'He is a machine' - Former Hartlepool United striker enjoying life at Mansfield Town as Graeme Lee's side face a tough test at Field Mill

Hartlepool United are hoping to kick off their festive fixtures with a trip to Mansfield Town on Boxing Day.

By Joe Ramage
Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 12:30 pm

Graeme Lee’s side will face a tough test as they take on League Two’s form team at Field Mill and will also come up against a familiar face in striker Rhys Oates.

Oates helped fire Pools to promotion from the National League with an incredible season where he netted 18 goals in all competitions, including three during Pools’ play-off run.

But while Lee has enjoyed a positive start to his reign as Pools boss, Sunday’s trip to take on Nigel Clough’s side will be a real examination against a team who have won five of their last six league games.

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Hartlepool United travel to Mansfield Town on Boxing Day where they will come up against a familiar face. Picture by FRANK REID

Just two points separate the sides heading into Boxing Day and we caught up with Chad’s Mansfield reporter, John Lomas, for the inside track on the Stags.

Mansfield have hit a bit of form recently, is this the kind of form expected of them now?

Mansfield are behind the game in terms of where they should be, but no one could have predicted the huge injury list and subsequent 14 game run without a win.

Now players are coming back, Stags are playing exactly how they began the season and fulfilling the bookies' pre-season prediction of being high enough on quality to be among the promotion front runners.

Nigel Clough's Mansfield Town have already enjoyed success against at team from the North East this season following their FA Cup win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Picture by FRANK REID

The injuries were coming almost every game for a while and they had a full 11 of key players out with skipper James Perch fracturing his skull in a freak training accident and out for the season and star player Stephen Quinn getting involved in some 'afters' which saw him red-carded before the league looked at it and decided he did two things wrong and doubled his ban to six games.

But the club knew Nigel Clough's hands were tied and never considered sacking him. They are now reaping the rewards.

They still have injuries but after the scintillating football they played at League One Doncaster in their FA Cup win, the last two home games have seen them show the other side of their game and grind out two wins in matches they would probably have lost a few weeks ago.

Nigel Clough has been in charge for little over a year now, how do you assess his time in charge so far?

Clough has been a breath of fresh air and is seen very much as a long term project.

After coming so close to promotion with [David] Flitcroft, Stags acted too soon to get rid and both [John] Dempster and [Graham] Coughlan proved disastrous appointments.

With relegation a distinct possibility, they brought Clough in and he quickly dragged them up the table, including some much better football and strings of good results.

The summer signings he made looked impressive and they started the season really well only to hit the worst spell of injuries, suspensions and illness Clough has experienced as a manager.

But typically he has taken it in his stride, remained calm and level headed and assured results would come back once he had his players back as he believed in them. He has been proved right with nine wins out of 10 games.

Rhys Oates is a player Pools are very familiar with given his success with the club last season, how has he settled in to life at Field Mill?

Oates has been superb and Stags look less dangerous without him. But he has suffered a series of niggling knocks that have seen him in and out the side.

With fellow striker Danny Johnson also in and out with injury, and third key striker Oli Hawkins pulled back to play as centre half due to having seven centre halves out at one stage, it has been tricky to get anything going up front.

But when he has played fully fit, Oates is a machine, a ball of energy, never giving defenders chance to settle and chasing everything.

Once Stags get a regular front pair they will really hit top gear.

Who are the danger men for the Stags this weekend?

Oates is well known, Hawkins is lanky and wins everything in the air whether playing up front or at the back and former Irish international Quinn will show his quality above all else on the pitch.

Stephen McLaughlin is on fire at left back, or left wing-back, bombing on at will and linking up with Quinn, and on-loan Manchester United keeper Nathan Bishop is a star of the future.

What can Pools expect from Clough's side?

Clough has usually gone with a back four and a midfield diamond since arriving but in recent weeks has employed wing-backs with a back three and also a packed midfield supporting Oates as a lone striker.

Injuries play a huge part in what he can do with what he's got.

But whichever he chooses on Boxing Day, they will be going for the jugular for three points from minute one.

Just two points separate the sides in the table, do you think it will be that close on the field?

I think the clear fortnight off will have helped Stags clear up a few niggles from their walking wounded and I expect them to roar out the traps.

Stags are a side on the rise as nine wins in 10 games shows and even going behind at home to Salford when really tired after a midweek game, they still found a way to win.

Stags told fans they could have a free ticket for this game if they bought the last two home games together, so a big, noisy home crowd will be roaring them on who have been crucial in games so far this season in getting their players over the line.

If Hartlepool leave with even a point it will have to be earned the hard way.

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