Reggie Lambe all but secured Mansfield Town’s Football League status with the winning goal as Stags edged an absolute thriller 1-0 to leave visiting Tranmere Rovers on the verge of the drop.
However, Bermudian international winger Lambe wasn’t on the field at the final whistle after being shown a very late second yellow card in a shoving contest as controversial referee Darren Drysdale again put Stags through the ringer with an amazing 14 added minutes of stoppage time.
But Lambe’s goal against the run of play on 44 minutes proved enough, along some heroic defending, to edge Stags to eight points clear of the drop zone with three games left.
It would now take a major disaster to relegate them.
Rovers were founder members of the League and have never been out of it. But they now sit bottom with only three games left.
Backed by an army of 563 fans, they threw everything but the kitchen sink at the home side in an emotional rollercoaster of a game that was almost unbearable to watch at times.
Stags started well and almost netted in the first 20 seconds. But slowly Rovers pushed them back and took control, only to be rocked by Lambe’s strike a minute from the break that won the night.
The back four were simply magnificent and keeper Sasha Studer had his best game in a Stags shirt.
Sadly the night was marred by trouble from some Tranmere fans during the game and outside.
The 3,051 attendance also has to be a disappointment with less then 2,500 home fans in for such a crucial game as Stags ended a five-game winning streak.
Boss Adam Murray made three changes. Lee Beevers and Martin Riley were ruled out with knocks picked up on Saturday while Rakish Bingham was dropped to the bench.
Ritchie Sutton shook off a hip injury picked up in Saturday’s pre-match warm-up to replace Beevers at right back, Michael Raynes came into the centre of defence to replace Riley and Junior Brown, back from a four-game ban, took over from Bingham on the wing in a 4-1-2-3 formation.
Experienced keeper Lenny Pidgeley still has a slight hamstring problem, so Sasha Studer retained his place between the posts, but Pidgeley was on the bench as back-up.
Both sides began the night without a win in five with Rovers, six points behind Mansfield in the bottom two with only four games to play, the more desperate to take all three points on the night.
The visitors included former Stags winger Rob Taylor.
Stags almost broke through within 20 seconds as Brown slipped Oliver through the middle, Fon Williams making a great stop with his legs, then Donacien preventing Oliver making his follow-up count.
It was an electric start and on three minutes a half-clearance from Mansfield’s first corner fell to Brown and he blazed over from 16 yards as he and Thomas both went for the ball.
On nine minutes referee Drysdale awarded a debatable free kick to Tranmere, 20 yards out and central. Green curled a fine shot goalwards and home fans and players held their breath as is ended up in the netting on top of the goal.
With Holmes off for treatment for a cut, Elder hurled in a long throw for Stags, but it was cleared.
That sparked a Rovers break in which they were three on two, Sutton coming up with a crucial saving tackle on Green.
Drysdale angered the home fans again after a Tranmere player dived into a full tackle on Brown and the referee said he won the ball.
Rovers should have opened the scoring on 17 minutes. Myrie-Williams attacked Elder on the right before slipping a pass into the path of Donnelly, whose first time sidefoot from eight yards rolled inches wide of the far post.
A Clements free kick from the right was too high for Oliver at the far post in the home side’s next raid.
Brown raised home nerves when he gave the ball away to spark another Tranmere break, but Stags defended the moment well.
Mansfield had more defending to do soon after when Sutton miscontrolled, and a minute later Donnelly nodded tamely to Studer from beyond the far post.
Tafazolli hooked clear a dangerous Green cross from the right as Tranmere grew in confidence.
A good spell of keep-ball by the visitors then earned them their first corner on 32 minutes which was cleared as far as Stockton, whose low 18 yard shot was well stopped by Studer.
Thomas caught Power late and the free kick was given, Power continuing to roll around until he realised no card was coming out.
Home fans were starting to lose patience, though there was a cheer as Studer confidently caught a long Myrie-Williams cross from the right.
But there was more defending needed seconds later as Sutton thought he’d won the ball in a tackle and Mr Drysdale disagreed, Raynes heading clear the free kick.
Stags defended another corner, then Oliver chose the wrong option as it was cleared and the chance to break was wasted.
How Mansfield needed a spark. And it duly arrived in the shape of the opening goal a minute from the break.
McGuire ran at the box down the centre and found Oliver, who laid it off to Lambe to turn and roll a low finish beyond the despairing fingertips of Fon Williams and inside the right post.
The ground erupted with a mixture of joy and relief and a side that might have been booed off a minute later left the pitch to warm applause.
They had the vital breakthrough, now could they defend it against a hungry Tranmere side for 45 minutes or even add to it?
Within four minutes Brown drove a powerful shot at goal from the right after superbly chesting down Tafazolli’s lofted pass. But the keeper was well positioned.
In reply Donnelly tested Studer from 20 yards, then Raynes got in the way of a Donnelly shot.
The visitors had a real sense of urgency about them and quickly won two corners on the trot.
Power was shown the night’s first yellow card for kicking the ball at goal after the whistle on 54 minutes.
On 54 minutes Thomas was sacrificed from the midfield to allow Stags to get two up front to aim for, Rhead coming on.
Oliver chased a lofted McGuire pass forward and jumped with the keeper. The ball ran loose and Rhead had a shy at the empty net blocked before winning a free kick and big cheers from the stand. However, Clements sent it straight into the Rovers wall.
Desperate Tranmere made a triple change on 62 minutes, Hume, Taylor and Odejayi on for Donnelly, Hill and Stockton in a big roll of the dice by Micky Adams.
Seconds later a clearance reached McGuire 35 yards from goal and he sent a dipping volley over the bar.
Tafazolli took one for the team as he tripped an advancing Hume on 66 minutes to earn a booking.
Tranmere wasted a free kick as Odejayi wrestled Rhead to the ground in the box.
McGuire left the field to big applause on 68 minutes as Ravenhill joined the action to offer fresh legs to the cause.
A minute later Tranmere might have levelled as Odejayi dummied a low right wing cross and Myrie-Williams sent a low shot at Studer.
As Sutton forced Odejayi out for a goalkick on the by-line trouble erupted behind the goal with fencing pushed over and police fighting and stewards fighting with Rovers fans.
Raynes headed another Rovers corner away and Tafazolli got his head to the follow-up cross from Green.
Lambe was booked four minutes from time for arguing with the assistant over a foul he felt he should have been given.
A minute from time Oliver was inches away from turning home Lambe’s curling effort from the left over the line.
A 90th minute Rovers corner was punched away by Studer.
Incredibly the referee somehow found eight minutes to add at the end.
In the 92nd minute Marsden was sent on for Brown to shore things up at the back.
Seconds later Power had a vicious shot deflect just wide for a corner.
Keeper Von Williams came up for it and, when it was cleared, he fouled a Stags player to make sure he got back.
But it sparked a melee in which Lambe got involved and picked up a second yellow and subsequent red on 90+5.
Green and Oliver were also booked in an incredible eventual 14 added minutes.
The noise from the stands was deafening as everyone screamed for the final whistle that brought huge relief and a well deserved ovation on a night to remember.
STAGS: Studer; Sutton, Raynes, Tafazolli, Elder; McGuire (Ravenhill 68), Clements, Thomas (Rhead 54); Lambe, Oliver, Brown (Marsden 90+2). Subs not used: Pidgeley, Hearn, Bingham, Hawkridge.
TRANMERE: Fon Williams, Holmes, Power, Ihiekwe, Green, Donacien, Stockton (Odejayi 62), Taylor (Hill 62), Jennings, Donnelly (Hume 62), Myrie-Williams. Subs not used: Brezovan, Koumas, Laird, Thompson.
REFEREE: Darren Drysdale of Lincolnshire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,051 (563 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Michael Raynes.