MATT Green was once again the Mansfield Town hero as his 27th goal of the season finally broke down resilient Ebbsfleet United with just eight minutes to go at Field Mill today.
It seemed as if two precious play-off points had been spilled as Liam Daish’s men defended superbly to frustrate the home side in a game of few real chances.
Martin Riley did hit the Ebbsfleet with post with a header in a largely one-sided first half, but United stood firm.
Having netted seven times in their last home game against Barrow, this was much harder work for Mansfield, but they stayed patient, continued to ask all the questions – and it finally paid off at the death.
Mansfield boss Paul Cox decided to try to wing his way to victory with recalls for wide men Adam Smith and Louis Briscoe. Lindon Meikle and Anthony Howell were the two to make way, dropping to the bench, as Stags’ reverted to a 4-4-2 formation.
A great pass from Roberts sent Green into acres of space in the opening minute only for the striker to get crowded out in the box as he looked for a shooting chance.
Cronin fisted away the first Geohaghon throw from the left, then Briscoe had a 20 yard blast charged down as Mansfield made another hungry start.
Smith cut in from the left to tee up Dyer, but the striker laid the ball on to Roberts who pulled a poor low effort off target, Green eventually flagged offside as the pressure continued.
Dyer headed on a Geohaghon throw to Green who was penalised for dangerous play as he tried an acrobatic scissor kick.
Murray winced as his problem ankle seemed to trouble him after a forward ball, but the skipper limped for a minute or two then gritted his teeth and continued.
But it was Ebbsfleet that engineered the first on-target chance on 13 minutes.
Stone’s long far post cross was helped back into the mix by Barratt at full stretch and Pinney popped up with a header that Marriott caught just under the crossbar.
Neil Smith got in the way of a Briscoe shot after the winger had swapped passes with Green, who then was back to head clear the visitors’ first corner.
Ebbsfleet, warming to their task, quickly forced two more corners, then Riley had to make a block.
But on 21 minutes a fabulous forward ball from Murray sent Green clear on goal on the right of the box only to see Cronin spread himself and deny the striker.
Three minutes later Briscoe made room for a cross on the right by-line and picked out Riley whose header hit the left post with Cronin beaten.
Ebbsfleet broke quickly after Geohaghon lost possession, an offside flag thwarting Enver-Marum as he ran onto the final pass.
An O’Neill free kick was met by Dyer at the back post on 31 minutes with Green heading over from as central position 10 yards out, then Dyer helped on a Geohaghon throw, Smith just unable to get there in time at the far post.
On 40 minutes good running from Roberts won Mansfield’s first corner, soon followed by a second from which Geohaghon appeared to be clearly barged out of the way by Lorraine in the box, the referee disagreeing.
A minute from the break Riley stooped to guide a header wide from an O’Neill free kick.
Then O’Neill was lucky when the referee allowed Marriott to grab his lofted backpass without a free kick being awarded.
But a scrappy first half, largely dominated by the home side, ended scoreless.
Stags’ first corner of the second half was held up after a linesman spotted a coming together of Green and Lorraine which the referee had missed.
Both players were booked, then the corner finally came over from O’Neill and was met by a powerful Sutton header which flew wide.
Mansfield quickly stoked up the pressure with two more corners, O’Neill finally curling the second of them onto the roof of the net.
Stags made a change on 55 minutes, loanee Andrew replacing Sutton at left back.
Barrett tried to sneak Pinney in on the left but Riley slid in to make a great intercepting tackle.
But Stags had a double scare from the corner as first Marriott had to palm away a Loraine header then the United man’s follow-up was blocked and the ball eventually scrambled clear.
Rhead was thrown into the equation on 58 minutes, Smith withdrawn and Dyer dropping back into midfield on the right, Briscoe switching to the left.
Ebbsfleet sub Bellamy tried his luck soon after coming on but was too high.
West was also too high after good approach play by Barrett.
On 65 minutes Briscoe made way for Meikle as Mansfield again upped the intensity with two more Geohaghon throws and a corner.
Meikle did well on the left to cut back inside two players and whip in a near post cross which Cronin clutched before Rhead could pounce.
The breakthrough finally came with eight minutes to go – and, almost inevitably, it was goal ace Green.
A cleverly-disguised pass from Murray saw him pick out Green’s run into the box. And the striker did well to shield the ball before spinning to tuck a low finish across Cronin and inside the left hand post.
Four minutes were added on at the end in which Green still had the legs to burst down the left and cross hard and low, the ball just evading the incoming Meikle.
Then O’Neill played two one-twos with Rhead before slicing well wide across goal.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Geohaghon, Riley, Sutton (Andrew 55); Briscoe (Meikle 65), Murray, Roberts, A. Smith (Rhead 58); Green, Dyer. Subs not used: Redmond, Howell.
EBBSFLEET: Cronin; Stone, Lorraine, R. Smith, Howe; Pinney (Bellamy 58), Barrett, Marwa (Willock 85), West; Enver-Marum (Ugwu 80), Shakes. Subs not used: McNeil, Phipp.
REFEREE: Tony Harrington of Hartlepool.
ATTENDANCE: 2,630 (55 away).
CAUTIONS: Stags – Green 50. Ebbsfleet: Lorraine 50.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Luke O’Neill.