An eventful last day of the season saw Mansfield Town just fail to recover from the blow of having Ritchie Sutton sent off after only 50 seconds in today’s 2-1 defeat by Portsmouth.
On a day when the stars of the past, the 1974/75 title-winning side took a 40th anniversary bow at half-time, Stags fans got to see a glimpse of future stars as a young side containing five players aged 21 and under battled hard for the cause.
Once again Jack Thomas was the star turn for Stags. He picked up four Players of the Season trophies pre-match, including the Chad Readers’ trophy, then earned another man of the match award and bagged a superb first ever senior goal.
With Sutton gone, 17-year-old midfielder Joe Fitzpatrick faced the daunting task of going to centre half, but came out of it with much credit.
Sutton’s dismissal also saw a penalty awarded which Matt Tubbs dispatched with two minutes gone.
Lenny Pidgeley will have been upset to then get beaten by a wicked bounce from Jed Wallace’s 30-yard shot on 55 minutes.
But Stags were not finished and Thomas picked out the far top corner with a superb curling finish on 67 minutes.
However, it wasn’t enough to prevent Pompey, roared on by over 1,000 fans, to achieve their first ever League win over the Stags.
Murray shook things up with six changes with Fitzpatrick, keeper Pidgeley, full-backs Callum Elder and Liam Marsden, and strike pair Rakish Bingham and Matt Rhead coming in.
Out from the side that lost 3-2 at Cambridge last weekend went Sasha Studer, Ricky Ravenhill, Lee Beevers, Vadaine Oliver, Michael Raynes and Terry Hawkridge.
Young defender Corbin Shires was also included among the substitutes but didn’t manage to get on the field.
Prior to the game there was an emotional farewell to Doug Carroll, retiring after 13 years as club mascot Sammy the Stag.
There was also a minute’s silence to mark the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire disaster.
The game could not have got off to a worse start for Mansfield as they were behind and down to 10 men within two minutes.
Just 50 seconds had elapsed when Sutton was red-carded after a foul on Wallace.
Clements gave the ball away in the middle of the pitch and Pompey broke well with Tubbs feeding a square pass to Wallace who, as he tried to pull the trigger, was upended by Sutton.
The referee pointed straight to the spot and pulled out a red card to Sutton who, having just been given three Player of the Year awards, had seen his afternoon turn sour very quickly.
Tubbs sent Pidgeley the wrong way from the spot, tucking the ball inside the left post and immediately Mansfield had a mountain to climb.
Fitzpatrick was pulled back into the centre of defence to plug the gap.
As Rhead caused problems jumping for a high ball forward on 10 minutes, Thomas was following in and sent a volley wide of the left post.
Tubbs just failed to take a through ball in his stride on 16 minutes, had he done so it was 2-0.
Brown was booked for hacking down Wallace on 17 minutes.
But the Stags came close to levelling on 20 minutes as Bingham sent a powerful dipping shot over from the edge of the box after a flick-on from the head of Rhead.
On 24 minutes Elder’s misplaced pass sent Westcarr speeding through, Pidgeley beating away his finish at his near post.
After a foul by Thomas, Wallace crashed a 25 yard free-kick into the home wall on the half-hour mark.
Four minutes later a string of near Pompey passes ended with Wallace lifting a dipping finish inches over the bar.
On 36 minutes Bingham again came close. Rhead flicked on a long Marsden throw and Bingham stretched in front of goal to get the touch only to see Jones block.
Soon after Bingham wasn’t far wide with another decent attempt.
Wallace was warned for a dive as he jumped over Fitzpatrick’s sliding tackle, but the cards stayed in the referee’s pocket.
Dunne was well over as the visitors worked the ball around the edge of the box from a short corner. Then Thomas blocked a Close effort from a free kick as the visitors went in comfortably in control with home fans inevitably booing the referee.
Lambe replaced Bingham for the second half.
And Mansfield were almost level within two minutes as Brown zipped in a low shot that Jones parried and Butler got in the way of Rhead’s follow-up.
On 53 minutes Dunne’s first time finish was just too high from Tubbs’ square pass.
But the visitors’ lead was doubled on 55 minutes out of the blue. Wallace tried his luck from 30 yards and the ball took a wicked bounce in front of Pidgeley as he dived and flew high into the net.
On 62 minutes there were cheers from the home fans as Hearn came on to replace Marsden, Stags going 3-4-2.
Elder slid in to stop Westcarr getting on the end of a low Tubbs cross in front of goal. Brown headed the corner away to just outside the box where Butler’s dipping half-volley was superbly turned over by Pidgeley.
Thomas then marked his day to remember with his first senior goal to bring Mansfield back into the contest on 67 minutes.
And what a goal it was. Brown drew defenders on the left before rolling a pass to Thomas 20 yards out. He looked up and curled a perfect finish beyond Jones and into the top right hand corner.
Elder produced another fabulous tackle to deny Wallace a shot at gaol in the six yard box, then Westcarr curled a decent effort just wide on the turn.
On 73 minutes, Webster’s tackle on Thomas saw the ball zip back past the Pompey goal and only inches wide.
Portsmouth continued to press and Wallace sidestepped Thomas before shooting over.
The visitors won two more corners in succession, Close well wide from distance as the second was cleared.
As several decisions went against Mansfield in the closing stages, including a clear handball, the home fans yelled their frustration at the referee.
Stags were caught pushing up in the last minute and Chaplin seemed a certain scorer until Thomas produced an immense tackle.
Seconds later Pidgeley had to beat away a vicious Hollands shot as Portsmouth saw out the game for a first away win in seven trips.
But Stags were given hearty applause for their efforts and the young players left a feeling of hope for the future.
STAGS: Pidgeley, Marsden (Hearn 62), Sutton, Tafazolli, Elder, Thomas, Clements (McGuire 75), Fitzpatrick, Brown, Bingham (Lambe HT), Rhead. Subs not used: Studer, Shires, Oliver, Heslop.
PORTSMOUTH: Jones, Webster, Devera, Wallace, Ertl, Tubbs (McCallam 89), Westcarr (Chaplin 81), Dunne, Hollands, Close (Shorey 85), Butler. Subs not used: Poker, Fogden, Atangana, May. REFEREE: Graham Horwood of Luton.
ATTENDANCE: 4,222 (1,091 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Jack Thomas.