On more than one occasion this season, Mansfield Town have played superbly yet dropped a point or points, so perhaps it is redressing the balance a little to admit that Stags were perhaps a little fortunate to come away from Saturday’s Spotland mudbath with two points.
A draw perhaps more indicative of the proceedings; a possible defeat on the cards; but still true to say that the Fourth Division leaders - in a first half period when they showed all the attributes of champions - should have made the game safe by the interval.
As it was Stags had to be content with a single, and as it turned out, a vital goal in this period, and a welcome one for Ray Clarke, his 22nd of the season, but going through a lean period in the last few weeks.
A well-taken effort too from a Gordon Hodgson corner kick as Clarke made acres of space for himself by the near post.
It could have been all so different if Dave Hailwood’s seventh minute effort had counted. The Nottingham youngster looked to have crowned his Football League debut with the sweetest of goals when he cracked in a superb low 20-yard drive that beat Poole all the way.
His jubilation was cut short, however, by an offside decision that must have been the finest of fine ruling by last season’s Football League Cup final referee Dave Wallace of Crewe.
And it was no reflection on Hailwood’s contribution to the game when he was replaced in the 67th minute by Clive Walker.
Stags had needed a goal at that stage for Rochdale, with centre forward Tony Whelan at the centre of the action, had posed some awkward problems in the early minutes.
It needed a desperate affair in the 18th minute when Rod Arnold was penalised inside his own penalty area for a “feet up” offence, to settle Stags into their stride.
The free kick took an age to get out of the way before it was hustles to safety by Mansfield’s ten-man defence.
From then on it was not a question of whether Stags would score, but when. Lathan was denied a goal by a brilliant save from Poole, but the keeper had luck with him as he kept out a shot from Jim McCaffrey with his feet.
Paul Matthews hooked a shot well over from a clear cut opening just before Clarke achieved the inevitable breakthrough.
The centre forward could have added a second only minutes later, but the attentions of three converging defenders halted his progress.
More alarm for Rochdale as Colin Foster’s header from a string of corner kicks hit the underside of the crossbar and was hooked to safety by full back Paul Hallows.
And one more incident to end the half as Sandy Pate was booked for dissent, but on this occasion a very harsh decision.
Almost a repeat of the previous Saturday’s Belle Vue affair as Rochdale made light of the worsening conditions, and Stags owed much to the tenacity of their defence and the brilliance of Rod Arnold that they came through unscathed. Whelan and Bob Mountford all went close to levelling the affair but in the end it was Stags who lasted the pace better.
In a final flurry Clarke was again foiled by Pool, Matthews fired a great shot wide, and even Barry Foster found himself in the home penalty box with a first-ever goal in the offing. But he did not accept the chance - probably in surprise.
Stags obviously missed the help of the burly Terry Eccles who undoubtedly would have revelled in the mud. Conditions that did not favour Stags’ lightweights. But at least Mansfield did not surrender even a point and once more opened up a significant gap at the top of the table as they ended a run of six games without a win and became the first Football League team to chalk up 50 points this season.
Great credit to the defence with Pate and Harry Foster both doing well. And the man of the match accolade to Rod Arnold who seems to have got over his Doncaster jitters.