A red card for Craig Mitchell fully 35 minutes from time could not prevent AFC Mansfield making a perfect start to their new league campaign.
The Bulls had just taken the lead at home to Bottesford Town in the Premier Division of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League when Mitchell was dismissed for retaliation after appearing to be punched.
But they not only rode the storm, they also doubled their lead with striker Ollie Fearon’s second goal of the game and although Bottesford bagged a late consolation, AFC held on for a 2-1 success.
Games against Bottesford are always a battle and Saturday’s, in front of a crowd of 67, proved no different. The visitors are a physical side who can also play some football, which is a dangerous mix, and the action, as expected, started at a furious pace.
Mitchell was twice denied early on, including with a stinging drive that goalkeeper Jordan Douglas parried before the ball was hooked away, and then Fearn failed to find the target after a peach of a pass from Connor Smythe.
Although the midfield battle was fierce, Jamie Green in the home goal had very little to do in the opening 45, which remained goalless. So it came as no surprise when the Bulls took the lead within three minutes of the restart when Bottesford couldn’t clear their lines and a neat run and turn from Phil Buxton in the box allowed Fearon the chance to fire home from ten yards.
Two minutes later came the sending-off. Mitchell chased a ball into the box under pressure from Bottesford captain Lee Ridley, who was clearly pulling him back. AFC claim that, on the blind side of the referee, Ridley gave Mitchell two sharp punches into his ribs and when the home man swung an arm to defend himself, the visiting defender went down, clutching his head and rolling about. Mitchell was dismissed, while Ridley escaped without punishment.
Ridley almost rubbed salt into AFC wounds when curling a 25-yard free-kick against a post, with Green beaten, in the 72nd minute. But it was the hosts who found the game’s crucial second goal ten minutes later when Fearon turned his marker and fired across Douglas for a superb strike. Declan Bacon pulled a goal back for Bottesford, but The Bulls stood firm.
AFC MANSFIELD LINE-UP -- Green/ Smythe (Cullingworth 84), Dudley, D’Laryea, Annable, Wilson, Fearon, Buxton, Mitchell, Ghaichem (Karkach 80), Dear (Marsden 68). Subs not used: Cheeseman, Wall.