Fortress Mansfield Town came crumbling to the ground this afternoon as Hartlepool United brought Stags’ eight-game unbeaten run to a shock end.
The Stags had only lost one league game at home in 2013 and were expected to see off a struggling Hartlepool side that, despite drawing their last three away games, had only won once all season.
But the ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ that manager Paul Cox had spoken of all week after that fine derby win at Chesterfield last weekend, came brutally true as they were given an unexpected runaround by the North-easterners.
Stags began the game well enough and twice came close in the first seven minutes.
But once Andy Monkhouse beat Alan Marriott from distance seconds later, the home side looked clueless how to respond.
The first half was a dire affair and reached a low point when Marriott, so good recently, was late getting down to man of the match Jack Compton’s low shot just before the break as they went 2-0 down.
Cox, who had made a change in line-up and formation as early as the 34th minute, sent his players back out on the pitch early with two more changes and a flea in their collective ears.
But the game was all over within five minutes as Compton completed a brace.
Sam Clucas did pull one back from the penalty spot on 75 minutes. But four minutes later James Poole reinstated the visitors’ three-goal advantage as Mansfield crashed to their worst home defeat in any competition in 2013.
Howell wiped out Compton with a lunging tackle after just 36 seconds which saw the game begin with an early yellow card.
McGuire was well over from 20 yards with the game’s first shot on four minutes.
Two minutes later Tafazolli twice came close to an opener.
Dempster laid a Jennings cross back towards the near post where Tafazolli headed the ball against the post and then was unable to direct the rebound on target, both from five yards out.
Andrew sent a powerful header inches wide a minute later from McGuire’s cross.
Stags just seemed to be getting into their stride. But they were instead shocked by a goal from the visitors on seven minutes.
There seemed little danger when a long clearance upfield eventually came to Monkhouse 25 yards from goal.
But he let fly with a superb, unstoppable shot that gave Marriott no chance.
McGuire again tried his luck from outside the box on 12 minutes, going closer this time but the ball dipping too late.
Again Mansfield went forward and Hutchinson picked out Jennings with a hanging far post cross that he rose well to meet but headed wide of the post.
There was controversy on 20 minutes as James looked to be clipped in the box by an outstretched Howell leg.
But, as everyone was resigned to a Hartlepool penalty, the referee booked James for a dive.
Stags had a penalty appeal of their own soon after as Clucas fired the ball against Austin’s hand, but it did look like ball to hand.
Marriott was called in into action on 22 minutes to turn away a 20-yard blast from Compton.
On 24 minutes manager Paul Cox decided to shake things up and match the visitors’ 4-4-2, Tafazolli sacrificed from the back three and Meikle sent on down the left.
Jennings looked to be harshly booked for a handball a minute later, but Meikle shepherded a well-worked free kick out for a goalkick.
Marriott punched away the visitors’ second corner as Hartlepool continued to impress with a spring in their step.
A clattering tackle on Hutchinson by Baldwin won Mansfield a corner which keeper Flinders claimed well before Dempster could get his head on it.
On 40 minutes Mansfield were relieved to see Compton’s volley deflect up and over the bar as the home side laboured for possession and a spark to ignite their afternoon.
Instead, a minute from the break and Compton made full capital of the time and space afforded him to cut in from the right and get away a powerful low shot towards to the near post where Marriott was late getting down as the ball skidded under him into the net.
Clucas couldn’t turn a long Meikle cross from the left on target soon after as Mansfield went in with plenty of hard work to do in the second half.
Cox went for broke at half-time and sent on Rhead and Palmer as a new strike force, replacing Hutchinson and Andrew, Clucas moving to the wing.
He also sent the players out early after what would have been a vociferous interval team talk.
Within two minutes, they almost broke through as Rhead headed the ball on for Clucas to stretch and stab a shot just wide of the far post.
Instead things went from bad to worse on 50 minutes.
Howell conceded a free kick 20 yards from goal just to the right of centre.
That set up the chance for Compton to curl a superb left footed kick over the wall and away from Marriott, the keeper just getting a hand on it but unable to keep it out.
Burgess kicked the ball away after the visitors conceded a free kick to see the game’s fourth booking on 53 minutes.
Monkhouse sliced a 20-yard attempt wide with his right foot on 55 minutes as the visitors continued to enjoy their afternoon.
A tame Jennings free kick struck the wall to bounce out for a corner which Burgess headed clear.
It took until the 67th minute before Mansfield produced an on-target shot, Flinders always behind McGuire’s 20-yard half-volley as the visitors tried to clear a right wing corner.
Compton cut in from the right to shoot from a similar distance a minute later, Marriott down to his knees to gather.
Baldwin was booked for taking out Howell from behind on 70 minutes, but Jennings free kick was easy for the keeper.
McGuire was inches over from 25 yards three minutes later.
But on 75 minutes Clucas gave the home side a glimmer of hope from the penalty spot.
Rhead’s overhead effort struck Collins on the hand. It seemed harsh, but there referee pointed straight to the post and Clucas lashed home his fifth goal in six games hard and low past Flinders.
That hope of a fightback was soon extinguished as Poole fired home a fourth on 79 minutes.
Compton squared the ball to him from the right along the edge of the box and Poole met it with a firm low finish that beat Marriott.
Sub Richards warmed Marriott’s hands with two minutes to go while Clucas was over on the turn a minute later as a miserable afternoon finally came to end and Stags were left to lick their wounds.
A home Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie with Chesterfield on Tuesday may be just the perfect fixture for Cox’s men to bounce back in.
STAGS: Marriott; Dempster, Tafazolli (Meikle 24), Sutton; Beevers, Howell, Hutchinson (Rhead HT), McGuire, Jennings; Clucas, Andrew (Palmer HT). Subs not used: Murtagh, Stevenson, Speight, Daniel.
HARTELPOOL UNITED: Flinders, Austin, Collins, Baldwin, Walton, Poole, Monkhouse (Richards 80), Compton (Franks 80), Duckworth, James, Burgess. Subs not used: Rafferty, Sweeney, Holden, Rodney, Walker.
REFEREE: Graham Horwood of Bedfordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 3,457 (273 away).
CHAD MANSFIELD MAN OF THE MATCH: Lindon Meikle.