A dreadful backpass by Martin Riley six minutes from time led to Exeter City snatching a 3-2 victory from the jaws of defeat in an absolute thriller at Mansfield Town this afternoon.
With six players making home debuts in Adam Murray’s new-look side, the Stags lived up to their rich promise with a superb attacking display that could have yielded them double figures.
But a combination of poor finishing, six goal line clearances, a post and some good goalkeeping by James Hamon denied them more then two goals.
And some dreadful defending at the other end of the pitch proved so costly in the end as Stags sank to within a point of the drop zone.
It was hard to believe they were 1-0 down at the break after dominating the first half.
But two goals in 11 minutes then had them deservedly ahead before switching off twice at the back to allow the Grecians to end a run of three straight defeats with a late winner from the penalty spot.
Riley’s terrible backpass saw keeper Adam Smith, who had a fine afternoon, bring down David Wheeler and sub Alex Nicholls bag the winner.
With reduced price tickets bringing in a bigger crowd of 3,881, it is to be hoped that, despite the result, the returning fans saw enough to entertain them and bring them back for another game.
But with a home game with leaders Wycombe next week followed by a relegation six-pointer at Carlisle the week after, these are worrying times for the club.
Boss Murray stuck by the same XI that performed so well in the second half of last week’s narrow defeat at Burton.
That meant midweek signing Blair had to be content with a place on the bench.
Five of the Stags side – Smith, Ravenhill, Raynes, Elder and Kee – were making home debuts against a Grecians side who had just lost three on the bounce.
Stags began in positive fashion and in the third minute Kee was just wide with a low shot after sidestepping a defender from Brown’s square pass from the left.
Brown was then blocked in the box as he tried to take advantage of an Oliver flick.
City then had to defend a long Elder throw which was put out for a corner on eight minutes.
Brown sent that long from the left and Riley looped in a header from beyond the far post that Davies had to head off the line.
Exeter’s first attack saw Riley in the way of a Davies drive in revenge after some neat passing in the box by the visitors.
Ravenhill was booked on 14 minutes after slicing down Nichols with the City players reacting angrily, wanting him sent off and Nichols staying down until the physio reached him, when he was able to jump up and trot off to boos from the home fans.
Brown was close to turning home a low Lambe cross in from of goal, but Bennett was just able to hook it clear.
There were cheers from home fans as Nichols was booked on 19 minutes for a late challenge as Raynes made a clearance.
Another low Brown cross went agonisingly across goal out of the reach of Kee as Stags continued to press.
Harley warmed Smith’s hands with a swerving 20-yarder on 22 minutes.
City threatened again on 26 minutes as Sercombe cut into the box on the right and flashed a shot into the sidenetting.
A minuter later Nichols was almost clear but by the time had the ball under control he had two defenders at him and lifted a poor finish well over.
On 29 minutes City had a double let-off from a Clements free kick as Oliver’s header hit the post and Kee’s follow-up was blocked on the line.
The Grecians lost experienced striker Morrison to injury on the half-hour, replaced by Wheeler.
Oliver was then added to the notebook for a foul on Noble on 32 minutes.
Smith had his first real save to make on 33 minutes as Exeter broke well and Nichols fed Davies for a low shot that the keeper blocked with his legs.
City missed their best chance so far on 36 minutes as Bennett ran in late from a corner to send a free header wide of the target.
But Exeter did score the goal they were threatening on 37 minutes. Davies floated the ball in from the right and Nichols expertly guided a header under the left angle.
Brown sent a tame header at Hamon from a long Elder cross as Stags looked for a reply.
Mansfield won corner number two on 45 minutes and again City had a double let-off with Hamon making a great save to turn aside Raynes’ header and then Kee’s follow-up blocked on the line.
In stoppage time Oliver saw a low angled shot save as Stags went in wondering how they were behind.
Two minutes into the restart Oliver turned well and tried his luck from distance, the ball taking a deflection for a corner.
That reached Riley at the far post and his header back in front of goal was half-cleared with Sutton then having a shot blocked.
On 50 minutes Stags were caught napping from a quickly-taken short corner and Nichols guided a header at goal from Oakley’s cross that Smith had to save.
Brown tried to put Kee away in the box, but Hamon threw himself in the way before the striker could find a way past him.
Soon after a throw from the right saw Lambe lift a 15 yard effort over the top.
Mansfield were pouring forwards now and a Brown cross from the left picked out Oliver at the far post whose dipping header was cleared off the line on 54 minutes.
Seconds later both Oliver and Kee failed to net from close range from another Brown cross though an offside flag was raised anyway.
Two home corners followed in succession.
And, from the second, Mansfield were deservedly level.
Clements sent it over and Kee got himself free to guide home an unstoppable header.
A second almost followed as Brown and Kee swapped passes before Brown’s finish was charged down by a defender as City wobbled.
Harley got a 30 yard free kick over the home wall and on target, but it was never likely to trouble Smith who held on with ease.
On 63 minutes Blair came on for his debut in place of Lambe.
And five minutes later Mansfield were ahead for the first time.
Raynes lofted the ball into the box, Kee made a nuisance of himself with two defenders and the ball broke invitingly for Oliver who steadied himself before smashing home a low finish.
On 75 minutes City almost levelled out of nowhere as Wheeler broke quickly, came inside Elder and blasted at goal where Smith made a great parry.
But City were level on 77 minutes from a corner. It was taken low to the near post where Bennett raced in unmarked to turn home a low finish under Smith.
An 80th minute corner for Mansfield then saw Hamon claw away a Raynes header from under the bar.
Kee went down in a challenge in the box and wanted a penalty, but the referee was having none of it.
Instead it was a penalty at the other end that saw Exeter back in front on 84 minutes.
It stemmed from a suicidal backpass from Riley from the left by-line that put Wheeler in, Smith sliding in and taking him down.
Up stepped sub Nicholls and, although Smith went the right way, the ball was hit firmly and skidded under his dive into the corner.
Stags won two corners on the trot but couldn’t make them count.
Four minutes were added, but the damage was already done.
STAGS: Smith, Sutton (Rhaed 85), Riley, Ravenhill (McGuire 68), Lambe (Blair 63), Brown, Oliver, Elder, Clements, Kee, Raynes. Subs not used: Studer, Fisher, Heslop, Beevers.
EXETER: Hamon, Woodman, Bennett, Sercombe, Oakley, Davies, Moore-Taylor, Noble, Nichols (Nicholls 76), Harley, Morrison (Wheeler 31, Cummins 89). Subs not used Butterfield, Keohane, Tillson, Pym.
REFEREE: Nicholas Kinseley of Essex.
ATTENDANCE: 3,881 (267 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Vadaine Oliver.