It is the conundrum that Mansfield Town manager Adam Murray must solve sooner rather than later if the Stags are to achieve his aim of reaching the play-offs in May.
Just why are Mansfield so inconsistent at the One Call Stadium — and why do they appear to be more comfortable away from home?
This season has broadly started along the same lines as the last campaign — a couple of perhaps unexpected away victories that have kept the Stags in the top half of the table after disappointing results at home.
Of course, there has also been a wonderful repeat of the early season derby day victory over Notts County in 2015/2016 with the recent thrilling 3-1 triumph, surely the best result of the season so far at One Call Stadium?
But the fact that the Magpies clash was preceded by three home games without a goal, including two successive defeats — and then followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw — further emphasised the feeling that Murray’s men are, for whatever reason, more effective on their travels.
Murray has talked about the issue previously and this week captain Lee Collins admitted it was like “some sort of voodoo over us.”
But are appearances in this case deceptive? Do the facts back up our perception that the Stags are unable to turn their own stadium into a fortress while continuing to punch above their weight away from home?
When Murray took over the reins from Paul Cox in November 2014 — after he had faced a similar problem — it all looked very promising. Murray’s first match in charge was a rousing win against Plymouth Argyle when Vadaine Oliver broke away to hit the only goal of the game.
High-tempo, attacking football surprised the high-flying visitors and, after the toxic atmosphere that had gradually enveloped One Call Stadium under Cox, there were hopes that home results and performances would consistently improve.
In his first few months in charge, Murray had to fight a relegation battle, but five wins from the remaining 14 home matches was just enough for the Stags to stay up. At that time, Mansfield’s form away from home was not what it has been for the last 15 months, with just two victories in 14 matches under Murray.
The manager’s first full season at the helm saw seven wins, 10 draws and six defeats at home (compared to 10 wins on their travels with three draws and 10 defeats). So the Stags gained two more points, 33, away from home than they did at home.
This season has brought 10 points from seven away matches, while the return at home has been nine points from seven matches.
That means overall under Murray, the Stags have won 15 and drawn 17 of 45 home matches. In the same period they have won 14 and drawn eight of 44 away matches.
The figures show that, in fact, he has been more successful at home than away — but, if you ignore that early relegation battle when he first took over, the statistics do support the fans’ feeling that results remain marginally better away from the One Call Stadium.
In the past season and a third, the Stags have claimed 43 points away from home and 40 in front of their own supporters. Away from home they have scored 35 goals in that time and conceded 35. At the One Call Stadium they have scored 40 goals and conceded 31.
Generally, that means there is very little to choose between home and away matches, both in terms of results and goals scored — an unusual statistic in football, where home results are normally better than those from away matches.
So why do the Stags struggle for consistent results at home — there have been just two back-to-back home victories under Murray?
No stone has been left unturned, the manager said, in an attempt to solve the problem. He has previously said he couldn’t put a finger on why it was happening and has frequently challenged his players to end the so called hoodoo — and also urged the fans to unite behind the players
For sure his comments earlier this season — and also last season — that any negativity among the fans can be transmitted to the players is correct.
Groans — and worse — from 2,000 fans at the One Call Stadium are bound to be heard by the players, whereas any jeers from the few hundred loyal faithful who travel away will not have the same effect. The travelling fans also tend to be more supportive during a match, regardless of the score and performance.
The noise and support from the fans against Notts County recently, for example, must have lifted the players.
But surely that can’t be the main reason why this hoodoo has lasted so long?
Some fans said there was not enough attacking intent from the team at home last season and there have been endless debates about formations, wingers, two strikers and tempo.
Some say the more we talk about it, the more pressure we are heaping on the players. But they are not stupid and will know the statistics, regardless of what the supporters and media are saying.
We have all got our theories to why the disparity is occurring.
I recall many years ago one manager trying to rectify a similar problem by treating home fixtures as away matches. He would take the players away for a pre-match meal and they would arrive at Field Mill — as it was then called — in a coach, trying to replicate the feelings of away matches.
Did that work? Not really, it was a gimmick, a nice try and an attempt to freshen up the players’ attitudes, but there was no discernible lift in results.
For me, the bottom line is simple — this is football and it is sport. Quirks like this happen from time to time and sooner or later it will right itself.
Of course, you can be sure that as soon as the Stags start to win regularly at home the away results will dip. It is football after all!
Regardless of the ups and downs of the results at the One Call Stadium, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Stags are unbeaten in six matches and have the second best defensive record in the division.
This Saturday, Stevenage are the visitors as the Stags try to start ending that home hoodoo against one of the early season strugglers. But if they do the biggest challenge will still lay ahead — to get back-to-back home wins and then add further home victories.