Saturday, 15th March 2014: Northampton Town 1, Mansfield Town 1

A controversial red card for Darryl Westlake and subsequent penalty equaliser midway through the second half left Mansfield Town having to settle for a share of the spoils as their big relegation six-pointer at Northampton Town ended 1-1 this afternoon.

Stags, missing top scorer Sam Clucas through illness, will feel they should have won it, but at least avoiding defeat maintained the five point gap between the sides.

In a tense, exciting game, Ollie Palmer’s 32nd minute goal had put Mansfield into the driving seat.

But referee Andy Haines decided Westlake had deliberately handled a goalbound Alan Connell header and Darren Carter levelled from the spot for the in-form home side, who are now six unbeaten.

Chris Hackett could have broken Mansfield hearts and been the home hero near the end but blazed a golden volleyed chance over the bar.

Mansfield Thad suffered a morning blow when top scorer Clucas was ruled out with illness.

Lindon Meikle and Jamie McGuire were dropped to the bench and in came Lee Stevenson, Anthony Howell and Ollie Palmer.

Stags almost went behind with just over a minute on the watch as Connell curled a high through ball towards Dickenson.

Stags looked for an offside flag that wasn’t forthcoming and he was through one-on-one with Marriott

However, the keeper did well to get his body in the way and Dempster was then able to head the loose ball away from in front of goal and Stags had survived.

The home side then cleared Jennings’ first corner.

Sinclair got in on the action for the first time as he held the ball up well under severe pressure from behind by Riley and fed Hackett for a sliced shot wide of the near post on the right.

Kouo-Doumbe then did well to win the ball before Palmer could get in a shot in the box after Ravenhill had accidentally flicked on Dempster’s forward ball towards the striker in a promising position.

Connell swapped passes with Hackett and Westlake did well to nip in and prod the ball off him for a goalkick before he could cause any damage at the far post.

On 12 minutes Stags almost sneaked ahead from a second Jennings corner from the right. Northampton failed to clear it first time and Palmer was able to direct a header towards the top corner which Robertson managed to head off the line.

Thirty seconds later Stevenson wasted a good chance after being picked out by a superb pass from Westlake in from the right which found him in space just inside the box but unable to direct his finish on target.

On 15 minutes Rhead’s flick found Stevenson near the penalty spot and he quickly fed Palmer whose finish, under pressure, was tame and straight to Duke.

A quickly-taken free kick saw Sinclair earn the home side their first corner on 17 minutes, which was blocked at the near post as carter’s kick swung in dangerously low.

On 20 minutes Stevenson was penalised for climbing all over Hackett 20 yards from goal in a central position.

Hackett took responsibility for the free kick himself and drilled it through the wall at Marriott who did well to cling onto the ball and not offer any follow-ups.

An offside flag pulled up Stevenson as he looked set to race clear onto a Howell through ball as the action swung to the other end of the field.

But the visitors were a goal to the good on 32 minutes. A Murray through ball towards Palmer looked set to be cut out by Kouo-Doumbe. But the defender allowed palmer to get goalside of him and Palmer calmly slotted a low finish under Duke from eight yards.

Soon after Stags keeper Marriott was warned for timewasting at a goalkick.

Then a mix-up saw Marriott advance to collect the ball and Tafazolli stoop to try to head it back to him, only to send it past his own keeper and narrowly wide for a corner.

Taken short, the ball was eventually pumped in from the by-line and Marriott caught it safely.

Soon after Marriott had a rush of blood as he raced out his box to reach a ball he was never likely to beat Hackett to and was lucky the Cobblers man’s control let him down and the ball went into touch.

On 42 minutes Dickens went past Riley 25 yards from goal and was brought down. It produced a yellow card for him but was never going to be the red card the home fans were hoping for.

Carter fired the eventual free kick into the wall and Ravenhill flashed the follow-up over the bar.

Three minutes were added on during which a home break saw Sinclair set up Hackett for a shot that Jennings threw himself in the way of.

That produced a corner which Kouo-Doumbe met with a powerful near post header that flew over as the visitors went in with a narrow but crucial advantage.

The home side emerged early from the interval, hungry to get back on with it.

Within 20 seconds of the whistle the Cobblers had forced a left wing corner, taken by Hackett, which Westlake hooked clear.

Marriott was given a second warning about taking too long over a goalkick a few minutes later.

Marriott then beat Sinclair to a Connell through ball before Stags relieved the pressure with a couple of corners.

The home side made a change on 50 minutes with Morris on for Dickenson.

Mansfield cleared another home corner, then on 54 minutes, the ball deflected off the referee on the edge of the box, inviting Connell into a rising shot that was only inches over to the official’s relief.

Palmer incurred the wrath of the home fans when he twice rolled around after going down under challenges in a short space of time.

The second won a free kick that Jennings whipped in and it deflected up and over off a defender for a corner.

The home side struggled to clear it after Duke failed to claim it first time and some head tennis saw it away for a second corner which came to nothing for Mansfield.

Duke then did superbly well to punch away a perfect Palmer cross almost off the head of Rhead.

On 61 minutes Stags let Morris roam 25 yards from goal and he was able to get away a powerful dipping shot that Marriott did well to tip over.

But the game took a major twist on 63 minutes.

A right wing corner for the home side reached Connell who headed firmly towards goal immediately called for a handball against Westlake.

The referee agreed and pointed to the spot, adding a further shock of a red card instead of a yellow for Westlake.

Although Marriott guessed the direction of the penalty correctly, the pace of Carter’s kick was perfect and he found the bottom right hand corner on 64 minutes.

From being in complete control, suddenly 10-men Mansfield faced a long 25 minutes.

Cox shuffled his pack on 68 minutes and sent on Daniel and Meikle for Palmer and Stevenson in a double change.

Rhead brought down Diamond on 70 minutes to earn a yellow card.

The Cobblers began to search for a winner and Diamond was too high with a header from a right wing corner.

Daniel then won Stags a corner of their own which Northampton laboured to clear. Eventually Jennings flicked a header to Howell to the left of goal and his low shot rattled the sidenetting with some Stags thinking it had found the net.

It was a temporary respite as back roared Northampton with corner number eight, which was punched away by Marriott.

Stags broke quickly and Meikle sent the ball into the home half with Daniel in hot pursuit and no defender in sight.

However, Duke raced out to win a crucial race and blasted the ball clear 20 yards outside his box.

Jennings was well over from distance as the home fans grew increasingly frustrated at their side’s lack of a killer blow for the 10 men.

The home side broke from a Mansfield corner on 86 minutes and really should have settled it.

Breaking three on three Morris timed his pass to Connell on the left to perfection and his cross set up a perfect volleyed chance for Hackett in space at the far post where he smashed his finish over the bar with Marriott at his mercy.

Dyer took over from Rhead as the lone Stags striker for the final four minutes of the 90.

Five minutes were added on and in the second of those Riley conceded a free kick just outside the box which saw Dempster head Carter’s kick away as the game ended all square.

NORTHAMPTON: Duke, McSweeney, Carter, Sinclair, Hackett (Lopez 88), Connell, Diamond, Kouo-Doumbe, Robertson, Ravenhill, Dickenson (Morris 50). Subs not used: Tozer, Snedker, Deegan, Moyo, Toney.
STAGS: Marriott; Tafazolli, Dempster, Riley; Westlake, Murray, Stevenson (Meikle 68), Howell, Jennings; Rhead (Dyer 86), Palmer (Daniel 68). Subs not used: Briscoe, Beevers, McGuire, Cain.
REFEREE: Andy Haines of Tyne & Wear.

ATTENDANCE: 5,129 (744 away).