MANSFIELD Town’s stroll in the sunshine turned into an inferno as Forest Green Rovers levelled and then Stags midfielder Anthony Howell was sent-off at the end of the first half this afternoon.
With temperatures topping 30 degrees in the centre of the park, Stags striker Ross Dyer gave Mansfield the ideal start with a goal in the opening second.
Rovers rarely threatened Alan Marriott’s goal until Keiron Forbes’ 41st minute equaliser.
And it was Howell’s tackle on Forbes that then left Stags short-handed and facing a strength-sapping second half.
Ex-Forest Green striker Dyer made the perfect return to his former club with an exquisite goal after just 17 seconds.
O’Neill took the ball over the halfway line on the right and threaded a firm pas to Murray 20 yards from goal whose deft flick over the defence allowed Dyer to race onto it on the right of the box and drill a low finish beyond a helpless Bittner.
Green had to let a Dyer through ball run past him as he was offside, but O’Neill kept running which almost caught the Rovers defence napping, Bittner having to come quickly off his line to smother.
The visitors came close again on nine minutes as O’Neill whipped the game’s first corner in from the left and the keeper came and missed it, the ball hanging dangerously in the six yard box before the home side hooked clear.
Rovers’ first threat came from a quickly-taken free kick that sent Thomson away down the left only to see his low effort well wide from a narrow angle.
Riley was wide at the other end with a diving header from Kendrick’s right wing free kick on 15 minutes.
Then Griffin was high and wide after Todd had been dispossessed 30 yards from goal.
A short pass by Green saw Rovers begin to break quickly. But Worthington refused to give up and, failing to make the first tackle, chased Klukowski and finally superbly robbed him 35 yard from goal.
On a scorching afternoon Mansfield were letting the ball do the work with some accurate, crisp passing.
But Forest Green forced their first corner on 34 minutes which Marriott initially dropped but quickly recovered to grab at the second attempt.
Two minutes later Forbes was booked for catching Murray late which saw both sides head to the dug-outs for liquid refreshment.
However, the home side somehow found themselves level out of the blue on 41 minutes. Forbes played a one-two on the right of the box and hooked a finish past Marriott.
Clearly lifted, Forbes went on another run a minute later which ended with a low 20 yard finish flashing just wide of the far post.
Stags were rocking as Thomson skipped past opponents to the by-line before pulling back an inviting low ball to Norwood who tried to place a sidefooted finish but sent it wide of the far post.
Mansfield’s afternoon got worse in the last minute of the half and Howell went in late and with studs showing on Forbes and the red card was out almost instantly.
On such a hot day, Stags knew the second half was now going to be even more gruelling for them.
Mansfield Town had made two enforced changes as they chased a fifth successive away win.
With Tom Naylor and Ben Futcher joining Louis Briscoe on the suspended list after the midweek win at Wrexham, Joe Kendrick returned at left back and Martin Riley in the centre.
Otherwise the side was unchanged, though Rhys Day came into the 16 on the bench for the first time this season.
FOREST GREEN: Bittner, Hodgkiss, Stokes, Turley, Norwood, Klukowski, Griffin, Forbes, Graham, Rowe, Thomson. Subs: Turk, Imudia, Taylor, McDonald, Allen.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Sutton, Riley, Kendrick; Worthington, Murray, Howell; Todd, Green, Dyer. Subs: Connor, Bolland, Day, Redmond, Meikle.
REFEREE: Andy Davies of Hampshire.