MANSFIELD TOWN RETRO: when Stags won performance-of-the-week award in a relegation season

MATCHWINNER -- Ian Stringfellow, who scored the only goal of a shock win for Stags at Stockport County 23 years ago today.
MATCHWINNER -- Ian Stringfellow, who scored the only goal of a shock win for Stags at Stockport County 23 years ago today.

It’s not often Mansfield Town win a performance-of-the-week award. Least of all in a relegation season.

But that’s what happened exactly 23 years ago today, February 26, 1993, after an unlikely victory at promotion-chasing Stockport County in the Second Division.

Stags had won promotion from the old Division Four the previous campaign, finishing third, just behind Burnley and Rotherham United and one point in front of Blackpool. But in the inaugural year of the Premier League, their fortunes took a turn for the worse and George Foster’s side were already struggling near the foot of the table when they travelled to take on high-riding Stockport for a Friday night match.

Mansfield had not won an away game since the previous September against bottom-of-the-table Chester City. But they defied all the odds to return home with a 1-0 triumph, courtesy of a goal by striker Ian Stringfellow, and land the Barclays-sponsored performance award.

“No-one expected us to win there,” Foster told the Chad at the time. “I’ve had so many people come up to me and said we ruined their coupons! Winning the award completed a splendid weekend.”

The victory also releived the personal pressure on Foster, who had been under fire from fans for allowing centre-back Greg Fee to go out on loan to arch rivals Chesterfield and for dropping talented, but enigmatic, midfielder Gary Castledine.

For the trip to Edgeley Park, both Fee and Castledine were recalled, while newcomer Simeon Hodson was outstanding in a never-say-die defence that also starred Chris Withe and Kevin Gray.

The Chad’s match report says Stags had to “weather a fearful battering by Stockport’s ultra-direct approach in the first 20 minutes....when everything was hurled towards the massive frame of Kevin Francis in the box”.

Gray and Kevin Noteman had to make three goalline clearances between them, but the longer the home side went without a breakthrough goal, the more frustrated they and their fans became.

Stags survived and bagged the only goal of the game in the 65th minute when left winger Noteman battled past full-back Lee Todd and rolled the ball towards the edge of the box where Stringfellow steamed in to pick his spot.

There were one or two more hairy moments for Mansfield, particularly when a shot by Brian McCord, who had been on loan with the club earlier in the season, struck the legs of ‘keeper Darren Ward. But, in front of a crowd of 5.307, they held on and followed up with another win a week later at home to fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic, that triggered hopes of avoiding the drop.

However, they picked up just five points from their last nine games, six of which they lost, and they tumbled back into the basement division, along with Chester, Wigan and Preston North End, finishing six points adrift of safety.

It was a hammer blow for the cash-strapped club, especially at a time when the principal shareholders, Abacus Holdings, were looking to sell amid stories of Field Mill debts amounting to £1.4 million.

As for Stockport, they dropped out of the promotion race and ended up in sixth spot. However, they did go up four years later and even finished as high as eighth in Division One in 1997/98 when Nottingham Forest were champions.

Now, of course, they are a mere non-league club, languishing in the National League North, after suffering relegation from the Football League in 2011.

STAGS LINE-UP -- Ward/ Hodson, Withe, Stringfellow, Fee, Gray, Ford, Holland, Wilkinson, Castledine (McLoughlin 75), Noteman. SUB NOT USED: Walker.