Much-improved Mansfield Town made it seven points from their last three games with a nailbiting 1-0 win at Exeter City this afternoon.
The Stags deservedly led at the break through Lee Stevenson’s 45th minute finish.
But the Grecians piled on the pressure in the second half as Stags clung desperately on, Alan Gow hitting the Mansfield post in stoppage time at the end.
Heroic Mansfield defended superbly and really got stuck in on the sodden surface, conceding a lot of fouls and wasting time when they could as they were pushed further back under intense second half pressure. Alan Marriott also made a couple of crucial saves for the visitors.
In the end they took all three points once again, as they did at Cheltenham last weekend, and continued their unbeaten start to 2014 after the New Year’s Day home draw with Burton Albion.
The Mansfield side showed two changes. Adam Murray was dropped to the bench with Stevenson coming in to play behind the front pair and Anthony Howell moving deeper in a holding role. Murray later came on as part of a triple substitution for his landmark 500th career game.In defence it was a straight swap with John Dempster in for the injured Martin Riley.
Despite worries about the game, after the pitch was waterlogged in midweek, and further rain before kick-off, the playing area was fine for play.
A Clements free kick was over-hit from the centre circle and went straight out for a goalkick in the game’s first threat on two minutes.
Two more Clements free kicks were then cleared as Stags put together some good early moves.
The Stags then wasted a golden chance on six minutes.
Clements lifted a perfectly-weighted pass over the defence and Palmer timed his run superbly to be onside.
He drew keeper Krysiak and then rounded him to his right, but Bennett had got back and managed to kick his firm, low finish off the line.
On 11 minutes Stevenson picked the ball up 30 yards from goal, took it on and switched feet to send in a low shot that the keeper turned round at the foot of his post, Stevenson then furious to see the referee award a goalkick.
Two minutes later Rhead swapped first time passes with Stevenson before teeing up a swerving volley that curled away the wrong side of the post.
It took Exeter 15 minutes to threaten as Parkin got the slightest of touches from a free kick down the centre to send a header straight to Marriott.
On 17 minutes came the game’s first corner with Exeter again threatening as Moore-Taylor sent a diving header wide at the far post.
Jennings shouted angrily at Nichols as he went down easily under his challenge in the box, the referee having none of it.
Jennings did well to win a tackle he had no right to win in the centre circle and then, spotting the keeper off his line, launched an ambitious finish upfield which dropped short and into the keeper’s hands.
Jenninhs sent over a dangerous inswinging corner seconds later but the referee spotted a foul on Krysiak and the danger was ended.
Gow was inches over with an 18-yard snapshot on 26 minutes as Stags struggled to clear from an attack instigated by Gow’s superb initial running.
Tafazolli then threw himself in the way of Wheeler’s cross as the Grecians borke down the right.
That won them a corner which Rhead headed behind for another, this one breaking eventually to Nichols whose finish was wild and high.
As Exeter broke from another Stags attack, Gow was wide of the far post with a low curling finish from the right of the box.
Butterfield was booked on 31 minutes for a high boot on Rhead.
Gow miscued a Parkin nod-down into the ground and over the bar, then Parkin’s control let him down as Gow tried to feed him in on goal.
Stevenson then went down under Baldwin’s challenge in the box, but again the referee was unimpressed.
Four minutes from the break Palmer managed to win a high ball forward and it broke invitingly for Rhead, only for the striker to scuff his first time finish well wide.
Westlake then sent in a cross in from the right which Rhead controlled and volleyed straight to Krysiak but claimed it had struck a home hand, once again no penalty given.
But Stags broke the deadlock in the last minute of the half.
Dempster launched the ball forward and Rhead nodded down for Palmer on the right of the box. He played a square pass to Stevenson who kept calm and made space for a neat low finish.
It could even have been 2-0 inn stoppage time as Clements showed off his silky skills to make space and send Westlake into space for a shot straight at the keeper.
Marriott punched clear an early Sercombe free kick on the restart after Sutton had fouled Parkin.
Parkin saw the second yellow card of the game on 49 minutes for leaving a foot in after Howell had slid in to beat him to the ball.
Rhead headed a Jennings corner goalwards, Grimes clearing in front of the goalline, then Stevenson had a shot blocked as the visitors continued to look dangerous.
Westlake was booked for continually hampering Gow as he tried to burst forward on 53 minutes
When the free kick was finally taken a minute later Nichols’ curler from 25 yards clipped the outside of the near post, though Marriott looked to have it covered.
Stevenson did well near the right corner flag to get in a cross which was met with a sliced volley over from Clements just outside the box.
City were then denied an equaliser by a superb Marriott save on 57 minutes.
Grimes got into the box on the left, and when Gow superbly dummied in the centre, the ball rolled across to an unmarked Nichols who, with only Marriott to beat, saw the keeper manage to block his firm, low finish.
Stevenson joined the growing list of cautions on the hour for a late challenge in which he hurt himself too, requiring treatment.
City threatened once more down the centre, Nichols almost going clear but halted by an offside flag.
Rhead threw himself into an acrobatic header from a Jennings cross from the left. It was on target but lacked anything like the power needed to beat Krysiak from there.
City cleared Mansfield’s third corner of the game.
But at this stage it was the home side going up the gears in their search for an equaliser, and Nichols wasn’t far off with a low shot from 18 yards that went through everyone and trickled wide of the far post.
Then Sercombe ran at Sutton with time and space and managed to fire in a low shot that Marriott parried low to his right at the near post.
However, Mansfield remained dangerous. Howell was having a fine game and won another 50-50 challenge and unleashed a fierce 25 yard shot straight at the keeper. Seconds later, from a sublime Clements flick, Howell shot low, again on target, but again the keeper was in the way.
With 19 minutes to go, Paul Cox freshened up the side’s tiring legs with a triple substitution. Off came Stevenson, Westlake and Palmer and on came Murray, Meikle and Daniel.
Sutton got in a block on a low Nichols shot and soon after the home side had their first corner of the half, which Sutton headed clear as we reached the last 12 minutes of a tense game.
Another two home corners followed as the tension rose for the 115 away fans.
Stags were being pushed deeper and deeper into their own box but were defending heroically.
Butterfield had a shot blocked, then Bennett, at full stretch, couldn’t quite turn another chance on target as Marriott got there first.
Two more scrambles were survived as the intense pressure grew and grew.
In a brief respite, with Stags wasting as much time as they could, Clements wasn’t too far from 20 yards.
A quickly-taken free kick almost caught Mansfield napping on the right, but Nichols lashed the ball across the face of goal.
Mansfield continued to give away free kick after free kick as it was announced six minutes were to be added on with Stags’ fans’ blood pressure going through the roof.
Clements was booked for arguing with the referee over time wasting on 90+2 minutes.
Keohane tamely shot straight at Marriott from distance as the home sided became ever more desperate.
In the last of the six minutes Jennings blazed another low cross into the stand for a corner.
That was cleared by Dempster but came out to Gow whose low shot hit the left post but came back out again as Stags hung onto another three vital points.
EXETER: Krysiak, Butterfield, Bennett, Baldwin, Sercombe, Gow, Moore-Taylor (Gosling 87), Nichols, Parkin (O’Flynn 70), Grimes, Wheeler (Keohane 58). Subs not used: Pym, Woodman, Davies, Reid. STAGS: Marriott; Sutton, Dempster, Tafazolli; Westlake (Murray 71), Clements, Stevenson (Daniel 71), Howell, Jennings; Rhead, Palmer (Meikle 71). Subs not used: Deakin, Briscoe, Dyer, Beevers. REFEREE: Darren Bond of Lancashire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,303 (115 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Tafazolli.