Mansfield Town left themselves too much of a mountain to climb after going 2-0 down inside a nightmare first five minutes in this afternoon’s 3-0 defeat at Stevenage.
The Stags did go on to have the better of the rest of the first half and came close on a number of occasions in the sweltering unseasonal sunshine.
Manager Paul Cox tried two substitutions and a change of formation for the second half, but disappointingly the Stags failed to seriously trouble keeper Chris Day with probabl;y their worst 45 minutes of the season.
The more the visitors committed men forward, the more the home side looked likely to grab a third on the break.
That finally happened on 83 minutes as Chris Whelpdale completed his brace and the Stags were a well-beaten side who could have no complaints.
With both Fergus Bell and Chris Clements ruled out with injuries, new signing Reggie Lambe came in for his full debut just behind the strikers while Simon Heslop returned to central midfield against his former club alongside Adam Murray.
Stags began well and Lambe broke up the first bit of Stevenage possession and raced purposefully downfield only to misdirect his pass to Bingham.
Then Rhead won Mansfield a first minute corner which was cleared.
However, it was the home side who exploded into a third minute lead with their first attack.
Pett cut the defence open with a superb pass in behind Beevers that set Whelpdale away on goal.
Evtimov stood up well to the first attempt, blocking it with his legs. But the keeper couldn’t secure the ball as Whelpdale followed up, smashing it past Tafazolli on the line from seven yards.
Worse was to follow as Stags were left reeling by a second goal two minutes later.
This time ex-Stag Beardsley got down the right and crossed for Lee, who rose Marsden’s attempted tackle before blasting home from just outside the six yard box.
It was almost 3-0 a minute later as Whelpdale’s shot took a massive deflection across goal with Evtimov left wrong-footed and relieved to see it pass wide for a corner.
A dangerous far post Parrett free kick had to be cleared for another home corner as Stags clung on against Stevenage’s whirlwind start.
Stags finally had a sniff on 11 minutes as Rhead released Lambe into space on the right and he cut inside and fired a low shot goalwards which was blocked right in front of goal.
At last Mansfield began to see a bit of the ball and a Bingham shot was blocked for the visitors’ second corner which Stevenage had little trouble clearing.
Pett had a fierce shot blocked after a slip from Marsden.
But Rhead did have a chance to halve the deficit on 22 minutes as Marsden launched a long ball into the box from the right and Rhead managed to muscle himself past the last defender.
The ball bounce high and Rhead tried to nod it over the keeper but didn’t get enough height on it and Day was able to reach up and grab it out of the air.
Two minutes later Bingham let fly from 20 yards, Day diving to his right to turn it away.
A shoulder injury for Tafazolli saw both sides take advantage of the break to take on some water in the stifling heat.
The game restarted with Mansfield temporarily down to 10 men as the defender continued to have treatment before rejoining the action.
On 29 minutes Bingham turned well just outside the box to crack a low finish against the base of the post, Rhead’s equally stinging follow-up well saved by Day.
The home side threatened again when a right wing cross eventually fell to Pett who headed the ball right across the six yard box with no one able to get a finishing touch.
Lee was well over from 25 yards in the 34th minute.
Sutton then twice clashed with Beardsley off the ball and the pair were lectured at length by the referee.
Sutton launched a long ball down the right touchline which Bingham raced onto and put over a far post cross where Rhead rose well but his headed finish was always going over.
The first half went into four additional minutes in which Rhead was well off target with a glancing header from a Bingham cross.
Stags sent on Palmer and McGuire for the second half, withdrawing Lambe and Sutton.
Cox switched the formation to 4-3-3 with McGuire playing deep behind Murray and Heslop and Palmer going left of the front three.
Within 40 seconds McGuire was penalised for a crunching tackle in the centre circle.
Stags then survived a scramble which ended with Evtimov plucking the ball out of the air.
Palmer’s first involvement saw him send a tame low shot at Day from 18 yards.
At the other end Pett dipped a 20-yarder over the right angle.
Heslop slipped Murray into a shooting position 20 yards out on 52 minutes, but the finish bounced just wide.
Conlon controlled a poor Tafazolli clearance before sending a long range half-volley wide.
Bingham’s volley on the turn was blocked for a Mansfield corner only to see the home side clear.
Beevers then pulled a neat ball back towards Murray whose attempted chip was well over the top and never likely to trouble Day.
On the hour Cox made his final gamble and threw on Fisher for Rhead, with Palmer going central and Fisher on the left of the three.
Whelpdale was not too far off with a chipped effort from 20 yards after a mesmerising run from Pett down the left.
Riley then tried to see a ball out for a goalkick but was out-muscled by Beardsley on the by-line who then forced Evtimov to save at his near post when a square ball to an unmarked Whelpdale looked a better option.
Wells popped up with a great tackle to stop Murray getting a shot away from palmer’s pass as Stags constructed a decent move, initiated by a superb bit of control from Fisher.
But time was ticking away for the Stags as they looked desperately for a way back into the contest.
A low Fisher cross from the right, that could have gone anywhere, was hacked away in front of the home goal.
On 75 minutes Whelpdale could have sealed it as Stevenage broke down the left and Bond saw Whelpdale over to his right and fed him, the low finish flying across goal.
Two minutes later Stevenage came desperately close again as Henry’s cross was headed back in front of goal by Lee and sub Calcutt, only on the pitch less than minutes, rose to head over from close range.
Marsden saw the game’s first yellow card for a foul 11 minutes from time.
The more men Mansfield committed forward the more exposed they were at the back. And on 83 minutes the almost inevitable killer blow was dealt by Whelpdale.
Stevenage broke down the left through Deacon who ran past Marsden and looked up to see Whelpdale all on his own to his right. He picked him out with a perfect pass, inviting him to sweep home a low finish past a helpless Evtimov.
A tired tackle from Murray saw him booked two minutes from time as the afternoon ended in defeat.
STEVENAGE: Day, Ashton, Bond, Whelpdale, Charles, Pett (Deacon 65), Parrett (Conlon HT), Wells, Beardsley (Calcutt 75), Lee, Henry. Subs not used: Reading, Dembele, Zola, Johnson. STAGS: Evtimov; Sutton (McGuire HT), Riley, Tafazolli; Marsden, Murray, Heslop, Lambe (Palmer HT), Beevers; Rhead (Fisher 60), Bingham. Subs not used: Studer, Dempster, Thomas, Taylor. REFEREE: Patrick Miller of Bedfordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 2,820 (292 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Tafazolli.
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