MANSFIELD Town were tonight celebrating making the BSBP end of season play-offs for the first time at the fourth attempt after a 3-1 win at strugglers Hayes and Yeading.
Two goals in four second half minutes from Ross Dyer and Matt Green finally clinched this one after sloppy Stags allowed Hayes level at the break, despite having gone ahead as early as the fifth minute through Anthony Howell.
Paul Cox’s men are now assured of a top five finish after this 11th win in 13 games.
It wasn’t the best display at times on a sodden Kingfield Stadium surface with Mansfield in charge for most of the first half but not testing home keeper Steve Arnold enough.
And their early lead was lost when Exodus Geohaghon and Luke O’Neill both went for the ball, collided, and gifted Pierto Mingoia an equaliser.
Hayes then started the second half brightly and asked a few questions before Stags finally took a grip with the two quick goals and, with well-timed substitutions, finished the stronger on the strength-sapping pitch.
Arnold made a string of late saves to prevent a bigger margin of victory.
Heavy rain left the pitch barely playable and there were worries it could be postponed until the sun came out and the referee was happy to start.
Stags made four changes. Out went Adam Murray, Matt Rhead, Adam Smith and Louis Briscoe from the side that beat Stockport County 2-1 on Monday.
In came Ross Dyer, Gary Roberts, Ben Hutchinson and Lindon Meikle into a 4-3-3 formation with Hutchinson playing an advanced role in the hole behind the forwards.
In a bizarre atmosphere at Hayes’ temporary home, with Stags fans forming the majority of the 487 crowd on all three useable sides of the ground, Green was twice caught straying offside as Stags began the afternoon on the front foot.
But a poor clearance from Riley allowed Wishart a chance to shoot which he failed to get hold of and saw the ball deflect for a corner.
Stags immediately went upfield and grabbed a fifth minute lead through Howell.
Green set up the chance by holding the ball up on the left of the box before rolling it into the path of Howell who picked his spot with a superb first time finish low inside the right post.
Hutchinson might have doubled that on 12 minutes as he blazed over from 12 yards when Meikle, crowded out as he tried to make space for a shot, laid the ball towards him.
There was a moment’s worry as Wishart chased a through ball, Marriott getting there first and then being caught late by the striker for a free kick to Mansfield.
Green was looking lively up front for the Stags and on 13 minutes he cut in from the left and fired into the sidenetting.
Walsh outjumped Riley to meet a long free kick with a header straight at Marriott on 22 minutes.
On 28 minutes Hand brought down O’Neill as he cut inside him. It did look as if the offence was committed in the box, but the referee gave a free kick just outside.
When Stags’ 32nd minute corner was cleared to Roberts on the left, he floated it back towards the near post where Green’s goal radar was off as he planted his header well wide.
Then Riley was wide with a header from a long Geohaghon throw as Mansfield continued to completely boss proceedings.
But, out of the blue, the home side somehow found themselves level on 37 minutes.
O’Neill and Geohaghon seemed to get in each other’s way as they both tried to clear a long free kick forward from home keeper Arnold, allowing Mingoia to pick up the pieces and steer home a low finish from eight yards.
Spurred on by the goal, Hayes went on the hunt for a second and Williams sliced wide from 20 yards.
Arnold did well to dive to his left and get a hand to a curling shot from Meikle after Hutchinson had been crowded out in the initial attack and switched play to the incoming Meikle on the far side of the box.
Arnold then had to race out and punch the ball almost off the foot of Green as Meikle tried to send him through, and soon after punched well again after Dyer had flicked on a long Geohaghon throw towards goal.
In stoppage time the industrious Hutchinson crashed a 20 yard snapshot just over the bar as a loose ball ran invitingly towards him.
But Hayes held on to their unlikely parity at half-time.
Hayes cleared an early Stags corner on the restart with Argent off the field for treatment after feeling the full force of a Meikle cross.
There was danger for Mansfield on 52 minutes as Hand lifted the ball over the top of Geohaghon and into the path of Walsh.
Marriott raced out but was beaten to it by Walsh who saw his finish fly wide.
However Hayes felt Marriott’s contact on Walsh should have been enough for a penalty.
As the arguments began, Hand and Geohaghon squared up and were both shown a yellow card for their troubles.
It was Hayes looking the hungrier at this stage and on 56 minutes Pele launched the ball in from the right and Bentley got in a header which flew beyond Marriott but bounced wide of the far post.
So Stags boss Cox decided to change things round and brought off Hutchinson on 58 minutes, Rhead joining Green up front in a 4-4-2, Dyer dropping to right of midfield.
Still Hayes came forward and Williams was high and wide from distance.
Bad communication between Riley and Marriott conceded a corner which Dyer headed clear.
Pele did well to beat Green to Dyer’s through ball before Briscoe replaced Meikle on 63 minutes.
Rhead was penalised for a couple of early fouls after coming on and, when he flattened Spence in mid-air on 65 minutes, he was shown a yellow card.
But Rhead was then instrumental in helping Stags back ahead on 67 minutes.
A Stags free kick saw Rhead get the head-on and, as it dropped, Dyer lifted a fine half volley into the net from 12 yards.
Four minutes later Green got in on the act with his 29th goal of the season to finally make the points safe.
O’Neil sent a long, searching ball forward which Green burst onto, sidestepping the keeper to his right and the, from an ever increasing angle, still and the confidence to bury the ball into the net.
Hayes made a double change on 74 minutes, bringing on Owusu and Warren.
Rhead was desperately close to finding the net with a flicked header from Geohaghon’s throw that sailed across goal and dropped just wide of the far post.
Green seemed lucky when he appeared to handle in the box as Hand tried to get the ball past him, though the shout came from the few home supporters present rather than the players.
O’Neill became the third Stags player to be booked 11 minutes from time for his foul on Cadmore.
Green’s pass slipped Roberts into a one-on-one on 83 minutes, Arnold spreading himself to make a great block.
The keeper then had to get a leg in the way of a Briscoe shot at his near opost after the winger had burst towards goal from a long O’Neill free kick.
Rhead was next to test him as he cut neatly in from the right from a Roberts pass, Arnold again making the save.
In stoppage time Briscoe beat Spence in the box to get away a low shot that Arnold managed to turn aside for a fifth corner in the half.
Owusu was allowed to get away a shot from wide on the left of the box as Riley policed him but failed to make a block, Marriott alert to it and turning it round the near post.
HAYES AND YEADING: Arnold, Argent, Hand, Cadmore, Williams, Wishart (Warren 74), Bentley (Collins 86), Pele, Spence, Mingoia (Owusu 74), Walsh. Subs: Wickham, Beasant.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Riley, Geohaghon, Sutton; Roberts, Howell; Hutchinson (Rhead 58); Dyer, Green, Meikle (Briscoe 63). Subs: Worthington, Redmond, Andrew.
REFEREE: Andy Davies.