The big interview: Colchester United’s George Elokobi
George Elokobi knows all about the dangers posed by Steve Evans’ various teams, from his own days at Championship club Wolves.
And Elokobi will be on his guard when Colchester United travel to Field Mill for a stern test against Evans’ new Mansfield Town team this afternoon.
Larger-than-life character Evans has a very impressive track record, as a manager, and has generally enjoyed success wherever he has been.
Evans began his managerial career by guiding non-league Stamford to the United Counties League Premier Division title, before propelling Boston United from the Southern League to the Conference (2000) and then into the Football League (2002).
A move to Crawley Town saw him also guide the Red Devils into the Football League (2011), before also setting them on their way to League One the following season.
Evans went on to enjoy considerable success at Rotherham, which is where Elokobi came across him. The 54-year-old clinched two successive promotions for the Millers, from League Two to the Championship (2012-14), and then managed to keep them in the second tier the following campaign.
A short stint at Championship strugglers Leeds United followed, but now he has resurfaced at Mansfield, taking over the reins just over three weeks ago.
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And Evans has made an immediate impact, ending the Stags’ poor run by masterminding back-to-back league wins in his first two matches, against his old club Crawley and Blackpool.
“I’ve had first-hand experience of Steve Evans’ teams, and what sort of gaffer he is,” insisted Elokobi.
“I know they will be quite direct, and that we will have to defend a number of crosses into the box. We must withstand that.
“We will have to defend strongly, and be prepared to take a few knocks.
“Mansfield’s strikers will put their bodies on the line, and we must be ready to take a few knocks to the cheekbones and to the head. We have got to be man enough to take it.
“I came across Steve (Evans) when I was playing for Wolves, and he was the manager of Rotherham.
“Likewise, (right-back) Richard Brindley played under Evans when he was at Rotherham, so he has first-hand experience of what it is like.
“Richard can pass on that information to the rest of the team.
“We know that he (Evans) will be very animated on the touchline,” added Elokobi.
Defender Elokobi’s long-awaited return to the first team coincided with the U’s recent upturn in fortunes.
Following a miserable sequence of 13 games without a victory, Elokobi’s first appearance of the season coincided with the U’s ending that dismal run in a 3-0 win at Cheltenham. Four days later and the U’s made it back-to-back wins, courtesy of a 4-0 hammering of Crewe.
Cameroon-born Elokobi starred as a left-sided centre-half in a three-man defence in both games, although he ended up as a left-back when the U’s switched formations during the second half against Crewe.
The 30-year-old was delighted to be back in the first team set-up, following a spell away on loan at Braintree Town in the National League.
“It’s not been difficult for me, coming back into the team, because I knew how all the formations worked from doing pre-season,” explained Elokobi.
“I just made sure that I did the whole pre-season, because last year I didn’t do that and I ended up having a stop-start season. So I didn’t have a holiday this summer. I worked my socks off to complete pre-season.
“I was told that I was not in the manager’s plans early on in the season, because we had so many players doing so well in my position.
“I knew my opportunities would be limited, so I kept my head down and made sure that I was as professional as I could be.
“Braintree then came in for me. It was the right time for me to get some matches, because I couldn’t do much more running in training, so it was gratefully received!
“I trained at Braintree on Tuesday and Thursday nights, after training at Colchester and doing all the gym-work in the day.
“I would get home to pick the little one up from school, and then catch 10 minutes’ sleep before going off to Braintree. I was doing double sessions, and that has helped me in these recent games.
“Everyone is feeling positive, with the recent two results, and we want to keep plugging away.
“The division is very tight. The gap between the play-offs and the relegation zone is not big, so we want to get on a run to be up in the play-offs, rather than looking at the down-side.”