Despite the sun glaring down on Field Mill on Monday afternoon, the Stags missed their chance to shine as they were defeated 1-0 by high flying Shrewsbury.
Mansfield were the better side throughout and created several promising openings but could not breach the meanest defence in League Two.
The visitors’ goal, fortuitous as it was, came from their only real foray forward.
In a first half where chances were at a premium, 18-year-old Jack Thomas stole the show.
His tackling was tigerish, his passing laser-guided and his running lung-bursting beyond lone striker Vadaine Oliver.
He was at the heart of everything good going forward, channelling his sometimes over zealous aggression into chasing down every ball and winning back possession high up the pitch, assisted by Clements and McGuire.
He had the Stags’ two best efforts on goal in the first period, one an attempted lob from just outside the area, after being put through by Reggie Lambe, which went over the bar, the other a 35-yard strike of a bouncing ball which was well dealt with by visiting keeper Leutwiler.
Mansfield were well on top in the first half, but the desire of Hawkridge and Lambe to come inside rather than stay wide meant that the Shrews’ three man defence could stay narrow instead of being stretched by wide players.
The majority of the home side’s chances came from long balls from Beevers or Elder for Oliver to flick on and Thomas to chase, owing more to the desire of Thomas than any inventive phases of play.
The Stags’ defence looked solid and was rarely troubled by Collins, Akpa-Akpro or the returning Liam Lawrence.
The visitors made a change at half-time, introducing Tyrone Barnett in place of Akpa-Akpro. Barnett had once cost Peterbrough over £1m, so clearly possessed pedigree.
It did not take him long to make an impact as he turned in what turned out to be the winning goal. On this occasion, it was not a clear individual error that cost Mansfield, but split second decision making.
With Ellis on the ball on the right side of the area, he was faced up by Elder.
Elder chose to follow an overlapping runner, expecting Lambe to take his place in front of Ellis. Lambe was a split second slow to react, giving Ellis a clear view in front of him and inviting him to cross.
Lambe, in his desperation to get in front of the ball, deflected it up into the air, over Pidgeley to the far post where Barnett helped himself to a tap-in - perhaps a harsh assessment and certainly small margins, but these are the things that cost goals.
After a referee change and the introduction of Matt Rhead, the Stags again began to pile on the pressure, continuing with a direct approach.
Lambe was unable to gather a flick on from Rhead when in a great position.
Then Oliver was hauled down by Grandison inside the area, but the referee refused to point to the spot to the disbelief of everyone in the ground.
Thomas continued to create and managed to set Clements free inside the area, only for the playmaker to slice wide.
Thomas also had a shot himself which ended up in the Quarry Lane End.
But the Stags’ best chance to equalise fell to substitute Rakish Bingham, who rushed his shot after being found by the head of Rhead when he had time to control the ball.
Mass celebrations from the fans in the away end at the final whistle signalled their momentary rise to the top of the pile, and Lawrence was clapped down the tunnel by Mansfield fans, graciously reciprocated by the Stags’ former wide man.
After the game, Adam Murray was clearly angered by the respect shown by fans to Lawrence, claiming that some supporters had only turned up to do so.
He also questioned the fans’ booing of the introduction of Bingham in place of McGuire.
He could not understand how fans could jeer an attacking substitution. The fans were not booing the change, they were booing because Oliver was still on the pitch despite clearly being unable to continue for 10 minutes prior, coupled with the derision that Bingham should have been on much earlier as our joint top scorer and one of the best players in the previous two games.
Murray should concentrate on the things that he can control, such as the tactics and style of play adopted by players on the pitch, especially with the Stags on such a poor run.
The defeat leaves the Stags still six points clear of the drop as all sides below Mansfield in the table failed to win.
Player Ratings : Pidgeley - 5 – Caught flatfooted for the goal, took a good three seconds to react. Kicking was poor throughout. Beevers - 6 - Defended solidly but some poor passing and crossing. Riley - 7 - Another solid game. Sutton - 7 - Looks a good partnership with Riley, kept the Shrews quiet for most of the game. Elder - 6.5 - Looked shaky at times but better going forward than Beevers. McGuire - 8 - Excellent game. Kept his team motivated and got stuck in throughout. You don’t mind his distribution so much when he is effective defensively. One last ditch tackle. Hawkridge - 5.5 Poor set pieces and rarely involved. Clements - 7.5 - Part of a good midfield, passed the ball well. Thomas - 9 - Excellent display, looked the Stags’ biggest threat. Tackling and passing brilliant. Hard to remember he is only 18. Lambe - 5.5 - Pass to Thomas aside had a poor game. Dwelt on the ball, knocked off it too easily and miscontrolled when through on goal. Oliver - 6 - Won a few headers but laziness when looking across the line grates on me. Should have been taken off 10 minutes before he was. Subs : Rhead (Hawkridge 61) - 7 - Did his job in creating two great chances from flick-ons. Still think he deserves a start. Bingham (McGuire 84) - Looked lively but missed a great chance. Also deserves a start. Fisher (Oliver 85) - Looked flatfooted from Rhead flicks.