A BELOW-PAR Mansfield Town were left facing another tricky replay away to cup minnows this Tuesday after NPL neighbours Matlock Town held them to a 1-1 draw in their FA Trophy first round tie at a rain-swept One Call Stadium this afternoon.
Stags fans expected their side to see off the Gladiators with something to spare, but the home side were well aware how tough the game may be after being taken to an FA Cup replay by Slough Town two weeks ago.
And so it proved again as a Stags side, looking tired after so many games in recent weeks, failed to find the killer blow.
Indeed, they had keeper Shane Redmond to thank for a brilliant double save on seven minutes, the first from the penalty spot, the second the follow-up, and other good stops later to prevent another shock.
Matlock recorded a famous 5-2 FA Cup win at Field Mill back in 1976 and will enjoy this result almost as much tonight, celebrating at the end with their 250 following from Derbyshire.
It was at least a seventh game unbeaten for Mansfield.
Adam Murray’s first goal for 19 months put Stags ahead on 25 minutes only to see Lewis McMahon level matters 13 minutes later.
Exodus Geohaghon returned to the Mansfield side.
The giant defender was back from a one-game ban and was back into the centre of defence with Lee Beevers left out and Ritchie Sutton moving across to fill the left back slot.
Murray almost gave Stags a third minute lead after Green’s ball in from the left was laid back towards the skipper by Briscoe for a low shot that deflected narrowly wide for a corner.
Matlock’s first chance saw McDonald’s first touch in the box roll towards Redmond. It was always the keeper’s ball, but McDonald slid in late and clattered into the fallen keeper leaving him needing treatment, but escaping a caution.
Green took a tumble in the box on six minutes but the referee decided no penalty.
However, the Gladiators broke upfield to win a spot kick of their own in the seventh minute which brought the very best out of keeper Redmond.
Thompson brought down Roe to gift the visitors a golden chance to draw first blood in the tie.
But Redmond flung himself to his right to beat away McMahon’s spot kick and quickly recovered to throw himself to his right to block Ashmore’s goalbound follow-up.
McDonald then got the better of Jones down the right after a tussle and got away a low shot from a narrow angle which Redmond was comfortably down to block.
Somehow, a Sutton clearance found its way into the Bishop Stand roof and, between the metal pipework of the TV gantry, dropped through the hole in the stand which guaranteed the Stags a decent wedge of sponsorship money.
Green cut in from the left in the next home raid to whistle a low shot inches wide of the near post.
Matlock were far from overawed with the tie and Harcourt put in an inviting low ball towards McMahon in the box only to see Thompson slide in with a superb challenge to put it behind for a corner.
But it was the Stags who broke the deadlock on 25 minutes.
Briscoe fired in a shot from 20 yards which Kennedy could only parry and Murray was on hand to tuck the loose ball away into the net.
It was his first goal for the club since bagging a brace against Gateshead in April 2011.
Briscoe made Kennedy get down at his near post to block a vicious low drive from a tight angle.
However, the minnows were far from finished and roared back into the tie with a 38th minute equaliser.
A low ball towards the edge of the box saw a superb backheel from McDonald fool everyone as he set up McMahon for a sweet sidefooted finish, perfectly placed out of the reach of Redmond.
Meikle bent a dangerous ball across the face of goal soon after with no one there to put it away as the half finished all square.
Grayson scampered past Geohaghon in the first attack of the second half in a fine run down the middle, shooting straight at Redmond from 20 yards.
Green then forced a good stop from Kennedy after Briscoe had worked the ball to him.
Clements then put in a teasing cross from the right which Hutchinson met with a backheader that passed just inches wide of the back post.
Meikle had had a quiet afternoon and was replaced by Wright on 62 minutes.
As a loose Briscoe cross was easily gathered by Kennedy the first boos began to be heard as the home fans’ frustration grew.
The visitors caused more worry when Davis drilled the ball across the face of goal from the left by-line, Sutton there to turn it behind.
Speight replaced Green up front for the home side on 67 minutes as Paul Cox tried to inject new life into his attack.
Matlock almost stung Mansfield on a counter-attack as Grayson released McMahon into space on the left and he tried to pick out McDonald with his low cross only to see Redmond stretch out and make a vital interception.
McDonald wasn’t far off with a shot over the far angle on 78 minutes after the ball broke to him in space on the left of the box.
It was the part-time visitors who were looking the sharper and livelier in the closing stages as Stags’ recent punishing run of games began to take its toll on the legs.
Briscoe had a shot deflect wide for a corner from which Rhead headed wide with six minutes to play.
Rhead also stabbed a loose ball wide three minutes later in the six yard box from Murray’s ball in as the reality of a replay loomed ever larger.
In stoppage time a Matlock break saw Redmond unable to clear after leaving his box and Grayson’s eventual shy at the empty net was blocked by the well-placed Jones to prevent a late shock twist to the tale.
STAGS: Redmond; Thompson, Geohaghon, Jones, Sutton; Briscoe, Murray, Clements, Meikle (Wright 62); Hutchinson (Rhead 74), Green (Speight 67). Subs not used: Howell, Daniel.
MATLOCK: Kennedy, Harcourt, Roe, Gaughan (Grayson 21), Yates, Lukic, Cotton (Leesley 90+4), Ashmore, McDonald, McMahon, Davis. Subs not used: Dennis, Travis, Leese.
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh of Ashton-under-Lyme.
ATTENDANCE: 1,615 (250 away).