A Matt Green brace kept Mansfield Town on course for the BSBP title as the Stags bounced back from their misery at Wrexham two days earlier to beat struggling Barrow 4-0 at Holker Street today.
But they remain a point adrift of leaders Kidderminster Harriers, who saw off Lincoln City 3-0 at Aggborough to keep the title race alive.
And it really does look a two-horse race now after Wrexham stumbled 2-0 at Woking with Mansfield knowing that a win over Macclesfield Town at home on Tuesday night will send themselves top.
Stags had beaten Barrow 8-1 at home recently, when Green bagged a hat-trick, and he was again their scourge today as Stags bounced straight back from that 2-0 defeat at Wrexham which ended their winning streak at 12 games.
Today’s result broke another club record, their 12th away league win of the season being the Stags’ best ever away record.
But, although the score makes it look a comfy afternoon for Mansfield, the home side did have a penalty saved by Alan Marriott at 0-0 and twice hit the woodwork when still in the game.
A passage of play between the 27th and 29th minutes defined the destination of the points and could even prove the most crucial spell of play of the season as Marriott saved Richie Baker’s spot kick before Green bagged his opener soon afterwards.
Green then showed Baker how to take a penalty to bag his second from a disputed spot kick on 41 minutes.
John Dempster had the easiest of close range tap-ins when an Adam Murray found a way through everyone in the box on the hour, which killed off the game as a contest. And Stevenson also enjoyed an easy tap-in to complete the scoring at the death, thanks to Matt Rhead’s accurate low cross.
The Stags side once again showed two changes with Stevenson back in for Chapman in midfield and Briscoe returning to the wing at the expense of Meikle.
With just 90 seconds elapsed, a series of passes by the home side saw Baker get away a low 20-yard shot on target, making Marriott get down to his right to make the routine save.
Three minutes later Boyes was well off target with a hopeful 25-yard effort after the ball had sat up nicely for him to hit it on the half-volley.
The home side comfortably cleared a succession of long throws from Beevers as the game struggled to find any early rhythm.
However, a mistake by home skipper Hessey almost gifted Green the opener on 20 minutes as he let the ball slip past him. Green was onto it like a flash but, with only keeper Hurst to beat, he stabbed the ball wide of the far post.
Rowe was well off target from 25 yards for the Bluebirds a minute later.
Jones conceded the game’s first corner on 25 minutes which Howell half-cleared to Hessey who, from 25 yards, zipped a powerful shot across goal and wide of the far post.
Marriott was the hero for Mansfield on 27 minutes when he saved a penalty kick.
The referee spotted a handball from Jones as Stags defended a long Hunter throw and pointed to the spot.
Baker’s kick wasn’t the best, low and down the centre, Marriott able to block it with his body and then recover to deny McConville’s follow-up from close range.
The let-off sparked Stags into action to grab the lead themselves two minutes later.
Green attacked the home box down the centre before trying to slip in Daniel to his left. Daniel shaped to finish but instead squared the ball to his right past the keeper to leave Green with an open net and simple tap-in for his 21st goal of the season.
Barrow almost levelled two minutes later as Rowe fed the ball in to Boyes, who turned smartly onn the right of the box and blasted a great shot beyond Marriott’s reach that came back off the far post.
Boyes was then too high with another effort on the turn from 12 yards as the Bluebirds continued to fight back.
Hessey was booked for blocking Daniel as he tried to instigate a 36th minute break.
Stevenson should have made it 2-0 on 38 minutes after Green’s pass sent him clear on goal only to see Hurst make a fabulous save.
Another home corner saw Murray block Rutherford’s shot and then Marriott was relieved to see Rowe’s low shot pass inches wide.
Mansfield then gave themselves a bit of breathing space as Green converted a 41st minute penalty.
Green won the kick himself as he drew the foul from O’Donnell as he tried to accelerate away onto Briscoe’s knock-down.
Green then coolly sent Hurst the wrong way from the spot. But the home side were furious as they felt the foul was just outside the box.
Marriott had Mansfield hearts in mouths as he failed to cleanly hold a low McConville shot with Boyes in close attendance.
It had been a nervous, scrappy half with Barrow producing the more composed attacking play. But Mansfield were firmly in the driving seat, though nothing had changed as far as the table was concerned as leaders Kidderminster had a 1-0 home advantage over Lincoln.
Stevenson should have extended the lead within two minutes of the restart as he was allowed a free header from a Murray free kick and was clearly angry with himself after sending it wide.
When Jones failed to get a proper head into a ball into the box, suddenly Boyes was goalside of him and it took a fantastic save by Marriott to deny him, throwing himself full-length to his left to claw the low finish away.
Howell was booked on 55 minutes for bringing down Owen just outside the box. And Stags had another almighty let-off as Rowe curled a powerful kick over the wall and saw it bounce down off the crossbar.
However, it was 3-0 on the hour. Murray curled in a free kick from the outside the box on the left which somehow found its way through a crowd of players and left Dempster with the easiest of finishes from almost on the line. Both Murray and Stevenson were trying to claim the goal afterwards too so a DVD re-run may have to settle it.
The players celebrated wildly in front of the away fans in the corner with Briscoe booked for taking his shirt off.
On 69 minutes hero Green was replaced by Rhead up front, having done his afternoon’s work superbly well.
Marriott had no problem with Rowe’s firm 20-yard effort on 72 minutes as the Bluebirds desperately searched for a way through the well-drilled visiting defence with Stags now in cruise control.
There were boos from the home fans as the quicksilver Rutherford, the home side’s most dangerous player, was replaced by Dawson on 73 minutes, Meikle taking over from Briscoe at the same time.
Stevenson almost made it 4-0 from a Rhead flick but, from a tight angle, saw Hunter clear off the line.
Owen saw a long range effort deflect wide as we entered the final 10 minutes.
Baker’s 20-yard daisycutter also proved easy for Marriott.
With two minutes left Todd was given a rare run-out in place of Daniel.
Stags crowned a fine afternoon with a fourth goal in the second minute of stoppage time.
Meikle’s pass put Rhead in down the right and, choosing not to shoot from a tight angle, he drilled a superb low ball across the box to gift Stevenson a close range tap-in.
BARROW: Hurst, Hunter, Skelton, Hessey, O’Donnell, McConville, Owen, Baker, Boyes, Rowe, Rutherford (Dawson 73). Subs not used: Tongue, Flynn, Pearson, Harvey. STAGS: Marriott; Beevers, Jones, Dempster, Taylor; Murray, Stevenson, Howell; Briscoe (Meikle 73), Green (Rhead 69), Daniel (Todd 88). Subs not used: Sutton, Chapman. REFEREE: Anthony Backhouse of Cumbria.
ATTENDANCE: 1,114 (300 away).