SUBSTITUTE Lindon Meikle was the last minute hero as magnificent Mansfield Town finally reeled off a sixth away win in seven trips, after taking the lead three times, to eventually kill off promotion rivals Luton Town in a thriller at Kenilworth Road today.
Meikle popped up with a last minute winner to finally finish off the Hatters, who had twice earlier come back with levellers to wipe out goals from Matt Green, from the penalty spot, and then Junior Daniel.
The fading Hatters knew that, 11 points adrift of the play-offs before the game, they had to win it.
But Mansfield showed the resilience that has recently become a feature on their travels, despite a variety of setbacks on the day.
The Stags lost Anthony Howell to injury in the pre-match warm-up, saw Lee Beevers have to get his shoulder popped back into place and continue in a first half dislocation, and also saw Luton grab their first equaliser thanks to a massive deflection. So Luton could hardly claim the visitors had Lady Luck on their side.
This result hauled Stags up to level points with Forest Green in sixth place, but Mansfield have two games in hand.
Mansfield suffered a pre-match blow when Howell pulled up with a knee problem in the warm-up, having injured it the previous day.
That meant Clements was quickly promoted into the midfield with Hutchinson taking his place on the bench.
It was the first change to the team in five games.
Amid the usual hostile home atmosphere, McNulty headed away Stags’ first corner on four minutes, then Tyler comfortably gathered Briscoe’s curling cross in from the right.
Jones then got his head to a Lawless free kick into the heart of the Mansfield box.
The whistle had already gone for pushing on nine minutes when Thomas continued play to head past Marriott from a long free kick.
Stags won a second corner from which referee Mr Thomas spotted pushing and the chance was wasted.
The 12th minute saw the first real goal attempt in a tense opening as Gray pulled a tame shot wide of the near post from 18 yards.
A good turn from Gray won the Hatters their first corner on 20 minutes. Jones headed it clear and Smith finally dipped a hopeful shot wide of the far post from 30 yards.
A minute later Stevenson’s pass put Briscoe into the right of the box and, from a tight angle, he forced Tyler down to smother his low shot at the near post.
Murray was hurt sliding into a 50-50 challenge with Smith on 24 minutes, the Stags’ skipper in agony and needing treatment. Thankfully he was able to continue.
Tyler smothered a dangerous Daniel cross as hostilities resumed.
Daniel was hoping for a penalty as he went down over a loose challenge from the outstretched leg of Thomas on 29 minutes, but nothing was given.
But Daniel did win a spot kick two minutes later from which the visitors grabbed the lead.
The home fans had already started groaning at their team’s efforts as Stags began to edge the possession. And when McNulty was a fraction late with his lunge on Daniel in the box, their misery was complete as the referee pointed to the spot.
Green took responsibility and, although Tyler went the right way, Green’s kick was perfectly placed and inside the post.
On the restart, there was a lengthy hold-up as Beevers stayed down after a challenge. There seemed a concern over his shoulder and he was given oxygen as medics attended to the problem.
As play resumed with Mansfield down to 10 men, Luton pounced to level.
The equaliser had a massive element of fortune. Smith received a throw on the left and fired in a shot which took a massive deflection into the path of Rendell, just 10 yards from goal, who could hardly miss as he poked the ball under Marriott.
Beevers, still in discomfort, bravely returned to the field on the restart to a chorus of boos from the home fans who had baited him the entire time he was down injured.
A great throw from Tyler sparked a move that won Luton another corner. Jones headed out as far as Lawless who then saw Murray throw himself in the way of his attempted strike.
However, a minute from the break, the visitors were back in front.
Green fed Stevenson on the edge of the box and, eschewing the chance to shoot, he intelligently squared the ball into space to his left where Daniel was racing in a far better position, and his low finish was cool and clinical.
Four minutes of stoppage time were safely negotiated before the home side were booed off by their supporters with Stags sitting pretty.
Mansfield made a great start to the second half with a corner inside the opening minute, cleared to Briscoe, who shot wide from 20 yards.
However, the Hatters were level on 47 minutes as Luton got Gray in behind Jennings on the right and he ran on to slot past Marriott.
The game quickly began to turn nasty with tackles flying in and, when Henry hacked down Daniel just outside the box, McNulty then kicking the ball into the fallen winger’s body, Henry was finally booked.
A home corner, taken by Lawless, was headed over by Thomas on 58 minutes.
Slowly Mansfield began to regain the possession levels of the first half and keep Luton on the back foot which once again saw the natives becoming restless with their side.
The Hatters won a free kick just outside the box on 67 minutes only to see sub Howells curl well over the bar.
A Gray snapshot from 20 yards was closer two minutes later, but still ended up over the top.
Hutchinson took over from Stevenson on 74 minutes
On 80 minutes Clements flashed a low shot wide from the edge of thre box as the game screamed out for a hero at either end.
Then Daniel was inches away from getting his head on the end of a great cross by Green from the right by-line.
Briscoe’s failure to clear a far post cross then offered a brief chance to Fleetwood, who thankfully miscued.
That signalled a period of home pressure, Marriott in the way of a Smith shot that was always routine for the keeper.
Meikle replaced Briscoe and immediately played a loose pas that saw Gray and Marriott in a race for a through ball, the Stags keeper winning the chase.
Meikle then became the hero of the day with an 89th minute winner.
Soaking up the home pressure, Stags broke well, Meikle running at the defence and squaring to Clements to his left.
Clements’ low finish was half-stopped by Tyler, but the ball ran loose to Meikle who, following up, made no mistake, sweeping it past the fallen keeper to spark huge celebrations among the 400 Stags fans behind that goal.
The home scoreboard didn’t even register the goal until the final whistle as Luton maybe realised their season is over.
LUTON: Tyler, Rowe-Turner, McNulty, Lawless, Rendell, Martin (Fleetwood 55), Neilson (Howells 63), Thomas, Smith, Henry, Gray. Subs not used: Ainge, Mendy, Brill.
STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Jones, Dempster, Jennings; Clements, Murray, Stevenson (Hutchinson 74); Briscoe (Meikle 87), Green (Wright 90+3), Daniel. Subs not used: Sutton, Rhead.
REFEREE: Kevin Johnson of Somerset.
ATTENDANCE: 5,968 (410 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Murray.