Non-league Matters: Nostalgic Stuart Watkiss confident as Stockport County face old club Mansfield Town

By Matt Davies

Stockport County travel to Mansfield Town this weekend and assistant boss Stuart Watkiss is anticipating a tough encounter against one of his former clubs.

The 46-year-old enjoyed his time at Field Mill as a player and manager – where he oversaw the clubs’ promotion in 2002 – but is now hoping to turn around the Hatters fortunes.

County are currently three points above the drop zone and Watkiss is relishing the opportunity to return to Mansfield – the club that offered him his first opportunity in management.

“I had a lot of happy times there,” he said. “It’s still a place I think a lot of. They have good people and good supporters so I look forward to going back.”

Watkiss was however all too aware of the task at hand, as Mansfield lie third in the Blue Square Bet Premier and have won ten of their last 11 games – including their last six.

“We are very aware of their strengths but it’s important we concentrate on our own game,” he said.

“There is no reason, if we play like we did the other night down at Dartford, why we can’t give Mansfield a tough game.

“And whatever happens, hopefully if they do beat us, they will have to play very well to beat us.”

The Hatters go in to the clash on the back of a 1-1 draw at Dartford, and Watkiss explained a formation change benefited the players as they looked to create chances.

“We went back to a more traditional 4-4-2 on Tuesday night and the players seemed to be quite comfortable and quite happy to do that,” he explained.

“It’s important that we build on Tuesday’s performance and that we start picking up points in the coming matches to get ourselves away from the danger area.”

Elsewhere, Hyde face Gateshead in a match to be played at Blyth Spartans, with the Tigers hoping to welcome back some of their players struggling with injury.

In the Blue Square Bet North, Lee Sinnott takes his Altrincham side to Bradford Park Avenue, who sit four places below the Robins and still harbour play-off hopes of their own.

Alty picked up six points in the last week – with victories over Oxford City and Droylsden – and Sinnott knows his side face another difficult encounter this weekend.

“We know what to expect from Bradford and we have to be on our game just like any other,” he explained. “We’ve had a couple of good results recently – it’s going to be a tough game that’s for sure.”

Damian Reeves added four more to his haul for this season – 29 league and five cup goals – in those two games and Sinnott is glad his forward is continually on the score sheet.

“It’s up to us to provide the opportunities for him and he’s enjoyed a four-day sequence where he’s got four under his belt,” he explained.

“And then it’s up to him to convert what anybody else creates for him.”

It wasn’t all good news for Alty though, as Sinnott provided an update on 23-year-old on-loan striker Ben Mills whose serious injury overshadowed the win against Droylsden.

“In the incident he dislocated his knee cap we believe there is medial damage as well,” he explained.

“It’s still early days, he needs to get it thoroughly looked at with a specialist and then we’ll go from there.

“Ben’s done well, he’s brought something different to the club, albeit on loan, and you feel for anybody when they encounter an injury and we hope he’ll be back playing as soon as possible.

“But I’d be absolutely gobsmacked if he’s back playing before he returns to Chester.”

Scott Leather went off at half-time in the clash with the struggling Bloods and is Altrincham’s other fitness concern ahead of this weekend.

Droylsden host high-flying Guiseley – having conceded 12 goals in their last two outings – and Stalybridge Celtic make the trip to Corby Town in this weekend’s other fixtures.

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