Tyler Walker fired a relieved Mansfield Town back into the top three with a crucial 88th minute winner in tonight’s hard-earned 1-0 victory over Crawley Town.
After two defeats in a row it seemed like the night was going to end up in frustration, despite an improved performance.
But top scorer Walker popped up at the vital moment to turn home Hayden White’s cross and it was huge relief all round for David Flitcroft’s men against a dogged opposition.
Stags gave debuts to new boys Ajose and Jorge Grant, who both signed yesterday, while Neal Bishop returned from suspension.
Out of the side went the suspended Matt Preston plus Will Atkinson and Otis Khan, who both dropped to the bench.
Also on the bench was Omari Sterling-James. But Timi Elsnik dropped out of the 18 as the one loan player too many with just five permitted under EFL rules.
Stags made a positive start and in the second minute Mellis’ pass released Ajose into the left of the box where he forced Morris to block his low finish at the near post.
But the home side were given a scare on 12 minutes as Payne’s long free kick picked out Connolly whose header came back off the right post.
On 17 minutes CJ Hamilton’s attempted cross was foiled, so he pulled back a low pass into the path of Bishop whose low first time shot was saved by Morris.
Palmer did have the ball in the back of his former side’s net a minute later, but only after a blatant shove in the back of White.
Stags were then unlucky as a low Hamilton cross was cleverly back-heeled right across the face of goal by Grant.
There was a worrying spell for the home side as they had to solider on with 10 men as White went off for treatment to a cut eye, but they survived without calamity.
Soon after Bishop also suffered a bang to the head with Pearce furious about the challenge of Connolly.
On the half-hour the nimble Hamilton knocked the ball past a helpless Dallison who cynically took both his legs away in full flight to take a booking.
Two minutes later Grant lifted a delightful pass over a defender into the path of Hamilton but, under pressure, his lob ended on roof of the net.
Young, annoyed no foul was given against Benning for his challenge on him, hacked down the defender for yellow card number two.
A neat succession of home passes ended with Grant drilling a tame low shot at Morris, but the football drew deserved applause.
Grant’s late tackle on Connolly earned the home side’s first booking of the night on 42 minutes.
On 45 minutes a low ball in from the right saw Grant reach the ball a couple of yards from goal, but the keeper was right on him and able to block.
Morais then fired a tame shot from distance at Smith in four added minutes while Stags also survived a scare after a loose pass from Sweeney.
Payne was booked in the fourth added minute for bringing down Walker as the half ended scoreless.
Morris had to be quick to beat Hamilton to a fine Grant through ball on 52 minutes, and seconds later Walker picked out Ajose just five yards out at the far post with a low cross only to see him somehow sky it over the bar.
Bizarrely, a yellow card was shown to Crawley assistant head coach Nathan for dissent on the hour.
On 62 minutes Mellis forced Morris to tip over his dipping finish from 20 yards.
Bishop was then booked for a late tackle on Maguire on 64 minutes.
Home keeper Smith finally had serious work to do after a clever pass from Morais gave Poleon sight of goal and the keeper clawed away his curling finish.
Rose replaced Ajose for the final 18 minutes as Stags continued to hunt for the breakthrough.
Connolly was added to the book on 74 minutes for a foul, the free kick worked to Walker, whose low shot flashed inches wide.
Just four minutes from time, with Stags pushing hard, Palmer almost caught out the home side on a breakaway only to see Smith make another vital save.
But on 88 minutes hero Walker made the big breakthrough, smashing home Hayden White’s low cross from the right form close range, and Stags were suddenly back in the top three ahead of Saturday’s big six-pointer at Colchester.
MANSFIELD: J. Smith; Sweeney, Pearce, White; Hamilton, Mellis, Grant, Bishop, Benning; Ajose (Rose 72), Walker. Subs: Logan, Atkinson, Khan, Sterling-James, A. Smith, Graham.
CRAWLEY: Morris, Young (Sesay 82), Payne, Connolly, Palmer, Poleon, (Grego-Cox 90+1) Gambin (Camara 67), Francomb, Maguire, Dallison, Morais. Subs: Mersin, Nathaniel-George, Bulman. REFEREE: Martin Coy of Durham.
ATTENDANCE: 3,739 (24 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Tyler Walker.