MANSFIELD Town’s dreadful league season ended in miserable fashion with a 2-0 defeat and yet another red card at Bath City’s Twerton Park this afternoon.
Just a week from the FA Trophy final, the last thing injury-hit Stags needed was to see Steven Istead sent off just 15 minutes into the game for kicking Joe Burnell.
For Bath it was delight as they leapfrogged Mansfield in the table to finish in their highest position for 16 years.
For Stags it was a seventh red card of the campaign and another body unavailable for Wembley, where Mansfield can just about fill the bench, and a 12th place finish in the BSBP.
In a dour game, Stags mustered one decent shot at goal in each half from Adam Smith.
But Alan Marriott, cementing his place for Wembley, was by far the busier keeper and made some good saves before he was finally beaten when Marley Watkins went clean through on 52 minutes.
The keeper’s display was the only positive to come out of an afternoon to otherwise forget.
When veteran Scott Murray made it 2-0 on 75 minutes the final whistle could not come quickly enough for Stags and their faithful 162 away fans who will be hoping for a better day out, and a few more players back from injury, next weekend at Wembley.
The Stags side showed four changes with the injured Adam Murray missing out with his back problem and Tyrone Thompson, Louis Brisoe and Gary Silk ‘rested’ to the bench.
Marriott kept the goalkeeper’s jersey, Paul Stonehouse came into the back four, Kyle Nix and Ashley Cain into midfield and Luke Medley was back from injury to partner Niall O’Rafferty up front, despite neither of them being fully fit.
Marriott safely held onto a Burnell ball into the box in the opening seconds.
Stags were attacking down the famous Twerton slope and Smith cut in for a tame shot at Robinson on three minutes after a good pass from Medley.
Burnell then needed treatment after catching Smith’s elbow in the mouth but it wasn’t deliberate and both players shook hands afterwards.
Watkins tested Mariott with a dipping half-volley but it was always going straight to the keeper.
Connolly was next to try his luck with a powerful shot from 25 yards but it was too high to seriously trouble Marriott.
In reply Medley raced into the box but was quickly crowded out and then unable to find Smith free to his left and had to settle for a corner.
The nearest we had come to a goal was on 14 minutes when Phillips, faced with three defenders, did so well to evade them all and make space for a shot that, having done the hard work, he dragged wide.
But Stags were down to 10 men a minute later as Istead tackled Burnell late after the Bath man had made his pass and then was alleged to have caught him again with a boot with Burnell on the floor, the referee quickly pulling out a red card.
Few saw what happened and, to be fair, to Bath, there was no crowding the referee or rolling around on the floor, so it came as a shock when Istead was dismissed.
Doubtless Stags will be looking hard at the match DVD to see if the card was deserved or not.
Nevertheless, it left injury-hit Stags toiling for 75 minutes in the warm sunshine on the sloping pitch a week from a Wembley final.
Home keeper Robinson lost his concentration to concede a needless corner but Bath easily cleared their lines when it came over.
There followed a lengthy spell of little happening until a 34th minute scare.
Marriott had to hurriedly kick away a Spence backpass but didn’t get much distance on it, the ball quickly put back into the box where Murray, with back to goal, sent an acrobatic overhead kick just over the bar.
A swift Bath break a minute later saw Phillips go down the left and square for Canham whose first time effort whistled over the near angle.
Foster then timed his tackle well on Phillips as he got into the left hand side of the six yard box and looked set to shoot.
Rollo, on as a sub for Simpson on 38 minutes, immediately miscued a cross which briefly threatened to dip over Marriott but the keeper saw it safely onto the roof of his net.
Two minutes from the break Bath forced Marriott into a save as he got down to keeper out a low 20 yard shot from Murray after a one-two on the edge of the box with Connolly.
A minute later Jombati got the better of Spence on the left and crossed towards Watkins who provided more work for Marriott with his stooping header.
Another good run from Jombati in stoppage time saw him spoon his finish well over the bar the finish not matching the approach work.
So the 10 men at least went in on level terms.
Six minutes after the break another probing through ball from playmaker Burnell put Connelly away only to send his finish bobbling across Marriott and wide of the far post.
It was a warning Stags didn’t heed as a minute later as Phillips’ flick-on saw Watkins burst clear down the centre and calmly go past Marriott to roll the ball into the empty net.
Marriott dealt well with a dangerous low Murray cross as Bath began to take a grip.
Thompson came on for O’Rafferty on 58 minutes as Russell looked for a spark.
Smith let fly with a decent effort from 25 yards on 62 minutes but Robinson was able to get both hands behind it block and then grab.
Cain’s square ball offered Medley a shooting chance but his split second delay was all Jombati needed to get a leg across to block.
Medley’s legs were rested for Wembley on 68 minutes as assistant boss Hall came on for another cameo appearance.
But it was the home side who grabbed a killer second as 37-year-old Murray rolled back the years to race between the visiting defenders before guiding a low finish past Marriott.
Hogg should have made it 3-0 soon after as the Stags defence disintegrated in front of him and he lashed his hurried finish well over.
Marriott had to leave his box to clear ahead of Watkins and there was a big shout for handball against the keeper the referee thankfully signalling it was Marriott’s chest.
Marriott did well to reach up and keep out an attempted chip by Murray as the home side ran the visitors ragged.
Marriott blocked Watkins’ close range flick with just over two minutes to go and in stoppage time he also got is body in the way of a close range Phillips shot.
BATH CITY: Robinson, Simpson (Rollo 38), Burnell, Jones (Hogg 58), Webb, Jombati, Murray, Connolly (Harris 74), Canham, Phillips, Watkins. Subs not used: Mackie, Henry.
STAGS: Marriott; Spence, Foster, Preece, Stonehouse; Cain, Nix, Istead, Smith; Medley (Hall 68), O’Rafferty (Thompson 58). Subs not used: Collett, Briscoe, Silk.
REFEREE: Marvin Thompson of Northolt.
ATTENDANCE: 1,051 (162).
GOALS: Bath – Watkins 52mins, Murray 75mins.
DISMISSAL: Stags – Istead 15mins (serious play play).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Alan Marriott.