BIRTHDAY boy Louis Briscoe grabbed a last minute winner for injury-ravaged Mansfield Town after a much improved showing against Rushden and Diamonds at Field Mill on Saturday afternoon, reports John Lomas.
Stags had enjoyed the majority of chances but it seemed time had run out on them until Briscoe, 23 today, raced away to bury the last gasp winner, his 16th goal of a superb campaign.
Earlier little had gone right for Mansfield and keeper Alan Marriott lasted just 42 minutes of his big comeback game before going off with a suspected broken finger.
Against the run of play former Stags star Aaron O’Connor’s 11th goal of the season on 15 minutes had put Diamonds ahead as they looked for their first win in seven games.
But Luke Medley’s first goal since his return from a loan spell with Aldershot on 29 minutes rightfully squared things up again.
Briscoe struck a post and on another day leading scorer Paul Connor might have had four or five goals. But it looked like it wasn’t to be their day as the second half petered out until Briscoe again produced the goods.
The match attracted less then 1,700 home fans with many supporters putting their pennies away for the day out at Wembley in May instead of what are now largely meaningless league matches.
Threadbare Stags failed to get any of their lengthy list of injured players fit in time and also had defender Sandwith take ill overnight.
Having only had three players on the bench in midweek, the quintet today included the ill Sandwith, the injured O’Rafferty and 38-year-old assistant boss Hall, who registered as a player to make up the numbers.
The starting 11 showed three changes with a welcome return from injury for Marriott in goal for the first time since early October, Grof dropping to the bench, young striker Higginson making his first start of the season out of position on right of midfield and midfielder Istead also out of position at right back.
Stags boss Duncan Russell served a one-match ban after an FA misconduct charge over comments made to the referee last week and was forced to watch the game from the Quarry Lane stand.
Stags made a positive start and Connor almost caught Diamonds napping with a surprise 35 dipping shot that Joe Day had to tip over at the last minute.
The corner was taken short and Higginson finally put the ball into the centre where Connor headed straight at Joe Day.
Stonehouse put a good ball in from the left on five minutes, but once again Connor turned his header straight at the keeper.
Gash carried the ball from right to left before rolling it towards Power whose vicious first time shot flew wide of Marriott’s right hand post in Rushden’s first threat on six minutes.
Huke’s tackle from behind on Connor on 10 minutes earned him a yellow card.
But Diamonds grabbed a lead against the run of play on 15 minutes and the goalscorer was ex-Stag O’Connor.
Porter threaded the ball into the box where Istead failed to cut it out and O’Connor turned sharply to dispatch the sort of lethal finish he used to produce in a Stags shirt from 12 yards.
Briscoe switched flanks to pick out Higginson who, offered space, tried his luck from long range but his shot lacked enough venom to seriously threaten the goal.
A mistake by Foster almost let in Rushden again as he missed a clearance and Charles stole in to stab over the bar from 15 yards.
A far post cross from Charles picked out O’Connor but the angle was almost impossible and his header landed on the roof of the net.
Medley had been caught offside several times already but he finally broke through the square Diamonds’ back line on 29 minutes from Murray’s through ball and kept his cool, steadying himself before ramming a well-struck finish past Joe Day.
Higginson caught Jamie Day fractionally late on 33 minutes but again the yellow card was produced.
A deflection off the referee inadvertently set up Medley for a run at goal which saw his final shot deflect wide for a corner to the referee’s relief.
Joe Day pulled off the save of the match on 37 minutes as Murray lifted the ball over a defender for O’Connor to seemingly produce the perfect lobbed finish only to see Day claw it out of the air and away from goal.
When Marriott failed to hold onto a long throw from the right, the ball bounced towards O’Connor who hooked it over the bar.
Marriott took a kick on the hand in the melee and, after lengthy attention, was forced to leave the action, substituted by Grof.
Briscoe almost marked his birthday with a goal on 43 minutes as Medley did well to reach an almost lost cause down the right and pull it back where Murray and Connor helped it towards Briscoe whose low shot clipped the outside of the post.
In the third minute of stoppage time a long Grof clearance went over everyone to send O’Connor on his way. The striker did well to fend off the three chasing defenders and guide a low finish destined for the bottom corner until Joe Day dived full length to get a fingertip to it and keep it out.
With only Briscoe’s shot that hit the post actually off target from Mansfield’s eight goal attempts, the home side were unlucky not to lead at the break and were warmly applauded off.
Neat footwork from Briscoe saw him beat three men early in the second half only for Connor to have strayed offside as Briscoe’s pass put him through.
Then Higginson went on an impressive run past two challengers before seeing his cross beat the incoming Connor and Medley and sail out for a goal kick.
Istead conceded a needless free kick on the right which saw Power send the ball in and O’Connor glance a header inches wide.
Power was not too far over the angle with his 25 yard free kick as we reached the 62nd minute mark.
Higginson put over a god cross from the left which Medley controlled on his right foot before whipping a low left footed finish just wide of the near post.
Stags fans applauded goalscorer and ex-Stag O’Connor on 67 minutes as he was replaced by Johnson in the visitors’ three-pronged attack.
Miller had a first time shot blocked as he lashed a headed Naylor clearance back towards goal.
Medley was too high with his 20 yard effort from the left hand corner of the penalty area as both sides laboured to find a winner.
Stags safely defended two more long Miller throws.
Then a Mansfield raid saw Thompson thread Connor into the box and Osano get in the way of his finish. The corner was cleared to Briscoe whose cross saw Naylor head wide of goal.
Unable to catch a high cross, Gof did well to push the ball away from Gash before he could have a shy at the empty net.
But in the final minute Stags stole a winner Joe Day, so impressive all afternoon, made a poor clearance which reached Briscoe some 40 yards from goal
And he took the ball on 20 yards before burying a deadly low finish from the edge of the box.
STAGS (4-4-2): Marriott; Istead, Foster, Naylor, Stonehouse; Higginson (O’Rafferty 90+2), Murray, Thompson, Briscoe; Connor, Medley. Subs not used: Grof, Sandwith, Preece, Hall.
RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS (4-3-3): Joe Day; Miller (Farrell 88), Corcoran, Huke (Osano 74), Jamie Day; Porter, Mills, Power; Charles, Gash, O’Connor (Johnson 67). Subs not used: Evans, Keehan.
REFEREE: Peter Wright of Lancashire.
ATTENDANCE: 1,758 (125).
GOALS: Stags – Medley 29mins, Briscoe 90mins. Rushden – O’Conner 15mins.
CAUTIONS: Stags – Higginson 33mins. Rushden – Huke 10mins.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Tom Naylor.