The BSBP title chase took another twist tonight as Mansfield Town’s club record and Conference record-equalling 12-game winning run was halted by a Wrexham victory that propels the fading Red Dragons back into the championship mix.
The home side knew if they lost this one they were out of it, 10 points adrift of Stags before the game. But, with a home clash with Kidderminster to come and a last day of the season fixture at Mansfield, the Dragon is still breathing fire.
Mansfield manager Paul Cox, in charge of the Stags for the 100th time, had warned there would still be twists and turns as they arrived in Wales knowing even a single point would be enough to put them top of the table with two games in hand on Kidderminster after this one.
And that looked a distinct possibility when, after a largely forgettable first half with so much at stake, Matt Green fired the visitors in front on 53 minutes with his 20th goal of the season.
Stags had only let in three goals in the past nine games.
But the home side suddenly found the door open in a hectic spell and stole two goals in 11 minutes in an increasingly hostile environment.
It ended a magnificent winning sequence of 12 games, a run of 10 away wins in 11 games and Stags must now bounce back quickly at Barrow on Saturday and put this disappointment behind them.
Stags twice had the ball in the net but goals chalked off while Wrexham seemed to have a shot hit the bar and cross the line. But the strikes by Dean Keates on 68 minutes and Danny Wright on 78 minutes were what counted in the end, Keates’ deflected effort almost carried over the line by Alan Marriott in what could go down as an own goal to the keeper in the end.
Mansfield made two changes. Lee Stevenson and Louis Briscoe were relegated to the bench, allowing the returns of Adam Chapman into midfield and Lindon Meikle on the wing.
The Red Dragons included ex-Stags central defender Martin Riley.
Stags might have snatched themselves a fourth minute lead when Chapman’s through ball put Daniel into acres of space on the left. However, Westwood was there to cut out his square ball in towards Green.
Harris sent a home free kick into the defensive wall from 20 yards before we had an early hold-up for an injury to the unlucky Beevers, the defender able to continue.
Howell was squeezed out on a powerful run forward, then home keeper Maxwell, playing his 100th game for the club, was able to grab a long Chapman throw at the second attempt as the visitors began the game on the front foot.
Chapman was off target with an ambitious 30-yard half-volley after Green had flicked a long Marriott kick towards him.
On 21 minutes the home side suffered a blow when dominant centre half Westwood limped off injured. Bizarrely, a number 18 – named as Walker on the back of the programme – came on, but was not among the five subs announced at kick-off. It was later revealed Rob Ogleby had been injured in the pre-match warm-up.
Ex-Stags Riley was booked on 25 minutes for bringing down Green. That decision brought protests from home skipper Keates and the home fans who were angered further when Green then quickly went in late on Keates, getting just a ticking off.
Clarke got away the night’s best shot to date, a 25-yard first time effort that curled away from goal on 28 minutes, which got the home fans in full cry.
Stags almost beat an offside trap as Meikle played the ball inside for Chapman, whose first touch put the ball behind for a goalkick.
Daniel’s touch also let him down as he got into the box on the left but allowed the ball to run to the keeper.
Then Maxwell had to leave his box to head clear of the incoming Green as he hopefully chased a through ball.
It had been a tense and scrappy first 35 minutes with neither side wanting to make a mistake and neither keeper seriously tested.
A Wrexham break was halted by Meikle clipping the heels of Hunt to see the night’s second yellow card, Stags surviving a scramble from the free kick and a subsequent spell of home pressure.
Taylor almost opened his Mansfield account, more by luck than judgement as he miscue a cross from the left and Maxwell, having started to leave his line to gather, had to quickly readjust to claw the ball out from under the angle on 40 minutes.
A foul by Beevers on 43 minutes, and his subsequent dissent, earned him a booking and a two game ban – a real blow for the visitors with the full back in such good form.
But, despite Wrexham winning the first corner of the game, we reached the interval without a goal or a real clear cut opportunity.
Mansfield won their first corner of the night within two minutes of the restart, Chapman’s kick eventually played back out to him and the midfielder firing powerfully into the sidenetting.
On 50 minutes Stags thought they had taken the lead as Jones rose to nod home a long Chapman throw. But celebrations were cut short as the linesman had spotted pushing.
Within seconds Daniel burst into the box on the left but saw his finish blocked by the spreadeagled body of Maxwell, the ball running out to Chapman who saw the keeper again well positioned to save his 18 yard blast.
Wrexham broke quickly and Clarke laid a ball inside for Keates, whose dipping shot from 30 yards was only just over.
Suddenly we had a thriller on our hands. And Mansfield finally scored a goal that counted on 53 minutes.
Chapman’s right wing corner saw Jones plant a great header on target that Maxwell reached up to keep out from under the bar, but was helpless as Green followed up from close range to drive the ball high into the net.
Taylor was booked on 54 minutes as the home side suddenly tried to up the ante.
Marriott made a superb one-handed save to keep out a Wright header two minutes later, not knowing the whistle was being blown for a foul by a home player.
Wrexham sent on the much-travelled Adebola for Ormerod on 66 minutes.
And two minutes later they were level, thanks to a deflection.
Chapman conceded a free kick 30 yards from goal. His shot took a deflection in the wall which wrong-footed Marriott, who still managed to twist and half-stop the ball but was unable to prevent it still sneaking over the line as he fell.
Suddenly the home crowd were turning up the noise and Mansfield faced a nervous period of holding on.
When a right wing cross was only cleared to Adebola, he couldn’t get a shot away but the ball was rolled to Clarke, who sidestepped a defender before forcing Marriott to save his powerful left-footed shot from 12 yards.
A 20-yard Chapman free kick on 74 minutes was too hot for Maxwell to hold onto, the Welshmen grateful there was no Stags player on hand to turn the loose ball in as they stabbed it away at the second try.
Briscoe was sent on for Daniel on 77 minutes as Mansfield tried to regain some of the impetus, while Wrexham sent on Little for Cieslewicz.
But it was Little who made the big impact as within a minute he fed Wright, who kept his calm with a nice first touch and then tucked his finish past Marriott from 10 yards.
Two minutes later Stags had a massive let-off as Clarke’s flick to Wright saw his finish beat Marriott and bounce down back off the underside of the bar.
It looked as if it it had crossed the line but the officials decided otherwise.
This was heart-attack stuff as Stags then burst down the centre and, with a home defender laying injured, Green was put through by a flick to touch the ball past Maxwell, but the linesman’s flag was already up.
Desperate Mansfield now sent on Rhead for Chapman for the final eight minutes.
And seconds later Jones was inches over the angle with a header from a Murray corner.
Clarke acrobatically hooked a 10 yard finish well over from another spell of home pressure with the home fans’ noise now deafening.
Four minutes were added on but the home side held on in comfort in a white hot atmosphere as they reignited their title dream.
WREXHAM: Maxwell, Wright, Riley, Cieslewicz (Little 77), Harris, Wright, Ormerod (Adebola 66), Keates, Clarke, Hunt, Westwood (Walker 21). Subs: Rushton, Thornton. STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Jones, Dempster, Taylor; Murray, Chapman, Howell; Meikle, Green, Daniel (Briscoe 77). Subs: Rhead, Sutton, Hutchinson, Stevenson. REFEREE: Darren Handley of Lancashire.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Luke Jones.