KEEP the faith was a phrase that John Sheridan turned to frequently upon his return to Oldham Athletic, but it is one that has worked best for Mansfield Town this season.

It is incredible to think that the Stags were second bottom after 14 games, with just 11 points from a possible 42 and in a worse position than Latics at the time after losing half of their League Two fixtures come mid-October.

They had played out a goalless draw with Oldham at Field Mill in game 11, before going on to lost 2-0 at Northampton in their next fixture.

Yet they are now one game away from League One, having kept faith with their manager, Nigel Clough, who has overseen a remarkable turnaround since a 2-0 win over Tranmere sparked a run of seven wins from eight games to propel them up the league.

Latics, on the other hand, parted company with Keith Curle in November and ended the season with their fourth manager in less than a year, and 11th of the four-year Lemsagam regime. No-one connected with the club needs a reminder of how their season panned out.

Having a foot in both camps, Curle was invited by Sky Sports to be a studio guest at both legs of the play-off semi-final between Mansfield and Northampton Town.

In the aftermath of Wednesday night’s second leg at Sixfields Stadium, where Mansfield triumphed 3-1 on aggregate to progress to a Wembley final, Curle was full of praise for the manner in which the Stags had dealt with a difficult start to the season.

“I think credit goes to the structure of the football club,” he said. “The owners of the football club had an understanding of where they were and have gone on this journey together.

“Credit has got to got to them because it would have been very easy, and I bet you see a lot of clubs, the team starts struggling, they get rid of their manager.

“They’ve had a good understanding and good belief of what Nigel was trying to do and they’ve got the rewards for the decisions they made at the time to stick with their manager.”

There was no mention of his own situation, but for those who were aware of it the dignified and subtle dig that his vision was not supported by owner Abdallah Lemsagam, and his sporting director brother Mo, would not have gone un-noticed.

No-one is suggesting that Latics could have been challenging for a top seven finish like Mansfield did, in the end. A budget three times the size of Oldham’s would have played as influential a role as sticking by Clough did.

But it does make you wonder what might have been had Curle been allowed the two transfer windows he had told the owner he needed to at least stabilise the club (and that was before the carpet was pulled from underneath him by the transfer embargo).

Fans will also wonder what might have been if, having made their decision to part company with Curle in November, the owner had acted much quicker in finding a suitable, permanent replacement, instead of a two-month hiatus with an inexperienced interim.

The club’s press officer will soon serve his final day in the role before moving on to a new challenge. The interview process for his replacement was completed yesterday. It is an important role. But quite why Lemsagam failed to show the same urgency for arguably the most important job at the club - certainly the most important role in a football sense - will be forever baffling. It took near anarchy from the away end at Harrogate to force their hand.

Their priorities are all wrong, and there have been disastrous consequences.

Part of the attraction in approaching Curle was that he had won promotion to League One, via the play-offs, with Northampton.

He was not given the scope to see what could be achieved, to unlock some potential, at Boundary Park.

Instead he could only watch and admire the job done by Clough at the club where his own managerial career began.

“Over two legs he would have gone through a roller coaster of emotions, he would have spent a lot of time with staff coming up with ideas, planning and preparation and running ideas past the staff. That’s when you need a good backroom staff because you can’t afford to have people who say ‘oh yeh, yeh, do that’, you’ve got to run ideas by them,” said Curle.

“He’s come up with a game plan, the players have executed it very well, that shows there’s been time spent on the training ground and they’ve taken on board the information.

“Credit has got to go to Nigel for his tactics.”

Clough himself said “belief” had been key.

“We had belief this season,” he said after securing a trip to Wembley.

“We stayed up last year and finished the season well, started this season well and then went on a terrible run. But once we got that first win in October against Tranmere the run has been brilliant since then, and we just want to take it one step forward if we can.

“It’s brilliant winning this and getting to Wembley, to actually achieve the ultimate is what we want to and we have to get through one more game.”