A SENSATIONAL comeback saw Mansfield Town overturn a 2-0 half-time deficit to grab three goals in the final 15 minutes, the unlikely winner coming in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
It was a result few in the small Bank Holiday crowd could see coming after a flat, fired performance from the injury-ravaged home side who now do not have a fit striker in the club with Wembley less than two weeks away.
They had gifted Gary Mulligan two first half goals through defensive mistakes and rarely looked capable of testing Paul Farman as they looked to be slumping to their eighth home defeat of the season.
But Gateshead reckoned without the tireless Adam Murray who was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch.
He tucked away two calm finishes on 75 and 89 minutes to cap an inspirational skipper’s display before setting up Louis Briscoe for the late winner with his 19th goal of the season.
Injury-hit Stags made four changes with Conor Higginson, Luke Medley and Paul Connor joining the injured list at AFC Wimbledon on Friday.
But there was the welcome sight of Alan Marriot back in goal after his broken finger, replacing Neil Collett, while defender Tom Naylor also made the bench after his recent hamstring injury.
Also into the team came Steven Istead into central midfield while youngster Niall O’Rafferty came in to play a lone striker role with Murray playing just behind him.
Before the game Briscoe made a clean sweep of all the available player of the year awards from the SSA, Ollerton Stags and Chad.
Smith and Spence caused the visitors early problems as they carried the game to Gateshead down the left.
Smith sent in a tame low shot on 11 minutes but it was never going to trouble Farman.
But they came much closer on 15 minutes when Murray juggled the ball before spreading it wide on the right where Briscoe raced in and fired a low shot just wide of the far post from 20 yards.
Gatshead responded with their first threat a minute later as Silk’s mistake almost let in Ferrell. The full back recovered the situation with a sliding tackle though the ball ran loose to Nelthorpe whose on-target blast brought the first save of the day for Marriott.
More trickery from Smith on the left saw him mesmerise Curtis before cutting in to blast across goal.
However, Stags found themselves trailing on 19 minutes from a defensive mix-up.
Heckingbottom hurled in a long throw from the left and Preece and Marriott got in each other’s way as the ball squirmed away from the keeper’s fingers and dropped for a grateful Mulligan to turn home from close range.
Fisher flicked a header well over the bar from a Ferrell free kick as the home side struggled to find a way back into the contest.
Instead they found themselves two goals behind on 40 minutes.
Brittain sent the first corner of the afternoon long to the far post where Mulligan was allowed to put away a free header.
Incredibly by this point O’Rafferty was limping and finally had to go off on 43 minutes which meant Stags were without a fit striker in the whole club!
Cain came on to play wide and Briscoe was pushed up front.
Briscoe at least tested Farman with a blistering low 25 yard free kick but the Head keeper gathered safely as the home side heard those familiar boos ringing from the stands at the break after another disappointing home first half.
There were also chants once more of ‘Russell out’, just two weeks before the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
Gateshead began the second half in confident mood as Nelthorpe dipped a shot over from 25 yards. Then the home wall kept out a Britain free kick.
Former Stags Heckingbottom was unlucky to be booked after Istead appeared to play for the free kick as he ran down the right and realised the defender would get there first.
Stags were lucky when a tangle between Murray and Nelthorpe saw the Stags man catch Nelthorpe with a wild, frustrated swing of the leg, the referee having a word with both players but not producing cards of any colour.
With 19 minutes left assistant manager Hall replaced Smith and was booed as he ran onto the field as the home fans vented their frustration at their team’s failings.
The frustration of the players was also summed up by Briscoe firing well over from 35 yards.
Fisher threatened at the other end but shot straight at Marriott while seconds later Hall dipped a decent effort over at the other end.
But Stags gave themselves a lifeline 15 minutes from time.
Briscoe dinked a superb little pass behind the defence for Murray to dart between the defenders onto and he kept his cool to slot a finish wide of Farman’s fingers.
Thompson thundered a rising 20 yard shot over soon after as the home fans began to get behind their side’s renewed efforts.
Another good Murray run saw him lay the ball to Briscoe on his right and his low first time finish found the sidenetting.
Man of the match Murray was saving the best until last and a minute from time he played the ball to Hall whose head back down to him was perfect.
Murray looked set to finish first time with his right foot but calmly cut inside onto his left and curled a great finish inside the far post which sparked a wild pitch invasion of celebrating home fans.
But two minutes into stoppage time Nelthorpe almost stole a winner for Gateshead only to see Marriott turn his powerful shot round his near post.
Incredibly Stags snatched victory in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Briscoe swapped passes with Murray in the box and then burst through and rounded the keeper to tuck the ball away and spark another pitch invasion before the inevitable full invasion on the whistle.
STAGS: Marriott; Silk, Foster, Preece, Spence; Briscoe, Istead, Thompson, Smith (Hall 71); Murray; O’Rafferty (Cain 43). Subs not used: Collett, Nix, Naylor.
GATESHEAD: Farman, Baxter, Heckingbottom, Curtis, Clark (Jones 54), Brittain, Turnbull, Nelthorpe, Ferriell, Fisher (Gillies 85), Mulligan (Offiong 83). Subs not used: Deasy, Rundle.
REFEREE: Richard Wigglesworth of South Yorkshire.
ATTENDANCE: 1,749 (87 away).
GOALS: Stags – Murray 75mins, 89mins, Briscoe 90 (+4)mins. Gateshead – Mulligan 19mins, 39mins.
CAUTION: Gateshead – Heckingbottom 65mins (foul).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Murray.