STAGS made it two pre-season wins on the trot with a hard-earned 3-2 win at Evo-Stik Premier League Hednesford Town on Tuesday, reports John Lomas.
After a goalless first 45 minutes, livewire Matt Green and a Louis Briscoe penalty put Mansfield in command only to see sub Danny Quinn quickly pull one back.
Tom Naylor restored the visitors’ two-goal lead, but the gutsy Pitmen were not finished and Quinn’s second goal on 86 minutes left Stags holding on at the end of a very worthwhile run-out.
The first half hour was not the best on a strength-sapping pitch covered in long grass, which hampered passing.
But Mansfield were just starting to tick in the final 10 minutes before the break and, with the introduction of the lively Louis Briscoe for the second half, largely dominated the action and deserved the win.
Ever the perfectionist, though, boss Paul Cox would be more concerned by the ease in which Hednesford scored their goals.
Stags, missing John Thompson (hip injury), Lindon Meikle (ankle), and Paul Connor (illness), and Jon Worthington (pregnant wife being induced) played a 3-4-1-2 formation with Green and Dyer up front, Stevenson in the hole behind, them and a central defensive trio of Naylor, Riley and Sutton.
Naylor and Riley did well to get back and shut out Robinson inside the box as he briefly broke clear in the opening seconds.
Bolland had Stags’ first goal attempt on eight minutes when the ball rolled to him after Dyer’s run had been halted, the ball flying wide from 20 yards.
But sloppy defending almost cost the visitors a minute later. Robinson ghosted in unnoticed at the far post to get a head onto a Clements free kick as it bounced up and Marriott was grateful to see Naylor clear off the goal line behind him as the ball beat him.
Home keeper Jones and Sutton challenged for Murray’s first corner for Stags, only to see the ball curl harmlessly out for a goalkick.
It had been a scrappy first 15 minutes with neither side settling.
But on 19 minutes Dyer turned onto Bell’s left wing cross at the near post and, riding a challenge, forced the keeper into a stop with a shot from a tight angle.
Mansfield went even closer on 25 minutes as, when a tackle on Green on the edge of the box saw the ball run loose, Stevenson whipped in a low snapshot which thumped loudly against a post.
Soon after Stevenson again had sight of goal from the same distance but got his attempted curler all wrong as the ball sailed well over the angle.
Sutton’s daisycutter from 30 yards forced Jones into a save but was never likely to beat him.
Home skipper Campion was booked on 31 minutes, probably for dissent, soon after a lecture for a foul.
Bolland needed treatment after a heavy tackle in midfield and eventually limped off shaking his head, to be replaced by Howell on 37 minutes.
On 39 minutes Green might have done better as he made space in the box from a Dyer flick but then failed to connect with his finish firmly and sent a poor shot trickling towards Jones.
On 42 minutes Todd sent over a low cross from the right, away from Jones, but, with three Stags players racing in, the ball seemed to strike Dyer and was blocked by a defender in front of goal.
Stags began the second half switching to a 4-4-2 formation, Briscoe on for Stevenson, playing wide left, and O’Neil replacing Sutton to play as an orthodox right back.
The Pitmen started the half well and Naylor had to block a Wellecomme effort with Stags making hard work of clearing the resulting corner.
However, the home side then giftwrapped a goal for the Stags on 51 minutes.
Defender Gomes and keeper Jones collided when both going for Briscoe’s hopeful punt forward and could only watch on agonisingly as Green rolled the loose ball into the empty net.
Hednesford hit back with a right wing corner, taken short to Osborne whose cross was met by a firm header from Bailey which wasn’t far over.
Then ex-Stags Robinson burst powerfully between Naylor and Riley before just beating the advancing Marriott to the ball but also lifting his finish over the top.
Stags’ most incisive move of the night saw Todd’s accurate nod-on from Naylor’s forward bal send O’Neill overlapping down the right, his low cross turned on target by Dyer but saved by Jones.
Briscoe doubled Stags’ lead from the spot on 64 minutes.
Green burst into the box, Briscoe took over from him, accelerating well and invited the trip from Bailey’s mis-timed challenge before confidently stroking home the spot kick under the dive of Jones.
The Pitmen immediately threw two more subs on and, within two minutes one of them, Quinn, had pulled a goal back as he headed home from close range from fellow sub Melbourne’s right wing cross.
O’Neill might have restored Mansfield’s two-goal cushion soon after but, after cutting in from the right, dragged a poor finish at Jones with time and space to do better.
Dunkley almost sliced a cross into his own net as Mansfield stepped up the pressure, forcing a corner.
Briscoe had a far post shot blocked on the line to force a second corner. And when Jones failed to claim that under pressure, Naylor found himself with a simple close range stab on 71 minutes.
Dyer’s sprint into the box was held up, but the striker did well to still pull the ball back deep to Howell whose low shot was clutched by Jones.
Murray’s trip on Danks as he raced past him saw referee Mr Gratton even up the yellow card count on 77 minutes.
Marriott had been a spectator for a while but was alert to grab a fierce on-target Campion blast at his near post.
Then Quinn failed to get decent purchase on his shot when the ball ran invitingly loose a minute later.
After Stags laboured to halt a home attack, Naylor was lectured by the referee for swearing too loudly at his team mates!
Seconds later Quinn’s far post header passed just over the angle as we entered the last seven minutes.
However, with four minutes left, a magnificent header on by Robinson saw Quinn sneak clear of the Stags’ defensive line and beat Marriott with a good finish from 15 yards to double his tally and set up a close finish.
Wood had a looping 15 yards header saved as Hednesford tried to clear their lines from a Smith corner, then Clements was well over from 30 yards for the Pitmen.
Clements almost levelled it with the last kickoff the game as he sent a stinging 18 yard shot on target which Marriott stood up to, palming it down as the whistle sounded almost immediately.
HEDNESFORD: Jones, Gomes, Campion, Dunkley, Thorne (Bailey 52), Denny, Moyo (Melbourne 59), Clements, Robinson, Wellecomme (Danks 64), Osborne (Quinn 64). Sub not used: Nicholls, Grice, Durrell.
STAGS: Marriott, Naylor, Bell, Murray, Riley (Wood 75), Sutton (O’Neill h/t), Todd (Smith 71), Stevenson (Briscoe h/t), Dyer, Green (Mitchley 71), Bolland (Howell 37). Sub not used: Redmond.
REFEREE: Danny Gratton of Staffordshire.
Stags’ third choice keeper Neil Collett has joined Nuneaton Town on a month’s loan.