Mansfield Town slipped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Portsmouth at One Call Stadium this afternoon, a result which puts a huge dent in their play-off ambitions.
A season-high crowd witnessed Stags dominate title-chasing Pompey for much of the encounter, but a goal against the run of play from Portsmouth winger Carl Baker ensured the visitors would travel back to Hampshire with all three points.
The game-changing moment, however, arrived in the 48th minute when Stags’ striker Danny Rose was dragged down by defender Matt Clarke as he ran through on goal. Clarke was the last man and he denied Rose a clear goalscoring opportunity, but referee Lee Swabey bizarrely opted to show the defender a yellow card.
It proved to be a real turning point in the game, as Stags were by far the better side at that stage and a man advantage could have swung the game in favour of the home side.
There were no injury concerns for the Stags ahead of the game and the manager decided to make one change to the team that beat Stevenage last weekend, with captain Lee Collins coming in for George Taft.
With a large crowd high in anticipation, Stags got the game underway and were immediately on the front foot.
The best chance of the first half came for Stags in the third minute when the ball broke kindly for Collins in the box, but his low cross in front of goal ricocheted off defender Rhys Bennett and into the arms of Pompey goalkeeper David Forde.
Both sides defended brilliantly as the action was end-to-end throughout the first 45 minutes, but for all the efforts of both teams in attack, clear-cut chances were few and far between.
As well as the fancy dress and beach balls in the well-filled away end, home fans were treated to some amusement when Kal Naismith was put through down the left but mis-kicked his shot.
Stags’ striker Danny Rose had plenty of joy of his own down the left flank for Stags but couldn’t work a clear goalscoring chance.
The 19th minute in the first half was marked with applause from both fans and managers in memory young Stags’ fan Jack Strickland, who tragically passed away after a fall recently.
Stags had a good chance just after the half hour mark when striker Shaq Coulthirst was released with a brilliant ball down the right by Ben Whiteman, but after reaching the ball before the on-rushing Forde, he could only head it behind for a goal kick.
The final 15 minutes of the half passed without any real action at either end, with a midfield battle dominating proceedings.
Stags flew out of the blocks in the second half as they looked to break the deadlock in the opening few minutes.
Controversy arose in the 48th minute when striker Danny Rose was brought down on the edge of the box by Pompey defender Matt Clarke, who was clearly the last man, but the referee only gave a yellow card, much to the frustration of the home contingent inside One Call Stadium. The resulting free-kick was defended well by Pompey.
Some nice work by winger Alex MacDonald in the Pompey penalty area a few minutes later led to Rhys Bennett shooting home from close range but the goal was chalked off for offside.
Stags had their tails up and were taking the game to their South Coast visitors as Danny Rose thundered a header over the bar from a Joel Byrom corner and Shaq Coulthirst was a menace down the left-hand side
But the deadlock was broken 12 minutes after the break, as Pompey scored through Carl Baker when his shot deflected past Kean. He had worked some space in the Stags’ box and although he didn’t strike his shot as cleanly as he would have hoped, the deflection beat Kean and put the visitors ahead.
At the other end soon after, Whiteman went in hard, but fair, on Kyle Bennett and a small melee broke out amongst both sets of players.
After a long chat with his assistant, referee Lee Swabey booked Enda Stevens, Kyle Bennett and Ben Whiteman, whilst Stags’ Danny Rose was treated for a nose injury.
Skipper Lee Collins was replaced by Matt Green in the 67th minute and Pompey also made a change, with Jack Whatmough replacing Conor Chaplin.
Shaq Coulthirst came close with a shot over the bar on 75 minutes as Stags continued to push for a leveller. Pompey made their final two changes with Carl Baker coming off for Gary Roberts and Stanley Aborah replacing for Kyle Bennett.
But it was Green who had the best opportunity to claw something back with 10 minutes remaining.
Coulthirst slotted a brilliant ball through for the former Birmingham frontman to run on to and after steadying himself, he clipped the ball over Pompey ‘keeper David Forde and over the crossbar.
Stags continued to pen their opponents back in and Aborah was booked in the centre circle for a late challenge on Benning.
Defender George Taft came on for Danny Rose and Pat Hoban replaced Alex MacDonald as Stags threw men forward with five minutes to go.
Taft and Hoban both caused problems with their physicality for the visitors, but they couldn’t create an opportunity as Portsmouth ran the clock down as much as they could.
Stags now sit 11th in Sky Bet League Two, two points outside the play-offs but their top seven ambitions hang by a thread with one game remaining.
STAGS’ LINE-UP: Kean, White, Bennett, Pearce, Benning, Collins © (Green 68), Byrom, Whiteman, MacDonald (Hoban 86), Rose (Taft 83), Coulthirst
SUBS NOT USED: Jensen (GK), Potter, McGuire, Hamilton
PORTSMOUTH LINE-UP: Forde, Evans, Clarke, Burgess, Stevens, Doyle ©, Rose, Naismith, Bennett (Aborah 77), Baker (Roberts 77), Chaplin (Whatmough 69)
SUBS NOT USED: O’Brien (GK), Kabamba, Linganzi, Lowe
ATTENDANCE: 6,819 (1,459 away fans)
REFEREE: Lee Swabey