LUKE O’Neill’s lone strike earned Mansfield Town a splendid away win at strongly fancied Stockport County in the traditional August Bank Holiday Monday rain at Edgeley Park this afternoon, reports John Lomas.
After waiting five games to grab their first win, Paul Cox’s men have now notched two in three days, along with two clean sheets, inflicting a first defeat of the season on County at the same time.
Stockport had drawn four of their first five games 1-1 and Stags had seen three of their first five end the same way.
But Didi Hamann’s side could have few complaints with most of their goal attempts routine for Alan Marriott on an afternoon when Stags had more possession.
The golden moment came on 67 minutes as O’Neill crowned an excellent afternoon’s work with a finish any striker would have been proud of, slotting low past Matthew Glennon inside the box.
It is a result that will make the rest of the league sit up and realise Stags can be a force this season after a slow start.
Skipper Adam Murray was the pick of the bunch but Antony Howell worked tirelessly alongside him, the defence was immense and Stags’ wingers and front two all proved a handful for a Stockport side tipped to be up there in the final shake-up.
The Stags had been forced into a change at centre half,) where Martin Riley was forced out with a foot injury which saw Richie Sutton brought in for his full debut, reports John Lomas.
Otherwise it was the same side that beat Kettering Town 3-0 on Saturday with Nick Wood coming onto the bench to replace Sutton.
Newly-relegated Stockport included ex-Stags striker Martin Gritton.
The game kicked off in typical Manchester drizzle, and referee Peter Banks almost contributed to a Stockport opener in the third minute as a pass bounced off his leg towards McConville who curled an effort over the far angle.
Futcher was then shown a yellow card on four minutes for scything down Rowe, O’Neill heading away McConville’s free kick from his central position in the wall.
Marriott made a good stop at his near post soon after as McConville tried a low blast after being put into space inside the right of the box by Nolan’s pass.
O’Neill joined Futcher in the book on eight minutes for bringing down Rowe.
But a minute later Dyer might have opened Stags’ account with their first real attack.
Briscoe did well, taunting two defenders on the right before accelerating and curling in a long far post cross perfectly onto the head of Dyer who should have done better than heading firmly into the sidenetting.
When Stags failed to clear a left wing cross soon after the ball reached a surprised McConville whose hurried volley flew across the goalmouth.
Meikle carved out two half-chances with his left wingplay, Green seeing a shot blocked and then his little backheel towards goal kicked clear soon after.
There was a hold-up while Futcher received treatment for a facial injury, but he was soon back in the action.
A good pass from Gritton sent Nolan onto a 23rd minute run at the end of which he set up Elliott for a 25 yard shot on target that Marriott comfortably dealt with.
County threatened briefly to break away with Nolan in full flight. But Meikle tracked back well, stayed with him, and snuffed out the danger just inside the Mansfield half.
Dyer was well over from 30 yards in Mansfield’s next raid, then Marriott just beat McConville to a through ball as play swung straight back downfield.
Green was also too high for Paul Cox’s men after shuffling himself into a shooting position to the left of goal.
Again play swung to the other end where McConville’s hopeful low effort from distance was gathered by Marriott in what was a very even contest.
Meikle won the first corner of the game on 32 minutes and when that was cleared out to Briscoe, lurking on the edge of the box, he swung a right boot at the ball, sending it crashing narrowly wide with keeper Glennon rooted.
Briscoe might have gone down as Holden tried to haul him back after the winger had gone past him in the box. But Briscoe stayed on his feet and the referee gave nothing as the ball rolled for a goalkick.
By now Stags were enjoying the edge on possession and the home fans starting to grow restless.
Three times in succession Holden denied Stags chances as he blocked a Briscoe shot, halted the winger’s run and then stuck out a toe before Green could get in a finish in the box.
Nolan tested Marriot from 20 yards on 41 minutes but the effort was central and routine for the keeper.
The half ended in stalemate with Mansfield, after a slow start, on top in terms of possession but neither keeper seriously tested.
Mansfield made a positive start with a Meikle cross being hacked clear and then a Kendrick centre was clutched by Glennon.
McCann’s quick thrown caught Kendrick out of position on the right and Marriott had to block for a corner at his near post as McConville tried to drill a low ball into the danger zone from the by-line.
But Stags stood firm and the corner was cleared back out to McConville who chipped it harmlessly over the bar.
Stockport built up a spell of pressure which ended with Holden lashing a low shot wide of the near post.
Then Sheridan’s burst of pace down the centre saw him feed Rowe to his left, but Rowe was well over with his tilt at goal.
O’Neill got to the right by-line and, with players screaming for a pull-back, tried to find Meikle at the far post for a tap-in but an interception rewarded him with only a corner.
On 64 minutes Meikle turned well onto a right wing cross and got away a low shot that passed just wide of the far post.
Murray had a tame shot saved, then Dyer only just failed to find a yellow shirt in the box as Stags once again began to enjoy the lion’s share of possession.
And this time they did get their reward as they broke the deadlock on 67 minutes.
Full back O’Neill got forward yet again and exchanged passes in the box with Green before burying a slide rule left foot finish across Glennon and inside the far post.
On 70 minutes Rowe almost levelled the game after Nolan drew three opponents as he looked for a shot and then wrong-footed them all with a clever backheel to tee up his team mate for a low shot that skidded narrowly wide of the far post.
McConville wasn’t too far out with a curling effort from wide on the left that soared past the far angle as County hunted for a way back into the contest.
Increasingly-worried Stockport, who made all three substitutions inside 14 minutes, won another corner as a free kick was worked to Holden who saw his low shot took two deflections.
Soon after Marriott was again there to gather a low Holden effort as Mansfield defended well.
Connor replaced Dyer for fresh legs up front for the final 10 minutes and he soon tested Glennon with a low shot that the keeper held onto.
Worthington was sent on to shotre things up for the last two minutes in plce of the ever-dangerous Meikle.
With County pressing hard Stags almost sealed it in the last minute on the break. However, with Connor free to his left, Green went for glory but blazed over.
But it didn’t matter as Mansfield held out for the three minutes of stoppage time without any huge trouble.
So, after waiting so long for that first win, like the proverbial buses, two have come along in quick succession for Cox’s men and the season is well and truly in flow at last.
STOCKPORT: Glennon, Holden, O’Donnell, McConville, Nolan, Gritton (Chadwick 61), Sheridan (Miles 75), McCann, Rowe (Chamberlain 71), Elliott, Piergianni. Subs not used: Ormison, Halls.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Sutton, Futcher, Kendrick; Briscoe, Murray, Howell, Meikle (Worthington 88); Dyer (Connor 80), Green. Subs not used: Stevenson, Wood, Redmond.
REFEREE: Peter Banks of Merseyside.
ATTENDANCE: 3,571 (436 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Murray.