MANSFIELD Town conjured up a thriller better than anything on the other TV channels on Saturday night when they roared back from 3-0 down to level the game in a sensational first half against 10-men Newport County at Field Mill, reports John Lomas.
This game was moved to an evening kick-off for the satellite Premium TV channel, initially as both sides had the Holdsworth twins as managers.
Both have since departed but the TV channel were still treated to one of the most incredible first 45 minutes ever seen at Field Mill.
Stags were behind in 18 seconds and 2-0 down in three minutes with some furious fans leaving the stadium when Newport made it 3-0 on 28 minutes.
But on-loan Stoke City striker Louis Moult sparked the comeback with a glorious strike to open his Mansfield account.
He then forced Chris Todd to haul him down in the box to earn the Newport man a red card and Stags a penalty which Louis Briscoe dispatched with venom.
Moult doubled his tally in first half stoppage time to send what was left of a poor Saturday evening crowd into raptures and a sense of anticipation for what might be ahead.
However, as so often with games like this, the second half proved an anti-climax as the Exiles dug in and shut up shop and took a hard-earned point back over the border.
Indeed, with Mansfield stretched at the back in search of the winner, they might have been undone on the counter-attack near the end but, with only Neil Collett to beat, sub Yemi Odubade chipped over the crossbar.
Once again the pitch cut up badly and made good football tricky, the ball sticking badly in places and forcing errors.
The Stags side showed just one change from the midweek FA Trophy replay victory at Alfreton with Kevin Sandwith at left back in place of Dan Spence.
The night began in disastrous fashion with Newport, who had only won one of their previous 10 games, netting after only 18 seconds.
Naylor mis-kicked as he tried to intercept a pass, allowing Miller to nip in behind him and square the ball to Matthews who tucked away a low finish under Collett.
The Newport fans were still celebrating that when they doubled their lead in the third minute.
It stemmed from a corner on the right and when Stags failed to clear at the far post, Collett got behind one effort before Griffin stabbed high into the net from close range.
Mansfield finally found their feet and troubled keeper Garner twice in as many minutes.
First he kept out a an acrobatic far post volley from Moult and then parried a curling Sandwith free kick from 20 yards, sparking a scramble that was eventually cleared.
The pitch was quickly cutting up again, despite a dryer day, and players were struggling to keep the ball moving through the worst areas.
On 24 minutes Rose headed neatly down for Griffin to shoot low and straight at Collett.
But it was 3-0 on 28 minutes. Griffin crossed long from the right and the ball bounced invitingly for Rose who tucked a half-volley back across Collett and inside the far post.
Connor saw a decent shot on the turn deflect for a corner and Moult ballooned over from the resulting corner as Mansfield urgently looked for a way back into the contest.
And it came on 31 minutes with an absolute pearler from Moult – his first goal for the club. Looking up on the left of the penalty area he picked out the far top corner with stunning ease for the goal of the night.
Two minutes later Stags were firmly back in business as the energetic Moult got goalside of Todd, who brought him down. As last man he was shown a red card
And, with the clock ticking onto 35 minutes, Briscoe stepped up to smash home an unstoppable penalty almost down the centre.
Briscoe came close again in first half stoppage time with a superb 30 yard free kick, bringing a save out of Garner sand Sandwith firing the follow-up wide.
But there was still time for Stags to go in all square as Moult struck in the fourth minute of stoppage time, heading in at the near post from a Cain corner from the right.
The sides were warmly applauded off at the end of an astonishing half with the Stags fans who walked out at 3-0 down missing an absolute treat.
After that the second half was a bit of a let-down.
Connor wasn’t far wide on 53 minutes after Day put the ball in towards him. Connor backheeled a delightful pass to Moult who gave it him back immediately for a low shot that was always swerving away from goal.
On 61 minutes a poor clearance from Day was blocked and the ball ran for Griffin who sent in a difficult bobbling shot that Collett took no chances with, turning it round for a corner.
Sandwith was too high with a 25 yard free kick from a promising position just left of centre.
Then Knights was booked for an awful dive just outside the Mansfield box on 69 minutes and soon after was given a final warning for dissent after throwing the ball in fury over a decision by the referee. The visitors wisely withdrew him on 74 minutes as Stags also sent on Parker for Connor up front.
Stags came close again with eight minutes to go as Briscoe was allowed to run and pulled a low shot just wide of the left post.
Moult, sniffing for a hat-trick, was at the far post to meet a long Sandwith cross, but the angle was always too tight for him to be able to squeeze it back on target.
With Mansfield pushing for the winner, Newport sub Odubade might have won it on a breakaway three minutes from time but, with only Collett to beat, chipped his finish over.
And deep into stoppage time, Parker sent a hurried effort wide of the near post as the day ended with honours even and a very satisfied TV company.
STAGS: Collett; Silk, Day, Naylor, Sandwith; Cain, Thompson, Murray, Briscoe; Connor (Parker 74), Moult. Subs not used: Grof, Nix, Smith, Spence.
NEWPORT: Garner; Bignot, Todd, Hatswell, Collins; Knights (Foley 74), Rose, Odhiambo, Miller; Matthews (Morgan ht), Griffi (Odubade 83). Subs not used: Thompson, Burns.
REFEREE: Dean Mohareb of Stockport.
ATTENDANCE: 1,986 (198 away).
GOALS: Stags – Moult 31mins, 45 (+4)mins, Briscoe 35mins (pen). Newport – Matthews 1min, Griffin 3mins, Rose 28mins
CAUTIONS: Newport – Matthews 30mins, Knights 69mins, Hatswell 90 (+2) mins.
DISMISSAL: Newport – Todd 33mins.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Louis Moult.