Mansfield Town pursue long-awaited promotion under Clough's stewardship
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Mansfield Town have begun to cultivate an unwanted image as League Two’s biggest underachievers as they continue to toil for a long-awaited return to the third tier.

In the previous two seasons, the Stags have finished 21st and 16th and have more than flirted with relegation; despite possessing a squad that can perform at a high level, mismanagement has hindered them.

They haven’t been as high as League One since 2003. However, under accomplished campaigner Nigel Clough, they may finally have a legitimate shot at promotion glory, despite being largely mediocre for the majority of the last campaign.

Clever Clough is Mansfield’s key to success

Clough’s predecessors over the last two seasons, John Dempster and Graham Coughlan did not have the pedigree to command respect at this level that the former Burton Albion manager does at this point in his career.

The 55-year-old took the Brewers from non-league to the Championship over the duration of two spells. He had the whole of last season to oversee Mansfield instead of taking over in November; they would have finished 9th  on PPG – a significant improvement.

The key to Clough turning around the team’s fortunes last season was switching to a diamond shape in midfield. With the dynamic quartet of controller George Maris, presser George Lapslie and driven Ollie Clarke with Irishman Stephen Quinn, they have a midfield that can take them on to greater things.

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The midfield was strong last season, but in attack, they were lacking, and that area of the pitch has clearly been addressed this summer by Clough, with some much-needed goals and versatility brought in.

Astute business addressed weaker areas

The versatile defender Elliott Hewitt is a handy pickup from the relegated Grimsby Town - he can play across the backline and midfield.

Striker Danny Johnson scored 19 goals last season for Leyton Orient - and alongside Oliver Hawkins from Ipswich Town and Rhys Oates from Hartlepool provides excellent competition for Jordan Bowery up top.

Hewitt will be a great partner for Farrend Rawson at the centre of the defence by being strong and quick across the ground and in the recovery, which allows him to play at full-back and as a deep-lying midfield player.

Looking further forward, Johnson is a more consistent goalscorer than Bowery and Hawkins, at six foot four provides something different as more of a target man and Oates, who scored 14 in the National League last season and can play out wide as well as down the centre.

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These signings have given the Mansfield manager a diverse selection of forward players to choose from to play as a pairing in front of the midfield diamond and link up with the attacking full-backs.

The Stags also picked up young goalkeepers Nathan Bishop and George Shelvey on-loan from Manchester United and Nottingham Forest, respectively. They could challenge Marek Stech for the number one spot next season.

League Two as open as ever

The three clubs that came down from League One: Bristol Rovers, Northampton Town and Rochdale, have significant issues on and off the field, which may cripple their chances of being competitive towards the top of the division, which opens the league up.

Exeter City and Salford City narrowly missed put on the play-offs last season and are poised to go a step or two better this year.

Exeter have their newly-appointed captain Matt Jay coming off a 20-goal season from midfield, and Salford have made some eye-catching signings in Josh Morris and Matty Lund, who have proved their ability in the division above.

Forest Green Rovers have a great crop of youthful talent, and Jamille Matt was only outscored by four other players in League Two last season, grabbing 17 goals.

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Bradford City had an incredible turnaround in the second half of last season. They will look to channel that momentum into next season under Derek Adams, who guided Morecambe to an unlikely promotion last season.

There are plenty of potential promotion candidates, but the door is very much open for Clough’s side to pull punches of their own, and they reinforced well to go on a promotion charge of their own.