MANSFIELD Town turned in a five star second half display that saw them finally shake off their match rustiness to destroy a shellshocked Dartford.
The sides began the afternoon level on 41 points and the Premier Division new boys dominated the first half as Stags, without a game for two weeks, went in at half-time knowing they were very lucky to be 1-0 up through an early Adam Murray strike.
But they came back out with some harsh words ringing in their ears to dramatically improve and last another four goals past the excellent Marcus Bettinelli.
Even so, Dartford were far from finished until the third goal went in and missed great chances at crucial times all afternoon as they saw a scoreline grow that didn’t tell the story of their efforts.
Despite good recent form, Stags had lost their last two home games so desperately needed to put that right against a Darts side whose recent form had dipped and they arrived with just two wins in their last 10 league outings.
This win was the first time this season the Stags have won three on the bounce and edged them up into sixth place just three points off the play-offs with games in hand.
It also wiped away the bad memories of that poor display in the televised 2-0 defeat away at Dartford back in October.
New signing, left back James Jennings, made an excellent debut, getting forward all the time and taking all the set pieces.
But, not far behind him in the man of the match stakes, were Luke Jones, who looked superb at both ends of the field, and Lee Beevers, who had a great game at right back.
Despite Stags’ recent good form and a reduced admission of £10, Stags will have been a bit disappointed the crowd only just topped the 2,500 mark. But those who were there will have enjoyed every single minute of it.
Sutton was the unlucky man to have to make way for new boy Jennings with Beevers moved across to right back.
Jennings’ first action was a high boot to the top of his head by Collier, the referee giving only a throw-in.
Stags were caught napping on four minutes from a Harris throw on the left which put Collier in on goal one-on-one, Marriott able to block with his knees.
Immediately the Stags went up the other end to grab a fifth minutes lead.
Green made progress down the right and, when he was challenged, the ball broke for skipper Murray, who simply drilled home a superb 20 yard finish from inside the D.
The Darts replied with a couple of corners which Mansfield were able to defend.
Collier then sent Evans down the right, the winger cutting inside and then sending a low shot across the face of goal and out for a goalkick.
Set piece specialist Jennings had his first chance to show his talent with a 16th minute corner which he lifted perfectly to the far post where Jones rose to head over.
Jennings saw his backheader clear his own crossbar from an Adam Green free kick for another corner which saw Marriott miscue his punch and leave the ball floating dangerously in the air in front of goal before it was cleared.
Harris somehow managed to get through two solid challenges 35 yards from goal before running on to lash a hopeful effort well over.
Marriott did much better with a fist onto a dangerous far post Evans cross.
Dartford almost levelled matters on 28 minutes as Burns’ looping far post header from a left wing corner was headed off the line by Stevenson and cleared as far as Evans, who fired the follow-up well over.
It then took a good tackle from Adam Green to halt Meikle before he could capitalise on a poor kick out by Bettinelli.
Green saw the first booking of the game on 38 minutes for his foul on Champion.
A minute later, Daniel’s cross was cleared to Meikle who saw a low shot pass narrowly wide of the target, Murray booked seconds later for something he said to the referee.
Dartford were having far more of the possession and getting most of the decisions too, which was starting to irk the home fans.
Adam Green was well wide with a free kick as we entered the last five minutes of the half.
The referee’s popularity plummeted further on 43 minutes when he booked Dempster for a foul but failed to book Adam Green seconds later for his foul on Daniel.
In between those the visitors again came close as Champion’s low shot bobbled and Marriott did well to smother the ball from close range as Harris tried to hook it past him.
Daniel battled his way almost to the left byline before lifting a shot just over from a tight angle.
The half-time boos were directed at referee Mr Bankes as Stags went ahead still in front by the slenderest of margins.
Briscoe took over from Meikle on the wing for the second half for Mansfield.
Stags immediately went onto the attack and Briscoe helped the ball on to Green who saw his shot blocked inside the opening seconds.
At the other end Harris slipped at the vital moment as he looked set to test Marriott from 16 yards.
Then Green put over a superb cross from the left, over the last defender and right onto the left boot of Daniel, whose volley was too high.
Murray was also too high from 25 yards from a half-cleared Jennings free kick.
Harris was unlucky again as he slipped stretching for a low Collier cross in front of goal and ended up sitting on the ball instead of testing the keeper.
After Murray was tripped, Noble was booked for a foul a few seconds earlier.
And Stags swept further ahead from the free kick.
Jennings put the ball into the box, Jones’ headed down and, when the defenders failed to react, a jubilant Howell was on hand to crash the ball home through a crowd of players.
This was much better now from the home side and Stevenson swapped passes with Jennings before shooting wide of the near post on the left.
Harris was again unable to test Marriott when a low Evans shot flew past him across the face of goal as the Darts looked for a way back into the contest.
Murray and Noble were lectured after Noble stood on Murray, who reacted angrily and shoved the Dartford man over. But this time cards stayed in the pocket, thankfully for Murray as he was already on a booking.
Jones was narrowly over with a header from a decent Daniel cross.
Three home corners followed without profit. But the points were sealed seconds later on 66 minutes as Daniel hoisted a great cross to the near post from wide on the left and Jones flicked a header past Bettinelli to crown a good display at both ends of the field.
Noble should have reduced the arrears a minute later but planted a free header over from a right wing corner.
Dempster then did well to force Collier to blast wide from 18 yards on 71 minutes.
Marriott was down smartly to his right to smother a low 20 yard shot from Adam Green as the visitors pluckily beavered away at what was becoming an increasingly impossible task.
Howell got a flick onto a throw that left Bettinelli having to dive bravely at the feet of Matt Green before he could turn the loose ball home.
Then a crossfield pass from Briscoe set up Daniel for a shot that the keeper turned round his near post.
Dartford’s last throw of the dice was a double substitution with 15 minutes of the game left.
Instead Mansfield made it 4-0 on 79 minutes.
Some neat passing saw Stevenson find Briscoe, whose perfectly weighted ball behind the defensive line invited Green to race onto it and provide a precise finish with a flick past Bettinelli.
Dominic Green’s long range free kick forced Marriott across his goal to turn it away to his left.
Another great delivery by Jennings offered Jones another great headed chance, the defender getting it on target only to see the keeper make a fine save.
Jennings put the corner into the near post where Stevenson’s flicked header hit a body on the line and was cleared.
With seven minutes to go, Rhead and Wright were given a late run out, replacing Daniel and Matt Green.
And the home side went nap with five minutes to go.
Stevenson was caught late by Adam Green’s outstretched leg in the box to win a penalty which he confidently blasted home himself, high into the top right hand corner.
Champion was cautioned for a trip on Stevenson with two minutes to go.
Briscoe thrilled the crowd in stoppage time with a powerful run down the centre, ending with a low prodded shot that the keeper was able to get down to grab.
STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Dempster, Jones, Jennings; Murray, Stevenson, Howell; Meikle (Briscoe ht), M. Green (Rhead 83), Daniel (Wright 83). Subs not used: Sutton, Clements.
DARTFORD: Bettinelli; Rogers (D. Green 75), Arber, A. Green, Champion; Evans, Bonner, Noble, Collier (Erskine 75); Burns, Harris. (Wallis 87) Subs not used: Wells, Hayes.
REFEREE: Peter Bankes of Liverpool.
ATTENDANCE: 2,598 (104 away).
CAUTIONS: Stags – Green 38, Murray 39, Dempster 43. Dartford – Noble 54, Champion 88.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: James Jennings.