MANSFIELD Town bounced back from their midweek misery to make it three home wins on the bounce today as they saw off Cambridge United with goals from Lee Stevenson, Luke Jones and Junior Daniel.
Stags had destroyed Dartford 5-0 and blasted Barrow 8-1 in the last two home outings.
But they found United a tougher nut to crack for a while on a cloying surface, taking half-an-hour to get a grip on proceedings before then finding top gear and ending the afternoon wondering how they hadn’t scored more goals.
After failing to take their chance to jump into the play-off places when they lost 2-0 at Newport in midweek, this crucial result kept Mansfield in the hunt, three points off fifth spot with two games in hand.
And it set them up nicely for a tough spell ahead of three away games on the trot in eight days, starting at Hyde on Tuesday.
There were some excellent performances today with Anthony Howell the pick of the bunch with his no-nonsense display in the muddy central midfield. But Louis Briscoe pulled off one of his most powerful performances of the season, Luke Jones was inspirational at both ends, and Alan Marriott pulled off some crucial saves.
In an entertaining end-to-end first half-hour, Stevenson’s sixth goal in as many games seemed to set up the Stags for another goal rush on 10 minutes.
However, United were level through Liam Hughes on 31 minutes only to see Jones edge Stags back in front eight minutes later and unlucky not to extend that lead in a powerful end to the half.
Mansfield dominated the second half and Junior Daniel hit the post before his pinpoint first time finish on 71 minutes finally made the points safe.
Cox gave his players the chance to put things right by naming an unchanged side after threatening to make changes following Tuesday night’s defeat at Newport.
The visitors might have snatched a third minute lead on swift counter-attack as Reed picked up the ball inside his own half and ran strongly down the centre.
Jones’ tried to barge him off the ball but failed and the referee waved play-on as Reed reached the edge of the box where he rifled a low shot just wide.
Stags responded on six minutes when Green pulled a low ball back from the right to Howell, 18 yards, out, who forced Hedge to turn over a ferocious finish.
Two minutes later Shaw lifted in a United corner from the right and Hughes met it with a firm header from six yards that brought a great reaction save out of Marriott.
However, Mansfield were ahead on 10 minutes. Jennings put a ball into the danger zone from the left and there were several half-attempts to net and clear from both sets of players, Jones and Daniel having half-chances, before Stevenson did what he does best and poached an unstoppable finish from seven yards – his sixth in six games.
Daniel was too high from distance soon after.
Cambridge threatened again on 13 minutes as Reed found Gash wide on the right in space and he zipped in a powerful low cross which raced past Marriott leaving Roberts an open goal at the far post if he could turn it on target, but the pace on the ball proved too much as his finish passed wide.
Home fans were unhappy when Green appeared to be elbowed in the back of the head and nothing was given, yet seconds later Beevers was cautioned for his mistimed sliding challenge on Gash.
Home players were again asking questions of the referee after a poor shot from Stevenson looked to deflect wide for a corner but only a goalkick was given.
Dempster had a shot blocked and, from the clearance, Briscoe lifted a half-volley just over the angle as Mansfield continued to press.
Green and Stevenson then both had efforts blocked after Briscoe had done well to get to the by-line and pull a low ball back.
However, on the half-hour mark Marriott was back in action, superbly turning over a blast from Shaw after he ran onto a square pass by Gash. And, from the resulting corner United were level.
Jarvis put in the corner from the right and Hughes rose unchallenged to power home a header from eight yards high into the net.
Jennings wasn’t too far wide with a snapshot from 30 yards.
And Mansfield were back in front on 39 minutes.
Jones headed Jennings’ right wing corner at goal and, amid a scramble, some players were claiming the ball had already crossed the line before Jones made sure as he drilled the loose ball home from three yards amid a crowd of players.
Briscoe was having an excellent game and, after swapping passes with Stevenson he forced Hedge to beat his finish away at the near post.
Jennings put the corner in and, as another scramble ensued, Jones whipped a finish just wide of the far post.
Another interception and a great turn from Briscoe set him off on another run which saw him free Green. He tried to lift an early finish over the keeper but was just too high.
From another corner, the ball fell to Briscoe who saw his firm finish blocked almost on the line and no one able to capitalise as yet another scramble began.
With the last kick of the half Briscoe flashed a first time shot wide of the far post and off a defender as the whistle brought some respite for a Cambridge side under heavy pressure.
Daniel almost made it 3-1 within six minutes of the restart as he drilled a low shot under the dive of Hedge at the near post on the left only to see it come back off the foot of the post and bounce away from goal.
A late tackle on Roberts from Briscoe saw him unable to argue with a 52nd minute caution.
United won two corners, Berry seeing a tame low shot deflect wide from the first of them.
Stevenson was added to the book on 57 minutes at which point Cambridge sent on Brighton for Shaw.
Cambridge had two attempts to clear a long Beevers throw before Daniel lashed a wild volley well over for the home side.
Hedge comfortably caught Jennings’ ninth corner of the afternoon.
There was a hold-up after Hughes took a blow to the head, the visitors then down to 10 men for a short time during which Stags capitalised with a third goal.
A fine flowing move saw Stevenson find Jennings outside him on the left and his low pulled-back pass was met first time by Daniel with a pinpoint finish inside the far post from 12 yards.
Wassmer was booked for bringing down Daniel on 73 minutes, and Jennings wasn’t far over with the free kick, curling over the wall and just over the bar.
A great break from the home side then saw green and Briscoe on the attack, Briscoe eventually putting in a tempting ball across the face of goal which Green was just unable to get a leg to with the open goal gaping.
Mansfield kept the pressure firmly on with three more corner kicks before Meikle was given a late run-out for the excellent Briscoe with just two minutes left.
Stags were rightly given an ovation as they left the field after another fine home display.
STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Dempster, Jones, Jennings; Murray, Stevenson, Howell; Briscoe (Meikle 88), Green, Daniel. Subs not used: Sutton, Wright, Clements, Rhead.
CAMBRIDGE: Hedge; Roberts, Coulson, Wassmer, McAuley; Berry, Jarvis (Brighton 57), Shaw, Hughes (Anderson 71); Reed (Taylor 89), Gash. Subs not used: Ross, Hudson.
REFEREE: Seb Stocksbridge of County Durham.
ATTENDANCE: 2,508 (208 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Anthony Howell.