Northampton Town’s controversial late penalty kick saw Mansfield Town allow two crucial safety points to spill away from them in Saturday’s pulsating 1-1 draw at One Call Stadium.
How crucial those points were will only be certain in 11 weeks time when the season comes to a close.
But, whether referee Lee Collins got the spot kick decision right or not, injury-hit Stags did partly only have themselves to blame for going into their shells when 1-0 up against 10 men.
Their lack of ambition to finish off the Cobblers was largely down to nerves and the desire to hang on to what they had.
To read manager Adam Murray’s comments click HERE
To read skipper Ricky Ravenhill’s thoughts click HERE
And they looked to have done that when they led 1-0 through Vadaine Oliver’s 48th minute goal as we went into five added minutes at the end.
But, roared on by a magnificent following of over 1,200 away fans, Northampton refused to give in and sub Ivan Toney slipped the ball through Junior Brown’s legs in the box and then took a tumble over his back as he tried to run round him.
It did look like a penalty from the stands and the TV replay is inconclusive though it looks less of a penalty than the split moment the officials had to make a decision.
But the players around the incident, which included Adam Murray, forced into action for the last few minutes as a player-manger for the first time due to the injury list, were livid and adamant that Brown had stood his ground defensively and Toney had simply jumped on his back.
Murray and skipper Ricky Ravenhill lashed the decision after the game in some raw post-match interviews, but nothing was going to be bring back the two points lost.
The Stags side showed four changes, which included the surprise return of Ravenhill just a week after pulling his hamstring in the pre-match warm-up, and a full debut for 18-year-old Jack Thomas, who made a superb fist of filling Chris Clements’ vacant boots with a confident, creative display that earned him a fully deserved man of the match award.
The home crowd was boosted by a £7 advance ticket offer.
With the big away following as well, for once we had a superb big match atmosphere at the One Call, and with the tackles flying in on a sodden surface, we had all the thrills and spills of a proper old fashioned League Two fixture.
Indeed, referee Mr Collins was kept very busy, issuing eight yellow cards and one straight red with little love lost between the teams on Valentine’s Day.
The red went to visiting midfielder Joe-Joe O’Toole on 36 minutes for an off-the-ball clash with Ritchie Sutton.
No one else in the stadium apart from home keeper Lenny Pidgeley had a good view of what happened as everyone was following the ball.
But Sutton was suddenly floored and Pidgeley instantly raced towards the referee apoplectic with rage as players raced in to shove and wrestle, Pidgeley ending up thrown to the floor by an opponent.
The referee instantly sent off the long-haired O’Toole to completely ruin the Northampton supporters’ O’Toole Day, many arriving wearing long wigs in homage.
By this point Stags had overcome a slow start to take some semblance of control and Simon Heslop had hit the Cobblers’ bar with a free kick while Oliver had drilled a low finish across the face of goal.
So the dismissal of O’Toole was just the boost Stags needed and, three minutes after the break, they were ahead.
Lee Beevers launched a long free kick in from the right and, when the Cobblers’ defenders failed to cut it out, the ball skimmed off a Northampton head to the feet of Oliver at the far post where he stabbed a low finish past Matt Duke.
From that point Mansfield just needed a second goal to kill the game off. But their lack of ambition ultimately encouraged the visitors onto them.
On 51 minutes, Jason Taylor headed against the home bar from Lawson D’Ath’s left wing corner – a real let-off for Murray’s men.
D’Ath then cut inside Beevers to make space for a finish that was brilliantly blocked by Ryan Tafazolli, and from the corner Brendan Moloney pulled a low shot wide.
Northampton were getting nearer and from a neatly-worked free kick Ryan Cresswell saw a six yard header strike team mate Marc Richards in front of goal.
With four minutes left the alert Pidgeley had to dive to his left to superbly turn away a 25-yard free kick from Horwood.
But, just when it seemed Stags had clung on, down went Toney and up stepped ex-Spireite Richards to thunder a cool, confident spot kick down the centre to break home hearts.
STAGS: Pidgeley, Sutton, Riley, Tafazolli, Ravenhill, Heslop, Lambe (Murray 86), Beevers, Thomas, Brown, Oliver. Subs not used: Studer, Rhead, Bingham, McGuire, Marsden, Kee.
NORTHAMPTON: Duke, Moloney, Horwood, Collins (Toney 82), Richards, O’Toole, D’Ath, Taylor Bodin 90+1), Byrom, Holmes (Newey 90+4), Cresswell. Subs not used: Carter, Hackett, Tozer, Snedker.
REFEREE: Lee Collins of Surrey.
ATTENDANCE: 4,614 (1,210 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Jack Thomas.