STAGS substitute Adam Smith was the hero as he bagged a spectacular late brace to earn Mansfield a well-deserved point in a lively clash with battling Barrow at Holker Street on Saturday, reports John Lomas.
Mansfield, with Adam Murray pulling the strings and hitting the bar from 40 yards, dominated the first half against the struggling Bluebirds but found themselves a goal down against the run of play to Paul Rutherford’s 30th minute finish.
The visitors then found themselves with an even bigger mountain to climb when Paul Connor headed into his own goal nine minutes after the break.
Barrow, who had only won once in 11 games prior to that, were firmly in the driving seat at this stage.
But, to their credit, the Stags did not give up and Smith, who replaced Ashley Cain on 64 minutes, pulled one back on 73 minutes before conjuring up an equaliser with a second stunning finish four minutes from the end of an absorbing game with plenty of chances at both ends.
Thankfully the snow that had struck elsewhere in the Lake District overnight did not reach Barrow and a damp pitch held up remarkably well.
With Neil Collett injuring a knee in training, on-loan Notts County keeper Grof came in for his debut and left Stags with no goalkeeping cover on the bench.
Stags had their 11th different central defensive partnership of the campaign with Sandwith moving across from left back to replace the dropped Rhys Day, Stonehouse returning to the side at left back.
Thankfully loanee striker Moult shook off a back injury in time to keep his place after his two-goal show last weekend, particularly as his likely replacement, Keigan Parker, had been allowed out on loan to Fleetwood the day before.
Barrow suffered a pre-match blow when Robin Hulbert pulled a hamstring in the warm-up, joint Barrow boss Sheridan replacing him.
The home side made a strong start and Stags had to defend a free-kick just outside their box in the first 30 seconds and a minute later Almond whipped a fearsome shot just wide of the far post from the right hand corner of the box.
Grof was down to his left to make his first save in a Mansfield shirt on seven minutes as Almond was allowed too space and got away a low, skidding shot from 20 yards.
But the ball was cleared upfield and bounced through a sleeping home defence and suddenly Moult had sight of goal. However, Masters was quickly off his line to make himself big and the finish hit his legs.
On nine minutes Connor missed the best chance of the game so far. Moult looked up and sent a fantastic pass into his path and all Stags’ top scorer had to do was finish with the goal at his mercy.
But, from eight yards, he failed to make the best of contacts and bundled a low finish wide of the far post.
On 22 minutes Cain fed Moult who returned the ball to the winger with a lovely backheel as he ran past him, setting him up or a low shot which Masters parried for the first of three successive corners.
After the early Barrow pressure, the visitors were now largely in control, though unable to find the opening goal.
Another Stags break was engineered by Murray’s forward pass to Connor who tried to hang the ball up at the far post for Moult but struck it just too high and hard.
However, the home side grabbed the lead against the run of play on the half-hour.
Initially Baker tested Grof with a devilish swerving shot from 18 yards which the keeper fisted back towards him. Baker’s follow-up clipped the far post and Rutherford reacted first to sweep it into the net.
It was a body blow for the visitors who almost levelled three minutes later when Murray crashed a half-volley into the sidenetting from 18 yards.
A poor clearance from home keeper Masters left the keeper stranded at the edge of his box as Connor controlled and laid the ball to Murray whose shy at the open goal from 40 yards unluckily came back off the crossbar and Briscoe was narrowly wide of the far post with the follow-up.
Rutherford was again afforded too much room to go on a run which ended with a curling shot that brought a good diving save from Grof.
Two minutes from the break Briscoe was too high with a 20 yard free kick after Bolland had held Connor which left Stags heading in for the half-time interval wondering how they could be behind.
There was a delay in starting the second half after an assistant referee suffered a first half injury.
Mansfield began the half in positive fashion and within two minutes Briscoe had headed just over from a Cain corner at the near post.
Thompson saw the first yellow card of the game for hauling down Rutherford.
But when the subsequent free kick was taken on 54 minutes, a Connor own goal doubled the Bluebirds’ lead.
Taken by Baker, the ball was curled towards goal from 20 yards out and Connor unfortunately got his head on it and could only watch as the ball sailed out of reach of Grof, who would probably have had it covered, and inside the post.
A promising Stags break was spoiled by a poor touch in the box by Cain which gave Edwards time to slide in and tackle.
Then Chadwick’s shove on Naylor in the box went unnoticed.
Stags switched it around the wings on 64 minutes, Smith replacing Cain and Briscoe swapping to the right.
Baker curled a 20 yard free kick just wide of the near post before Stags made another swap on 66 minutes, this time up front as Mitchley came on for Moult.
Grof’s goal came under threat once more as Almond turned and rifled a rising shot over from a tight angle on the right.
But Stags were back in the hunt on 74 minutes through sub Smith.
Silk crossed from the right and Smith, at the far post, chose to change direction, come inside three attendant defenders and lash a powerful finish in off the underside of the bar.
Cook almost made it 3-1 when his shot struck Naylor en route and left Grof wrong-footed but relieved to see the ball fly over the bar for a corner.
While Edwards was booked for his foul on Briscoe, Stags sent on Nix for Stonehouse for their last roll of the dice.
Spender was added to the book for a high boot that caught Smith in the face five minutes from the end.
But the visitors were finally celebrating an equaliser on 86 minutes.
Mitchley’s pass picked out the run of Smith on the left and he cut inside the defender before going back outside him and burying a superb left-footed finish high into the net from not the best of angles.
Chadwick almost stole a winner a minute from the end as he reached a bouncing ball first in the box to poke at goal, Grof spreading himself to block and Sandwith there first to head over for a corner as the loose ball sailed dangerously near the open goal.
From that corner Cook wasn’t far wide with his header.
Four minutes were added on with the game wide open for the taking. In the second of those Chadwick saw a yellow card for jumping late into Sandwith.
Stags survived a very late scare when Rutherford chipped the ball in from the left into the danger zone. But no home heads were able to meet it and Stags at last left with a hard-earned point after two defeats at Holker Street in the previous two seasons since relegation.
BARROW: Masters, Pearson, Edwards, Jones, Bolland, Spender, Sheridan (Goodfellow 59), Baker, Chadwick, Almond (Cook 76), Rutherford. Subs: Pearson, Blundell, Nicholas.
STAGS: Grof; Silk, Naylor, Sandwith, Stonehouse (Nix 83); Cain (Smith 64), Murray, Thompson, Briscoe; Connor, Moult (Mitchley 66). Subs: Istead, Foster.
REFEREE: Darren Handley of Lancashire.
ATTENDANCE: 1,130 (85 away).