Luton Town keeper Mark Tyler won man of the match as he defied a superb Mansfield Town to help the Hatters win a thrilling game 1-0 at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
Stags deserved at least a point from this clash away to a very talented Luton side, but Tyler made crucial saves to deny Matt Green, Nathan Thomas and Jack Thomas while Adi Yussuf also let a great opportunity roll away from him.
The winning goal, which gave Luton only their second win of the campaign, was a 59th minute penalty from former Scottish international Craig Mackail-Smith after he had been brought down by Ryan Tafazolli.
Mackail-Smith was a handful all afternoon and had a spectacular scissor kick finish ruled out for offside just before the break.
Luke Wilkinson and Cameron McGeehan also missed the target from good positions for the Hatters.
But Mansfield, who had only lost once all season before this setback, were magnificent all afternoon, never throwing in the towel right to the end.
The Stags defended superbly under some intense pressure earlier in the encounter.
But for much of the second half, it was Mansfield who had Luton on the back foot and home fans desperate for the whistle.
On the negative side Stags did lose Chris Clements to injury and Nicky Hunt took his fifth booking of the season and a one-game ban next week.
But they will take great heart from their display in this defeat, knowing their approach play deserved so much more.
Mansfield welcomed Matty Blair back into the first team squad for the first time since his serious knee injury at Carlisle in January.
Blair was given a big boost after a good first week’s training with a place on the bench at the expense of Chris Beardsley, though didn’t get onto the pitch.
There were pre-match worries when a virus hit the Stags camp with Corbyn Shires taken very ill.
But, although Joe Fitzpatrick was recalled from a loan spell at Sutton Coldfield as a precaution, the first team have so managed to avoid contracting it.
Mansfield found themselves under the expected early pressure, surviving a couple of free kicks and a dangerous Griffiths cross that drifted just wide of the far post.
But on eight minutes Luton forced a good save from Jensen as a low McQuoid cross into the six yard box came off a defender’s leg towards Smith, whose low drive forced Jensen down to parry.
It took 11 minutes for Stags to fashion an attack, Rose setting up Thomas. Thomas should have shot but instead returned the ball to Rose for a low finish that was blocked.
After surviving more home pressure, on 20 minutes Mansfield almost went ahead against the run of play.
Thomas sent in a low cross from the left that bounced off McNulty, who should have done better, and allowed Green to stab an effort from goal from close range that Tyler did well to get in the way of.
Stags skipper Hunt’s trip on McCourt on 26 minutes earned him his fifth yellow of the season and a suspension for next weekend.
Luton were calling for a red card for Green on 29 minutes, alleging he had elbowed Wilkinson in a challenge. But it was right in front of a linesman and the officials were unimpressed.
Smith was booked on 33 minutes for catching Hunt from behind.
Mansfield then had a big let-off on 42 minutes as Luton had a goal disallowed. And what a goal it would have been.
McQuoid sent over a cross from the right from which Mackail-Smith, with back to goal, crashed home a superb overhead kick, only to see an offside flag raised.
A minute from the interval, Stags lost the influential Clements to an injury, replaced by Jack Thomas.
But the visitors will have been delighted to go in all sqaure after some excellent defending.
A trip by Jack Thomas in the second minute after the restart saw him pick up Mansfield’s second booking of the afternoon.
Chapman slid in with a superb challenge in the box to win the ball with home fans inevitably screaming for a penalty.
Stags were almost ahead on 52 minutes on a swift counter-attack. Nathan Thomas burst down the centre with thrilling acceleration and fed a perfect pass into the path of Westcarr who saw Tyler get down to make a good save from his low finish.
It was the last contribution from Nathan Thomas, replaced om 53 minutes by Lambe.
But Mansfield were undone on 59 minutes.
McCourt sent a perfectly-weighted through ball down the middle for the lively Mackail-Smith to go clear only to be brought down by Tafazolli.
The Stags man was lucky to only get a yellow card before Mackail-Smith gleefully buried the spot kick firmly down the middle.
Mansfield’s response was good with some decent pressure and a couple of great balls in from Rose. But on 63 minutes the home side came close again.
Stags twice tried and failed to clear Luton’s third corner of the half and the ball fell to Wilkinson 12 yards out who, thankfully, produced a defender’s finish, blazing well over the bar.
On 70 minutes Jack Thomas went close, but Tyler again thwarted the Stags.
Tafazolli won the ball in the air and it ran to Thomas 20 yards from goal, his powerful shot just turned away at full stretch by the fingertips of Tyler.
Mansfield continued to press and a Benning free kick was cleared to Jack Thomas, who fired in another 20 yard shot straight at Tyler.
On 76 minutes Luton might have doubled their lead. O’Donmell crossed from the right and McGeehan met it with a powerful header that would have beaten Jensen had it been on target, but it flashed inches over.
At the other end Benning swung over a free kick that saw Westcarr guide his header wide at the far post.
But Stags should have been level on 82 minutes. Chapman sent sub Yussuf away with a ball down the centre over the defenders. But his first touch let him down and the ball ran away from him to a grateful Tyler.
Two minutes from time Jack Thomas whipped over a great cross from the right and, with three stags queuing at the far post, defender O’Donnell’s header was crucial.
LUTON: Tyler, O’Donnell, Smith, McNulty, McGeehan (O’Brien 86), Griffiths, McCourt (Lawless 90+4), Lee, Mackail-Smith, McQuoid (Green 80), Wilkinson. Subs not used: Hall, Marriott, Justham, Williams.
STAGS: Jensen, Hunt, Tafazolli, Pearce, Benning, Chapman, Rose (Yussuf 77), Clements (Jack Thomas 44), Nathan Thomas (Lambe 53), Westcarr, Green. Subs not used: Marsden, Collins, Blair, McGuire.
REFEREE: Rob Lewis of Shrewsbury.
ATTENDANCE: 7,939 (262 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Krystian Pearce.
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