A bullet header from Kaid Mohamed was enough to condemn Mansfield Town to a disappointing 1-0 opening day defeat at Northampton Town.
The home side struck on 26 minutes after a sustained spell of pressure had pushed Stags back on the defensive, with summer signing John-Joe O’Toole pulling the strings.
But the visitors did show excellent character to fight back after falling behind, with Ryan Tafazolli and Rob Taylor both coming within a flash of levelling deep in first-half stoppage time.
Mansfield boss Paul Cox brought on the big guns in Liam Hearn and Sam Clucas early in the second half as he desperately looked for a change in his side’s attacking fortunes.
But the changes failed to have the desired effect as Northampton stood firm and continued to look the most likely to score.
Mansfield did pile the pressure on in the closing minutes with a flurry of half chances. But it was too little too late.
In truth the game should have been over much earlier with Marc Richards and Ivan Toney blowing glorious opportunities to close the game out when one-on-one with Sascha Studer.
The loss means Mansfield have now failed to win an away fixture on the opening day of the season since they beat Wigan in 1990.
But despite the disappointing defeat, Paul Cox will take heart from the return of Liam Hearn, who showed glimspes of the threat he will offer throughout the season.
Stags travel to Sheffield United in the Capital One Cup in midweek before entertaining Oxford United next Saturday.
Paul Cox left Liam Hearn and Sam Clucas on the bench as they continued their efforts to get fully fit following a disjointed pre-season.
But there were full Football League debuts for Fergus Bell and Alex Fisher following their summer moves from Monza as well as Swiss shot-stopper Sascha Studer.
Simon Heslop slotted in to the midfield to make his Mansfield Town debut, while Rob Taylor made his Stags debut at left wing-back.
John-Joe O’Toole made his Northampton debut after moving to Sixfields from relegated Bristol Rovers during the summer.
It was Mansfield who started the brightest when Alex Fisher poked a half-chance over Matt Duke’s bar on four minutes.
Ritchie Sutton went into the book after just seven minutes for cynically hacking down Chris Hackett as he threatened to break down the right wing.
And, from the resulting free-kick, Lee Collins nearly headed home after Sascha Studer had flapped at Darren Carter’s cross.
Northampton began to push Stags back into their own half as they enjoyed a superb spell of pressure, with J-J O-Toole pulling the strings for the home side.
And the Cobblers finally made that pressure count as they took a 26th minute lead when Kaid Mohamed’s beat his marker at the back post to unleash a bullet header which gave Studer no chance.
In truth, the goal was nothing more than The Cobblers had deserved as they began to stretch Stags and open them up in wide errors with some slick passing and movement.
The lively O’Toole failed to fully test Studer on 32 minutes when he failed to connect with a snapshot after finding space on the edge of the box.
Fergus Bell was then unable to make the most of decent space in the box moments later after Lee Beevers’ inside ball had picked out the midfielder’s run.
Matt Duke produced a wonderful one-handed reflex save to deny Ryan Tafazolli’s powerful header in first-half stoppage time.
Seconds later Rob Tyler’s thunderous effort from 25 yards flew inches wide as the visitors ended the first half strongly.
Marc Richards perhaps should have doubled the home side’s lead on 50 minutes when he pulled away from his marker to head just over Studer’s crossbar.
Boss Paul Cox had seen enough and brought Liam Hearn on for his Football League debut and Sam Clucas on 55 minutes as he looked to shake-up the Mansfield attack.
Fisher headed Beevers’ cross over Duke’s bar and scuffed a weak shot into the hands of the Northampton goalkeeper.
Hackett then rifled a low shot into the side netting with the aid of a deflection on 61 minutes, before Darren Carter tried his luck for the home side as the game began to get stretched.
Marc Richards blow a glorious chance to seal all three points for the home side on 76 minutes after Ivan Toney beat Sutton to head the ball into the striker’s path.
But Richards lacked the necessary composure and dragged his shot horrifically wide from eight yards.
Ivan Toney had egg on his face seven minutes from time when he was unable to divert his effort into the back of the net despite being in plenty of space just eight yards out.
Northampton Town: Duke, Alfei, Carter (Morris 76 mins), Collins, Richards, O’Toole (Toney 57 mins), Hackett (Horwood 79 mins), Diamond, Robertson, Ravenhill, Mohamed. Subs not used: Tozer, D’Ath, Moyo, Archer.
Mansfield Town: Studer; Beevers, Sutton, Dempster, Tafazolli, Taylor (Clements 80 mins); Murray, Heslop, F. Bell (Clucas 54 mins); Palmer (Hearn 55 mins), Fisher. Subs not used: Riley, McGuire, Marsden, A. Bell.
Referee: Andy Davies.
Attendance: 5,202 (900 away).
Stags man of the match: Ryan Tafazolli.