IT may not have been the best or prettiest of displays, but Mansfield Town ground out a much-needed gutsy 2-0 win over Braintree Town at the One Call Stadium this afternoon.
In a scrappy game, Lee Stevenson’s poaching instincts finally put the home side ahead three minutes from the break.
Home fans then had to wait until four minutes from time before Jake Speight ran clear to expertly seal the three hard-earned points.
Although manager Paul Cox will want more from his side going forward, he will at least be delighted with a clean sheet and the face that the visitors were not allowed a single shot on target all afternoon.
Cox made wholesale with five players brought in and a new formation.
With star striker Matt Green suspended and Lindon Meikle rested to the bench after his midweek exploits with England C, Cox also dropped Luke Jones, Anthony Howell and Louis Briscoe.
Cox went 3-4-1-2 with Ryan Tafazolli making his debut in a three-man defence, Lee Beevers, Lee Stevenson and Chris Clements brought into midfield, and Jake Speight starting for the first time up front.
Part-timers Braintree could only name four subs.
Geohaghon had the opportunity to hurl in a long throw in the opening minute from the left which was cleared to Clements, who met it with a rising drive that cleared the crossbar.
A loose header across his own box by Tafazolli saw Bailey-Dennis plant the ball back in front of goal where, had Holman’s outstretched leg made contact, Braintree would have been ahead.
Braintree replied with a right wing cross from Quinton that saw Marks send a backheader over the top from inside six yard box.
Then, when Marriott came to collect a free kick, he found Rhead in the way and the ball bobbled to Mulley who dragged it wide with the keeper well out of position.
There was fury on 15 minutes as Daniel slid in to win a hard but perfectly fair tackle on Symons, both players hurt in the process. Braintree wanted Daniel red-carded but, after treatment to both players, the referee rightly kept his cards firmly in his pocket.
Mansfield’s best chance so far arrived on 21 minutes as Clements pulled the home side’s first corner back towards Rhead who powered a free header from 10 yards straight down the centre at keeper Naisbett.
Sutton’s tackle caught Mulley late to earn a 27th minute booking, Symons seeing a follow-up shot blocked from the half-cleared free kick.
Stags then cleared a 31st minute corner as far as Paine who slotted a great ball back over the advancing defenders to Bailey-Dennis to the left of goal who, from a tight angle, forced Marriott to save with his knees.
Speight was adjudged to have fouled his man two minutes later before slamming home a volley from 10 yards.
When Murray failed to win a sliding tackle on 33 minutes Marks ran on towards the edge of the box where he fired wide of Marriott’s right hand post.
The breakthrough came on 42 minutes for Mansfield after a neat bit of skill from Clements on the edge of his own box.
Skilfully losing his opponent, he sent a long ball forward for Speight to chase. The striker tried to cut in between two defenders but was blocked off. But the ball ran invitingly towards Stevenson whose low 12-yard finish found the net.
Mansfield survived a worrying scramble when Sutton got in the way of a poked effort by Mulley as we entered three minutes of stoppage time.
Rhead had the first shy at goal after the break as a loose pass from Peters with the keeper out of position briefly saw the goal unguarded. But Naisbett recovered his ground quickly as Rhead hoisted the ball accurately at the goal from 30 yards where the keeper made the catch.
Braintree won two corners after Tafazolli did well to outjump Marks at the far post.
Clements was booked for dissent after conceding a free kick on 56 minutes.
A minute later Speight forced Naisbett to parry a low 25 yard effort.
The game continued to be anxious and disjointed for the home side, Rhead firing a low shot into the sidenetting on 76 minutes.
A low Clements cross then deflected wide of the far post as Mansfield continued to labour for a killer second goal.
It finally arrived four minutes from time thanks to a superb crossfield forward ball from Daniel on the left. Speight timed his run well to stay onside and he raced clear before lifting a sublime finish over the dive of Naisbitt.
Braintree sub O’Connor went in late on Daniel to earn the visitors’ first yellow card a minute from the end of the 90 which then saw five added minutes in which Mansfield comfortable protected the clean sheet.
STAGS: Marriott; Sutton, Geoghagon, Tafazolli; Beevers, Clements, Murray, Daniel; Stevenson; Rhead (Howell 82), Speight (Meikle 87). Subs not used: Briscoe, Thompson, Jones.
BRAINTREE: Naisbett; Peters, Wells, Paine, Bailey-Dennis; Mulley (O’Connor 76), Symons, Quinton, Sparkes (Dawkin 67); Holman, Marks. Subs not used: McDonald, Habergham.
REFEREE: Wayne Barratt of Bromsgrove.
ATTENDANCE: 2,049 (32 away).
CAUTIONS: Stags – Sutton 27, Clements 56. Braintree – O’Connor 89.