Mansfield Town somehow defied the odds today to earn a splendid 0-0 home draw with in-form Cambridge United today, despite their horrendous injury problems taking another turn for the worst.
Stags lost Ollie Palmer in training and also had the sight of Luke Jones, nearing fitness, also go down in agony in training with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
That left Paul Cox with nine first teamers out injured, skipper Adam Murray suspended, and several of his side soldiering on, despite injuries that should have seen them sidelined today.
They rose to the challenge well in a tight first half, but not surprisingly they tired visibly after the break under an onslaught of pressure from a side that had hit eight goals in their previous two winning outings.
The final whistle brought warm applause from the stands where fans appreciated just what their side were going through and how much the players had given for the cause.
Stags defended well, the post came to their aid twice and Sasha Studer pulled off some good saves.
They also had a little luck when referee Mark Heywood only showed home debutant jamie Sendles-White a yellow card for a challenge that might have earned him a red with some officials after only 18 minutes.
Mansfield had been dealt a double blow when both Matt Rhead and Palmer were ruled out with injury, Rhead failing to recover from a hamstring strain at Portsmouth last weekend.
Alex Fisher, as the only other striker in the club still fit, came in to partner Rakish Bingham up front.
Stags had just five players on the bench including keeper Dimitar Evtimov.
Appiah was crowded out in the Mansfield box as he made a menacing run in the opening minute.
Beevers nodded a long Freeman cross wide at the far post in Stags’ first threat.
A quick free kick by Sutton into the right hand side of the box on eight minutes saw Dunn quickly down to smother. Bell and Bingham went in to challenge and Bell tumbled over the keeper’s body and claimed a penalty. The referee had other ideas and booked him for a dive.
Riley stuck to his task and stayed strong to poke the ball away from Appiah as he threatened to get away from him in the home box.
Freeman then slid in to cut out a dangerous low ball across the box by the same player after a good combination of passes by the visitors.
Fisher tried to catch Dunn off guard as he turned and hooked a first time dipping shot over the bar from 20 yards on 16 minutes.
A sedate start to the game erupted on 18 minutes as Sendles-White dived into a tackle and caught Tait.
Tait rolled around in agony as both sides squared up for a bout of pushing and shoving with Appiah completely losing his head and needing restraining by his team mates.
There were a few anxious moments as the officials discussed the tackle with United fans chanting for a red card.
Thankfully for Mansfield the eventual card was yellow with Appiah also booked for his troubles.
Hughes finally put the free kick into the home wall.
Comically, Tait then re-entered the field without being waved on and was also booked. But the referee stopped a Stags attack to administer that card and then gave Stags a free kick!
Heslop got his body in the way of a Simpson volley in United’s next raid.
Heslop then managed Mansfield’s first on-target effort on 26 minutes, curling a 30-yard free kick round the wall but straight to Dunn.
Some great inter-play between Bell, Bingham and Fisher in successive home attacks got the Stags fans cheering encouragement.
Riley’s well-timed challenge haltd another Appiah threat in the box.
Then on 37 minutes Donaldson saw the afternoon’s fifth yellow card for a dive.
Cambridge forced the game’s first corner on 40 minutes and came the closest we had been to a goal.
Nelson got a goalbound header onto Donaldson’s corner which Bell cleared off the line, Hughes’ follow-up clipping the outside of the near post for a goalkick.
As we entered the first of three added minutes, Fisher got a head onto a long Sutton cross. The ball rebounded back to him and this time the striker lashed a shot that was always swerving wide of the far post.
Cambridge won the second corner of the game on 48 minutes, but Simpson failed to get anything much on his header as it floated well wide.
A great through ball from McGuire saw Fisher overhit his cross for Bingham. Bingham went to retrieve it but, with options, he chose to shoot and was well wide from a difficult angle.
On 53 minutes Studer had to make his first real save of the day as Appiah turned on the edge of the box and fired in a superb low shot that threatened to creep just inside the right post until the Swiss keeper got down to turn it away.
Bell fired straight at Dunn from 20 yards seconds later as play quickly swung up the field.
Appiah should have done better when he nodded the ball tamely at Studer from close range on 55 minutes after Hughes had headed a corner back in front of goal.
Bingham flashed a low shot wide for Mansfield soon after as we continued to await the breakthrough.
On 58 minutes Appiah again came close as he superbly controlled a long ball forward and crashed a shot from the right hand corner of the box that hit the base of the far post with Studer beaten.
United called for a penalty on 66 minutes after they felt Riley had handled as the home side tried to clear the visitors’ fifth corner, but it would have been a harsh one if given.
A minute later Cambridge broke well and Appiah set up Donaldson to his right, but his finish was woefully wide of the far post to Mansfield’s relief.
Donaldson was massively wide from a 30-yard free kick on 73 minutes, earning jeers from the home fans.
Bell almost got Bingham away down the centre on 76 minutes, Tait across well to clear.
A great burst of pace from sub Dunk won United another corner with 11 minutes to go. There was a delay as the referee tried to sort out jostling players, Sutton shoving Nelson into the net at one stage.
Elliott set up Hughes on 82 minutes for a low shot that again Studer proved equal to, diving to his left to block.
On 85 minutes Bingham came to life as he chased a long crossfield ball from Beevers, wriggled between two opponents and whipped a shot over the bar from 20 yards.
Rob Taylor came on for Bell for the final four minutes of the match as Stags clung onto a deserved point earned very much the hard way.
Sadly, there appeared to be some trouble outside the ground at the end with police and stewards racing behind the North Stand.
STAGS: Studer; Sutton, Riley, Sendles-White; Beevers, McGuire, Heslop, Bell (R. Taylor 82), Freeman; Bingham, Fisher. Subs: Evtimov, Lambe, Marsden, Thomas.
CAMBRIDGE: Dunn, Tait, G. Taylor (Chadwick 80), Coulson, Donaldson, Champion, Elliott, Simpson (Dunk 56), Hughes, Nelson, Appiah. Subs: Lanzoni, Norris, Lennon, Bird, Naylor.
REFEREE: Mark Heywood of Northwich.
ATTENDANCE: 2,925 (410 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Martin Riley.