Mansfield Town’s 10 men clung bravely onto a gutsy and unlikely 2-2 draw with runaway leaders Northampton Town in a thriller at One Call Stadium today.
Mansfield started the game well, grabbed two goals in five electric minutes to lead 2-0 through Matt Green and dominated a first half in which the high-flying visitors failed to muster a shot until the 44th minute.
Stags then had to make a reshuffle after losing centre half Ryan Tafazolli to injury as early as the 23rd minute.
However, it was McGuire’s red card in first half stoppage time that changed the complexion of the afternoon.
It seemed a harsh decision as, although possibly a foul, it didn’t look to be a bookable offence.
But, as he had already been cautioned, referee Darren Handley sent him off.
The visitors made few friends with their over-reactions to tackles, diving and play-acting and Handley was again in the spotlight on 64 minutes when he awarded the Cobblers a soft penalty which Ricky Holmes buried.
The pink shirts of Northampton then inevitably began to swarm forwards and on 69 minutes John Marquis levelled the game from close range after Scott Shearer had come for, but failed to grab, a right wing corner by Danny Rose.
The visitors arrived on a fantastic run of 16 League games unbeaten, winning 13 of them.
Stags began the day five without a win in five games and their play-off hopes all but gone, eight points short with eight games to go.
The home side showed two changes as they faced runaway leaders Northampton Town at One Call Stadium this afternoon.
Right back Dan Alfei and midfielder Mitch Rose were dropped to the bench.
In came Jamie McGuire to play defensive midfielder, Lee Collins moving to right back against his old club, with teenager Jack Thomas making a rare start on the right of midfield.
The afternoon started with a minute’s silence for the victims of the Brussels terror attacks.
Mansfield began on the front foot and in the second minute Green’s knock-down from a high ball to the right of the box saw Thomas have a shot charged down.
On eight minutes Stags came even closer as Clements whipped a free kick only just over the crossbar from wide on the left.
The home side were rewarded for their bright start with a fine opening goal on 11 minutes.
Benning’s trusty left foot curled in a superb free kick from wide on the right and Green stole in to power home a header from five yards.
Within five minutes it was 2-0 – and it was Green on target again.
This time Clements launched in a long free kick from the left and Green met it was a deft header that beat Smith all ends up to leave the visitors stunned.
Tafazolli had already been down for treatment and after a late tackle on Marquis on 20 minutes, he was booked and went down again, this time being replaced by Alfei on 23 minutes.
A minute later McGuire flattened Richards in a midfield challenge. Marquis raced in with a violent shove on McGuire but only the Stags man was booked.
Cobblers keeper Smith was lucky on 35 minutes when he fumbled a Benning cross and no one was on hand to punish him.
A minute later Dieseruvwe drew a defender on the right of the box and then rolled a perfect pass to Clements on the edge of the box only to see his finish pass inches over the right angle.
The visitors were clearly rattled and on 41 minutes Buchanan was booked for leaving a foot in on Blair as he tried to get the ball into the box.
It took until a minute from the break for the visitors to muster a goal attempt as Rose lifted a shot over from just outside the box.
But Stags’ task of holding onto their 2-0 advantage was made much harder when they had McGuire sent off in the fourth of five added minutes.
He and Marquis both went into a challenge which the referee let play continue from. However, when it came to nothing, he brought back the play for a free kick and showed McGuire a second yellow plus red.
Within seconds Shearer had to tip over the Cobblers’ first on-target effort from a Diamond header.
There were angry scenes at the whistle as the Mansfield staff had to be kept away from the officials by stewards.
The referee was booed back onto the field for the second half with cries of ‘cheat’ from the stands.
The visitors made a double change with Holmes and D’Ath on for Richards and Taylor and within 11 seconds Holmes lashed the ball low on target, Shearer down to save.
Thomas went into the notebook for his foul on Holmes on 51 minutes.
On 55 minutes Blair made way for Chapman and soon after Green lashed wide from an almost impossible angle on the right.
On 58 minutes Stags had a let-off as Holmes let fly from almost 30 yards and saw the ball hit the bar and bounce straight down, but the officials adjudged it hadn’t crossed the line.
On 62 minutes Rose took over from Dieseruvwe as Mansfield tried to shore up the rearguard.
However, the visitors were gifted a way back into the contest on 64 minutes as James Collins fell easily under the challenge of Lee Collins in the box.
Up stepped Holmes to end Shearer’s run of saving spot kicks and the deficit was halved.
Soon after on 69 minutes the visitors were level.
Shearer came for a Rose corner from the right but was crowded out and Marquis was on hand to ram the loose ball high into the net.
Hoskins came on for the visitors and had an immediate chance on a breakaway but shot too high.
On a rare Stags raid Thomas got into the box only to curl the ball tamely at Smith.
At last the visitors’ theatricals were punished when Hoskins was booked for a dive five minutes from time.
A thrilling end to end finish failed to find a winner as Stags dug deep into reserves of strength they didn’t know they had.
Stags were cheered off but the referee went off to a chorus off booing.
STAGS: Shearer; Collins, Tafazolli (Alfei 23), Pearce, L. Collins; McGuire; Thomas, Clements, Blair (Chapman 55); Dieseruvwe (M. Rose 62), Green. Subs not used: Jensen, Beardsley, Daniel, Baxendale.
NORTHAMPTON: Smith, Moloney, Taylor (D’Ath HT), Diamond, Richards (Holmes HT), Buchanan, McDonald, J. Collins, O’Toole, D. Rose, Marquis (Hoskins 79). Subs not used: Clarke, Byrom, Lelan, Prosser.
REFEREE: Darren Handley of Lancashire.
ATTENDANCE: 4,367 (1,667).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Green.
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