MAGNIFICENT Mansfield Town took another huge stride towards a place in the end of season play-offs with a 2-1 home win over Stockport County at the newly-named One Call Stadium this afternoon.
That made it 10 wins and a draw in 12 games for Paul Cox’s men and only late goals by Kidderminster and Southport put the celebrations on ice for an extra week.
Strugglers Stockport battled doggedly in a first half short on chances.
But Adam Smith made the big breakthrough two minutes after the break, Louis Briscoe making it 2-0 six minutes later with his 11th of the season and seemingly clinching the win.
However, County bagged a reply a minute from time with their only effort on target to set up a needless nervous finale with four minutes added on.
But Stags stood firm and, near the end were definitely in the play-offs. However, Kidderminster turned their game on its head to win with two late goals while Southport also took a late point.
Mansfield made three changes as Gary Roberts, Lindon Meikle and Ross Dyer, all instrumental in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Kettering Town, were rested.
Skipper Adam Murray and winger Adam Smith were brought into midfield while Rhead, scorer of the third goal on Saturday, made a full debut up front alongside 28-goal Matt Green and was man of the match with a dominant display.
Heavy morning rain left standing water in places before kick-off on a day when a Stags win coupled with defeats for rivals Kidderminster, Southport and Gateshead, could secure a play-off place for Paul Cox’s men.
Chairman John Radford’s programme notes stated that manager Paul Cox has ‘agreed to sign’ a contract extension, keeping him at the club until the end of next season.
Female referee Amy Fearn took charge of a Mansfield match for the second time this season, having officiated in the 1-1 draw at Bath City in November.
Stags almost scored in the opening seconds. Howell immediately put Green in space on the right and he floated the ball to the far post where Smith rose to nod it wide.
O’Neill was booked for slicing down Mainwaring with a late tackle on the touchline on three minutes, the Stockport man reacting angrily and shoving O’Neill, Howell stepping in to break them up.
Howell tried to slip Green clean through on seven minutes. With Piergianni pulling his shirt, play was allowed to continue and keeper King eventually spread himself to block Green’s low finish.
The game erupted on 15 minutes as both sides squared up following two bad tackle.
First Smith seemed to jump in two-footed on Sheridan, leaving him in agony, and no foul was called.
Almost inevitably the other side quickly took their own retribution and Nolan scythed down Murray, sparking the shoving contest. In the end no cards were shown when the dust had settled.
There was a hold-up for treatment to Geohaghon after he took a blow to the head. Stags had to play on with 10 minutes as the big centre half was patched up on the touchline.
Howells set Green scampering away down the left on 27 minutes, the striker checking inside but then shooting tamely into the sidenetting with better options arriving.
Then Briscoe was well over from 20 yards from Green’s lay-back as Stags continued to look the more menacing.
Two more successive home corners doubled Mansfield’s flag kick tally, but neither saw King tested.
On 35 minutes Rhead’s flick saw Green get to the by-line and then trick his way past a defender, appeared to be nudged off balance en route by Connor and, unable to stay up, finally tumbled. But the referee refused penalty appeals.
A swift Stockport break caught Mansfield short on 39 minutes only for Nolan’s final ball in to sail too high over the head of the waiting Hattersley, who had taken up a great position in the centre.
As half-time approached, Mansfield won three successive corners. O’Neill’s delivery was poor on the first two but, from the third, he found Riley sliding in at the back post, the defender only able to turn the ball into the sidenetting.
Amy Fearn had upset the home fans on more than one occasion with her decision-making.
But Stags had real issues with her a minute into stoppage time. Murray was clattered as he laid the ball to Rhead, whose instant first time flick had Green in on goal at the same time as the referee was whistling and bringing the game back for the foul on Murray.
Mansfield were incensed, Howell being shown a yellow card and home boss Paul Cox arguing the decision with her as they walked off for the half-time break at the end of 45 minutes short on chances.
But Stags roared ahead 67 seconds into the second half. Stockport failed to properly clear a long Geohaghon throw from the right, the ball bounced around and it finally fell to Smith who crashed home a deflected finish from 12 yards.
Like buses, soon two had arrived as Briscoe doubled the home side’s tally with a moment of brilliance on 53 minutes.
Murray’s anticipation won the ball on the edge of the box, the ball rolling to Briscoe who, 18 yards out to the left of centre, curled a first time superb finish around the helpless King and in off the far post.
O’Neill got a 20 yard free kick on target on 63 minutes, King safely behind it.
Then Newton’s sliding challenge on O’Neill earned him a 66th minute caution.
Stockport made a double change, but Stags continued to press and Smith was too high after cutting in from the left to try a right-footed finish from 20 yards.
Howell flicked on a Geohaghon throw right across the face of goal with no one able to reach it.
At this point Meikle replaced Smith on the Mansfield left for the final 27 minutes, Roberts then taking over from Murray a minute later.
On 77 minutes, from an O’Neill corner, Geohaghon had a header cleared off the line, Briscoe suffering the same fate from the follow-up.
Then Green got in ahead of King to reach a near post Briscoe centre, but the angle grew too tight as he could only turn the ball into the sidenetting.
Marriott raced out his box to make a tackle on 81 minutes, but kicking the ball away afterwards earned him a booking.
At this stage, all three challengers Gateshead, Southport and Kidderminster were losing and Stags were in the play-offs if the scores all stayed this way.
Green was booked for a late challenge with the keeper on 85, seconds later Rhead leaving the field to huge applause after a fine full debut to be replaced by Dyer.
Stags had been totally dominant all afternoon. But a minute from time Stockport pulled one back with their first effort on target.
Elliott ran down the right, played it inside to Nolan, who helped it to his left where sub Rose curled a superb finish beyond the reach of Marriott.
That left a nervous four minutes of added time.
County threw everything forward, though a Stags break might have seen Dyer seal it only forf Connr to slide in and rob him before he could tuck away Green’s through ball.
Stockport forced a late corner which was cleared to Rowe, who blazed over the final chance from 20 yards as Stags all but sealed their play-off spot, late goals for Kidderminster and Southport making then hang on an extra week.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Geohaghon, Riley, Sutton; Briscoe, Murray (Roberts 74), Howell, Smith (Meikle 73); Green, Rhead. Subs not used: Redmond, Andrew.
STOCKPORT: King, Nolan, Hattersley (Rose 68), Sheridan (Darkwah 55), Newton, Halls, Mainwaring (Rowe 68), Elliott, Piergianni, Turnbull, Connor. Subs not used: Ormson, Whitehead.
REFEREE: Amy Fearn of Leicestershire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,883 (506 away).