Boxing Day win over rivals Bury puts Mansfield Town into the top three
Mansfield Town ended Boxing Day proudly in the top three of League Two after a superb 2-1 home win over promotion rivals Bury.
The visitors had begun the afternoon in superb fashion, dominating the first 15 minutes.
But once Stags got into gear they were the better side by the break and in a one-sided second half they were deserved winners through goals from CJ Hamilton on 61 minutes and a Tyler Walker penalty on 79 minutes.
Bury’s only reply came from a 95th minute Jay O’Shea penalty, coming far too late to save them after a half in which home keeper Conrad Logan did not have another shot to save as the Stags turned on the style for the big Bank Holiday crowd.
The sublime Jacob Mellis once again ran the show in central midfield as Stags showed they are genuine contenders for automatic promotion this season.
Unchanged for a third League Two game in a row, Stags almost fell behind in the second minute when Pearce headed a long throw from Miller high into the air in the box. O’Connell met it as it dropped with a powerful header that Logan had to beat away for a corner at his near post.
Bury’s confidence was apparent as O’Connell and O’Shea tried to beat Logan from halfway inside a couple of minutes with ambitious efforts and the keeper on the edge of his box.
On eight minutes Logan stuck out a hand to block a low Lavery shot from 20 yards as the Shakers piled on the early pressure.
Mansfield finally began to tick and Mellis had Stags’ first shot blocked on 15 minutes from their first corner.
A minute later he fired another chance into the sidenetting as the home fans also began to find their voice.
A White burst down the right ended with Benning flicking his header wide on 19 minutes.
Mansfield came even closer on 22 minutes as a mistake by O’Connell gave the ball to Walker, who fed Hamilton. His low cross picked out Bishop, but Dawson was on hand with a crucial, smothering block.
On the half-hour White sent Mellis scampering into the box where his superb control saw him able to set up Walker to his left. But the striker scuffed his finish with keeper Murphy easily able to block.
Bury answered with a chance on 33 minutes as Lavery popped the ball between Pearce’s legs wide on the left by-line and O’Shea blasted over from a tight angle.
A great pass across the box by Benning as the culmination of a great series of Mansfield passes on 40 minutes saw White’s low cross blocked and his follow-up shot hit the sidenetting.
In the 45th minute Elsnik had a shot that Walker helped on and Hamilton reached the loose ball first only to see Murphy bravely smother his finish.
In the one added minute Mellis was only just wide from 30 yards as Stags ended the half on a real high.
Bury began the second half with the game’s first booking on 47 minutes after O’Shea chopped down Mellis.
A minute later, in trying to head away a Hamilton cross on the line, O’Connell headed against his own crossbar.
Mansfield were finally rewarded for their attacking start to the half with a superb goal on 61 minutes.
Mellis floated the pass of the game down the centre as Hamilton burst through, the keeper blocking his first finish only to see Hamilton then nod home the loose ball as it popped into the air.
Elsnik was booked for a 65th minute foul, despite his protests.
On 69 minutes Rose replaced Elsnik as Stags switched to 3-4-3.
On 78 minutes Murphy made a double save to deny Walker and then Rose, both shots from the tightest of angles.
But Stags were 2-0 up on 79 minutes. The referee spotted a push on Sweeney from a corner and Walker stepped up to send Murphy the wrong way from the spot high into the left hand side.
Atkinson replaced Mellis on 85 minutes and almost immediately burst down the centre only to poke his finish wide.
Graham was given the last two minutes in place of Walker.
With the five added minutes complete, Stags blotted their copybook as Preston brought down Maynard in the box and was booked before O’Shea slotted home a penalty just inside the left post.
But it meant little as the whistle went seconds later to huge cheers.
STAGS: Logan; Sweeney, Pearce, Preston; White, Bishop, Elsnik (Rose 69), Mellis Atkinson 85), Benning; Walker (Graham 88), Hamilton. Subs not used: Kean, Khan, Butcher, Law.
BURY: Murphy, Miller (Adams 52), Stokes, Aimson, Thompson, O’Connell, Dawson (Danns 58), Styles (Maynard 71), Telford, O’Shea, Lavery. Subs not used: Hudson, Dagnall, Moore, McFadzean.
REFEREE: Ollie Yates of Staffordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 4,959 (516 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Jacob Mellis.