The lack of a killer touch proved costly for Mansfield, who suffered an agonisingly narrow defeat against fellow strugglers Spalding.
Mansfield were confident they could repeat the convincing victory they enjoyed over the Lincolnshire outfit at home in October. But although they showed plenty of vim and vigour, they were unable to deliver the knockout blow when it mattered.
Going down 9-8, they had to be content with a losing bonus point and now hold just a three-point cushion over Spalding, who are next to bottom in the National League’s Midlands 2 East (North) table.
Next up for the blue and whites are high-riding Stamford, who visit Eakring Road this Saturday (2.15 pm kick-off). But head coach Wayne Robinson is refusing to think negatively.
“The good news is that we are creating chances and that is a real step in the right direction,” said Robinson after the Spalding loss. “But there were times when the last pass didn’t find its target and that made all the difference”.
Mansfield started well enough and enjoyed some early territory, yet it was the home side who registered the first score after four minutes with a well-struck penalty.
Moments later, John Ross Ward had the chance to equalise, only for the ball to sail agonisingly wide, and not until the stroke of half-time was he given another opportunity to trouble the scoreboard with a penalty.
The visitors’ only try, which was also the solitary one of the game, came after some terrific work by the forwards, especially at scrum time, on the half-hour mark. After sustained pressure, the ball was whipped out to the grateful arms of Ollie Stamford, who sprinted over in the corner to take his team into the lead at 5-3.
Not to be outdone, Spalding began to show their resolve and restored their advantage with a penalty, only for Ross Ward to respond in kind and edge Mansfield in front, 8-6, by the end of the half.
In the first 20 minutes of the second half, there was no doubt that the blue and whites had enough possession to secure a win. But instead, it turned into a tale of missed opportunities, allowing Spalding to fight back with determination and endeavour. Sticking to their game plan, the hosts retook the lead with a penalty after two earlier attempts had gone astray.
With the score now 9-8, the home side now had to simply hang on, while Mansfield’s task was to try and win back vital territory and possession to regain the advantage. However, while they achieved the latter, they could not secure the former as most of the final quarter was played in the visitors’ half.
Manful defence came from every player, spearheaded by the evergreen Terry Davies, to keep Spalding’s most ferocious attacks at bay, But Mansfield couldn’t get into the right part of the field to make any penalties worth a shot at goal, and defeat by the slenderest of margins was confirmed.