IT was anything but a Happy New Year for Mansfield Town as they crumbled to an embarrassing 7-2 defeat at Grimsby Town today.
No-one saw this coming after the thrilling 5-1 away win at Cambridge in midweek as the Mariners ran riot in the second half, having edged the first 45 minutes 2-1.
After three wins and a draw, it was a bitter first taste of defeat in charge for new boss Duncan Russell who has experienced the extreme highs and lows of football in five topsy-turvy days.
Stags had been stung by two early Grimsby goals inside the first seven minutes – the second a lucky deflection - but stayed with it and gave themselves a chance when Rob Duffy pulled one back just before half-time.
Sadly the second half saw a repeat of the first as again the visitors shipped two more goals in the first 10 minutes after the restart.
Louis Briscoe replied soon after with a wonder strike from long range on the right.
But the home side then really turned on the style as they tore the visitors’ defence to shreds with Peter Bore completing a hat-trick and the brilliant Alan Connell curling home two exquisite free kicks to make it 18 for the season for him.
The final whistle could not come soon enough with Russell suggesting after the game that complacency may have been to blame and apologised to the travelling supporters, assuring this would be a one off.
At least Mansfield do have a quick chance to restore some pride with a home clash looming with Altrincham on Monday.
But Russell may need to re-examine his wanted list for this month’s transfer window if his side capitulate this easily.
Chairman John Radford missed the game with a heavy cold and the result – the worst result since March 1999 - will hardly have helped him feel any better.
Incredibly it was also an 11th straight New Year’s Day defeat for Mansfield too!
The Mariners made a positive start to the game with an immediate attack down the right that saw Connell and Cummins both have shots blocked in succession.
Sinclair committed the game’s first foul in the second minute and was rather surprisingly booked for it.
But the home side grabbed a fifth minute lead after catching Stags out with a quickly taken throw in from the halfway line on the left by Ridley.
That sent Connell scampering into space and from the by-line he delivered a hard, low cross for the incoming Bore who, unmarked, tucked away his second goal of the season.
The New Year became even bleaker two minutes later as a speculative 20 yard effort from Coulson took a wicked deflection off Cook and what would have been a routine save from Pilkington saw the keeper wrongfooted as the ball span inside his right hand post.
Stags finally threatened on 10 minutes as Briscoe turned smartly on a half-cleared first corner and drilled a rising shot over from 18 yards.
Connell was furious after going down off the ball and then pointing an accusing finger at Day, but the officials had seen nothing untoward and the cards stayed in the referee’s pocket.
Pilkington then came to Mansfield’s rescue on 15 minutes with a fine low save to his left to turn away Connell’s measured finish after a scramble in the Mansfield box.
But the Stags keeper’s blushes were spared soon after when Briscoe toe-poked to safety after Pilkington had uncharacteristically spilled a harmless Cummins effort.
Bore almost doubled his tally after bursting down the centre after some swift exchanges of passing from the Mariners but Pilkington was put quickly to smother the ball almost at the midfielder’s feet.
A Briscoe cross was only just too high for Parker while Pilkington was always behind a low Bore shot as a busy game ebbed and flowed.
Grimsby almost made it 3-0 on 33 minutes as Coulson got past Cook on the left and crossed into the centre where Ademeno controlled and beat Pilkington with a rising shot only to see it smack against the crossbar.
Murray was rightly booked for a late challenge on Sinclair a minute later.
Connell continued to look a major threat every time the ball came near him, trying his luck from 35 yards and soon after spinning well to shoot straight at Pilkington from 20 yards.
Istead might have halved the arrears on 38 minutes as a cleared free kick ran invitingly to him 20 yards out but he failed to get the ball on target to the home fans’ jeers.
However, the visitors were back in the game a minute from the break from a hopeful long ball forward.
Far from being the favourite, Duffy did superbly well to get in between the keeper and defender Adkinson as it dropped to loop a header into the unguarded net from 14 yards.
There was panic for Stags in the third minute of stoppage time, though, as Briscoe launched himself into a tasty tackle on Ridley on the touchline which left the Grimsby man writhing around on the grass.
But with the home fans baying for a red card, after calming down the pushing and shoving, the referee finally produced a yellow and Mansfield could breathe again.
Stags produced the first danger of the second half from a counter-attack which saw Duffy force Arthur to save from a tight angle at his near post.
Then Grand was too high with a close range header from a Mansfield corner.
But the half was only six minutes old when disaster struck again for the visitors.
This time the Mariners got into the box on the left and Coulson was all too easily allowed to send the ball across the face of goal from the by-line were Bore was standing unmarked at the far post for the simplest of tap-ins.
Connell sent a powerful free kick straight into the Mansfield wall. But soon after Stags conceded another kick right on the edge of the box on 55 minutes and this time Connell curled it over the wall and, although Pilkington got a hand to it, he could not keep it out the net.
That looked to be game over for the visitors but two minutes later Briscoe conjured up a goal from nothing to make it 4-2 and offer a chink of light to Mansfield.
With nothing else on, Briscoe tried his luck from 35 yards out wide on the right and the ball flew into the top corner past a shellshocked Arthur.
With just over half an hour to play, Stags sent on top scorer Connor in place of Parker.
The visitors stepped up their urgency and forced three corners in a fine spell of pressure that had the away fans in full cry.
Bore went on a good run down the right and, with everyone expecting the cross, he almost caught out Pilkington with a shot from a tight angle, the keeper turning it round at his near post.
But Grimsby sealed the points from the resulting 69th minute corner, the ball skimming off the top of Murray’s head across goal towards Kempson who buried a towering header from 10 yards out.
Sub Peacock was only inches over with a 20 yard dipping volley against his former employers.
With nine minutes to go Grand was booked for tripping Connell just outside the box in a central position. And the Mariners star stepped up to curl another delightful free kick into the net in off the inside of the post to take his season’s tally to 19 goals.
Three minutes from the end he was only narrowly over with yet another free kick from a similar position and a minute late sent a bicycle kick into the sidenetting from Bore’s chip.
Now showboating to the cheers of the home fans, Connell’s clever backheel sent Bore into acres of space a minute from time and he ran on before steering a low finish for his hat-trick past a helpless Pilkington, with most of the away fans already having departed and punch-drunk Stags desperate for the final whistle.
GRIMSBY: Arthur, Bore, Ridley, Kempson, Cummins, Ademeno (Peacock 61), Coulson (Eagle 74), Connell, Wood, Sinclair (Hudson 77), Atkinson. Subs not used: Garner, Croudson.
STAGS: Marriott; Cook, Day, Grand, Sandwith; Briscoe, Murray, Istead, Smith (Mitchley 70); Duffy, Parker (Connor 59). Subs not used: Mills, Naylor, Collett.
REFEREE: R West.
ATTENDANCE: 3,654 (518 away).
CAUTIONS: Grimsby – Sinclair 2mins, Coulson 42mins, Wood 59mins. Stags – Murray 34mins, Briscoe 45 (+3)mins, Grand 80mins.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Louis Briscoe.