WHEN Brian Clough was a manager he had a penchant for signing players that he knew well. Take John McGovern, the Scottish midfielder from Montrose who first encountered the legendary Clough at Hartlepool, then followed him to Derby County, on to an unsuccessful stint at Leeds United before the pair's crowning glory arrived when they won back-to-back European Cups as the 70s gave way to the 80s. McGovern wasn't the only Scot Clough made a habit of signing: there was John O'Hare from Renton who played under Clough for three of the aforementioned clubs, while Archie Gemmell donned the white of Derby and the red of Forest before a falling out prior to the 1979 European Cup final resulted in his exit the following season.

As with Clough Sr, so too with Clough Jr. Filter through the squad list of Nigel Clough's Mansfield Town and you'll find a rump of names that the 56-year-old has had under his care at either Burton Albion or Sheffield United or both. There's Lucas Akins who was twice player of the year when the two were at Burton together, midfielder John-Joe O'Toole is another Albion favourite and then there's Kieran Wallace whom Clough has plucked from non-league football on two separate occasions.

And as for that Scottish connection so beloved of his father, Clough Jr has turned to another well-kent face, that of Jamie Murphy, whom he rescued from the fringes of the Hibernian first team in January.

It has proved to be a qualified success. Murphy started slowly after his arrival at the One Call Stadium in England's midlands but has steadily won over early critics with some recent impressive performances and noteworthy contributions including an assist in the 2-2 draw against Forest Green Rovers last weekend which helped to seal a place in the League Two play-off semi-finals which begin today with a first leg tie against Northampton Town.

“The best way to describe it is 'a growing impact',” says John Mason, sports editor of the Mansfield and Ashfield Chad. “When Murphy arrived he seemed quite rusty and took quite a while to get the fans onside. One or two were kind of questioning [the signing]. When he was with Nigel Clough before in 2020 he scored seven goals in 10 games at Burton Albion. Clough obviously trusts him a lot and after a couple of, shall we say, indifferent performances there were other players on the bench who were looking like they were going to take over from him, but Clough persisted. There was audible frustration but it wasn't just against Murphy. Akins and Murphy both came in, as did Matty Longstaff (who had had his own rough patch on-loan at Aberdeen) from Newcastle United. But all three had to adjust to the new club, the new surroundings, the new division and the new players, and there were shouts against all three from the stands, but that's football. It wasn't sustained chanting from a whole group of people. But bit by bit Murphy has turned it around and in more recent games he has been excellent.”

“I think the biggest moment for him was at Carlisle on Easter Monday when he scored a goal which was well over a yard over the line and the linesman missed it and then Carlisle went up the other end and scored an equaliser which was shown in the replays to be well offside. That game was the deciding factor in whether Mansfield went up automatically or via the play-offs. Then in the following game he scored a really good volley against Crawley.”

That was Murphy's sole goal in 14 starts but given his familiarity to Clough and the fact that his Hibernian contract is due to expire at the end of this month, Mason thinks there might be a decent chance of him sticking around for a little longer.

“It will all depend on Murphy,” he says. “He knows Clough but whether or not he sees himself coming back here to revive his career or whether he goes somewhere higher . . . it will also depend on whether Mansfield go up or not, they've got the two-legged play-off against Northampton, the possibility of League One football and I would imagine after that Clough and him will sit down and talk. He doesn't plan to make too many changes in the summer, he thinks that this squad is good enough to win this league and possibly perform in the league above with one or two additions and so it's really hard to say whether he would keep him. But Clough does go back time and time again to players he knows and trusts.”

Meanwhile, Murphy has already gone on record as saying that he has been impressed by the club's progressive approach and the multi-million pound training facility and Mason thinks it could help further swing a permanent deal for Murphy.

“You have got a multi-millionaire chairman in John Radford and you've got a board with people like Steve Hymas who is a local builder who is pretty well off and loves the club and when you look around the country at some of the clubs and some of the shysters that people have to suffer then at Mansfield they are incredibly lucky. They went through the dark times with Keith Haslam. He milked the club financially, left them in the Conference and it took a long time for them to build them back up, build up the trust with the fans and build up the support again. They have really got the town back onside and in terms of players – they turn up now to this incredible training ground [built by Radford and Hymas] outside the town centre which is as good as anything in the Championship. It is a marvellous facility.”

Of significant other bearing will be Mansfield's performances against Northampton and – should they defeat Jon Brady's side – the winners of the other semi-final between Port Vale and Swindon Town. Mason is confident they can prevail.

“Mansfield have come from second bottom in October, 14 games without a win, to gatecrash the promotion party. They are going in there with not a lot to lose with everybody just expecting them to have a go. I think that is probably going to be enough to be quite honest. Out of the four teams that are left, there is only Port Vale that they haven't beaten but they have given them two good games and I have a sneaking feeling that Clough will do the job this time around.”