Mansfield Town threw away a chance to all but win the BSBP title when they allowed minnows Braintree Town to come from behind and pull off a shock victory at the Amlin Stadium this afternoon.
Had Stags won this one and Kidderminster not won at Wrexham later tonight, the title would have been Mansfield’s.
And it looked as if the Stags had kept their part of the bargain as they grabbed an eighth minute lead through goal machine Matt Green and dominated the first hour of the game against a part-time side who had already played Tuesday and Thursday this week.
However, it all went horrible wrong in the driving Essex rain as the wilting home side suddenly found a second wind on the cloying pitch and conjured up two goals in 11 minutes to rock the visitors with keeper Nathan McDonald in inspired form for the home side.
Stags will now anxiously await tonight’s Wrexham v Kidderminster score before heading for Hereford United on Tuesday night for another crucial game.
It had all been so different earlier as over 1,000 Mansfield fans took over the tiny Braintree stadium, sitting and standing on three of the four sides.
Manager Paul Cox named an unchanged side and unchanged bench from Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Macclesfield to take on the Essex part-timers who had already played on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.
Stags almost snatched a sensational lead inside the first 30 seconds, Stevenson sending in a teasing cross from the left which saw Green go up with keeper McDonald and the ball tantalisingly close to the line before Habergham cleared for a corner.
A dangerous low Daniel cross won a second corner on seven minutes which Jones met with a far post header that McDonald stretched upwards to safely clutch.
But Stags stormed into an eighth minute lead via the most direct route.
Beevers played a superb long ball over the top which saw Green race to get goalside of the home defence and calmly sidefoot a perfect finish past an exposed McDonald for his 24th goal of the season.
Jones got another header on target from a Murray free kick as Braintree struggled to hold on under intense pressure.
Murray swung another free kick straight at goal, McDonald seeing it late as it came through a crowd of players, but well positioned to hold.
As the pre-match sunshine disappeared and the rain came down, Stags almost gifted the home side an equaliser against the run of play as no one dealt with a low Daley cross from the right and Wright was given an unexpected chance to stab a low shot at Marriott from 12 yards.
Green almost doubled his and Mansfield’s tally on 28 minutes after Howell attacked the box in the centre and slipped a superb pass to his left where Green looked a certain scorer, but his vicious left-footed finish cannoned back off the near post.
At the other end Davis scooped a 20-yard effort well over the bar.
Briscoe then turned well to dip an ambitious 45-yard half-volley over the home bar, which would have been goal of the season had it dipped a little sooner.
Braintree were resembling a boxer facing defeat, reeling from wave after wave of punishing attacks and second best in almost every challenge.
A clever diagonal pass from Stevenson sent Taylor to the left by-line where he overhit a powerful cross that no one had a prayer of reaching.
Howell conceded a first corner of the game for the home side on 36 minutes which Mansfield managed to clear after a dangerous near post flick.
Stags then forced their fourth flag kick, but pushing was spotted and the chance wasted for the visitors as Murray’s kick came over.
Soon after McDonald was down bravely at Murray’s feet as he tried to find a shooting angle on the left.
Davis was too high with a header for the Iron four minutes from the break.
Then Green lost control as he tried to round the keeper from a tight angle on the right after doing supremely well to win a hopeful loft forward.
One minute was added on and, with that complete, the referee allowed Braintree to still float a free kick into the Mansfield box which Taylor finally played away to ensure Stags maintained their narrow winning margin at the break.
With less then two minutes of the second half played, Briscoe fired a 28-yard central free kick through the wall, but straight at McDonald.
Stevenson battled well to win Stags’ first corner of the second half, but Jones could only get the slightest of touches with his head on Murray’s flag kick and the ball skimmed well wide.
A sliced defensive clearance offered Mansfield a second soon after as the tiny home floodlights came on. That was headed out for a third, which Jones glanced goalwards only for the referee to spot an infringement and blow.
Marriott was having almost nothing to do but was quickly to his knees in the mud to grab a long free kick into his box and not offer the Iron any kind of opportunity.
Wright sliced well wide with a shot on the run a minute later as Braintree continued to plug away gamely with very little venom in their sting.
McDonald punched away a Murray ball into the box, which went through everyone.
But Braintree suddenly conjured up an equaliser against the run of play.
Habergham pulled the ball back from the left by-line towards the edge of the box where Paine shaped up and buried a right-footed shot on the half-volley, the ball beating Marriott’s dive and finding its way inside the left post.
A minute later Marriott was there to grab an on-target header that came out of a crowd of players from a free kick.
Rhead replaced Stevenson on 62 minutes as Stags immediately looked for a way to get back on top.
Jones was shoved in the back while defending and the whistle went before Mulley turned the ball into the Mansfield net on 68 minutes.
That saw the introduction of Meikle for Briscoe a minute later.
But it was the home side who struck again on 71 minutes to completely turn the afternoon on its head.
Habergham lifted a cross to the far post from deep on the left and it was Sheppard who rose highest to plant a header that beat Marriott all ends up from seven yards.
Howell was replaced by Chapman for the last 12 minutes as shellshocked Stags looked for a reply.
And they were desperately close a minute later as Rhead flicked a header onto a long Chapman throw which McDonald just managed to claw away towards Murray whose follow-up finished the wrong side of the post.
Taylor dived into a tackle on 84 minutes to see the game’s first booking.
With Stags pushing forward, they were almost undone on the break near the end as Holman squared a pass to Mulley whose finish thankfully deflected wide.
Green was hauled back as he tried to break and Massey was cautioned, but Green was also yellow-carded for what he said to the referee.
Three minutes from time Stags won a corner, but Murray’s delivery was poor and to no one, the Iron easily clearing their lines.
A minute from time, Rhead looked like he had levelled with another flicked header from another Chapman long throw, but McDonald pulled off an acrobatic save to turn it over his bar.
Mansfield were offered the lifeline of four extra minutes at the end to save the day.
And in the last of those minutes a Jones cross was cleared to Daniel who whipped a finish well over.
Instead, Holman was inches wide at the other end with a powerful, curling effort.
On 90+5 minutes, Chapman was booked for complaining to the referee over a foul that he had missed. Seconds later the whistle ended an afternoon that had promised so much but delivered nothing.
BRAINTREE: McDonald, Paine, Massey, Wells, Habergham, Symons, Mulley, Daley (Woodyard 67), Davis, Wright (Holman 76), Sheppard (Sparkes 90+2). Subs not used: Smith, Naisbitt. STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Jones, Dempster, Taylor; Howell (Hutchinson 78), Murray, Stevenson (Rhead 62); Briscoe (Meikle 69), Green, Daniel. Subs not used: Sutton, Hutchinson. REFEREE: Brett Huxtable of Torrington, Devon.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Murray.