Mansfield’s final home game of the season saw them suffer injury woe and a 58-24 defeat by Kettering.
In conditions befitting the arrival of British Summer Time and the home side playing in unfamiliar yellow, the visitors got proceedings underway and, with barely one minute on the clock, Mansfield gifted a simple three points for not rolling away at the tackle.
Worse was to follow from the re-start, a collision on halfway resulting in top points scorer Jonathan Williams having to leave the field to be replaced by John-Ross Ward.
Play was restarted with a Kettering scrum, but it was the Mansfield eight who were to dominate this area of play all afternoon.
The home side won the scrum against the head only to then concede another three points for not releasing.
With 15 minutes played Mansfield won another scrum, and Alan Symcox picked up from the base and drove at the heart of the Kettering defence.
The ball was recycled only to be lost in contact, Kettering kicked through the loose ball, retrieving possession midway in the Mansfield half and scored under the posts, extending their lead to 13 points.
Kettering were penalised at the restart for going off their feet but the three points attempt drifted agonisingly wide of the posts.
The visitors were then offside at the restart and Mansfield had a scrum on the 22.
With the home side forwards again on top in the set piece, Kettering collapsed the scrum and Mansfield finally open their account thanks to the boot of Ward.
The restart was safely collected by Tom Newton and the ball worked back to Ash Wills, who cleared down field.
The ball came to ground midway in the visitors’ half and the bounce defeating the defender, allowing Wills to collect his own kick.
He then beat two covering defenders before offloading to John-Ross Ward in support to score under the posts and it was 13-10 at the midpoint of the half.
The next 10 minutes were played out in the middle third with neither team able to impose themselves.
On 30 minutes Mansfield spilled possession in midfield and Kettering again hacked deep into Mansfield territory, only quick thinking by Wills saving the day.
A mistake by the visiting 10 gave Mansfield an attacking scrum, Symcox picked from the base and a series of drives took play to the opposition 22.
The ball was lost in contact and recovered by Symcox from an offside position.
Kettering quickly tapped and give their dangerous backs a run, eventually scoring under the posts to restore their 10-point advantage.
The play brought more bad news for the home side as lock Aiden McGregor left the field to be replaced by Ian Coleman and the remainder of the half was played out in midfield.
Mansfield got the second half underway and Kettering fumbled on their own 10m line.
With the home front three of Grant, Johnson and Ellis in complete control, the scrum was won and Symcox picked and released Shaw.
Kettering cleared their lines but a line-out infringement awarded Mansfield a free kick which saw the ever alert Shaw tap and go.
Working the blind side, Wills was stopped 10m short, but expertly offloaded to Ward for his second try in the corner.
Wills superbly converted from the touchline, reducing the deficit to three points.
The encouraging start to the half was marred by more injury woe for the home side with both Ward and Newton having to leave the field due to injury, together with the visiting prop.
Will Limb replaced Newton, but with all replacements used it meant Mansfield would play the remaining 35 minutes with 14 men.
The numerical balance was temporarily restored on the next play when the visiting full back received 10 minutes in the bin for an offence at the tackle, but Wills was unable capitalise as the shot at goal rebounded off the post.
With the difference still only three points the next score was always going to be crucial to the outcome as both sides pressed at every opportunity.
Kettering were awarded a scrum but once again were unable to capitalise as the Mansfield pack again disrupted, resulting in a reset scrum with a home side put-in.
To the disbelieve of the home spectators Kettering won the scrum against the head and drove through the forwards before releasing the backs to touch down under the posts
With the visitors back to a full complement and the home side doing everything possible to get back into the game, the remaining quarter promised much.
It was Kettering who scored next, line out ball secured and forwards driving before releasing the backs to score out wide. With extras added it was now 34-17 to the visitors.
With just over 10 minutes to go things got even worse for the home side when captain Phil Donaldson received a yellow card for an infringement on the floor.
Playing with 13 on the park wasn’t going to make it any easier. Kettering slotted three points from the penalty and worst fears were realised as the visiting backs ran in two more converted tries to make the score 51-17 to the visitors.
Deep into stoppage time numerical parity was restored as Donaldson returned and the Kettering prop received a yellow card.
Mansfield drove to the Kettering line where a series of scrum infringements finally tested the patience of the referee who awarded Mansfield a penalty try.
The final word, however, was Kettering’s, who scored from the restart to make the final score 58-24.
This was a tough day for the Blue & Whites and definitely a case of what might have been.
Things don’t get any easier this week when Mansfield visit champions Peterborough Lions (3pm). You can follow the action on Twitter, go to @MansfieldRugby.