TWO goals in six second half minutes turned this game on its head as Stags came from behind to take three very hard-earned points against Grimsby Town at Field Mill this afternoon.
On a wet surface, Stags had stuttered in the first half and the Mariners went in ahead through Michael Coulson’s 31st minute striker, although Luke O’Neill did see a free kick turned onto the bar.
But, in a much improved second half showing by Mansfield, a pearl of an O’Neill free kick levelled matters on 71 minutes
And six minutes late sub Paul Connor headed home what proved to be the winner from an O’Neill corner.
It could have been even more decisive after that as Ben Futcher hit the bar and Matt Green failed to put away a one-on-one.
It was a niggly, untidy game with referee Rob Merchant upsetting both teams with some odd decisions and inconsistency, flashing seven yellow cards.
But, in the end all that mattered was that it was three precious points for Paul Cox’s men.
The Mariners had the edge in a first half short on real goal chances though Luke O’Neill almost levelled with a 37th minute free kick that keeper James McKeown pushed into the bar.
Referee Rob Merchant angered both sets of fans with some strange decisions and Grimsby won few friends with their gamesmanship in a frustrating 45 minutes.
Duffy might have made an instant impact against his old club when a long Eagle cross from the left reached him seven yards out at the far post after just 20 seconds. But the ball struck his shin and rolled to Marriott.
Meikle pulled a tame low shot at McKeown at the other end a minute later.
But it was Grimsby making the early running and, from a short corner, Church was allowed to get in a header at the far post which Marriott smothered.
Mansfield were slow to get going but produced a move on 12 minutes which ended with Murray crossing to the far post where Todd guided the ball into the keeper’s arms.
Soon after a flicked-on cross found Dyer at the back stick but he blazed a hurried effort well off target.
Home fans were unhappy as the referee allowed Grimsby to get away with a foul or three and then lectured Murray when he won a robust, but fair header.
On 24 minutes Coulson was just wide with an off-balance header from another left wing Eagle cross.
The Hearn was too high after controlling on his chest and letting fly with a half-volley on the turn from 20 yards as Grimsby continued to have the edge.
And they went ahead on 31 minutes through Coulson.
Given space just outside the box, Coulson aimed for the top left corner and, although Marriott, at full stretch, got a hand to it, he could only turn and watch as the ball agonisingly dropped in front of goal and trickled over the line.
Stags responded with a corner which, clearerd out to Meikle saw his first shot come back to him off team mate Murray, and his follow-up curl just away from goal at the last minute from 20 yards.
The referee continued to make odd decisions, especially when Disley fairly won the ball against Meikle and a foul was give.
Disley was furious and was booked for his protests, but the former Stag actually barged into the official and should have been red-carded immediately.
Mansfield were almost level on 37 minutes when O’Neill’s central 20 yard free kick was turned onto the bar by McKeown and Futcher’s follow-up was then saved by the busy keeper.
Stags won another corner from which Murray and Green had shots charged down after McKeown had half-punched clear. But the Mariners had the half-time edge.
Meikle began the second half switching wings to the right but, after 10 minutes, he was replaced by Connor, Dyer dropping into midfield.
The referee continued to bemuse as, with Hearn threatening to break clear on a counter-attack, be brought play back for a free-kick to the Mariners in the centre circle.
Kempson slid in to take both Connor’s legs away for a booking on 57 minutes. O’Neill curled the free kick in front of goal where it just needed a touch but flew through to safety instead.
Futcher blocked a Coulson shot from Hearn’s pass.
But Stags might have had a penalty on 65 minutes as Murray slipped a pass into the box for Green who appeared to be shoved over from behind by Wood.
All Mansfield got was a corner which Connor headed down into the turf and McKeown reached high to grab as it bounced towards goal.
Duffy was booed from the field by home fans when he was replaced by Stags’ summer target Elding on 66 minutes.
McKeown was there to block Murray’s shot on the turn from 25 yards and then hold at the second attempt.
Futcher was booked conceding another free kick just outside the box and Eagle joined him in the book for delaying taking the kick.
However, the Stags hauled themselves level on 71 minutes.
From a free kick 30 yards from goal, O’Neill curled a superb, unstoppable effort high to the keeper’s right.
It had been a cynical display from Grimsby and Coulson saw their fourth yellow card for his trip on O’Neill who then saw McKeown fail to hold his free kick cleanly and turn over the bar.
Two home corners followed with home fans now in full cry, warming to their side’s efforts.
And from that second flag kick, they had their noses in front at last. O’Neill curled it in from the left and Connor’s head did the rest from close range.
Green was booked for time-wasting nine minutes from time as he dribbled the ball away when Grimsby were awaiting a goal kick.
Futcher almost tied the points up six minutes from time when he saw his header come back off the bar from O’Neill’s corner.
In the last minute of normal time, Dyer sent Green through one-on-one. But McKeown stood tall and shot up a hand to block Green’s attempted chip.
Five minutes were added during which Grimsby won a corner and keeper McKeown went up for it. But Marriott kept his cool to catch.
STAGS: Marriott; Naylor, Sutton, Futcher, O’Neill; Todd, Murray, Worthington, Meikle (Connor 55); Green, Dyer. Subs: Redmond, Riley, Stevenson, Bolland.
GRIMSBY: McKeown; Wood (Silk 88), Garner, Kempson, Ridley; Coulson, Disley, Church, Eagle (Makofo 79); Hearn, Duffy (Elding 66). Subs: Artus, Pearson.
REFEREE: Rob Merchant of Staffordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 2,982 (589 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Luke O’Neill.