Sunderland face Mansfield Town in the first round of the FA Cup on Saturday at the Stadium of Light. It will be the first time the clubs have met in the competition and will be newly appointed Nigel Clough’s first match as manager of the Stags if, as expected, he’s appointed today.
Phil Parkinson’s men will be looking to improve on their first round knockout by Gillingham last year, whilst Mansfield are still seeking their first competitive win of the 2020/21 campaign. Clough will be tasked with turning the fortunes around of a team that have failed to win any of their first eleven League Two games, leaving them 22nd in the table.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Mansfield fan Sam Binch of Mansfield Musings to discuss his thoughts on his club’s new managerial appointment, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from the match.
MC: Graham Coughlan was sacked as Mansfield manager after failing to win any of your first nine League Two fixtures, do you think that was the right decision?
SB: Yes I think so. He only managed four wins in his 27 games as manager, all of those last season, so started this season with 12 winless games.
Whilst he was unlucky in a few games, performances were deteriorating and whatever he tried was not working, despite heavy backing in the summer. He came across as a nice fella but he just didn’t seem to be able to turn it around.
MC: You predicted ahead of the season during a preview with FourFourTwo that Mansfield would finish in the playoffs, what factors have led to the club entering a relegation battle?
SB: Thanks for reminding me!
I think a mixture of misfortune, new signings not performing and poor tactics. We signed 12 new players over the summer and have quite an inexperienced squad, so we perhaps expected a slow start, but not quite this slow.
The strikers haven’t fired, whilst big name signings such as Stech and Rawson have endured error strewn openings to the campaign.
MC: Former Burton Albion and Derby manager Nigel Clough, who has frequently been linked with Sunderland, is expected to be appointed as Mansfield’s new manager - are you excited by this appointment?
SB: I think he will be a very good fit. He’s quite an understated character with knowledge of the lower leagues and a hefty contacts book. He is someone I trust to get the team organised this season and ease us away from trouble with a view to building towards next season. If he can do better than that this season, even better.
MC: Mansfield possess ex-Premier League players in Nicky Maynard, Jordan Bowery and James Perch - who are the players who could cause Sunderland problems?
SB: George Lapslie, on loan from Charlton, has been impressive in his first few games, having scored against Bolton in midweek. He’s an energetic midfielder who is tidy on the ball and arrives late in the box.
Kellan Gordon has also played well since coming back into the team down the right hand side, he’s capable of beating his man and whipping in a cross.
MC: There was a heavy turnaround of players at Mansfield this season, with the club losing many of their best players (Rose and Hamilton) to League One - do you think poor recruitment by Chief Executive David Sharpe has led to your failure so far this season?
SB: I would say it was more down to the management of the players. Hamilton and Rose were sold as they would not commit to a new deal, and therefore would have been available on a free in the summer, so you can see why the club would cash in, especially in the current climate.
Some of the players signed are proven at this level (Rawson, Maris, Perch, Stech), and some at the level above (Clarke). In the two games under caretaker Richard Cooper, there has been a wholesale improvement, despite results still not going our way.
MC: Sunderland are expected to play some academy prospects, such as Dan Neil and Jack Diamond, do Mansfield have any young prospects who you think may be given a chance?
SB: Aidan Stone may start in goal, he has looked steady when given a chance in the past, and was perhaps unfortunate to lose his place when Stech returned from illness.
Tyrese Sinclair may also be given a chance. He’s a very exciting attacking midfielder who always seems to make something happen in short cameos. He’s the son of Frank Sinclair.
MC: It is highly unlikely that Sunderland or Mansfield will reach the latter stages of the FA Cup, but progressing could provide much needed revenue for either side - would you prefer the club to take it seriously or focus on the league?
SB: I’d prefer to focus on the league personally, especially with the predicament we’re in at the moment. But I suppose there is an argument for a good cup run building confidence and having an impact on league form.
We’re already out of the EFL Trophy and the EFL Cup, so we don’t have to worry about fixture congestion!
MC: It is always a difficult task predicting teams for cup matches, but who are the eleven Mansfield players you predict to start against Sunderland and what style of play can we expect to face?
SB: This task is particularly difficult with a new manager in place, but I will go for:
(4-4-2) Stech (GK), Gordon, Rawson, Perch, Benning, Maris, Charsley, Lapslie, Maynard, Bowery, Cook.
MC: The last time the two sides met was 2003 in the League Cup with Sunderland winning 2-1, what is your honest prediction of the score this time around?
SB: 2-0 Sunderland.