After a fabulous first half display, Mansfield Town were left hanging on as bottom club Carlisle United staged a sensational second half fightback at One Call Stadium this afternoon.
The points looked as good as sealed by the break as Stags ran up a 3-0 lead through Rakish Bingham (2) and Lee Beevers.
But former Stags boss Keith Curle, who only took over the Carlisle job the day before, rallied his troops for an amazing second half rally on his old turf in which they ended up desperately unlucky to lose 3-2.
Stags had to defend desperately against the side relegated from League One last year and were not helped by a section of their own fans, who began to turn on manager and players in the last 10 minutes and booed Cox for taking off the tiring Bingham as well as barracking striker Matt Rhead for not holding up the ball better.
The win was Stags’ second in five days and took them to eighth in League Two, just one place behind the play-off spots, but left Cox and the players wondering what they have to do to get their home crowd fully onside with them.
Mansfield were unchanged for a third successive game. That meant Stags’ new signing Reggie Lambe had to be content with a place on the bench.
The visitors appointed Curle as manager yesterday and, despite initial suggestions he would be in the stand, it was announced before the game that he would be on the United bench, a move that always likely to ignite a side still looking for their first win.
However, Stags were straight onto the offensive and Bingham tested Gillespie with a curling 20-yarder inside the first minute, the keeper perfectly positioned.
Evtimov then calmly gathered a Paynter header across the box on three minutes as the Cumbrians got into the Stags half for the first time.
But the Stags were ahead on four minutes. Clements spread the ball back wide to Marsden on the right after the youngster’s long thrown had been cleared.
Marsden crossed the ball back into the danger zone and Beevers jumped to glance a looping header out of the reach of the keeper and into the top right corner of the net.
It was just the start the Stags needed against a Carlisle side that were likely to be cagey and lacking in attacking ambition.
Gillespie punched a Clements free kick away at his far post as Mansfield attacked again, then Evtimov’s challenge on Elliott on the by-line saw the ball roll off the Carlisle striker’s foot and harmlessly out for a goalkick at the other end.
Potts was well over from 30 yards a minute later.
There was a hold-up after a high Sutton ball into the box saw Rhead jump and collide with Gillespie and White, leaving all three on the turf. Rhead eventually got up but the Carlisle pair both needed treatment.
The visitors were almost level out of nothing on 23 minutes when a long far post cross looked like it would go out out of play.
Stags switched off for a moment as it was kept in and Elliott managed to roll the ball in front of goal where Riley did well to throw his body in the way before Sweeney could finish.
Bingham was booked on 26 minutes for retaliation after a midfield tussle.
Brough wasn’t too far wide with a fierce 25-yard shot on 29 minutes after cutting in from the right.
There was another hold-up for treatment after Carlisle skipper Sweeney stayed down after trying to block a clearance.
A Rhead flick almost put Bingham away, keeper Gillespie down bravely to grab before Bingham’s outstretched boot could connect.
But Bingham did find the net soon afterwards on 37 minutes.
A Marsden long throw from the left was cleared back to him. This time he chipped the ball to the far post where, from a tight angle, Bingham crashed home a right-footed volley low inside the far post.
Bingham got another sharp low finish away two minutes later, but Gillespie was down to parry and an offside flag was up anyway.
However, the striker was celebrating his brace on 41 minutes.
The goal was carved out by Beevers, who superbly intercepted a pass just outside his own box and then ran almost the length of the field before laying a pass to his right in front of Bingham, just inside the box, who swept home a finish beyond Gillespie’s dive to his left.
Four minutes were added on, delayed even further by a bang in the face for Beevers, eventually coming back on with cotton wool in his nostril.
The visitors made a double change at the break as they gamely looked to give it a go and Bell had to head away a United corner in the opening minute.
But there was a setback for the Stags on 47 minutes as Clements felt the back of his leg after stretching for a block and limped off with what looked to be a hamstring strain. The midfielder had really been finding his form of late and it was a blow for him and the team.
McGuire eventually came on for him on 49 minutes and was soon in action, heading away the Cumbrians’ second corner of the half.
White was booked for a foul on Rhead on 54 minutes, which gave Stags a free kick in a decent position, 20 yards from goal, just to the left of centre. However, the wall did its job in blocking Bell’s attempt.
To their credit, Carlisle continued to press and won another corner on 57 minutes which Evtimov clawed away and Bell complete their clearance upfield to safety.
Evtimov then dived forward to punch away a Brough cross.
But Carlisle were knocking on the door and more pressure saw Amoo find space in the box from Paynter’s square pass to bundle a 10 yard finish past Evtimov and give the visitors some hope on 61 minutes.
Murray was too high from distance in response.
But the visitors had the bit between their teeth and forced two more corners, Amoo forcing Evtimov to save a low stab at goal from the second.
And on 67 minutes, from great wingplay from Elliott, he put over a perfect cross that Amoo somehow put wide with a free header from six yards.
You could sense a second goal was coming and on 71 minutes Stags allowed Dempsey to dribble across the edge of the box from left to right, holding off three challenges before drilling a finish back across the keeper and into the net.
Lambe finally made his debut for Stags on 74 minutes in place of Bell as Stags sought to stem the blue and white tide.
Bingham tried his luck from distance but the ball was never going to come down in time.
Archibald-Henville wasn’t too far wide as he stretched his long leg to turn a far post cross by White just wide.
Mansfield had some respite as Carlisle cleared a dangerous low Marsden cross out for a corner from which Rhead met Murray’s ball in with a header that dropped onto the roof of the net.
Stags made another change on 83 minutes as Bingham was replaced up front by Fisher, a section of the home supporters deciding to boo the manager for taking off the tiring two-goal hero.
United won another corner which saw Dempsey head over as the fourth official held up the board declaring four added minutes to test the nerves.
Evtimov made a good punch and a good grab on the ground as United continued to launch the ball into the box with home fans showing their displeasure at their side’s failings.
Stags survived an almighty scramble which was almost unbearable to watch as the final whistle brought instant relief and three points earned the hard way.
STAGS: Evtimov; Sutton, Riley, Tafazolli; Marsden, Murray, Bell (Lambe 74), Clements (McGuire 49), Beevers; Rhead, Bingham (Fisher 83). Subs not used: Studer, Palmer, Heslop, Taylor.
CARLISLE: Gillespie, Grainger, Archibald-Henville, Sweeney (Amoo HT), Paynter, Dicker, Potts (Beck HT), Brough, Dempsey, White, Elliott (Kearns 83). Subs not used: Marrow, Symington, Hanford, Marriott.
REFEREE: Sebastian Stockbridge of Sunderland.
ATTENDANCE: 3,117 (313 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Rakish Bingham.
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