AS the Swinging 60’s drew to a close nothing seemed to inspire Third Division Mansfield Town like facing a high-profile top flight team in the cup.
Tom Eggleston’s under-rated side had already caused a national sensation in the FA Cup after demolishing a West Ham United team, which included World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, 3-0 in the Fifth Round at Field Mill.
Next up on the unlikely road to Wembley was fellow top flight side Leicester City, who arrived in Nottinghamshire on 8th March 1969 knowing they were in for a torrid time.
But unlike the more fashionable London side, the Filbert Street team showed a firm resolve as future England goalkeeper Peter Shilton marshalled his defence in fine fashion to shut out the Stags.
City defenders Peter Rodriguez, David Nish, John Sjoberg and Graham Cross clinically destroyed all that Stags could throw at them as Leicester showed their First Division class.
Mansfield battled bravely in front of the bumper crowd, which paid a record £10,550 in gate receipts, and held their big-name opponents for the best part of an hour on the stamina-sapping pitch.
Dudley Roberts looked like he would have a sniff at goal in the early stages from a Goodfellow cross. But the solid Sjoberg read the danger well and headed away.
Shilton, who went on to earn a record-breaking 125 caps for his country, then foiled an attempt by Keeley after a bit of a goalmouth scramble.
The 19 year-old shot-stopper, who eventually made 1005 first-team appearances, then did well to hold a high ball from Goodfellow as the home side probed for an opening.
Following a Boam free-kick a Keeley centre flashed across the face of goal without anyone being able to steer the ball home.
But it was always City, who went all the way to the final without conceding a goal, who appeared most likely to break the deadlock. And they did just that on 58 minutes when winger Rodney Fern latched on to a cross from Glover and headed home at the back post.
Stags had to push on in search of the equaliser leaving Rodney Fern, Len Glover, Andy Lochhead and Allan Clarke with more room to operate in.
And, in reality, City could have won by a bigger margin had it not been for the heroics of Hollins who pulled off two memorable saves which his opposite number in the Leicester goal would have been very proud of.
The lively Fern tried to lift the ball over Hollins, who flung himself to his right to brilliantly turn the powerful shot over his crossbar.
Lockhead then looked certain to double City’s lead and seal their semi-final date with West Bromwich Albion. But Hollins bravely dived at his feet to make a timely clearance.
Fern continued to cause bother as he broke through the middle before firing his shot against the post.
Tiring Mansfield’s last hope of forcing a replay was waved away with four minutes to go when Sharkey was left sprawling in the mud following a real mix-up in the Leicester box.
But referee Kevin Howley waved away the penalty appeals and with it Mansfield’s hope of cup glory.
Recalling the game full-back Sandy Pate said: “We had a fair share of play that game, but Leicester had a fantastic back four as well as Shilton in goal.
“It was a very tough physical game and we really pushed Leicester all the way to the end. We had beaten West Ham United in the previous round and we went into this game with no fear. We had a fantastic team spirit, we all worked hard for each other and we really did feel we could win every game.
“It was a really soft goal that we gave away. We thought our goalkeeper would come and collect the cross but he slipped on the boggy pitch. The pitch was a real quaqmire, they were not the nice pitches they are today. It was a really poor goal to concede and naturally we were very disappointed.
“Leicester were a very good side. Rodriguez and Nish were quick and skillful players. Gibson was a Scottish international and was a good player. Lenny Glover was also a real handful out on the wing. Shilton was as good as Gordon Banks, he was as good as you get as a goalkeeper.”
But despite the defeat Pate, who was signed from Watford, remains thankful to the cup draw for giving him the opportunity to test himself against the very best.
“I am fortunate that the draw gave Mansfield so many ties against big teams. We played against Leeds United at Elland Road, Liverpool at Anfield, Manchester City at Maine Road, we had so many good games against so many good players. We were never humiliated in these ties and the games have given me some wonderful memories.”
After the game relieved City boss Frank O’Farrell was full of praise for brave Mansfield.
“I thought they played well,” he said. “They gave us a hard game in what was a good cup tie, but I felt on the balance of play we deserved to win. We made the better chances.
“Dave Hollins kept Mansfield in the game longer than might have been the case with some excellent saves. We needed the second goal to clinch it.”
Despite being defeated just two games away from a Wembley FA Cup final appearance, Stags boss Tom Eggleston said he was not too disappointed with the outcome.
“The lads did very well and I’m proud of them,”he said. “Leicester are a strong rugged side. They are not an easy side to break down and we have had a good run.”
Leicester City eventually went on to lose in the final 1-0 to Manchester City in front of a crowd of 100,000.
It capped a miserable season for Leicester, who were also relegated from the First Division after they finished second-bottom with 30 points from 42 games.
Mansfield ended their Third Division campaign with a 15th place finish after winning just 16 of their 46 matches.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Hollins, Pate, Hopkinson, Quigley, Boam, Waller, Keeley, Sharkey, Ledger, Roberts, Goodfellow.
MATCH: Mansfield Town 0 Leicester City 1
VENUE: Field Mill, 8th March 1969.