A winning penalty kick five minutes into stoppage time that completed Antoni Sarcevic’s hat-trick was a real kick in the teeth for Mansfield Town after they they rediscovered their goal touch in this electric nine-goal thriller at Fleetwood.
The Stags twice came from behind and led at one stage in a see-saw contest, but, ultimately, despite playing such a great part in an afternoon to remember, left Highbury with nothing to show for their goals and went an eight League game without victory.
It was title-chasing Fleetwood’s fifth win in six games, but they knew they had been in a game as Mansfield, for once, kept 11 men on the field and turned in a fine, never-say-die display.
With Chris Clements back from injury, he pulled the strings in central midfield and got Paul Cox’s men passing again, showing how much he had been missed.
An Anthony Howell error in the first 20 seconds gifted Gareth Evans the first of his brace.
Stags had never scored at Highbury before but bounced back with two goals in four minutes as Clements levelled on nine minutes and then Howell made it 2-1 on 15 minutes.
Sarcevic made it 2-2 from the spot on 35 minutes.
The home side seemed to take a grip after the break after Junior Daniel had rattled the home bar and two quickfire goals on 64 minutes and 66 minutes seemed to have put the game beyond Mansfield.
However, Sam Clucas kept Mansfield hopes alive with his 10th goal of the season on 76 minutes and, when sub Ross Dyer marked his return with the equaliser on 89 minutes, it seemed Stags had done the unthinkable and rescued an unlikely point.
But, cruelly, Fleetwood won it with 95 minutes on the watch as Sarcevic completed his hat-trick from the spot after James Jennings had brought down fellow sub Matty Blair.
Martin Riley and Clements made much-welcomed returns from lengthy injury lay-offs.
There was also a return up front for Ollie Palmer, who missed last weekend’s home defeat by Oxford with a hamstring injury.
The home side included former Forest star Nathan Tyson, who has joined on loan from neighbours Blackpool this week.
Disaster struck for Stags after just 20 seconds.
Howell misplaced a pass that gifted the ball to Sarcevic.
He tried to get Tyson away, who was thwarted by a combination of Marriott and Sutton, but the ball ran loose as the keeper was unable to smother it for Evans to sweep home a finish from eight yards.
It was almost 2-0 on five minutes as Sarcevic again played a neat ball in for Tyson, who whipped a half-volley powerfully across the face of goal.
Stags’ luck appeared to be well out when they looked to have won a penalty kick on eight minutes as Clucas was impeded by McLaughlin as he raced into the box to reach a Stevenson pass.
The referee decided to award a free kick just outside the box instead.
But Mansfield made full use of it as Clements picked up the bottom corner of the net with a crisp, low finish, just inside the right hand post to level.
Amazingly the game was turned on its head completely four minutes later as Howell made amends for his early costly error with a goal.
The goal was a gift from home skipper Cresswell as he failed to clear a long cross from the left and allowed the ball to roll invitingly for Howell to tuck away a low finish from six yards.
Cresswell almost made his own amends on 17 minutes, only to see his powerful header from the game’s first corner sail just wide.
Marriott then did well to dive to his left and punch away a superb 30-yard free kick from Schumacher.
An exciting end-to-end opening continued as a long far post Beevers cross reached Stevenson, who controlled the ball but was well over with his finish.
Tyson stretched into a tackle on Howell on 24 minutes to earn a booking, but on the strength of some of the tame recent red cards Stags have been shown, they had a case for feeling a little hard done by that Tyson was only shown yellow.
Riley tested home keeper Davies from 20 yards on 25 minutes and the keeper managed to grab the ball at the second attempt after juggling it above his head almost on his goalline.
Davies’ jitters continued as he then fumbled a Daniel ball into the box, but no opponent was able to punish him.
Hughes put Evans into space on the right and it took a good interception from Dempster to concede a corner as his low cross sped in.
But the game was all square again on 35 minutes as Fleetwood levelled from the spot.
The skilful Hughes found Sarcevic, who shrugged off Howell before bursting into the box and attracting a risky, lunging and poorly timed tackle from Riley, who took both his legs.
Sarcevic stepped up and drilled the ball home low down the centre.
He almost bagged another two minutes later only to see Marriott again throw himself to his left to beat the ball away.
Clements almost put Stags back ahead a minute from the break with a superbly-struck 30-yard free kick that Davies managed to reach under the angle, high to his right.
In stoppage time Tyson saw a header deflect just wide for the first of two corners on the trot.
Then Taylor was just wide from distance with Marriott scrambling as the home side ended the half on the offensive but unable to breach the Stags’ defence again.
Two minutes after the break Murdoch warmed Marriott’s hands with a shot from outside the box that the keeper beat away for a corner.
When Marriott couldn’t hold onto that under pressure, the ball came out to Pond who fired it back goalwards and Tyson tried to force it just inside the post from close range only to be denied by Beevers on the line.
Daniel was booked for a foul on Evans on 49 minutes.
Clucas looked to be blatantly blocked on reaching the by-line, but the referee gave nothing and the home side almost capitalised on the break as Evans got into the box and flashed in a powerful near post shot that Marriott could only parry, Sutton hooking clear for a corner as the ball ran loose.
Stags, under pressure in their own half for the first 15 minutes of the second half, made a switch on the hour with Jennings replacing Beevers and Daniel pushed into a more attacking role.
On 63 minutes Daniel caught Fleetwood on the hop with a rocket shot from 25 yards that saw Davies stretch out an arm and see the ball shoot up from his hand and against the crossbar.
Stags’ agony at seeing the ball stay out was increased within a minute as Fleetwood took the lead.
Sarcevic sent in a low 20-yard shot from right of centre and the ball took a deflection off Jennings which was enough to see it find the net past a deceived Marriott.
Stags threatened again from a left wing corner as Dempster headed Clements’ kick back across and Palmer looped a header towards the far angle which Davies was up to grab.
Instead, a minute later, Fleetwood grabbed the all-important next goal on 66 minutes, and it was another goal that keeper Marriott will not want to see again.
Evans hit a rising drive from outside the box that the keeper seemed to have covered only to see the power in the shot take the ball between his hands and high into the net.
Poke came on for a rare outing in place of Stevenson on 67 minutes.
Daniel drilled a 25-yard free kick high into the Percy Ronson Stand as Stags stared down the barrel of another defeat.
But Clucas offered them a lifeline on 76 minutes.
Daniel did well on the left to poke a pass inside to Palmer in the box. His shot was deflected up in front of goal and Clucas was well-placed to guide a header beyond Davies for his 10th goal of the season.
Dyer, back from a loan spell at Hereford, was thrown on for Howell for the last 12 minutes as Mansfield went for it.
Another home corner ended with Pond heading wide, then Murdoch sliced a shot well wide as Fleetwood tried to put the game to bed.
Palmer forced a good save from Davies from 25 yards on 83 minutes, the keeper turning his shot away to his left for a corner.
Stags were almost caught on the counter, but Sutton produced a perfectly-timed tackle as Sarcevic broke into the box, the ball bouncing off the Fleetwood man for a goal kick.
Sub Dyer then proved to be the hero a minute from time as he made it 4-4.
Clucas began the move, romping through acres of space on the right before threading a pass down the line to Palmer.
He got in a cross which Clucas met with a firm shot that beat Davies but was blocked on the line by a defender, only to see Dyer ram the loose ball home from close range.
In the last minutes Dieseruvwe tested Marriott from 20 yards, the keeper showing safe hands this time.
Stags looked to have safely negotiated the four minutes of stoppage time and earned a fantastic point.
But the high-scoring afternoon had a final sting in the tail as we entered a fifth minute of added time as the Cod Army stole victory.
As Fleetwood broke down the right, Blair strode into the box and invited a tackle from Jennings.
The defender slid in and, even though his foot reached the ball, he had already brought down Blair and the referee had no doubt it was a penalty.
Sarcevic took the chance to complete his treble and joyfully lashed home a kick inside Marriott’s right hand post to leave Stags with nothing to show for their efforts in a thrilling advert for this division.
FLEETWOOD: Davies, Murdoch, Pond, Evans (Blair 87), Schumacher, Hughes, McLaughlin, Cresswell, Sarcevic, Taylor, Tyson (Dieseruvwe 85). Subs not used: Roberts, Parkin, Hogan, Carr, Lucas.
STAGS: Marriott; Sutton, Dempster, Riley; Beevers (Jennings 60), Howell (Dyer 78), Clements, Daniel; Stevenson (Poku 67); Clucas, Palmer. Subs not used: Rhead, Tafazolli, Meikle, Deakin.
REFEREE: Scott Mathieson of Cheshire.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Chris Clements.