Mansfield Town had to dig very deep, but Saturday’s 2-1 home win over fellow strugglers Dagenham & Redbridge was an absolutely massive step on the road to safety for Adam Murray’s men.
The celebrations in front of the home dug-out after man of the match Junior Brown had slammed home the 83rd minute winner said it all.
Brown had earlier played his part in Reggie Lambe’s opener before turning matchwinner just when it seemed another two safety points were about to drift away.
This was only the second time in five and half months that the Stags had scored more then once in a League game, but the win saw them leapfrog the Daggers and bring them to within four or five wins of staying in the Football League.
However, it had to be earned the hard way against a lively and inventive Daggers side who always looked capable of a point.
In the first half, with a powerful wind in their faces, Stags struggled to get out their own half.
Then, having taken the lead immediately on the restart, they once again suffered some bad luck as a low shot from veteran goal ace Jamie Cureton on the hour, took a bobble on the awful pitch surface and lifted up and over the dive of home keeper Lenny Pidgeley.
The pitch surface is certainly something that will need to be high on the agenda in the summer if Mansfield Town are to be able to implement Murray’s vision of playing passing football at a tempo.
But, after Cureton’s equaliser and a few nervy moments following it, there was only one side that looked like they might win it and, although they left it late, Mansfield certainly deserved the three points, having had two efforts cleared off the line.
Out went central midfielder Simon Heslop and loanee winger Jeffrey Monakana from the starting line-up, replaced by Chris Clements and Lambe as Stags sought to complete their best month’s points tally of the season.
But, with the wind in their favour, Dagenham bossed large parts of the first half without asking too many questions of Pidgeley.
Indeed, his only save came in the opening minute after Scott Doe tried a cheeky backheel at the near post from a cheeky corner routine.
Mansfield had a few worrying moments as centre half Ryan Tafazolli suffered a dislocated shoulder, but it went back into its socket and he bravely battled on.
We waited all half for a serious chance then, like buses, two came at once just before the break, one at each end.
A well-worked series of passes from Dagenham opened up the Stags and, having got past Ricky Ravenhill on the by-line, Abu Ogogo pulled a neat ball back for Alex Jakubiak, who lashed wildly over with a first time shot from 12 yards.
In the second of two minutes of added time a long Ritchie Sutton throw from the right came off the heads of two defenders to Jack Thomas at the far post where he was unable to keep an acrobatic finish down from close range.
Stags needed a good start to the second half - and it couldn’t have been better.
Lambe began the move himself with a ball out wide to Brown on the right. He fired goalwards hard and low and keeper Mark Cousins could only parry, Lambe on hand to bury the loose ball from close range with just 52 seconds played.
But the Daggers hauled themselves level on the hour as Cureton, the League’s oldest outfield player at 39, was given a sight of goal from which he dispatched his landmark 250th League goal.
It stemmed from a fabulous series of quick passes to release him into the right of the box and, with the help of the uneven surface, the ball zipped along and then jumped up over Pidgeley’s dive and in off the inside of the far post.
Andre Boucaud tested Pidgeley from 20 yards as Stags struggled to clear, but slowly they recovered from the Cureton setback and began to take a grip. And on 66 minutes Cousins blocked a point blank range far post header from Vadaine Oliver from a long Brown cross.
A significant moment came seconds later as Billy Kee replaced Thomas and almost immediately won a crunching tackle on Daggers’ skipper Ogogo.
Ogogo stayed down writhing around and Mansfield held their breath before referee Brendan Malone, who had an excellent game, decided the challenge was fair with shouts of cheat ringing round the ground at Ogogo from the home fans as he got up uninjured. A relieved Kee was to then play a vital part in the winner.
On 71 minutes a low Brown cross almost produced a goal. Helped on by Lambe, Kee was unable to get power or direction on his shot, but Oliver was and Cousins made a smart save to beat his finish away.
Lambe had a goalbound shot headed away just in front of goal by Doe on 78 minutes, his last action as he made way for the home debut of Monakana.
Stags were knocking the door down now and Ogogo headed a close range Oliver header almost off the line on 81 minutes after Tafazolli had helped on a long Callum Elder throw.
But the goal Mansfield desperately needed came on 83 minutes and was just reward for some excellent pressure.
An Elder throw from the left was flicked on by Tafazolli and laid back by Kee to Brown, the winger rifling an unstoppable 12 yard finish past Cousins before racing half the length of the field to celebrate with the bench in memorable scenes underlining the importance of the moment.
STAGS: Pidgeley; Sutton, Riley, Tafazolli, Elder; Ravenhill, Thomas (Kee 66), Clements; Lambe (Monakana 78), Oliver, Brown. Subs not used: Studer, Rhead, Bingham, McGuire, Beevers.
DAGENHAM: Cousins, Doe, Bingham, Cureton, Ogogo, Howell (Carr 86), Hemmings, Obileye, Boucaud, Widdowson, Jakubiak (Fenelon 80). Subs not used: O’Brien, Saah, Labadie, Raymond, Gayle.
REFEREE: Brendan Malone of Wiltshire.
ATTENDANCE: 2,546 (122 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Junior Brown.