Sunday, 29th December 2013: Cheltenham Town 1 Mansfield Town 2

Jubilant Mansfield Town finally ended their barren run of 13 League games without a win with a gutsy, nervous and hard-earned 2-1 win against Cheltenham Town at the Abbey Business Stadium this afternoon.

Stags were desperate to avoid equalling the club’s worst-ever run of 14 League games without victory from 13 years ago and first half goals from Anthony Howell and Matt Rhead did the trick.

But the Robins, who were unbeaten in their previous 11 League games, battled hard near the end and forced a grandstand finish when Sido Jombati pulled one back four minutes from time.

The home fans, who had seen their side draw their last four home games before this, roared them on through the five minutes of time added on, but Mansfield clung on for dear life.

Matt Rhead made a huge difference up front on his recall, defending well too and adding a goal for good measure, working well as a pair with the hard-working Ollie Palmer.

The back three were immaculate while Junior Daniel was highly effective in a central midfield role for the second half.

The win lifted Mansfield up two places and three points from the drop zone with Burton Albion the visitors this Wednesday.

Stags had made another five changes. Into a 3-5-2 came Ritchie Sutton, Ryan Tafazolli, Jamie McGuire, James Jennings and Matt Rhead.

Left out were Adam Murray, Ross Dyer, Calvin Andrew, John McCombe and Lee Beevers.

John Dempster was available again after a two-game ban but could only make the bench.

Stags immediately won a throw on the left from which Jennings tried to burst into the box, only to be halted after the referee spotted a foul by Howell.

The home side responded with a raid down the right that earned them their first corner on two minutes, headed clear by McGuire.

On five minutes Jombati made a good run down the right and laid an inviting pass inside to McGlashan, whose first time sidefooted finish was ballooned well over.

Harrison nodded a header just wide seconds later from another right wing cross as the Robins asked the early questions.

Stags then almost broke through on seven minutes as Rhead brought down a long ball forward into the box.

Neither he nor Palmer were able to turn and get in a shot, but the ball ran to Howell, who did manage to turn but could only hook a left footed finish into the sidenetting from five yards out.

Mansfield then laboured getting the ball clear from their own box and Marriott took charge and grabbed the ball before Cureton could pounce.

Marriott punched away a dipping ball by Richards, then Rhead got a great head-on from a long Marriott clearance to try to send Howell through, his first touch letting him down.

On 17 minutes Taylor’s running worked an opening for Harrison who was only just over the far angle from 20 yards.

Richards fired a 25-yard free kick straight into the visitors’ wall.

But it was Mansfield who grabbed a surprise lead on 21 minutes.

Clements began the move wide on the right, coming inside to pick out McGuire in space. He fed it on to Howell to his left who, from 20 yards drilled a low deflected shot inside the right post with Brown rooted to the spot.

That lead was threatened soon after as Jombati crossed hard and low from the right and the ball bobbled temptingly through a crowded box and out for a goalkick.

Richards lifted a 25 yard free kick over the Stags wall from the right, but Marriott was across at his near post to make a comfy catch.

The Robins played a series of near passes along the edge of the box from where Taylor’s low drive deflected wide for a home corner.

Rhead raised jeers from the home fans when he blazed the ball right out the ground.

From the throw Jennings somehow managed to put a cross back in front of own goal from almost by the corner flag which Cureton headed over to spare the defender’s blushes.

Stags conjured up some more pressure on the home side after they failed to clear a left wing corner and Rhead was eventually bundled over by Noble just outside the box.

That brought a free kick from 20 yards which Clements sent straight into the wall.

Noble almost opened up the visitors three minutes from the break as he drew defenders to him 25 yards from goal before lifting a superb cross into the centre where Harrison just failed to get over it with his header.

A minute later and Cheltenham came close again as Jombati broke into the box on the right and crossed low and hard, the ball was blocked but rolled back to him and he blazed a shot inches over.

Mansfield then wasted a great chance themselves in the last minute as Clements cut the home side open with a brilliant defence-spliiting pass to set Palmer away between two defenders only for the big striker to see Scott Brown beat away his finish.

But the second goal did arrive for Mansfield in the second of two added minutes.

Jennings launched a corner in from the right which Rhead buried with a close range far post header.

McGuire strained his groin in that first half and failed to reappear for the second half with Daniel coming into the action as a direct replacement as one of the three central midfielders.

The home fans were getting more disgruntled by the minute as Stags gave away some early fouls only to see home players waste passes.

But Mansfield knew it was vital they gave nothing away in that first 15 minutes and offer any hope to the Robins.

They even threatened briefly on a superb break only for Westlake to see his final ball in blocked for a corner.

At the other end Harrison saw a close range header deflect wide for a corner from McGlashan’s teasing cross in from the right.

From that Brown headed the ball straight to Marriott.

On 58 minutes the home side, needing a tonic, made a double change, Roofe and Gornell on for Braham-Barrett and Harrison.

On 63 minutes Howell fed Palmer into the left hand side of the box from where he pulled a pass for Daniel who hooked a low shot wide of the far post.

A minute later Daniel tricked his way into the box on the left and, beating the last defender, forced Brown to get in the way of his finish from close range.

It was end to end as Cureton nodded well wide under pressure as he got a head onto a hanging left wing cross from Richards from just six yards.

Palmer volleyed a Daniel cross back in front of goal where a defender hacked it away on Mansfield’s next raid.

The Robins won another free kick outside the box on the left. Richards dinked it into the middle where Marriott watched it all the way for a perfect catch.

Howell was booked on 78 minutes for sliding in on Roofe with home fans calling for a red for showing his studs.

Gornell had two opportunites in a minute, Clements taking the ball off his toe on the first one as he shaped to shoot from 15 yards, and then blazing over from a little further out as we entered the last 10 minutes with the home side becoming increasingly desperate.

That desperation showed in Roofe’s hurried 25-yard effort two minutes later, which was always going over with other options either side of him.

Jennings brought down McGlashan on 83 minutes to pick up a booking, the free kick easily cleared to home groans.

The Robins continued to press and forced three corners, and from the third of those earned themselves a lifeline.

Roofe sent in a far post ball and Jombati headed in from close range.

Suddenly the home fans were in full cry for the first time all afternoon and McGlashan, sliding in at full stretch, was just unable to reach Roofe’s ball in and touch it past Marriott.

It was already agony to watch and made worse when the referee found five minutes to add on at the end.

The tension rose even further when Howell conceded a foul 20 yards from goal centrally with just over two minutes of it left, but Roofe sent his effort at the wall.

Seconds later the ball broke in the box for Brown, who snatched at it and was well over.

As we passed over the five minutes, there was still time for Gornell to nod tamely wide and the game was finally won.

STAGS: Marriott; Sutton, Riley, Tafazolli; Westlake, McGuire (Daniel HT), Howell, Clements, Jennings; Palmer (Meikle 80), Rhead. Subs not used: Dempster, Beevers, Stevenson, Deakin, Dyer.
CHELTENHAM: S. Brown, Taylor (Deering 75), T. Brown, Cureton, Harrison (Gornell 58), McGlashan, Goldson, Richards, Jombati, Brahan-Barrett (Roofe 58), Noble. Subs not used: Roberts, Penn, Vincent, Ajala. 
REFEREE: Stephen Martin of Staffordshire.

ATTENDANCE: 2,928 (166 away).