Adam Murray urged his Mansfield Town side to now finish the season on a high after all but securing their League status with a 1-0 win over relegation rivals Tranmere Rovers on a night of high emotion at the One Call Stadium.
Reggie Lambe had a sweet and sour night as he bagged the 44th minute winner against the run of play to push Stags eight points clear of the drop with three to play, only to see a second yellow card of the night in an amazing 14 added minutes by referee Darren Drysdale.
“I might just sleep tonight for the first time in four months,” said a clearly drained Murray.
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“I have seen certain players become men tonight and I am proud of them.
“That was a massive three points and we knew it would a massive step. But the manager in me says we still have three to go and we want to finish the season on a winning run. Our performances have deserved it.
I might just sleep tonight for the first time in four months
“They will need some recovery in the next few days as there are some absolutely shattered bodies in there.
“Knowing this league you can never count your chickens. But we’ve made it a tad easier for the run-in. Now the boys must work harder and express themselves.
“It was probably the worst game of football I’ve ever watched in my life.
“But we knew what it was going to be. We knew it would be scrappy and a battle in such a big game. But the tension from both sides tonight was ridiculous.”
He added: “I have asked questions of myself over the last few weeks, which you do. I have asked questions of the boys. I have pushed them, knocked them down, built them back up, then pushed them again.
“When our backs were against the wall tonight it showed what a great team spirit we’ve built here.
“If we’d scored the chance after 20 seconds it may have made it a bit easier.
“After the first 15 minutes we got a bit edgy with the football and the back four defended too deep which didn’t allow us to get up the pitch and press.
“It began to swing the game a bit. I said at half-time they’d throw the kitchen sink at us at some stage. Them playing four up front it is difficult to deal with tactically.
“I want to have an attacking threat but we needed to be solid and compact too. I am not comfortable without the extra midfielder.
“Although we were winning I still ripped their heads off at half-time. The goal was against the run of play if I am totally honest, though it was a great finish by Reg.
“I thought Reggie was superb, though I was disappointed with his sending-off. I hope the referee will look at it again as he got it totally wrong.
“I sent Reggie in there to clam things down, yet he’s pulled him out and shown him a second yellow card. He wasn’t trying to be aggressive and I am glad it didn’t cost us.
“The 14 added minutes was incredible. There was nothing we could do but see it out.”
Goal hero Lambe said: “I was just very happy to see my goal go in. The type of game it was, it was very important and the passion I felt once I scored I just couldn’t hold back.
“Tranmere needed a win, but we defended brilliantly. Credit to the boys. They kept a clean sheet and gave 110 per cent and did what they needed to.
“First and foremost we wanted to keep a clean sheet and go and attack them from there.
“For the sending-off I’d gone in to keep the peace but the referee must have thought I was stirring it up and gave me a second yellow. I hope he will go over it again and rescind it.
“The fans were brilliant tonight. All credit to them for cheering us on.
“It’s great to now have that points cushion. But we still have a job to do and we have to be professional and make sure we stay in this league.
“Now it’s on to Cambridge on Saturday which we are looking forward to, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to play.”
Rovers, who have always been in the League since being founder members, are now bottom with three games to go and boss Micky Adams said: “It’s the story of our season. We haven’t scored enough goals. We have dominated another game territorially but haven’t scored.
“It is just disappointing. We just can’t find a way through. It has been a recurring theme all season.
We haven’t showed enough quality in the final third.
“If the game was based on territory and possession we win it comfortably. Mansfield had just two shots.
“We tried to create opportunities, we got the ball wide and in good areas. But we didn’t test the goalkeeper despite trying enough combinations.
“There wasn’t a lack of effort, the players were well up for the game and knew the importance of it.
“It was a real kick in the teeth to go one nil down just before half-time.
“Although Mansfield started really brightly, we rode the storm and then came into it. We had a couple of chances that we didn’t put away. To go in behind was disappointing.”
He continued: “I’m not in the excuses game, it is not good enough. If you analyse everyone who has played up front this season, including people no longer at the club, it hasn’t been good enough. We haven’t scored enough goals.
“To win games you have to have goalscorers and we haven’t had that.
“We have to find ways of doing it. Our quality has to be spot on from set plays for the final three games. We have to go again on Saturday.
“The fans were terrific tonight and made a lot of noise. They made a terrific atmosphere.”