Anthony Howell was the last minute hero for Mansfield Town as his diving header won a bruising battle with Newport County to secure three more vital safety points for Stags at One Call Stadium today,
Both keepers had earlier made errors to gift goals, Elliott Parish allowing a Ryan Tafazolli header through his grasp on 28 minutes to let the defender score his first Stags goal.
But, when Alan Marriott also failed to hold onto the ball on 50 minutes, Rene Howe was able to hit the empty net from eight yards to level.
But, just when it seemed a draw was on the cards, up popped Howell to bag three crucial points that lift Stags eight points clear of trouble with 11 games to go.
It was a poorly-refereed game by Andy Davies, who ended up booking seven players but missing other things and the biggest surprise was that it ended up 11 on 11.
Mansfield made a double change in midfield.
Out went Jamie McGuire and Lee Stevenson with assistant manager Adam Murray back in for his first start since the home clash with Burton on New Year’s Day and Ben Hutchinson also back in for a start after a spell of injury.
The visitors included former Stags Tom Naylor and Adam Chapman.
Chapman twice brought down Murray in the early stages, Newport clearing both free kicks.
Then Daniel won a fifth minute corner, taken by Hutchinson, which proved an easy catch for Parish.
Two minutes later the visitors carved out their first threat as Chapman was given far too much time and space outside the box and Marriott was grateful to see Dempster stretch a leg in the way of his low finish to divert it away for a corner.
There was more worry after a loose pass by Hutchinson gave the ball away just outside the box, Wetlake conceding a corner.
From that the referee spotted pushing and Newport’s chance was gone.
The visitors created another opening when Chapman took a return pass from Minshull and turned well in the centre of the box only to see Murray throw his body in the way of the shot.
We had reached the 15-minute mark of an uneventful game with neither keeper tested as yet.
On 19 minutes an exchange of headers between Hutchinson and Clucas saw Clucas able to make space for a dipping shot from 25 yards that didn’t dip soon enough to force a save from Parish.
Zebroski was lectured for clattering late into Marriott after the keeper had clutched the ball.
Stags then cleared a couple of menacing Jackson long throws from the right.
Zebrowski was well off with a shot from 20 yards, under pressure and off balance on 27 minutes.
The game was crying out for a goal, and it arrived on 28 minutes for the home side.
Hutchinson floated a free kick into the box from the left, 20 yards into the Newport half.
Tafazolli was offered a free header from six yards and, although Parish looked to have made a save, he failed to hold onto the ball and allowed it out of his grasp and over the line.
Marriott needed more treatment after being clattered during the visitors’ third corner.
Then Rhead was flattened by Minshull, but still the referee’s cards stayed in his pocket.
Clucas went down under Hughes’ challenge in the Newport box on 35 minutes, the referee finally producing a card to show Clucas for a dive.
Still Newport’s tough tackles rained in, Murray furious over another on him.
Finally on 39 minutes Zebrowski hacked at Tafazolli after he had gone past him and he was finally cautioned with players from both sides squaring up.
Two minutes later Howell’s name was added for holding Anthony as he went by him.
The Exiles won another corner two minutes from the break, safely caught by Marriott.
Westlake was penalised for pushing on the right by-line, the wing back flicking the ball across goal and inside the far post after the whistle had gone.
Still Newport tried to make it physical and Howe crashed into Dempster late after the defender had played the ball.
The referee missed it, following the ball. But the linesman waved his flag and Howe was duly added to the growing lost of bookings.
Amazingly it was Newport whose players crowded the officials to complain at the end of an ill-tempered first half.
The first action of the second half saw Murray penalised for a challenge on Chapman and Willmott’s long range free kick deflect wide for a corner.
From that the ball was worked back out to Willmott 20 yards from goal and he drilled in a low shot into the near sidenetting.
Clucas was fouled just outside the Newport box in Stags’ first raid of the half, but the referee gave advantage and Westlake crossed from the right, too high for Rhead.
Daniel retrieved the ball on the by-line but slipped and the ball ran harmlessly into touch.
However, the game’s second goalkeeping gaffe produced the game’s second goal on 50 minutes, and this time it went the way of the visitors.
Naylor launched a long free kick into the Stags box from wide on the right. Marriott came to claim under pressure, but failed to hold onto the ball, Howe there to pick up the pieces and flick it into the net from eight yards.
Stags responded with a couple of corners, Newport soon after taking their corner tally to eight with two of their own. But neither keeper was troubled.
Murray saw yellow card number five for catching Howe late on 64 minutes.
Palmer came on for Hutchinson on 68 minutes as Stags sought to ease the pressure on themselves, Clucas dropping into the hole.
Chapman wasn’t far wide from 25 yards on 70 minutes as a clearance reached him and he swung his right boot at it, the ball going just wide of the left hand upright.
Stags added two more corners as the home fans raised the noise levels, Tafazolli nowhere near with his header from the second.
Tafazolli had to go off for treatment for a head injury and, down to 10 men, Stags almost went behind when Minshull fizzed a 20 yard shot just over the angle.
On 77 minutes Westlake headed a ball in from the right which Rhead nodded back in towards goal and Howell, with Parish breathing down his neck and back to goal, flicked over from five yards.
When Sutton took a knock four minutes from time, Mansfield made a positive change as the defender was replaced by winger Meikle.
Murray had chance to get a shot away from distance but was well over.
But the winning goal arrived in the final minute.
The ball had come in from the right to Rhead, who headed back across goal where Howell bravely stooped to bury a diving header from close range.
Both sets of players confronted the officials afterwards with Anthony shown a post-match yellow card.
STAGS: Marriott; Sutton (Meikle 86), Dempster, Tafazolli; Westlake, Murray, Hutchinson (Palmer 68), Howell, Daniel; Rhead, Clucas. Subs not used: Briscoe, Stevenson, Beevers, McGuire, Cain.
NEWPORT: Parish, Hughes, Chapman (Flynn 86), Minshull, Zebrowski (Jolley 90+2), Willmott, Burge, Jackson, Naylor, Anthony, Howe (Jeffers 90+2). Subs not used: Pipe, Crow, Worley, Holloway.
REFEREE: Andy Davies of Hampshire.
ATTENDANCE: 2,756 (224 away). CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Tafazolli.