Depleted Mansfield Town fight back to win five-goal Boxing Day thriller against Harlepool United

Stags push for a goal during the first half against against Hartlepool this afternoon. Photo by Chris Holloway/The Bigger Picture.mediaStags push for a goal during the first half against against Hartlepool this afternoon. Photo by Chris Holloway/The Bigger
Stags push for a goal during the first half against against Hartlepool this afternoon. Photo by Chris Holloway/The Bigger
Three goals in 11 sensational second half minutes saw depleted Mansfield Town hit back from 2-0 down to beat visiting Hartlepool United 3-2 at a foggy One Call Stadium this afternoon.

It was a 10th win in 11 games for Nigel Clough's men and, although earned the hard way, was thoroughly deserved.

And it was a nervous finish as Hartlepool saw a 92nd minute finish ruled out for offside.

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Dominant Stags should not have been behind at the break and were stunned to let in a second early in the second half, leaving them needing a minor Christmas miracle.

But, despite missing key names, they showed huge character to reward a big Boxing Day crowd with all three points.

Stags had to formulate a new look midfield with George Lapslie, Stephen Quinn and Harry Charsley all unavailable along with defender Richard Nartey.

There was no confirmation pre-match as to the nature of their absence and whether it was down to Covid or other reasons.

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In the end Nigel Clough made two changes to the starting line-up from the last game against Salford City two weeks ago with John-Joe O'Toole and Jason Law coming in for Quinn and Lapslie.

The lack of players left Clough with only five players on an inexperienced bench and Oli Hawkins was named as captain.

Hawkins again moved into central defence in a back four, O'Toole into midfield with Bowery and Oates up front and Law just behind them.

The visitors, unbeaten in December and unbeaten under new boss Graeme Lee, were roared on by a huge away following of over 1,000 fans.

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On a chilly Boxing Day afternoon, the match began in foggy conditions which worsened throughout.

It was a cagey opening with Stags doing most of the pressing and the visitors soaking it up with comfort.

On 10 minutes O'Toole had a tame shot blocked and then a Hewitt cross was just too high for Oates.

Three corners followed as Stags tried to go up a gear.

On 13 minutes Law was wide of the near post from Bowery's lay-back – the game's first real effort.

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By the 18th minute Stags had already won corner number six. From that, Rawson met Law's flag kick with a flicked header that passed inches wide.

Rawson missed another chance on 22 minutes as McLaughlin curled a tempting 28-yard free kick in front of goal from the left and Rawson simply bundled the ball tamely to the keeper when any good contact would have scored.

A minute later Law's far post cross saw Bowery head back past Killip, but Liddle was well placed to clear off the line.

However, from Hartlepool's first real attack they swept ahead against the run of play on 25 minutes.

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A neatly-worked move down the left released Daly into space and when he pulled back a low cross, Cullen was on hand to sweep home a low finish.

There was then a brief hold up after the away fans threw a blue smoke bomb onto the field in celebration.

A marvellously timed sliding tackle from Hewitt halted a dangerous Pools break from Stags' corner on 34 minutes, which drew huge applause from the stands.

Killip was wasting as much time as possible and when he ran away with the ball after Stags had won a 38th minute corner he was shown a yellow card.

Byrne joined him two minutes later for hauling back Oates.

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Stags almost levelled on 42 minutes as Law threaded Oates in down the middle. He managed to lift a finish over the advancing keeper but just wide of the target.

On the restart Oates won a free kick 22 yards from goal which McLaughlin drilled into the wall and when the rebound reached Maris he fired over the bar.

Featherstone caused Stags problems with a clever dribble on the left after a short corner but eventually drilled a low cross through everyone.

But United did double their advantage on 51 minutes.

Bishop caused a scramble when he failed to hold onto a Ferguson cross from the right and the ball eventually rolled out the box towards Featherstone, who simply smashed it through everyone into the net.

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But Stags replied within four minutes. Maris sent over a corner from the left and O'Tottle popped up in the six yard box to nod home inside the far post.

Hewitt was just wide from distance soon after as the home fans began to really get behind their team.

The deserved equaliser duly arrived on 62 minutes when Hewitt floated a great cross towards the far post where Bowery guided home his header.

The goals continued to flow and on 66 minutes Mansfield were ahead for the first time.

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A corner was cleared to George Maris on the left and his cross somehow found its way through everyone and into the net.

Killip was in the way of a low Bowery shot two minutes later while O'Toole sliced wide after a neat turn as Mansfield looked for a killer fourth.

Stirk was too high with a cheeky lofted effort from the centre circle with 10 minutes to go while sub Sinclair forced Killip to gather a low shot.

There was late drama two minutes into the added as Holohan touched home a long free kick only to be denied by an offside flag.

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STAGS: Bishop, Hewitt, Rawson, Hawkins, McLaughlin, O'Toole, Maris (Sinclair 81), Stirk, Law, Oates, Bowery. SUBS NOT USED: Stech, Burke, Ward, Gale.

HARTLEPOOL: Killip, Sterry (Ogle 53), Ferguson, Liddle, Odusina, Shelton, Featherstone, Cullen, Molyneux, Byrne, Daly (Holohan 76). SUBS NOT USED: Mitchell, Burey, Smith, Cook, Francis-Angol.

REFEREE: Simon Mather.

ATTENDANCE: 5,958 (1,010 away).