TWO stoppage time goals ended 10-men Mansfield Town’s hopes of a deserved point at high-flying Southport this afternoon.
Richie Sutton was controversially sent off for a second yellow card offence on 64 minutes, but Stags had continued to make all the running and still looked the more likely winners.
However, it wasn’t to be as sub Marcus Kelly conceded a penalty three minutes after coming on, put away by Chris Lever, and then Jonathan Brown made sure of the win with a third deep into time added on.
The result in no way paints a true picture on an afternoon when Stags dominated for long spells away to a side fourth in the table and also took the lead through John Dempster on 48 minutes.
Lever did haul the Sandgrounders level two minutes later, but Mansfield were the better side, even without Sutton and will head home tonight scratching their heads how they let this one slip away.
The Sutton red card was a huge talking point as the second card seemed a harsh one, although clearly a foul.
It was Mansfield’s first away league defeat since the opening away loss at Gateshead back in August.
At least after last weekend’s FA Trophy misery at Droylsden, boss Paul Cox got his reaction and a much-improved performance.
He made wholesale changes to his side and formation today. Out went John Thompson, Marcus Kelly, Lee Stevenson, and Aman Verma from the 4-3-3 shape last weekend.
Playing 4-4-2, Keiron Freeman returned from injury at left back, Luke O’Neill was restored to right back with Ritchie Sutton moving across to the centre of defence.
Anthony Howell returned to partner Adam Murray in the centre of midfield and there was the welcome sight of Louis Briscoe starting on the right wing after his lengthy injury problems.
That allowed Ross Dyer to push back alongside Matt Green up front.
Mansfield began well, Southport having to defend a long Freeman throw.
Murray helped it back in and, when it reached Dempster on the edge of the box, he lashed in a powerful shot which looked a goal all the way until it took a deflection for a corner.
From that Dyer glanced a header over the bar from the near post.
Howell’s tackle on Whalley in the box ended a threat after Smith had won a tackle with Sutton that the defender should have dealt with.
On eight minutes Stags won a free kick 20 yards from goal on the left. From that O’Neill curled a superb free kick over the wall and against the crossbar.
Mansfield comfortably cleared Southport’s two corners while Marriott and Dyer were first to long throws by Owens from the left.
On 12 minutes O’Neill sent in Stags’ second corner from the right, finding Briscoe at the near post who hooked the ball up and over.
Five minutes later Freeman’s long throw was cleared to Murray, 18 yards from goal, and he hurried a low effort just wide.
Davis replaced Akrigg as the home defence had to reshuffle on 20 minutes.
Then a neatly threaded pass by O’Neill saw Dyer turn well in the box but his shot struck a home defender.
Although Murray had done his best with a running argument with the referee, it was Sutton who saw the first yellow card of the day for jumping into the back of Whalley on 25 minutes.
McMillan was down quickly to grab the ball as Howell tried to capitalise on a Meikle pass as Stags continued to dominate.
A neat move down the centre ended with O’Neill’s low cross turned back towards his own goal by Poku, forcing his own keeper to get down and grab.
Southport were finally enjoying some pressure of their own and their best moment of the half came on 40 minutes with a run from Whalley that saw him turn Sutton and come inside to lift a 25 yard shot over the Stags crossbar.
Green had a firm shot blocked while Whalley dragged one well wide from 25 yards and Poku fired low at Marriott from distance as we reached the halfway point without a goal.
Mansfield came back out strongly and won an early corner.
Then Green went on a silky run, beating two opponents before seeing McMillan turn his low finish round the post.
But from the resulting 48th minute corner the visitors were finally in front as Dempster rose to head O’Neill’s kick firmly home straight down the middle.
However, Southport were only behind for two minutes as they bagged their first goal in three league matches.
Moogan fired in a free kick which was blocked, but Lever was first to reach the loose ball and dispatch a rising shot past Marriott from 12 yards.
Thankfully Stags took that on the chin and continued to dominate rather than letting it alter the balance of power and the home defence endured a uncomfortable spell of pressure by Mansfield.
On the hour a long ball forward by Freeman saw Dyer managed to get himself goalside of Grand only to see McMillan make a good save to keep out his finish.
However, there was high controversy on 64 minutes as a second yellow card for Sutton left Stags with 10 men.
Sutton was certainly guilty of a foul as he pulled back Moogan 40 yards from goal.
But it was a harsh decision to book him, especially as the referee knew he had already booked him.
Meikle was sacrificed to bring on Thompson in defence. Soon after Murray’s persistent dissent saw him yellow-carded too.
Howell sent a high, looping pass forward for Green to chase on the left. Keeping it in play, he came back inside but, unable to shake off the defenders around him, was off target with his eventual finish.
There was a let-off for Stags on 74 minutes as sub Guthrie chested down a Whalley free kick for Grand to turn home from close range only to see an offside flag raised.
Green was felled from behind by a fierce Poku challenge near the corner flag but the referee’s card stayed in his pocked, though it seemed a far worse challenge to Sutton’s.
A mistake by Ledsham allowed Howell to find Green. O’Neill overlapped him well and curled in a fabulous cross in front of goal where Briscoe arrived a fraction late to curl home.
With four minutes to go, an injury to Freeman allowed Stags to get their breath and have a drink ahead of the final push. Freeman eventually limped off to be replaced by Kelly.
But, just as a superb point loomed on the horizon, Stags were stung by a penalty in the first minute of four added on.
Lever sent in a cross from the left which Marriott looked certain to catch. Instead he palmed the ball straight to Whalley who was caught by the outstretched leg of sub Kelly.
Lever, who hadn’t scored all season before today, was given the chance to double his tally from the sport and made no mistake with a well-taken penalty high to Marriott’s right.
Just to rub salt in the wounds, Southport then added a third for good measure on 93 minutes as Owens tricked his way across the box from left to right before setting up Brown for a sidefooted finish.
SOUTHPORT: McMillan, Smith, Lever, Akrigg (Davis 20), Grand, Moogan, Poku, Carden (Guthrie 70), Whalley, Owens, Ledsham (Brown 87). Subs: Nemes, Parry.
STAGS: Marriott; O’Neill, Dempster, Sutton, Freeman (Kelly 88); Briscoe, Howell, Murray, Meikle (Thompson 66); Green, Dyer. Subs: Redmond, Vera, Stevenson.
REFEREE: Seb Stocksbridge of Gateshead.
ATTENDANCE: 1,006 (98 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Luke O’Neill.