Mansfield Town’s home fixtures ended on a damp squib today as they lost 3-1 to Conference-bound Torquay United and had Matt Rhead sent-off for a dangerous tackle just before the break.
It was a brave victory by the Gulls, but made irrelevant by Northampton’s win at Dagenham and Bristol Rovers’ win at Wycombe.
Before the game Rhead had picked up a clean sweep of player of the season awards, including the Chad Readers’ Stags Player of the Season trophy.
But his afternoon was to end prematurely as he picked up a 44th minute red card for sliding into Dale Tonge with studs showing and could have no complaints.
However, it was a day that youth team star Liam Marsden (19) will remember forever as he made a fine first team debut full of promise in a Stags side showing five changes.
Along with Marsden, in came John Dempster, Junior Daniel, Ollie Palmer, and Chris Clements.
Ryan Tafazolli missed out with a hip injury and Darryl Westlake with a hamstring injury while dropped to the bench were Sam Clucas, Anthony Howell and Jamie McGuire.
Torquay knew they had to win the game to avoid losing their League status just seven years after their last drop into the Conference and five years since they were promoted back.
But, despite the victory, results elsewhere conspired to send them down anyway.
Jennings’ long free kick from the right bounced through everyone in the opening minute, but an offside flag was raised so it didn’t matter that no one was able to make contact.
The Gulls’ first raid was then halted by a shove in the back on Riley by Coulthirst.
Palmer set up Clements on three minutes for a shot that took a massive deflection and keeper Rice was happy to see it bounce wide for a corner, having been left wrong-footed. But Clements’ corner was over-hit and sailed over everyone for a goalkick.
On eight minutes Jennings put a ball over from the left of the box which only just cleared Rhead’s head right in front of goal but found Palmer at the back post where, from six yards, he directed a downward header wide of the far post.
Jennings was very late with his sliding tackle on Tonge and was lucky to get away with a talking to.
O’Connor did well to intercept a clever low curling pass across the Torquay box from the left with Palmer lurking behind him as Mansfield continued to look lively.
However, the 13th minute proved unlucky for Mansfield and, in particular, Dempster as he put through his own goal.
Cargill sent in a firm low cross from the left by-line and Dempster stretched out a leg and sent it flying past a helpless Price from within the six yard box at the near post.
The visiting fans celebrated with a fancy dress conga. But, with news filtering through that Northampton were 2-0 up at Dagenham and Redbridge they knew the game was almosyt up for them.
Marsden had made a neat and tidy confident start and his long throw from the left found the head of Rhead 10 yards from goal, bit the ball skimmed off it and over.
Daniel was limping after a midfield challenge when his pass was blocked and on 20 minutes he came off to be replaced by Clucas.
On 23 minutes Rhead’s flick-on from Marsden’s pass offered a headed chance to Dempster six yard out and central. But his chance of making amends for his own goal was passed up as he headed straight at the keeper.
Palmer did supremely well on 29 minutes to win the ball on the edge of the box and then send a half-volley snapshot at Rice, but the keeper was well placed.
Instead the Gulls soared into a two-goal lead on 31 minutes.
Cameron conjured up a superb cross from close to the corner flag on the left and Yeoman got there first from close range.
Price pulled off a superb save to keep it out but, having only been able to parry upwards, was helpless as Yeoman buried the ball at the second attempt from on the goal line.
Rice easily caught Jennings right wing corner on 37 minutes as the home side strived for a way back into the contest.
Two minutes later Benyon’s through ball almost got Yeoman in again, Price out quickly to challenge which proved enough to force the Gulls striker to lose control and the ball ran harmlessly out of play.
Mansfield won a third corner on 42 minutes which saw Clements find Rhead at the back post where he powered a header over the bar.
Mansfield’s task was made even harder a minute from the break as Rhead slid in with studs showing on Tonge and the referee without hesitation showed him a red card.
Tongue was furious at the break as home fans shouted cheat at him. He pointed to his leg where Rhead had made contact and stood arguing with them, having to be shepherded away by team mates.
Mansfield made the perfect start to the second half.
They won a corner within 20 seconds and, taken by Clements from the left, it was in the net with just 36 seconds on the watch. Jennings headed it goalwards and, despite the best efforts of Lathrope to keep it out, the ball found the net.
Yeoman was only just over with a dipping 20-yard half-volley at the other end.
Mansell tried one from similar range from a half-clearance and only just cleared the bar with Price clawing upwards.
A Torquay corner was cleared out to Lathrope who drilled a finish wide of the near post as the visitors continued to pepper the home goal.
Clucas was furious with the linesman as he felt his powerful cross was blocked by a defender’s hand in the box with no penalty given.
The Gulls then broke downfield and Cameron was in one-on-one with Price on the left, trying to beat him with a sidefooted finish but the Palace loanee able to tip it over the bar,
From the corner Yeoman was wide of the near post with his header.
Price also had to get his legs in the way of an unexpected Coulthirst snapshot from the right.
Jennings looked to have cleanly won a sliding tackle on 69 minutes on Coulthirst. But the Gulls man stayed down and Jennings was shown a yellow card, showing his disgust by angrily throwing a water bottle onto the pitch surround.
When Stags made hard work of clearing the Gulls’ fifth corner, Yeoman hooked the loose ball well over the top.
Pearce really should have wrapped the points up on 74 minutes, but he somehow turned his six yard finish over unchallenged from a Cameron corner from the left.
But it was signed and sealed for Torquay on 78 minutes as Coulthirst powered a close range header past Price from a splendid cross from the right by Chappell, who had only been on a substitute for two minutes.
There were boos from some home fans as Howell was sent on in place of Riley with 11 minutes to go.
It was all Torquay in stoppage time and Price had to save smartly with his legs from Mansell before the home side somehow survived an almighty scramble.
The final whistle brought the inevitable last day pitch invasion, but there seemed little point after such an afternoon to forget for the Stags.
STAGS: Price; Sutton, Riley (Howell 79), Dempster; Marsden, Murray, Daniel (Clucas 20), Clements, Jennings; Rhead, Palmer (Speight 86). Subs not used: Briscoe, Stevenson, Meikle, McGuire.
TORQUAY: Rice, Tongue, Pearce, Lathrope, Mansell, Cameron, Yeoman, Benyon (Chapell 76), Coulthirst (Stockley 84), O’Connor, Cargill. Subs not used: Poke, Downes, Harding, Thompson, Stevens.
REFEREE: Gavin Ward of Surrey.
ATTENDANCE: 3,389 (275 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Murray.