Clements Living up to Billing?

Five months ago, Stags boss Adam Murray made a very bold statement to the press. When discussing midfielder Chris Clements, his exact words were 'He is the best midfielder in the league, without a shadow of a doubt. I haven't seen anything that touches him.' These comments were made shortly after Mansfield had more or less secured their league status for another season, after a campaign where there had been little for fans to get excited about.

If you had asked fans their opinions on Clements in April 2015 when Murray's comments were uttered, you would find them split down the middle. To his supporters, he is the best footballer at the club. He has the best technical ability and eye for a pass, his effectiveness stunted by the favoured tactics of Paul Cox. With Cox the manager for much of his Mansfield career, the ball more often than not sailed from back to front as quickly as possible, leading to Field Mill becoming a graveyard for creative midfielders.

His critics on the other hand, would argue that Clements has spent much of his Mansfield career on the peripheries of the action, afraid to get his kit dirty and perhaps a luxury that the side could not afford. Whilst most of the naysayers would agree he undoubtedly had ability, they felt serious question marks should be raised over his application.

I have always been a supporter of Clements, and there were signs towards the end of last season that he was prepared to put his foot in and take responsibility as the sides key creative force. The problem for Clements, and Adam Murray for that matter, was that he was surrounded by a squad left over from the Cox era, mostly bereft of confidence. The team had little pace to run onto through passes and no like minded footballers for Clements to link up with.

With his contract up at the end of last season, Clements certainly took his time over signing a new deal. Murray had warned fans that the playmaker had admirers higher up the footballing food chain and it would be a battle to secure his signature. Nevertheless, Murray was able to sell his vision for the club to Clements, his willingness to fashion a footballing side surely key to his decision.

After seven games of the current campaign, Clements has emerged a completely different animal. The former Crewe trainee has perhaps been the Stags stand out player thus far, certainly in an attacking sense, having already bettered the one goal he scored last campaign with a fabulous free kick against AFC Wimbledon and the crucial opener against local rivals Notts County. Even the fiercest of detractors would struggle to argue that Clements has been anything less than superb in the opening weeks of the season. The confidence is oozing from 'Clemmo', with clever touches and turns in abundance.

Not only has Clements weighed in going forward, his hunger to regain possession for his team is fantastic. You can really see the influence of Adam Murray in the midfielders game, with an added tenaciousness lifting his performances to the next level. The Stags have missed a player who can both tackle and pass in midfield since Murray took the plunge into football management. The only down side of his newly discovered 'nasty' streak is an accumulation of yellow cards, which may soon lead to a suspension.

The next question to answer for Clements is whether he can maintain his early season form. If Saturday's performance against Crawley is anything to go by, the answer is an emphatic yes. Despite failing to get on the scoresheet with an audacious rabona, Clements had a hand in two goals, playing a forty yard pass for Craig Westcarr to tee up Matt Green for his first home goal since his return to the club. He then timed a tackle to perfection, dispossessing an opposition player in the centre circle, which started the move for Mansfield's fourth goal.

Clements is sure to be revelling in proving the doubters wrong, as I am sure are most of the doubters if it leads to The Stags having a successful season. If he able to sustain his strong performances, Clements may even live up to the billing placed upon him by his manager in April. Even the strongest of his advocates may have struggled to imagine that!