MATT Rhead was the late hero for Mansfield Town this afternoon as his 89th minute leader saw Stags win for the first time in five matches and beat high-flying Forest Green Rovers.
It seemed the Stags were heading for a second successive 0-0 home stalemate in five days until the giant Rhead got his head onto a long throw by Exodus Geohaghon to snatch the victory and sentence big-spending Rovers to a third successive defeat.
Ed Asafu-Adjaye did have a first half effort disallowed for offside for Forest Green while Junior Daniel forced a great save from Sam Russell in a tight 45 minutes.
There were few chances in the second half too, though on-loan keeper Liam Mitchell did get down to make a smart one-handed save to thwart Matt Taylor.
Stags welcomed back giant defender Geohaghon from injury. He replaced Ryan Tafazolli, who failed a pre-match fitness test on a hamstring problem.
Rovers defended Stags’ first corner in the third minute while an offside flag halted the visitors’ first counter-attack a minute later.
Some poor defending by the Stags saw a harmless left wing cross allowed to bounce through everyone to Norwood at the back stick and Mansfield were grateful for Sutton’s block on Norwood’s finish.
Taylor pulled a low shot wide from 20 yards as Rovers finally began to press with some purpose on 11 minutes.
And they should have been ahead on 15 minutes when Brogan spread a pass wide from right to left that stretched the home defence and offered Klukowski the chance to burst into the box and run at goal only to slip his finish wide with only Mitchell to beat.
Geohaghon could not get any direction on his header from a Roberts free kick on 20 minutes.
Russell finally had a save to make on 22 minutes as a Roberts shot was blocked and rolled out to Daniel 30 yards from goal who lashed a rasping first time half-volley at goal that was dipping under the bar before the keeper turned it away at full stretch.
Russell then rode his luck from the corner as he rose to grab it but dropped it and was relieved to see no Stags players able to capitalise.
Green was too high with his dipping shot from distance soon after.
Roberts was booked for hauling back Brogan on 26 minutes for his sixth caution of the season so far.
Dempster did well to slide in and concede a corner on 34 minutes as Klukowski tried to pick out Taylor in front of goal, Mitchell confidently leaping to clutch Rovers’ first flag kick.
You could almost hear a pin drop around the stadium at this point with a total lack of atmosphere.
Forest Green were beginning to get back on top and a good run from Forbes saw him fire across Mitchell and narrowly wide of the far post with Norwood just unable to get there in time to divert into the net.
Norwood then outjumped Geohaghon at the far post to head over in their next raid.
Mitchell was fortunate on 40 minutes when he failed to get any distance on an attempted punch to clear a Hodgkiss cross and Asafu-Adjaye turned the loose ball into the net only to see a raised offside flag against him.
In the last minute of the half Todd’s shot was controlled by Green who was in a better position, only to see Green slide in to make a crucial block.
It wasn’t the best of halves for the home side but at least they were not booed from the field as the fans stayed patient.
On 51 minutes, after a spell of home pressure, the fans finally began to chant ‘Yellows’ for the first time.
A long Geohaghon cross was met by a Dempster backheader, which was on target but an easy catch for Russell.
Murray picked up his fifth booking of the season on 57 minutes for bringing down Asafu-Adjaye which ruled the skipper out of next week’s cup trip to Workington.
Rovers almost snatched the lead on 63 minutes as Hodgkiss launched a cross into the centre where Taylor looked to have beaten Mitchell with his header only to see the big keeper get down well and make a superb one-handed stop.
At this point Meikle was sent on to replace Green – a move that inevitably attracted books from the stands.
Rovers also sent on dangerous Brazilian Vieira in place of Green.
Dempster headed over from a Roberts free kick from the right by-line as Stags continued to labour in search of a goal.
Then Rhead was inches wide with an 18-yard snapshot as a clearance bounced towards him.
An error by Sutton allowed Rovers possession, Taylor spinning well in the box but firing over.
Briscoe was given a run out for the last 12 minutes in place of Todd as Rovers continued to hold firm.
Mansfield forced three more corners for no reward, then Dempster looked to be pushed in the back in the box, but the game continued.
Wright’s through ball almost put Taylor in for a late winner, Mitchell getting there first but seeing his clearance hit Geohaghon before Sutton cleared.
But, with one minute left, Rhead popped up as the hero of the day.
Geohaghon hurled a long throw to the near post from the right where Rhead leapt powerfully to power home the header and put a smile back on the home fans’ faces.
Briscoe forced Russell to save low to his right in three minutes of stoppage time while Speight was booked for hampering the keeper’s attempt to kick the ball upfield.
STAGS: Mitchell; Sutton, Geohaghon, Dempster, Daniel; Roberts, Murray, Todd (Briscoe 78); Speight; Green (Meikle 64), Rhead. Subs not used: Howell, Beevers, Stevenson.
FOREST GREEN: Russell; Hodgkiss, Turley, Racine, Asafu-Adjaye; Forbes, Green (Vieira 65), Brogan (Wright 75); Norwood (Koroma 87), Taylor, Klukowski. Subs not used: Styche, Rowe.
REFEREE: Ross Joyce of Billingham.
ATTENDANCE: 2,019 (60 away).
CAUTIONS: Stags – Roberts 26, Murray 57, Speight 90+4.
GOAL: Stags – Rhead 89.