Despite being 2-0 down after only 14 minutes and set for a footballing lesson by the Championship class players of Middlesbrough, Mansfield Town rose to the occasion and deserved better than the last gasp 3-2 defeat they suffered.
Had they been more clinical in front of goal, Chris Wilder’s men woud have been heading home with their tails between their legs.
But Boro had two moments of good fortune as Danny Johnson saw a goal chalked off for a debateable offside and, right at the death, Isaiah Jones’ low cross forced John-Joe O’Tooole and Elliott Hewitt into a mess that saw them help the ball into their own net.
Both seemed to get touches and can fight it out whose own goal it was or wasn’t.
But the applause from the home fans at the end told the full story.
They had seen a Stags side give their absolute everything and have a Boro side with over £18m of talent on show with their backs to the wall.
The noise generated in that last 20 minutes of the game really had the hairs on the back of the neck standing up and is a reason why Stags’ home form has been so good.
Saturday’s loss leaves Mansfield out of all the cups and just League Two glory to chase – but they are handily placed.
As we went to press it was looking increasingly unlikely that O’Toole would sign a new deal.
At 33 with a family, no one could blame him for taking the better deal in a division above for more money and a greater length of time.
So Clough’s Plan B to cover the loss of O’Toole and whoever else he recruits this month will be crucial to their chances of sustaining their recent magnificent form.
Also vital will be a very tough February in which four of Mansfield’s five scheduled fixtures are away from home at Hartlepool, Bristol Rovers, Newport County and Bradford City – the game at Hartlepool will have to moved though as they will still be in FA Cup action that weekend.
But by the time March arrives we should know much better how the season may pan out for Mansfield.