GUTSY Mansfield Town certainly gave it their Sunday best by grabbing a one-goal advantage in the first leg of the FA Trophy semi-final against Luton Town at Field Mill today, reports John Lomas.
But they won’t know if their best was good enough until after next Saturday’s second leg at Kenilworth Road with a place in the Wembley final at stake.
Danny Mitchley’s 62nd minute finish on the turn separated the sides at the end of a tense and even 90 minutes in this ‘high noon’ showdown.
Paul Connor even had an effort disallowed for offside as the first half ended all square.
But it was home on-loan keeper David Grof who was man of the match with a string of fine, if often unconventional, saves to thwart Richard Money’s high-flying side.
The crowd was a tad disappointing at 3,208 with Luton selling only 422 of their 1,800 allocation, suggesting the visitors are far more interested in league matters still.
Stags were shorn of the services of two key players with Adam Murray unable to play as part of the deal that saw him move between the two clubs earlier in the season while on-loan Stoke striker Louis Moult had not recovered from a back injury picked up last weekend.
In came Kyle Nix into central midfield while Danny Mitchley continued to deputise up front.
Stags successfully defended an early Luton corner while the Hatters headed away a dangerous early Cain cross as both sides began in positive fashion.
Nix put in the game’s first tasty tackle with a late lunge on Gnapka that earned an 11th minute yellow card.
Owusu was too high first time from 16 yards as Naylor put in a fine last ditch challenge on him which left the young defender needing treatment.
On 19 minutes the visitors fashioned a great opportunity as Barnes-Homer pulled back an inviting low ball towards the edge of the box inviting Murray to pick his spot only to see him fire his first time effort wide.
A free kick routine at the other end saw Cain shoot horribly wide.
Luton were close again when Gnapka nutmegged Silk on the left and crossed low to Howells whose shot took a deflection off Naylor, forcing Grof to re-adjust and make a good one-handed save high to his right.
On 29 minutes Mansfield had their first real sniff of goal as Nix threaded a great ball through to Mitchley 10 yards from goal. But he was a fraction too slow in pulling the trigger and Murray was able to slide in and tackle.
Soon after Nix sent a 20 yard free kick into the Hatters’ wall.
On 32 minutes Spence and Nix cared Luton open with Connor slotting Nix’s final ball past Kevin Pilkington as an offside flag was raised.
A decent Spence cross from the left sailed across the face of goal and out for a throw, then George Pilkington got his body in the way of a Connor blast, as Mansfield enjoyed their best spell of the game, the home fans warming to their efforts.
An off-balance Mitchley couldn’t guide a Cain cross on target as Kevin Pilkington grabbed the loose ball on 38 minutes.
Grof was back in action on 43 minutes as Keane crossed to the far post and Owusu got a header on target which the keeper chose to punch instead of catch but kept it out.
So a very tight, even half ended scoreless.
Stags were first to show after the break as a teasing Briscoe cross passed inches in front of the incoming Nix.
Grof made a good stop to deny Lawless on 54 minutes. Howells sent Barnes-Homer down the left and his low cross saw Lawless hit a first time blast on target which Grof beat away.
On 61 minutes Lawless made a good tackle on Nix 30 yards from goal, took it on a couple of strides and let fly, Grof turning it round at full stretch.
The corner from the left was then headed inches over his own bar by Spence.
That produced another corner which, when half cleared, was sent back to the far post by Lawless and met by George Pilkington who saw his header strike the bar on 62 minutes.
Incredibly, from that let-off, play swung straight back down to the other end where Mansfield took the lead.
Silk fed Mitchley in the box and, back to goal from eight yards, he turned well and guided a low finish in off the far post.
Briscoe whipped another inviting ball across the face of Luton’s goal on 71 minutes as the home side hunted for a second goal.
Grof again came to Mansfield’s rescue on 73 minutes as Howells crossed from the left and Crow met it with a powerful diving header that the Hungarian again turned aside.
Cain left the field with 15 minutes left as Smith was given a run-out from the subs’ bench.
Thompson was too high with a volley from a half-cleared Nix corner.
The visitors were screaming for a penalty after Naylor slid in to tackle Crow and they felt the ball touched the defender’s hand. But the officials disagreed.
An extra five minutes were added at the end and when Barnes-Homer’s late shot deflected for a corner, home hearts were in mouths.
But they survived and Stags and their fans now face a nailbiting six day wait to see if they can look forward to a day out at Wembley for the second time in their history.
STAGS: Grof; Silk, Sandwith, Naylor, Spence; Cain (Smith 75), Thompson, Nix, Briscoe (Istead 85); Connor, Mitchley. Subs not used: Marriott, Foster, Stonehouse.
LUTON: K. Pilkington; Graham, G. Pilkington, Kroca, Murray (Poku 75); Gnapka (Morgan-Smith 69), Lawless, Keane, Howells; Barnes-Homer, Owusu (Crow 56). Subs not used: Tyler, Asafu-Adjaye.
REFEREE: Karl Evans of Wigan.
ATTENDANCE: 3,208 (422 away).
GOAL: Stags – Mitchley 62mins.
CAUTIONS: Stags – Nix 7mins (foul).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: David Grof.