

Peter shot a look at the agent that he knew Lawrence had seen

"No offence Mr Crooks, but don't you dare take that tone with me. I've made our offer, we've agreed to everything but the fee release clause. If that's not enough for you, then we agree. This conversation is over"

With that, he gathered his files and walked out of the room, leaving Lawrence and his agent sitting at an empty desk
 

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Despite his contract negotiations stalling, Lawrence was still an important member of the squad, and he wasn't prepared to jeopardise his side's chances because of contract issues. This meant that he was in the starting eleven for the trip to Hartlepool. They were struggling for consistency and sat 18th in the table, and this showed early on in the game, as Peter saw his side control the game. Lawrence fizzed a shot wide, before he slipped in Greenacre, who rounded the 'keeper but took it too far towards the touchline and couldn't find the goal. Jervis tested the 'keeper too, and his corner found the head of Hartmann but again, Jim Provett saved. It looked like it might be a frustrating game for them, until injury time at the end of the first half, when Greenacre clipped it round the corner for Moukoko, who was tripped by the defender, and Lawrence stepped up to take the spot kick

Whether his contract was on his mind or not, Peter didn't know, but he blazed the kick over and the game was scoreless at half time. Lawrence was replaced at half time, and it was his replacement, Victor Renner, who set up the opening goal, receiving the ball from Kos, clipping it over the top for Moukoko and the Belgian guided the ball past Provett. It seemed to finally put the home side to rest, and the game was sealed eleven minutes later, Jervis marauding down the left and fizzing in a low cross, that missed everyone except Chris Westwood, the unfortunate defender turning the ball into his own net and sealing the defeat for his side

--

"What we gonna do about Liam boss?"

Beardsmore had brought up the topic on the coach journey back

"I honestly don't know Russ. I took him off coz his head wasn't in it but I can't afford for him to hold the team back"

"I agree. Might be worth speaking to him at training?"

"I'll mull it over tonight and then we can discuss it before training starts on Monday"

They had decided to give Lawrence a rest from the next game, starting him on the bench, and try and gauge his mental state through training, and in all fairness to the lad, he trained really well, and when told he would be on the bench for the Boxing Day game, he took it really well. At the end of training, he gathered the players together

"Right lads, let's have your attention!"

The noises subsided and he had their attention

"OK. Well first of all, I've been delighted with the way this season has gone. You've all exceeded what we expected, and given every ounce of effort, and for that, I thank you all. That's all I've ever asked for. Secondly, we've decided that there will be no training tomorrow. Go home, spend Christmas with your families, and we'll see you back here on Boxing Day at 11am sharp for the Rochdale game. Merry Christmas"

The players had obviously not expected this, and they all returned the Christmas wishes on their way out of the ground

Once all the players had gone, he was sat in his office finalising a few bits of paperwork

"You need anything else gaffer?"

Beardsmore had popped his head around the door

"No thanks Russ. You and the rest of the staff get yourselves off, enjoy your Christmas"

"You sure?"

"Positive. See you Wednesday"
 

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His own festive period had been fairly quiet, spending the afternoon in his local enjoying a Christmas Day pint, before an evening in front of the telly, watching highlights of football from the season and having a takeaway. Since she had walked out on him, it was a period that he just hadn't been interested in

He was delighted to be back into football action for the final game of 2001, and the players were in buoyant mood following their unexpected extended break, which meant mid table Rochdale were in for a tough game. The game began in this fashion, with a couple of chances coming early on, Renner and Kos testing the hands of the visiting 'keeper. Renner and Karl Owen were linking well down the right hand side, and it was this combination that created the first goal, Renner sliding the ball for the overlapping Owen, who whipped a cross in for Greenacre to head home. The striker had been a goal threat all season, and this was his 22nd goal of the League campaign. He wouild have come away disappointed he didn't add to that total though, as he had several more chances before departing ten minutes from the end. How the game was still only 1-0 at this point was a mystery, as it had been a wave of yellow and blue attacks through the majority of the game, but two goals in the final few minutes of the match settled the game. David Edwards grabbed the second, picking up the loose ball and jinking past three players, continuing his run after releasing the ball to Bradley, who's shot was parried back into the Welshman's path. Liam Lawrence had replaced Greenacre and the substitute sealed the win, collecting a pass from Kos and smashing the ball home into the bottom corner

--

December 2001 Results
[Division Three unless stated]

Mansfield 4-0 Luton
[Kos 9,90+1, Moukoko 30, Agustin 84]

FA Cup Round Two
Scunthorpe 1-4 Mansfield
[Bradley 5,53,67, Moukoko 83 ; Cheeseman 25]

Vans Trophy Round One
Blackpool 1-1 Mansfield (aet)
[Kos 66 ; Fenton 69 - Blackpool won 6-5 on pens]

Mansfield 4-0 Darlington
[Greenacre 9,39, Edwards 31, Kos 33]

Mansfield 1-0 York
[Lazarus 33]

Hartlepool 0-2 Mansfield
[Lawrence m/pen 45+1, Moukoko 62, Westwood OG 73]

Mansfield 3-0 Rochdale
[Greenacre 26, Edwards 89, Lawrence 90+2]
 

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There was little time to celebrate the New Year, and as 2002 rolled around, so did Division Three action, as the team travelled to Shrewsbury for the next action. He had a full set of players to choose from, and decided that he would go full strength and try and kick off the year with a win, but against their Playoff chasing hosts, it would be tough going. That said, the first half was a fantastic spectacle, as both sides attacked and went for goals, and both 'keepers were forced into several saves. Matt Redmile saw his header saved from a corner, while Jamie Tolley slid through Jemson, who fired wide. At the other end, Chris Greenacre saw his shot tipped away by Ian Dunbavin, Moukoko curled a shot against the bar, and Agustin saw two long range drives saved, before the Spaniard provided a chance for Renner who, with all good intentions, tried to open the scoring but rounded the 'keeper before running the ball too far and firing wide. The game continued in the same vein, with both Dunbavin and Pilkington forced into making several saves apiece, althought the guilt edged chance that Agustin missed should have ended up in the net. However, just as the game looked to be heading for a draw, Chris Greenacre finally broke the deadlock, latching onto the long ball from Agustin, moving forward unchallenged and finishing with a composure that had been a staple of his season, to seal the points

"Morning Liam"

"Morning gaffer. You wanted me?"

"Sure, come on in"

The midfielder entered his office. Since their disagreement over his contract, he had conducted himself brilliantly, so he had taken it upon himself to have a word with him about the situation

"So, first of all, I wanted to say well done for your attitude and work rate since our last conversation"

"Thanks Boss. I've still got a job to do, I know that"

"Second, I just wanted to reiterate that I do appreciate that you want a release clause in your contract. I just can't let it be so low, that's all"

"I know that gaffer. I was thinking, what about if we talk again at the end of the season. Let's get promoted and then maybe it will make a difference?"

"OK. Tell you what son, let's do that"
 

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The FA Cup had entered the business phase now, as the Premier League clubs started to enter the competition, but the draw had been reasonable kind in giving them a chance to progress, as a trip to Rushden, a fellow Division Three side, had been thrown out of the hat. He was slightly torn between what sort of team to play, even while travelling to the game on the coach, and it was Russ Beardsmore who seemed to sense this

"We going full strength?"

Beardsmore plonked himself into the seat across from his manager

"Not sure. Instinct is to rest a few as we're getting into heavy territory. Be different if it was a Premier League side mind"

"Yeah that makes sense. Who's in contention?"

"Well Moukoko looked a bit out of sorts yesterday so I think he needs a rest. David Edwards has a slight strain, so he's a definite. Thinking Vitor, Vance and Mikey to come in"

"Mikey? Beckham?"

"Aye. He's really impressed me in training and he's hungry, so he's earnt it"

Peter was true to his word, and Michael Beckham did come in for his debut, while Geir Olsen, Glenn Hartmann, Vance Warner and Vitor Pereira also came into the side, and Adrian Littlejohn replaced Moukoko. The home side had been on a horrendous run of form before the end of the year, sliding from Playoff contenders to a mid table slot after just one win in twelve, so their confidence was shot to pieces, and this was obvious in the way they started the game, as they were slow and cumbersome, feeling out their opponents. The advantage was seized though, although it could have been a lot earlier, as Beckham and Littlejohn both had decent efforts, but it was the little Jamaican who set up the opener, using his pace to slip past his man before cutting the ball back for Geir Olsen to meet it and smack it into the roof of the net. From then on, there was only one winner in the game, but, perhaps slightly worryingly, they couldn't find anymore goals, despite their best efforts, and Billy Turley earnt the Man of the Match award after a string of second half saves, but regardless, Round Four beckoned

..

With more than half the season gone, the talk of promotion around the club was becoming more fastidious, and this was understandable considering the position they found themselves in, but Peter made sure that this talk wasn't going round the players. Fortunately, he had a level headed group of lads and this wasn't a worry. That said, they had been told they had a job to do and he expected full effort up to the end of the season

Secretly, he had been planning for the next season, sending his scouts out to look at possibilities, while he had the difficult task of deciding which of the expiring contracts in his squad would be extended and which players would be released. This was always a tough job but it had to be done and he didn't shy away from tasks. He looked down at his list of players, wondering if he could get any of them tied up before the end of the current campaign

Lee Collins was a central defender currently at Halesowen, and while he had expressed interest in joining, he had made noises about seeing out the season. The same could be said for Torquay defender Mike Williamson, but he had an expiring contract in the summer, which allowed him to stay out the season and agree a move, and a contract had been offered. He felt that there was enough of a core in the squad to more than compete in Division Two - if they got there - and just a few additions would be more than adequate
 

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He arrived at the ground on the morning of the next game, a little earlier than usual because he wanted to get a few bits done, and as he walked into the entrance doors, he was accosted by the Groundsman

"Morning Boss. Erm, slight problem"

"Problem?"

"You better come and see"

He followed him out to the ground, and was greeted by a hell of a sight. The weather had not been great over the last couple of days, but it had created a large pool of water on the right hand side of the field. The water had pooled to about 2 feet deep, and he knew, immediately, that the game would not be able to be played

The referee had arrived and expressed the same view, and the game was duly confirmed off just before midday. While he obviously wanted to play every game, it wouldn't do any harm for the players to have a bit of extra rest over the weekend. So preparations were to begin for the game on Wednesday night

The rest had done the players the world of good, and come the visit of Oxford, he had a full strength team to pick from, and he duly did pick his strongest eleven. Unfortunately for the away side, the game was out of their grasp within the opening half an hour, as Mansfield raced into a 4-0 lead. The scoring started less than two minutes into the game, David Edwards side footing home from ten yards out after a Greenacre knock down. Edwards turned provider for the second, sliding a beautiful ball through for Moukoko and he deftly dinked it over the 'keeper to make it two. The Belgian doubled his personal tally with a magnificent free kick, stepping up and curling it into the top corner, giving the 'keeper absolutely no chance. The game was out of reach by this point, and even more so when Moukoko completed his hat trick, scoring his 15th of the season in doing so, with a deft sweeping finish, and there was no way back. Emmanuel Onoyimni did grab a consolation, continuing his good form, and the talk of him leaving would soon escalate, but Chris Greenacre added to his two assists by finally grabbing his - seemingly now - customary goal to ensure the four goal margin was restored

--

"I'm sorry Peter, we never wanted you to find out like this..."


The sweat poured off him. He sat in bed, panting slightly, taking several seconds to realise where he was. He had bolted upright, having had one of those dreams he thought he had managed to to extinguish from his mind

He swung his legs out of the bed, and padded downstairs to make himself a cold drink. It had been a while since the dream had infested his mind, and he wondered why now he had suddenly had it again. To try and distract himself, he opened his laptop up and brought up his reports folder. While he went through the player reports, he had, in his mind at least, earmarked four or five players that he felt would be, for want of a better word, sellable assets in the summer, should the right offer come in, and he wanted to bring the necessary reports for his meeting with his scouting and coaching team at the end of the month

..

"Jesus gaffer. You look terrible"

He had walked in to the the greeting from Spencer Field. He was, of course, aware of the bags under his eyes that showed his lack of sleep

"Morning to you too"

"Sorry. Bad night?"

"Nah just didn't sleep. I'll be fine, couple of cups of coffee and be right as rain"

"If you say so. Anyway, don't forget..."

He tapped his watch as he walked away

"...meeting in half an hour"

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Writers Note ; I'm off on holiday for a week in the morning so these will be the last updates for a short while

---

"I don't think we'll need wholesale changes to be honest, just a few tweaks here and there, and we'll be more than competitive"

The meeting was drawing to a close, with all four men managing to agree to disagree, but it was time to discuss the possible transfer activity

"I agree. We don't want the squad to become bloated though"

"I've earmarked several players that we could let go if we got the right bids..."

He handed out the piece of paper across the table, watching as eyebrows were slightly raised

"...so we've got to be prepared for that"

"Boss, is this right? Bobby Hassell and Adam Barrett?"

"Yeah. I think we have good depth at centre half, and there's two or three I've got an eye on to replace them"

The meeting had drawn it's conclusion, and the next time they saw each other was two days later, on the coach trip for the away game at Cheltenham. They had just lost their best player, Mike Duff, so he had drawn up an idea for the play to come mainly down the left hand side where they were at their weakest, but this was thwarted by the way the home side took the game to them, something that hadn't happened for a while. Within a minute and a half of the game kicking off, they were in front, Martin Devaney and Jamie Victory combining to set up the on loan David Hopkins, who slotted the ball past Pilkington. This was a bit of a shock to the system, and Peter was delighted with his side's response, as they levelled up within three minutes, Moukoko spinning his man to collect the ball from Kos, and he poked it past the 'keeper with the outside of his left foot

From then on, it was a game of two 'keepers. Steve Banks thwarted a string of chances, most notably from Greenacre, Kos, Lawrence and Jervis. Greenacre had done well to get himself a chance as he had two players on him all the time, but it was his terrific movement that had caused him to get the chance. At the other end, chances fell for the home side too, Martin Devaney the main culprit as he missed a hat trick of opportunities, the worst being a four yard tap in that he somehow guided wide. Neither side found the way to break the deadlock, despite their best efforts, and they dropped points for the first time since October

--

The FA Cup had been reasonable, drawing them at home for the Fourth Round. The run in the competition had managed to boost the finances, so there was at least room to wiggle if needed, but with a visit from Crystal Palace, there was a chance of progressing even further. There was no question of resting players for this game, and he went as strong as possible, although Greenacre, Kos and Moukoko did get rested. Michael Beckham justified his selection within three minutes, scoring his first goal for the club when he took the ball out of the air and slipped past the last defender, firing across the 'keeper and in to the far corner. The players that Palace had at their disposal were, without question, of better quality, and their top scorer Jovan Kirovski levelled the scores, collecting the ball from Dougie Freedman and instinctively firing into the top corner. 

The heart of his players was never in question, and he was delighted to see how they responded to the equaliser, playing their usual game, not panicking, and they got their reward just before half time, Jervis firing a long ball to Adrian Littlejohn, and the striker using his pace to break clear and round the goalkeeper, slotting into the goal with ease. They were buoyant coming out after the break, but a shocking decision three minutes into the second half dampened that mood. Freedman went over in the area, and a penalty was awarded immediately by the referee. Jamie Clarke was absolutely adamant he never touched the striker, and replays would back that up, but unfortunately, the decision stood, and Jamie Pollock stepped up and fired the ball home. The game was still fairly open, both sides having good chances, but the deadlock remained unbroken, and the referee's final whistle signalled a replay
 

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He had criticised the penalty decision in the media afterwards, quite rightly, and while they were still in the competition, he could ideally have done without the replay and the extra game but it was out of his hands. He had arrived at the ground on Monday morning, an hour before the players were due in, and he hadn't been sat there more than five minutes before his phone rang

"Peter Daish"

"..."

"Oh. And what can I do for you Mr Packer?"

"..."

"Yes I am aware what I said about the referee and the penalty decision in my post match interview"

"..."

"No I don't think it was inappropriate. It was a scandalous decision that essentially cost us the game. Three officials missed it"

"..."

"Are you serious?"

"..."

"Well thankyou very much Mr Packer. Have a nice day..."

He slammed the phone down as he said it

"...you arsehole!"

The FA had decided his comments after the Palace game were inappropriate and had fined him £1,000, which he was absolutely furious with

--

His mood had only slightly improved over the day, and the lads were worked hard in training, and he was left sat in his office after everyone had gone home. Having thought he was alone, he threw his mug against the wall in frustration

"Am I interrupting?"

Charlotte had appeared at the door

"Sorry love. Stressful day"

"I can tell. Just wanted to let you know I'm finishing up all the paperwork then I'm off for the day"

He paused, as a thought entered his head

"Have you had lunch?"

"Sorry?"

"Have you had lunch? There's a nice little pub around the corner. It'd be nice to have some company?"

She looked a little surprised but there was a slight hint of a smile on her face

"Actually, that would be nice. I've not had anything yet as it happens"

"That's settled then. Grab your coat and we'll head out"

--

They had entered the pub, a local Greene King that served decent food, and within five minutes had sat down at a table with drinks, a pint of Bitter for him and a Vodka and Tonic for her. Five minutes later they had ordered food and were sat back at the table

"Sorry about earlier. Just pressures of the job, you know?"

"Oh don't worry. In comparison with some of the other managers we've had, you're pretty calm"

He chuckled

"I'll take your word for that. So what do you do outside of work?"

"Well, I'm actually studying at the Open University in my spare time"

"Oh really? What are you studying?"

"Journalism. It's my ambition to be a reporter. This is a job that helps me pay the bills really"

"Good for you love. If you ever need extra time off for it, you know you just have to ask right?"

Her eyes lit up

"Do you mean that?"

"Of course"

The lunch had been pleasant, and Charlotte had proved to be good company. It had been nice for Peter to talk about other things rather than football, and a couple of hours relaxation was exactly what he needed to get away from it all

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Action was soon back to normal though, as they welcomed Exeter to Field Mill, for the rearranged game from earlier in the month. They had shown plenty of inconsistency over the season and sat mid table, but you wouldn't have thought that the way they started, as they flew out of the blocks and into the lead within the first ten minutes, Christian Roberts volleying home from the penalty spot. This seemed to shock the home side, and for the first time this season, they couldn't respond, giving their worst 45 minute performance since he had taken charge. The oonly saving grace was that it was still only a one goal advantage going into the interval. Until he was forced to tear up his half time notes, a mistake from Karl Owen allowing Roberts in, and the striker rolled the ball into the path of Mudge, who slashed it past the stranded Pilkington

Peter absolutely ripped into his team at half time, and they responded in kind, battering their opponents in the second half. Chance after chance came their way, Moukoko pulling one back and then, eventually, after it looked like it wouldn't come, the equaliser from Liam Lawrence. They had worked hard to get back into their game, and their mentality meant they went for the win and didn't settle for the point. This however, would backfire in the worst way, as the winner came in their own goal, a long ball over the top looking harmless, until a slip from Clarke meant he lost control, and Christian Roberts marauded through to slip the ball under Pilkington and seal the win for the visitors

--

January 2002 Results
[Division Three unless otherwise stated]

Shrewsbury 0-1 Mansfield
[Greenacre 87]

FA Cup Round Three
Rushden 0-1 Mansfield
[Olsen 20]

Mansfield 5-1 Oxford
[Edwards 2, Moukoko 10,16,21, Greenacre 53 ; Omoyimni 48]

Cheltenham 1-1 Mansfield
[Hopkins 2 ; Moukoko 5]

FA Cup Round Four
Mansfield 2-2 Crystal Palace
[Beckham 3, Littlejohn 44 ; Kirovski 26, Pollock pen 48]

Mansfield 2-3 Exeter
[Roberts 7,80, Mudge 44 ; Moukoko 51, Lawrence 71]
 

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February started with a blow, as Greenacre was ruled out for a week with a tight thigh, and there was no need to risk any player, so he was subsequently sent to work with the physio. The previous month had ended with three games without a win, the first time in the season it had happened, so it was imperative to get back into the swing of winning. The training had been good in the build up, Hartmann and Renner in particular impressing, and they were rewarded with starting places in the team for the Kidderminster game. Shayne Bradley took his place ahead of Greenacre, while Kos, Vance Warner and Vitor Pereira also came into the team. 

The nervousness was evident from the first whistle, maybe the previous results (in particular Exeter) had affected the team more than had been obvious, and it was the visitors who had a couple of decent chances first, as Andrew Ducros tested Kevin Pilkington, before firing wide ten minutes later. It wasn't until just after the half hour mark that the first chance came the way of Peter's side, Kos sliding in Bradley, who smacked the post with his shot, before he turned provider for Renner, who really should have scored, but he fired wide. The game was goalless at the break, and while he didn't give his side the hairdryer treatment, they were told in no uncertain terms that it wasn't good enough

This seemed to do the trick, and within two minutes of the restart, they were ahead, Jervis whipping a ball in from the left hand side, which found Bradley on the penalty spot and the striker thumped a header into the top corner, giving the 'keeper no chance. From that point on, it was all Mansfield, and more chances followed. Renner, Hartmann, Olsen and Karl Owen were all guilty of missing, Owen in particular missing a guilt edge opportunity, and it very nearly cost them, and it took a late save from Pilkington to secure all the points, as he thwarted Ducros in the final minute, and they got back to winning ways

--

"We needed that gaffer"

"We did, especially after the Exeter game. Still not happy though"

A raised eyebrow

"Really?"

"Yeah. Just something I feel. I still think we need another 'keeper, Spence is on the lookout"

"You know we're 18 points clear at the top right?

He shrugged his shoulders

"I know that but we've got to start looking at next season now, we're probably going to get promoted and need to compete"
 

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The FA Cup replay was a game that was an extra, and with a tired squad, it was a tougher game than it would have been anyway, even against the Division One outfit. There was also some transfer news before the game against Crystal Palace too, as Barnsley submitted a bid of £500,000 for defender Bobby Hassell. He had fallen out of favour, having only played twice since September, and it was a decent amount of money on offer, which meant the bid was accepted

The trip to Palace had seen a makeshift team put together, with injuries and tiredness contributing to that, and this showed as Kirovski opened the scoring in the fourth minute, collecting the ball on the left hand side, cutting in and firing low past Bingham. It wasn't a great start, but three minutes later, the game was level, Bradley collecting a pass from youngster Amit Bose, jinking inside and curling the ball home with the outside of his right foot. Again, there was barely time to breathe, as Palace re-took the lead on the tenth minute, Dutchman Martijn Meerdink playing a lovely one two with Kirovski, then another one with Jamie Pollock, and sliding the ball home into the goal. Bose fired a shot wide, before he slipped in Renner to fire straight at the 'keeper, and they paid for those misses when Meerdink scored again, smashing home a half volley from the edge of the box

The game had seen four goals in the opening twenty five minutes, and had petered out after that, although the second half had seen the best chances fall to Mansfield, with Bose, Bradley, Renner and Stuart Dawe all controlling to miss good chances to bring them back into the game. Bingham had nothing to do, Palace not creating a chance really, but the game finished as it was, and their FA Cup journey was over

"OK lads, let's have you"

The coach was on the way back from the Palace game, and Peter had felt it necessary to say a few words

"First of all, well done today. Proud of the efforts, and we've competed against a team two divisions higher than us. Secondly, you'll see a lot of media giving it the one win in five nonsense. Forget all that. We have been magnificent this season, and deserve to be where we are. We can focus on the league now, seal ourselves a spot in Division Two, and make this season one that we remember"

--

The mood in the squad had lifted after his speech, but as he got back to his flat just after 1am, he flopped onto the sofa with a beer from the fridge. The players had the day off the next day, to recover from the game and the travelling, but he was going in to work on some transfer dealings, so once his beer was quickly finished, he headed to grab some sleep

"I appreciate that Steve, but we're prepared to meet the asking price"

"..."

"Well of course it's your prerogative to offer him a new contract, and if you do, and he signs it, then we'll call the matter closed"

"..."

"OK. Take care Steve"

Boston United were showing resistance at selling Simon Rusk - understandably, as he was their best player - and their manager Steve Evans had indicated they were about to offer him a new deal. The same was to be said for Barnet defender Mark Arber, a player he really wanted to bring into the squad, so things had stalled so far. He started to feel that Mansfield was not a destination to attract players, but they were quick to leave, Bobby Hassell having travelled to Yorkshire for his medical, with his move to Barnsley imminent, He was suddenly distracted by his internal phone

"Hello"

"Sorry to disturb you Peter. I've got a Paul Jewell on the phone for you?"

"OK Charlotte, put him through"

Seconds later, the dulcet Liverpudlian tones of Jewell came through the phone

"Morning Peter"

"Paul. What can I do for you?"

A little chuckle came across the line

"I was told you were blunt and straight to the point"

"I try my best"

"I will be as blunt as I can be aswell then. Shayne Bradley. How much?"

He pondered slightly. He didn't really want to lose his second striker, but if the offer was good enough, then he could be tempted

"Well he's important to us, and we're fighting for promotion and don't want to upset the apple cart"

"Understandable. OK, how about a million?"

"Sorry? Did you say a million?"

"Yeah. No clauses, straight up, a million quid"

"I can't turn that down. Paul, you have a deal. I'll let the player know and you can arrange a meeting with him and his agent?"
 

Edited by sherm
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The Bradley deal looked set to happen pretty swiftly, and with that in mind, he was not in the squad for the next game. Michael Beckham was brought in to replace him, Lee Robinson replaced the injured Karl Owen, while Edwards was replaced by Hartmann. Greenacre was back in the starting eleven too, meaning Dawe dropped out for the time being, but other than that, the visit to Scunthorpe saw a fairly full strength side take to the field

It wasn't a great start, the visitors flying out of the traps, and they were rewarded on seven minutes, Carruthers meeting the low cross and turning it into the net. This woke them up from their slumber, and both Greenacre and Kos tested the 'keeper with low drives, while a brilliant save from a Clarke header kept them ahead. It was the resulting corner that saw the equaliser, Greenacre rising highest to direct a deft header inside the far post. The striker was superb in the game, his movement and positioning causing all sorts of problems, and it was a really well worked goal for his second. Jervis played it out to Liam Lawrence, who swung a long cross field ball to Moukoko. The Belgian's jinking run took him past three defenders, before he whipped it low and hard back to Greenacre. The striker turned and hit a low drive into the bottom corner, leaving the 'keeper no chance. Incredibly though, the game was level at the break, Simpson capitalising on a misjudgment in the defence and beating Pilkington

They had been the better side but the score didn't reflect that, but the second half was a different story, four unanswered goals giving them the three points. The first was Greenacre completing his hat trick, collecting a ball from Jervis, flicking the ball through his markers legs and curling a delicate little shot into the net. Chances came and were wasted, Greenacre, Disley, Kos, Warner and Lawrence all missing opportunities, and it wasn't until the final ten minutes that the goals flowed. Greenacre tapped into an empty net for his fourth, after Disley had rounded the 'keeper and squared it across to him. Moukoko laid off Robinson for a fifth, the defender grabbing a rare goal with a low fizzing drive, before Wouter Kos capped a fine display when he broke free of the defence and smashed the ball home, to seal the emphatic win and prove their point

..

Sat in his office on the Monday evening, training having gone well, he was finishing off a few last minute bits of paperwork, when he heard a knock on his open door

"Hello Charlotte love. Thought you'd gone already?"

"Oh no not yet, just a couple of bits to finish off. I wanted to let you know, the Bradley deal is finalised. He's completed his medical, and the money is confirmed"

"Oh perfect, thankyou. Did you set up the meeting I asked for?"

She smiled

"Have I ever let you down? Wednesday morning, 9am"

"Thankyou love. Now you get off home"

She turned to go, and the words were out of his mouth before he realised what he'd said

"Actually love, do you fancy a quick drink?"

She turned round, a look of amusement and surprise on her face

"Oh. That wasn't what I expected..."

He held his hand up in way of apology

"Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you..."

"I'd love to"

"Sorry?"

"That drink? I said I'd love to"
 

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  • 2 weeks later...

With Shayne Bradley now a Wigan player, and a meeting set up with Millwall for the Wednesday morning, things were advancing on the transfer front. Tony Warner had not played for Millwall much through the season, and the club had made it known he was surplus to requirements, so he was keen to bring him in to bolster the ranks between the sticks. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the drink with Charlotte had gone well. They'd chatted, mainly about things outside of football, and enjoyed each others company

His mood was buoyant through the remainder of the week. Warner had shown real interest in joining, and their bid of £140,000 had been agreed quickly, so with the player having a contract offer on the table, they were just awaiting to agree terms. However, as he should have come to expect, things were given a kick in the teeth, as a letter dropped through onto his doormat, He opened it, and read the first few sentences over and over to himself

..

Quote

 

"Dear Mr Daish

I am writing on behalf of my client, a Ms Leanne Mitchell

She has tasked me with beginning divorce proceedings on your marriage. I have been informed you have not been together for a year or so now, so this should not be a problem. She has also informed me that she expects no challenge from you in this matter

As you have no children, this makes the issue far less complicated, but if it is agreeable to you, I would like to discuss matters with you

My contact number is on the bottom of this letter..."

 

..

He had felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. How could someone who had spent so long as a part of his life mean so little to him?

He dropped the letter on the kitchen table and headed out the door, a trip to Bristol beckoning for himself and his side. The season was at the business stage now and he had more important things to focus on

--

Bristol Rovers were languishing in mid table, their inconsistency being the major factor in this, but he was taking no chances and put out the best side available to him. They started well, Agustin stinging the hands of Scott Howie early on, before Greenacre headed wide, a chance he really should have scored. The deadlock was eventually broken though, just after a quarter of an hour, Kos bombing forward and collecting Agustin's pass, wriggling through and poking the ball past Howie. The little midfielder turned provider for the second just three minutes later, guiding the ball through beautifully for Greenacre, and the striker smashed the ball into the roof of the goal. There was an argument that the game should have been out of sight by half time, with Kos, Edwards and Lawrence all missing good opportunities to seal the points. The price was paid for this, as the home side got a goal back early in the second half, Astafjevs powering home after a little scramble in the box. 

That just served as a catalyst for the team to go on and win the game, and fourteen minutes later, the game was sealed, as was Kos' hat trick, a free kick from 25 yards and then a lovely little drive into the bottom corner to make it 4-1. That had sealed the game, but the goal scoring wasn't finished, two minutes after Kos scored his third, Greenacre made it five, and in the process scored his 30th league goal of the season, turning his marker and firing low and hard past Howie. The striker completed his hat trick ten minutes later, rising above everybody else and powering a header home. For the second game in a row, they had scored six, incidentally their 100th goal of the league campaign, and even a goal for the home side, from Cameron, after Astafjevs had laid it off for him, couldn't dampen the mood within the camp, thus bringing promotion one step closer

--

"So how's the course going?"

"Really well actually. I'm flying through it, and should finish it on time. I've got a big essay to write though that's like a dissertation"

"Good. I'm sure you'll be fine"

She smiled at him. Then caught him off guard

"Is something wrong?"

He looked at her with raised eyebrows

"How do you mean?"

"I don't know, something seems like it's bothering you?"

He sighed, putting down his knife and fork

"You're perceptive Charlotte, I'll give you that. OK, well you deserve to know"

"Only if you want to tell me?"

"Of course I do. So, you remember I briefly mentioned I had been married?"

"Yeah. She left you for someone else?"

"That's right. Well her divorce papers were filed the other day"

It had been good to get it off his chest, and Charlotte had been supportive, listened hard and understood perfectly. She also revealed she had been in a similar situation, her ex having done a similar thing, so they talked through dinner before heading back to the ground
 

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Afternoon Folks. After a break away in the sunny climes of France visiting family, I'm back and ready to restart. Hope you've not missed me too much!

--

The players were tired following the previous two games, and having watched training, he had decided to make a few changes. That said, he had a new face in the ranks too, Millwall 'keeper Tony Warner agreeing terms and going straight into the team for the visit of Lincoln. Greenacre was in desperate need of a rest, so he was replaced by Michael Beckham, while Hartmann, Vance Warner, Vitor Pereira and Victor Renner all came into the starting eleven. Maybe the cohesion between the team was off, because they started slowly, so much so that they were 1-0 down within the opening twenty minutes, Tony Thorpe receiving the ball from Mark Camm and firing the ball into the corner. It took a while for them to get back into the game, and they'd only had one chance of note before Hartmann found the equaliser, Beckham testing the 'keeper, but it was the strikers flick on that led to the goal, Hartmann running onto the flick and volleying into the top corner, a beautiful striker

They were behind before half time again though, Vance Warner stretching for the ball and bringing down Tony Thorpe, before Kingsley Black stepped up and smacked the penalty past Tony Warner. The second half once again saw four more goals, and they all came for Peter's side. He had sent them out with a simple instruction - take the game to them - and this certainly worked, and while they had to wait a while for the goals to come, it was wave after wave of attacks. Eventually, Hartmann levelled the game, firing a shot from the edge of the area, which deflected and wrong footed the 'keeper. Hartmann was replaced not long after that by Olsen, and he linked well with Vitor Pereira on the left, the full back whipping a cross into the near post that saw Michael Beckham flick the ball in between the post and the 'keeper. Beckham scored again, maybe trying his best to prove he was the man to replace Shayne Bradley, when he outmuscled his marker and side footed past the 'keeper. Olsen sealed the emphatic win in injury time, making himself some space and curling the ball home

--

Boston United had finally relented, and agreed to sell Simon Rusk to them, a fee of £180,000 being agreed. The player was due at the ground to discuss terms later on in the day, but he was still looking to add players to the squad in preparation for the promotion that looked certain to happen. The main one of these was Barnet's Mark Arber. The defender was keen on the move but, understandably, his club were less keen to let him go, themselves in a promotion push from the conference, so negotiations had come to a little bit of a standstill. He picked up the phone and dialled John Still's number

"..."

"Morning John. Peter Daish again"

"..."

"I'll make it easy. We want Arber, How much do you want for him?"

"..."

"Fifty grand? Done. More than happy with that"

"..."

"I appreciate you didn't want to sell him without significant investment, but I'm happy with the fifty grand fee. I'll get the process started"

It was good news to hear that Arber's move was progressing, and it was easy to negotiate with Rusk, the Scotsman keen on the move and to test himself at a higher level, so the contract and terms were penned out easily enough
 

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Rusk travelled to Halifax so he could integrate and meet his new teammates, but he wasn't in the squad for the game, although youngsters Amit Bose, Michael Beckham and Stuart Dawe were. 365 fans had travelled too, and they were rewarded with a remarkable game of football. The home side were languishing in 17th place, having struggled of late for form, and maybe that contributed to their attitude through the game, as they played with a freedom and style that wasn't befitting how they usually played

Moukoko had opened the scoring early on, linking up well with Kos, who fed him with a delicious through ball and the Belgian lifted the ball delicately over the 'keeper. That said, he should have doubled the lead not long after, missing a simple chance from six yards out, and this was punished when Redfearn slipped in Mitchell, who let it run across him and smashed it home. Peter saw his side retake the lead less than two minutes later, Edwards bombing forward to collect Clarke's long pass, and the Welshman was composed enough to slide the ball home. Greenacre and Moukoko both missed chances, while Pilkington saved from Kerrigan and Redfearn, but the midfielder did level things back up soon after, firing low into the bottom corner from the edge of the box

The game was being played at a breakneck pace, and while it was level at the interval, it only took ten minutes for the visitors to retake the lead, Edwards marauding into the box, his original shot cannoning back off the post straight back to him, and he just knocked it back into the open goal. Once again, the home side responded quickly, Steven Kerrigan heading from a cross, and the frustration was beginning to boil on Peter, his agitation on the sidelines visible for all to see. He did however, manage to calm down as his side eventually claimed all three points, thanks to a late double from Chris Greenacre. His first came on 82 minutes, turning his man brilliantly and running to the far post to meet Jervis' cross and head home. Moukoko provided the assist for his second, pulling back from the byline and Greenacre smacking it into the roof of the net. While it was a fourth successive win, there was a slight concern that they were conceding goals regularly, and that was an issue he looked to address

...

The Arber deal was completed 48 hours after the Halifax game, and both he and Rusk would find themselves in the squad for the final game of February. Peter had expressed concerns to his backroom team about the sudden influx of goals, having scored 22 and conceded 9 in their last four games, but they didn't share the same view, expressing the point that if they keep up that ratio, they'd win the majority of the games, of which he had to agree

The mood in the camp was good for the visit of Plymouth, and while both Arber and Rusk came into the team, Liam Lawrence and Pilkington were replaced by Victor Renner and Tony Warner. Once again it was a quick start, but not for them, for the team in green, Martin Phillips laying off McGowan and the youngster striking the ball well, leaving Warner no chance. This only angered the beast, and Mansfield came roaring back, testing the Plymouth 'keeper several times in the course of the first half, and they even managed to beat him twice, as Wouter Kos amd David Edwards showed why they were the best midfield pairing in the Division with a goal a piece

The second half started in a similar fashion, as they peppered the visitors goal with efforts, and despite Nicky Banger levelling the scores - a goal seven minutes into the half - they scored three unanswered goals after that to seal the points. Moukoko got the goal to put them back ahead, a brilliant free kick into the top corner, before the Belgian linked up with Greenacre, the striker nodding the ball down into the path of Renner, and the young forward slotted the ball home. Renner had a hand in the fifth too, swinging a ball out to Jervis, who whipped a ball into the box for Greenacre to power home, the full back recording his 15th assist of the season, and the month ending with five successive wins

--

February 2002 Results
[Division Three unless stated otherwise]

Mansfield 1-0 Kidderminster
[Bradley 47]

FA Cup Round Four Replay
Crystal Palace 3-1 Mansfield
[Bradley 7 ; Kirovski 4, Meerdink 10,24]

Scunthorpe 2-6 Mansfield
[Greenacre 20,41,48,82, Robinson 89, Kos 90+2 ; Carruthers 7, Simpson 44]

Bristol Rovers 2-6 Mansfield
[Kos 15,61,68, Greenacre 19,70,80 ; Astafjevs 54, Cameron 81]

Mansfield 5-2 Lincoln
[Hartmann 41,72, Beckham 76,83, Olsen 90+3 ; Thorpe 15, Black pen 44]

Halifax 3-5 Mansfield
[Moukoko 6, Edwards 21,55, Greenacre 82,85 ; Mitchell 19, Redfearn 38, Kerrigan 57]

Mansfield 5-2 Plymouth
[Kos 12, Edwards 21, Moukoko 55, Renner 74, Greenacre 85 ; McGowan 3, Banger 52]

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He had signed the papers without any issues, sending them back through the post. It was a huge weight off his shoulders, and now he was ready to focus on the business in hand, that of securing the promotion his players so richly deserved. The lads had trained well, and even with niggles that Lawrence and Greenacre had picked up in training, he was confident in their ability to get the job done. It was an hour after training had finished that he had been approached by the chairman

"Peter, a moment?"

He gestured to the chair opposite him at his desk

"Afternoon Keith. What can I do for you?"

"Well, first of all, myself and all of the board are delighted with the way things have gone so far, both on and off the field"

"Pretty pleased myself to be honest with you"

A smile and a nod

"Second of all, you are aware your contract is up in the summer?"

"Well yes but I assumed we would be discussing it after the season"

"That was the plan, but things have gone so well, that in here..."

He waved a brown envelope

"...is a three year extension to your deal. Obviously you can read it and go through it but we'd love for you to remain with us..."

"Where do I sign?"

It was his easiest decision of the season. He had started a project and completely wanted to stay and build his own squad, in his own style. Signing the contract was the first step of that process
 

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The news of the contract had gone down well with the fans, and the mood in the team was much the same for the trip to the coast to play Torquay. Greenacre, Lawrence and Clarke had all not passed fitness tests for the game, so Dawe, Renner and Marques all came into the team. The hosts were chasing a playoff spot, and this was evident as they started like a train, Chris Brandon laying off Graham to fizz a shot wide, Kain Bond forcing Tony Warner into a save from a header, while Brandon himself fired wide. The winger was having a field day on the right hand side, running poor Vitor Pereira a merry dance, and it was his play and jinking run that set up the opening goal, as he used his pace to get into the box, before a deft chip to the back post found Graham, and he headed home easily. They got probably their worst rollocking of the season in the dressing room at half time, after what was without a doubt their most sluggish, methodical, uninspiring performance thus far, and this contributed to how they came out after the break

Renner had swapped sides with Moukoko, allowing both men to cut inside, and it was one of these runs that allowed Renner to equalise, as he skipped past Troy Douglin and curled a beauty into the bottom corner. It was fairly one way traffic from then on, as Renner, Dawe, Owen, Moukoko and Edwards all had chances, Renner smacking the post from four yards out. The home side were clinging on by the time the final whistle came, and the draw, while probably flattering for the home side, was what they had to settle for

--

"Right lads, let's have you"

The final training session before the next game had finished and he had gathered the players together at the end to give them a pep talk

"OK boys. You've been brilliant all season, literally I couldn't have asked for any more. But the next game, a win takes us over the line"

Murmurs around the group

"It's that simple. Win your next game, in front of our fans, and you'll be Division Two players next season. So let's go out there and get the job done"

It was a no brainer for the visit of Swansea, and he went as strong as possible. They wanted a measure of revenge too, as the Welsh side had inflicted the first defeat of his tenure earlier in the season. Greenacre and Lawrence were back in the team following knocks, and they, along with the rest of the team, had been given simple instructions to go out there and start well, and they certainly did that, racing into a two goal lead in the opening five minutes, as a header from Greenacre, from a Jervis cross, before a low drive from the edge of the box by Agustin, the unlikliest of goalscorers, doubled their advantage. This stung the visitors into action, and they managed to get back level in a six minute burst, goals from Cusack and Sidibe bringing the game back on level terms

He was agitated on the sideline, and he was barking instructions to his players, but it took a moment of genius to get them back ahead. Wouter Kos fed Moukoko, who was thirty yards away from goal. He received the ball, and sensing his marker was on his back, he flicked it up and over his head. Turning at the same time, he met the ball on the other side and volleyed it into the top corner. It was an absolutely sublime goal, one that was worthy of winning a Champions League final, never mind a Divison Three game, and it restored the lead. The Belgian turned provider just before half time, slipping Hartmann in to round Roger Freestone and slide the ball into the open goal

The second half was one sided, the visitors managing just one shot on the Mansfield goal, and Peter saw his side add three unanswered goals to emphatically secure their promotion. David Edwards grabbed the fifth goal, collecting the ball from Hartmann and driving a low shot into the bottom corner. Edwards had a part to play in the next goal too, as his pass down the right hand side released Liam Lawrence, who whipped a deep cross to the far post for Greenacre, the striker nodding in past the 'keeper. He completed his hat trick in the final ten minutes with a lovely strikers finish, following up from Victor Renner's shot to poke the ball into the roof of the net
 

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Celebrations had been kept to a minimum around the club, as there were still ten games left to play and they had a title to clinch. That said, he had arranged to have a drink with Charlotte. He enjoyed her company and it was nice to have someone he could talk about things outside of football, so when he returned to the table in the pub, he was looking forward to speaking to her

"There you go. Gin and Tonic"

He placed the glass, along with his pint, onto the table

"Oh Thanks. Congratulations by the way"

"Eh?"

"On promotion. It's all everyone has spoken about today"

"Ah. Thankyou. To be fair it felt kind of anti climatic, there's still ten games to play. Anyway, no shop talk"

She giggled

"OK. So how are you doing? After signing the divorce papers I mean?"

He shrugged his shoulders

"To be honest, I'm fine. I thought I'd be a lot more affected but when I was signing them, I genuinely didn't feel anything"

They spoke for the next couple of hours, enjoying the evening, before it got towards 10.30 that evening

"Oh, it's getting late. I better head home, I'm in early tomorrow"

He smiled at her

"No you're not. Didn't you get the memo? All office staff are off for the day"

Her face lit up

"Really? Oh thankyou!"

"Don't mention it. Come on, let's get you a taxi"

Five minutes later the taxi had pulled up outside the pub. She turned round as it did so

"Night Peter. Thanks for a lovely evening"

She smiled at him, and crept up onto her tiptoes to give him a quick peck on the cheek

As she drove away, he raised his hand to his cheek and touched where she had kissed him and muttered to himself

"She's a lovely girl really"

--

"Morning gents"

He walked into the office and greeted his coaches, sensing the mood was jovial after the promotion clinching win

"Morning gaffer. Ready to clinch the title on Saturday?"

"Bloody hell you're confident Spence!"

A shrug from the scout

"Can't not be. You got fifteen minutes to go through this list?"

"Sure. Let me grab a bacon sarnie and a brew and I'll be with you"

True to his word, he was sat with Spencer Field and Russell Beardsmore, a list of players that would help them in Division Two

"Right then, let's get cracking"

"OK. First of, we'll revisit Lee Collins. Think he'd be ideal to partner Arber in defence"

"I agree. Still wanting to wait until the end of the season though?"

"Looks like it but his club might be a blocker. They don't want to sell but he's worth pursuing"

"OK. Keep on it then. Next?"

"Well I think we need cover at right back. Lad called Marek Szmid. He's at Clyde at the minute but he wants to move back to England. He's quick, reads the game well. Shouldn't cost too much either"

The meeting went on for almost an hour, several players earmarked for transfer bids over the summer, aswell as deciding any players who would be released at the end of the campaign
 

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The trip to Macclesfield had seen around 500 fans see them off from the ground on the Saturday morning, waving scarves and chanting at the players who had secured them promotion, but they, and the manager, were focused on the next game, one which, if they won, would secure them the Division Three title. With this in mind, the strongest available eleven had been selected for the game, no chances being taken in their pursuit of the title

They were sent out with a simple 'go and do your jobs' message, and boy did they take that to heed, as they came out of the traps like a hurricane. Lawrence and Moukoko had tested the 'keeper early doors, forcing him into a double save, but it was Chris Greenacre (who else?!) that opened the scoring, muscling past the defender and lashing a shot into the bottom corner across the 'keeper. The big striker was causing a nuisance for the defenders, and should have had another not long after when he smacked the post with a half volley, and when he flicked the ball down for Lawrence to fire wide, it looked like it might be one of those days. However, Peter needn't have worried, as the striker took it upon himself to clinch things, as he first headed home a cross from Jervis, after fine play down the left, and then sealed his hat trick, with what was also his 40th goal of the campaign, when he found space in the area to clip the ball home from a Wouter Kos pass.

This ensured a party mood, and the players, not unexpectedly, eased off in the second half, Greenacre coming off to a standing ovation, while Moukoko also came, although not before having grabbed the fourth goal, and Kos also got chance to rest. Eventually though, Steve Oldman blew for full time, and Mansfield celebrated their promotion as Champions

..

"Peter, come in, come in"

He had been summoned to the chairman's office on the Monday morning

"Morning Keith"

"I'll not keep you long. Just wanted to say a huge thankyou, and a massive congratulations on the season. It's more than we ever expected"

"It has been a brilliant season. The lads deserve the credit though, they've got the results"

"You've played your part Peter. However, myself and the board do have slight concerns?"

He raised his eyebrow towards his employer

"Oh?"

"Well obviously we don't want to spend massive amounts, we need to be financially secure, but do you think we can survive?"

"To be honest Keith, we won't need to spend a lot of money. We've got a core group of players who I feel are good enough, and with a couple of additions here and then, we'll more than compete"

This seemed to appease him, and he was a happier man after that
 

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Despite having clinched the title, they still had business to attend to, and the next port of call was a visit from Rushden. While he still fielded a fairly strong side, there were starts for Littlejohn, Olsen, Robinson, Dawe and Amit Bose. The youngster impressed in the hole behind the striker, linking up well with Lawrence and Dawe, creating a couple of early chances for Hartmann and Olsen, but it was Littlejohn who had a huge hand in the opener, using his pace to run into the box, before being clipped by Simon Wormull and going to ground. It was a clear penalty, and Liam Lawrence stepped up to rifle it home into the corner. Littlejohn's pace caused all sorts of issues, the Rushden defence simply couldn't keep up with him, and this is what allowed him to score the second goal, as he bombed forward to collect a pass from Hartmann and slide the ball past the 'keeper. 

The score was 2-0 at half time, and the second half was similar to the first, Peter seeing his side control the pace and tempo, and while they only created a couple more chances in the early stages, Dawe hitting the bar and substitute Victor Renner firing wide, but it was Lee Robinson who was the unlikely scorer of the third, a loose ball finding him on the corner of the box and he smashed a shot towards goal, which slightly deflected and went into the goal, leaving the 'keeper stranded. Hartmann had been superb through the game, controlling the midfield, and he grabbed a deserved goal, the teams fourth, to seal the points, and take them to a century of points for the season

--

"So do you have an idea of what they can achieve next season?"

Charlotte had accepted his invitation for dinner, and as she sat on his couch with a glass of wine, they discussed the footballing side of things

"Well I think we have plenty of talent already, and I think the lads will be absolutely fine next season and we'll survive comfortably"

"That's good then. Listen, there's something I wanted to talk to you about"

She placed her glass on the table

"OK. Fire away"

"Well, once I've finished this course, I've been offered a job. It's better pay and..."

"Charlotte, let me stop you there. I can't expect you to stay as my PA forever. Of course you should take that job"

"Do you mean that?"

"Of course I do. And besides, just because you wouldn't be working for me, it doesn't mean we can't still spend time together"

He saw the hint of a blush in her cheeks

"I'd like that"

They were forming a close bond, growing closer all the time, and while there was no label or no distinction put on their relationship, there was a spark there. The only issue was the fact she was eleven years younger than him, but she hadn't actually mentioned it herself so maybe it wasn't an issue

..

There were some blows in the build up to the trip to Yorkshire, with Greenacre, Kos, Clarke and Jervis all failing fitness tests, so it was a much changed team that faced Hull at Boothferry Park. They were looking to cement their place as a playoff contender, and to be fair, they were the better side for the entire game. Peter had no doubt it was his side's worst performance of the season, and he was slightly worried they looked leggy and tired. It had been a long campaign but a lot of the players were fringe players and should have been fresh. Michael Beckham was a positive, his effort throughout the game shining through, and it was he who had the best chance of the first half for Mansfield, as he fired a shot straight at the 'keeper. He probably should have done better but he would learn that as his career advanced. They went in behind though, the troublesome Gary Alexander heading home his 28th of the season. A tally that would have seen him top scorer in any other season no doubt

The second half was a similar story, Theodore Whitmore controlling the pace of the game, but Kevin Pilkington was kept busy, forced into saves from Dudfield, Alexander, Mann and a brilliant tip onto the bar from a Greaves drive. Dawe and Renner both had a chance aswell, Renner testing the 'keeper while Dawe fired wide thanks to an Ian Ashbee tackle, but when Vitor Pereira brought down Neale Mann in the box, and Greaves stepped up to convert the penalty, the game was gone
 

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Despite the success of the season, the defeat hurt, but the performance hurt a lot more. Things were not going to get easier either, as he had pencilled in the next day to tell players who's contracts were running down that they wouldn't be renewed and were free to find a new club. This was always a difficult time, and nobody ever wants to tell a player they were being released, but unfortunately it was part of the managers job

Almost two hours later, he emerged from his office having told a dozen players from both the reserve and youth teams that they would be released, and he was out of there just in time to grab lunch. He headed to the pub around the corner - alone, as Charlotte had the day off - and ordered at the bar, and it was while he was sitting at the corner table sipping his orange juice, that he was distracted by a voice

"Excuse me? Mr Daish?"

"That's me"

The gentleman had a Mansfield shirt on, and a pen in his hand

"I thought it was you. I'm sorry to interrupt you, I was just wondering if I could get an autograph?"

He smiled at the fan

"Of course you can. Hang on, I've got a pad here somewhere"

He reached into his jacket pocket and found a small notepad

"Who am I making it out to?"

"Oh, it's for my nephew, Shaun. He's supported the club since he was a kid and loves watching your lads play"

"Well I'm glad we entertain. Is he at school?"

A look of sadness had crossed his face

"Oh, erm no. He's in Mansfield Community Hospital at the moment. He's been very ill over the last few months and hasn't been able to make the games, so he has to watch on telly"

"I'm sorry to hear that. Is he going to be able to make any games before the end of the season?"

He had spoken to the fan, Martin Leigh, for several more minutes, before he left and Peter ate his lunch

--

March finished with a trip to Southend, and he expected the players to respond after the defeat to Hull. They certainly did that, and even with the dominance of the first half, 12 shots on the goal, it was goalless at the interval. Greenacre had hit the bar with a volley, Kos had slipped the ball wide of the post, and Hartmann had flashed a shot wide. Victor Renner had established a run of games thanks to decent performances, and he was very good again, spraying passes out wide and having a couple of good opportunities himself, but Ian Dundavin's goal remained unbreached

That only lasted less than two minutes into the second half, Renner winning a free kick on the right hand side, before Lawrence floated it in and Hartmann met the cross at the back post to open the scoring. More chances came, Edwards, Lawrence and Renner all testing Dunbavin, before Bose and Dawe missed a couple of easier chances, but eventually, the second goal came right near the end of the game, Greenacre collecting Bose's pass and firing brilliantly first time into the roof of the net

--

March 2002 Results
[Division Three unless stated otherwise]

Torquay 1-1 Mansfield
[Renner 51 ;  Graham 34]

Mansfield 7-2 Swansea
[Greenacre 3,62,81, Agustin 5, Moukoko 37, Hartmann 45+2, Edwards 61 ; Cusack 15, Sidibe 21]

Macclesfield 0-4 Mansfield
[Greenacre 3,23,27, Moukoko 53]

Mansfield 4-0 Rushden
[Lawrence pen 20, Littlejohn 37, Robinson 78, Hartmann 87]

Hull 2-0 Mansfield
[Alexander 30, Greaves pen 80]

Southend 0-2 Mansfield
[Hartmann 47, Greenacre 89]

Mansfield secure promotion and the Division Three title
 

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The following few days after the Southend game had been hectic, papers, news channels and media outlets all wanting a piece of Peter and his players, and while he realised it was part of the way things were always going to go after a promotion, he didn't like the distraction it was providing, and he instructed his coaches to keep the players fully focused. In all fairness to them, they had been brilliant and didn't let anything worry them, trained as normal, and they were hungry to finish the season well.

Their first chance to show that hunger was a visit from Bristol Rovers, a team languishing in 12th place, unlikely to reach the Play Offs, but this didn't show in their performance, as for the first half an hour they were the better side. Martin Cameron had tested Pilkington twice in the opening ten minutes, before Mark Richards had lashed a shot wide. Stuart Dawe also had an effort, a poor finish really, before Moukoko smacked the bar from thirty yards out, but it was the visitors, and Mark Richards, who opened things up, racing through from a long ball over the defence to nip in and poke it home. This woke them from their slumber, and within four minutes they were level, Hartmann laying off Dawe, who flicked it round the corner for the marauding Karl Owen, who fizzed a shot across the 'keeper and into the bottom corner. 

From then on, it was one way traffic. Dawe, Renner and Lazarus all had good chances, Lazarus in particular missing a sitter, before Jamie Clarke clipped the post with his header. Vance Warner had a couple of long range drives too, but the game remained deadlocked until the 75th minute, as substitute and perennial game winner Wouter Kos was slipped in by Moukoko and curled a shot into the bottom corner. Hartmann added another late on, lashing into the roof of the net from close range, and they got the win they deserved

..

"You wanted me gaffer?"

Adam Barrett popped his head around the open door

"I did. Come in Adam"

The defender sat down across the desk from him

"I'll cut to the chase son. We've accepted a bid for you from Rushden. You've been a brilliant lad to have around, but you and I both know you've slipped down the pecking order and won't play much"

"I appreciate you being honest with me boss"

"You deserve to have a chance to play son. The bids accepted and they will be here later on, so you're free to discuss terms with them"

He stood up and held his hand out

"Thanks gaffer"

Rushden did duly turn up that afternoon, and within an hour, Barrett had agreed terms on a £500,000 move. He had been a model professional even while not playing as much since the arrival of Arber, but when called upon he had never let them down, and he would go with his head held high

"...later on"

He was distracted from his thoughts by a voice from behind. He spun round to see Charlotte behind him

"Sorry love I was miles away. What was that?"

"I asked if we were still on for that drink later?"

"Yeah course we are. I'll pick you up about half 7?"

She smiled softly

"Perfect. Better go home and get ready then"

"Aye you get yourself off. I won't be here much longer myself anyway"

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Peter woke, sweating and panting

He looked left and saw the time on his clock, 04:54

Padding to the bathroom, he splashed some water on his face and headed downstairs to make a coffee. Having flicked on the television, just to see if there was any update in the football world, he opened his emails on his laptop and was greeted with a couple of unread messages. The first was a general one, detailing the time and date of the clubs annual end of season AGM, but it was the second one, from scout Spencer Field, that caught his eye

--

Quote

 

Peter

Just a quick message to let you know that the bids for Kozluk and Easton have been accepted

Both will be here tomorrow to discuss terms, Kozluk at 12 and Easton at 4

Good news for us!

Spencer

 

--

That certainly was good news. Rob Kozluk had been out of favour at Sheffield United and had played just seven times, and he was keen to get regular game time. He looked like a perfect addition for the right full back spot and their bid of £325,000 had been accepted by the club and he was confident that the signing would be a boost for the Division Two campaign. Clint Easton, of Norwich, was more of a squad player, and while he, similarly, was in the same position of Kozluk in terms of playing time, and he would cost just £200,000, and both would give good depth and experience to the relatively young squad Peter was building

Both men had agreed terms without any trouble, and while Easton was asked to return to Norwich, Kozluk was given permission to stay and introduce himself to the players, and he left to go back to Sheffield the morning the team travelled to Exeter. The players had taken well to Kozluk, pleased a player of his calibre would be joining up with them next season, and their good mood seemed to carry over onto the field, a thoroughly professional performance, full of composure, saw them pick up a comfortable win

Once again, a strong side took to the field, only Moukoko and Kos rested, but Amit Bose and Adrian Littlejohn came in to replace them. It was Littlejohn who caused all sorts of problems, and he won the penalty that gave them the opportunity to forge ahead, skipping past the defender before being clipped and going down, but Liam Lawrence failed to capitalise and blazed his spot kick wide. The midfielder made up for this error five minutes later though, as he did eventually open the scoring. Combining well with Renner, who fed Littlejohn down the left, the speedy Jamaican fizzed a low cross behind the defence for Lawrence to meet it and smack into the bottom corner on the run. They were superb throughout the game, causing all sorts of problems and seeing chance after chance go begging. Lawrence curled a free kick wide, while Bose, Renner and sub Stuart Dawe all missed good chances, and Agustin smashed a rocket off the bar, and it wasn't until six minutes from the end that the second finally came, Edwards making the most of a defensive error and chipping the stranded 'keeper from 30 yards out, before the Welshman slipped in Greenacre in injury time, and the striker did what he had done all season and smashed the ball into the goal

Edited by sherm
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