Paul Cox’s milestone 100th league game in charge of Mansfield Town was marked in style today with a hard-earned 3-0 success against last year’s beaten play-off finalists Northampton Town.
That made it seven games without defeat at this level for the Stags and, although they scored three goals, it was their defending that impressed the most against the aerial assault the visitors provided.
Centre half Ryan Tafazolli was handed a League debut, drafted in to replace the suspended Martin Riley – and he ended up with the sponsors’ man of the match award.
Sam Clucas was again a handful and bagged his fourth goal in four games. And keeper Alan Marriott pulled off some important saves at big moments in the game to ward off any possible Cobblers’ fightback.
The first half hour wasn’t the most attractive, but two goals in two minutes then thrust Mansfield into the driving seat, a brilliant free kick from Ben Hutchinson and a low finish from Clucas setting the stadium alight.
Cobblers debut-making defender Mathias Doumbe added the third on 64 minutes with a spectacular contender for own goal of the season to rub salt in their wounds as the visitors – managed by former Stag Aidy Boothroyd - still search for their second win of the campaign.
Injured Chris Clements’ place in midfield went to Anthony Howell as Cox stayed with a 3-5-2 formation.
Summer signing Keiran Murtagh took his place on the Stags bench for the first time after injury while striker Matt Rhead was also back on bench after a one-game ban.
The game was not only a milestone for Cox as club announcer Alan Wilson was also celebrating 25 years behind the microphone.
Stags began in purposeful fashion, but the visitors almost snatched a second minute advantage when Platt was afforded a free header onto a long, high cross by Hackett from the right, but nodded his finish across goal and wide.
Jennings fed a ball to Hutchinson to his right for a snapshot that struck a defender in the chest, the home side shouting hopefully for a penalty.
Stags were then forced to defend a corner and long throw in succession.
The home side replied with a corner of their own on nine minutes.
The 13th minute proved unlucky for Cobblers centre half Heath who limped off with what looked to be a muscle pull, replaced by Widdowson.
A minute later Andrew flicked a header on target from Hutchinson’s long free kick, but it didn’t contain enough power to trouble keeper Duke.
A Cobblers break ended with Platt heading the ball into the path of Hackett in the box, but the winger was unable to control and the ball rolled off his leg to a relieved Marriott.
Morris was then well over with a hopeful 30-yard half-volley.
Stags were furious when the referee missed a blatant handball from Amankwaah, Jennings then penalised for tripping the defender.
Clucas sent a tempting ball across the face of goal soon after, Andrew unable to get there in time for what would have been the simplest of tap-ins.
Blyth sent a tame header wide under pressure from a Hackett cross as we reached the 25-minute mark without a goal.
But six minutes later Mansfield made the much-needed breakthrough thanks to free kick perfection from Huthchinson.
The visitors conceded a free kick in a central position, 25 yards from goal. Hutchinson stepped up and curled the ball over the ball and under the left angle with Duke left clawing at fresh air.
Seconds later Duke had to leave his box to kick clear as Clucas raced in, chasing a through ball.
However, Clucas did find the net soon after on 33 minutes.
Tafazolli set him up on the edge of the box and Clucas saw his low, scuffed shot find its way under the keeper’s dive for the striker’s fourth goal in as many games.
Blyth wasn’t too far over with a whipped shot on the turn from 20 yards after holding off the challenge of Sutton.
Northampton almost pulled one back right on the stroke of half-time, but Marriott was equal to Carter’s well-struck free kick, turning it over the bar, and Doumbe was wide with his header from the resulting corner.
Early in the second half, a long ball passed through everyone to an unmarked Widdowson on the other side of goal, who drilled the ball back hard and low across the six yard box where no one was able to make it count.
Then a Hackett cross was inches too high for Platt.
Stags were lacking a spark at this stage so on 54 minutes Paul Cox sent on Stevenson for Hutchinson.
But the visitors kept up their charged start to the second half with two successive corners, both defended well.
Stevenson conceded a silly free kick just outside the box on the hour which saw the visitors force three quick chances.
Marriott beat away Carter’s on-target free kick, then Morriss forced the keeper to parry his powerful follow-up shot. And when the ball was then sent back in to the far post, Blyth was too high with his header.
At this stage Andrew was replaced up front by Rhead.
Three minutes later it was 3-0 on 64 minutes as Cobblers debutant Doumbe put through his own goal.
Tafazolli launched a long ball upfield which Doumbe met on the volley but only managed to slice it up and over his stranded keeper from 20 yards.
On 71 minutes Platt’s flick sent Blyth through on Marriott only to see the keeper half-stop his finish with his legs and then Jennings head the goalbound ball off the line.
Platt wasn’t far wide with a far post header as the visitors desperately sought a reply.
Rhead worked an opening with Clucas, but blazed well over from the return pass.
Morris sent a first time shot wide before Stags sent on Speight for Clucas for the last nine minutes, Duke immediately required to run out his box and head clear as the sub chased a through ball.
Blyth bundled a poor shot at Marriott while McGuire sent a tame volley at Duke as we reached the final five minutes.
Blyth should have done better when a free kick from the right reached him 10 yards from goal only to send a hurried shot well over as the visitors realised it wasn’t their day.
McGuire was only just too high in the final minute with a six yard header on a Jennings free kick.
Carter thudded a 20 yard shot against a post with the final kick, Marriott beaten, to underline how their luck was out on the day.
But Stags cared little as they moved up into fifth place in League Two a week ahead of their first big local derby with old rivals and league leaders Chesterfield.
STAGS: Marriott; Sutton, Dempster, Tafazolli; Beevers, McGuire, Hutchinson (Stevenson 54), Howell, Jennings; Clucas (Speight 81), Andrew (Rhead 61). Subs not used: Murtagh, Meikle, Daniel, Palmer.
NORTHAMPTON: Duke; Amankwaah, Heath (Widdowson 13), Doumbe, Collins; Hackett, Carter, Harriott (O’Donovan 73), Morris; Platt, Blyth. Subs not used: Tozer, Hooper, Emerton, McNamara, Toney.
REFEREE: Steven Rushton of Staffordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 3, 469 (460).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Alan Marriott.