Saturday, 3rd May 2014: Bristol Rovers 0, Mansfield Town 1

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Disgraceful scenes ended a nightmare day for Bristol Rovers as a Junior Daniel goal relegated them to the Conference for the first time in their 94-year League history.

On the final whistle, Rovers fans fought a pitched battle with police until the mounted section were called on and managed to end the trouble.

For Stags it was a fine away win under massive pressure in such a tinderbox situation and made it five wins and five draws from 11 away games since Christmas as Mansfield ended their first season back in the League in a superb 11th place.

Rovers began the day needing only a point to be safe but favourites to stay up with Wycombe and Northampton below them needing to win.

But the day was turned on its head as Northampton and Wycombe took control of their games at home to Oxford and away to Torquay respectively to leave Rovers in the bottom two and having to score after Daniel had brilliantly volleyed Mansfield ahead on 36 minutes.

They did what they could in response. But Lewis Price was in top form in goal as Rovers wasted other good chances and saw their stay in the Football League slowly and agonisingly running out of gas.

The desperation of the situation had attracted a sell-out crowd of 10,594 to make for an electric pre-match atmosphere in the spring sunshine.

Stags boss Paul Cox made two changes in central midfield, bringing back Anthony Howell and Jamie McGuire in place of Chris Clements and Adam Murray while Sam Clucas came in for the suspended Matt Rhead up front.

A deafening cauldron of noise and hundreds of blue and white balloons greeted the sides as they walked onto the pitch.

Stags were wearing an unfamiliar combination of black shirts and yellow shorts with many of the players in different numbers to usual.

O’Toole saw a 25 yard effort strike a Stags player in the box in the second minute, prompting very hopeful calls for a penalty as Rovers piled on the inevitable early pressure.

On four minutes Beardsley should have done better on the right of the box when he crashed a half-volley well over the top when he should have made Price work.

A poor defensive clearance then offered Clarkson a shooting chance from 18 yards which he drilled low straight to Price.

A long throw from Marsden into the home box on seven minutes caused Rovers’ hearts to flutter as it bounced a couple of times before it was grabbed by Mildenhall.

By now Wycombe had grabbed an early goal at Torquay to pile the pressure on Rovers and Northampton.

Mansfield gained some relief from the pressure to win a corner on 10 minutes, it was cleared to McGuire who put the ball back into the box too close to the keeper.

On 13 minutes Daniel got a good flick-on to send the ball into the box for Clucas to chase. Mildenhall was down quickly to gather, but his momentum carried him into Clucas and left the striker requiring treatment. Thankfully for Stags he was able to continue.

A great burst of pace down the left by Mohamed won the home side their first corner on 17th minutes which was headed over by McChrystal.

Soon after a Stags throw came back to Marsden, who whipped a dangerous ball back into the six yard box which Mildenhall had to save, hoping no one would get a vital touch.

However, on 19 minutes Marsden brought down Mohamed for his first booking in first team football.

Rovers almost snatched the lead on 21 minutes as they broke down the centre and Harrold controlled a difficult pass well on his chest before screwing a low finish wide.

Still in the 21st minute Harrold flicked on a long ball forward perfectly for Beardsley, but the ex-Stags guided it wide of goal from six yards with only Price to beat.

News filtered through at this point that Northampton were behind at home to Oxford.

On 32 minutes the Gas came close again as Clarkson crossed hard and low from the right in front of goal where Price bravely smothered as the boot of Harrold slid in towards him to try to get the nick past him.

The thrills continued elsewhere as Northampton levelled at home Oxford and then went 2-1 ahead.

And on 36 minutes Rovers began to feel the heat as Daniel lashed Mansfield into the lead.

Howell crossed from the left and Daniel met it with a superb 20-yard volley that struck the inside of the right hand post and flew into the net.

That dropped Rovers into the bottom two and you could sense the growing fear around the ground.

Clarke flicked a diving header narrowly wide from a Mohamed free kick on 38 minutes as Rovers battled desperately for their lives.

The noose then tightened for Rovers as Wycombe doubled their lead at bottom club Torquay.

The home fans were growing steadily more concerned as Mansfield began to enjoy some possession.

In the final minute of the half Howell broke swiftly down the centre of the pitch with opponents standing off him, enabling him to pick a final pass to Palmer to his left, who blasted over from just inside the box.

With no sub keeper, Stags could be forgiven for being worries as Price stayed down when landing awkwardly catching a left wing cross, but he was up and all right as the whistle went with Rovers staring into the abyss and booed from the field by some sections of their fans.

The club announcer was also booed during the break when he said he was about to read the half-time scores but insisted he was duty bound to reach them anyway!

Seanan Clucas burst past Daniel on the right to win a corner within five minutes of a tense restart from which Parkes was wide with his header from Mohamed’s flag kick.

Broghammer was sent on for Beardsley for the home side in an early change on 54 minutes.

Two minutes later a dreadful loose ball by Riley gifted Rovers possession and Clarkson raced into the box before seeing Price superbly parry his goalbound finish from 15 yards.

That forced a corner from which Clarkson guided a five yard header wide of the target under pressure.

Rovers survived two Mansfield corners as news came in that Northampton were now 3-1 to the good.

O’Toole wasn’t far wide from 30 yards, but the distance from where he struck the shot underlined the home side’s growing desperation.

Riley brought down Mohamed on 65 minutes with the home side and fans screaming that he was the last man and Mohamed would have been clear. However, the offence was still 35 yards out and the referee right to only book him.

Santos replaced Seanan and immediately Rovers won a corner which raised the decibel levels through the roof.

From that Clarkson headed goalwards and Price seemed to tip over but only a goalkick was given.

McGuire and O’Toole clashed in midfield on 69 minutes as tempers began to boil over and both were yellow carded.

With Torquay down to 10 men, Wycombe had began to enjoy their day and went 3-0 up at Plainmoor.

Broghammer’s low 20-yard drive was comfortable held by Price as we entered the last 20 minutes of a heart-stopping afternoon.

Sutton conceded a central free kick 20 yards from goal on 73 minutes which offered rick promise to Rovers. However. Clarkson fired it wide.

Palmer was booed for walking off the field slowly to be replaced by Dyer with 15 tense minutes to go.

Another home corner came to nothing as the clock continued to tick down.

Santos was too high with an overhead kick on 79 minutes from the left edge of the box.

A minute later O’Toole thought he had become the hero Rovers needed as he got a glancing head right in front of goal from a Santos cross from the right only to see it drop agonising inches wide of the left post.

There was a break in play as Riley was treated for a knock with Rovers waiting to take a corner. And Stags, with Riley off the field, were relieved to see McChrystal head over.

With five minutes to go the Gas forced another corner which was cleared and the ball eventually sailed to McCrystal who sent a finish crashing against the far angle from just outside the box.

Sutton clashed angrily off the field with someone in a blue tracksuit as he slowly retrieved the ball for a throw and there were more boos as Daniel walked off to be replaced by Meikle with a minute left.

Stags won themselves a 90th minute corner which they were in no hurry to take.

The noise levels rose again as the fourth official held up the board announcing a minimum of five added minutes.

A bare-chested Rovers fan ran onto the field with play going on to wave his arms at the home players and try to rouse them before being led away.

Stags broke away two on two as we entered the last minute, Clucas forcing Mildenhall to parry to his right.

As the home players stood dejected and in tears on the pitch, a section of home fans fought their way past stewards to vent their spleen at directors in the stand.

The trouble then began to escalate as a group of home fans went across the pitch towards a line of police and began brawling.

The police were struggling to contain them until a line of police horses came on to charge them.

There followed several minutes of sickening violence before the horses finally drove the crowd back off the pitch, the horses staying calm as missiles were thrown at them.

Cries of ‘sack the board’ and ‘we want our money back’ continued as order seemed to be finally restored on an historic day at the Memorial Stadium.

BRISTOL ROVERS: Mildenhall, Lockyer, Parkes, McChrystal, Clarke, Seanan Clucas (Santos 66), O’Toole, Mohamed, Beardsley (Broghammer 54), Clarkson, Harrold. Subs not used: Gough, Harding, Keary, Lucas, Thomas.

STAGS: Price; Sutton, Riley, Dempster, Marsden, Howell, Daniel, McGuire (Meikle 89), Jennings; Sam Clucas, Palmer (Dyer 75). Subs not used: Stevenson, Clements, Thomas, Speight, Briscoe.

REFEREE: Oliver Langford of West Midlands.

ATTENDANCE: 10,594 (704 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Anthony Howell.