A late equaliser for the second successive Saturday ruined new Mansfield Town boss Adam Murray’s first home game in full charge as sub Zack Kotwica stole Cheltenham Town a 1-1 draw at a freezing One Call Stadium this afternoon.
The Stags had looked set to take all three points thanks to a spectacular Vadaine Oliver strike from almost 30 yards.
But, as at Cambridge the week before, a momentary lapse in concentration allowed Kotwica, only on the field for 16 minutes, the chance to bury a superb finish.
Although the Stags played some pretty football and controlled possession for long spells, the truth is they didn’t create enough clear chances and the Robins were worth a point, having had the lion’s share of the afternoon’s opportunities.
The home side were lucky that Kane Ferdinand, cousin of Rio, didn’t open the scoring with three chances just before the break, Dimitar Evtimov keeping out two of them and Luke Waterfall clearing another off the line.
Stags came back out in a higher gear and deserved to go ahead through Oliver.
But they failed to then take an iron grip and grab a second, ending up defending deeper and deeper and were caught out in the end.
However, it is still early days yet and Murray’s men did impress the higher-than-average crowd, due to a cut-price ticket offer, with some of their football.
Ryan Tafazolli was immaculate at the back with full debutant, loanee Junior Brown, showing his talents on the wing and winning the sponsors’ man of the match.
Murray made five changes and swapped things round formation-wise, going 4-3-3 after playing 4-4-2 at Cambridge last weekend.
Despite being rushed into hospital last weekend with a chest infection, Evtimov replaced Sasha Studer in goal, who missed out with a thigh problem.
Martin Riley’s tight hamstring kept him out, so loanee Waterfall was brought into the centre of defence, though Riley is hoping to be fit for Tuesday.
Also, loanee Keiron Freeman returned to left back, which meant Lee Beevers was left out.
In midfield Fergus Bell joined Simon Heslop and Chris Clements with Oliver the lone striker, flanked by wingers Reggie Lambe and loanee Brown, making an eyecatching full debut.
That meant Rakish Bingham and Rob Taylor were dropped to the bench.
Stags began with some pleasing-to-the-eye football, even Evitomov getting in on the act by sidestepping a forward.
Stags then won a fourth minute corner which the Robins cleared at the second attempt.
Cheltenham’s first foray forward ended with a tame shot well wide by Braham-Barrett.
Harrison was closer on six minutes as he turned and whipped a low shot just wide from a left wing throw.
Clements then picked out the run of Brown down the left and his low cross was intended for Heslop, only for team mate Oliver to step in and have a shot blocked, Clements wide with the follow-up.
Brown went on another run down the left and this time his cross took a deflection that looped it up on target, Carson having to stretch to save.
Stags were playing some nice football, but the first 20 minutes was largely uneventful.
From a long throw from the left, Gornell had a near post shot smothered by Evtimov on 23 minutes as Cheltenham threatened again.
On 26 minutes Clements tested Carson with a low shot from Brown’s lay-off, but firm as it was, the ball was always straight at the keeper.
Braham-Barrett had to beat Oliver to a far post cross on 29 minutes after Brown had done well to get the left by-line, the home side winning a corner.
Another followed soon after, Carson clutching Clements’ inswinging ball in just under his bar.
The Robins cleared Mansfield ‘s fourth corner as we awaited a breakthrough.
Bell’s flick from Lambe’s pass almost put in Brown, Carson down quickly to beat him to the ball.
Sutton then headed away the visitors’ second corner.
A Stags breakaway, led by the run of Bell, was unceremoniously halted by Taylor’s trip, earning him a booking.
However, on 44 minutes Stags had a double let-off as Ferdinand was left spare on the right and forced Evtimov into a good block and then Waterfall was in the way to block Ferdinand’s follow-up off the line.
Ferdinand tested Evtimov again in stoppage time with a vicious shot from 15 yards that the keeper turned around his near post as the half ended goalless.
Beevers replaced Freeman at left back for Stags for the second half.
Bell was blocked off by the challenge of Troy Brown as he raced into the box, but the referee waved play on.
A nice one-two between Oliver and Brown saw his far post cross deflect over for a corner, from which Oliver headed over the bar.
But Oliver provided the breakthrough at last on 55 minutes.
With Carson off his line, Oliver unleashed a superb dipping half-volley from almost 30 yards that looped over the keeper before dropping under the crossbar to put Stags ahead.
Four minutes later Evtimov had to get down to grab a decent free kick from Richards from just outside the box as the visitors looked for a quick reply.
The visitors made a double change on 65 minutes, then Gornell was fortunate not to be booked for going in very late on Waterfall.
On 71 minutes Stags came close again as Oliver controlled a Brown cross and cued up Heslop for a first time shot he pulled wide of goal.
Mansfield cleared their lines from Cheltenham’s first corner of the second half as we entered the last 15 minutes.
Waterfall was booked for a foul on 77 minutes after Sterling-James had got the better of him.
Taylor took over from Lambe on the wing for the last 10 minutes.
Gornell was caught in the face by the elbow of Waterfall and needed treatment, but the referee disagreed with the Robins that the elbow was deliberate.
Soon after on 84 minutes a furious Gornell brought down Bell in temper and he was booked.
But Cheltenham were level out of the blue with just two minutes left.
A long throw from the left was headed out to Kotwica 25 yards out and the sub, only on the field for 16 minutes, let fly with a swerving right foot effort that cleared Evtimov’s dive and found the top right corner.
Three minutes into stoppage time there was further worry as Tafazolli was booked for a free kick just outside the box, Hanks’ free kick deflecting wide for a corner as the game ended all square.
MANSFIELD: Evtimov; Sutton, Tafazolli, Waterfall, Freeman (Beevers HT); Heslop, Clements, Bell (Bingham 88); Lambe (R. Taylor 80), Oliver, J. Brown. Subs not used: Rhead, McGuire, Palmer, Bishop. CHELTENHAM: Carson, Braham-Barrett, M. Taylor, T. Brown, Ferdinand, Richards (Haworth 65), Harrison (Kotwica 72), Gornell, Deaman, Hanks, De Vita (Sterling-James 65). Subs not used: Gould, Black, Williams, Dale. REFEREE: Chris Sarginson of Staffordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,324 (155 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Tafazolli.
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