Despite another sterling performance against one of the division’s leading sides, Mansfield Town once again came away with nothing as they lost 2-1 at Plymouth Argyle in the Devon sunshine this afternoon.
They were undone by two set pieces, the first from a free kick in the second minute that Anthony O’Connor headed home, then, against the run of play, from a 63rd minute corner, headed in by Carl McHugh.
Vadaine Oliver immediately pulled one back, but the equaliser would not come, even with three up front near the end, for a side that has only netted 12 away goals all season.
The game did at least mark a late cameo return for Mansfield striker Liam Hearn after missing almost the whole season with a cruciate knee injury from August, and he could yet play an important part in the run-in.
This was the third game in a row Stags had gained no reward for a decent display against promotion-chasers and it extended their losing sequence to five to keep them in the relegation mire.
Thankfully elsewhere, bottom two Cheltenham and Tranmere both lost as did Hartlepool, but Carlisle picked up a win to leapfrog Mansfield and push them back to 21st, though still six points clear of the drop with just four games left.
Mansfield know how important winning at home to Tranmere Rovers could now be on Tuesday to allay fears they could still go down.
Even before the game, the signs were that it may not be Mansfield’s day.
They were dealt a blow pre-match when Ritchie Sutton hurt himself in the warm-up and had to be replaced in the starting XI by Ryan Tafazolli, Michael Raynes making up the numbers on the bench.
Keeper Lenny Pidgeley and winger Terry Hawkridge missed out with illness, replaced by Sasha Studer and Rakish Bingham.
Jamie McGuire and Ricky Ravenhill both shook off ankle injuries and Vadaine Oliver a shoulder injury to be involved, McGuire and Oliver staying in the side and Ravenhill returning to the bench.
After the Sutton blow pre-match, Stags went on to make a nightmare start and go behind with just one minutes 38 seconds gone.
Tafazolli conceded a free kick 40 yards from goal. Bobby Reid floated it in to the right of the box where O’Connor leapt well to direct a magnificent dipping header over Studer and under the far angle.
A slip by Tafazolli in the box almost let in Mellor as he attacked the right by-line, but his cross was hooked clear.
An offside flag saved Stags on 11 minutes as Reuben Reid chased a through ball down the middle.
Oliver headed away another Bobby Reid free kick, Reid then seeing a low follow-up shot blocked.
Stags finally began to settle and on 19 minutes almost levelled as Clements took a training ground corner low towards the incoming Lambe, whose first time shot was turned round for a second corner by McCormick.
A minute later Oliver leapt to head a forward ball over the keeper, but an offside flag cut short his celebrations.
Blizzard was wide for Argyle from 25 yards from a Bobby Reid pass on 24 minutes.
Lambe then slipped Thomas into the box at the other end and he beat a defender before stabbing a low shot straight at the keeper.
Plymouth won another free kick from the same range as the goal stemmed from, this time Bobby Reid over-hitting his kick and, with Beevers policing O’Connor well, the ball bounced out harmlessly for a goalkick.
Beevers was booked on 33 minutes for taking both of Alessandra’s legs in a challenge.
McGuire and then Tafazolli prevented another Bobby Reid free kick causing problems.
On a counter-attack Oliver crossed low from the left and had Lambe dummied to leave the ball to Bingham behind him, they might have been level. But Lambe took possession and the moment was gone.
Stags then survived a couple of worrying moments.
McGuire gave the ball away which offered Lee a shooting chance that Tafazolli blocked.
Then Allesandra pulled a low ball back from the right by-line that Mellor pulled wide of the near post when he should have tested Studer on 39 minutes.
Oliver was furious when he was held down in the box from a Beevers cross, then Lambe had a shot seconds later that deflected wide for a corner as Mansfield resumed their pressure.
Oliver came so close to what would have been a deserved levelled in two minutes of stoppage time, turning to shoot into the sidenetting.
Beevers headed the ball across from the right of the box and, when Lambe couldn’t get a shot away, Oliver took over and worked some space to turn, but just couldn’t find the target from six yards.
Stags survived a home break before launching one of their own on 52 minutes.
They were three on two and Clements fed Oliver to his right who only had to try to pick out Bingham in the middle but chose instead to shoot and lashed wide to the anger of the other two.
On 54 minutes Stags switched to two up front with Rhead coming for for winger Bingham and Stags going 4-1-3-2.
And they were so close to going level three minutes later as Rhead nodded on a cross from the right and Clements fired a finish from point blank range at McCormick’s legs.
Argyle almost caught Stags cold on another counter-attack soon after, Alessandra drilling the ball across the six yard box and wide of the far post.
On 62 minutes Stags had a let-off as Studer made a great stop to keep out a Blizzard shot and Beevers got in the way of Lee’s follow-up.
But the home side went 2-0 up against the run of play on 63 minutes as Bobby Reid floated a corner in to the near post where McHugh flicked a header home.
That could have killed off the Stags. Instead they bit straight back as Beevers crossed from the right towards Oliver, who headed against the bar before reacting quickest to bury his follow-up.
Plymouth responded with a double change on 69 minutes, Cox and Jones on for Lee and McHugh.
Mansfield allowed Alessandra to come inside from the left and make space, the Argyle man’s finish eventually weak and straight to Studer.
The big moment for Hearn came on 78 minutes as he replaced Oliver.
Cox was low and wide, and a minute later Bobby Reid was too high from the same range as the home side tried to wrap the points up.
Hearn looked to be held in the box as he tried to reach a Rhead flick, but nothing was given.
Then home sub Ansah got to the left by-line on a great run and pulled the ball back for Bobby Reid, who saw two defenders throw themselves in the path of his finish and the ball flew up and over for a corner.
There was a hold-up as the ball came over and Tafazolli and Beevers clashed heads in a nasty collision, Beevers staying down dazed and Tafazolli coming off to have a gash taped over. Beevers also needed bandaging.
Stags pushed three up top as Fisher replaced Lambe on 89 minutes, the referee then adding six minutes on at the end.
Stags won a throw on the right which saw everyone pile forwards. Elder threw it long to the near post, but Rhead’s flick dropped harmlessly wide.
Then Hartley made a great interception in the box to prevent a Rhead flick reaching a team mate.
Great work by Thomas saw him cue up Rhead, O’Connor’s challenge taking the sting off the shot as the keeper gathered.
Plymouth kept the ball well near the end and Studer had to turn over a dipping Alessandra shot as time ran out on Mansfield’s brave efforts.
PLYMOUTH: McCormick, Mellor, Alessandra, R. Reid (Ansah 77), Blizzard, Holmes-Dennis, McHugh (Jones 69), B. Reid, O’Connor, Lee (Cox 69), Hartley. Subs not used: Bittner, Banton, Harvey, Brunt.
STAGS: Studer, Beevers, Tafazolli, Riley, Elder, Clements, McGuire, Thomas, Lambe (Fisher 89), Bingham (Rhead 54), Oliver (Hearn 78). Subs not used: Raynes, Marsden, Fitzpatrick, Ravenhill.
REFEREE: Rob Lewis of Shrewsbury.
ATTENDANCE: 6,626 (166 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Jack Thomas.