Magnificent Mansfield Town moved into the Sky Bet League Two Play-Off zone with a 3-0 victory over Northampton Town at One Call Stadium.
The Stags deservedly went ahead thanks to Ben Hutchinson’s sublime free-kick on the half-hour mark, which gave visiting keeper Matt Duke no chance.
Sam Clucas doubled the lead prior to half-time, before Northampton debutant Mathias Doumbe completed the scoring with a spectacular 30-yard own-goal.
The visitors could have opened the scoring in just the second minute, but an unmarked Clive Platt headed wide following Chris Hackett’s right-wing cross towards the back-post.
The Cobblers were forced to make an early change as Matt Heath limped off following a collision with Calvin Andrew, and was replaced by Joe Widdowson.
Andrew registered The Stags’ first attempt on target on the quarter-hour mark, with a strong header from a Hutchinson free-kick that was saved by Matt Duke.
The opening exchanges were largely scrappy, but The Cobblers had two attempts in as many minutes prior to the 20-minute mark.
Stags’ keeper Alan Marriott had to be alert when Ian Morris’ long ball forwards was bundled towards goal by Hackett, following Platt’s intricate flick on.
Less than 60 seconds later, Morris tried his luck from distance, as he unleashed a speculative 30-yard attempt that sailed well wide of Marriott’s right-hand post.
Mansfield felt they should have been awarded a dangerous free-kick, just a few moments later, when Kevin Amankwaah handled James Jennings’ intended cross towards Clucas.
The referee’s failure to award a free-kick triggered a determined reaction from The Stags, who started to tear into their counterparts.
On 23 minutes, Clucas’ capitalised on some slack defending by The Cobblers, but his drilled low cross through the six-yard box evaded Andrew at the far-post.
The Stags forced Northampton to defend more with each passing minute, and eventually earned their reward on the half-hour mark.
Andrew was recklessly fouled by Doumbe in a central position, who, somewhat surprisingly, wasn’t cautioned for the offence.
From the resulting set-piece, Hutchinson unleashed a simply exquisite right-footed strike, which flew beautifully into the top corner.
The One Call Stadium faithful were still celebrating Hutchinson’s wonder-strike, when Clucas made it 2-0 with a more routine finish, just two minutes later.
On this occasion, The Cobblers failed to convincingly clear a Stags’ set-piece, and in the second wave of play they were punished.
Ritchie Sutton’s chipped cross was glanced by Andrew into the path of Ryan Tafazolli, whose skewed effort fell kindly for an unmarked Clucas.
Clucas was able to bring the ball onto his favoured right-foot, and hit a low 18-yard drive, which beat a full-stretch Duke at his near-post.
Northampton were shell-shocked and Jacob Blyth was restricted to a long-range drive, which was high and wide, as he attempted to reduce arrears on 38 minutes.
On the brink of stoppage-time, Darren Carter came much closer with a bullet free-kick from distance, which was superbly palmed over by Marriott.
From the resulting flag-kick, Hackett delivered a pin-point ball towards the edge of the six-yard box, where a lurking Collins rose highest, but headed wide.
Northampton began on the front-foot in the early exchanges of the second period, as they attempted to quickly eat into The Stags’ two-goal advantage.
Widdowson should have found someone inside the six-yard box with a deep and dangerous ball from the by-line, which simply had too much pace on it.
The Cobblers came close again on 61 minutes, when Marriott kept out a swerving 30-yard strike by Morris, before Blyth headed wide from Carter’s far-post cross.
Nevertheless, just seconds later, any hopes that the visitors may have harboured about a comeback were extinguished in truly bizarre circumstances.
Tafazolli’s long punt downfield was intended for Clucas, but Doumbe, on his Northampton debut, unintentionally intervened with a 30-yard backwards volley, which looped over a despairing Duke.
With 20 minutes left to play, The Cobblers almost netted a consolation, but Blyth’s angled low shot, which had already beaten Marriott, was headed off the line by Jennings.
Platt also headed agonisingly wide on 72 minutes, as he latched onto the end of Morris’ fabulous left-wing cross towards the far-post.
At the other end, substitute Matt Rhead saw a scuffed effort bundled away by Doumbe, after Clucas played a low right-wing cross into the area.
Rhead flashed a separate effort high and wide as Mansfield dominated the latter stages, whilst Clucas saw a tame attempt comfortably saved by Duke.
Clucas, who was the instigator in numerous problems for Northampton, received a standing ovation when he was replaced by Jake Speight on 82 minutes.
In the closing stages, Jamie McGuire saw a scuffed half-volley saved by Duke, whilst Blyth was wildly off-target at the other end.
Mansfield were deserved winners and now travel to fierce locals Chesterfield next Saturday, having extended their unbeaten run to seven matches.
Attendance: 3,469 (460 away supporters).