MATTY Blair crushed Mansfield Town’s promotion dream when he bagged the only goal of a tight, tense game nine minutes from the end of extra-time in today’s BSBP play-off semi-final second leg at a sold-out One Call Stadium.
Stags would have hoped they had done the hard bit by drawing 1-1 at York in the first leg in midweek, but Gary Mills’ men, who had not lost away from home since October, defended magnificently and prevented Stags getting into their normal stride.
Neither keeper was really stretched in a tense 90 minutes.
But, with penalties beckoning, Blair, who had a superb 90 minutes, rose to head home a Jason Walker cross and it was game over exactly one year to the day Stags lost to Darlington at Wembley in the FA Trophy final by a single late goal.
City also became the first team to prevent Mansfield scoring at home since Kidderminster on 24th September.
To rub in the agony, Stags also had Ritchie Sutton sent-off near the end for a second yellow card on an unseasonably cold and wet, miserable afternoon for Mansfield.
Stags had been given a pre-match boost when centre half Martin Riley declared himself fit.
Riley limped out of the midweek 1-1 first leg draw at York with a hamstring strain and said on Thursday he hoped to be fit for a potential Wembley final.
So Mansfield fans were delighted to see Riley trot out in a team showing just one change, Louis Briscoe coming in for the suspended Matt Green.
Amid a fantastic atmosphere, Mansfield kicked-off, attacking the North Stand end.
Roberts’ foul gave City the first chance to put the ball into the home box, but Meredith overhit it.
York keeper Ingham was the main target for stick from the home fans for his part in Matt Green’s first booking on Wednesday with deafening chants of ‘cheat’ the first time he picked up the ball.
Geohaghon towelled down the ball before launching his first long throw which Dyer headed on, only to see it cleared.
Another ball into the Stags box saw O’Neill clear safely into touch before the advancing Chambers could cause any problems.
O’Neill’s sliding intervention then stopped Oyebanjo feeding the ball into the box again.
It had been a nervous, untidy, committed first 10 minutes with neither keeper tested.
McLaughlin’s poor clearance allowed Roberts to win a corner which was bundled clear as far as Murray, whose shot was blocked.
York tried to break through Blair, but Roberts was back quickly to slide in and win a decisive tackle.
The visitors won their first corner on 14 minutes which Smith won in the air, the ball knocked back towards McLaughlin, who drove the game’s first real shot rising over the bar from 18 yards.
Walker sent a 20 yard free kick into the home wall before Stags showed their pace on the break and Meikle chased the ball out wide on the right with the York defence at sixes and sevens and eventually Parslow had to thrown himself in front of Murray’s shot.
Meikle cut inside from the left on 19 minutes only to fire low straight at Ingham.
The York keeper cleanly grabbed Stags’ third corner of the afternoon on 22 minutes.
Ex-Stag Challinor was upsetting the home fans by stealing extra yards on every throw-in down the City right.
Roberts saw his 25 yard central free kick blocked by the wall, then Ingham safely took another Geohaghon throw as the York rearguard held firm.
Roberts’ sliding challenge on Meredith in the box did just enough to stop his run while not conceding a penalty.
Another great run from Oyebanjo down the centre saw him unceremoniously hacked at twice, Riley shown a yellow card for bringing him down and York weinning a 25 yard free kick.
McLaughlin took that and saw it deflect wide for a definite corner, City furious when a goal kick was awarded instead.
Marriott came for and caught a long McLaughlin throw. Then Ingham was first to a Dyer flick-on as Meikle chased it in hope.
McLaughlin halted a promising Mansfield break with a cynical trip on Roberts to earn himself a caution.
O’Neill headed clear from a York corner to spark another counter-attack, wasted when Meikle played a loose pass into touch to the groans of the home faithful.
Howell, who had not enjoyed the best of first halves, got in the way of a Dyer no-down in stoppage time and York hooked clear as a tight, often turgid first half ended scoreless.
City created the first threat after the break on 50 minutes as, reminiscent of last year’s Darlington winner, Mariott came for the bal but collided with Riley and the bal ran loose, Walker seeing his eventual shy at goal blocked by Riley.
Riley also got in the way of a low Oyebanjo shot soon after as the home goal survived a worrying few moments.
On 52 minutes the dangerous Bair came inside Roberts and Sutton before shooting low at Marriott.
Murray did well to win the tackle and send Briscoe on his way down the right, the winger drilling in a good, low cross which Smith cut out well.
Blair’s low, weak 25-yard shot was never likely to trouble Marriott, then Geohaghon headed clear City’s first corner of the half as the game remained on a knife edge.
Ingham finally had some work to do on 59 minutes, though he was always behind Briscoe’s low 20 yard shot to make the block.
Then Doig leapt to head clear a Meikle cross as the home side finally built some pressure.
York sent on Moke for Challinor in the first change of the game on the hour.
Parslow escaped a caution for a deliberate handball that halted a Stags attack, ironic after Green’s sending-off in midweek.
On 63 minutes, Geohaghon reached an O’Neill free kick at the back stick and headed across towards Briscoe who met the ball on the volley but didn’t get enough on it to beat Ingham, who took the ball above his head.
On 64 minutes Mansfield made a big change as they went 4-4-2 with Rhead on up front and Howell sacrificed in midfield.
O’Neill almost unlocked York with a great one-two with Briscoe to get him into the box after Murray had started the move.
But his firm cross was put out for the first of two corners with the home fans in full cry.
The second saw Moke clear off the line from an O’Neill corner that looked to be curling directly in, though the whistle went for a foul anyway.
On 71 minutes Meikle kept a long throw through everyone in play with City expecting a goalkick, Meikle allowed to continue and cut inside the shoot into the near sidenetting with York furious with the officials.
Rhead took a bang to the face helping the ball wide to Briscoe to his right which saw the winger fire over from an impossible angle with team mates better placed.
Ingham did well to punch clear amid a crowd of heads as Briscoe headed a long Geohaghon throw back into the mixer.
In a rare City chance. Moke should have at least hit the target with a first time shot from 16 yards from Walker’s pull-back on 77 minutes, but blazed well over.
Doig was booked on 81 minutes for catching Meikle a fraction late as he tried to burst into the box.
It was a great position for a free kick, just right of centre 19 yards from goal. But the City wall did its job in blocking Briscoe’s blast.
With two minutes left, another Geohaghon missle was cleared to Murray who hurried a dipping shot over the top from 20 yards as we moved towards the extra half-hour.
Oyebanjo was booked in the last minute of the 90 for clattering Meikle.
We entered four added minutes with York defending another Geohaghon throw.
Agonisingly, Geohaghon got a headed flick onto a long free kick which bounced just out of the reach of Rhead into Ingham’s hands.
That brought an extra strength-sapping half-an-hour as the sides took a brief rest at the end of a 90 minute tussle without a real chance, like two boxers fighting each other to a standstill.
It had been the first time a team had shut the Stags out completely at home over 90 minutes since Kidderminster on 24th September, so full credit to Gary Mills’ men for that feat.
Both sides were now looking for a hero, and Blair quickly won York a corner on the right which Stags eventually cleared.
Ingham clutched an O’Neill corner safely above his head after five minutes.
Blair showed great stamina to sprint down the right and leave Sutton behind, Geohaghon heading his cross out for a corner.
That was played short for Potts who wriggled himself into space for a low shot which he pulled wide.
The referee played on after a Murray foul, Chambers delaying a shot or pass too long and the opportunity ending when Sutton blocked.
In the 12th minute we finally saw a keeper stretched as Ingham had to reach high and claw over a dipping Meikle shot from 20 yards.
Then, from the corner, Riley jumped well but headed over the top.
Sutton was booked on 104 minutes for bringing down Walker, and before the game restarted, Stevenson replaced Briscoe.
In the final minute of the half, Roberts failed to cut out a low Chambers ball across the box and Moke controlled before shooting straight at Marriott.
Murray was booked on 108 minutes for challenging with studs showing amid a scramble in the City box.
Roberts got back well to win the ball off Blair and launch it upfield. Rhead controlled and helped it on for Stevenson, but his shot was too early and tame from 25 yards.
A Moke cross was just too high for Potts in the centre as the game finally started to become stretched.
And on 111 minutes the game was up for Mansfield.
Walker curled in a teasing cross from the left and Blair jumped to power a header past Marriott from just inside the six yard box to break the deadlock and send their travelling army of fans behind that goals into ecstasy.
A minute later Sutton’s foul on Blair saw him shown a second yellow and subsequent red as the afternoon rapidly went downhill for Paul Cox’s men.
Dyer got a good flick onto a Geohaghon throw for desperate Mansfield, but Ingham smothered it quickly.
There was a hold-up Mansfield didn’t need as stewards dealt with two idiotic Stags fans invading the pitch as the precious seconds ticked away.
Geohaghon hurled in two desperate long throws in the last minute of the 30.
Four more were added on in which Walker should have sealed it on a break but saw O’Neill cleared his attempted chip with Moke screaming for the ball to his right unmarked in front of goal.
Walker should have been sent off for sliding into Marriott on 122 minutes well after the keeper had gathered but got away with a yellow.
In the last minute Moke and Walker again strode clear, Moke sportingly teeing up Walker who amazingly delayed his finish and let Marriott get into position to make two successive blocks on him with Moke furious.
But it didn’t matter as the final whistle saw Cox’s men sink to the ground in misery as the chance of a return to the Football League disappeared for another year.
The warm applause from the home fans at least reflected their appreciation of the team’s efforts since Christmas in at least giving themselves a chance of what eventually proved a fruitless but exciting promotion challenge.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Riley, Geohaghon, Sutton; Murray, Howell (Rhead 64), Roberts; Briscoe (Stevenson 104), Dyer, Meikle. Subs not used: Redmond, Thompson, Andrew.
YORK: Ingham, Oyebanjo, Meredith, Smith, Parslow, Walker, Chambers, Blair, Challinor (Moke 60), Doig (Fyfield 87), McLaughlin (Potts 72). Subs not used: Musselwhite, Reed.
REFEREE: Andy Davies of Southampton.
ATTENDANCE: 7,295 (1,490 away).
CAUTIONS: Stags – Riley 35, Sutton 104, Murray 108. York – McLaughlin 39, Doig 81, Oyebanjo 90, Walker 120 (+4).
DISMISSAL: Sutton 112 (Second yellow).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Murray.