MANY away teams have had victory agonisingly snatched away by controversial refeering decisions when facing the mighty Liverpool at Anfield.
More than 40 years ago it was Mansfield Town’s turn to feel the pain of having a stunning victory robbed from their grasp as the Merseyside outfit saw their blushes saved thanks to a penalty award.
Valiant Stags, who had held Liverpool 0-0 at Field Mill in the original tie, had dramatically overturned the odds and were leading 2-1 in a League Cup second round replay with just nine minutes to go.
But as the famous Kop began to contemplate an unthinkable early cup exit, referee D. A. Corbet came to their rescue after ruling Clive Walker had handled inside the box.
Tommy Smith then stepped up to cooly convert from 12 yards past the dive of Graham Brown and send the gripping contest in extra-time.
It was the second time in the tie that a referee had foiled one of Stags’ finest hours, after Dudley Roberts had seen a match-winning goal controversially chalked off in the Field Mill fixture.
The refeereing decisions are still something which angers legendary Stags defender Sandy Pate, who believes Mansfield were denied a glorious cup scalp.
“We were robbed at Field Mill, it was a perfectly good goal,” he said.
“Dudley Roberts rose above the full-back and headed home. There was no reason why that goal should not have stood.
“We were all up and celebrating but we were soon brought back down to earth. Dudley swore blind that he had not committed a foul.
“It was a similar story at Anfield, it was a dodgy penalty. Their players were running over to the ref demanding he talks to the linesman, while the game was already back over the halfway line.
“We were robbed by the ref over the two games. It would have been an amazing result for us, and it really looked like it was a game we were going to win.”
Despite the defeat Pate, who is second in Stags’ record appearances table behind Rod Arnold, is left with fond memories of gracing the fantastic arena.
“We were defending the Kop in the second half and the noise was just amazing,” he added.
“We stopped off at a chippy on the way home. It really was a night to remember and a great honour to have played at Anfield against so many great players.
Stags had stunned the world-famous stadium when they took the lead after just 90 seconds when Jimmy Sutton hit a screamer from all of 30 yards which thudded in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was his first goal for Mansfield and undoubtedly one of the best goals of his career.
As expected the First Division side, which included the likes of Emlyn Hughes and Steve Heighway, came roaring back and levelled on 15 minutes.
Heighway, Alec Lindsay and John McLaughlin combined well before Hughes picked up the ball on the edge of the box, drifted past three defenders and shot into the opposite corner of the goal to give Brown no chance.
But Mansfield showed they were made of sterner stuff as they amazingly went ahead on 65 minutes when John Stenson headed home beautifully after excellent build-up play involving John Quigley and Dudley Roberts.
Liverpool levelled with just nine minutes to go and this time there was no come back for the plucky Stags.
The home side took the lead for the first time three minutes from the end of the first period of extra-time when Alun Evans converted a Heighway cross to send Liverpool on the road to success.
Mansfield, who had been ahead or level for 102 of the nail-bitting 120 minute cup contest, finished the season seventh in Third Division, while Liverpool finished fifth in First Division and lost in the FA Cup final against league winners Arsenal.
The League Cup was eventually won by Spurs, who beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the Wembley final.
MANSFIELD: Brown, Pate, Walker, Quigley, Saunders, Waller, Goodfellow, Stenson, D. Roberts, Sutton, Jones.