FLYING Mansfield Town strengthened their grip on a play-off place with a vital 1-0 win away at Tamworth on Saturday.
Matt Green struck with his 23rd goal of the season with a classic poacher’s tap in after Ross Dyer and Exodus Geohaghon both saw headers cleared off the line following an in-swinging corner from Luke O’Neill on 13 minutes.
Stags had dominated vast periods of the first-half, with Ross Dyer and Martin Riley both coming close with headers as Tamworth struggled to cope with O’Neill’s menacing set-pieces.
And, although Stags were more sluggish in the second half as The Lambs came out with renewed fight, Mansfield always looked solid with Geogaghon and Riley dominant in defence.
It was yet another professional performance by Stags who further emphasised their promotion credentials to the delight of the 801 travelling fans with their fifth win on the trot and eighth win in 10 games.
Ahead of the game boss Paul Cox had labelled the match as the club’s biggest of the season with rivals York City and Luton not in action.
The impressive win means Stags have now moved into fourth spot ahead of York City and stretched the gap on Kidderminster and Gateshead to seven points after both sides lost.
But Stags know that they will have to be at their very best on Tuesday night as they face what could be the toughest test of the season against Fleetwood Town.
Mansfield Town were unchanged going into the game, with new signing Danny Andew missing out on a place in the squad.
Skipper Adam Murray made a welcome return to the bench as Paul Cox kept faith with the side which defeated Cambridge United 2-1 in midweek.
Tamworth, who made seven changes from the team that played Mansfield two weeks ago were missing their top scorer Iyseden Christie through injury.
On-form Stags started the game brightly and won two corners within the first three minutes.
Gary Roberts also tried his luck with a pot-shot from distance, but, unlike his goal against Lincoln, he could only drag the ball well wide.
Tamworth should have done better on five minutes when Mansfield switched off at a corner. But Danny Thomas wasted a chance to shoot before being crowded out by three Stags’ defenders.
The visitor’s won a dangerous free-kick on the right angle of the penalty box after a jinking run by Lindon Meikle was brought to a halt with a foul on 10 minutes.
But free-kick specialist Luke O’Neill was unable to take full advantage as a he fired his effort high over Hedge’s bar.
Stags were ahead after 13 minutes when Matt Green prodded home his 23rd goal of the season from virtually on the goal line after Tamworth had been unable to deal with Ross Dyer’s initial flick-on and Exodus Geohaghon’s close-range header from O’Neill’s in-swinging corner.
The goal sparked chants of ‘we are going up’ from the large band of Mansfield supporters as Stags looked to tighten their growing grip on a play-off place.
Dyer nearly doubled Mansfield’s lead after he powerfully headed a long Geoghagon throw goalward only to see Hedge smartly flick the ball to safety at the expensive of a corner on 20 minutes.
From O’Neill’s resulting corner Dyer was once again denied after his goal-bound shot was blocked by a crowd of Tamworth defenders to deny Mansfield a deserved two goal cushion.
Tamworth fired a warning shot after 23 minutes when Francino Francis rose well before heading a Danny Thomas corner high over Marriott’s crossbar.
Former Mansfield midfielder Kyle Nix showed his frustration after registering The Lambs first shot on target with a daisy-cutter on 37 minutes.
But it was largely one-way traffic at this stage as the quicker and sharper Stags continued to enjoy a firm grip on the entertaining contest.
In first-half stoppage time Martin Riley came close with two headers after he nearly connected well with another O’Neill inswinger.
Meikle then picked up the loose ball before directing the ball back into Riley’s path, but he was unable to control his header.
After a scrappy start to the second half Tamworth began to turn the screw on the hour mark and won two corners in quick succession to put Stags on the back foot.
Mansfield registered their first effort of the second period on 63 minutes when Meikle and Briscoe combined well before Briscoe drilled his left-footed effort a few yards wide of Hedge.
Martin Riley had to be at his best to block a shot by Barrow out for a corner, after the substitute had broken into the box on 70 minutes.
Francis could have levelled the game from the resulting corner when he rose powerfully before directing his header over as the home side finally sprung into life.
Mansfield wasted a superb chance to put the game out of sight on 74 minutes when substitute Matt Rhead’s flick-on was picked up by Meikle.
The winger then burst into the box before rounding Hedge. But, from a right angle, all he could do was pull the ball back to Dyer who was quickly crowded out.
Gary Roberts then rifled a fierce free-kick down Hedge’s throat from all of 30 yards after he had been hacked down by Danny Thomas on 78 minutes.
Tamworth continued to push in the dying stages for the equaliser as Mansfield dropped deeper and deeper.
But Stags stood firm with Riley and Geoghagon capping solid performances at the heart of the defence.
TAMWORTH: Hedge, Tait, Habergham, Francis, Reece (Barrow 61 mins), Taylor, St. Aimie (Pattersson 55 mins), Thomas, Nix (McDonald 84 mins), Green. McKoy. Subs not used: Courtney, Isaac.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Marriott, O’Neill, Riley, Geohaghon, Sutton, Briscoe (Rhead 73 mins), Roberts, Howell, Meikle, Green (Hutchinson 86 mins), Dyer. Subs not used: Redmond, Murray. Todd.
REFEREE: Mr S. Martin.
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Exodus Geohaghon.