Former Preston North End and Mansfield Town striker Steve Wilkinson expects a competitive contest when the two sides meet this weekend.
Ex-PNE frontman Wilkinson played almost 300 times for Saturday’s Carabao Cup opponents and is expecting a tight affair between his former sides.
Wilkinson spent six years in Nottinghamshire before moving to Deepdale where he is well remembered for his contribution to the title-winning squad of 1995/96.
While he won’t be able to return to PR1 for the behind closed doors first round fixture, he certainly has a vested interest in the cup tie.
Steve told iFollow PNE: “As footballers everybody raises their game when they’re playing against a team from a higher league: it’s a well-known fact.
“The problem arises that you can’t consistently do it over 40 odd games in a season but I can guarantee Mansfield will go and play their hearts out.
“Traditionally I don’t think Mansfield’s record is great at Deepdale. I remember one year, we’re going back to the plastic, where I think Mansfield won four or five one and it was like ‘well we never win here how on Earth has that happened’.
“Other than that I certainly can’t remember that Mansfield go there and do very well but you never know. We’ll just have to see and anticipate what will be hopefully a decent game.
“It’s a one-off chance, their opportunity, they’ll be all out to turn one over a bigger club from a higher league and Preston need to be aware of that and stick to what was really successful last season.
“Hopefully they’re going to build on that this season but the challenge will always be the financial resources of their rivals, which mean they get really close but will they have enough just to nick into the Play-Offs?”
It was with Mansfield that Wilkinson’s career really got going after originally starting out at Leicester City before joining the Stags in 1989 for around £80,000.
He said: “It was my transition from reserve team footballer at Leicester to full blown being a professional footballer and, albeit some people would say there’s not a great deal of difference, there is a huge difference.
“Once you’ve got 100 league games under your belt you become a footballer and a full on professional so that was really good in terms of my development as a player.
“As always at football clubs you have ups and downs. We experienced a few relegations and we also had a couple of times where we won promotions.
“I’m just looking back at the 1994/95 season where both Preston and Mansfield ended up in the Play-Offs and we both lost in the Play-Offs so having had great seasons we also then experienced disappointment right at the end.”
North End fans have been lucky enough to see some great partnerships at Deepdale over the years and perhaps one of the favourites will always be Andy Saville and Steve Wilkinson.
The strikers had a wonderful campaign alongside each other as PNE earned promotion into the Second Division and they will always be known for one particular game in that season when they both netted hat-tricks in a 6-0 victory against Mansfield Town.
“We discussed this when Sav and I were up in late February just before lockdown ironically and a lot of people in the lounge said that was one of their favourite memories both of us scoring the hattricks and I’ve still got the cut-outs stashed away somewhere telling me the same.
“I know the conversations I had with Gary (Peters) and the thought process of how we were going to work as a combination and yes the expectation was that because I’d consistently scored goals in the third division that I’d score them again that year.
“Okay 12 wasn’t a bad return but certainly not at where I’d been, and then that partnership just clicked. Any team would want 40 odd goals between them in the season from your front two and you’re going to be successful with that.”
After his two years in PR1, Steve moved on to play for Chesterfield and he now lives around Loughborough, although he does get to return to Deepdale every now and again.
Steve added: “I must have been back four or five times now and loved each of those occasions. In some ways it’s really nice that I’m two-and-a-half hours away because it means when I come up it’s really special.
“In other ways I would like to do it every week because I do have very, very fond memories of Preston. Maybe but for the knee injury in the second season and having to have two operations, who knows, maybe we would have ended up living in the north west but it obviously moved me down the pecking order.
“David Reeves came in, we’d signed Gary Bennett by that point and I moved a little bit further down. I think Kurt Nogan arrived as well towards the end of that season so I then became fifth choice from Sav and I being one or two of the first names on the team sheet.
“Again, that’s how football works, you can be right at the top of your game and then all of a sudden something comes along and pulls the rug from underneath you. I’ve got very fond memories and I do love to come up and catch a game.”
Watch our full interview with Steve Wilkinson by clicking on the video as he discusses more about his time with Mansfield Town, football without a crowd and much more.
Remember, you can watch the full game live on iFollow PNE, with Paul McKenna joining Jonathan Breeze for full match commentary from 2.50pm – sign up for a match pass here.