A cruel Ryan Tafazolli own goal gifted visiting rivals Portsmouth a point in Saturday’s 1-1 draw and saw Mansfield Town’s play-off dream further fade.
Boss Adam Murray was defiant after the game and warned ‘it’s not over yet’, but a seven point gap with nine games to play suggests the fat lady is doing vocal warm-up exercises.
We will know better after a daunting Easter weekend with a trip to Wycombe followed quickly by the visit of runaway leaders Northampton, though judging by the poor turnout of home fans for such glamorous League Two opposition on Saturday, many have already made their minds up on the campaign’s conclusion.
Murray knows Stags’ rivals do all have to play each other yet, so points have to be spilled. But that is no good when your own team is not winning to take advantage.
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Saturday at least halted a three-game losing streak and was a hard-earned point against quality opposition.
The agonising thing is Stags have not played badly during a four-game winless run that couldn’t have come at a worse time for them.
Mansfield have been honest that, all things considered, they have over-achieved this season, being in the play-off spots for the majority of it against the odds.
But maybe the current table, which shows them in 13th is more realistic of where they really are in the League Two pecking order?
A point apiece was probably the right result on Saturday, but Stags can feel aggrieved that referee Carl Boyeson failed to be given either of two big penalty shouts.
There is little doubt that debut-making Mani Dieseruvwe was pulled back by Christian Burgess in the first half or that Matt Green was heftily shoved in the second half, both in the box.
But Mr Boyeson gave neither, failed to punish a string of fouls by Pompey and managed to book three Stags in as many minutes to ensure he is another whistler off the Stags’ fans’ Christmas card list, the official booed off at the break.
Again the home side failed to get the rub of the green with those decisions or with the own goal two minutes before the break.
We had already had high drama on 21 minutes as Scott Shearer pulled off another penalty save.
Having saved two in one game last month against Morecambe, Shearer again guessed correctly, throwing himself to his left to deny Marc McNulty after Dan Alfei had mis-timed his tackle on McNulty.
Within five minutes Stags were ahead. New boy Dieseruvwe challenged for a Shearer clearance and then flicked the perfect ball over the defence into Matt Green’s path.
His finish was cool and controlled and marked his 12th goal of the season.
It was also Mansfield’s first goal in 302 minutes of football after the three successive 1-0 defeats.
Although Dieseruvwe had played little recently and had only been with the club two days before being thrown in, he was a willing runner, caused problems in the air and even completed the full 90 minutes for a solid debut with an assist thrown in.
But disaster struck at a crucial time as Ben Davies curled in a wicked corner that Lee Collins couldn’t reach and, with Shearer on his line, Tafazolli was unable to move out the way as the ball struck his legs and found his own net.
The corner count of 10-1 in favour of Pompey suggests they deserved something from Davies’ fine set pieces.
The visitors played the better quality football over the 90 minutes, though Stags’ more direct passes were far more effective with two up front on the times they did bypass midfield.
Overall, Mansfield were equal to everything the sleeping South Coast giants could muster and created chances, the hard-working Mitch Rose twice coming close from distance, one forcing a save, also bringing a near post save out of Ryan Fulton after good skill on the right, and unlucky when Green failed to spot him square and free on a break forward.
For Pompey, Michael Smith twice sent shots straight at Shearer and Burgess was unlucky when a goal-bound effort was deflected wide.
Skipper Michael Doyle also forced Shearer to bundle a long range shot wide.
Matty Blair livened things up again when he came on and almost carved out a Stags winner as his low cross from the left was narrowly in front of the incoming Dieseruvwe.
In the end it wasn’t enough and with just nine games left now the Stags had once again failed to notch a first win over top 12 opposition this season.
With three of the next four games against sides in the top half, that sorry statistic simply has to end.