ON the surface of this archetypal six-pointer, a draw wasn’t really much benefit to either side.

Granted they were a point better off than when they started, but while Mansfield moved up a place by virtue of goal difference - just as Latics had last weekend despite defeat to Harrogate - Keith Curle’s side remained in the bottom two and two points adrift.

But digging a little deeper, and casting his eye further back, Curle took heart from elements of the performance.

For starters, the last time he took Latics to Field Mill he had a post-match dressing room lock-in, emerging much later than he normally would to tell the patiently waiting media that he felt “let down” by the performance and that his players lacked leadership, having seen them suffer a 4-1 defeat.

Fast forward 161 days and Curle has established a much tighter ship.

Latics already have more than half the number of clean sheets they accumulated in the whole of last season after just a quarter of the campaign. And all of those shut-outs have come in the last four games.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this run began when Harrison McGahey was able to make his debut after a contract issue was finally resolved. The former Rochdale defender has an imposing presence and reads the game, and danger, well.

He provides a threat in the opposition box too, and was unlucky not to capitalise on a strong end to the first half for Curle's men. The crossbar denied him the chance to get Latics' noses in front, after Benny Couto caused problems in the box with his now trademark long throw.

Zak Dearnley provided another positive, in what was his first league start since that last trip to Mansfield, replacing Hallam Hope in the line-up.

The forward has had a hard time putting his injury problems behind him and rediscovering his early season form from last term. But he appears to be getting there, and 85 minutes at Field Mill - the longest he has spent on a pitch since December last year - will go a long way to helping Dearnley get back to his best.

And things are at long last looking up on the injury front too, with goalkeeper Danny Rogers returning from a neck problem to provide competition for Jayson Leutwiler, who responded with some key second half saves to preserve the point and shut-out.

"A third clean sheet out of four shows that we're trying to build a foundation whereby we are difficult to beat," said Curle.

"Clean sheets were at a premium last season, that's got to be part of our foundation that we go into games looking not to concede and being difficult to beat knowing that we've got creative players on the pitch."

Dearnley returned to the starting line-up as one of three changes following last Saturday's defeat at home to Harrogate Town and was unlucky not to have his efforts rewarded with a goal after he received a terrific throughball from Couto, only to be denied by goalkeeper Nathan Bishop in first half stoppage time.

"I think the pleasing thing from Dearns is a little bit of composure, moving the ball, quick feet, getting his strike off, you're thinking 'excellent, that's the Dearnley that we need to be seeing on a regular basis'," Curle continued.

"It's taken us a little bit of time building up his fitness and building up his confidence, building up the ability to be robust whereby he's disappointed coming off after 85 minutes and it shows the extra work that he's been doing that we've been doing with him is paying dividends."

The game was delayed by over 12 minutes in the first half following an injury Mansfield midfielder George Maris, who left the field on a stretcher following a collision with his own team-mate, James Clarke, in the middle of the park.

"I think it was a collision between two of their players. Davis (Keillor-Dunn) has tried to get in front of their lad, as he's rolled him the other lad has propelled himself into him. Our physio went on with their physio and he's quite confident that it's a head injury and neck injury that isn't too dangerous," Curle explained.

Mansfield had been building momentum but the lengthy stoppage played into Latics' hands.

"With the quality Mansfield have got you know they are going to put you under pressure and the first 15-20 minutes was no surprise to us adjusting to working and becoming familiar and not panicking because of their system where they play a lot of balls in midfield and not get dismantled," Curle added.

"We were able to settle and get good information on.

"I thought we dominated and had the better chances at the end of the first half. Second half I thought was quite even."