Feel Good Factor Continues to Build Ahead of New Season

Anyone who witnessed the Stags second consecutive 1-1 draw, this time against Premier League opposition, would have to possess the most cynical of mindsets not to be brimming with excitement ahead of the new campaign. Adam Murray, in just 27 days and with half a squad of new faces, has transformed Mansfield's style of play from direct and agricultural to attractive and effective. The confidence amongst the player appears to grow game by game as the one touch pass and move, mixed up with accurate channel balls, continues to produce goalscoring opportunities whilst not destabilising the sides defensive shape.

Leicester were the latest side to challenge the Stags, starting with recognised Premier League stars such as Mark Schwarzer, Danny Simpson, Liam Moore and David Nugent, along with seven million pound new signing Shinji Okazaki. Mansfield made two change from the midweek draw against MK Dons as Mitchell Rose and Reggie Lambe replaced Jack Thomas and Craig Westcarr. Before the game, these appeared to be the two positions that were still up for grabs, give Murray's team selections so far.

Mansfield started the game brightly, Reggie Lambe running at the defence inside the left channel only to try one twist too many and be dispossessed. A minute later, Matt Green did excellently to outmuscle Danny Simpson and curl a shot goalwards, his effort however was comfortably held by veteran keeper Schwarzer.

Despite the positive beginning, the visitors were ahead with their first real attack on 10 minutes. The Foxes broke from a Mansfield free-kick through Kramaric down the left. He fed the ball inside to David Nugent of the left edge of the area. The experienced striker was not closed down quickly enough and bent a low shot into Shearer's left hand corner from 20 yards. A soft goal for Leicester, which Shearer certainly let his defenders know, having been unhappy with their efforts to close down Nugent.

On 13 minutes, the Leicester goalscorer was very lucky to remain on the field. Rose won the ball back tigerishly in the centre of the park and remained positioned on top of the ball as he tried to spring to his feet. Nugent tried to dislodge the ball from under Rose illegally, prompting a foul to be awarded by the referee. Nugent then appeared to kick Rose in the face and a melee ensued. The referee should have sent the striker off but instead awarded both players a yellow card. It was without question the wrong decision, however I think the Stags management would feel that they can learn more about their side against a full compliment of Leicester players.

Another chance for Leicester on 15 minutes as Okazaki played Kramaric through in the left side of the penalty area. Shearer came out and went to ground very quickly, but still managed to deny the Croatian International. From the resulting corner, Shearer also tipped Moore's looping header over the bar. Poor marking from the Stags as Moore had a free header at the back stick. Another corner followed, with another free header for Leicester and this time an easy hold for Shearer.

Despite Leicester having the better chances, the Stags had started well, passing with confidence out of tight situations. Matt Green was worrying the Leicester defence with his selfless running. The one worrying aspect was Shearer's footwork under pressure, which still fails to convince. If Mansfield insist on playing out from the back, Shearer's confidence, decision making and technique must improve to prevent fatal errors. There was one heart-stopping moment where Shearer lost possession inside his own area, but managed to rescue the situation.

Following the unwelcome interruption of a rather portly streaker from the away end, the Stags had a chance to level from an accurate Shearer kick, this time at his own leisure. His long ball into the channel was headed down intelligently by Green for the onrushing Mitchell Rose, who took the ball in his stride before being bundled over by a static Dean Hammond. The referee pointed to the spot, meaning the Stags had finally been awarded a penalty, albeit in a non-competitive fixture. Aptly, the long awaited spot kick would be taken by Matt Green, whose return to Field Mill has been equally much anticipated and wished for. Green sent the keeper the wrong way, thumping the ball high to Schwarzer's right. The Stags were level with 26 minute's played.

On 31 minutes, an inviting ball from the left was whipped over by Mal Benning, but was just set out to far in front of Matt Green. Most of the Stags best work was coming down the left through the adventurous full back. Chapman was pulling the strings in centre of the park, switching play at will to either full back. Mitchell Rose was producing another powerful, energetic display, with numerous line breaking runs to support Matt Green.

The Stags produced two excellent chances to go ahead in the final minutes of the half. A great move down the right released Matt Green into the right channel, who delivered a low cross into the area but there was just too much pace on the cross for Lambe to connect. Moments later, a wonderful passing move ended with Chris Clements bamboozling the Leicester defence with a couple of drag backs before planting a 25 yard effort against the crossbar. Brilliant stuff from Clements and indications that he is looking to add goals to his game will please the Mansfield supporters.

The Stags left the field to a standing ovation, with those who had parted with their hard earned being very pleased with the first half performance. Pearce and Collins had again looked solid at the heart of the defence. Nathan Thomas had been quiet compared to recent weeks but had been direct when in possession. The teams defensive shape had again been excellent, only choosing to press when they could effect the ball rather than just for the sake of it.

Mansfield and Leicester opted to change their goalkeeper at half time, both sides introducing stoppers from Denmark, Brian Jensen and Kasper Schemichel respectively. Matt Green's work for the day was over, as he was replaced up top by Craig Westcarr. Westcarr had been quiet on Tuesday and was now given a chance to shine in his preferred role as a central striker for the first time.

Again the Stags started the half positively. A long throw from the right by Chapman reached Krystian Pearce on the penalty spot. The big defender's effort was acrobatic but lacked power and allowed Schmeichel to stretch to his right and paw the ball around the post. An eventful opening to the game for Schmeichel, as he was called into action again from the corner. The set-piece was cleared to Nathan Thomas 25 yards from goal, who let rip a powerful, curling shot only to see his effort majestically turned onto the post by the Leicester keeper.

Leicester were somewhat stunned by the lively opening from the Stags but managed to create a half chance in front of their plentiful travelling support. A low cross from the left by Barmby evaded everyone and wound up just in front of Okazaki, who could only dangle a foot in hope with the ball ending up well wide of the target.

The Stags continued to pass well, their off the ball movement sure to have pleased Adam Murray. A one touch move down the right was particularly celebrated by occupants of the Ian Greaves Stand, but ultimately broke down at the final pass. Nevertheless, the football on show was a far cry from some of last seasons dismal displays. The inescapable changes began on the hour mark, as Reggie Lambe was replaced by a trialist and Leicester changed their whole outfield playing staff, introducing the likes of recently capped Jamie Vardy, towering defender Robert Huth and fans favourite Andy King.

In the following minutes, Liam Marsden also replaced Nicky Hunt, Jack Thomas came on for Chris Clements and Chris Beardsley entered the fray at the expense of Nathan Thomas. Beardsley went straight up front and Westcarr came out to the right hand side, ending the experiment of his central role without having a sniff in front of goal. No chances at either end to report on as time drifted on to the 76th minute when the Stags made their final changes as Tafazolli and McGuire replaced Lee Collins and Adam Chapman.

On 78 minutes, the Stags managed to test Schmeichel again. A loose ball was picked up inside the penalty area by Westcarr, but he could only direct his strike straight at the big Dane. The game was still end to end but became a little ragged in the last ten minutes. Some good pieces of defending by Marsden on the right brought applause from the Stags faithful. A clever set piece by Benning nearly dropped perfectly for Beardsley but the full back put just too much pace on the ball.

The game ended all square but again plenty more positives than negatives for Mansfield to dwell up on. Both full backs have been impressive throughout pre-season, both offensively and defensively. Despite looking shaky in earlier games, the partnership of Pearce and Collins looks as if being first choice come the start of the season, the latter looking as if he will take the captains armband. Another superb box to box display by Mitchell Rose appears to have cemented the third central midfield spot. His energy and willingness to break forward the perfect foil for the vision and guile of Clements and Chapman. Two of the front three also appears to be decided, with Matt Green through the middle and Nathan Thomas one one of the flanks. There is possibly still competition between Lambe and Westcarr for the other starting birth, but I would give Lambe the edge.

The only bone of contention currently appears to be between the sticks. From the outset, Adam Murray made it clear that Scott Shearer was his first choice, with Brian Jensen the backup. However, Shearer appears low on confidence and has made a couple of costly errors during friendly matches, whilst 'The Beast' has kept clean sheets in both of the halves he has figured in and has looked much more assured with his distribution. Question marks still hang over Jensen's agility, having only been truly tested once with a one on one save against Worksop. He has also been strolling around for most of pre-season with an ice pack on his knee. I suspect Murray will keep faith with Shearer initially, as to start with Jensen in goal having so publicly announced Shearer as first choice could only serve to further dent the Scotsman's confidence.

I left the ground today excited as to what lies ahead, but also disappointed as I will now not witness another Stags performance, unless one of the remaining friendliest turns out to be the first team, until the 18th August, possibly the 22nd, as I foolishly booked a holiday to coincide with the season opener, Capital One Cup first round and Notts County away. The third league game of the season is away at Accrington on a Tuesday night, so it all depends on work commitments as to whether I will be able to attend that one. Realistically, I would hope to return with a worst case scenario of three points on the board should I miss the first three fixtures. Until then, the Stags can reflect favourably on their pre-season displays and if taking Murray's philosophy into a competitive arena can be achieved, with League Two sides unlikely to afford as much time on the ball as Leicester or MK Dons, an exciting season lies ahead.