Mansfield Town have not yet settled into the rhythm they found towards the middle of last season, when they emerged as real promotion candidates in League One.
The Stags only missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season, then found their route to Wembley blocked by Newport County. They went out of the play-offs on penalties, condemning them to another season in League Two.
There were changes in the summer; loan hero Tyler Walker opted to move into League One and manager David Flitcroft was dismissed, leaving them without two key figures from their successful campaign.
John Dempster had some flexibility in the summer, recruiting Andy Cook and Nicky Maynard to lead the line, but neither have found their feet in yellow and blue.
They travelled to Exeter City this weekend looking for their second win of the season, but were undone by Ryan Bowman on two counts. He bagged the Grecians goal to earn them a win and the top spot in the table, then his theatrics earned Ryan Sweeney a red card to ensure any fightback was not forthcoming.
With Andy Cook out injured, winger Otis Khan still not getting a run-out and Maynard misfiring, the Stags looked troubled. They didn’t get single shot on Exeter’s goal and their once-solid defence didn’t look like the foundation for success it once was.
Sadly, the end doesn’t look to be in sight for the Stags. Cook is joined on the treatment table by Bobby Olejnik and Craig Davies, as well as the influential Neal Bishop. Bishop was a driving force in their midfield last season and without him, they’ve lacked the organisation they once had.
Danny Rose has found his scoring boots, he’s bagged five this season putting a dismal 2018/19 behind him, but one man alone can not pull the Stags up the table.
John Dempster must shoulder some of the blame; he’s tinkering with tactics on a regular basis which won’t help the sides fluidity. He’s gone to four at the back for some matches, the 0-0 draw with fellow strugglers Stevenage for example, but then reverted to a three when losing at home to Leyton Orient.
League Two is an unforgiving division in which the ambitious meet the dogged, the rich meet the poor and big clubs travel to much smaller venues and come unstuck. Mansfield are neither big nor small, rich nor poor and yet they’re struggling to find out what they are.
It’s hard for John Dempster to match the achievements of the last two seasons, both promotion pushes, when he has so much to change, especially when his key general and big summer signing are on the injury table. When they return, perhaps the Stags can turn things around but for now, all they’ve got ahead of them is a struggle, starting with a huge bottom of the table clash with troubled Scunthorpe this weekend.