LOMAS ON STAGS: Renewed hope as win launches Stags back into the mix.

Mansfield Town v Carlisle United.
Shaquile Coulthirst puts pressure on the Carlisle defense.
Mansfield Town v Carlisle United. Shaquile Coulthirst puts pressure on the Carlisle defense.

Anyone who had begun to write off Steve Evans’ bid to get the Stags into the play-offs this season had better think again.

Evans has not gained his sparkling reputation for success in the lower leagues for nothing.

But four games without a win or goal before last weekend’s tough home clash with Carlisle United saw a few fans start to lose belief he might achieve this time around.

However, the way Stags disposed of a very capable Carlisle side showed they are capable of staying the pace for the final six weeks.

Regulars knew it had been the finishing rather than the performance that had been missing. So it was a huge relief to get back on the scoresheet.

Evans elected to go with a very attacking line-up on Saturday, dispensing with defensive midfielders, and his ambition was rewarded handsomely with a dominant performance, two goals and a clean sheet.

That cut the gap from the top seven to three points and, with eight games still to go, five matches are against sides above them and one against a side on the same points.

So they are very much in the mix and looking good.

Before the game the club had said it wasn’t a ‘must-win’ game. But had they ended up eight points adrift with eight to go, it would have looked a far tougher task than now.

Despite Mansfield’s recent woe in front of goal, Carlisle arrived in even more frustrating form as their bid for a top three place had been rocked by five games without a win or goal.

They had put five goals past Mansfield earlier in the season with a powerful performance.

But Mansfield were in charge throughout on Saturday and should have won it by a more handsome scoreline.

With Matt Green dropping back to a left midfield role and Shaq Coulthirst and Danny Rose paired up front, the Stags had threats all over the park.

Coulthirst ended up scoring one and making the other, though he was pipped for man of the match by an all-action display by Rose.

Despite being one of the smallest players on the pitch and suffering a sickening early clash of heads that required post-match stitches and broke the nose of opponent Tom Miller, Rose won everything in the air and was a bundle of energy all over the pitch.

His enthusiasm was an inspiration and he completely vindicated Evans’ decision to start him.

But Coulthirst was also a hero and ended the game clutching onto his front tooth in his fist after having it knocked out by a flying elbow that went unpunished.

He was even holding onto it when he cut inside to score the decisive second goal!

Coulthirst had forced two early saves out of visiting keeper Mark Gillespie while Rose had seen a ‘goal’ chalked off for a definite offside and Gillespie also denied him with a superb close range save from a low Hayden White cross from the right.

The Cumbrians rarely threatened the home goal, where Jake Kean enjoyed a relatively quiet afternoon on his comeback from injury, though Shaun Miller did lift a lob onto the roof of his net and Jamie Proctor sent a half-volley just over the angle.

The game continued to follow a familiar pattern after the break as Rhys Bennett sent a decent chance straight to Gillespie and the keeper then saved well from Coulthirst and watched Rose smash his follow-up into the sidenetting.

But after 438 frustrating minutes of football the Stags finally found the net as Coulthirst teased two defenders on the left before crossing for Green to guide home a superb header that left Gillespie rooted.

Like buses, another one followed soon as Coulthirst made room on the left hand corner of the box for a low shot that sped across Gillespie and inside the far post.

Boss Evans had to watch the game from the directors’ box as he served a one-game FA touchline ban for comments made to officials at Grimsby.

The volume of his voice from there barking instructions to Matt Green gave fans a taste of what officials and players might experience from the dug-out

And the sight of him celebrating the second goal with John and Carolyn Radford and Steve Hymas was one of the afternoon’s most endearing.

With so many big matches to come against rival sides, Stags know they must be careful not to underestimate Saturday’s trip to mid-table Morecambe as it is a potential banana skin for their renewed ambitions.