MANSFIELD Town were comprehensively beaten 4-1 and had defender John Thompson stretchered off on another awayday to forget for the Stags at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium this afternoon.
Cambridge had failed to win any of their previous four home games, but had a new spring in their step with the arrival of new head coach Richard Money and were very good value for their interval lead through Michael Gash’s ninth minute goal, which stemmed from a moment’s hesitation by keeper Shane Redmond.
United should have been further ahead by the end of the half with Tom Elliott and Ross Jarvis putting good chances wide and Josh Coulson hitting a post.
Jinxed defender Thompson then had to leave the field on a stretcher just before the break after injuring himself winning a tackle.
Any hopes Mansfield had of a second half comeback were rocked by three home goals in nine minutes early in the half, Redmond again caught out by a low cross which allowed Liam Berry to make it 2-0 on 49 minutes before Tom Elliott and Ross Jarvis quickly put the result beyond doubt.
Jake Speight’s 71st minute shot did deflect in off Josh Coulson for a consolation for the visitors 19 minutes from the end.
But the look on manager Paul Cox’s face said it all at the end as Stags were once again left with nothing to show for an away game as Stags slipped to 13th.
New midfielder Soloman Taiwo was given a debut as Paul Cox reverted to a 4-3-3 formation and was neat and tidy though faded as the game went on.
The 6ft 1ins midfielder, a free agent, has been at a number of non-League clubs but once signed for Cardiff City in a £250,000 deal and has recently impressed in a couple of Mansfield reserves outings.
Matt Green, inevitably, made a return after completing his three-game suspension, but never managed to test the keeper.
Out of the side went Junior Daniel and Nick Wright.
The early exchanges were uneventful, though, on nine minutes, keeper Hedge had to be alert to grab a Taiwo through ball before Green could reach it.
However, the home side drew first blood seconds later. Redmond appeared to think Andrew’s through ball was going out for a goal kick. But, realising Gash was going to get there, he reacted fractionally too late and Gash was able to steer it across the keeper and inside the far post from a tight angle.
A minute later it really should have 2-0 as Redmond was beaten to a Jarvis cross by Elliott who should have hit the target from six yards but headed wide.
Gash was too high from distance soon after, then Shaw pulled a low shot wide from a Geohaghon headed clearance as the U’s clearly had a spring in their step after the goal.
Hedge twice punched clear from a Geohaghon throw and a Murray before Speight was caught offside as he forced a save from Hedge at the far post.
Hedge then caught Murray’s first corner of the afternoon.
Pilkington’s presence did just enough to force Shaw to fire narrowly wide.
Then Hedge did well to grab the ball at the second attempt after being unable to grab a splendid curling cross from Taiwo.
Coulson almost doubled the U’s advantage on 25 minutes with a strong central run that ended with a 35-yard shot that struck the outside of the right post.
Green had a low shot deflect wide which the referee then deemed to be a goalkick on the half-hour mark.
Cambridge wasted another great chance on 34 minutes. A Gash backheel saw Willmott race past Geohaghon to the by-line before pulling back a low ball that the incoming Jarvis sliced wide from 12 yards when he should have the target.
Passes continued to go astray for the visitors and a dreadful over-hit cross from Sutton and a poor shot well wide from Murray summed up a frustrating first half for the Stags.
Berry went on a superb run, evading three challenges before Thompson steamed in to win the tackle in the box.
The full back stayed down for treatment with Berry booked for having a go at Thompson on the ground.
But Thompson stayed down and it soon became obvious he had done something more serious than first thought.
Eventually the stretcher came on and the stricken Thompson was carried off, Daniel coming on and Sutton switching from left back to right back.
Sutton was added to the book in the last of four minutes of stoppage time when he stuck out an arm to halt Wilmott’s run down the left.
Geohaghon had also been limping on a couple of occasions in the first half and deemed not fit enough to continue after the break, Tafazolli replacing him.
United won their first corner of the game within three minutes which saw Berry race in unchallenged to meet Andrew’s flag kick with a free header that he sent over the bar.
But United were 2-0 up and in full command on 49 minutes. And again Redmond might have done better.
Gash fed Elliott into the right of the box and he put the ball across low. Redmond dived but didn’t get hold of the ball as it came off him, onto Berry and found the back of the gaping net.
Two minutes later it was all but over as Gash played a square ball to his right to Elliott crashed home an unstoppable shot inside the far post.
Worse was to come on 58 minutes. Andrew’s long throw from the left skimmed a couple of heads before bouncing near Jarvis who instinctively stabbed the ball home from 10 yards.
Briscoe was sent on for Taiwo on the hour as shellshocked Stags looked for some inspiration.
Stags finally had a shy at goal on 65 minutes as Hedge had to parry Speight’s 20-yard potshot.
At the other end Pilkington was in the way of Shaw’s effort with Jarvis well over from the follow-up.
Gash failed to connect cleanly as he met a low Thorpe cross, the ball straight at Redmond, who then cleanly caught Gash’s attempted 20-yard chip.
Redmond then had to dive to his right to gather a 25 yard free kick from Andrew curled low round the wall.
Stags did finally pull a goal back on 71 minutes, albeit with a huge slice of fortune as Hedge appeared to have Speight’s tame low 20-yard shot covered to his right before a wicked deflection took the ball into the net down the centre.
Daniel’s foul on Jarvis on 78 minutes saw him cautioned, a frustrated Murray joining him for dissent three minutes later.
Berry’s last ditch tackle on Speight prevented him netting on 85 minutes as he took a return pass from Howell right in front of the goal.
Berry failed to get any power into his shot at Redmond as we entered stoppage time as Stags escaped any further pain on another awayday to forget.
CAMBRIDGE: Hedge, Coulson, Shaw, Gash (Pugh 87), Elliott, McAuley, Jarvis (Wellard 79), Berry, Thorpe, Willmott (Moke 85), Andrew. Subs not used: Wylde, Ross.
STAGS: Redmond; Thompson (Daniel 45+1), Geohaghon (Tafazolli ht), Pilkington, Sutton; Howell, Murray, Taiwo (Briscoe 60); Speight, Green, Meikle. Subs not used: Rhead, Clements.
REFEREE: Kevin Johnson of Weston-super-Mare.
ATTENDANCE: 2,545 (209 away).
CAUTIONS: Cambridge – Berry 44. Stags – Sutton 45+3, Daniel 78, Murray 81.