Mansfield Town’s FA Cup First Round hero Sam Clucas today earned them a Second Round replay and a place in Third Round draw for the second successive year tomorrow with a crucial equaliser in the 1-1 draw at League One Oldham Athletic.
The game, which marked the return of Adam Murray to the fold, was not the best of spectacles as gutsy Stags comfortably soaked up almost everything the in-form home side could muster to throw at them.
Man of the match, home captain Korey Smith, did find a way past the impeccable Alan Marriott with a brilliant solo effort on 27 minutes.
But Stags were always well in the contest in a fast and furious first half and deserved to go in level when Clucas, voted national Player of the Round for his four-goal haul last month, smashed home a free kick just before the break.
The second half saw Stags threaten little but defend superbly from the front and snuff out the Latics to bring them back to One Call Stadium on Tuesday week.
Murray made an instant return to the Mansfield side - and was handed back his captain’s armband.
Murray and manager Paul Cox appear to have settled their differences after falling out earlier in the season when Murray went out on two loan spells.
The midfield ace then had to prove his fitness this week before being given the nod today.
Also back in the Stags’ midfield in a 4-5-1 formation was Jamie McGuire after completing a three-game ban, who gave his all with a typical energetic display.
Lindon Meikle was another player given an outing, his first and onlu other start since Tranmere back in August, with Lee Beevers, the injured Chris Clements and Ollie Palmer missing out.
Stags were looking to end a run of four defeats since the first round 8-1 win at St Albans City while the in-form Latics had only lost two of their previous 13 games.
On a grim, grey North-West afternoon, with rain clouds gathering overhead, the crowd and teams joined together for a minute’s applause for the life of Nelson Mandela before the game.
Westlake flattened Dayton as he powerfully won the game’s first header.
But Rooney was fouled soon after and Marriott had to stretch to safely hold onto Dayton’s long free kick, all in the first minute.
Marriott had to leave his box to prevent Rooney reaching a through ball, his hands never leaving the box, but his body out of it. With the home fans shouting for a handball, Rooney then swung a late leg at the keeper, who clung on bravely.
Instead it was Mansfield who had the first shy at goal of the game as, following a right wing throw, Dempster curled a cross in towards the near post which Clucas headed powerfully wide of the post.
Rodgers saw a 20-yard shot deflect wide for a Latics corner which Stags eventually got clear.
Dyer then tried to lead a breakaway but was unceremoniously halted by the challenge of home skipper Smith who could have little argument over his yellow card really, though tried his hardest to make a case.
Murray floated the free kick in and it was cleared out to McGuire, 30 yards out, who was well off target with his ambitious shot.
On 11 minutes a loose pass from Schmeltz saw McGuire quickly step in and feed a pass into the path of Dyer forward to his right, the striker drilling a low shot across the face of goal from not the best of angles.
Keeper Oxley was only just there first as Dyer raced onto a high forward pass by Clucas.
Then Marriott was down comfortably to smother a low Smith shot from 20 yards, soon after grabbing a dangerous Dayton cross.
But Stags should have been ahead on 19 minutes. Dyer held the ball up well in the box and paid it back to Meikle to cross. That picked out Clucas six yards from goal in the middle where, unchallenged, he failed to get enough purchase on the ball and saw his header glance wide with Oldham hearts in mouths.
Rodgers almost caught Marriott napping with a free kick from wide of the left that he drilled at goal instead of crossing, the startled keeper only punching away instead of catching and Stags then having to survive a few seconds of scrambling to clear.
But Howell did well to beat Tarkowski on the edge of the Oldham box before lifting an attempted finish well off target as Mansfield to continued to more than match their League one opponents.
However, the Latics drew first blood on 27 minutes after a piece of magic from Smith.
Beating Murray to a loose pass from McGuire, he took possession wide on the left 15 yards inside his own half before accelerating away down the line.
Coming inside he jinked past Riley and then, from the edge of the box, curled an unstoppable finish over Marriott and under the far angle for a truly superb individual goal.
Almost immediately Mansfield won a corner on the left which Murray in and, with Oxley unable to claw away, saw Dempster reach it but unable to turn it on target at the far post.
Clucas was booked on 38 minutes for arguing with the referee after a foul was given against him.
On 40 minutes Daniel was caught hanging on to the ball too long and Dayton was able to send over a far post cross where Philliskirk was left completely unmarked but just unable to jump high enough to be able to get his header on target.
As we entered the first minute of stoppage time, Murray was fouled just outside the box, slightly left of centre, and Mansfield were to deservedly the game from that opportunity through Clucas.
The Stags’ four-goal first round hero stepped up to power a superb free kick through the home wall and screaming past Oxley into the net.
The early stages of the second half were tense until Westlake won Stags’ second corner of the day on 54 minutes which Murray put in and Riley headed just over.
The home side knew they needed to up a gear and made a double change on 56 minutes, Clarke-Harris and Petrasso on for Schmeltz and Dayton.
Straight away they won a free kick on the right, taken by Rodgers, which picked out Rooney, who headed powerfully at Marriott.
Soon after Philliskirk crossed from the other flank and Rooney again got a head on it, but it lacked power and Marriott was easily able to gather.
Murray marked his return with a booking on 61 minutes following a body check as Oldham tried to move out of their half.
Rodgers wasn’t far wide with a 30-yard free kick that looped up and over the wall before bouncing wide of the keeper’s right hand post.
Tarkowski made a promising run forward before finding the feet of Petrasso in the box, who spun well only to shoot straight at Marriott.
Philliskirk then was only inches wide from 20 yards as the home side began to build up a good spell of pressure.
Palmer replaced Meikle for the last 12 minutes, Dyer dropping back into a midfield role on the right.
Two minutes later Meikle was safely behind a stinging low Harris shot before Murray left the field to applause from the away fans to be replaced by Hutchinson.
This was a fine battling second half display from the visitors and the home fans were getting more and more impatient for the Latics to pull a rabbit out the hat and avoid a replay.
So Tarkowski’s skewed 35-yard effort that went miles wide brought groans and jeers from the two home stands.
Smith looked at the referee after going down in the box under Howell’s challenge, but it never looked like a penalty.
Into three minutes of stoppage time and Marriott had to deal with a rocket 16 yard shot from Clarke-Harris zipping in low from the left to the near post where the keeper was perfectly positioned.
As we went into a fourth minute Daniel brought down Petrasso wide on the right, earning a booking.
Grounds put the free kick into the six-yard box where Marriott left his line to fist away.
That left the keeper out of position and the ball dropping to the feet of Petrasso.
The whole ground held their collective breath as he then hurried the chance well over and the whistle saw Stags hurry over ton their fans to salute their noisy part in helping them into a replay.
OLDHAM: Oxley, Grounds, Tarkowski, Schmeltz (Schmeltz 56), Smith, Rooney, Rodgers, Lanzoni, Dayton (Clarke-Harris 56), Plummer, Philliskirk. Subs not used: Brown, Mellor, Winchester, Belezika, Rachubka.
STAGS: Marriott; Westlake, Dempster, Riley, Daniel; Clucas, McGuire, Murray (Hutchinson 80), Howell, Meikle (Palmer 78); Dyer. Subs not used: Rhead, Deakin, Tafazolli, Black, Beevers.
REFEREE: Iain Williamson of Berkshire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,429 (379 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Alan Marriott.