Only three top class saves from AFC Wimbledon keeper Ross Worner in the last 13 minutes denied Mansfield Town all three points as they continued to show the shoots of recovery with a point in a 0-0 draw at the Cherry Red Records Stadium this afternoon.
The Stags may now be 11 League games without a win, but they battled hard at a difficult venue to visit and earned their first ever point against AFC after four defeats in their four previous meetings.
It also meant Paul Cox’s men avoided an unwanted new club record of seven straight League defeats.
Mansfield battled well for the first hour with Alan Marriott denying Luke Moore in a one-on-one in the first half in the game’s only real clear opportunity.
But a double substitution on 62 minutes finally brought Stags to life as an attacking entity and Worner made three fine stops to thwart Sam Clucas, Matt Rhead and Ross Dyer as Stags ended the game looking by far the side most likely to win it.
Stags were almost inevitably unchanged following last week’s much-improved display in the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Oldham.
There was also the welcome sight of influential midfielder Chris Clements returning to the bench after getting through a midweek reserve friendly.
It was the first time Paul Cox had kept an unchanged side since 5th October at home to Hartlepool.
Stags caused early problems when Dempster met a Murray free kick at the far post until the referee spotted pushing and blew for a Dons free kick.
But it was a determined start by the Stags with the Dons barely getting out of their own half for the first six minutes.
However, it was the home side who created the first threat when Murray conceded a foul 30 yards from goal and Kennedy dipped a free kick over the wall and just over the bar.
Marriott then confidently caught a first time centre from Fenlon from wide on the right.
Meikle played a square pass to McGuire on 14 minutes for a low first time shot from 20 yards that saw keeper Worner gather low to his right but seemed to be drifting wide anyway.
Daniel headed a Kennedy free kick out for a corner on 16 minutes which came off a defender for a second corner on the other side that Marriott fisted away. That was knocked back towards goal where Marriott just beat the incoming Sheringham to the ball.
Mansfield replied with a corner of their own, which was headed clear.
The game was lacking quality, but on 20 minutes the Dons built the best move so far from the back with a string of passes that ended with Sheringham putting Smith in space in the middle 20 yards from goal from where he dipped his finish over the top.
Marriott had to be alert on 22 minutes when Sheringham spread play to the right from where Moore’s lofted cross-cum-shot almost found its way inside the far post, Marriott clawing it round. The corner was cleared back towards Moore who this time was too high.
When Smith got the best of Riley in the box, Murray slid in to save the day and concede another corner from which Moore saw his volley clip a team mate and sail wide.
Murray did almost pick out Meikle in a good position with a high ball into the box, but the winger was just unable to make any contact with which to test Worner.
Good strength from Dyer in the box, as he got on the end of a high Murray ball, saw him lay it back for Clucas, whose first time shot was blocked.
Francomb was caught late by a Howell challenge in the Dons half but he had already launched the ball forward high and long and Marriott had to make sure it didn’t catch him out as he reached up to palm the ball down to safety.
On 32 minutes Clucas picked up a loose pass and let fly with a low shot that deflected narrowly wide for a corner.
Stags won another soon afterwards which was cleared.
The Dons almost grabbed the lead on 40 minutes after Sweeney won the ball from McGuire and fed Sheringham who, from a good position 10 yards from goal, was only able to skewer a shot wide thanks to a last ditch challenge from Meikle of all people.
A Daniel challenge at the other end saw the ball roll invitingly to Clucas at the far post where the angle was so tight he was only able to send the ball into the sidenetting.
But we finally had a clear cut chance on 42 minutes.
Dempster completely miskicked his clearance, which left Moore with only Marriott to beat. But the keeper stood up well to get his body in the way of the low finish and was fully deserving of Dempster’s thanks as the sides went in all square.
Riley returned with his head heavily bandaged after suffering a nasty cut near the end of the first half.
Clucas wasn’t far wide with a low shot from 25 yards inside the opening 60 seconds of the second half.
Dempster was penalised for pushing at Mansfield’s first corner of the half.
Stags then survived a home corner, given away needlessly by Clucas.
Two more followed, Marriott fisting the first away and Meikle only able to hook the second away as far as Fuller, who almost managed to squeeze it home from the by-line. He claimed Marriott had turned it over but the referee awarded a goalkick.
Francomb was afforded a lot of time and space to run at Stags down the centre only to see Riley get a leg in the way of his shot.
Paul Cox boldly made a double swap on 62 minutes, withdrawing Howell and Meikle and sending on Rhead and Hutchinson.
Within seconds Rhead sent a tame header at the keeper which represented Stags’ first on-target effort of the day.
The Dons then cleared another Mansfield corner.
In reply Smith saw an effort deflect for a corner as we awaited the breakthrough.
McGuire, spotting the keeper out of position, tried a cheeky curler from 40 yards which sailed wide.
Stags took an eternity to hack clear another home corner which ended with Fuller sending a tame, low shot wide.
On 77 minutes Mansfield had their best chance. McGuire curled in a superb ball from the right and Rhead stooped to get in a firm, low header that Worner did superbly well to block almost on the line.
Clucas tried to turn on the edge of the home box only to see Daniel pop up, take over and lift a poor effort over the bar with eight minutes to go.
A minute later Worner was the Dons’ hero again with another top drawer save.
This time Rhead headed a long Marriott free kick back across goal and Clucas met it with a close range header that saw Worner stretch out a hand and somehow keep it out.
Stags were very much in the ascendency now and two corners followed, the second an inswinger from Hutchinson that almost crept in at the far post until Worner got a hand to it.
Porter was booked on 87 minutes for banging into McGuire as he clapped the linesman for a decision giving him a foul.
Worner made yet another fine save two minutes from time as he turned a close range Dyer header over after the ball had bounced invitingly from a long Marriott free kick.
Fenlon almost caught Marriott out with a long range swerving effort in stoppage time, but the keeper was able to palm it away and grab at the second attempt.
It would have been rough on Mansfield had it gone in as they were well worth at least the point they left with.
AFC WIMBLEDON: Worner, Fenlon, Kennedy, Francomb, Frampton, Fuller, Mohamed, Sheringham (Midson 75), Smith, Sweeney, Moore (Porter 68). Subs not used: Sainte-Luce, Brown, Antwi.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Marriott; Westlake, Dempster, Riley, Daniel; Clucas, Murray, Howell (Rhead 62), McGuire, Meikle (Hutchinson 62); Dyer. Subs not used: Rhead, Deakin, Beevers, Palmer, Hutchinson, Tafazolli, Clements.
REFEREE: Mike Bull of Chelmsford.
ATTENDANCE: 3,900 (220 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Jamie McGuire.