Louis Briscoe came off the bench to fire Mansfield Town to their tenth consecutive league victory, against a gritty Nuneaton Town at One Call Stadium.
Briscoe’s 67th minute free-kick broke ‘Boro’s resistance, as it deflected off the wall and nestled into the bottom corner, giving an inspired Lee Burge no chance whatsoever.
Burge had earlier denied striker Matt Green from the penalty spot, as Mansfield created chance after chance and dominated possession against the part-time counterparts.
With Kidderminster Harriers only drawing at home to Woking, the Stags move to within just one point of the league leaders, but have three vital games in hand over Steve Burr’s men.
Manager Paul Cox named an unchanged team for the Stags’ first clash in 11 days, whilst his counterpart, Kevin Wilkin, made five changes to his ‘Boro’ side.
On a soft and bobbly pitch, which was covered in sand, and had to be cleared by volunteers only yesterday, the hosts instantly began on the attack and came within inches of an opener.
With less than 60 seconds on the clock, Mansfield won their first corner as Lee Stevenson’s intended low cross into the box was diverted wide by Delroy Gordon.
David McNamee cleared Adam Chapman’s subsequent set-piece ball towards the back post, but from another corner by James Jennings, defender Luke Jones saw his header crash against the bar.
Nuneaton then enjoyed a period of possession, with James Dance and ex-Stag Louis Moult looking particularly dangerous, but they were unable to create any clear cut chances.
Instead, it was Mansfield who looked the more creative going forwards.
On seven minutes, Chapman caused problems for the ‘Boro’ back-line with a looping long-throw deep into the six-yard box, from which Stevenson flicked a header over the target.
Then, two minutes later, Junior Daniel somehow failed to test Nuneaton goalkeeper Lee Burge following Matt Green’s fabulous left-wing run and teasing hooked cross.
Nuneaton, to their credit, looked especially threatening on the break, with Jones and John Dempster having to monitor Dance’s movement very carefully.
Moult whistled a 30-yard free-kick narrowly over Alan Marriott’s goal, whilst Neil Cartwright weaved his way inside, beating three men in the process, and fired straight at the evergreen custodian.
A swirling developed as the first period progressed, which only made playing conditions more difficult for both teams on what was a bitterly cold night in North Nottinghamshire.
With 26 minutes played, Mansfield’s frustration grew even more.
Jones guided Jennings’ left-sided corner towards the goal with a bullet header, and when a flapping Burge was unable to claim it, Green’s point-blank shot was somehow bundled onto the post.
On the half-hour mark, Chapman hit an exquisite 50-yard pass towards an advancing Lindon Meikle, who was blocked in his tracks by a quickly on-rushing Burge.
Nuneaton seemed to be happy playing with ten men behind the ball, but they almost came unstuck when Lee Beevers’ left-wing delivery was headed over by Stevenson.
The visitors’ goal was living a charmed life and when Green broke into a one-on-one with Burge on 36 minutes, the Nuneaton shot-stopper somehow turned Green’s effort onto the roof of his net.
Mansfield were having no luck whatsoever, and four minutes before the interval should have been awarded a spot-kick when Gordon brought down a clean-through Green inside the area.
Play continued and after the Nuneaton defence failed to clear, Murray, who had sprinted forward into the box, saw his low cross agonisingly flicked inches wide by Green.
There was to be more controversy before the interval as Green, clear on goal yet again, was cynically fouled by McNamee on the edge of the area, who was cautioned for the offence.
Mansfield seemed even more determined after the re-start, but it was ‘Boro’ who came the closest to an early opener as Marriott had to rush off his line to deny Adam Walker breaking through.
Cartwright also came close when his 25-yard drive deflected off Dempster, which meant Marriott had to watch anxiously as the ball thankfully sailed narrowly over the woodwork.
The Stags were forced into a change on 59 minutes when Jennings suffered an innocuous injury, and had to be replaced by fellow left-back Ritchie Sutton.
Just after the hour mark, Mansfield made a double substitution as battering ram Matt Rhead and winger Louis Briscoe were introduced in favour of Daniel and Stevenson respectively.
Within minutes of their introduction, the Stags again came close.
The visitors rode their luck as Gordon’s low, routine pass-back was horrendously sliced by Burge inside his own six-yard box, but somehow the ball went wide of the target.
Then, less than a minute later, following Chapman’s corner into the area, Rhead went down under a challenge from Cartwright and the referee showed no hesitancy in pointing to the spot.
However, it was just when of those nights for the hosts.
Green stepped forward and struck his penalty towards the bottom-left corner, but an inspired Burge guessed correctly and saved, allowing his team-mates to scramble the ball away.
Stags fans in One Call Stadium were growing more nervous with each passing second, but midway through the second period, substitute Briscoe managed to relieve that tension.
His low, 30-yard attempt, deflected off a six-man Nuneaton wall and with Burge going in one direction, but the ball going in another, it eventually nestled in the bottom corner.
Briscoe punched the air in sheer delight and was instantly surrounded by team-mates, whilst One Call Stadium erupted into celebration, with the Stags having finally broken Nuneaton’s ten-man resistance.
With a quarter of the match remaining, the visitors gradually started to push more men further forward, which also resulted in them leaving gaps at the back.
Five minutes were left when Chapman hurled a long-throw into the area, and Rhead’s delicate flick saw Green fire into the net, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
Despite numerous stoppages, there was to be only three added minutes at the end of the game, and the Stags retained possession superbly in order to record another vital win.
Attendance: 2,364 (82 away supporters).