The Mansfield Town promotion juggernaut thundered on with an 11th successive win on the trot as Luke Jones’ second half goal finally shot down struggling Tamworth at The Lamb this afternoon.
It was a hard-earned three points in an ugly game but, after over six minutes of nerve-shredding stoppage time at the end, it represented an amazing 10th away win in 11 trips for Paul Cox’ men, who remain a point behind leaders Kidderminster with three games in hand.
Stags now face Gateshead at home on Monday before Thursday’s trip to title rivals Wrexham, who were unexpectedly beaten at Hyde today.
A fantastic army of 1,172 away supporters made The Lamb more like the One Call Stadium as the Stags fans outnumbered the home support.
Tamworth had only won once in six games but more than played their part in a scrappy, tense game with a wealth of chances at both ends.
But the decisive moment came on 61 minutes when Jones, who also shone at centre half alongside the superb John Dempster, stroked home the winner after being set up by Matt Green, the defender’s seventh goal of the season.
New signing Greg Taylor made a steady debut at left back as Mansfield Town made two changes, having brought in Taylor on loan on Thursday after James Jennings was ruled out with a hamstring tear.
Louis Briscoe, the midweek goal hero against Nuneaton, was brought in to replace Junior Daniel on the wing.
Taylor’s first contribution in a Stags shirt was to give away a second minute free kick as the game began in a carnival atmosphere.
Green beat the offside trap on four minutes to slip a pass inside to Stevenson, Marshall getting in the way of his finish to concede a corner from which Dempster forced Mitchell into a good parry to his right with a free on-target header from 10 yards.
It was a good, confident start by Mansfield. But they almost fell behind from their own attacking throw on the right on nine minutes.
Chapman’s throw was cleared to instigate a quick break that saw Kelly send Lloyd down the left, his early cross just out of the reach of Byfield’s stretching leg in front of goal.
Then Cunnington unfairly got goalside of Taylor, the whistle going for a foul on the Stags man as Cunnington planted the ball into the net anyway with play stopped.
The Lambs won their first corner on 14 minutes with a deflected shot. When that wasn’t cleared, Lloyd had a shot that deflected invitingly into the path of Byfield who scooped the ball wide of the near post from 10 yards when he should have done better.
On 21 minutes the home side should again have gone ahead as Tait burst into the box on the right and played an inviting square ball to Cunnington, who failed to hit the target from 12 yards.
Two minutes later Stags twice came close as Beevers found Stevenson on the edge of the box, who turned and set up Green for a shot that Mitchell beat away.
The ball was put back in towards Briscoe who completely missed his kick. But Stags won a corner from the scramble from which Jones planted a header wide of the near post.
A low Briscoe shot passed through everyone, including the lurking Green, taking a deflection for a corner, as Mansfield tried to keep the pressure on.
On 37 minutes Lloyd found space on the left to drill a low cross-cum-shot in from of the Mansfield goal that Dempster had to kick away from almost on the line.
Hendrie showed some of his old skills with a near flick over an opponent before crashing a 20 yard volley well over.
Then it was the visitors’ turn to go close again as Chapman’s far post cross looped over Mitchell to find Jones at the far post where the angle was just too tight to get his header on target.
Then a great inter-change of passes between Chapman and Murray ended with Chapman lifting a half-volley finish straight at the keeper.
Then Murray saw Wylde make a great block on a low shot that forced another corner.
From that it was chaos in the home box as Murray had a low shot saved, Taylor had a dipping effort palmed away and Green had a shot that seemed to strike a hand. But there was no penalty and the Lambs’ goal survived.
Taylor then showed good body strength to prevent Byfield breaking away as the action flowed from end to end.
In stoppage time Briscoe saw a shot deflect wide of goal off the back of team mate Green as an absorbing, even half ended scoreless.
Tamworth threatened straight from the restart as Cunnington dispossessed Chapman and fed Hendrie for a shot that came at a nice height for Marriott to deal with.
The speedy Lloyd made an exciting break from the halfway line after Murray had lost control of the ball, but again Marriott was safely behind his final shot from 20 yards.
Sensing Stags needed a boost, Paul Cox sent on Rhead and Daniel for Briscoe and Stevenson with the half just seven minutes old.
On 55 minutes Dempster hauled down Cunnington to earn the game’s first booking, Marriott then having to stretch to claw away Kelly’s free kick that was curling towards the far top corner.
Hendry fouled Daniel on 56 minutes to force the referee to again reach for his pocket.
Mansfield forced their sixth corner from which Rhead clearly felt he was fouled as he headed wide, the referee not in agreement as he awarded a goal kick.
But Stags made the big breakthrough on 61 minutes from a left wing corner.
It was half-cleared to Green who controlled and rolled a pass for centre half Jones to stab a finish inside the far post.
That sparked massive celebrations with the away fans behind the goal with advertising hoardings going flying.
Feelings were running high as Courtney clattered into Daniel late to go into the book soon after.
Mansfield had another let-off on 68 minutes as a long Courtney throw skimmed of the head of goal hero Jones and Wylde, from six yards, could only stab a finish up against the crossbar.
You couldn’t take your eyes off this game for a second and Mitchell again denied Green a shot on the turn on 70 minutes.
Daniel was wide from 25 yards with a tame finish after a great header from Murray into his path.
Marshall’s handball on 75 minutes saw him receive a booking.
Stags were then temporarily down to 10 men after Jones took a bash in the face, but he eventually returned with a bloodless shirt.
With 10 minutes to go Beevers tried a dangerous backheader to Marriott which the keeper initially fumbled and Wylde made two stabs at the ball, the referee deciding the keeper had finally grabbed it before Wylde kicked it out his grasp into the net.
With seven minutes to go the home side won a corner which Marriott flailed a first at twice and then, having gone out his box, floored Kelly to earn a booking and give away a free kick in a very dangerous central position.
Kelly stepped up and, with his cultured left foot, was agonising inches over the angle.
Howell replaced Green for the last five minutes to try to shut up shop on the battling Lambs.
Good skill from outstanding defender Marshall saw him make space for a dangerous cross which Marriott held onto as we entered a nervous last five minutes.
Unbelievably, the referee found six minutes to add on at the end.
Rhead and Daniel immediately took the ball into the corner to waste precious time.
Ex-Stag Perry came on with two minutes to go in the hope of rocking his former employers.
In the final minute Rhead’s flick sent Meikle running into the box, his finish flying wildly over.
As we went into the seventh extra minute, Stuart Hendrie’s wreckless tackle on Beevers earned a final booking of the day.
But the final whistle was mercifully soon after as the huge away following began their celebrations.
TAMWORTH: Mitchell, Tait, Kelly, Wylde, Marshall, Cunnington, L. Hendrie, Byfield (Wright 65), Courtney, Gudger (Perry 90+4), Lloyd (S. Hendrie 73). Subs not used: Breeden, Oji. STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Dempster, Jones, Taylor, Murray, Stevenson (Rhead 52), Chapman; Briscoe (Daniel 52), Green, Meikle. Subs not used: Sutton, Howell, Hutchinson.
REFEREE: Kevin Johnson of Weston-super-Mare.
ATTENDANCE: 1,968 (1,172 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Luke Jones.