THERE is perhaps no better feeling for a football fan than witnessing their heroes defeat their bitter local rivals and claim three vital points. And it is no doubt that little bit sweeter if victory is clinched with a dramatic late goal.
And it was just such a feeling that the 2,200 travelling Mansfield Town fans experienced when talisman winger Liam Lawrence struck five minutes into stoppage time to steal a memorable 2-1 victory against fierce rivals Chesterfield in the 2002/03 season.
The victory was a real triumph for the injury-ravaged Stags side, who were finally able to celebrate victory against their local rivals for the first time in eight years as they moved out of the Division Two drop zone for the first time since 26th August.
The afternoon was made all the sweeter for Mansfield fans by the shock 70th minute dismissal of former Stag Shayne Bradley, released by Mansfield earlier in the season, less than three minutes after coming on as substitute.
The tense game had been balanced on a knife-edge at 1-1 when Bradley trotted on to replace David Reeves and Mansfield must have feared that the ‘curse of the former player’ would strike.
Instead Bradley, who had endured a forgettable time down at the Mill, became embroiled in an exchange which led to him spitting in the face of Stags defender Rhys Day.
Bradley was then dismissed by referee Paul Robinson, who had replaced injured referee Andy Hall on 20 minutes, to the delighted roars of the travelling fans after he was spotted spitting at Day by the linesman.
And for defender Day it is an incident which still remains fresh in his memory.
“When I saw him come off the subs bench I thought ‘he is a guy I can wind up’, it didn’t take long at all to happen
“What he did was disgusting and cannot be condoned at all,” he said. “I am glad he did it though because it meant they were down to 10 men and resulted in us winning the game. He had said during the week how he hoped we got relegated so it was nice to get one over on him.”
Stags, who were missing Keith Curle, Bobby Hassell, Colin Larkin and Neil MacKenzie, took full advantage of Bradley’s error of judgement to convert one point into three with just seconds left on the clock.
Jamie Clarke’s free-kick was flicked on by the towering Day into the path of Lawrence, who guided home a close range header before tearing off his shirt and sparking wild celebrations in front of his own fans.
It came just 12 minutes after the influential future Sunderland and Celtic star had cracked a low shot against the far post as Stags pushed for the winner.
The dramatic finish was the perfect way to end the derby game and helped to erase the memories of a tame 2-0 surrender at home to the Spirerites back in August.
Few fans had given struggling Stags any hope of victory as they travelled up the A617 with just 11 fit players and a bench made up of five youth team trainees.
The home side, who had relegation worries of their own, began the match brightly and Pilkington had to be at his best to turn over a bullet Rob Edwards strike and to clear the danger moments later when Rhys Day left a back header short.
But Stags stood firm and began to enjoy chances of their own with Tom Curtis and Wayne Corden both forcing saves out of Ben Williams in the home goal.
A stroke of good fortune saw Chesterfield awarded a penalty after Gadsby handled inside the box on 38 minutes. Marcus Ebdon then sent Pilkington the wrong way from 12 yards to leave Mansfield facing defeat.
But Stags were in no mood to be rolled over against the old enemy and they silenced the home crowd just five minutes later with the equaliser.
Lawrence turned on the style to chip the perfect ball into Disley’s path, who clinically guided the ball past Williams to level.
Both sides had late chances to claim maximum points and Pilkington had to be at his best as he mopped up around his box and denied Hurst on two separate occassions.
And the gutsy visitors got their deserved reward late into added time when Lawrence pounced in dramatic fashion to write himself into Mansfield Town folklore.
For Rhys the memorable victory is one of the highlights of his career.
“For me that game was one of the highlights along with the Northampton game when we won on penalties in the play-offs,” he said. “The feeling during the game and after the game when we had won was fantastic.
“We were struggling at the time and in the build up to the game Chesterfield’s players and manager had been talking bad about us.
“We were the underdogs going into the match and it was just a fantastic way to win it.
“The fans were fantastic that day. I still remember driving back from the ground with Liam Lawrence and all the fans tooting their horns as we drove back along the A617.”
Lifelong Stags fan Steve Gray said: “This is probably one of my most memorable matches. I can remember it being a close game and I would have settled for a draw, then in the last minute Liam Lawrence scored from a cross from close range. It was a magical feeling.
“What I remember best about the game was Shane Bradley getttng sent off for spitting at one of our players. The ref didn’t see it but luckily the linesman did, That for me was worth a goal. Bring back those days.”
The memorable win moved Stags from 22nd to 18th in the Division Two table to give the Field Mill side new hope that they could eventually beat the drop.
But it was not to be for the fighting Mansfield side, and an entertaining 3-3 draw away to Blackpool on match day 44, coupled with Chesterfield’s 2-0 victory over Bristol City was enough to condemn Stags to life in the bottom division of English league football.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Pilkington, Curtis, A. White, Disley, Lawrence, Day, Corden, Gadsby, Beardsley, Doane, Clarke.