Mansfield Town will have home advantage in the second-leg of the play-offs after their hugely impressive 2-0 win against Wrexham tonight (Friday) secured third spot in the Blue Square Premier.
A headed strike from goal-getting midfielder Anthony Howell on 13 minutes and the most unlikely of goals from goalkeeper Alan Marriott on 61 minutes wrapped up all three points to secure the coveted third place in what could be an eventual dress rehearsal for next month’s Wembley play-off final.
In truth rampant Mansfield, who rested top scorer Matt Green, should have had more goals during a first half in which they put the faltering Welsh outfit to the sword.
The ever-dangerous Lindon Meikle caused constant threat down the left wing with his pace and trickery and was unlucky not to find the back of the net during an energetic and incisive first 45 minutes.
Sutton and Dyer also came close to stretching the Mansfied lead as Stags produced a classy display of attacking football, which combined a dogged work-rate with creativity in forward areas.
Mansfield, who have now clocked up 47 points from the last 63 on offer, continued in a similar vein during the second half to outclass Andy Morrell’s struggling side as they continued to pour forward with numbers and confidence.
Recalled Lee Stevenson, Briscoe and O’Neill all saw efforts saved by Mayebi as Mansfield asserted their dominance to the final whistle with a performance that will no doubt have impressed the watching TV viewers.
The second-placed Dragons simply had no answer to Mansfield’s superior workrate and desire and were left relying on long-distance pot-shots to try and breakdown the always solid Mansfield defence.
The convincing result sends out a strong message to Stag’s promotion rivals and must leave Mansfield Town as the clear favourites to clinch a long-awaited return back to the Football League.
Boss Paul Cox made just one change as he gave top scorer Matt Green a well deserved rest with Lee Stevenson stepping into the starting line-up.
Stags, protecting an unbeaten home record stretching back to 5th November, knew that a draw would be enough to secure third spot and home advantage in the second-leg of the play-offs.
Wrexham, without a win in their last four, included former Stag striker Jake Speight in their line-up, which featured four changes.
And, after a cagey start, it was Stags who hit the front on 13 minutes when a trademark long throw by Exodus Geohaghon caused all sorts of bother allowing Anthony Howell to nod home from six yards.
A minute later a raiding run down the left flank by Meikle nearly doubled Mansfield’s lead. But the tricky winger could only find the side netting with a powerful drive as he cut with purpose into the Wrexham box.
Former Stag striker Jake Speight nearly levelled the game on 16 minutes when he burst down the left flank as the home side got caught on the break
Speight, The Dragons top scorer, showed a superb turn of pace to cut inside O’Neill and Riley before firing high into the Quarry Lane end.
Following another quiet spell, Briscoe fired a warning shot on 29 minutes from all of 30 yards after pouncing on a loose clearance from a whipped in O’Neill corner.
Defender Ritchie Sutton then blew a decent chance to put Stags two up on 35 minutes when he combined well with Meikle inside the Wrexham box.
Sutton cut inside Wrexham full-back Stephen Wright but failed to connect with his shot as he tamely fired low into the waiting hands of Mayebi
The increasingly influential Meikle was a whisker away from double Mansfield’s deserved lead when he picked up a loose ball in midfield and beat two men with his pace and trickery.
Meikle made his way just inside the penalty area before curling a right-footed effort just inches wide of Mayebi’s left upright as Paul Cox’s men began to put second-placed Wrexham under growing pressure.
Ross Dyer brought the best out of the Wrexham shot-stopper on 41 minutes as the shots reigned in on the visiting goal.
Meikle again came close to finding the back of the net when he cut inside and beat two defenders before seeing his thunderous effort charged down by Creighton as Stags became increasingly dominant.
There was a moment of controversy on 44 minutes when Dyer went down in the box following a challenge from Creighton after he had got goal-side of the Wrexham defence.
But with Stags fans expecting a penalty and a possible red-card, referee Richard Clark pulled out a yellow card after Dyer was adjudged to have dived, leaving Wrexham to survive a torrid first half at just one goal down.
Stags come out with a clear intent at the start of the second half and continued to put faltering Wrexham on the back foot.
Wrexham registered their first shot on goal of the game when Joe Clarke fired a shot down the throat of Marriott from the left angle of the box on 50 minutes.
But it was a rare foray at the Stags goal as the home side continued to look the most likely to find the next decisive strike.
Stevenson showed some neat footwork on the increasingly heavy pitch to get through a tangle of players and test Mayebi from distance on 54 minutes.
Jay Harris tried his luck for the visitors on the hour mark from distance as lacklustre Wrexham were left to long-range pot shots.
A minute later it was game over as a contest when goalkeeper Alan Marriott scored one of the most unlikely goals of the season when a long range clearance bounced high over the head of Mayebi to leave the Wrexham goalkeeper red-faced.
Mayebi had to be at his best on 74 minutes when he raced out of his box to dive at the feet of Briscoe and clear the ball with his legs to safety.
Stevenson should have made it 3-0 with one minute to when the ball fell invitingly to him 10 yards out after Wrexham had made a hash of clearing an O’Neill cross.
But Stevenson failed to add the icing on the Mansfield cake as he poorly scuffed wide with the goal begging.
Wrexham survived without any further scares as Mansfield comfortably held on to claim a fully-deserved three points.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Marriott, Riley, Briscoe (Rhead 81 mins), Stevenson, Murray, Dyer, O’Neill, Sutton, Howell (Andrew 87 mins), Meikle, Geohaghon. Subs not used: Redmond, Hutchinson, Roberts.
WREXHAM: Mayebi, Ashton, Creighton, Harris, Wright (Cieslewicz 68 mins), Speight (Morrell 77 mins), Keates, Knight-Percival, Clarke, Ogleby, Wright. Subs not used: Maxwell, Westwood, Leslie.
ATTENDANCE: 3,665 (184 away).
REFEREE: Richard Clark of Northumberland.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Lindon Meikle.
BOOKINGS: Mansfield – Howell 33 mins (unsporting behaviour), Dyer 44 mins (Diving). Wrexham – Harriss 64 mins (foul), Ashton 90 mins (foul).