Magnificent Mansfield Town took another stride towards the BSBP title with a 4-0 Bank Holiday Monday demolition of struggling Gateshead to equal the all-time number BSBP wins on the trot with their 12th successive victory at a packed One Call Stadium this afternoon.
It equalled the 12 successive wins achieved in the past by Burton Albion and Hereford United at this level and also equalled the all-time Stags club record run of 12 wins, achieved in their pre-Football League days.
Today’s victory also represented a 15th win in 16 games in what has been an amazing run for Paul Cox’s men.
Kidderminster stay top by one point after winning 2-1 at Luton, though Mansfield have three games in hand. But Wrexham, who Stags face on Thursday, dropped two vital home points and were overtaken by Newport County, the Exiles still nine points adrift of Mansfield with the same six games left to play, Wrexham now 10 points behind with six to play.
Harriers now have just three to go, at home to Lincoln and Stockport and away to Wrexham. So the title is very firmly in Mansfield’s hands.
Although Stags always looked comfortable winners today, on a dreadful surface and with a big crowd in the stadium, they did labour at times to make their complete superiority count, despite a 21st minute goal from the returning Anthony Howell.
But nerves were banished by two goals inside five minutes from Louis Briscoe and Matt Green late in the second half before sub Ben Hutchinson bagged a late penalty kick to round off a great afternoon on a cold day with a biting wind and piles of snow still heaped around the playing surface from last week.
Boss Cox will have been relieved not to have been hit by the Manager of the Month ‘curse’ after being given the accolade for March. He tweaked his side with two changes. With one eye on the big showdown in Wrexham on Thursday, Cox rested Meikle and Chapman, though both were on the bench, which saw Daniel back on the wing and
Howell restored to central midfield.
Howell marked his return with a busy man of the match display, capped by the opening goal.
Luke Jones, John Dempster, Lee Beevers and Adam Murray also had impressive games while loanee Greg Taylor made an immaculate home debut at left back.
Gateshead found themselves under heavy early pressure as Mansfield began to ask questions of the visiting defence.
But it was the Heed who had the first pot at goal as Gillies played Henderson in down the right, though he was unable to find a way past Marriott with his low shot at the keeper’s near post.
Green was causing problems with his willing running and, when Curtis had to haul him down on 12 minutes, he was shown the first yellow card.
Murray then rolled the free kick to Stevenson, but he was quickly closed down and the advancing defenders were enough to force him to send his shot well wide.
In a rare Gateshead raid, a poor clearance by Beevers offered Donaldson a brief shooting chance, which was weak and straight at Marriott.
But Stags finally grabbed a deserved lead on 21 minutes.
Murray floated a free kick from the left towards the far post where, as it threatened to dip under the angle, keeper Bartlett turned it onto the bar.
However, Howell was watching it all the way as he turned the loose ball home from six yards.
Donaldson whipped a low shot wide of the far post in reply soon after.
On 24 minutes Chandler’s clattering challenge on Daniel earned him a booking.
A minute later Stags looked to have earned a stonewall penalty as Briscoe swapped passes with Stevenson and appeared to have his ankle clipped. But nothing was given.
Then on 29 minutes Stevenson raced onto a Beevers ball and clipped a finish into the sidenetting as Stags sought the comfort of a second goal.
But there was worry on the half-hour as Murray was robbed by Henderson, who fed Gillies for a poor ball across the six yard box to no one.
Mansfield won a free kick 30 yards from goal which Briscoe sent straight into the Heed wall.
Stags won the game’s first corner on 33 minutes. Murray floated the ball in towards Jones, who headed it towards goal where Green’s close range flick forced a good save from Bartlett. The ball was put back to the left post where Stevenson hooked narrowly over.
Taylor was well wide with a low shot a minute later as Gateshead clung on.
The visitors had a couple of half-chances themselves as Brown missed his kick from eight yards after Henderson had gone past Beevers and pulled a cross back.
Then Gillies wasn’t far wide with an impressive 35-yard free kick that he curled up and over the home wall and just wide of the post.
Three minutes from the break, there was a scramble from a second home corner and Stevenson saw a low finish blocked on the line.
Green should have made it 2-0 in the final minute as Stevenson sent him clear with a cutting through ball, but Bartlett spread himself well to block.
Stevenson was booked for simulation soon afterwards.
A minute was added on, but Gateshead survived any further damage as they went in still in the game, just a goal behind.
Inside 30 seconds of the restart, Stevenson cut in from the left and rifled a 20 yard shot over the top to sound a warning the the visitors.
Briscoe was then tamely wide with a poor finish after being faced by two defenders on the edge of the box.
Beevers had to make a smart block before Donaldson could turn a Henderson by-line cross on target.
On 58 minutes Stevenson made way for Rhead in the first change of the afternoon.
Daniel was wildly off target with a volley from a half-cleared Murray corner, then Reid wasn’t quite quick enough to punish a poor Curtis backpass as the home fans tried to lift their side towards the all-important second goal.
Daniel almost gave it them on 68 minutes as he latched onto the ball near the halfway line and accelerated forward before firing inches wide.
Daniel then warmed Bartlett’s hands from 30 yards, the keeper beating away his piledriver.
But the killer second goal finally arrived on 72 minutes.
Beevers had a shot blocked, the ball bouncing back towards Briscoe on the edge of the box who instantly dispatched a perfect left foot finish inside the far post.
Rhead then set up Daniel for a low shot across the face of goal as Mansfield then sent on Meikle for Daniel for the last 15 minutes.
It was finally all over on 77 minutes as Green slammed home goal number 19 for the season.
Meikle played him into space and Green steadied himself before sending a thunderbolt finish past a helpless Bartlett from 15 yards.
It was the hitman’s last action as Hutchinson took over from him for the last 11 minutes.
Looking for a consolation, Gillies forced a good near post block from Marriott.
But it was the home side who had the final say as sub Hutchinson bagged a penalty in the first minute of time added on.
Hutchinson won the penalty as his fericious 20 yard free kick was handled by Chandler as it flew at him in the wall.
Bartlett guessed correctly from the spot, but Hutchinson’s low kick contained just enough power to see the ball squeeze in between the keeper’s hands and the post.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Jones saw Bartlett make a great low save to keep out his header from Hutchinson’s corner as Mansfield had to settle for the four goals they had scored.
STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Jones, Dempster, Taylor; Murray, Stevenson (Rhead 58), Howell; Briscoe, Green (Hutchinson 79), Daniel (Meikle 75). Subs not used: Sutton, Chapman. GATESHEAD: Bartlett, Boyle, Chandler, Curtis, Gillies (Fowler 79), Turnbull, Hatch, Cummins, Brown (Bore 60), Donaldson, Henderson (Everson 85), Subs not used: Nixon, Galpin. REFEREE: Graham Horwood of Bedfordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,472 (82 away).
CAUTIONS – Stags – Stevenson 45. Gateshead – Curtis 12, Chandler 24.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Anthony Howell.