TWO goals in as many minutes saw struggling Mansfield Town crash to a 2-0 defeat away at high-flying Dartford in front of the television cameras on Friday night.
An inch perfect strike by Elliot Bradbrook right on the stroke of half-time gave The Darts the lead, before man-of-the-match Ryan Hayes curled another brilliant effort past Mitchell just seconds later to double Mansfield’s pain.
As brilliant as both strikes were, Mansfield’s under-fire boss Paul Cox was left livid with the time and space both men had found, particularly the second goal which came straight from the kick-off after Gary Roberts gave the ball away.
Up until that point Stags had competed well in midfield and looked solid at the back, with Matt Rhead coming close to firing the visitors ahead on 38 minutes.
But, despite an improved showing in the second half following a switch in formation to 4-4-2, Mansfield were unable to find a breakthrough as both Meikle and Briscoe fired over from good positions.
The defeat further increases the pressure on boss Paul Cox as Stags, with just four away points under their belts, continue to struggle badly on the road.
The loss leaves Stags languishing in 10th spot, six points of a play-off place, while impressive Dartford climbed up to third in the table.
Mansfield Town made three changes for the televised clash with high-flying Dartford as defenders Exodus Geogahgon and Ryan Tafazolli returned to the starting line-up
Goalkeeper Mitchell was also recalled at the expense of Shane Redmond after his parent club Notts County had refused permission for him to play against Workington in the FA Cup.
Stags, who last won away against Kidderminster in August, went into the game with renewed confidence after successive victories against Forest Green and Workington and two clean sheets in their last three outings.
But it was Dartford who came closest to opening the scoring after just four minutes when Hayes’ powerful shot was superbly blocked for a corner by the diving John Dempster.
The visitors had their first attempt on goal after 13 when Geohaghon latched on to a chested knock down by Speight on the edge of the box before rifling his effort well wide.
Hayes against showed his threat down the right flank for The Darts on 19 minutes when his dangerous inswinging cross was hacked away inside the six yard box by well-placed Andy Todd.
Moments later Harris was inches away from connecting with a deep cross from Noble after he drifted away from Geohaghon.
Mitchell comfortably gathered a Bradbook header on 29 minutes as Dartford, who had already won five times at home this season, looked the most likely to score.
Vetaran Andy Todd then fired a shot into the side netting from an acute angle seconds later as Mansfield broke well from the Dartford attack.
Former Stags striker Adam Birchall should have done better on the half hour mark when he was picked out by the lively Hayes after a surging run.
But Birchall failed to wrap his right foot around the ball and sent his shot wide of the diving Mitchell after he had pulled away at the far post.
Matt Rhead showed both his strength and skill on 38 minutes as he held the ball up before spinning and rifling a blistering drive, which was tipped over brilliantly by the flying Bettinelli.
Liam Mitchell showed what he could do in the Mansfield goal on 43 minutes when he got down well to his left to parry away a left footed effort by Birchall.
Speight angled an effort just wide of Bettinelli’s post right on half-time after a well worked training ground move from a Roberts free-kick.
Green then ran at the defence well before firing hard shot low and hard at Bettinelli’s as Mansfield began to up the pressure.
But right on half-time, Stags were punished for failing to clear their lines from a cross as Elliot Bradbrook picked up the ball and hit an inch perfect shot from 20 yards low into the corner of Mitchell’s goal to give Dartford the lead.
And it got even worse for Stags a minute later when the ever lively Hayes picked up a loose ball before bursting into space down the right wing to curle an unstoppable shot into the top corner to leave Stags shellshocked.
Stags reverted to a 4-4-2 formation at the start of the second half as Lindon Meikle and Ritchie Sutton were brought on at the expense of Matt Rhead and Ryan Taffazoli.
But it was the confident home start, who had not won in their last four, who continued to look the most dangerous as Hayes rifled over a free kick on 50 minutes.
Wallis warmed the palms of Mitchell from a narrow angle on 58 minutes as free-flowing Dartford carved open their latest opportunity.
And it really should have been 3-0 seconds later when Wallis got goalside of the Stags defence.
But with time and space in abundance, he somehow dragged his shot wide off the post to keep Stags’ flickering hopes alive.
Substitute Louis Briscoe wasted another chance for Stags when he blasted over from the edge of the box on 63 minutes when the home defence were caught napping from a Gary Roberts corner.
Meikle showed his first flash of brilliance on 71 minutes when he cut inside the full-back after good work by Roberts before curling his effort a foot over the bar.
Stags continued to struggle against the threat of Hayes as he cut inside to beat three men before he was hacked down by Todd on the edge of the box with 10 minutes to go.
DARTFORD: Bettinelli, Rose, Bonner, Hayes (Rogers 84 mins), Wallis, Bradbrook, Harris (Collier 90 +1), Noble, Arber, Birchall (Erskine 81 mins), Burns. Subs not used: Wells, Crawford.
MANSFIELD: Mitchell; Geohaghon, Dempster, Tafazolli (Sutton 45 mins), Todd, Roberts, Howell, Daniel (Briscoe 60), Speight, Green, Rhead (Meikle 45 mins) Subs not used: Meikle, Briscoe, Sutton.
STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Jake Speight.